The Energy of Autumn – Traditional Chinese Medicine

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The Autumnal Equinox occurred on September 23rd this year. With the passing of the equinox, we begin to sense the dance of the subtle energies transforming summer into autumn. The nights are cooler, the days are shorter. The beautiful greenery of summer fades and the warm reds, oranges, and browns of fall emerge.

Fall is the time of the metal element and Lung and Large Intestine are the associated organ meridians.

  • The climate is dry
  • The emotion is grief and sadness
  • It is harvest time
  • The color is white
  • The flavor is pungent
  • The sense organ – nose
  • Tissues- skin

The lung energy is associated with “letting go”. This is a perfect time of year to clean house both physically and emotionally and let go of that which no longer serves us. The lungs are very susceptible to wind and cold, so it is important to be prepared for the drops in temperature which occur. Carrying a scarf is a great way to stay warm in unsettled weather. Many people get colds, sore throats, and virus this time of year.

To strengthen your immune system for Fall, remember to:

  • Dress for the weather
  • If you get a cold, avoid dairy products which create phlegm
  • Get plenty of sleep – 7-8 hours a night if possible
  • Do deep breathing exercises to strengthen the lungs and walk in nature.
  • Eat soups, stews and warming food, such as sweet potato, garlic, onions, cabbage, pears, ginger, walnuts, radish, and cinnamon to name a few.
  • Spend time in introspection. Just as nature is pulling back its energy and sending it into the earth, so should we spend time looking inward.

Living in harmony with nature will boost our immune system.

Supporting the Spleen Meridian during Indian Summer

yogaDuring this beautiful time of year when the earth element, represented by the spleen and stomach meridians is most active, it is important to support these energies for optimal health. I’ve spoken quite a bit about the stomach meridian, so I would like to focus on the spleen energies for today.

The Daoist philosophy, which is represented by Traditional Chinese Medicine, believes that the spleen stores our intention and ideas. The emotions associated with the spleen are remorse, worry, obsessiveness, suspicion, self- doubt and self-centeredness when imbalanced. When the spleen energies are flowing freely, attributes such as acceptance, openness, faith, honesty, and truthfulness can be present.

One of the most common TCM patterns of imbalance seen in the Western hemisphere is Spleen Chi Deficiency. This condition has symptoms of weakness in the limbs, poor appetite, bloating after meals, fatigue and loose stools. Spleen Chi Deficiency can be the result of poor diet, stress or irregular eating habits.

Some ways to support the spleen meridian are:

  • Eat warm, cooked meals- which are easier to digest
  • Add warming spices to your food: ginger, black pepper, and cinnamon
  • Pungent foods such as fennel, onions, and garlic increase the digestive fire.
  • Eat small, frequent meals to stimulate the spleen’s energy.
  • Vegetables such as turnips, sweet potato, carrots, squash, yam, pumpkin, black beans, and garbanzo beans are very nourishing to the spleen.
  • Small portions of cooked fruit for sweetness will stimulate spleen energy.
  • Eat small amounts of fatty fish, chicken, turkey, beef or lamb and avoid dairy.
  • Meditate, practice yoga and eat with mindfulness.

Yin Yoga is especially helpful to balance the spleen energies. The website is a wonderful source for yin yoga poses. Enjoy!

Chinese Medicine Tips for Indian Summer – continued

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The ancient Chinese believed that to maintain good health one should live in harmony with the seasons of nature. During this time of year, the intense heat and brightness of summer give way to a cooler, less intense autumn.

It is a time of transition from leisure to more serious pursuits. Children are back in school and the laid-back schedules of many businesses come to an end. This is the time of the earth element, and the energies most active are spleen and stomach.

The emotions associated with the earth element are worry and sympathy. When the earth energies are in balance, we can have empathy for ourselves and others.

When our earth energy is out of balance we can manifest many symptoms such as:

  • Craving sweets
  • Thyroid problems
  • Excessive mucus in nose, throat, and mouth
  • Heavy feelings in the body with achy legs, arms, and head
  • Lack of energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Chronic worry
  • Bloating and indigestion with bowel issues

To stay healthy during this season, have your energy balanced by an acupressurist or acupuncturist, spend time in self-reflection or in activities such as yoga or meditation, exercise, make sure your needs are met, nourish your body, mind, and soul.

Chinese Medicine Tips for Indian Summer

Indian Summer (late summer) is the season of the earth element.

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It is a time to slow down and observe the abundance created during summer. It is also a time of self-reflection and self-awareness. With self-awareness, we can be cognizant of our needs and nourish ourselves. When our needs are met, we have the surplus energy to be sensitive to the needs of others.

In order to move forward with ease, we must be grounded in our center. The earth element provides us with this grounding and balance. It is the transition point between the seasons. The earth element is present late summer, late autumn, late winter, and late spring.

The energy pathways associated with the earth element are stomach and spleen. Tips to support the spleen and stomach energy are:

  • Avoid excess consumption of cold tea, liquor, cold melons, and sweet greasy foods.
  • It is important to exercise at least three days a week. Long periods of inactivity are harmful to spleen and stomach energy.
  • Eat a healthy, nutritional diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, a little protein and some grain.
  • Yellow and orange foods, foods harvested in late summer and root vegetables are very good to support stomach energy.
  • Eat dinner by 6 or 7pm each night if possible. To give the stomach time to digest before sleep.

Tips for Staying Healthy in Summer

Though we are almost 2/3 through the season of summer, we still have hot, humid weather ahead of us. Staying hydrated and not overdoing activity during the hottest part of the day is important to avoid heat exhaustion.

Some other important tips to stay safe are:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
  • Protect against sunburn
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses
  • When sweating profusely, replace electrolytes with Vitamin Water, Gatorade or Pedialyte. (I prefer low sugar options)
  • If feeling, dizzy, weak, lightheaded or nausea move to a cool spot and apply cool water or ice packs.

We’ll miss the summer when it’s over, so it’s important to enjoy as much as we can.

Treating Adrenal Exhaustion with Chinese Medicine

tired womanAdrenal fatigue often occurs when we are experiencing prolonged periods of excessive stress. During this time the adrenal glands produce excessive levels of cortisol to aid in the flight or fight response of the body. Since most of the time we are responding to everyday deadlines or relationship stresses, we are not physically fighting or fleeing and do not use the cortisol. This cortisol then becomes stored around the abdomen as excess weight. Over time the adrenals become exhausted as do the kidneys which sit below them.

When the kidney energy(water) is low it is unable to hold down the fire energy generated by the heart. This heat is needed for the organs below the heart to function properly. Without heat, our other systems, digestion, elimination (large intestine, small intestine, bladder) will be adversely affected.

Some symptoms of weak kidney and adrenal glands are:

  • Allergies – the intestines are not getting adequate blood flow to digest and assimilate food. This inadequate oxygenated blood flow can also cause inflammation which can adversely affect the immune system.
  • Dizziness or light headedness
  • Increase or decrease in blood pressure
  • Frequent urination
  • Sleep issues, overactive mind, racing heart or palpitations
  • Low energy and extreme exhaustion
  • Body pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Brain fog

Adrenal exhaustion can occur after long periods of excessive stress. This is much more common than we realize today since so many people are multitasking, having schedules which run them ragged and working long hours each day.

The symptoms of adrenal exhaustion are many and varied from dizziness and lightheadedness to frequent urination, pain, and anxiety to name a few. Today I want to address solutions to this issue.

Since this condition of adrenal exhaustion and weak kidney energy has occurred over time there is no magic bullet to reverse it. It will take a multi-faceted approach to improve the condition and restore the kidney energy over time. The normal aging process weakens the kidney energy to a certain extent, but when we experience long periods of extreme stress without adequate rest or nourishment for the kidneys, we accelerate the aging process.

To restore the balance of fire and water energy, we need a whole-food-based diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and warming spices.

Foods which support the kidney energy are:

  • black or dark-colored (i.e. black rice, black sesame seeds, black beans)
  • salty or savory in flavor :
    • dark leafy greens
    • seaweed
    • kelp
    • eggplant
    • unrefined sea salt
    • pink Himalayan salt
    • bone broth
    • dark mushrooms
    • sardines
    • kidney beans
  • organ meats, oysters, root vegetables with dark color

Creating lifestyle habits which promote mindfulness will also help. Practices such as:

  • Meditation, yoga, prayer, tai chi, walks in nature, Epsom salt baths will all support the kidney energy.
  • Have the same bedtime each night, try not to be on a computer or watch tv for an hour or two before bedtime. The blue light coming from our tv or computer screens can prevent us from getting restful sleep. Avoid having this light in your bedroom. Restful sleep is one of the most effective things to nourish our kidney energy.
  • Holistic modalities such as acupressure, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy and others can help us release physical and emotional stress that we are unable to release on our own.
  • Chinese Herbal tonics can be very important in supporting kidney and adrenal health. If you feel that you may need an herbal supplement, it is best to consult with a qualified acupuncturist.
  • For lighter kidney support, herbal teas such as, chamomile, Tulsi, passionflower and Reishi mushroom can be helpful.

The Heart Meridian and Summer

Since the heart meridian is so important, I’d like to talk a little more about it before discussing the other summer meridians.

The warm weather of summer encourages us to be physically active outdoors.  It is a time to enjoy the weather and our friends.  Summer is a time for laughter, vacations, and fun. The heart meridian, which is most active in summer, is closely aligned to the mind and is considered the emotional center of the body.  This is not that that far-fetched for us.  We say someone who has difficulty hiding their emotions is “wearing their heart on their sleeve.”

In TCM the heart commands all the organs and tissues, houses the spirit and controls the emotions. When the heart is peaceful and strong it controls the emotions; “when it is weak and wavering, the emotions rebel and prey upon the heart-mind, which then loses its command over the body.”

Internally, the heart is functionally associated with the thymus gland which plays an important role in the immune system.  Extreme emotions such as anger and grief have a suppressive effect on the immune system by hindering thymus function.

The heart (fire energy) is also closely related to the kidney (water energy).  When the kidney gets depleted by excess work, exercise or sex it is unable to nourish the fire of the heart.  Symptoms of insomnia, heart palpations and anxiety may occur.

If the heart energy is scattered by too much physical activity, mental overstimulation or over-socializing, symptoms of insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, palpitations, and aversion to heat may occur. The key is to find balance in all things work, rest and play.  Meditate, have fun, enjoy your life.

Some tips:

Red foods resonate with the heart: tomatoes, radishes, beets, red pepper, and watermelon are good choices for summer meals

The Energies of Summer

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Though technically it isn’t summer until the summer solstice on June 21st, we can feel the shift in the weather with the longer days and the warmer weather. The summer has begun.  This season represents abundant energy, expansion, growth, activity, and creativity.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, summer is ruled by the fire element, the color is red, the emotion is joy, the organs most active are the heart and small intestine, pericardium and triple warmer.  It is the most yang(active) of the seasons; life and energies are at their peak.

In TCM mental activity is associated with the heart and therefore our memory, thought processes, emotional wellbeing, and consciousness are also attributed to the heart and fire element.  When the fire element is in balance, the mind is calm and sleep is sound, the heart is strong and healthy.  When the fire element is unbalanced, either lack of joy (depression) or excess joy (mania) can occur.

Symptoms of imbalance include agitation, nervousness, heartburn, and insomnia. Growth, joy and spiritual awareness between the heart and mind are the focus of this season.

Tips for summer health:

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • Wake up earlier in the morning, go to bed later in the evening, if possible, rest at midday.
  • Stay cool and hydrated
  • Eat lighter and cooling foods such as salads and fruits
  • Add pungent flavors to the diet
  • Keep calm and even-tempered (anger exacerbates heat)

The Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Together with the Yin-Yang theory, the Five Element Theory forms the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, diagnosis, and treatment.  

Traditional Chinese medicine was based on an observation of man in his environment.  In early times Chinese doctors identified patterns of continuous change and transformation in the universe and how these changes also occurred within the human body.  The concept of chi, the vital energy of the body and the Yin-Yang theory, which views the relationships between things as complementary to the whole, are integral to the master blueprint of the Five Element Theory.  This blueprint organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns in nature.

The five groups include: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each of these elements includes many “categories such as a season, a direction, climate, stage of growth and development, internal organ, body tissue, emotion, aspect of the soul, taste, color, sound…” the list is seemingly endless.  This theory gives a template to show “how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact each other.” It gives a multidimensional view and provides a diagnostic framework to identify where imbalances lie.

We are in the season of spring which is the Wood Element.

  • The Liver and Gallbladder are associated organs
  • Eyes and tendons are associated body parts
  • The emotion of anger
  • The color green
  • Wind
  • Calling sound
  • Sour taste
  • The direction is east
  • 11pm – 3am -time

When the Wood chi is weak, indecision and a feeling of being stuck can occur. People who have a strong wood energy have clear goals and vision and can manifest their goals. Planning and decision making are their forte.

Navigating the Energies of Spring

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During this beautiful time of year when nature is awakening and sending its energy up and outward, the energies most active play an important role in our modern world. The Gallbladder Meridian, which begins in the head and ends between the 4th and 5th toes, is responsible for decision making and overcoming obstacles. It’s partner, the Liver Meridian, controls our ability to plan our lives.

It is said that the gallbladder energy carries out the plans of the liver. The emotions connected with the Liver Meridian are anger, resentment, and frustration.

In our present-day society of deadlines and responsibilities, a healthy gallbladder and liver energy is essential to good decision making. Difficulty with procrastination or frustration level are symptoms of gallbladder and liver imbalance.

Diets which are high in processed carbs, fried food, trans fats dairy and fructose can lead to gallbladder imbalance. Some pre-disposing factors to liver disease include diabetes, alcoholism, drug abuse, malnutrition, and viral liver infection.

To improve gallbladder and liver health:

  • Juice a combination of beets, apples, lemon, carrots, and dandelion greens.
  • Eat more leafy greens, walnuts, olive oil, asparagus, garlic, turmeric, cauliflower, tart cherries, broccoli, and kale
  • Get some type of exercise every day Meridian