Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Taking Care of Your Spleen Will Do Way More Than Improve Your Digestion

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the most common things I see in my practice is problems with digestion. Interestingly, this isn’t usually the reason that people come to see me, but when I am going through the medical history, it usually comes up. The sad thing is that most people live with digestive problems when in TCM they are relatively easy to fix with a little treatment ,nutritional counselling and some tips on how to help support and strengthen our digestions.

Now, a lot of people think of the spleen as in the western medicine spleen, part of the immune system and responsible for the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes) and removal of old red blood cells. It is not the same as it is in TCM. The spleen in Chinese medicine is paired with the Stomach, and both are the main organs of digestion for the body. The difference is that they not only digest food, but also stimulus and information - everything that comes into the body through our sense organs.

What you learn your first year in Acupuncture school when learning TCM theory, is that we live in a Spleen deficient culture. We are constantly taking in information, and that information has to be processed by, you guessed it, the Spleen. We eat in front of the TV (taking in food, and stimulus at the same time), we are constantly looking at our mobile devices on the road and wherever we go, and we are always multitasking. Never doing just one thing at a time. And thus, we are overloading our poor Spleens.

So, what can we do? There are lots of things that, once you are aware of them, can help take the burden off your Spleen.

Don’t Put Ice In Your Drinks.
Avoid Cold Foods.

The Spleen hates cold, so one easy way to help your Spleen is to avoid ice in your drinks. Because the Spleen is responsible for breaking down your food through the process of digestion, and this is powered by heat. Eating and drinking cold foods such as icy drinks, eating ice cream (a TCM nono!), or eating a lot of frozen or very cold foods (many foods in raw form are considered “cold”) taxes the Spleens energy, as it has to heat up again to be able to do the work necessary for digestion.

Be Mindful.

This is not just good advice for helping your Spleen, but a good life philosophy. One of the best things you can do for your Spleen is to do one thing at a time and be absolutely mindful when you do it. This means when you are eating, JUST EAT. Don’t sit in front of the TV, read, study or catch up on work. In such a fast-paced world where everyone is short on time, it is understandable that people are always doing many things at once, but this small thing will not only help your Spleen, it will relax your mind and body as well.

Chew Your Food.

We can all help our Spleens by making sure that we really chew our food well. We tend to all be in such a hurry that we do not chew our food nearly as well as we should. Chewing will help the breakdown of the foods before they get to the stomach, making the Spleens job a little easier.

Eat Soups.

Since most of us have at least some Spleen deficiency, one of the best things you can do to be kind to your Spleen is to eat soups. These are warming (the longer and slower they are cooked, the more warming they become) and they are very easy to digest which is why they are prescribed to you when you are sick - your body requires less energy to digest them, focussing its energies to fighting pathogens and getting you well. Soups do not take a lot of energy to digest, saving the Spleens energy for other things. There are many foods that are beneficial to the Spleen which I will list later in the article. I will also list foods that the Spleen is not so fond of so you can at least be aware of what they are and avoid them when you can.

Take A Break.

Because we live in a culture that is so bombarded by stimulus, most people have deficient Spleens. The Spleen must take in and process ALL that information, including the food we eat and liquids we drink, so you can imagine, it is a very hard working organ. Something that you can do to give your Spleen a break, is to literally, take a break. Go for a walk outside. Leave your phone at home. Sit somewhere quiet and meditate away from the TV, the phone and try to avoid interruptions. Doing this even once a day for a few minutes will really help the Spleen and you will notice a big difference in how you feel. You will notice that you are calmer, more aware and feel more at peace. And your Spleen will love you.

The Spleens Functions in TCM

The Spleen is responsible for many functions so that if you have symptoms in any of these areas, they point to a disharmony of the Spleen.

The Spleen Controls Blood

The Spleen is responsible for manufacturing the Blood and the Spleen Qi keeps it in the vessels. If Spleen-Qi is weak, a person will bruise easily, and/or will have problems with bleeding.

muscles

The Spleen Controls The Muscles And The Four Limbs

The Spleen is responsible for circulating nutrients to the muscles and tissues. If the Spleen is weak, then the muscles and limbs are not nourished and become weak and tired.

The Spleen Is Responsible For Transformation & Transportation

The Spleen is responsible for the intake, processing, and distribution of nutrients extracted from food and drink. The Spleen takes these nutrients and creates Qi and Blood, both vital substances for all the body’s functions and maintaining proper health. If transformation and transportation is functioning properly, the Qi is strong, digestion is smooth and the body is kept moist. When malfunctioning, the Qi is weak (lassitude and lethargy), the appetite is poor, digestion is sluggish and the stools are loose and watery.

The Spleen manifests on the lips

The Spleen Opens Into The Mouth & Manifests In The Lips

Chewing is necessary for the functioning of the Spleen and if the Spleen is deficient, the sense of taste may be dulled. Red, moist and vibrant lips indicate a healthy Spleen. If the Spleen is deficient, however, the lips will be pale from lack of nourishment.

Controls The Upright Qi

The Spleen is responsible for the body’s “holding” function. This is called the upright Qi. It is specifically the force that counteracts gravity when it comes to holding things, specifically the organs, in place. This is very important! Without healthy upright Qi, all of our organs would be at the bottom of our abdomen! When the Spleen is weak, we see prolapse of organs (uterus, bladder, stomach), prolapse of the vagina as well as things like hemorrhoids (prolapse of the anus, PLUS bleeding also attributed to the Spleen).

Houses Thought

Every organ in TCM is seen to have its own unique Spirit, and the Spirit of the Spleen is called the Yi. The Spleen is directly related to our capacity for thinking. How well we manage our thoughts, concentrate, exercise discernment, and form intentions are dependent on the strength of the Spleen.

Young Woman Biting Her Finger Nail

Worry - The Emotion of the Spleen

All organs in TCM also are associated with an emotion, and the emotion of the Spleen is worry. This works in two ways. Excessive worry will damage the Spleen Qi, and a deficient Spleen can weaken the mind and our capacity to think clearly and focus, leaving us susceptible to worry.

Colour food circle

Foods Beneficial For The Spleen

  • Organic lightly cooked vegetables, corn, celery, watercress, turnip, pumpkin, alfalfa sprouts, button mushrooms, radish, caper
  • Brown rice, barley, amaranth, rye, oats
  • Legumes, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils
  • A small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • A small amount of whole fruits (as opposed to just the juice), lemon
  • Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Seaweed, kelp
  • Green tea, jasmine tea, raspberry leaf tea, chai tea
  • Raspberry, peach, strawberry, cherry
  • Walnut, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios
  • Lamb, venison
  • Lobster, mussels, prawns, shrimp, trout
  • Black pepper, cinnamon bark, clove, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, peppermint, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, nutmeg

preparing food

Foods That Hurt The Spleen

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Cold drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Processed foods
  • Refined flour, pastry, pasta, bread
  • Cold raw foods
  • Refined sugar and sugar substitutes
  • Coffee, alcohol
  • Deep fried foods
  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Bananas, avocado

When the Spleen is functioning well a person will feel energetic, their digestion will be smooth, their bowel movements will be regular and firm (not soft), thoughts will be clear and one will be able to concentrate.

When the Spleen is imbalanced there will be symptoms of digestive upset, loose stools, poor appetite, low energy, edema (water retention), nausea, vomiting, weakness in the four limbs, pale lips, organ prolapse, bruising and a feeling of cold.

Because most of us have some level of Spleen deficiency, we can all help our Spleens by being aware of simple things we can all do to take some of the pressure off this important organ. Your Spleen will love you for it. :)

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If you suspect you are having problems with your spleen and would like an expert opinion, Emma offers skype consultations. Please email emma@chinesemedicineliving.com for more information or to set up an appointment.

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Would you like to learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine? Check out these downloadable info sheets available on www.learnchinesemedicine.com -

The Spleen - Theory in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen - Nutrition in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen - Dampness in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen - Patterns in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen Associations in Chinese Medicine - Poster

Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

 


Summer Foods & Preparation According to Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

To fully embody summer, Chinese medicine suggests that we embody yang - expansion, growth, light and outward expression, activity, brightness and creativity. Summer is a time of luxurious growth. To be in harmony with this season it is best to wake early and soak up the summer sun just as the plants do. Have your work, play and all the things you do be joyful and fill you with a sense of happiness and peace. This is a season to allow the bounty of the outside world feed and nourish us.


Photo by Stephanie Cook on Unsplash

One of the joys of summer is having an unlimited variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables so you can enjoy creating beautiful meals using many colours and textures, as well as creating gorgeous floral arrangements for your home and table which nourish the eyes as well as the body.

Cooking should be light, like steaming or sautéing to keep the vitality of the food while adding a bit of spicy or pungent flavour to nourish the heart, the organ representing summer. When sautéing, use high heat for a very short time, and when steaming or simmering do so quickly so food retains its nutrients. Use more water for cooking in summer and less salt.

Summer offers abundant variety and the diet should reflect this. Because there is excess sweating in summer, fluids, minerals and oils must be replaced or the body will become weak making us more susceptible to disease. A varied diet will give the body everything it needs to stay healthy, and the summer season is the best time to be able to offer the body variety.

Heart Bowl

Although it may seem contrary to what we have learned in the West, Chinese medicine tells us to drink hot liquids and take warm showers in summer to induce sweat and cool the body. Summer heat along with too much cold foods weakens the digestive system and injures the digestive organs of stomach and spleen. Many raw foods are considered cold in Chinese medicine as they take a lot of energy (digestive fire) for the body to break down. Eating raw foods, ice cream and iced drinks actually cause the stomach to contract and impede digestion and are best avoided.

On very hot days eat more cooling fresh foods such as salads, sprouts, fruit and tofu. Hydrating foods such as watermelon and cucumber will ensure that your body is hydrated in the hot summer sun. Another thing that cools summer heat are flower leaf teas such as chrysanthemum, chamomile and mint, and the best cooling fruits are lemons, limes, watermelon and apples. Surprisingly, hot spices are indicated for the hottest days of summer as they have a stimulating effect that initially heats up the body, but then brings it to the surface to be released. Black pepper, cayenne, fresh ginger, and red and green hot peppers are ideal for this. Moderation is important when using these hot spices however as dispersing too much heat will deplete the body’s yang (or fire energy) and the body’s balance will be disrupted which will make it more susceptible to contracting illness.

Heart Foods

Avoid heavy foods, especially on the hottest days as they make the body sluggish. These tend to be the foods many of us eat on a regular basis such as meat, eggs and an excess amount of grains, nuts and seeds. Eating less and light meals on hot days is a natural healthy practice and something that is easily forgotten as many of us have lost touch with our bodies and its rhythms as well as the changing of the seasons.

Eating whole foods is important for the entire body and especially the heart. Whole foods have a calming effect on the body so including them in the diet is important for good health. The bitter aspect of grains such as wheat and rice is in their germ and bran which are removed in processing refined wheat and white rice. Also the essential fatty acids in the grain germ and the B vitamins which are primarily in the germ and bran have a definite healing and sustaining effect on the nerves. Magnesium also, is important for proper functioning of the heart and nerves but it virtually lost in the milling of grains and refining of most foods. Green foods are high in magnesium and should be added to the diet especially in the summer season to help the heart function properly.

Chinese medicine teaches to live according to the seasons which means eating what grows in each season and changing the way we prepare our foods accordingly. The seasons tell us when we should wake in the morning, sleep, and how much activity we need. Because each season is associated with an organ and an emotion, we are taught to pay close attention to the seasons associated organ and emotion at this time to make sure it is healthy and all of our emotions are being expressed so that we can be happy and balanced.

Photo by Cynthia Frankvoort on Unsplash

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Featured image photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Summer season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Summer Season in Chinese Medicine.


Daikon - The Cancer Fighting Radish

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

The Oriental white radish is very common in most Asian cuisines because it is plentiful all year round and therefore very inexpensive. Besides price, daikon is known to many to be a healthy food choice. The Japanese, Korean and Chinese use daikon a lot in soups, stews and in pickles. It may be one of the reasons why Asian people, especially those eating their traditional diets are living healthier, longer lives than most others in the Western world.

Chinese medicine regards daikon or “lo-bak” as slightly cool in nature and sweet in taste. It acts on the lungs and spleen to clear phlegm, stop coughing, promote digestion, move stagnant qi or energy downwards, cool internal heat and prevent/stop the development of cancer cells. “Lo-bak” is commonly used in many home remedies.

One of the main reasons cancer is becoming more and more common nowadays is because our modern diet is creating the internal body environment to foster cancer growth. The over indulgence of food, especially meat, sugar and dairy products and the lack of high fibre vegetables, are making our gut too acidic. The over processed foods especially deep-fried and grilled foods are too hot in nature and are lacking the digestive enzymes necessary to break down food quickly therefore creating indigestion, heart burn, constipation and leaky gut syndrome. To correct all these internal problems and imbalances, daikon is most suitable and it is far more effective than any modern medicine can do without any side effects.

The best way to eat daikon on a regular basis is to make pickled daikon. It is most simple to make and can be kept in the fridge to last for months. It is best to eat it as a starter or eat with salad to promote appetite and to get the digestive juices flowing before eating the main meal. There are many other recipes on our website www.nourishu.com using daikon for curing cold/flu, for weight loss and for promoting qi.

pickled daikon

Pickled Daikon to Beat Cancer

There are numerous reports of how people have beaten cancer just by eating pickled daikon, even those with  cancer at an advanced stage. They did not only eradicate cancer, they regained good health as well.

This is really very good news. I believe we have nothing to lose by eating pickled daikon regularly. People who have cold and weak spleen/stomach conditions should not eat too much daikon because it will give them stomach pain.  Also, when people are taking potent herbs such as red ginseng, they should stay away from daikon for a few days because it will lessen the effectiveness of the herbs by passing it through too quickly.

cut daikon

INGREDIENTS

  • Daikon – one (large)
  • Salt – 2 spoonfuls
  • Rice vinegar – one bottle
  • Organic cane sugar – one cup or to taste

daikon radish

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Wash daikon (with skin) with a vegetable scrubber and rinse clean.
  • Cut out the top and bottom part, cut daikon into a few large sections and then cut each section diagonally into eight or ten pieces.
  • Put all in a stainless steel pot or container and add salt. Toss daikon to mix with salt for about 5 minutes.
  • Transfer all with juice to a glass container and add sugar and then vinegar to cover the daikon.
  • Shake well until all sugar is dissolved and put it in the fridge. The daikon is ready to eat in a week.

pickled daikon

USAGE

Use a clean fork to take out the required amount each time to prevent contamination. Use the vinegar separately for cooking or use it to cure mouth sores by drinking a small cup.


The Thyroid in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that wraps around the trachea (windpipe) in the throat. The thyroid’s function is to secrete hormones (thyroxine) that help regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and the rate at which food is converted into energy. Thyroid hormones are essential for the function of every cell in the body. They help regulate growth and the rate of chemical reactions as well as our body’s metabolism. Thyroid hormones also help children grow and develop.

thyroid

The thyroid uses iodine, a mineral found in some foods and in iodized salt, to make its hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by the pituitary gland, acts to stimulate hormone production by the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland also makes the hormone calcitonin, which is involved in calcium metabolism and stimulating bone cells to add calcium to bone.

Thyroid disorders fall into two categories, hypo - or under active thyroid, and hyper - or over active thyroid. Here is a description of both, with a list of their symptoms.

HYPERTHYROID (over active)

Hyperthyroid results from an overactive thyroid that produces too much thyroid hormone. Below are a list of hyperthyroid symptoms.

  • high blood pressure
  • rapid heartbeat
  • moist skin
  • increased sweating
  • tremor
  • nervousness
  • increased appetite with weight loss
  • diarrhea, and/or frequent bowel movements
  • weakness
  • eyes that seem to bulge out of their sockets
  • and sensitivity of the eyes to light

 

HYPOTHYROID (under active)

Hypothyroidism is characterized by an under active thyroid gland. Symptoms of hypothyroid are below.

  • hoarse voice
  • slowed speech
  • puffy face
  • drooping eyelids
  • sensitivity to cold
  • constipation
  • weight gain
  • dry hair and skin
  • depression

Traditional Chinese medicine regards both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism as imbalances of the Yin and Yang energy of the body. In Chinese medicine, Yin and Yang are considered the essential components of the material universe. Everything that exists has both Yin and Yang aspects. In the body, when Yin and Yang are in balance, we are healthy and able to ward off disease, but when Yin and Yang become imbalanced, illness develops.

When treating hypo or hyperthyroidism, a TCM practitioner will use acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary therapy and energy work like Tai Chi and Qi Gong to rebalance an individual's Yin and Yang. Chinese Medicine theory states that external factors (like diet, weather and physical injury or trauma) and internal factors (such as emotional states, mental stimulation and hereditary factors) are all contributors to changes in Yin and Yang.

acupuncture needles

Hyperthyroidism in Chinese medicine is considered a deficiency of the Yin energy of the body which is unable to control Yang and, because Yang is Fire, it flares upwards giving rise to hyperthyroid symptoms like anxiety, anger, dry mouth with a bitter taste - all symptoms of heat in the body.

Hypothyroidism is considered a deficiency of Yang causing excess Yin, which represents water or cold energy which causes symptoms like lassitude, poor memory, edema, being pale and feeling cold.

yin yang

There is some question as to why there seem to be so many cases of thyroid disorders in recent years, and why the numbers are increasing. Some theories suggest that we are getting better at diagnosing the disease, and others speculate that there is not enough iodine in the diet. I believe that in a world where we are constantly in a hurry, eating nutrient depleted foods covered in pesticides, and overloading our bodies with toxins like fluoride, that it is our lifestyles that have become toxic and are no longer as able to support health as they once were. If we were to look back even a generation ago, the food that was eaten was much closer to what grew out of the ground and people didn’t have to work 2 jobs to pay the mortgage. Other things that contribute are wearing tight, constrictive clothing that inhibits the movement of qi or energy throughout the body, energy that is important for all our physiological processes and psychological well being. We seem to have lost the balance in life and perhaps in some cases the meaning of life itself. In many traditions like those of the Native Indians, Ayurvedic medicine (the medicine of India) and Chinese medicine, there is a deep connection to nature and the world around us that is inseparable from the human being, and health on every level is an integral part of supporting us on the journey we are all on in this life and on this planet. In some ways, this seems to be getting lost.

girl

The good news is that these ancient systems like Chinese medicine are a treasure trove of wisdom that have thousands of years of practice and development. It would be overly simplistic to say that Chinese medicine is a medical system, it was designed as a way of life. Chinese medicine can teach us the art of living, and the goal is for every being to live harmoniously with themselves, the people and creatures around them and the natural world so that they can live long, happy and healthy lives.


Adventures at Meditation Camp

I wanted to share this with all of you as I had such an overwhelming response to the post about my Vipassana experience. I was very fortunate to, on the last day at the retreat, meet some wonderful ladies, one of whom went home and wrote about her experience as well. It is wonderfully refreshing and very funny.

She has very kindly given me permission to share it so that you can have a different persons take on the experience. It is a great piece and I have compiled her 3 entries into one post. Her original posts are on her blog - The Sparkler -  here - Adventures at Meditation Camp Part 1 - Expectations / Meditation Camp Part 2 - Monkey Mind / Meditation Camp Part 3 - Itching is Not Eternal. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

*I believe that she intends to add more posts so I will continue to add them to this post as she posts them...

Adventures at Meditation Camp
Part 1 - Expectations

I promised a full disclosure account of my 10 days spent in silent meditation at the Southeast Vipassana Center but I’ve been putting this off—trying to digest what I learned and put what I learned into practice but mostly trying figure out a way to summarize a VERY COMPLICATED experience.

A few days after my return, my dad (ever the pragmatist) asked, “So, what was the take-away?" My response to him was, “An ancient Buddhist meditation technique that (I hope) will help me maintain some sort of balance through the next round of challenges life throws at me." But my answer to him doesn’t really hint at the depth of what I experienced and learned, there and since.

Without a doubt, it has had a profound effect on me. Many who know me well have immediately recognized it in my face and demeanor (I call it the Vipassana facelift—I swear I have less wrinkles). But to tell the truth, it all seemed very ordinary at the start and quite a few days in I did not hold any hope of seeing any major changes. It was very peaceful there but it was almost over before I saw even the hint of the possibility of a change in consciousness, much less a drastic or revolutionary one.

There we were (me and about 60 strangers with whom I could not speak) in the middle of freaking nowhere in rural south Georgia (Jesup, GA, to be specific) on an enormous property accessed by dirt roads with no cell phone service within ten miles of the place.

The subtropical landscape felt like home, about an hour from the coast, lots of pines, magnolias and scrub oak, white sandy paths, cheerful waving palmettos and silvery Spanish moss in the trees (all very similar to coastal Alabama where I grew up).

I arrived just before one of the regular late afternoon thunderstorms. As we checked in everyone was supernice and calm, talking in low voices. Shoes are not worn in the buildings. There was a good vibe. Lots of cars in the parking lot had bumper stickers promoting peace and liberal political ideals. The folks checking in around me were diverse in age and ethnicity. The registration process included taking of all cellphones and other electronics and any belongings (car keys) that were not needed during your stay. All would be returned in eleven days as you departed. (This process was obviously scary for some participants. I watched as some students handed these items over with furrowed brows, many questions and nervous laughs.)

Eventually I walked into the freshly scrubbed and simply furnished dorm room I would share with three other women. I was immediately disheartened because they were all half my age and talking animatedly about things not remotely spiritual or enlightening. I was longing for a deeply spiritual, life-altering experience at this retreat and this was NOT AT ALL how I expected it to begin. I wanted to switch rooms, maybe join some of the older students, but I knew the dangers of holding on to expectations and made a conscious effort to just go with the flow.

Beyond this initial aversion to my dorm situation all was calm and generally blissful for the first few days. I enjoyed the quiet, the beautiful landscape around us, the food, even the meditation itself and the teachings of the guru, S. N. Goenka, whom we watched each evening by video.

Goenka is this adorable little man with a great sense of humor. I was often giggling to myself at his self-deprecating stories and his phrasing and pronunciation of certain words. Goenka would say slowly, “Alvays remain avare, remain avare," sounding more like Bela Lugosi than a Burmese-born meditation guru.

He repeated everything twice. And in teaching us Anapana breathing he would pronounce “nostrils" as “nose-trills." which actually makes more sense but still sounds amusing. “Focus all attention on the breath as it enters the nose-trills," he would repeat slowly like a hypnotist.

I felt that the breathing technique we were practicing was super easy, but little did I know this was just to sharpen our minds before we learned actual practice of Vipassana meditation. Once we began Vipassana practice, things began to shift for me. The process became more challenging, and things began to intensify on many levels.

More on that soon.

Meditation Camp Part 2 -
Monkey Mind

At orientation on the first evening of the retreat we all repeated a solemn vow to observe “noble silence" until the tenth day of our stay. We were even advised to pretend that we were alone on this retreat, to not even acknowledge one another or make eye contact as we passed in the hall. No need for social formalities here. Just stay within.

I was ready for this, ready and willing. This retreat was a last resort for me. I was in desperate need of profound, positive change and we all know the most profound changes come from within.

We woke at 4 am to start our first day of meditation, wandering by the light of the moon to the meditation hall. The Center is run very much like a monastery. Gongs were sounded for waking, breaks and meals. We ate full meals at 6 and 11 am and then had just fruit and tea at 5 pm. (I hear your question and no, I never felt hungry and the food was amazingly healthy and delicious.) Lights went out each night at 10 pm. Everything ran like clockwork so we had nothing to do but face the challenges of the silence and the meditation itself.

As I mentioned previously, I was finding the Anapana breathing technique easy, like child’s play, but maintaining my mental focus was a whole other story. It felt like an exercise in futility even though I was an eager student.

The mind has ways and wiles you will never know until you try to meditate regularly. In the world of meditation this is called “monkey mind," a mind that willfully refuses to be tamed (Very accessible discussion on this topic by Buddhist Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen herehttp://badlamaguide.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/enter-the-monkey/).

And oh, DID I EVER have a bad case of monkey mind. In those first days as I dutifully sat on my cushion for hours at a time, I wrote most of a comedic screenplay about a former job in my head. I designed dresses and came up with an entire business plan for the my company (which I decided to name Maude Designs after Harold and Maude). I had fantasies about Benedict Cumberbatch. I thought about baked brie and wedding cake and mojitos (not together). I also listened to long, grumbling south Georgia thunderstorms as if they were symphonies.

In other words, I found endless ways to distract myself and usually without even being aware that I was doing so until I had followed a random train of thought for a full half hour. But then, as the gentle Buddhists suggest, I did not berate myself for wandering. I recognized that I was following the monkeys, yet again, and came back to the breath. This is the process.

I did not have trouble staying awake as many others did (you would occasionally hear snores in the meditation hall) but instead my mind was in hyperdrive, perhaps from being denied the normal barrage of stimulation we encounter in everyday life.

But I also believe that a large part of the reason we cannot easily meditate (perhaps an even stronger reason than our limited attention spans) is fear. We are deeply afraid of what we are going to find when we really look within, and our mind does circus performances just to keep us from going there. This was definitely the case for me.

But by the third day things improved. I was able to sit for longer periods without shifting my position and I was much more focused. Goenka’s mind-sharpening technique seemed to be working. My mental focus increased and this happened just in time, because the next day we began our Vipassana training in earnest.

Will share the gory details about what happens next very soon. Peace out. ;)

image

Meditation Camp Part 3 -
Itching Is Not Eternal

Many people have said to me that they absolutely could NOT spend ten days in silence, much less in silent meditation. I readily admit that it is no easy task but I do believe that if I could do it and if prisoners in state penitentiaries can do it (http://www.prison.dhamma.org/), then pretty much anyone could do it. Being WILLING to do it is a whole other subject.

I was certainly willing and my mental focus was much-improved as I sat on the third day of this retreat, but physically I was still struggling. My foot would fall asleep. My back would ache. Random parts of my body would itch. A hair would fall in my face. I was suddenly too hot or too cold. All of these annoying and uncomfortable physical sensations would arise as I sat. But the teachings tell us to retain our composure of mind and sit through all of these annoying sensations, completely still and in the present moment.

One of the most basic tenets of Buddhist thought (across all traditions) is to have neither aversion to the unpleasant nor cling to the pleasant. It is believed that clinging and aversion are the roots of all suffering. And, an important aspect of meditation is to practice this non-clinging and non-aversion on the mat in order that you may take this practice into your daily life.

But me and my ‘beginner’s mind, beginner’s body" could not sit still. I tried different positions. I shifted around on the cushion in reaction to aches and pains. I could not resist the need to lean forward and stretch to relieve tension in my neck. I scratched things that itched.

Goenka knows his students so well. It seems that each time an issue came up for me, it would be the topic of discussion during discourse that evening. That night Goenka talked about sitting on the cushion, wanting to move or react to every unpleasant sensation. He laughed and said, “itching is not eternal."  He explained that sensations arise and they pass away. We were advised to just sit and observe. Eventually each sensation, pleasant or unpleasant, will pass. Everything arises and passes in meditation and in life. Nothing is permanent.

And with this teaching I began to observe my need to “scratch each itch." And I was surprised by how quickly the sensation goes away when you just observe it, not reacting. I have also been surprised how much easier aches and pains are to deal with when you focus on them, bringing your full awareness to the site of pain and observing it as an outsider, studying the sensation, not identifying with it. Separating yourself from it makes it easier to bear.

These were the things I was working on as we began our fourth day. This was the day that the retreat got really intense for me.

More on this tomorrow.

Image below of S. N. Goenka, teacher of Vipassana meditation

Meditation Camp, Part 4,
Equanimous Mind

I’ve delayed publishing this installment because I felt a moral conflict. I was hesitant to say anything remotely negative about my roommates from the retreat. But I finally concluded that if they ever read this, I would hope that they would not be offended and would know that by the end of our time together, I had no hard feelings and loved them unconditionally. So here goes…

I was already aware that silent meditation retreats are deeply challenging and not at all appealing to everyone but I became painfully and personally aware of this fact when several of my roommates decided that it was not for them.

The first of them to balk broke her silence on day three to announce that “she already knew all this stuff" and wanted to leave. She even went so far as to pack her suitcase a few times. I cannot deny that I was hoping she would depart on each of those occasions and make our dorm room a more peaceful place.

This roommate’s overall mode of being was forceful and determined. She moved in sudden confident bursts and slammed doors at entrance and exit. She would come into the room like a tornado, unconcerned whether anyone was meditating or sleeping. She was so irritable about being there that, even when she wasn’t exhaling long drawn out sighs of angst and misery, she exuded negativity like an angry thundercloud.

She reached a point where she ignored most every rule they asked us to follow. She even wore her shoes indoors which is a sign of real disrespect in this tradition. If she had been rooming on her own it wouldn’t have mattered but we were all sharing this intimate space with two sets of bunk beds and a single bathroom. She made sure that we knew how miserable she was at all times.

Mind you, I had real compassion for her. I knew her ego had taken over out of complete fear of dealing with the things she might have to face in the silence. Our minds will do all sorts of desperate and surprising things (even beyond the circus antics of “monkey mind") to keep us from dealing with our own dark stuff.

But even though I recognized what she was doing and empathized, I was still feeling abused by her disruptive behavior and disrespect for others. It was as if she was not only going to reject the experience but to ruin it for those around her as well.

Frustration began to brew in me because I could not speak up to ask to her to consider the rest of us. I had made a solemn vow, and to speak up would mean breaking that vow. I decided to do my best to ignore her and to enjoy my time there, focusing on the work.

But on the fourth day we began practicing Vipassana meditation (more specifically the Vipassana meditation technique as taught by S. N. Goenka which is different from Vipassana as taught in the Theraveda Buddhist tradition). In the morning I felt very happy. I was now accustomed to the routine of waking at 4 a.m. and actually delighted in walking alone in the silence by the light of the moon to the meditation hall each day. Later in the morning it was sunny and clear, dragonflies flitted around and all seemed right in the world.

But after the morning sessions of Vipassana it seemed that all hell broke loose. A second roommate broke her silence (soon I was the only one in the room determined to honor our vow). This roommate was in her early 20’s, beautiful and full of energy. Meditating seemed antithetical to her nature. She could barely sit still. She brought her exercise mat and would exercise in the tiny dorm room (which was not allowed) even when others were trying to rest or meditate, huffing and puffing with her exertion. She found infinite ways to change her clothing and hairstyle each day, even shaving one side of her head about halfway through. Even though I did not know her, I could tell that she was a delightful person, but she was also absolutely miserable and complained in loud whispersabout wanting to leave.

My frustration continued to build. In meditation, I was struggling with the new meditation technique because suddenly my body was wracked with all sorts of random aches and pains each time I sat. I was extremely uncomfortable on the mat and I was unable to remain still for the full two-hour sessions. I went from “monkey mind" during the days of Anapana breathing to extreme levels of physical discomfort during Vipassana. I also found that the Vipassana body-scanning technique did not come easy to me. There was visualization required and a constant maintaining of focused awareness. Every session was like a mental wrestling match and it was really exhausting.

This struggle along with my whispering and restless roommates was making it incredibly difficult for me to maintain what our teacher, Goenka, calls “equanimous mind." I kept talking myself down from getting really upset with each additional incident.

Each day there were times when we were allowed to meditate in our rooms. I found it to be the most physically comfortable place to meditate and it was full of light—a nice break from the dark meditation hall. But my roommates would not keep quiet in the room.

That afternoon as I sat in my bed with my back to the wall immersed in meditation I was interrupted repeatedly and on the fourth or fifth time, I gave up, slumped down in my bed and began to cry with my head in my hands. I cried because my roommates were making me miserable. I cried because I had such high expectations for change and healing during this retreat and because I felt that circumstances outside my control were ruining all my efforts. I mostly cried because it all felt so unfair. I just broke down.

But it was not long before all my Buddhist teachings came flooding into my mind, reminding me that suffering is caused by clinging and aversion, both of which were playing major roles in this meltdown. I realized that I was clinging to expectations for the retreat when I know full well that this causes great suffering. If we do not want to suffer we must accept things as they are, as they unfold, rather than constantly wishing that they matched up to some self-created ideal.

And I was feeling strong aversion to the behavior of the people around me when acceptance would have kept me from feeling increasingly frustrated and reaching a state of emotional breakdown. Both clinging and aversion are barriers to maintaining a state of “equanimous mind," that the Buddha taught as the path to enlightenment. If we want to be free from suffering we must accept things as they are. Even if we do not like things, we do not have to react to them with aversion. Even if we really like something (or someone) we do not need to cling to it. It is all about balance.

We cannot control what other people do. We can only control our reactions. We do not have to suffer and, in this instance, I did not need to suffer. I realized in that moment that I would not be miserable if I simply accepted the situation and the people around me exactly as they are. I could not speak up because of my vow but I could choose to meditate elsewhere rather than spend time in the room, which was causing my greatest frustration. There are ways to make things better, to greatly decrease our suffering, even in difficult circumstances through acceptance and heartfelt compassion.

I am grateful to my roommates for pushing me to this epiphany. I experienced a “breakdown to breakthrough" and learned some things that I will be able to apply in daily life, but it was not easy. I came to a new and better understanding but that afternoon I thought to myself in a very non-Buddha-like way, “If I had a bottle of tequila, I’d be doing shots right now."

More soon.


My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I just returned from a 10 day Vipassana meditation. It was my first.

It was a deeply profound experience. It was both the best and the hardest thing I think I have ever done.

It is difficult to put into words an experience that by its very definition cannot be explained and must be experienced. It has been designed very deliberately to separate you from your daily life and distractions including banning all technology and communication with the outside world and even with your fellow meditators. This is so that you can venture into the depths of your being. It is the only way to get there. There have been 2500 years to figure this out.

First, let me tell you the facts. This is probably easiest.

Vipassana is a type of meditation taught by Gautama Buddha 2500 years ago. The technique existed before him, but he further developed it and it is his technique that is still taught today and is called Vipassana. Vipassana literally means seeing things as they really are. And this is what the technique helps you to do.

You are away for  twelve days in total, but the meditation course itself is ten consecutive days. You arrive in the afternoon of day zero and that evening after a brief orientation and light meal you descend into noble silence which continues for the entirety of the 10 days. You hand over your phones and any electronic devices when you get there. There are no books, paper, pens or pencils allowed. Dress must be modest and loose fitting. Clothing is worn to cover shoulders, navels and knees. And there is no eye contact.

Everyone is on their own journey and even though we are all together, living in close quarters, everyone is working in isolation. The rules attempt to eliminate distractions. You are out in the middle of nowhere, deep in nature where the only sounds are of birds, crickets and the thunder in the distance. It is incredibly peaceful and crazily remote.

There are both men and women who attend the course - I believe 24 of each - and they are segregated to different parts of the property. Each gender has their own dorms, dining hall and outside areas. The only time the men and women are together is in the meditation hall. We are on opposite side of the hall, and because there is no eye contact and when we meditate our eyes are closed, we never see each other. You are vaguely aware of their presence on the other side of the property, but so engrossed in your work that you don’t really notice.

vipassana meditation

Your meals are prepared by volunteers, former students who are giving their time so that we may all have this experience. All meals are vegetarian and prepared with intention and love. And you can taste it. There are 2 meals a day and tea at dinner time. The schedule is rigorous. You wake at 4am and the first meditation of the day starts at 4:30, and with the exception of meals and a break to shower and rest, you meditate until 9pm. There are recorded discourses in the evenings with instructions about the technique given by S.N. Goenka who was both incredibly wise and very funny which, after a day of intense meditation is a breath of fresh air and helps to deflate the tensions that linger from a long day spent inside your head. Lights out at 9:30pm, and, at least for me, there was never any worry about sleeping because I was practically asleep before I hit my bunk, and I wasn’t alone, by 9:15 gentle snoring could be heard floating down the halls. Each day is more intense than the last and you are working HARD. It is like boot camp for the mind.

There are teachers that supervise the meditations, one woman for the women, and a man for the men. They are there if you need to ask questions (you are allowed to speak to them for this purpose), and each gender has a manager that they may speak to if they have any problems with logistics - not feeling well, problems with food or accommodations. Things like that.

It is strange to think about how 24 girls could live in extremely close quarters for 10 days in complete silence with no ability to communicate, but it is amazing how adaptable we are. We soon all fell into a rhythm, ebbing and flowing with the schedule, sharing a bathroom and eating our meals. Together, but alone.

I came to get a very good sense of the energy of all the girls in our pod. There were 8 of us. And it got so that I could feel them coming and going and could tell who was in the room without seeing them.  It is amazing how much communicating you can do without words, and living closely with people for days you come to know what they need and what their habits are. This was fascinating to me.

In meditation hall this sensitivity to energy became amplified for me. I found that I could feel who was struggling and who was calm and in the zone so to speak. You draw strength from someone sitting near you who is focussed and solid in their practice and send energy to anyone you feel is really struggling. And this fluctuates all the time, changing minute to minute.

Dhamma Hall ready for the first course 4th October 2007

The first few days were tough. For me it was the schedule change. I have always been a night person and 4am is closer to my bedtime than the time I would ever consider getting up. Everything happens with the ringing of a gong which starts gently at 4am. I would crawl out of bed in complete darkness trying to be quiet and stumble outside where it was still the middle of the night and the stars still were out. I would quietly enter the meditation hall and find my cushion on the floor, (a spot is given to you on the first day and is kept for the duration), get comfortable and sit for 2 hours until breakfast. Then the gong would sound and everyone would quietly get up and move silently to the dining hall where we all peacefully eat breakfast. The dining hall was designed in such a way that you are never facing anyone, the entire experience is designed so that you can be alone and not be distracted. After breakfast three more hours of meditation until lunch at 11am. That is the last meal of the day, and the afternoon and evening schedule is hard core, with meditation from 1-5pm with a break for tea until 6, then meditation and the evening discourse until 9 by which point we were all so spent that we could barely make it back to our bunks before we were out cold. I slept like a corpse.

The first few days I was so exhausted that, strangely, it was a lot easier to pry myself out of my bunk at 4am and meditate, then crash out after breakfast until the next session, crash out after lunch until the gong and so on. I think I was just so tired that my body was on autopilot, and too tired to even be unhappy about it. It was about day 4 that I started coming out of the exhaustion and my head cleared. Interestingly, this is the day that they teach you the Vipassana meditation. Until then, you are doing what is called Anapana meditation in preparation for Vipassana which takes you deeper. We were told that day 4 and 6 are the hardest and when people tend to want to go home, or, as I think Goenka put it in his discourses - “run away”. For me, this is the day it got really REAL.

S.N. Goenka
S.N. Goenka

I never had the strong urge to run away, but I think that is only because I decided before I got there that I would surrender to it and let it take me where I needed to go. What I didn’t know is that it is YOU taking you where you need to go, and often where you don’t want to go. There is a purification that happens over the ten days, and it isn’t entirely pleasant. You are going deep inside yourself, and digging up old scars, hurts, anger, sadness, fear and other emotions that are still in there, long after the incident that caused them. They are things that we have been hanging on to, and if I understand it correctly, it is the hanging on that is allowing them to continually hurt us in the present, even if we are not consciously aware of it. The technique is allowing you to venture so deep that, at least for me, terrible, painful things are coming out, and it feels awful. But there is nowhere to go, nothing to distract yourself with, and this is the whole idea. You have to DEAL.

I was amazed at the things that were buried deep inside myself. The fears, the anxiety, they were overwhelming and several times I had uncontrollable urges to cry. I was not alone, and there were times people would be overcome with emotion. But the idea is, that you are doing a very deep surgery on yourself, trying to get at an infection, and when you finally reach it, you cut into it and all the pus comes flooding out. It feels awful, but you are cleaning out the wound. You are then able to apply healing balm to it, and let it heal while also learning how to live your life without acquiring any more infections, all the while allowing any remaining ills to come to the surface and be released. It is a healing purification on the most fundamental level.

The other thing that was interesting to me was what happens when you are in silence for a little while and out in nature. It makes you realize how loud the outside world is, that there are layers of noise and distractions around us at all times, and it isn’t until you take them away and be silent that something amazing happens. You begin to notice that everything alive and your natural environment has a hum that you can now hear. It is always there, but you have never been quiet enough to hear it before. Plants, insects, trees, the sky, everything has a hum, and it is like the most beautiful music - the music your ears were designed for. Every chance I got I would walk or sit outside. My mind became so focussed, I would watch colonies of ants, dragonflies or listen to birds speaking to each other in distant trees or the sounds of the wind sweeping through the landscape. I loved the silence that allowed these subtle sounds, and now that I know that they are there, I am looking forward to spending hours in forests, in the ocean and in trees listening. Quietly listening.

nature

Another thing that I discovered is that my own body had a hum which I became aware of during the process. My body and I have always had a pretty good relationship, each respecting the other, but the silence in my world now brought this to a whole new level. I have always accepted that my body has an intelligence that far exceeds the one attributed to my brain, and that became even more apparent in the ten days of meditation. Your body will speak to you if you are quiet enough to hear it. It will tell you if something is right, or wrong if you learn the language it is using to communicate. This is a bit difficult to explain. If you know what I mean when I say a gut feeling, then  it is similar to that, only more subtle. I was suddenly intimately aware of what my body needed, and if it was feeling bad, why. It is like discovering that your body is the best feedback mechanism for living the way you are supposed to - living your truth, whatever that is for you. For example, eating is hard for me until I am fully awake and that certainly doesn’t happen at 6:30 when we ate breakfast. The first couple of days I would try to eat but my body made it clear that if I tried to put anything into I would I spend the next few hours trying not to throw up (eww).  So I had a chat with “myself”,  explaining that I wasn’t trying to be cruel, but this was the time we had to eat and, if we didn’t take the opportunity we’d pass out with hunger by evening. This made a big difference and “we” compromised by eating a little granola with fruit. I am so glad that I had that time to make friends with my body again and reassure it that I am looking out for us and that I always have our collective interests at heart. In the real world, my day and life is ruled by my head and it often overrides what might be kindest for my body. I hope that in the future I can attain a little more balance.

I can’t speak to other people’s experience, but I found the entire process to be life changing. If you had asked me the first few days I would have had a different answer, and the days after that when I was in the depths of it I might have had a different opinion still, but it is going through the whole experience, beginning to end that allows you to see, to FEEL the complete picture. It is only after getting rid of all that darkness that you realize how terrible it was making you feel and how amazing you feel without it. And I know I felt this enormous gratitude for the fact that this place existed and that I was able to have this experience. The entire organization runs on donations, and they are all from students. There is no fund, or company set up to financially keep it going, the staff are all volunteers (former students) and all the money that keeps it operating is donated from students who have completed at least one course. I remembered thinking one day in one of the bazillion meditations that I was able to have this experience because a former student donated the money to allow it to happen. That was incredibly humbling.

This may seem strange or even impossible, but its true. It is all by donation. There are centres all over the world, with 9 in the United States and 5 in Canada. Also, in case some of you are wondering, there is no religion, no dogma, no rites or rituals. Everyone is welcome, no matter your race, where you are from or what you believe. It is a meditation technique, and its goal is to bring humanity out of its suffering and unhappiness, teach compassion and love for others so that we may all be happy, harmonious, peaceful beings. There is no purer thing in the whole world than that. And I know that I am incredibly grateful that it exists. I know that I got enormous benefit from it and I will be forever changed because of it, and my wish is that anyone who wants to be happy and live a peaceful life goes and has the experience as well. I wish it for all of you.

Peace is good.

P.S.

If you are curious about Vipassana meditation and would like to watch an excellent documentary about it, watch
The Dhamma Brothers. It is a very inspirational story. If you would like to read about my second Vipassana retreat you can do so here - Vipassana 2.0.

dhammabrothers


Living With The Seasons in Chinese Medicine - Summer

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

There are 5 seasons in traditional Chinese Medicine, corresponding to the 5 elements - Fire / Earth / Metal / Water / Wood. They correspond to Summer, Late Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring respectively.

Summer represents the outward expression of energy, expansiveness, movement and activity. It is the most yang of the seasons and is ruled by fire. Life and energies are at their peak. Summer in Chinese Medicine, is the season associated with the heart and the small intestine. The colour is red, the emotion joy, and it is a time for growth, expansion, light, abundance and is the manifestation of all we have been cultivating throughout the spring.

surfing

Many look forward to summer all year round. The weather is hot and the sun is out, improving people’s moods and people are drawn outdoors to participate in all the activities they have been longing for all winter. Plants grow quickly, people are full of energy and the body’s Qi and vitality are at their peak. It is a time to cultivate the yang energy (fire), while making sure that it does not come to excess. In Chinese Medicine, the heart, mind and spirit are ruled by the fire element, so priority should be given to these important aspects of ourselves in the summer season.

journaling

Rising early in the summer allows us to benefit from the suns nourishing rays. Being up early enables us to get all of the suns nourishing energy which is the most bountiful at this time of year. In summer, our work, play and relationships should be filled with joy and should instill in us a feeling of happiness and delight. We should live our lives and go about our daily activities with joy, passion, and laughter. This is how we know that the heart energy is balanced in us.

Physically, when we are properly balanced, the heart circulates oxygen rich blood throughout the body, and assures proper assimilation in the beginning stages of digestion in the small intestine. In Chinese Medicine, mental acuity is associated with the heart therefore memory, thought processes, emotional well being and consciousness are also attributed to the heart and the fire element. This is a time to nourish our spirits, realize our life’s potential, finding joy in hot summer days and warm summer nights.

memory

When the heart is balanced, the mind is calm and we sleep deeply and wake rested. When the heart is imbalanced, we may lack joy (which manifests in depression) or have an excess of joy (mania or manic behaviour). Some indications of a heart imbalance are nervousness, insomnia, heartburn and confusion, red complexion, poor memory and speech problems.

Emotionally, because the heart is connected to our spirits, summer is the best time to heal emotional wounds that we have carried with us from our pasts. Healing these wounds frees up space that we can fill with love, joy and happiness and ensures that we will not carry our old hurts with us into the future.

living with joy

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the summer season

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • Wake up earlier in the morning
  • Go to bed later in the evening
  • Rest at midday
  • Add pungent flavours to your diet
  • Refrain from anger; keep calm and even-tempered. (anger causes and exacerbates heat!)

heart fruits and vegetables

Summer is about abundance, and this is definitely the case with foods. Fruits and vegetables abound in summer, and we are lucky to have a multitude of choice when it comes to what we eat. Because it is the season of maximum yang, it is important to stay cool and hydrated. There are many foods that are beneficial to eat during this season. All foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine have a temperature, and energetic properties so in summer, we eat cool, yin foods that are moistening to balance the heat. Many raw foods are seen to be cooling in nature, so summer is the perfect time to indulge in salads, which are full of raw vegetables, very cooling and hydrating to the body. Eating more foods with pungent flavours and reducing bitter flavours help to strengthen the lungs - responsible for sweat so helps to maintain the normal sweating mechanism . Foods with cooling properties also clear heat, can reduce toxins and help to generate body fluids. Generally, most vegetables and fruits are cooling, eating them raw makes them cooler still, and many seafoods are also cooling in nature.

Here is a list of foods that are beneficial to eat in the summer months

  • Apricot
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Lemon
  • Peach
  • Cucumber
  • Orange
  • Asparagus
  • Sprouts
  • Bamboo
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Corn
  • White mushroom
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Watercress
  • Seaweed
  • Mung means
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Dill
  • Bitter gourd
  • Mung beans
  • Wax gourd
  • Lotus root
  • Lotus seed
  • Job’s tears
  • Bean sprouts
  • Duck
  • Fish

watermelon is good in summer

Living in harmony with the seasons is at the core of Traditional Chinese wisdom. It was based on living in harmony with nature and one's environment. Traditional Chinese Medicine is also a system that is rooted in prevention. Food is medicine and the ancient Chinese used food and its healing properties to build up the body when deficient, cleanse it when toxic, and release it when in excess. With these basic principles of eating with the seasons, and an awareness of the organs associated with each phase and their emotions, we can all stay healthy, strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits and live long, happy healthy lives.

Summer sky

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Summer Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Summer Season in Chinese Medicine. If you are a practitioner and would like this sheet to hand out to patients find it here - Summer Season - Professional.


Ask An Acupuncturist. - Do You Do Acupuncture On Yourself?

Question

As an acupuncturist, do you do acupuncture on yourself?

Answer

This is a good question and I am a bit surprised that I don't get asked it more often. The answer is yes, I do do acupuncture on myself when I really need it. For me, it is always preferable to have an acupuncture treatment performed by another acupuncturist (this is a more relaxing experience), but I certainly do points on myself when I can't get to see an acupuncturist myself.

I used to always travel with needles, but after a few incidents at airports, I am a bit leary of carrying needles with me on airplanes (the TSA is so sassy!), but I usually have a little acupuncture medicine kit with me with needles, herbs and other things like herbal burn cream, ear seeds and moxa for anything that might come up.

I do acupuncture on myself mainly when I have a headache, cramps, digestive issues or a cold or flu. Sometimes it is a bit tricky to get needles in, and because you are doing the work, it isn't the most relaxing experience, but it gets the job done and for me, is always preferable to taking a pill.

There are also theories that propose that when you work on yourself that you are interrupting your own energy, so that any theraputic effects are diminished. I can understand this, as when I do points on myself I am concentrating, and never entirely relax, whereas when you are being treated by someone else, their energy is going to treating you in its entirety, and you are able to take in the treatment completely which is your focus, and you are able to relax.

There are certain things that I cannot easily treat myself like points on the back and neck, but anything else, at least that I can reach I can treat myself. I would always go and have a proper treatment from an acupuncturist if I had the choice, but it is really nice to have the option to treat myself if I need to. :)


Bitter Melon - The Number One Melon for Diabetes

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Li Shizhen (1518 -1593), one of the greatest Chinese doctors, scientists, herbalists and acupuncturists in history ranked bitter melon as the number one melon on earth in his renowned medical textbook, the Compendium of Medical Herbs (1596).

He described bitter melon as cool in nature, bitter in taste and with proven healing properties of expelling evil heat, sharpening vision, improving liver function, promoting heart health and expelling toxic effects in the body.

In recent years, western medical science has confirmed the effectiveness of bitter melon in controlling viral diseases, regulating metabolism and transporting glucose from the blood into the cells, therefore reducing the body’s blood sugar levels. That is why bitter melon is most beneficial to people with diabetes.

Bitter melon is also known to cure a large number of ailments including stomach complaints, skin problems, type 1 herpes simplex virus, measles and chickenpox.

With the many health benefits of bitter melon, it has long been in use by many cultures around the world as home remedies. It is important for people today to know about it and eat more for good health. However, because of its distinctive bitter taste, not too many people really like to eat them. To make them less bitter, it is important to clean out the seeds and white membrane in the middle completely. Cutting them thinly or blanching them in hot water for a couple of minutes before cooking can definitely help. The best approach is to combine bitter melon with meat or seafood to make them delicious. We have many recipes in our website using them for treating various ailments.

Here is a quick and easy recipe to make a delicious dish. It is most palatable and even welcome by children. It is best for preventing and treating diabetes.

Bitter Melon Omelette with Goji-berries and Enoki Mushroom

Bitter melon recipe ingredients

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Detoxifies, clears internal heat and regulates blood sugar.

INGREDIENTS

  • Bitter Melon 涼瓜 – one
  • Enoki Mushrooms 金針菇 – one package
  • Goji Berries – one to two table spoons
  • Chopped Scallions and Coriander– one spoonful each
  • Eggs – two to three
  • Sugar, Salt, Cooking Wine and Sesame Oil

Bitter melon recipe ingredients 2

DIRECTIONS

1.   Wash bitter melon, cut in half lengthwise, and remove seeds and white membrane with a spoon. Cut each half lengthwise once again. Then slice melon thinly, season with one spoonful of salt for about 10 minutes and rinse.

2.   Cut out stems of enoki mushrooms. Cut the rest into short sections and soak with plenty of water for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse and strain.

3.   Soak goji berries for 15 minutes, changing the water a couple of times and strain.

4.   Beat eggs in a bowl with one spoonful of cooking wine and one spoonful of sesame oil.

5.   Warm two spoonfuls of oil in a non-stick pan. Add bitter melon to stir fry for a couple of minutes. Then add one spoonful of salt and sugar and about half a cup of water and let it cook for 10 to 15 minutes until melon is tender and there is a little water left.

6.  Add enoki mushrooms, goji berries, scallions and coriander and stir to combine. Let cook for a few minutes.

7.   Add half of the egg mixture to the cooking and let it brown slightly on one side. Then flip over, add the remaining egg mixture and brown the other side. Add more oil to the cooking if necessary. When it is evenly brown, it is ready to serve.

Bitter melon omelette with goji berries and enoki mushrooms

USAGE

No Restrictions. This recipe is best served with rice.