Calming & Balancing Congee for Better Sleep

By NourishU

Insomnia in Chinese Medicine

There are many factors contributing to insomnia such as an unhealthy lifestyle, irregular sleeping habits, eating the wrong foods or eating too much, external disturbances, stress, psychological issues, illnesses or drug-related problems, etc. Western medicine uses vitamins, amino acids, and minerals such as magnesium and calcium for prevention. Sleeping pills, hormones and tranquilizers are commonly used to fight insomnia but they can be habit forming and are not addressing the root of the problem. They should only be used very briefly when absolutely necessary because prolonged usage can make the matter worse and create more health problems. The lack of genuine sleep can deprive the body of the critical body functions being performed at night and can lead to lower immunity, internal imbalances and organs malfunction.


Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

To treat insomnia, it is necessary to treat the root of the problem. Eating too full at dinner or eating too late or eating the wrong foods such as coffee, tea, alcohol, spicy food and hard to digest food can all affect sleep and can be easily avoided. If it is due to external disturbances such as light, noise or electrical smog, etc.; follow the rules to make your bedroom a sleeping sanctuary so that you have the perfect conditions to induce sleep. Don’t under estimate the power of ear-plugs which can numb your senses and lower your guard effectively. They do work for easing anxiety too. If it is due to other illness such as digestive problems; treat the illness and sleep will return. If it is due to psychological reasons; try to peace your mind by meditation, relaxation exercise, journaling, music, hypnotherapy, etc. Exercising outdoor, such as jogging, can force you to breathe more deeply and with more oxygen intake, it can help to relax your mind and body. Sweating helps the body to expel toxin and therefore helps to release tension. Also, you will get tired after exercising which makes falling asleep easier.

When insomnia persists for a long period of time, it is important to focus on repairing the damages done to the body especially to the liver, kidney and heart. If the damages remain in-repaired over time, they can become both the causes and effects of insomnia and treatment will be more difficult.

L-tryptophan

According to science, food rich in L-tryptophan such as red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans, soy products, tuna, shellfish, and turkey can promote sleep because L-tryptophan is the essential amino acid that helps the body to produce serotonin and melatonin, the hormones that regulate sleep. Serotonin can also impact our mood, psychological health and behaviour. Serotonin is found in greatest concentration in our gut so it makes perfect sense to nourish our gut flora for optimal serotonin level to promote better sleep.

Calcium and Magnesium

Deficiencies of calcium and magnesium may cause easy waking. Dietary sources of magnesium include dried beans, soybeans, pumpkins seeds, wheat germ, almonds and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard. Calcium can be found in many different foods, including dairy products, fish, broccoli, almonds, dried figs, kelp, prunes, rhubarb, seaweed, soybeans, sesame seeds, watercress, dandelion greens, amaranth and chickweed. Taking a combined calcium-magnesium tablet 30 minutes before going to bed is helpful. Kiwi fruit is extremely high in calcium, taking 2 everyday will find great improvement in sleep quality. The enzyme in kiwi can calm gut swelling, also helpful in promoting sleep.

Sleep on Time

If you are fighting insomnia, you must firstly observe the proper sleeping hours. It is vitally important to be in bed and in complete rest between 11 p.m. to  6 a.m. even if you cannot sleep. This will enable blood to return to the liver for the important detoxification and renewal process. Staying up at night will draw blood away from the liver. It is equally important to be up in the morning and during the day so that the other yang bodily functions can be performed properly. When necessary, napping for half an hour during noon time can support the heart and provide energy for the rest of the day. Sleeping any longer during the day can disrupt sleep at night.


Photo by petradr on Unsplash

Chinese medicine regards sleep as number one priority for health and insomnia is most detrimental. For people who are not sleeping between 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the gall bladder system is highly compromised. It can lead to gall bladder stones, weaker immune system, slower metabolic functions and general weakness. For people who are not sleeping between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., the important liver functions of detoxifying and replenishing blood are disrupted. Blood deficiency can lead to many illnesses such as premature aging, osteoporosis, blood related diseases and women diseases, etc. When the liver is weakened, it cannot support the other vital organs properly and can lead to stomach and spleen deficiencies, kidney deficiencies, heart deficiencies and lung deficiencies. There is also higher chance of getting liver related diseases such as hepatitis, high cholesterol and eyes diseases.

Chinese medicine treatments are to reinforce qi, replenish blood, nourish yin, clear liver fire, remove stagnant energy, harmonize stomach energy, and calm the nerve and mind. Chinese herbal remedies are necessary to control adverse symptoms and to rectify imbalances. Herbal medicines are non-hypnotic in nature and are not habit forming. Once adverse symptoms are under control, nutritional food therapy will be used to help the body to recover and regain its original functions.

Food Cures

Food cures such as dates, wheat, longan fruit, lily flower and egg yolk are commonly used for nourishing the heart, promoting yin and calming the mind. Seafood such as oysters, clams, fish, shrimp and eel, are high in zinc and copper and are good for calming the nerve and easing anxiety. Oatmeal, sweet potato, banana and tomato are good for promoting sleep. Cherries are naturally high in melatonin. Eating eight ounces of cherries in the morning and eight ounces at night consecutively for two weeks can help to restore sleep. Lemon-scented mint tea is sleep-inducing because it improve digestion and decreased agitation.

Calming the Gut

Our gut is like our second brain which can be easily affected by our mind and emotion. Calming the gut can help to quiet the mind. If a restless mind is keeping you awake, eat a light carbohydrate snack right before sleep such as whole grain cereals with organic milk, bread, biscuits or an organic yogurt with good bacteria can be helpful. The key is to combine carbs with a protein containing tryptophan to help your body better utilize the sleep inducer. If you need this remedy in the middle of the night, make sure you are not turning on any light which can affect your melatonin level.

Calming & Balancing Congee Recipe

Symptoms

Restless sleep due to anxiety and over worrying, pale looking, lack of energy, loose bowel or occasional palpitation of the heart.

Therapeutic Effects

Calms nerves, enriches blood, removes dampness and fire, improves spleen and kidney health, and promotes yang energy of the heart.

Ingredients (2 to 3 servings)

  • Job's Tears / Coix Lacryma-Jobi (yi yi ren) 薏米 – 30gm
  • Little red bean 赤小豆 – 30gm
  • Longan Fruit (long yan rou) 桂圆 /龍眼肉 – 30gm
  • Chinese Jujube / red dates (da zao) 大枣 – 4 to 6
  • Lotus Seeds (lien zi) 莲子 – 30gm
  • Dried lily bulb / Bulbus Lilii (bai he) 百合 – 30gm
  • Rice – half cup
  • Sugar - to taste

Directions

  1. Soak all herbal ingredients for about 15 minutes and rinse.
  2. Rinse rice and put all ingredients in a pot with about 6 to 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium to cook for about 45 minutes to about 3 cups of congee.
  3. Add some sugar if prefer. Eat as meal.

Usage

No restrictions. Most suitable for teens and seniors.


Eating Out the Chinese Way - The History of Chinese Medicine Nutrition

By John Voigt

One should be mindful of what one consumes to ensure proper growth, reproduction, and development of bones, tendons, ligaments and channels and collaterals [i.e., meridians] This will help generate the smooth flow of qi [life energy] and blood, enabling one to live to a ripe old age. 

From The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Medicine.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic On Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), circa second century BCE, is the most important ancient text on Chinese medicine. In it are the concepts of a balanced and complete diet, and probably the world's first dietary guidelines.

The Thermal Nature of Foods - Warming, Cooling & Neutral

Basic concerns are about Han (“cold”) and Re (“hot”) foods. Han foods such as kelp, wheat, vegetables, and pork possibly may cause diarrhea. Re foods such as ginger, pepper, mutton, and unripened guava possibly may cause heartburn or constipation. Wen (“neutral”) foods such as rice, beans, fish, and beef can help to repair the body’s tissues.  Bu (strengthening) foods such as ginseng, deer velvet, and dates may be healing.

Food Relationships in Chinese Medicine - A Holistic Approach

But this is not about one food by itself being good or bad, it’s about the relationships of food.  Chinese dietetics—as most past and present Chinese thought—is based on holistic concepts, not singularity concerns. For example, with the above foods, vegetables (a Han or so-called “cold” food) is usually cooked with some Re (a so-called “hot”) food such as ginger or pepper. That neutralizes or balances out the “cold” [yin] and “hot” [yang] aspects of each food, and helps create something good for you and delicious as well.

Along the same idea of a food gaining its meaning by its relationships to other foods, in classic Chinese cuisine we most often find the “neutral” food (the rice or noodles) along with the main meal (meat or fish), accompanied by various other dishes usually vegetables. For example, The yang of rare beef is balanced by yin of tofu or cool slices of fruit.

The Healing Nature of Foods

The foods need to be prepared in the proper way, vegetables not overcooked, but not raw either; small portions of meat or fish not fried. In The Yellow Emperor’s Classic we find, “Heavy and greasy food causes a change that may result in serious illness.”

Also from that book, from Chapter 81, section 22 we find: Five cereals (such as rice, sesame seeds, soya beans, wheat, millet) provide our basic nourishment. Five fruits (such as dates, plum, chestnut, apricot, peach) add what the cereals lack. Five animals (such as beef, dog meat, pork, mutton, chicken) give certain advantages that animals possess. Five vegetables (such as marrow, chive, bean sprouts, shallot, onion)  provide a wide range of needed substances. If the food tastes and smells good, then eat it to replenish the body’s needs.

These guidelines are approximately two thousand years old, yet amazingly from that time to today most Chinese people followed them whenever they were able to do so. This article will close on how the tradition is being automatically preserved today without the restaurant or their customers knowing what is happening.

Now to make all this simple for the health (and food loving) reader. After all, the many millions of Chinese who go to their favorite restaurants aren’t bring along any of the ancient treatises on dietetics. Nevertheless, the traditional way of ordering and serving food seems to be right on the mark on what the ancient seers taught about food and good health. All over the world you will see this standard pattern in middle and smaller sized Chinese restaurants—(the more larger ones are becoming more geared to tourists and the new Chinese upper classes who eat like their western counterparts).  Not surprisingly such non-traditional diets have been accompanied with an increase in western styled diseases.

Eating - The Chinese Way

Here’s how the “natives” eat, and how you can do the same.

Begin with those tiny bowls of free sweet and sour pickles, or pickled cabbage, or cooked peanuts, etc. that many restaurants just bring you without you asking for them. Something like an appetizer, but not quite; they prime the digestion. Then order several different vegetable dishes. And some rice. Then some fish (usually with the bones included—be careful don't swallow any); or some meat. And finish it all off with a soup. That will help your digestion. Traditionally the final close is making a big burp to show your appreciation to the cooks and servers, and remove any bad qi—but you might because of western propriety leave out that final gesture—(or is it better described as a bodily function noise?).

That’s it. Now go enjoy such a standard traditional and healthy meal.  Best done in a large group of friends and family with chopsticks.

Postscript: For more about the proper kinds of food for health from both an eastern and western point of view, see my “Color Dietetics – With a Poster to Hang on the Wall. https://www.chinesemedicineliving.com/blog/color-dietetics-poster-hang-wall/

Sources and Further Information

Ho Zhi-chien. “Principles of Diet Therapy in Ancient Chinese Medicine: ‘Huang Di Nei Jing.”  http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/apjcn/2/2/91.pdf

Sun Simiao on Dietetics in the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine Journal (Autumn 2013, vol. 10, no. 2). https://static1.squarespace.com/static/537fb379e4b0fe1778d0f178/t/5399d890e4b0bcfc5d028d47/1402591376077/Sunsimiao+on+dietetics.pdf

“Chinese food therapy.” Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_food_therapy

Some Other Interesting Info (Nerd Facts)...

Sun Simiao (581-682) who was known as “The King of Medicine” - (one of is greatest credentials is that he lived to be 101 years old) - taught that the prevention of disease should come before any medical treatment. However, if treatment was required, he believed that dietary concerns should never be neglected. He wrote, “Proper food is able to expel evil and secure the zang and fu organs [the viscera] to please the spirit and clear the will, by supplying blood and qi. If you are able to use food to stabilize chronic disease, release emotions, and chase away disease, you can call yourself an outstanding artisan. This is the special method of lengthening the years and “eating for old age,” and the utmost art of nurturing life. Sun Simiao,  known as the “King of Medicine,” (581-682). https://static1.squarespace.com/static/537fb379e4b0fe1778d0f178/t/5399d890e4b0bcfc5d028d47/1402591376077/Sunsimiao+on+dietetics.pdf

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Image Credits

The featured image photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Vegetable photo by David Vázquez on Unsplash

Bok Choy photo by Jodie Morgan on Unsplash

Soup photo by Elli O. on Unsplash


Winter Recipe - Black Bean Congee to Promote Kidney Health

By NourishU

Eating in Winter According to Chinese Medicine

Winter with the drop of temperature is the time to slow down on physical activities because our body's metabolic rate will be slower. It is also the time to eat nourishing food to help the body to preserve energy. Animals follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter. Human should also preserve energy and build up strength, preparing the body for regeneration and new growth in spring.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, tonic-taking in winter has a great bearing upon the balancing of Yin and Yang elements, the unblocking of meridians, and the harmonizing of Qi and blood. In the five elements theory of TCM, winter is when the kidneys are highly active and they have astringent and active storage functions that help in preserving energy. People should eat food with less salty taste in order to reduce the burden on the kidneys. Uncooked and frozen foods can damage the spleen and stomach and should be taken in moderation.

In winter when body's resistance is low, elderly people are especially advised to take food tonics which can improve their body constitution and promote better resistance to illness. Food tonics can have much better healthful effects than supplementation and drugs.

The tonics include superior warming herbs, fatty and meaty foods. Our body is designed to absorb the rich and nutritional foods better at this time of the year. For people who have a cold constitution with cold hands and feet, weak kidney health with frequent urination, cold and stiff body and constant pain in their backs and ankles, winter is the best time for them to correct these health problems when the body is most responsive to nutritional treatment.

The warming winter foods include chive, chicken, mutton, shrimp, ginger, garlic, walnut, mushroom, chestnut, mustard, vinegar, wine, gingko, red pepper and spring onion. For people who are cold in nature, they should also use the warming herbs such as dang shen, ginseng, astragalus, reishi mushroom, longan fruit and deer horn, etc. to promote yang energy.

For people who are hot in nature, they should use moderating foods such as spinach, eggplant, crab, white turnip, persimmon, honeydew, bitter melon and pineapple to moderate the heat.

For people who have a moderate constitution (neither too hot nor too cold), they should use moderately warm herbs such as Chinese yam, goji-berries, American ginseng, glehnia and Solomon's seal to maintain a healthy balance.

Black Bean Congee

Therapeutic Effects

Promotes kidney health.

Ingredients

  • Black beans 黑豆 – 2 spoonfuls
  • Little red bean 紅小豆 – one spoonful
  • Chinese Yam (shan yao) 山藥 – 30gm
  • Goji-berry / Chinese Wolfberry (gou ji zi) 枸杞子 – 10 to 20
  • Rice – half a cup

Directions

1.   Soak beans and yam for 2 hours and rinse.

2.   Soak goji-berry for 30 minutes and rinse.

3.   Rinse rice. Bring 4 cups of water in a pot to a boil and put in all ingredients. Boil again, lower heat to medium and cook for about 45 minutes or until beans are soft. Add water if necessary.

Usage

No limitation. Eat in the evening with dinner for best results.

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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 Winter Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Winter Season in Chinese Medicine.

**Photo by Sandra Frey on Unsplash


Diet and Spirituality: Feeding the Mind, Body, and Soul

By freelance writer Sally Perkins

The idea that food can be a direct route to health and happiness is a belief that’s been long held by proprietors of traditional Chinese medicine. Recipes have passed down through generations that are used to help prevent and treat disease, slow down the aging process, or simply improve overall fitness. To this day, many households that use a traditional approach to health consider the pantry to be synonymous with the medicine cabinet.

In traditional Chinese medicine, food is more than just sustenance. It’s a healthy lifestyle choice that has a significant impact on your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Practitioners of traditional medicine promote the idea that a carefully crafted diet plan should be the first line of defense against any illness or ailment. Traditional medicine has shaped many common Chinese dishes that include a wide variety of vegetables and meats considered to have positive health benefits. Different health call for different ingredients, including herbs, spices, and vegetables that are known to have healing properties.

Dampness

Foods that are damp in nature can slow the digestive system and interfere with the flow of energy throughout your body. This blockage can lead to pain, disease, chronic allergies, and even arthritis. Signs of dampness can include congestion and excessive mucus formation, indigestion, weight gain, and swelling in the joints.

Foods to Include

  • Cooked vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, lentils, and legumes
  • Lean protein
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Nuts and seeds

Foods to Avoid

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Refined sugars
  • Processed flour
  • Coffee and alcohol
  • Bananas and avocado

Yin Deficiency

Responsible for keeping you cool, a deficiency with your yin can lead to overheating and fever. Yin is closely associated with the kidneys, which function to remove toxins from your system. An imbalance in your Yin can be the result of stress or overwork, but it may also be due to an inadequate diet.

Foods to Include

  • Barley, millet, and other whole grains
  • Beans and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, and bananas
  • Seafood and red meat

Foods to Avoid

  • Hot or spicy foods
  • Caffeine, cigarettes, and other stimulants
  • Sugars

Yang Deficiency

Also often a result of improper kidney functioning, a deficiency in Yang energy is characterized by soreness in the joints and lumbar region, cold sensations in the limbs, difficulty urinating, incontinence, and a decreased libido.

Foods to Include

  • Berries and nuts
  • Red meats such as lamb and venison
  • Seafood
  • Strong spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, peppermint, and more

Foods to Avoid

  • Cold foods and liquids
  • Raw food

According to traditional Chinese medicine, a balance between flavor and nutrition helps to promote both physical and spiritual well being. By eating the right foods, you can keep your body in balance and reduce or alleviate the symptoms of certain chronic conditions.

 

**Beautiful featured image by Blair Fraser on Unsplash


Meditation for Health, Happiness & Wellbeing

By Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP

For thousands of years cultures around the world have known about the benefits of meditation and have woven the practice into their daily lives. Meditation is not just a way to relax or clear your mind, it has been used for millennia to raise consciousness and connect us with the divine.

Meditation for many of us has become a sort of buzz word. Meditation is touted as a way to help you relax, get better sleep, lower stress and improve mental functions. And while meditation does all of those things, they are just a few of its wonderful byproducts. If you look at the complete picture of what meditation is and what it was originally intended for, the benefits of meditation go much deeper. A devoted practice can help not only feed the physical as well as the psychological aspects of ourselves, but can also connect you to your spirit, fostering self awareness, and filling you with feelings of compassion and loving kindness. When some are in a deep state of meditation, they are able to activate the pineal gland (also known as the third eye) - a small pine cone shaped gland that sits in the centre of the brain - and is thought by many cultures to be the doorway that leads from the physical to the spiritual worlds. The pineal gland is extremely sensitive to light, and this is why in many ancient cultures, serious meditators have always engaged in long periods of meditation in complete darkness. This darkness activates the pineal gland and allows humans to traverse from the physical to the spiritual worlds and gain insights into the nature of life and the cosmos as well as connect with the universal energy (of which we are all a part). These experiences remove the body and the ego completely and allow a person to shed their worldly trappings and feel what it is like to be in complete oneness. This has been described by some as what it is like when we "die", leaving our bodies and returning to source energy.

Science & Spirituality

It is only in our recent history that science and spirituality have been broken into two separate entities. They used to be considered part of the whole of things - the macrocosm, neither being able to exist without the other. But things started to change - subjects were broken apart and people began to specialize, meaning it became more difficult for anyone to see the whole picture. With the world as it is now, with its focus on science, it is difficult to accept that science and spirituality were at one time inseparable. Many ancient cultures had a holistic view of life and the cosmos, and their lives were part of a vast web that included all of nature and indeed, everything in existence. As a species we have become so identified with our minds and especially our thoughts, that this connection to the whole, of all there is, has largely been lost. We have slowly separated ourselves from the world that we came out of and have become more and more identified with our thoughts - one tiny aspect of who we are.

Impermanence - Anicca

Ancient cultures around the world realized what to us living in the modern world seem to have forgotten - that life is a microcosm of the universe itself, and is in a constant state of change. The only constant is change itself. This is what the Buddhists call "anicca" which literally means impermanence. This knowledge did not cause worry or fear as it might today, but a sense of calm and peace, the acceptance of the way things are, and that everything rises and passes away in an unending cycle. As a culture, we are taught to yearn for things or experiences that are desirable or cause us to feel pleasure, and to avoid painful or negative experiences. The acceptance of anicca in ones life is actually quite liberating. Instead of spending energy craving or avoiding things, you just accept everything as it comes, not judging it to be good or bad but simply allowing it to happen and then, inevitably, to pass away into the ether.

The Benefits of Meditation in Modern Life

The benefits of meditation are particularly compelling and needed at this time in our history. Many people live more unnaturally than they ever have, working long hours in offices in front of computers, living in huge buildings alone in tiny apartments, eating at their desks, consuming foods that are processed and made in factories, not getting enough sleep, spending little to no time outside and always in a hurry. Does this sound familiar? If this is not you, then you are fortunate, but it is the life that many of us have - often out of necessity. We also have problems like violence, addictive behaviours, mental illnesses and suicide in unprecedented numbers. Our modern lives, and the fast pace at which we live them, have caused us to lose the connection to ourselves and to others. So many of us are sick, sad and lonely and struggling to live lives with the most basic of necessities. Also, for the first time in a long time, life is not getting better for each subsequent generation, it is getting harder. The political, and economic landscape has become divisive, corrupt and many people are losing faith in their ability to live a happy, fulfilling life.

The gift that meditation can give you is a chance to slow down. It is amazing all the sounds you can hear in the silence. It is amazing what happens when you slow down and LISTEN. Going outside and sitting in the grass quietly, you will begin to hear that nature has a hum that you have never heard before. It is communicating with you, it has always been communicating with you, but you have never been able to hear it. The natural world speaks a language that we have all known since the dawn of time, but our lives - the way we are living our lives - are drowning it out and we have slowly forgotten it.

Our fast paced, hectic lives take a toll on us on many levels. Physically they exhaust our adrenal glands (the glands that sit on top of our kidneys and manage our fight or flight responses to perceived threats or danger). Due to the high levels of stimulus constantly coming at us, our nervous systems are overworked and easily become exhausted leaving us feeling frazzled and anxious. Many of us are overworked and under-slept not giving our bodies time to heal, relax and play that they desperately need. Some may need to work more to pay off debts, school loans or support families, parents or grandparents. It has become increasingly difficult to live a balanced life in an unbalanced world. With the widening gap between rich and poor, life for many is getting harder and not easier putting even more stress on us individually and as a species.

With this constant focus on the external world, which is where we must focus at least some of our energies if we are to survive, there is little time to look inward and cultivate our inner worlds. This includes the cultivation of our spirit which contributes to our health and wellbeing. It also allows us to remove ourselves from the world of the physical, detach from our ego's and reconnect with the one universal energy.

Meditation & Health

Meditation is something I recommend to all my patients. In my opinion, there is not a single person that would not benefit from meditating regularly. It does not require any expensive equipment, any in depth knowledge or adherence to a specific set of beliefs or a level of physical fitness. All you need is the desire and a little time.

I usually recommend starting slowly to help get your body and mind into the habit. It can be overwhelming at first and many experience what can be quite an intense "monkey mind". That is the mind racing from one thought to another and never seeming to quiet down. This is normal. If you think about it, we rarely simply allow our minds to wander - letting them move from one thought to another without pulling them in one particular direction. We are constantly tasking them with specific things, forcing them to focus and never really allowing them to relax and for our thoughts to meander as they like. So, when you begin, your mind tends to sort of freak out, having never been allowed to run free before, it runs wild and in all directions at once. I find that starting slowly helps, and after a few days or sometimes weeks, your mind starts to quiet down. There are many, many meditation techniques out there, and if you like, you can find one that resonates with you, but for the beginning I simply tell patients to get to a point where your mind is quiet. Once there, focus on your breathing and the physical sensations on the body. Just observing them. The wind hitting a spot on your arm. The breath as it enters your nose. The smell of a flower growing just outside an open window. The mind will inevitably wander, but you must not get frustrated, you simply kindly and gently bring yourself back to the breath. Twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening is ideal and you will find that just this small thing will have a positive effect that will ripple through your entire life.

Meditation Benefits

There are numerous benefits to maintaining an ongoing meditation practice for body, mind and spirit. They are:

  • Improves memory, concentration and clear thinking
  • Improves quality and quantity of sleep
  • Decreases anxiety and stress
  • Builds a sense of wellbeing
  • Deepens our sense of compassion and insight
  • Nurtures a sense of joy, peace and love
  • Helps to build connections within ourselves and with others
  • Helps us to process and manage our emotions
  • Cultivates personal growth and self discovery
  • Helps to connect us to our inner selves
  • Separates us from the ego and helps us to connect to source or universal energy

Beginners Meditation Tips

  • Start Slowly - Just 10 Minutes at a Time is Great
  • Find Time Everyday - Preferably Morning, Evening or Both
  • Find a Comfortable Seated Position
  • Be in a Room with No distractions - Clean & Quiet with Good Energy
  • Expect Your Thoughts to Run Wild at First - They Will Calm Down with Time
  • Focus on Your Breath - Whatever Thoughts Enter Your Head, Just Gently Return to the Breath
  • Be Kind to Yourself - It Takes Time!

A Guided Meditation for Beginners (4 Videos)

There are almost limitless meditations and techniques, and I encourage any of you that are new to meditation to try things out and find something that resonates with you. Here is a nice guided meditation with some information and good instruction that you can check out on our YouTube channel, I will embed them below. Feel free in the comments to let me know what you think. :)

Samadhi - Guided Meditation - Chinese Medicine Living YouTube Channel

Meditation Gear

The great thing about meditation is you really don't need any "gear" at all. All you really need is a quiet place and, if possible, something soft to sit on so your bum and legs don't hurt. But, if you want to get more serious, then creating a lovely, peaceful space where you can meditate and having a few things can help get you into the right head and body space to do some serious meditating. I would say that having a dedicated space for meditating is wonderful if you can do it. The thinking is that every time you meditate in that space, you are building up the good energy there and it will help you slip into your meditations more easily. If you don't believe me, try it. Once you have been meditating in a space for a while you will literally be able to feel how powerful the energy is there. And it doesn't have to be big, all you really need is enough room to sit down and cross your legs.

Seated on my SPOKO meditation bench.
There are many ways to sit in meditation, you just have to find the one that is comfortable for you. 

Another thing that is nice to have is a meditation cushion, or bench to sit on for your meditation practice. There are a wide variety of both, and which kind you choose is really about your own personal preference. I have a few cushions of different styles that I love as well as this beautiful meditation bench which I have featured in this article. Now, I have used a few types of meditation benches which are originally what the Japanese use to meditate, and all of them were pretty uncomfortable, especially for long meditations. But, this particular bench was ergonomically designed and is actually incredibly comfortable - and beautiful to boot. It is called the Spoko meditation bench made by a lovely company in Canada. I love this bench as it is comfortable, beautiful and very portable for impromptu outside meditations. The legs come off so it is very easy to throw into a backpack if you are doing something like hiking up to a waterfall or walking in a forest and find a place you would like to stop and meditate to soak up the nature vibes.

If you would like to read my review of this sassy bench you can here - Spoko Meditation Bench Review.

Meditation for Everyone

In conclusion, I think it is exciting that meditation is getting so much positive attention these days. Scientists are now beginning to be able to prove its positive effects on the brain and body, and many cultures have known its benefits on all aspects of our beings for centuries. Even though I am a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I always stay open to all possibilities that can bring healing to us on any and all levels. Meditation, for me, has been one of the best healing tools that I have discovered. Like anything, there are layers to it and it depends on what you goal is when you begin, but I have found that one of the best things about meditation is that when you spend time in the silence, there is a unique opportunity to delve deeply into yourself, and that if you are willing to listen, this is where the answers to all the questions that you have ever asked lie. It has been a reminder that inside us is everything that we have ever needed to be healthy, happy and divine beings.

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End Notes

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana meditation is approximately 2500 years old and is thought to be the meditation taught by the Buddha himself. If you would like to learn more about Vipassana meditation, you can read about the two 10 day silent Vipassana retreats that I have done here - My 10 Day Vipassana Meditation and Vipassana 2.0. There is also an excellent documentary about Vipassana meditation that I would highly recommend called The Dhamma Brothers.

In this article, I have featured the SPOKO meditation bench. If you would like to read the review, you may do so here - Spoko Meditation Bench Review. If you would like to have one of your very own, you may purchase it here - SPOKO.ca

The wonderful guided meditation is from The Samadhi Center via the AwakenTheWorldFilm YouTube Channel. Thank you for your awesomeness!

There is an excellent series of four videos called Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds. They cover a huge range of topics, but are a must see for everyone! There is quite a bit on meditation as well so check them out, I highly recommend them. :)

You can watch all four parts on the Chinese Medicine Living YouTube Channel.

Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds

Part One - Akasha
Part Two - The Spiral
Part Three - The Serpent And The Lotus
Part Four -  Beyond Thinking

The beautiful featured image Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash. Thank you!


Quote of the Month

Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty or forging weapons after the war has already begun.

~ Huang Di Nei Jing

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This breathtaking photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash


Winter Recipe - Lamb Thigh & Warming Herbs Soup

By NourishU

Winter Recipes in Chinese Medicine

This beautiful Photo by Natasha Vasiljeva on Unsplash

Winter, with the drop in temperature, is the time to slow down physical activities as our body's metabolic rate slows down at this time of year. It is also the time to eat nourishing food to help the body to preserve energy. Animals follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter. Human should also preserve energy and build up strength, preparing the body for regeneration and new growth in spring.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, tonic-taking in winter has a great bearing upon the balancing of Yin and Yang elements, the unblocking of meridians, and the harmonizing of Qi and blood. In the five elements theory of TCM, winter is when the kidneys are highly active and they have astringent and active storage functions that help in preserving energy. People should eat food with less salty taste in order to reduce the burden on the kidneys. Uncooked and frozen foods can damage the spleen and stomach and should be taken in moderation.

In winter when body's resistance is low, elderly people are especially advised to take food tonics which can improve their body constitution and promote better resistance to illness. Food tonics can have much better healthful effects than supplementation and drugs.

The tonics include superior warming herbs, fatty and meaty foods. Our body is designed to absorb the rich and nutritional foods better at this time of the year. For people who have a cold constitution with cold hands and feet, weak kidney health with frequent urination, cold and stiff body and constant pain in their backs and ankles, winter is the best time for them to correct these health problems, as it is when the body is most responsive to nutritional treatment.

The warming winter foods include chive, chicken, mutton, shrimp, ginger, garlic, walnut, mushroom, chestnut, mustard, vinegar, wine, gingko, red pepper and spring onion. For people who are cold in nature, they should also use warming herbs such as dangshen, ginseng, astragalus, reishi mushroom, longan fruit and deer horn, etc. to promote yang energy.

Winter Recipe - Lamb Thigh & Warming Herbs Soup

Symptoms

Lack of appetite, cold hands and feet and general weakness due to being overworked.

Therapeutic Effects

Warms the center, promotes blood and qi, promotes vital fluids and prevents aging.

INGREDIENTS (3 servings)

Rou Cong Rong

  • Lamb thigh 羊脾肉 – 360gm
  • Broomrape (rou cong rong) 肉鬆蓉 – 15gm
  • Chinese Yam (shan yao) 淮山 – 30gm
  • Angelica Sinensis (dang gui) 當歸- 9gm
  • Asparagus root (tian dong) 天冬 ( 去心 ) – 9gm
  • Astragalus / Astragali Radix (huang qi) 北耆 – 6gm
  • American ginseng 花旗參 - 9gm
  • Atractylodes Rhizoma (pai chu) 白朮 – 6gm
  • Glutinous rice 糯米 – 60gm

Shan Yao - Chinese Yam

1.   Rinse lamb and put in boiling water to cook for a few minutes. Remove, rinse and drain dry.

2.   Brown lamb in a wok with no oil.

3.   Rinse herbs and rice and put together with lamb in a slow cooker with 6 cups of boiling water. Turn on high heat and let it cook for at least 4 hours until meat is all tender.

4.   Add salt and 2 spoonfuls of wine and serve.

Dang Gui Chinese Herb

USAGE

Not suitable if you have a cold or flu. Take once a day with a meal.

For people who may be too weak to accept this enriching recipe right away, it is recommended to start taking astragalus and dates tea, a couple of times per week for two weeks before taking this recipe.

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Featured image by Photo by Tom Crew on Unsplash

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


Biophilia: Ways to Connect With Nature in Your Daily Life and Watch Your Spirituality Grow

Contribution from freelance writer Sally Perkins

We are a species of biophiliacs. In 1984 an American biologist called Edward Wilson published a book on man’s innate love of nature: biophilia. Wilson’s hypothesis is that human beings have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. This means that connecting with nature will improve your physical, mental and spiritual health. Since Wilson’s thesis, a hoard of science to back it up has been published including this 2015 study from Nature, showing a strong link between health and green spaces in cities.

Of course this only confirms what practitioners of Chinese medicine have known for centuries: the universe and the human being are interconnected. But these days many of us live in cities, doing technology focused jobs that keep us inside all day. Here are some ways to connect with nature and reap the spiritual benefits.

Understanding the link between spirituality and nature

The first step is to understand and accept that nature and spirituality are inevitably interconnected and both are necessary for your happiness. New research has found that spirituality leads to better mental health across the course of an individual’s lifetime. Spirituality is an intimate connection between our inner selves and the outer world. Thus while spirituality is related to your inner being, your place in nature and the world is equally important.

One you accept the importance of nature to your spiritual growth, you will find yourself drawn to natural spaces without expending much effort and the next steps will come naturally, integrating nature into your life.

Travel

The most obvious way to connect to nature is to travel to a natural space. When we think of ‘travel,’ exciting journeys to exotic places come to mind . These kind of trips can also be hugely beneficial but you don’t have to cross the earth to connect with nature. A day trip to a forest or a hill an hour outside your city will do. This works better if you can turn off your digital devices for your trip and really allow yourself to be in the moment. Done right, you will come back to your daily life spiritually refreshed.

Find natural spaces in your city

Of course, in our hectic life, opportunities to take a day trip may be few and far in between. Never fear, nature doesn’t stop at town borders. Search for parks, gardens and rivers in your area. Even fifteen minutes in a small park during your lunch break can make you feel more spiritually centered and ready to face your afternoon.

Bring nature into your space

For the days where even getting to a park sounds too much, make sure you have a little bit of nature in your home. The benefits of houseplants are numerous and well documented, including cleaning the air, helping you breathe and work better.

Even for urban dwellers, there are many opportunities to connect with nature and indulge your inner biophiliac. Integrate nature into your daily life and watch your spirituality develop and your happiness grow.

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The beautiful featured image photo by Beata Ratuszniak on Unsplash


How My Cat Taught Me About Buddhism

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Cats are the ultimate Buddhists.

When I first arrived in Panama many years ago, a friend arrived at my door one day with a burlap sack and handed it to me. Inside it was a tiny kitten, about the size of a tennis ball. He was filthy, missing patches of fur and had a huge cut on his tiny pink nose. I instantly fell in love with this baby cat and from then on my life completely revolved around his comings and goings.

Little Pepe soon after I got him at about 5 weeks old. Who could resist that face??

Being In The Present

I used to love to watch him. No matter what he was doing, he was always so in the moment. I never saw him sitting around brooding over the past of worrying about the future as people so often do. He was always absolutely engrossed in whatever he was doing at that particular moment. He was always reveling in the present.

Seeing The World As It Is

My little cat was living his life, fully in the present. He wasn't avoiding certain situations or experiences. He was taking life as it came and, seeing the world as it really was. As human beings tend to do, we avoid things that are painful or unpleasant and crave experiences and things that give us pleasure which creates a constant cycle of unhappiness. Pepe was living the hell out of every moment, no matter what was happening.

Little Pepe - fearless explorer, supreme hunter, and the ultimate Buddha. 

Everything Is A Meditation

I used to watch him while he was hunting, often birds, and he was so focussed and almost relaxed as he stalked them... it really seemed to me that everything that he did was a meditation. He was always mindful and present and everything he did seemed like the thing he was DESIGNED, MADE to do. It was so effortless, and even though I often had to save birds from his clutches, I loved to watch him because it was like watching water moving effortlessly through his environment.

In Harmony With His Environment

Pepe always seemed like he was perfectly designed to blend seamlessly into his environment. Like millions of years of honing the perfect cat characteristics had reached its equinox with this one, small white cat. He effortlessly climbed the highest trees, plucked birds out of the air with one perfectly calculated jump. He and the environment were one, communicating through some silent nonverbal language, like a song being written on the fly, of the most beautiful music you have ever heard. Music you could never have conceived of because it is divine in nature. There was an ease about his movements and demeanor, and he always seemed relaxed and completely content, like he was made for his environment, and it was made for him.

Equanimity

I never saw things like fear (which might have done him some good sometimes, oh the things he would get into!!) from my little cat. He was always perfectly equanimous. I never saw him reflecting, brooding or looking anxious, he always seemed perfectly at peace. My life in those days was filled with such dramatic highs and lows and I always would look at my little cat and wish I could be more like him. Good and bad things didn't happen, only things. It is us that judge them as being good or bad. Pepe seemed to have equanimity at all times, no matter what might have been going on. I admit, there were many times I envied him, wishing for the balance that eluded me and seemed inherent in him.

Impermanence

It always amazed me how Pepe could be so completely engrossed in any activity and seamlessly flow into being just as engrossed in the next thing as it came. I never saw him stop something he might have found enjoyable and get sad that it was over. This seems to be a purely human thing. He was completely able to move from one thing to the other just being and taking it all as it came. Not being sad about things that had gone or worrying about what was coming. He was all about anicca (the Pali word that represents that all things, including the self, are impermanent and constantly changing). Change is so difficult for many people and I have certainly struggled with it. Pepe however, seemed not to even notice, he was able to go with the natural from of things.

Vipassana Meditation : Chinese Medicine Living

Wisdom

I have had a lot of change, upheaval, highs and lows in my life. I have bene trying in my own way, to live it to the fullest. So many of these Buddhist concepts and teachings are difficult for me, and I am constantly working on them. I find that whenever I am feeling something strongly (which is often), or struggling with my feelings (which happens on a regular basis), wondering things like why bad things happen to good people or get worried or depressed about the state of the world, all I have to do is go outside and watch my little cat. He is a wonderful reminder that things aren't good or bad, they just ARE, and it is my feelings and judgements about them that cause me unnecessary suffering and pain. My little cat always seems content, in the moment and completely at peace with himself and with life. With all that I have "learned" in many decades on this planet, I realize that my little cat Pepe is still one of my best teachers.

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If you would like to read about my experience with Vipassana meditation (and my foray into Buddhist concepts and teachings), you can read these - My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation, & Vipassana 2.0. I hope you enjoy them. :)


Fall Recipe for Cough - Steamed Banana with Rock Sugar

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Fall - Cough & Other Lung Diseases

Fall is the season that is vital to lung health because it is the season dominated by dry air which can cause lung heat to accumulate. It is important to avoid too spicy and hot foods to prevent further intensifying of lung heat. Eating white colored foods such as white beans and raw white turnips can help to soothe lung and lower heat.

To promote lung health on a regular basis, deep breathing exercises can strengthen lungs and increase their capacity. Researchers have found that eating apples at least five times a week can help to promote strong lungs by removing toxins from them effectively.

According to Chinese medicine, chronic cough can be caused by external evils or an internal functional imbalance. External factors can be wind cold, wind heat and dry heat. Internal factors can be due to lung qi deficiency resulting in lung heat and phlegm or due to liver fire surging out of control.

For cough associated with fever and common cold, herbs such as ma-huang, aconite, asarum and bupleurum are used to ventilate the lungs, relieve exterior symptoms, stop coughing and dispel phlegm. For chronic cough due to internal injury with wheezing: pinellia, cinnamon, ginger, peony and licorice are used to clear lungs, strengthen the spleen, alleviate cough and resolve sputum.

Food cures for cough due to excessive heat type are Chinese pear, white turnip, sugar cane juice and steamed papaya with honey. They are most effective in lowering heat and relieving cough. Drinking, smoking and spicy foods should be avoided in order not to irritate the throat and intensify coughing. Food promoting digestion and sending energy downwards can relieve phlegm dampness due to spleen deficiency.

Emphysema begins with chronic bronchitis or bronchial asthma. It is the damage of lung tissue over a long period of time mostly due to smoking or environmental factors. The common symptoms are wheezing, coughing, a feeling of pressure in the chest and difficulty in breathing on physical exertion. It is a sickness that cannot be completely cured.

During asthma attack, Chinese doctors treat the excesses first. When the attack is over, treatment will be for restoring the proper functions of the deficient parts. Food cures for treating cold excess are to warm the lungs, resolve phlegm and relieve asthma. Foods for treating heat excess are to clear lung heat, resolve phlegm and relieve asthma. For treating lung deficiencies, foods to invigorate kidney are used because kidney is considered to be the main source of qi for lungs. When there is sufficient qi, it can prevent abnormal flow of qi and asthma attacks.

Steamed Banana with Rock Sugar

SYMPTOMS   

Chronic cough

THERAPUTIC EFFECTS

Stops coughing. 

INGREDIENTS

  • Bananas – 2 to 3
  • Rock sugar – to taste (30 to 60gm)

DIRECTIONS

1.   Remove skin of bananas and cut into one inch sections.

2.   Break rock sugar into smaller pieces.

3.   Put both ingredients inside a bowl with water half covering the banana.

4.   Place the bowl inside a pot or a steamer to steam for 10 minutes.

5.   Remove bowl, let cool down a bit and serve.

USAGE:

Take once every evening for one week to see best results.

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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 Fall Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Fall Season in Chinese Medicine.