Nutrition for Every Season

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

He that takes medicine and neglects his diet wastes the skills of his physician.

Chinese proverb

Hippocrates also said, "let food be thy medicine" in the fifth century BCE. These two pieces of wisdom tell us that it was well understood many hundreds of years ago, in very different parts of the world that what we ate was an important factor in maintaining health as well as recovering from disease. And even today with advances in medicine and technology, food is still the best medicine and the easiest and most impactful way to stay healthy and disease-free.

Food As Medicine

Nutrition is one of the foundational elements of Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese understood very well that the best medicine is not the herbal remedy given when you have a cold or the salve when you scrape your knee, the best medicine is the food we ingest every day. It helps to build our immune systems, fortify us against disease, cool excess heat, drain dampness, move stagnation and warm us when we are deficient.

Our ancestors were intrinsically connected to nature, and this connection was necessary for survival. They paid attention to the seasons, but more specifically, changes in the weather, the cycles of crops, migration of animals, and the cycles of the sun and moon. They were attuned to the natural rhythms of the planet and were able to adjust their behaviours to maintain a sort of equilibrium with their surroundings. This focus on prevention was also very important and was knitted into the foundation of Chinese Medicine as it was practised then as well as today. But, the key to living preventatively is that we have to really be attuned to our bodies and our surroundings. We have to be able to hear what our bodies are telling us so we can give them what they need, and that is something that many of us have lost living in the fast-paced city life in the modern world. But this listening, this attunement is something that Chinese Medicine teaches. Your body is always communicating with you, you only have to listen.

The Thermal Nature of Foods & People

So, how does it work, to use food as medicine? Good question. Chinese Medicine has a pretty elegant system for understanding how to use food as medicine and stay healthy in every season. Foods have a thermal nature and so do people. It is that delicate balance of yin and yang. Some foods are cooling and some are heating. People also have a thermal nature. They usually have a thermal nature that occurs naturally when they are in a healthy state and knowing this is very helpful as you move forward. And then, the weather and surroundings also have a thermal nature, so it is a dynamic balance of these three ingredients that we are after. Granted, this can all get a little complex and you can get pretty deep into it (if you are a nerd practitioner like me), but there are some basics that will help you get started. Think about the seasons as a continuously fluctuating cycle of yin (cold) and yang (hot) energies. Summer is the height of yang or heat energies and winter is the peak of yin or cold energies. Summer gradually cools off and moves into fall, which cools further to transition into winter. Winter comes to an end and the yin energies gradually are infused with yang with spring, which further heats up as it moves into summer.

So, you want to balance the temperature of the season you are in with foods that are generally its opposite. Cooling foods in summer, and warming foods in winter. Gradually more warming foods in fall and gradually cooling ones in spring as those are the transitional months. You can also affect the thermal nature of the foods you eat by different cooking methods, which is why those change according to the season too. This is very very general, but it gives you an idea and a place to start. Then you can introduce the idea of constitutions and it adds another layer of complexity, but as you practice and becoming aware of the seasons and the thermal nature of the foods you are eating, it actually becomes this really beautifully nourishing and healing way to eat, and one your body will love. I will work on an article about constitutions to explain that a little bit more, but in general, a person is also a dynamic balance of yin and yang energies. Some people are naturally more yin and some are naturally more yang. When you know what you are, you work that into the equation too, which will only help you to keep all those energies balanced and this will help keep you healthy. When that article is finished, I will link it here.

The Seasons

Chinese Medicine was developed over thousands of years of observations of nature, human beings and their relationship to each other. In times past we have always had a symbiotic relationship, the earth nourished us with its bounty and we tended and nurtured the planet in a continuous cycle of loving interaction. Human beings followed the natural cycles of the planet and lived in harmony with the seasons.

The Summer Season

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Summer is the season associated with the heart, the colour red and the emotion of joy. In the hot summer months, people rose early and went to bed later to capitalize on the yang energy represented by outward expression and activity. They ate foods that grew in abundance, like fruits and fresh vegetables, eating salads and lighter fare, many of which are considered cooling to balance the external heat. People also took time to get together with family and friends, connecting and feeding their heart energy, as the heart is the organ associated with summer and with it, the emotion of joy. Everything we do in summer should be an attempt to cultivate the joy in our lives. Summer is the season to feed the heart energy, and in terms of foods, many red foods are good for the heart. Cooking methods should be lighter and of shorter duration to preserve all the freshness and nutrients the food has been soaking up from the summer sun. Eating should be lighter and in smaller portions and working to keep yin fluids plentiful to counteract the intense heat of the season.

The Fall Season

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Fall is the season associated with the lungs, the colour white and the emotion of grief. As the summer season winds down and the weather begins to cool, our behaviours go from the outward expressions of summer to the more inward and reflective activities of fall which will inevitably prepare us for winter. We eat foods that grow in abundance in this season (which varies greatly depending on where on the planet you are), but in North America, we see many foods with beautiful fall colours - squashes, gourds, sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkins... foods that grow in the ground and have more yang properties nourishing our inner heat as we prepare our bodies and spirits for the coming cold. Fall is a time to clear out the old, making space for the new. The energy of the lungs is "letting go" so that is the focus. Cleaning, reorganizing and donating are good practices in fall and make space for all we will cultivate over the winter. Emotionally, making sure that we have let go of any emotional hurts that have lingered is strengthening to the lungs both physically and psychologically. Many white foods are beneficial to the lungs and are good to add to the diet in the fall season. Organizing life and becoming more introspective before winter is what fall is all about, checking in to make sure we are emotionally healthy and not hanging on to things that no longer serve us.

The Winter Season

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Winter is the season associated with the kidneys, the colour black and emotion of fear. Winter is the height of yin energies and even though it seems like a time of death, decay and inactivity, it is a season that is very active, just deep, deep beneath the surface in preparation for the regenerative activities of spring. It is a season of consolidation, gathering all energies and pulling them inward. Winter is the time of year to go to bed early and sleep later, profiting from the healing, restorative energies sleep offer us. In winter we eat less fresh foods as they are no longer available and eat more preserved foods we have prepared during the summer and fall. Eating warming foods, especially hearty soups and stews will help build our yang and counteract the cold. Our energies should turn inward in winter, while we focus on our fundamental energies, in Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are the source of our fundamental energy. Spending quiet time reading, writing or meditating are strengthening to our bodies and spirits. Keeping warm, especially our lower backs where our kidneys reside is especially important as they are the source of all our qi. Many black foods are strengthening to the kidneys and should be added to the diet in the winter months.

The Spring Season

Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

Spring is associated with the liver, the colour green and the emotion of anger. Spring represents the upward and outward energies of newly growing plants, flowers and trees. The energy in spring is expansive, so it is a good time to shake off the sleepiness of the winter months and slowly start moving our bodies with gentle stretching going for long walks outdoors, taking in the revitalizing green of new plants through our eyes, which are the sense organ associated with the liver. Spring is the best time to detox from everything we have accumulated over the winter. We can detox physically, as well as emotionally. Acknowledging and processing any feelings of anger, resentment or frustration will keep our liver energy moving freely. Many green foods benefit the liver and cooking methods should be lighter and shorter duration to the slow cooking of winter, and as things begin to thaw, we are able to introduce more fresh foods into our diet. Awakening and cleansing our bodies and spirits are what we need in spring as well as gentle exercises like tai chi and qi gong which, especially when done outside in nature nourish body, mind and spirit.

If we can become aware of our surroundings and make slight adjustments to our behaviours and diet depending on the season we will see a huge benefit physically, emotionally and spiritually.



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How to Get Healthy in 2017 with Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Another year is upon us! The arrival of the new year always causes me to reflect, and think about what I would like to improve upon in the coming year. Health, happiness and well-being are always top of the list, so here is a list of some things that we can all do to be a little healthier and happier in 2017.

Take Time for Yourself

this beautiful image from 68.media.tumblr.com

This is a hard one. Our lives seem to get busier and busier and we all seem to be working more and sleeping less which means less time for, well, us. Even though taking time out for ourselves is often not easy, it is an important part of our health. Psychologically, it is you caring about yourself enough to take the time to do something that feeds you, whatever that may be. Go for a walk, read a new book you've been meaning to start, have a bubble bath, start a new art project... do something that feeds your soul. Your whole body, mind, and spirit will thank you for it.

Meditate

this relaxing image from www.chatelaine.com

Now I know the thought of meditating is scary for a lot of people, especially if you have never done it before. But meditation doesn't have to mean spending hours on a mountainside in complete seclusion. If you are new to it, start slow. Spent ten minutes a day, either when you get up in the morning (the energy of the day is so calm and lovely at this time), or if it is easier, at the end of the day before you go to bed. Just sit or lie quietly without distractions (the TV, your phone, computer, etc..) and just relax. For the first many times you do this, your mind will no doubt be racing and it might not feel relaxing at all, but if you think about it, you never just "let your mind go" like this. We are always forcing our minds into doing things, like work, cooking, driving or what-have-you. Your mind also needs time to empty itself out, but once it does and goes quiet... it is wonderful. With some practice, you will be able to drop into a quiet meditation easily, and your body and mind will crave it because it is so nourishing to every part of you. I find that the benefits of a little daily meditation spill out into the rest of my life causing me to be calmer, more patient and generally happier which is a wonderful thing.

Find a Local Farmer

this image from larahudson.com

Reconnect with your food. Food does not arrive at the grocery store wrapped in cellophane and politely organized and placed onto carts. That food is grown and tended by farmers - people who have one of the most important jobs on the planet - feeding us. Our food is the medicine we use every day to keep us healthy, and many of us have lost our connection to where it comes from. If you are able to, find a local farm where you are able to visit and buy fresh, organic (if possible) foods for your family. If this is not possible, then find a local farmers market and meet the farmers there. This will give you a new appreciation for where your food is coming from, who is growing it and in turn, you will be eating local (very good in terms of Chinese medicine) and supporting your local farmers - who absolutely need and deserve the support of their communities. Farmers markets are also a wonderful place to meet other local, health conscious people, eat local treats and reconnect with your community. Win-win!

Reconnect with Nature

this lovely image from www.drjimtaylor.com

I know I say this one a lot, but it is so imperative to health on every level. One of the reasons we see disease on such an unprecedented scale is that we have lost our connection to nature. We live in huge cities where we spend our days behind desks in buildings under florescent lights instead of in forests and jungles, which is where we belong. We were not designed to live this, well, unnaturally. Obviously, it is not feasible to go completely wild and live in forests (unless you are really hardcore) but in Chinese medicine, we are always striving for balance. So, even if you work in an office or a factory and sit behind a desk or stand on an assembly line, eat your lunch outside. Take off your shoes and put your feet in the grass. Feel the earth, it is talking to you in a language you have probably forgotten. It is feeding you in a way you desperately need to be fed. When you have time off, go for a walk in a forest, swim in a lake or ocean, or instead of working out at the gym, go for a run outside. Our connection to the planet feeds us as much as what we eat and drink, so think of your time outside as food for your body and soul. You will notice how much better you feel, inside and out.

Zoom Out

this magnificent image from youtube.com

I love this one, and doing it helps your mental state more than you can imagine. Zooming out just basically means, keeping things in perspective. When you are having a problem or something disastrous is happening in your life, just take a moment and back up. Zoom out of your situation. Zoom out of the building, the street, the neighbourhood, the city, the country, the continent, the planet, and so on. The farther out you go, the better you will feel. It is so easy for our lives to become very small. Problems become huge and often seem insurmountable, but zooming out will help to keep things in perspective. Think to yourself... in the grand scheme of things, does this really matter? In a week, will I be thinking about this at all? Zooming out is a sort of meditation, and one I do often if I am struggling with something. Instead of feeling small, I am always trying to be as big, as expansive with my mind and my awareness as possible. Not always easily done, and certainly takes practice.

Be Grateful

Gratitude is something I try to practice every day. It has been one of the most beneficial practices that I have in my life, and I am so grateful for it. Ha. Being grateful doesn't mean that life is not going to present challenges. Life is full of them. But spending some time each day to consciously think about what in your life you are grateful for will put you in a happy, loving state of mind, which will attract more happy, loving energy to your experience. This energy will help you to cope when difficult situations arise and help you to fully appreciate all the wonderful things/people that you have in your life. Absolutely everyone has things that they can be grateful for, and focusing on this positivity will only draw more of it into your life and that is a wonderful thing.

Unplug

this image from gameacademy.com

We are all connected, and now this is even more true with the advent of the internet and the miracle of cell phones which allow us to communicate with one another from almost anywhere on the planet. This wonderful technology has allowed access to information by millions of people who would otherwise not be able to benefit from it. There are so many positive aspects to our ability to connect, but there are drawbacks too. The pendulum seems to have swung quite far in that direction so that in our attempt to stay technologically connected to each other, we have lost our human connections. I see groups of teenagers sitting together, each looking at their cell phones, instead of talking to each other. People live is vast cities, crammed into apartment buildings, but never interact with each other. As with all things, we are going for balance. Many people could not live without the internet of god forbid, their cell phone, but trying to unplug, at least for parts of the day or week is a good way to bring about that balance. Call a friend, then go and meet with them. Have a coffee and a conversation. We are social animals (not social media animals, although sometimes it seems we certainly are) and human contact is good for us and we NEED it.

Be of Service

A part of being human, and one of the reasons that I think we are here, is to serve our fellow human. This doesn't have to mean volounteering in a cancer ward or an old age home (as these are big commitments - but wonderful things to do), it may be as simple as helping someone struggling with their groceries, opening the door for someone with their arms full, giving someone directions when they ask you on the street. These small things make a huge impact. No one makes it through life alone. We all need each other, and by being kind, generous and helpful with our fellow human being is the glue that holds us all together. In a time where there is so much divisiveness in the world, it seems there are so many reasons for us to fear and hate each other, all it takes is the conscious effort to not let in that darkness and to treat each person with love and compassion, just as you would like to be treated. It will go a long way to healing the negativity on this planet and it happens to feel really good too. <3

How to Get Healthy in 2017 with Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living


Alignment - Part 1

By Steven Lubka

I write this in the beginning of the year 2016. In the last several decades we have experienced increasingly rapid and dramatic changes in the ways in which most humans live on this beautiful planet. We have developed incredible technologies that have made the impossible , possible. Our environments are filled with invisible wavelengths of light (wireless internet technologies)  which transmit the sum of human knowledge instantaneously to most points on the planet. With nuclear energy we generate power from invisible particles on a scale previously unheard of. We have discovered ways to alter the genetic information of plants and animals, to travel through the skies at incredible speeds, to travel into outer space, and many other feats which were delegated to the realm of imagination 100 years ago.

From a certain perspective one can view all of these inventions as coming from a pure seed of potential, a dream in the collective mind of man. Of course it is our nature to attempt the impossible. Of course it is our nature to dream, and yet we now find ourselves dealing with the fallout of all of these technological breakthroughs. Our inventions have changed our lifestyles and the face of the earth and these changes have happened faster than the biologic systems of the Earth and the human body can handle.

Alignment : Chinese Medicine Living

Our bodies evolved over millions of years sheltered in the magnetic resonance of the planet. As we slept on the earth and walked barefoot on her landscape we were constantly attuned to her vibrations and frequencies. Our science is now discovering how essential our attunement to these magnetic fields are for the function of our cellular health. Magnetic frequencies and light cycles impact every aspect of our biology down to the cellular level, and yet in a hundred years we have completely disconnected from these nourishing vibrations in favor of artificial sources. We have migrated from a life lived in communion with the Earth and all her medicine to one that is lived in an artificially lit indoor environment that is becoming increasingly saturated by the electric fields and wireless radiations of our technological brilliance.

We once woke up with the sun and moved through complex natural environments to fulfill the tasks of our daily lives. As we moved, the very act of movement caused the vital fluids of our bodies to circulate to all the organs and muscles. The heart is not the only mover of blood. The contractions of muscles pull blood and circulate nutrients to all parts of our physical form. Yet now we sit and stare into screens endlessly, robbing ourselves of the replenishing aspects of movement and the joys of it.

At night darkness fell and our activities ceased with it. We learned the wisdom of having a time for darkness and inactivity, something which our industries which strive for growth at all times could serve to remember. The period of darkness experienced at night is a critical as the period of light experienced during the day. The morning sun triggers a massive shift in hormonal function as the bodies shifts into its daytime processes, and similarly the onset of darkness triggers the onset of our nocturnal processes.

The Chinese knew the importance of Yin and Yang, and what can occur when these forces are out of balance. In their language I would say our light environment has become Yin deficient because of our use of artificial lighting. I also find our constant illumination of our world to be symbolic of the masculine conquest of nature. We have created eternal daytime, we have conquered darkness, and we have lost touch with her feminine receptive nature. We have lost the ancient experience of stories told around a fire. and of quiet conversations with our loved ones under the night sky. In scientific terms we are impairing the product of melatonin and damaging our eyes via blue light toxicity during the dark portion of the photoperiod.

These are just some of the changes that have taken place in the last hundred years and I cite them now as an example of how our way of living has shifted so dramatically and so quickly. As a result of all these changes a general malaise has come to afflict the human population. We have become numb to the sound of it as most take this state of being as “normal” for it is all they have ever known. How does one know they are sick if they have never been well?  All you need to do is turn on a television ( but I do not recommend it) to hear the advertisements for medications for depression, anxiety, cancer, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, MS, and a variety of other diseases which were  unheard in ancient societies and among hunter gatherer populations.

However, the innate intelligence of life is stirring within us and many people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with this culture we have manufactured. A great awareness for physical healing and restoration is emerging and I feel it is one of the most important ways that we pay homage to the Earth, by healing the gift of the body we have been given. Through the miracle which is the Internet I have watched for years as people from all over the world have gathered in virtual space to find solutions and it is here in this virtual realm that I am sharing my contribution to the whole. We can’t say that the times we live in are boring!

The body is a complex system, a unified whole made of many parts. In this way it reflects a fundamental principle inherent to all levels of creation. All manners of form in this existence are simultaneously a singular whole and the many parts which it is composed of. This is an important reference point to hold when one attempts to bring their body back into a state of health. The state of health is the singular holistic manifestation of all parts working in harmony. So where does one begin in their journey? For each person different pieces will hold different magnitudes of importance. This is individual and must be discovered by the individual. What is most important for one person will not typically be what is most important for another and I don’t truly find there to be a hierarchy of the various systems. The heart is not intrinsically more important than the liver. The brain is not intrinsically more important than the gut. The alignment of the spine not intrinsically more important than the circadian biology. All of these things work together, much as rivers don’t exist without the land they flow through nor without the clouds which replenish the waters of this magnificent biosphere.

Alignment : Chinese Medicine Living

I say all of this and yet now I must create a starting point for one cannot address the whole without starting with one of it’s parts. The Chinese viewed a human life as something of great value. The human being was seen as a conduit between heaven and earth, between form and formlessness. In other words the human being was bridge between two worlds. In my eyes nothing manifests this role or relationship better than the spinal column. The spine is something of incredible function. It not only is the literal foundation of our physical form but it also is the ground through which an immense of amount information travels in the forms of nerve signaling and sensory input from all parts of the system. It is the central axis of the body. A properly aligned spine yields a properly aligned being who is a conduit of both heaven and earth. I find that the spine is also the antenna of the body and when the antenna is calibrated properly it allows one to become receptive to “information” from the greater systems we are a part of. It allows one to receive “information” on the level of frequency from the magnetic field of the earth, the frequencies of the stars and cosmic bodies, and from the interconnected biosphere of life on this planet. A hunched and collapsed spine is a sign that the organism is heading towards death, yet most live in this state from a young age now.

This concludes the first of this three part series. In the next part I will outline some basic habits one can cultivate to to easily improve one’ alignment. In the third I will show how to perform a basic cranial-spinal reset and delve into some further discussion of our motivation to heal ourselves, where this motivation is useful, and where it is limited.

 

Alignment Part 1 : Chinese Medicine Living

*Images
The beautiful featured image from picturesdotnews.com
Earth image from Mother Earth by Commander on Youtube.com
Tree image from veganfeministnetwork.com
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