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

Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

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

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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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This sheet includes how to change behaviours, cooking methods, and beneficial foods, spices and flavours as well as other associations to help you live in harmony with every season.


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Living in Harmony with Spring According to Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Chinese Medicine Theory

Chinese Medicine has such a beautiful way of looking at us - human beings, our place in nature and in the universe. We are part of a greater whole and are inseparable from it. In Chinese Medicine, we are healthy when we are in harmony with our surroundings, and for much of human history, we have honed the skills needed to be able to feel slight changes in our environments, so that we could change behaviours, to remain in balance. In our modern world, we seem to be losing this connectedness to both our natural environments and ultimately, ourselves. Chinese Medicine can teach us how to regain this connection by giving us some simple guidelines on how to live in harmony with the seasons.

Spring - The Season of the Liver

Spring is the season associated with the Liver and the emotion of Anger. Its energies are expansive - moving upward and outward like newly budding plants, flowers and trees. It is a time for growth and renewal. Spring is the best time to strengthen the Liver, and to deal with any unresolved feelings of Anger or frustration as they can build up and cause stagnant Qi or energy in the Liver and elsewhere. The colour associated with Spring and the Liver is green. Eating green foods in the Spring strengthens the Liver. To keep your Liver healthy, be sure to be in bed and asleep before 11pm.

The Liver is the organ associated with Spring. In Chinese Medicine the Liver has the following responsibilities:

  • Opens Into the Eyes
  • Controls Planning
  • The Flavour that Supports the Liver is Sour
  • Houses the Hun (Spirit) The Liver is the organ associated with Spring.
  • Stores Blood
  • Responsible for the Smooth Flow of Qi & Blood
  • Controls the Sinews / Tendons
  • Manifests in the Nails

Behaviours in Spring

  • Engaging in uplifting and creative activities that expand our energies and consciousness (journaling, meditation)
  • Seek personal development and growth
  • Cooking should be of shorter duration and at higher temperatures
  • Sautéing with high-quality oil over high heat, or light steaming with water is best in Spring
  • Manage Anger (and frustration) - excess, intense and unexpressed anger congests Qi in the Liver
  • Liver time is between 1am-3am - this is the best time to strengthen the Liver
  • For optimum Liver health, go to bed before 11pm (the Gallbladder time - it is the Liver’s Yin/Yang partner organ)
  • Eat green foods to strengthen Liver

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

Activities in Spring

  • Engage in activities that feed your creativity - drawing/painting/writing/photography/making music/dancing
  • Making plans for the future
  • Spring cleaning of your internal environment - physical, emotional, spiritual
  • Acknowledging, processing and releasing any unresolved emotions, especially Anger & frustration
  • Any activities that push our self-imposed boundaries
  • Gentle exercises on a daily basis, especially stretching as the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi as well as the tendons
  • Walking meditation in nature (gentle exercise, feeding the spirit and taking in the green of new Spring plants through the eyes)
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs

Beneficial Foods in Spring

  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Grapefruit
  • Sprouted Grains, Beans, Seeds
  • Many Green Foods Nourish the Liver
  • Radish
  • Daikon Radish
  • Tofu
  • Fermented Food
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Dandelion Root
  • Milk Thistle
  • Mung Bean
  • Lettuce
  • Quinoa
  • Cucumber
  • Watercress
  • Celery
  • Millet
  • Seaweed
  • Mushroom
  • Beet
  • Carrot
  • Onion
  • Mustard Green
  • Rye
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Alfalfa
  • Amaranth

Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

The Liver and Anger

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

We've all seen that impressive display of anger. Someone losing it in the lineup at the bank, an exasperated parent yelling at a child having a tantrum, or someone, after being on a plane for a bazillion hours being told that they have missed their connecting flight and that the airline has lost their luggage. Yeah, we've all seen that. And it is most of our instincts' to back away a few steps because of how powerful that anger can be. That, my friends, is your Liver talking.

Now in the West, this doesn't make much sense. The liver, we are taught, is the body's filter, making sure that we stay clean and toxin-free. But in Chinese Medicine, each of the organs has an emotional component, which is just as important as its physical functions in the body - and the emotion of the liver is anger.

When the liver is balanced and healthy we are able to move freely because of the liver's responsibilities of governing the smooth flow of Qi in the appropriate directions. You may wonder what happens when Qi flows in the wrong direction? Well, each of the organs has a natural direction in which its Qi flows. For example, the Qi of the stomach flows downward, helping to move food and drink through the digestive system, but when the flow of that Qi is reversed due to pathogenic factors it causes belching, hiccups, nausea and vomiting. A healthy liver means a strong immune system because the liver is responsible for the body's resistance to exterior pathogens. Because the liver opens into the eyes, if you have a healthy liver your vision will be clear and your eyes moist. If your liver is in a state of balance you will have strong nails, recover quickly from physical activities, your movements will be smooth and your body flexible. Those with a healthy liver will also have great courage and resoluteness, and will easily be able to plan their lives wisely and effectively with a clear sense of direction.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Some Symptoms of Liver Stagnation & Imbalance

  • Frustration, depression or repressed anger
  • Hypochondriac pain
  • A sensation of oppression in the chest
  • A feeling of a "lump" in the throat
  • Abdominal distension
  • Women - pre-menstrual tension, depression, irritability, distension of the breasts
  • Belching, sour regurgitation, nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bitter taste in the mouth, belching, jaundice
  • Contraction and/or spasms in the muscles and sinews, impaired extension/flexion, numbness of the limbs, muscle cramps, tremors
  • Dark, dry or cracked nails
  • Blurred vision, myopia, floaters, colour blindness, a feeling of dryness or grit in the eyes
  • Bloodshot, painful or burning sensation in the eyes
  • Irritability, outbursts of anger, red face, dizziness, tinnitus, headaches
  • Lack of direction in life, feeling of being stuck

Chinese Medicine gives us many ways that we can help our bodies, mind and spirits stay balanced and healthy - in every season. Eating green foods, spending more time turning inward, processing our emotions and being in bed by 11pm are only some of the ways we can live in harmony with the spring season, and keep our energies flowing freely so we can be happy, healthy beings all year long.


Beautiful featured image photo by Sylwia Pietruszka on Unsplash


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Happy Spring-Time!

Written by Michael Margulis, Ac.

Just a few words about the spring season according to Chinese medicine.

The spring is a time of upward and expansive movement of creativity, planning a brighter future, vision and perspective; our goal as always, is to harmonize ourselves with the movement of the prevailing season. According to Chinese medicine, the Liver and the Gall-Bladder correspond to the spring and are charged of the smooth flow of energy throughout the body, storing and detoxifying the blood. Our activities should be geared towards creativity, determination and the expression of our inherent mental, emotional and spiritual intelligence. Much in same way that many of us engage in an annual spring cleaning of our external environment, our bodies do the very same thing within our internal environment; physically and emotionally.

We are now nearing the time of year when we will see the newly formed buds on the trees doubling in size daily, this is nature's expression of determination and creativity associated with the spring. Similarly, we too should engage in activities that put our determination, creativity and innate intelligence into motion. In Chinese medicine we always look at nature for insight to the energetic momentum, and strive behave similarly. Just as the buds on trees are sprouting and doubling in size daily we should also be pushing our self imposed boundaries and seek personal development and growth. We should engage in uplifting and creative activity that expands our energy and consciousness, this is why we have been blessed with the spring, the season of creativity, growth and renewal.

This is the perfect time of year to let go of stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs, as the expansive, stimulating movement of the spring gives us that boost naturally. We can also take advantage of this natural boost of energy to begin to exercise moderately on a daily basis, this too helps us to feel alive and refreshed. By shaking off the “cob webs” of the dormant season (winter), sweating out toxins, stimulating serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and revitalizing our energetic, blood and lymphatic circulation.

According to Chinese Medicine the Liver houses the aspect of our spirit that never dies from one lifetime to the next and therefore contains our reason for being. This is why the Liver has the capacity of determination and vision and planning; this way we can spring into action, express our greatest innate qualities needed to realize our spiritual destiny.

The name of the game during the spring is; to face everything and avoid nothing that stands in the way of our evolution; to hide nothing from ourselves; repressed desires, emotional needs and pain should be gently extracted from our depths and brought to the surface so that we may consciously release them (spring cleaning). This is the most propitious time of year to stop procrastinating and face the challenges that emerge from deep within our being or in our day to day lives that can impede us from our primordial spiritual evolution (the summer). In order to do this we must have physical, mental, emotional and spiritual clarity and cleanliness.
Most of the pain we experience have a tendino-muscular or a neuro-muscular component and according Chinese medicine all pain involves some sort of stagnation; be it of the blood, energy, body fluids, emotion or mental. According to Chinese medicine, the Liver and Gall Bladder govern the muscles, tendons and the nerves, by promoting proper heath and functioning of the Liver and Gall-Bladder we can keep the body, mind and spirit harmonious and pain free.

The positive mental-emotional attributes of the Liver/Gall-Baldder are;
Compassion, patience, acceptance, benevolence and honesty (both within and without).

The negative mental-emotional attributes of the Liver/Gall-Bladder are;
Anger, frustration, resentment, irritability and belligerence.

Just as the body is a microcosm of our world, the body is also equipped with acupuncture points that resonate with the spring equinox and have the power to harmonize us with this very powerful time of year. They synchronize us with the ambient movement and expression of positivity, determination, expansion creativity and cleanliness that is proper to the spring.

These points and they are very often of the most important acupuncture points to stimulate on the spring equinox or during the week of the spring equinox. It's best to stimulate these points starting with Gall-Bladder 41 and ending with Liver 1.

Gall-Bladder 41 (GB 41)

Liver 1 (LV 1)

Wishing you a beautiful and abundant spring full of health and happiness!

Straight ahead!

Michael Margulis, Ac.
Clinic GEM
514-271-3963

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