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

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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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A Brief History and the Many Benefits of Acupuncture

By Dr. Marcia Steingraber

The history of acupuncture may not be as straightforward as is generally accepted. In fact, the first evidence of the practice (which is assumed to have originated in China) can be found in passing mentions in texts from around two centuries prior to the dawn of the 'Common Era' (or B.C.). The first mention of the practice that is beyond argument can be found in the medical text 'The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine' which was published in China in around 100 BCE (around BCE - or 'Before the Common Era'). There is evidence that sharpened bone slivers from much further back in history might have been used in acupuncture - however, it is recognized that these may have been used in other ways such as the drawing or letting of blood. Whatever the case, acupuncture has a long history as a treatment for a variety of ailments.

Today the practice of acupuncture (which consists of inserting thin needles into the skin at various depths) is an important part of holistic medicine. It has been accepted by medical researchers that acupuncture can be of enormous benefit to those who are experiencing chronic pain. However, the many other benefits of the practice that are claimed by those who administer acupuncture are still under investigation. One of the challenges of the ongoing research is that those investigating the benefits of the practice are still unsure of exactly how acupuncture works - does it (as is claimed by many traditionalists) balance the bodies' vital energies and improve the flow of 'Chi' (spiritual energy) through the insertion of the needles at the various meridians (there are 350 acupuncture points) of the
body, balancing out the opposing forces of 'yin' and 'yang' or does it have a measurable neurological effect (which would fit in more neatly to the Western concept of medicine).

Whatever the reason - as far as pain and discomfort is concerned, acupuncture works - and practitioners (as well as many beneficiaries of the practice) believe that it can be used to treat a multitude of diverse conditions, including persistent headaches [2], high (or low) blood pressure, dysentery, Biliary Colic, symptoms of ulcers and gastritis and a variety of conditions that affect mood and mental wellbeing such as depression. It has also been shown to be useful in the treatment of lower back and neck pain which is increasingly prevalent in Western society as a result of a sedentary lifestyle.

The idea that acupuncture may affect neurological systems [3] is one that is attractive to the adherents of modern medicine. the meridian points that are stimulated in traditional acupuncture are, in many cases at the nexus of nerve transmission and also places where muscles and various classes of connective tissue can be stimulated. This is turn stimulates the body's secretion of endorphins - natural painkillers and can also increase blood flow (which can reduce swelling and stimulate the repair of damaged internal structures).

For those who are suffering persistent pain, acupuncture provides an alternative to Westernized medicine and its focus on drug-fueled treatments. It is a holistic approach that is growing in popularity as consumers become more aware of the potential dangers of medicinal drug use.

Sources:
1. The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (2008);
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2287209/
2. Acupuncture for Chronic Headaches - An Epidemiological Study (2006);
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16643558/
3. Acupuncture Effect and Central Autonomic Regulation (2013);
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3677642/

Beautiful featured image photo by Lian Rodríguez from Pexels


Dr. Marcia Steingraber is a practicing acupuncturist with a Doctorate in Acupuncture, specializing in Family Medicine with an emphasis in Fertility. Her focus is treating chronic pain, failed surgeries and internal disorders. Marcia’s true passion is rejuvenating her patients by relieving them of chronic pain or injuries.


What is Yin & Yang?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Yin Yang Theory in Chinese Medicine

The theory of yin and yang is at the foundation of Chinese Medicine. It was developed, over thousands of years, from observations of the natural world. Yin and yang represent the duality that is seen to exist in all things. Yin represents darkness, cold, slow, internal, reflective energies, and yang represents bright, hot, quick, external, active energies. According to this theory, all things are a dynamic interaction of these opposing forces. Yin/yang theory can be applied to literally everything and is not limited to medicine and health - although as the ancient Chinese discovered, it works extremely effectively in this context. Yin and yang is a way to see the forces of nature, our bodies, the food we eat, our emotions, and really, all things in existence. It is a lens through which we can see and attempt to understand ourselves and the way we interact with our world.

You are probably familiar with the taiji, or yin/yang symbol - an ancient Taoist symbol which is a graphic representation of yin and yang. The dark half represents yin, and the light represents yang,  but notice that there is a dot of each that exists in the other. They are mutually dependent and the two are never static but always changing, one into the other and vice versa. This symbol visually illustrates that although there is a duality, each part needs the other to be complete and both can coexist harmoniously.

 

Yin & Yang Personality Traits

Everything that exists, and indeed each one of us, are seen to have both yin and yang aspects. These can range from personality types, body types, physical tendencies and emotional states. Some people are more yin, and some are naturally more yang. Here is an example to help you to visualize it:

A shy, quiet person who enjoys time alone, meditation and going for long walks in the forest has a predominantly yin personality. And I suspect we have all met the gregarious and outgoing person who is very friendly, stands close, speaks loudly and is always the life of every party. This is a yang person. And the world certainly needs both.

Yin & Yang and Health

In Chinese Medicine, health is achieved when the body’s energies are in a relative state of balance. That balance is different for everyone, as was illustrated in the example above. Some people have more yin energies while others naturally have more yang. This is one of the reasons that a practitioner of Chinese medicine takes so much time to gather information from a patient in an initial visit. They are attempting to paint a picture of that person so that they can determine what they are made of, what their tendencies are, and where their imbalances lie. When yin and yang energies are out of balance, illness occurs. Thankfully, Chinese Medicine offers us many ways in which to restore the equilibrium we need to be healthy.

 

Beautiful featured image by www.kittysabatier.com



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Keeping Cool this Summer with Chinese Medicine

By John Voigt

Keeping Cool

Here are some techniques from Traditional Chinese medicine to help beat the summer heat.  (If you have a fever, or other health problems see a professional medical practitioner.)

First some common sense suggestions: drink a lot of water, keep cool.  Do your body a favor and stay in the shade. Nothing beats a pleasant stroll in a forest (just have the bug repellant on). If you must be in the sun cover yourself as much as you can. Watch non-human animals for cues on what you should be doing.


Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Food. 

Never put icy cold things in your mouth.  Avoid lamb, fatty red meat, alcohol, tobacco, garlic, onion, scallion, and coffee as these are warming in Chinese Medicine.  Eat less food and drink, drink lots of room temperature fluids--except never any sugared juice drinks, or sodas.   Replace any lost salt … lost from heavy sweating.

To reinforce yin, and clear heat: Watermelon,  Mung beans.


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Also: Apple, Banana, Crab,  Mango, Pears, Pineapple, Tofu.

Try drinking mint, chamomile, chrysanthemum teas; and also a weak green tea with a touch of lemon and honey. These are cooling to the body and build yin.


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Chinese Herbs

American Ginseng. 


This image from ernestherbal.com

Check with a health professional knowledgeable about Chinese herbs if you have health issues.  Dosage: Usually American Ginseng extract is about 200 mg per day containing at least 4 to 7% ginsenosides. 0.5 to 2 g of dry root per day on a short-term basis, with the ginseng taken in tea form or chewed. Capsule formulas are generally prescribed in a dosage of 100 to 600 mg per day, usually in divided doses.  [from] <http://www.online-health-care.com/herbal-medicines>.

Internal Qigong.   

In the cycle of Seasons, this is the time to prepare for winter.  Sit in meditation and visualize it is winter all around you. Take the hot yang energy on the surface of your body and with your mind and breath direct and guide this heat into the energy storage battery in your lower abdomen, the Dantian.  Do from five to fifteen minutes.

Self Acupressure.

  • Kidney 1 (Yong-quan)
  • Kidney 2 (Ran-gu)
  • Bladder 40 (Weizhong)

Kidney 1 is one of the most powerful points in the body and is located between the balls of the foot in the depression. It is a very strong point, so be gentle. It is excellent for building yin and cooling the body as well as being a powerful tonification point for the entire body.
Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash 

Kidney 2 is located on the inside (medial) aspect of the foot along the border of the red and white skin (where the skin transitions from the soft part on the top of your foot to the tougher type of skin you have on the bottom of your foot.)
Image from wanderingdawn.com

This point is located behind the knees at the midpoint of the crease. It is very sensitive, so always be gentle.

Gently press and massage the  Kidney 1, and 2 points, then the Bladder-40 points for about three to five minutes (or longer). 

Putting ice on the Bladder 40 wěizhōng points works to cool you down too.

External Qigong.

With fingers pointed down and knuckles facing each other almost touching, raise hands up center front -- go above head and open palms up to the heavens. With palms facing downward,  fingertips pointed at each other,  bring hands down the center line,. Repeat six times. Softly sound “Sheee.” (Or just hear it in your head.)  This harmonizes the body’s organ functions, the “Triple Burner".

John Voigt
john.voigt@comcast.net

 



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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.

 

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