Asian Medicine Wisdom for Late Summer

Even if you don’t fully experience the dramatic environmental changes of the Seasons, everyone knows them: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Did you know in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is a celebrated fifth season?! Well, it’s not celebrated in the sense of holidays, Hallmark cards or other hooplah, but it is acknowledged as its own distinct time of the year and has dramatic impacts on our health if we are not mindful or aware of how it may affect our overall health.

“Late Summer” is known for the final days of summer when the temperatures are typically very hot, humidity increases but there may be a day or two of surprising cooler temperatures, as Autumn approaches. This time of the year is all about building reserves, like our ancestors who were preparing for long cold autumns and winters. Late Summer is ruled by the Chinese Medicine element of Earth. The Earth element symbolizes and is closely related to the organs of digestion, particularly the Spleen (a not-so-talked-about organ in Western medicine unless you need it removed) and Stomach. Because Earth likes to be warm and dry, the excess heat, or surprising cold, along with humidity (a quality of wetness) has the tendency to challenge our digestion system in Late Summer, especially if your digestion system is already prone to being out of balance, are overweight, or have congestion in the body. Since the tendency int he Summer is to party, be more laid back and enjoy we tend to eat more foods that can challenge our digestion system: frozen drinks, frozen blended drinks and smoothies, overly cheesy or oily dips, more processed and sugary food to accommodate the long road trips, travels, or BBQ’s like chips, hot dogs, soda, ice cream and cakes. If we don’t take time in the Late Summer to get-back-on-track, it is common to see the following ailments or signs of being imbalanced during Late Summer appear:

weight gain
lethargy
chronic fatigue
cloudiness of the mind
lack of motivation
feeling “burned out”
muscle weakness
flare-ups of chronic pain or injuries
exasperated fibromyalgia
digestion troubles even with no desire to eat or drink
feeling “ungrounded”

There is a famous, and misleading, saying, “You are what you eat.” After years of clinical practice and learning more about the digestive system than most (due to my own challenges with digestion growing up), I truly believe and teach my patients about the importance of “YOU ARE WHAT YOU DIGEST” (not what you eat). This concept was taught to me by the renowned International Ayurveda Physician, Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, who has just released a new book The Hot Belly Diet. The difference is, you can eat as “perfectly” as possible but without the digestive fire and balance, your body is not necessarily benefitting from the organic, free range, non-gmo, etc. food. If your body is not properly digesting the foods and drinks you consume, your body is not sorting, absorbing and processing what your body really needs. Remember, every-body is unique with individualized needs.  And if the body is not digesting properly, or is out of balance, the mind is not properly digesting experiences and chronic mental and/or emotional stress build as well. Over time if your digestive system is chronically imbalanced, other organs, tissues, bodily systems and the mind begin to suffer. Our Digestive System is considered to be of the utmost importance when it comes to building immunity, improving overall health, maintaining weight, feeling vital and motivated and having clarity of the mind.

Late Summer is associated with building nourishment at the body, mind and spirit level.  If we enter Autumn with healthy, balanced digestion, strong immune system and clarity of mind, we have the reserves and stores to last through the drying, cold and harsh months (can be harsh mentally and emotionally–think SAD, Seasonal Affect Disorder).  Furthermore, when we are full, we have enough to share with others and won’t be as drained or get as sick, especially in preparation for the busy holiday season.

Preventative medicine begins NOW in Late Summer to build the digestive fire and immunity.  If you enter the Autumn and Winter with low reserves of physical, mental and emotional energy, you are much more likely to experience the reoccurring cold, flu, respiratory conditions and bodily pains of the winter.

Tips for Late Summer:

  • Begin to create your daily routine you’ll carry over into the Autumn with exercise, meditation, yoga, sleep, food, rest.
  • Visit your acupuncturist to get a digestion tune-up.
  • Movement: Take a walk after every meal.  Minimum 1000 steps. Ideally, until you build a light sweat.
  • Exercise: sweat at least 4-5 days/week, if not every day. If you feel more exhausted or lethargic after you exercise, you’re sweating too much, in Chinese Medicine lingo, loosing too much essential qi. Ideally, you want to feel energetic and vital after you exercise.
  • If you practice yoga asana, focus on the Prana Vayu of Samana, twists and wide-legged forward folding poses.
  • Meditation: Samana meditation, color yellow, themes: grounding, nourishing, filling the vessel/body, releasing the emotion of “worry,” feeling whole from the inside out.
  • Food:  Eat more warm, cooked, foods and beverages. Add ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and cardamom to your meals and beverages (even your smoothies!). Avoid icy foods and beverages, cold foods, overly fried foods, high sugar foods and overly processed foods. Over time, these will quell the digestive fire and throw your digestion out of imbalance.
  • Recommended food choices: soups, stews, casseroles, baked or roasted food.
  • Beverage: Twig Tea, Barley Tea, Oolong Tea, Chai, sip on warm lemon water throughout the day.
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Spring Wisdom: Spring into Action

Aloha!

It’s been a long time since I last blogged but for good reason.  I am now a mother!  I have never felt so blessed, more humbled and more inspired in my life.  My intention is to share this joy and inspiration with you via more blogs and exciting offerings in 2014 and beyond.  Stay tuned (hint, hint, sign up for my blogs via email).

With that said, let’s get down to Spring business.

spring quote

Spring is the time for renewing your commitment to yourself, your health and wellness goals, your relationships and cleansing, a.k.a. Spring Cleaning. Why wait? Let the natural flow of the Spring season assist you in this internal process.

Spring is here (at least in Southern California it is) and you can sure tell by the awakening of all the senses when you walk outside.  The sun is up longer.  The baby birds have hatched and are chirping away…at 4am.  The smell of citrus blossoms and other spring annuals fill the air.  The mornings are cool and crisp rejuvenating the whole body with a deep breath.  The afternoon sun kisses the skin in the most sensual way that makes the whole body glisten with new life.  There’s also a lot more eye candy at the farmer’s market.  Noooo, not that type of eye candy (well ok, that too), but more vegetables and fruits to tease the eyes and pocketbook.

Even if you’re not in Southern California, or your Spring has not yet arrived, continue reading this blog so you can begin to prepare your body for the most healthful Spring yet.

Cherry BlossomsSpring is the season of renewal and rejuvenation.  After a long winter “hibernation” (check out my blog: Winter Wisdom) or slowing down of the internal and external world, spring is when the seeds of life, love and all relationships begin anew.  Like the new sprouts poking their heads up from the dark earth into the shining bright light, our bodies and minds are in harmony with the same natural process.  Remember, YOU ARE ONE WITH NATURE.  This is the time to allow the inner and outer self to start new, clean out the old winter funk and prepare the body and mind for a fun-filled summer.

As a clinician, this is the time when I begin to see more upper respiratory conditions (colds, cases of flu and allergies), chronic congestion, irregular digestion, pain conditions, unexplained weight gain, and other conditions caused by inactivity of body or mind (overweight, depression, lethargy).  These conditions can be understood from an Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine perspective.

In Ayurveda, Spring is dominated by the qualities of Kapha.  Kapha begins in late winter and continues into Spring bringing with it to the body and mind: dark, heavy, inert, cold, oily, static, soft and cloudy qualities.  This is why I don’t, do not, recommend starting “New Year Resolutions” in January.  There is not natural energy in your environment or internally to keep you inspired and motivated.  January is a time for rest, staying inward and being contemplative.  However, Spring is the perfect time to begin that “New Year” resolution.  If anyone asks, say you’re following the Lunar New Year calendar.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, spring is dominated by the qualities of Wood, governed by the organs of the Liver and Gallbladder.   The qualities of Wood are to grow, be active, reach out, distribute and move. Subsequently, the Liver and Gallbladder have similar qualities of movement, cleansing, decisiveness, and regulation of physical, emotional and mental energy, referred to as “qi”.

We can integrate this Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine wisdom to give us a full perspective of how to stay healthy in Spring.  The natural tendency of the body and mind are to be Kapha in the Spring: slow, heavy and clouded.  Chinese Medicine wisdom tells us how we can balance these Kapha forces by choosing actions and foods that are more Wood in quality: moving, cleansing and rejuvenating.  Since the liver is responsible for governing healthy emotional balance, this is also the perfect time to release any stuffed emotions, resentment, anger or frustration making room for more sunlight (literally and figuratively) to fill in that space.  Kapha likes to settle in the chest, so it’s also very important to exercise the lungs either with more physical exercise, breathing exercises and chest opening stretches.

Morning Heart Opener

The main overall theme of renewal and rejuvenation of spring can be summed up into the common phrase “Spring Cleaning.”  Below is a guideline of ways you can implement Spring Cleaning in your life, inside and out.  Don’t worry about doing all of these.  Choose one or two and start there.  Typically starting with something external to the body (the last bullet) feels so good, you will begin to naturally feel inspired to make more changes more internally.

Ways to Spring Clean:

  • Increase your physical activity or change up your exercise routine to be a bit more challenging (length, duration or activity).  An invigorating walk or mindful movement practice (yoga, tai chi or qi gong) first thing in the morning will break-up the physical and mental kapha tendencies.
  • This is a great time to begin yoga since yoga focuses on strengthening the ligaments and tendons which are governed by the Wood and Liver energies.
  • Meditate daily: focus on releasing stuffed emotions, trauma, resentment, anger, or frustration.  To assist in this process, I recommend visualizing a green or emerald color light to wash through the body or fill any areas of the body that feel stuck.
  • Acupuncture:  Your favorite acupuncturist can help to move and smooth imbalanced Liver qi, helping you feel more balanced and inspired to live the life you know you deserve.
  • Breathe more!  This goes hand-in-hand with increasing your physical activity.  If you increase your exercise routine or start a new one, you will naturally breathe deeper and for longer.  First thing in the morning, step outside and take 10-20 deep, long, full breaths.  For those of you who practice yoga regularly, practice more invigorating pranayama like kapala bhati, brahma breathing, or fire breath.
  • Sweat.  Try to sweat at least 5-7 days a week.  Even if you can’t sweat through physical exercise or yoga (best recommendations), take a hot bath, visit a sauna or steam room.  You should feel invigorated after a sweat.  If you feel tired or lazy, you’ve sweat too much.  Take a day or two to build up your energy before you do anything strenuous.
  • Drink 1 cup of warm lemon water first thing in the morning.  Warm up 1 cup water and squeeze 1/2 a lemon into the water.  Chug.  Yes, chug.  If there is one internal Spring Cleaning guideline to start with, start here!  Sip on warm lemon water throughout the day for additional cleansing.
  • Eat in Season!  Eat GREEN!  Eat Bitter!  Other tastes to focus on: pungent/spicy (in moderation), astringent like grapefruits and lemons, and pickled items.  If you don’t know what’s in season, go to your local farmer’s market, or just read this blog.  Leafy greens, sprouts, and green veggies (artichokes, asparagus) are abundant right now.  For good reason.  The bitter taste in these foods cuts through damp, phlegm and thick mucus (all forms of kapha build up in the body).  Bitter also helps to cleanse the liver, the blood and digestive tract, allowing the body to feel more energized.
  • Recommended teas and drinks for Spring: Dandelion root tea, burdock root tea, milk thistle, peppermint, gao ju lang/Immortal Tea, Ginger tea, Kombucha.
  • Clean out your environment: closets, computer files, office space, bookshelves, collections and storage spaces.  If you’re having a hard time implementing one of the above suggestions for yourself, start with your external environment.  This will usually inspire you to feel better internally as well.

Spring can be a scary time for some people because spring is yet another time (like Autumn) for change and transformation.  Spring is the gateway to Summer.  Autumn is the gateway to Winter.  Especially after a cozy winter routine of eating hardier foods, enjoying the warmth of staying inside longer and sleeping longer (hopefully), Spring can be a love-hate relationship.  However, as Alan Cohen, states so beautifully, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new.  But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful.  There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”  So I invite you to be courageous, clean inside and out, physically and mentally and allow yourself to be inspired by the renewal of life this spring. In short, be an example for others this Spring. Move your body and mind in the direction you want, not what others want for you.  Release anger, frustration or stored emotions in healthy ways like exercise, mindful movement, meditation, and yoga.

Note: Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine are constantly guiding us to find our balance in physical, emotional and mental health.  Balance is an individualized feeling and point of awareness that only you can truly know.  Each season allows us the opportunity to dive into different areas of our life to create a whole complete circle, or flow, of health and wellness.  By following the seasonal patterns of Nature, you can learn the infinite wisdom of how to stay in your own flow and balance.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This is a reference work.  It is not meant for diagnosis or treatment and it is no substitute for consultation with a licensed health care professional.  Please visit your primary health care provider before starting new exercise or diet routines.  

Asian Medicine Wisdom for Autumn

It’s Autumn which means several things in my world.  Autumn is a wonderful transitional season.  The mornings begin to have a nice crisp in the air once again that just screams to the lungs…Wake up!   And as soon as I take in a deep breath, my body responds with AAAAH!  Oh Autumn, how I love thee.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a.k.a TCM, Autumn is correlated to the element of Metal.  For all you non-TCM geeks, without even having to try to figure out what that means just consider what the qualities of metal are.  Don’t give yourself an aneurysm thinking about it.  Just consider.  Let me get you started.  Metal is ___(fill in adjective here)______________.  Voila!  Now you can begin to relate to the season of Autumn more personally.  Consider how these qualities apply to your own life, your relationships, mental state, habits, or more importantly how you can use these qualities to bring more balance in your life, i.e. cutting things out of your life that no longer serve you or help you to be the best you can be.

Yes, Autumn, as metal, is more sharp or cutting than the playful energy of summer.  Things all around us begin to show their life’s cycle: wilting, withering, changing colors, falling off trees.  Woah woah waoh, not to get you depressed.  This is a natural cycle and part of your own nature of being.  Asian Medicine is all about celebrating the nature of things and since YOU ARE A PART OF nature, this means celebrating YOU!  This is the perfect time to allow what needs to naturally die away, go.  Let go.  The nature of Metal.  AND when we let go, that creates space allowing for the opposite to occur…receptivity or filling.

More TCM geeky stuff that you should know is the metal element is connected with the Lungs and Large Intestine.  The yin and yang organs of receptivity and letting go.  These images and connections become the perfect guidelines for the natural processes in our own life, no?

In Ayurveda, Autumn is associated with the dosha, or imbalances, of Vata.  Vata is represented by the elements of Air and Space just like the Lungs and Large Intestine.  In fact, the house of Vata is the…drum roll please…Large Intestine.  Coincidence?  Never is.  More like Divine connection!  At this time of the year, it is natural for things in our lives to become irregular, mobile, quick, dry, cold, light, and rough.  Not just on a physical level (lungs and large intestine) but at the mental/emotional level as well.  Both TCM and Ayurveda give us guidelines of how to live with the seasons and not allow these qualities to take over too much and create dis-ease or illness.

During the change of the seasons, Vata, the energy of movement, is predominant. It’s important to avoid excesses in all areas of your life at this time.  Breathing exercises and meditation are important to practice every day.  Begin packing a scarf or top-layer with you every time you leave the house, just in case the weather shifts.  When the weather gets windy, protect your neck.  Most importantly, nurture moderation and stress-free living to keep the immune system functioning at its peak performance.

General food guidelines to follow at this time of the year include:
1) Eat foods that are sweet (whole grains, not cookies), sour & salty (rock salt, not potato chips)
2) Limit the intake of spicy, raw, cold, and light foods. i.e. cold salads, sushi, and cold bean salads.
3) Enjoy warm, cooked foods, a variety of proteins, and healthy fats.

Consider, sipping on the following Vata Balancing Tea throughout the day to help make the transition of the seasons easier on the mind and body.

Ingredients:
1C water
3 deep breaths
1 Intention of “Balance”
1/4 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ajwain (available at most local Natural Food store)
sweetener (optional): turbinado, rice syrup

Directions:
Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add spices. Cover and steep, or use a coffee/tea press, for 3-5 minutes. Sweeten to taste & serve. Serves 1.

Enjoy with balance and the intention of letting go those things in your life (thoughts, habits, relationships) that no longer serve you while being more receptive, or filling your life with things that DO serve you. This is Autumn! Enjoy.

Aloha & Namaste

To learn more specifically about your personal constitution and what foods, spices, beverages, breathing exercises and physical exercises or yoga asana are best to bring your body and mind into balance, call or e-mail Haunani today to schedule your private 1-to-1 session.