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 clinic 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. Overtime if your digestive system is chronically imbalanced, other organs, tissues, bodily systems and the mind begin to suffer. Our Diegstion System is considered to be 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. Overtime, 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 pocket book.

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, flus and allergies), chronic congestion, irregular digestion, pain conditions, unexplained weight gain, and other conditions caused by in-activity of body or mind (overweight, depression, lethargy).  These conditions can be understood from 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 kpala 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, book shelves, 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 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 not substitute for consultation with a licensed health care professional.  Please visit your primary health care provider before starting new exercise or diet routines.  

Gift Yourself this Holiday Season

Whether you like it or not it’s the time of giving.  Giving gifts, giving your time to family, shopping, traffic, going to obligatory work functions, holiday parties and giving your immune system an extra test with travel.  Unfortunately, if we’re not careful and give of yourself too much you end up sick, stressed out, overwhelmed or the Scrooge.

Gift Yourself ImageThat’s why I’m dedicating this article to all of you who need permission to gift yourself this holiday season.  Sometimes we just need permission to do the things we know we ought to do.

As a stress reduction specialist (I’ve been using this term more and more since someone told me this is one of my specialties), I find that when people don’t take care of themselves during the year, the holidays become overwhelming, tiring and stressful.  In a time when there is much to celebrate, many people focus on the obligations rather than the attitude of gratitude or truly gifting another from the heart.  Furthermore, when it’s time to receive a gift from someone, people don’t know how to truly appreciate this act because we’re burnt out, feeling unworthy or again, being Scrooge.

There is a quote that I live by, “learn to love yourself before you can truly love another.”   This same psychology can also be used when it comes to gifting.  Learn to gift yourself before you truly give to others.  Easier said than done.  Learning how to gift yourself is learning how to appreciate and find gratitude for your own life and authentic self.  Learning how to gift yourself also teaches you how to receive.  Yes, RECEIVE.  Gifting is an act of moving energy from yourself outward.  When you gift yourself, you practice receiving, or moving energy from the external to the internal.  Receiving is just as important as giving but in a culture that is focused on the external objects to make us happy, many of us have forgotten how to receive with an open heart. I’m encouraging you this holiday season to gift yourself by taking care of yourself and doing things that you find indulgent but are actually very simple.  Watch your thoughts when you decide to gift yourself and notice how you receive.  Also notice how you give.  The holidays are such a beautiful time of the year for celebration and fun, take care of yourself and learn the balance of giving and receiving to truly optimize this special time of the year.

Top ten gifts to give yourself this holiday season:

Breathe! Take 5-10 releasing breathes in the car, in the shower, bathroom stall, really ANYWHERE.  How to: Take a nice deep slow breath in through the nose.  Hold the breath for 1-2 seconds and gather up any emotions or stress.  Then exhale, breathe out, with a sigh or the sound of ‘haaaa.’  Repeat as necessary.  Caution: you can cause lightheaded.  Please do not overdo.  5-10 breaths is plenty!

Mooooove your body.  Remember to move and stretch during your travels.  If you’re driving, during your rest stops walk around the parking lot, do some push ups on a bench or some squats in the parking lot.  Yes, people will look at you but again, by taking care of yourself (and having fun doing so) gives permission for all the other achy travelers to move too.  If you’re flying, remember to flex your legs, ankles and glutes/buttocks regularly.  When you’re waiting in lines try to balance on one leg.  Maybe even jog or speed walk to your next gate, not because you’re about to miss your flight but because you’ll feel better once you get there.

Foot massage.  Did you know there are millions of nerve endings that send signals through your whole body when you massage your feet. Foot reflexology is based on this principle.  How to:  Sit on the floor a comfy chair, cross one of your legs and begin massaging the heck out of your foot, ankle and calf.  Better yet, get a friend or loved one to do it for  you!  If you don’t have a foot or hate feet, keep reading to check out another gift you can give yourself.

Self Oil Massage.  That’s right, oil yourself up.  Use a natural oil like coconut oil, sesame oil (not toasted, it should look golden), olive oil or jojoba oil. gently warm the oil in a double boiler, coffee warmer or on the stove.  Be careful not to burn yourself or overheat the oil.  If the oil begins to smoke, start over.  With your warm, body temperature oil, begin by applying some to the scalp.  Then cover the body making circles at joints and long sweeping motions on limbs and torso.  Let the oil sit for 15-20 minutes.  Enjoy your favorite cup of tea (gift yourself #4) and then take a hot shower without soap to wash the oils off.  This is an ancient healing secret from the East.  It is a therapy to create balance of the body and all the tissues.  If you go to a spa and get this done you’ll be dishing out $150-$350.  Yes, gift yourself!

Hand massage.  Like the foot, did you know there are millions of nerve endings that send signals through the whole body when you massage your hands?!  Massage each hand for 10 minutes.  Better yet, have a friend or loved one massage it for you.  Kids are great at giving hand massages and very healing and intuitive by nature.

Indulge in your FAVORITE cup of tea or coffee.  Not sure about you, but I tend to buy tea in bulk, not a high-end tea but something I know will GET THE JOB DONE.  My husband who is a coffee drinker tends to do the same.  HOWEVER, why not give yourself permission to go out and buy your all time favorite tea or coffee for the holidays?  Sipping on it while you get a foot massage or after you’ve given yourself a full body massage will feel like you’re the Queen or King of the neighborhood.  Which I’m sure you already are 😉

Sleep in as long as you want.  Arrange with your partner, spouse or family to give you one morning where you can sleep in as long as you want.  Some of you already do, so don’t choose this as a gift to yourself.  Others of you, including myself, have pets or kids to take care of.  Sleep is so incredibly important to reducing stress from the body and mind.  When we don’t give ourselves permission to get sleep until we naturally wake up, we are adding more stress to our lives.

Do one thing you LOVE to do.  Novel idea, right?!  In the clinic, I like to give my clients homework assignments between sessions.  The most often “prescribed” homework is asking a client to do something they absolutely LOVE to do but never do anymore.  One lady in New York loved walking around looking at the old architecture and taking photos.  She hadn’t done this in over 10 years even though she walked everywhere and lived on the upper east side, an amazing area for her passion.  Another lady just wanted time to sit with her cat in her lap, turn off all the gadgets and watch the world walk by.  Another man wanted to continue to write on a screen play he began 18 years earlier.  By giving themselves permission, each of these people did what they LOVED!  You should have seen the smiles on their faces during our next session.  TRY IT, that’s why you LOVE IT!

Buy yourself a gift.  In the Business and Money section of the Times this week, there is an article New Holiday Tradition: Buying Yourself a Gift.  While I’m attempting to keep the gift yourself idea focused on health and wellness, I have to admit there is something incredibly satisfying and healing when you buy yourself a gift for no reason.  A REAL GIFT that is, not something for the house, your pet or work.  A gift is something you’d probably never buy for yourself because of the thirty reasons of why you could use something else…for the house, pet or kids.  It doesn’t have to be something huge, lavish or expensive.  Maybe it’s hand lotion, a favorite candle or a hard-cover book.  Imagine that, a real book?!

Write or express your dreams, goals and aspirations for 2013.  This is not the same as a New Year Resolution.  This is about giving yourself permission to dream and dream big.  Not only learn from the past and decide to move forward with all the wisdom you’ve gained but maybe in this process learn something new about yourself.  Attempt to get out of the usual things you dream or think about and go wild.  Questions to ask yourself: If money weren’t an issue, I’d__________.  If I had all the time in the world, I’d_____ or may day would ____________.  When I look back at this time next year, I want to feel __________ or be able to say, I did ______________.  I want to learn about _____ in 2013.  The biggest lessons of life have come from ___________________.  I’ll use this knowledge in 2013 to _____________.

Choose an Attitude of Gratitude.  The holidays are the perfect time to point out who’s glass is half-empty and whose glass if half-full.  Unfortunately, the half-empty mentality is much easier to follow and fall into its unforgiving jaws.  IF however, you are a half-full or overly full mentality type, keep it up this holiday, even around friends and family.  You may get picked on, you may even be asked the most silly questions like why or how can you be so happy,  but more importantly you give others permission to live this way as well.  I can’t think of a better gift…and it’s free!  Remember, even the smallest and most simplest things can turn our world around.

Caution:  If you feel silly gifting yourself, you’re not alone.  More importantly, you’re probably doing it right.  Don’t worry what others think, just have fun.  After all, the holidays are a time for having fun and being silly! 

Gratitude as an Act of Devotion

When the hustle and bustle of the holiday season grabs you by the arm, neck, throat, or well, you know what, rather than fight back, smile at it this year and say “Thank you.”

Huh? Thank you???

Yep, “Thank You!” with a big smile of course.

With this week being Thanksgiving we are constantly being reminded to be grateful. I love it! A week where everyone is practicing and engaging in yoga. Alright, I have to admit, I tend to view my life in terms of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, the five elements, the eight limbs of yoga or Vedic wisdom. That’s just how I see things.

http://haunanichong.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/gratitude-sunset.jpgIshvara Pranidhana is a sanskrit term used and practiced a lot in yoga. It means “Devotion to Supreme God.” It’s one of the Niyamas, or personal observances, outlined in the Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali. If the word “God” freaks you out, like it did me for many decades, use a term that does resonate with you like “Love,” “the Universe,” “Divine,” “Nature” or “All Things.” One of the easiest ways to practice Ishvara Pranidhana is by feeling, being, and acknowledging gratitude in your life. When we truly feel and share our gratitude internally and externally, magic happens all around–improved energy, better sleep, people treat us better, random acts of kindness come out of nowhere (and really, they aren’t so random). Don’t believe me?

My mom just shared a story with me the other day. She travels a lot for work and got stuck on the east coast due to a broken airplane part. Her flight to San Francisco was delayed for 48 hours. While the majority of the people were kicking and screaming over the situation, she decided to take another approach. She surrendered to the situation and decided to take the perspective that “everybody is trying to fix the situation (flight mechanics, customer service representatives, etc). I should be grateful for all these people working to get me home safely.” While others were shouting and yelling at the ticket agents, she decided to smile and let them know she was thankful for their hard work. Just by expressing her sincere gratitude, not getting upset or blaming the people who were trying to help her get home sooner, she was rerouted and given a first class seat for no extra fee. Presto! A random gift based in gratitude.

Granted, I’m an optimist, but I know my life runs much more smoothly when I’m not fighting myself, the urge to be somewhere else (even if it’s in a long line at the store) or needing something else. I’ve learned through the years that if I ditch the December Downers, self-pity parties and let the Frantic Shopper or Family Drama Queen take a vacation, my life is so much richer and easy.

http://haunanichong.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/holiday-dinner-smiles.jpgThis holiday season, feel the feeling of gratitude and find gratitude in all aspects of your life (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual). You can express gratitude inwardly and silently or outwardly through gestures and words. Express your gratitude outwardly by smiling to yourself for no reason, smiling at strangers, listening to a friend, sibling, or person on the street who always tries to start a conversation with you. Inwardly, practice gratitude through how you perceive yourself, your state of mind as you move through the airport, cash register, and sitting with family. Most importantly, share your gratitude to the Universe, or Divine, by saying “thank you” and truly feel this gratitude in every cell of your being. When we acknowledge all the gifts and blessings in our life the Universe responds with “You’re welcome.” Don’t be surprised if “You’re welcome” is an unexpected gift you’ve been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for.