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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Six Tastes of Ayurveda

At the age of five, maybe even earlier, I was often plagued by stomach aches.  It mostly happened after I ate.  My parents, relatively western in their ways, did what any suburban middle-class parents would do, they took me to my pediatrician.  I loved my Pediatrician.  She was untouchable to me.  It was so cool when she used a tongue depressor that was individually wrapped.  I loved the pink syrup she gave me when I had sore throats and I loved looking through the drawers in my waiting room.  Unfortunately, despite her coolness factor, my stomach aches continued.  There was no definite diagnosis and only some mention after an allergy test that I might be lactose intolerant.  The tiny purple pill which was brand spanking new on the market (now one of Pharmaceuticals top sellers Prillosac) didn’t even help.  I did do a little bit better with lactose free milk but ice cream, cheese, pizza, all those yummy kids foods always made me sick and were out of the question.

In my teens, my stomach aches got worst and worst.  After a trip to France, where I had very little stomach issues even eating their stinky cheese, I returned stateside with horrible cramping stomach aches.  After several mildly invasive tests, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  They told me it was a newer diagnosis that was just being used.   The doctor told me, “Eat what you can and avoid the things that give you an upset stomach.”  Duuuuuuuuhhhh!  That’s what I was doing.  Eating rice and apple juice.  Do you think I would have spent my time coming to you if I didn’t already know that?!  I was frustrated.

About the same time, my mom had picked-up a book from a garage sale and gave it to me saying, “I think this is for you.”  The title was Yoga and Ayurveda by David Frawley.  I had nooooooo idea what yoga or Ayurveda was (neither did my mom) but when I randomly opened it up, I saw charts of foods.  With a quick scan I discovered a book that discussed food as medicine.  I began reading hastily.  Within days I was learning that people had different body constitutions and foods reacted differently to different people.  This all made perfect sense to me.  It was like a lightbulb turned-on, one that was familiar yet so new.  I felt like I finally found hope for reducing my stomach upset.  That was the beginning with my love affair with Ayurveda.  I still had no idea what yoga was and it would be another three years before I took my first asana yoga class.

Ayurveda is a complete system of medicine.  Where biomedicine treats diseases with biomedical pharmaceuticals and surgery, Ayurveda prefers to use food, spices, lifestyle modifications, exercise, meditation, aromatherapy, mantra, manual therapies like massage and herbal formulas, or surgery in severe illness or disease.  Ayurveda’s focus is on establishing and maintaining health and wellness in order to prevent disease.

Hippocrates Food MedicineWhile many people believe Hippocrates coined the term “food is medicine,” this is actually an old Ayurveda saying that dates back thousands of years prior to Hippocrates.  Food is such a key component to health and wellness because we eat several times a day.  Ayurveda has dissected food to a science.  The reason why food is medicine is because anything we put in our mouths has a taste and a post-digestive effect.  Each taste stimulates a different part of the tongue which sends signals to the digestive system to ramp up for ingestion and begin producing the right enzymes to digest the incoming food or beverage.  Furthermore, Ayurveda explains how each taste has a medicine value based on its qualities and elemental properties.  It’s these elemental properties that act on the body in a myriad of ways to create balance, cleansing, healing or even imbalance.

To date, I know of no other culture or medicine that looks at food and tastes so closely.  This is different from the western idea of nutrient and vitamin values.  Nutrients and values are just labels but do not explain why they do what they do to the body.  Ayurveda does.  Of all the years I’ve been studying Ayurveda (over 16 years now) I am still fascinated by the science of food and the six tastes.

I’ve compiled a quick .pdf (Six tastes handout) for you to look at which gives a more detailed description of the six tastes and how they affect the body.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.  Furthermore, if you have more to add, please do.  I am forever a student, willing to contemplate more.

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! 

What “yoga is” to me.

At some point during my studies in Yoga, Oriental Medicine, Hawaiian Healing and Ayurveda a teacher once shared with me, “Until you can see Love in all things, until you can Love all people, you’re not ready to practice this medicine.”  I remember being floored, my gut turned inside out (at the time, not good for my IBS, which I’m happy to share is completely healed through Natural Medicine), my dreams dashed for a second, but my heart was racing and the internal me was shouting “Yes, Yes, Yes!”  This was a moment in time when I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Of all the modalities I have studied, in my own heart I consider them all a form and practice of Yoga.  Yoga, in the more general sense of “unification of the present,” is a path to seeing, feeling, hearing, observing and being connected to all things.

In an attempt to bring more clarity to what this means for me in a practical sense, I want to share what yoga is to me.

Yoga is…

Uniting the body, mind, emotions and spirit with the breath of all life.

A breath of life that eventually shows its identity of all things to be LOVE.

Feeling the breath of life breath you.

Where challenges become opportunities to grow and expand our boundaries, and deepen our relationship and understanding of God, of Love.

Hearing the sound of your own heart’s song in the stillness of your mind, and then living in accordance to your authentic heart song, without inhibition.

Choosing Love first.

Forgiving.

Seeing Transformation as a Way of Life.

Recognizing the interconnectedness of ALL life, including your self and choosing to live in HARMONY, in BALANCE, and with RESPECT for all things.

LOVING yourself, recognizing that before you can truly Love another, you must first begin to Love yourself.

The art of remembering, returning to your own Heart Light and refusing to let others tell you otherwise.

Yoga is YOU…You were born from yoga, born into yoga, and will die in yoga.  Yoga is your, his, her, my true nature.  The stillness of the mind simply reminds us of our true nature and our true nature is experienced in Yoga.

The Synergy of Yoga and Ayurveda

 

For thousands of years*, Yoga and Ayurveda have been used to heal, transform and balance the human body, mind, and thus, Spirit. Through globalization, both have spread worldwide assisting people in reclaiming their health and well-being by promoting daily practices to create health, rather than relying on a magic pill.  Both systems were suppressed in India during the British occupation but continued to live-on behind closed doors within households and particular spiritual leaders.  The reemergence of both practices is growing at a rapid rate worldwide.

Yoga and Ayurveda are intimately connected and often hard to separate.  Ayurveda is the healing and therapeutic branch of yoga, also known as Yoga Chikitsa.  Yoga is the spiritual aspect of Ayurveda.  Yoga as an individual practice is known as Yoga Sadhana.  When we use yoga as a medical therapy (i.e. when students come to yoga studios because they’ve been advised by a doctor or because of their own volition to find relief from stress, pain in the body, chronic backache, etc) this is traditionally considered Ayurveda.  In addition, the Ayurveda view of the mind and psychology stems from Yoga philosophy, thus making the practices and exercises for the mind the same.

While “yoga” has become a more integrated part of the western lexicon, Ayurveda still is yet to be discovered, or used, in the same way.  For Ayurveda practitioners like myself, this is both a blessing and a challenge.  A blessing because it means the competition is low and the potential number of people to educate is massive.  The challenge is…the same thing.  That is why Breathe. Connect. Be. was created.  To educate as many people as possible.  So stay tuned!

The Similarities between Yoga and Ayurveda:

  • Life sciences (study and practice of the human experience in relationship to other lives)
  • Acknowledges humans have an intimate connection with Nature
  • We are all connected and are endowed with life through a force and source of energy called Prana.
  • Wisdom designed to help people stay vital while realizing their full human potential.
  • Providing guidelines on ideal daily practices, behaviors, exercises, proper use of the senses,
  • Health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.
  • Mantra, or sound, are used to balance the mind.
  • When the whole body is balanced (body and mind), we become more at peace with ourselves (spirit) and the world around us.  From this state of internal well-being, you will naturally begin to make wiser choices for your livelihood.
  • There are four main goals of every human’s life: Dharma (purpose, duty), Artha (wealth, prosperity), Kama (desires) and Moksha (liberation).

The Differences:

  • Ayurveda provides guidelines on ideal diet per individual constitution and health conditions.  Yoga has general sweeping recommendations based on the principle observances (eight limbs) of yoga.
  • Ayurveda uses specific asana (postures) as therapy for illness and dis-ease.  Yoga uses asana to redirect energy in our bodies for spiritual awakening or self-realization.  As you might here in India, “same same but different.”
  • Ayurveda outlines a variety of aromatherapy, gem therapy and herbal remedies for illness and dis-ease.  Yoga does not.
  • Ayurveda is a complete system of medicine (refer to What is Ayurveda? blog).  Yoga is a path of spiritual awakening.  Through the path of yoga is deep healing…mostly because when you feel better you begin to make better choices.

In short, Ayurveda provides us daily, seasonal and age-specific guidelines on how to best live according to our Nature, or constitution.  Ayurveda’s main focus is balancing the physical body and mind.  Yoga’s main focus is balancing the mind and expanding the mind to discover deeper truths about one’s self.  When practiced together, they create a whole system of life science medicine which is practical for anyone, at any stage of health or life.

Examples of conditions transformed through the integration of Yoga and Ayurveda: Emotional conditions, chronic back pain, chronic neck pain, irritable bowl syndrome, acid-reflux disorder/GERD, headaches, migraine headaches, menstrual problems or irregularities, low energy, stress, hypertension, anger, anxiety, neuropathy, lifestyle diseases (diabetes type II, hypertension, obesity), dis-empowering life patterns and habits, underweight, joint pain, post-surgery care, poor concentration and depression.

Benefits of Yoga and Ayurveda:

  • Deep Relaxation
  • Reduced stress & tension
  • Increased self-esteem & confidence
  • Better coordination
  • Weight loss
  • Flexibility
  • Stronger bones and toned muscles
  • Overcoming limiting patterns in your life
  • Breaking habits that do not serve you in your Highest
  • Inner-Peace
  • Balance to your overall Life Knowing your inner Self more intimately
  • Becoming more connected with Nature and its cycles
  • Deeper understanding and living your Dharma (life’s purpose…again, an individual discovery only YOU can uncover)
  • Deeper understanding and integration of the four human goals: Dharma (purpose, duty), Artha (wealth, prosperity), Kama (desires) and Moksha (liberation).

*The fist written records of Ayurveda and Yoga date back to 3,000 BCE

References

Frawley, David.  Yoga & Ayurveda, Self-Healing and Self-Realization. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 1999. Print.

Frawley, David.  Ayurveda and the Mind, The Healing of Consciousness.  Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 1996.  Print.

Note: 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.