Chinese medicine teaches us to live in harmony with the seasons. When you live according to the season, your health flourishes. Human bodies are microcosms of the external environment and are affected by the seasons and weather changing much like the way nature is affected. One of the main concepts of Chinese Medicine is Yin and Yang. Yin is cool, dark, inwardly focused, and relates to water. Counterpoint to Yin is Yang, which is bright, hot, outwardly expanding, and relates to fire. Yin and Yang are constantly in transition, one gives birth to the other in a perpetual cycle. Night turns into Day, Spring turns to Summer, which turns to Fall, and so on.
Winter is the utmost Yin part of the year: cold, dark, and slow. Winter is the time to cultivate stillness and do deep introspective work. In Chinese medicine, this time of year is associated with the kidneys and adrenal glands. This is the time of year to focus on nourishing these parts of your body. The kidneys and adrenals like rest. Take some time off in Winter to recharge. Clear your calendar, put your feet up, and read those books you’ve been putting off all year. Foods should be cooked and warm: soups and stews are ideal this time of year. Stay clear of cold, raw foods. Supplement with tonifying herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola, and black sesame seeds.
As the Yin of Winter comes to an end, the Yang part of the year begins. Spring is a time of birth, regeneration, new beginnings, and renewal of the spirit. In Chinese medicine, Spring is the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenation. Just as you do a Spring cleaning of your exterior environment, so shall you do a cleaning of your internal physical and emotional environment. If there is ever a time to detox, this is it. Coincidentally, the organs associated with Spring are the Liver and Gallbladder, which are the primary targeted organs for cleansing and detoxification. Herbs that help the Liver function optimally are dandelion and milk thistle. Cilantro and parsley are also great herbs to help the body detoxify.
Summertime is the most Yang part of the year and is ruled by fire. Summer is associated with an outward expansion of energy, movement, and activity. Vitality and energy are at their peak. The organs associated with Summer are the heart and small intestines. The heart corresponds with joy. This is the time of year to spend time doing things that you love and bring you joy, especially any outdoor activities. Watersports, rock climbing, and hiking are all fantastic ways to cultivate Yang energy. When Yang becomes imbalanced, symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and a red complexion might appear. Ways to keep balanced in the summer include: drink plenty of water, rest midday, and by eating cool, moistening foods like mung beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, stone fruits, watermelon, mint, and asparagus.
As summer begins to end and Fall begins, so does the Yang energy begin to descend into Yin. During this shift from outward expansive energy to a more introspective quietness, some people might notice signs of depression: lack of energy, withdrawal, and sadness. This is known in western medicine as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Although there is less sunlight this time of year, make it a point to get out during the day to get some vitamin D from the sun’s rays. Eat nourishing, grounding foods like root vegetables, squashes, and stews. This also begins cold and flu season, so it is a great time to boost your immunity. Acupuncture is a remarkable way to strengthen your immune system. Astragalus, one of the pillars of Chinese herbal medicine, is a great herb to boost your immune system and fight off bugs.
As you begin to harmonize your diet and lifestyle with the seasons, you may notice that you move through life with more ease, your energy improves, and your periods of sickness decrease. A trained Chinese Medicine practitioner can help you on your personal journey towards optimal health and vitality.
Disclosure: If you are on prescription medications, please check with your healthcare provider for herb-drug interactions prior to ingesting any herbs.
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