Archives for category: Chinese Medicine
King's Canyon, photo by Ginny Blades

King’s Canyon, photo by Ginny Blades

Many people on the mountain gaze at our clear blue skies this winter and shake their heads at the lack of snowfall. Winter is related to water not just in our community but in Chinese medicine as well. Snow brings frozen aquifers to the mountaintops that melt slowly providing year round water. Winter is the time of consolidation and storage for the coming seasons of growth. Our energy hibernates in the winter like a bear; it sinks down into our cave-like kidneys to sleep. Cold creates this downward movement, strengthening our bodies through solidification. Unseasonable warmth and dryness interferes with this process by encouraging excess activity in so-called ‘good weather’. This creates possible health challenges in subsequent seasons due to lack of rest. The effects occur on a microcosmic level in our bodies as well as in the big picture of the community and planet.

Snowy Glade

Snowy Glade

Winter dryness affects the health of our forest and crops. It also challenges our kidneys, where fluids are consolidated just as they are on winter mountaintops. Parts of the body become inflamed due to lack of irrigation. Other parts retain dampness, like puddles in a shrinking river. The American continent exhibits a similar dichotomy: currently the west is arid and the rest is cold and wet.

Though we can do nothing about the weather, we can make allowances for it in our bodies. The Yellow Emperor is the archetypal Chinese sage. He is credited with writing one of the oldest Chinese books still in existence, his Classic of Internal Medicine. He says that if an individual changes then the whole state is affected. The transmission of wisdom from a single individual to many people occurs like the contagion of family dysfunction. Isn’t it reassuring that functionality goes viral too? One person’s balance with nature resonates first throughout the household, then the community and ultimately, the planet. These personal insights continue to ripple outward like a stone dropped into the substance of the cosmos.

The Yellow Emperor

The Yellow Emperor

Assuming one believes in global warming, it might be said that these unseasonable weather patterns result from the burning of fossil fuels. Crude oils are like the energy reserves in our bodies. When our activity requires more fuel than we have available, we start to overheat like parts of the planet. We become irritable, we have trouble sleeping and our skin gets dry and itchy. Plundering resources through chronic overwork eventually creates hormone deficiencies. In other words the planet is a menopausal woman fanning a really big hot flash. Without sufficient hormones to handle stress, adrenaline from the kidneys kicks in to do the job and causes a flare-up. The hot flash is an important alarm for the menopausal woman because she is over-extending herself. It is time to stop and relax when it happens.

Healing Water

Healing Water

Dry heat leads to craving damp foods: sweets and dairy smother inflammation. Eating like this leads to weight gain. The solution is to start nourishing fluids more directly (some of us have started watering trees on the mountain). Drink a large glass of warm or hot water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It filters all the way down through the empty digestion to nourish the kidneys’ reservoirs. Before exercising drink two big glasses. Workouts not only can create more heat, they also help us get rid of it. Water flushes out anything unwanted and cools any friction generated by the exercise. If this amount of water is too much for you, build up to it gradually. You can only do things for which your body is ready. Take time to adjust to new habits (we want to turn the arid desert into a healthy forest rather than a swamp). Depending on your ability to absorb water, wait 30 minutes or one hour before you eat. You will digest your food better. Fruits build fluids too. They cause weight gain consumed as juices. The high sugar content comes from a lot of fruit concentrated in one glass. A single steamed Asian pear not only promotes fluid production, it helps get rid of excess damp. It is particularly beneficial for smokers or those who have coughs.

Asian pears, from eyewatering.wordpress.com

Asian pears, from eyewatering.wordpress.com

Meditation is also a way to train our energy to be calm and grounded rather than volatile. I will discuss its merits in my next blog.

Solstice Canyon

Solstice Canyon

Advertisements
Yosemite Gateway

Yosemite Gateway

No one can deny the great health advantages to living in a mountain community. There is clean air and less stress from over crowding. My husband and I moved to Pine Mountain in November. He was born in Pasadena and I hail from the great white north. I return in my mother’s stead who was born on a Canadian mountain in a cabin without electricity or running water. It is my first winter heating an all-electric summer cottage with a pellet stove. Perhaps this kind of living is in my blood? Each of our reconnaisance trips to the mountain was more welcoming than the last. I heard a lot of people wax poetic about the beauty of four seasons when we were looking for a home. In this case beauty is more than skin deep. Isn’t it usually? Did you know that the majesty of four seasons has benefits for your well being too?

Trusty Pellet Stove

Trusty Pellet Stove

Answers in Chinese medicine come from an ancient source written in 300 BCE: The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. My quarter century teaching and practising seem like a drop in the bucket comparatively! The Yellow Emperor is a sage who generously explains the subtleties of medicine to his inquisitive student. The first page decries the unnaturally short lifetimes of the Emperor’s contemporaries. Why it asks did ancient people live to be over one hundred years when they are now sick by fifty? It is a book way ahead of its time! Abandoning suspense, the second chapter reveals the secret of longevity: living in harmony with our nature and the four seasons. It is worth noting that in our language ‘season’ is also defined as maturing through exposure to the weather.
IMG_0227
Imagine if you had the energy of Bambi bouncing through a sun-dappled glade in spring? I say to dissenters, “You are never too old for lofty goals!” Winter is not just an opportunity for bears to hibernate and stop looking for food and water in our neighbourhoods. People are healthier when they slow down in the colder weather too. Give yourself more time if you have any control over your deadlines at work. Winter is the night of the year and summer its day. It is just as vital to rest now, as it is to get a good night’s sleep. Winter blues are the body’s way of keeping us closer to home so we can get that extra downtime. If depression persists with more rest, then other factors may be complicating the situation such as a lifetime of overwork or an unsuitable diet.

Dappled glade, from Kevin Quinn

Dappled glade, from Kevin Quinn

In the winter the Yellow Emperor admonishes us to go to bed early and sleep late until the sun rises. In the canyon I would say that is a good long winter’s nap! During sleep energy retreats in our bodies the way sap drains to a tree’s roots, causing its leaves to fall. Resting in winter is the same as putting money in the bank for a pleasant retirement. You will have a healthier spring when your winter is well spent. Add those winters up and you will have the vitality to enjoy your retirement, not just the money. Keep your body warm so cold does not damage the energy you are stockpiling for spring. Do not expect to make huge strides in your exercise routine. Save your workout goals for the summer when it is warm. Winter is about maintaining rather than making progress. Choose to spend the season living as if all your desires have been met.
IMG_0218