Archives for posts with tag: seasons

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On March 20th the year officially turned to spring. Did you notice how many people were sick around this transition? Were you one of them? The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine describes the profound differences in energy between the four seasons. This ancient book explicitly states that we become vulnerable when we do not follow these shifts adequately. As long as we adapt willingly to changes in our environment, we are healthy. It goes without saying that this includes eating a healthy diet and limiting our indulgence in junk foods and poor lifestyle habits.

There are ways to smooth such transitions in life, to limit the backlash of inertia in the form of colds and influenza. As the digestion converts food into usable nutrients, it also helps us alchemically transform our lives. The time before and after seasonal shifts is controlled by the earth element because it represents the digestion. Our digestion helps us incorporate new environments into our consciousness, the way it does various foods. We stand upon different soil when seasons change or we travel and eat food with different bacterial profiles. A strong digestion makes us more adaptable, less prone to Montezuma’s revenge.

Internal organs, from the Daoist Canon, 15th century Chinese, from Wellcomeimages.org

Internal organs, from the Daoist Canon, 15th century Chinese, from Wellcomeimages.org

The proper transmutation of food and fluids means that we do not collect residual waste. Foods that weaken the digestion create byproducts such as dampness and toxicity. We all know the usual suspects: sugar, alcohol, coffee, chocolate and hot spices create heat; dairy, soy, raw, frozen or cold foods create dampness. At the seasonal transition, the digestion’s first order of business is to get rid of the waste products bogging it down; otherwise change is stymied. If you have more heat, your body’s mode of detoxification will be through the throat. If you have more cold, you will suffer from sinus congestion. If you have more damp, you may tend to get influenza. Whatever the illness, rest assured that your body is house cleaning. Illness during seasonal transitions is the body’s way of preparing for the next season with a clean slate.

Is it necessary to suffer in order to see the process of detoxification to its end? There are ways to speed the resolution of illness. First you must rest. The day or two you stay home from work will do wonders. Shīfù Kenny Gong, my martial arts teacher and a Chinese medical practitioner, used to say in ‘Chinglish’, “Can’t fix bicycle while riding it.” By resting you will not be tempted to take OTC medications that suppress your symptoms, which has the effect of pushing the toxins back in. Sometimes it is necessary, but each time you resort to suppression the garbage piles higher. Secondly eat plenty of fruit. Their high sugar content stimulates the immune system and their fluids help carry out accumulated detritus. You could eat twenty apples in one day with a cold. If this sounds overwhelming, drink unsweetened fruit juice instead. Avoid citrus because they increase phlegm during illness. I do not recommend this regime for diabetics. Their blood sugar gets naturally high during an illness for the same reason. Plenty of water is a better choice for them. Thirdly soak in Epsom salt or sea salt baths to pull out the toxins, especially if you are achey. The skin is very porous and a large detoxifying surface. If a bath is too physically demanding, mix the Epsom or sea salt with some oil, wet yourself in the shower, scrub your body down with the mixture and rinse. Your Chinese medical practitioner has acupuncture techniques and herbs to accelerate your recovery as well. Periodic colds and influenza are signs that you are strong enough to clean house. If you get sick too often, the opposite is true and your immune system needs strengthening.

Hydrating Fruit

Hydrating Fruit

Chinese practitioner palpating a patient's pulse, from Wellcomeimages.org

Chinese practitioner palpating a patient’s pulse, from Wellcomeimages.org

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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.
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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.
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