Archives for posts with tag: spring
Iwihinmu, 'place of mystery', from localhikes.com

Iwihinmu, ‘place of mystery’, from localhikes.com

Spring has sprung on the mountain. The buds have crept up the valleys to our high perch. The snow is melting from the bald top of Iwihinmu. In the Chumash language, the mountain’s name means place of mystery. In a normal year the snowpack might last until June or July. The days are warm. When the wind blows, snow flies upward. It is a flurry of furry seed clumps floating from their mother plants into the sky. The Steller’s Jays are building a nest with pine needles under the peak of our A-frame. They have decided that our proximity in the baby blue Adirondacks is still conducive to chickrearing. The needles are scattered everywhere; they are not tidy builders.

Spring greens, dandelion is cold, good for a frustrated liver.

Spring greens, dandelion is cold, good for a frustrated liver.

The new growth of spring reminds us of the mandate to care for the living things around us. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic says spring is the time of reward rather than punishment, building rather than tearing down. In this culture we think of spring-cleaning to provide a clean slate for the rest of the year. How else to create a space for health, wealth and prosperity in our lives? Prosperity is the luxury of a surplus we can share with others. Cleansing your body is equivalent to tidying your environment; it is called detoxification. It is how we reduce inflammation. Do not pick up the brooms and mops if you are still tired from the winter, keep resting.

Food is the best medicine.

Food is the best medicine.

Chinese medicine considers food the most sophisticated medicine. If you eat according to your biochemical individuality, your digestion is healthy. Imagine tending crops that you know flourish in the soil of your bowels. Unfortunately our minds rather than our guts dictate our diets. Bring awareness to your eating. Consume at least one meal without any distractions such as television or thinking. You will lose unwanted weight this way. Eating becomes a meditation where you focus on the texture, aroma and flavour of your food. It is an intimate experience to ingest anything into your body. Eating anything you want without distractions gives you time to consider your motives. You may not need the foods incompatible to your system anymore, once you understand your reasons for consuming them.

Drink beverages at least 30 to 60 minutes before or after eating. This prevents fluids from diluting digestive juices. Eat when you are hungry not tired. Food gives us energy but a short nap or early bedtime is the real solution to fatigue. Eat until you feel satisfied, not full. If you feel hungry after a standard meal, wait ten minutes before you decide to have more. For some of us it takes a little time to register satisfaction. Insatiable hunger indicates some discontentment with your life. Look inward at the self rather than outward at food for the solution.

The green shoots of spring remind us to eat dark leafy greens. Consume at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily to keep the large intestine moving smoothly. I recommend a modified Dr. Bieler’s Health Broth at one or two meals, depending on the frequency of your bowel movements: once daily or after each meal is normal. It is known colloquially as Poop Soup.

Zucchini, from wrensoft.com

Zucchini, from wrensoft.com

Green beans, from buffalo-niagaragardening.com

Green beans, from buffalo-niagaragardening.com

Italian parsley, from gpb.org

Italian parsley, from gpb.org

Bring to a boil and simmer in a small amount of water equal amounts of:

· zucchini (high in calcium, strengthens the digestion and the kidneys)
· string beans (strengthens the digestion and the kidneys, drains damp)
· Italian or regular parsley (detoxifies the blood, calms the spirit, increases satisfaction with life)

Cook until still emerald green rather than dark green. Blend twice in a mixer for a smooth broth (less water makes a delicious thick soup). Make a large amount and freeze it. If you tend to be cold add some chopped ginger. If you tend to be hot add some pre-soaked wakame seaweed. You can also add any other dark leafy greens you prefer. One of my patients hates the taste of parsley so he leaves that out, adding something else. Another patient eats nothing but Bieler’s Broth when she is sick and it shortens her recovery. Dark leafy greens relax the liver. Spring is the season of the liver. Like a healthy mother who gets everything done without stress, the liver achieves the most when it is calm. Spring teaches us maternal nurturing.

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One casualty, one survivor, who is to say what is better?

One casualty, one survivor, who is to say what is better?

Everybody on the mountain knows wind makes things dry. This is the high desert after all. Without humidity, wind creates a parched heat like the one we had near the end of January. Normally wind is associated with spring and humidity. This is the typical seasonal weather. A hot wind in winter is untimely. Winter should be a period of cold and hibernation. Wind prunes trees. Wind is change, the new beginning of spring or the new day, opening our eyes first thing in the morning. Wind reminds us that we can be different. Movement starts to increase in our environment as the New Year approaches and days lengthen. The wooden horse of this year is overtaking the slowness of last year’s water snake. Wood nourishes fire. The horse is fire. This year will be fast, like a well-nourished horse. It will be the opposite of 2013, unless of course you live in mountain time.

Chinese Year of the Wood Horse, stone rubbing

Chinese Year of the Wood Horse, stone rubbing

The only permanence in life is change. Most of us live in the belief that life is better static rather than plastic. The wind’s movement creates adaptation in our bodies. The climate and seasons remind us that nothing stays the same, including ourselves. In the West we have a term for the belief that nature portends human events. It is called pathetic fallacy. In Chinese philosophy, the connection we have with nature is neither pitiful nor untrue. It gives us clues as to how our own physiology operates. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine says that wind is the origin of many diseases. We are prone to illness when we forget the importance of change: the modification of our behaviour depending on the environment and our circumstances from moment to moment. Live in the light of your own authenticity. This is the lesson of spring.

Fēng meaning wind, a pathogen has entered the inner sanctum.

Fēng meaning wind, a pathogen has entered the inner sanctum.

The pathogen ie bacteria, viruses, fungae.

Chōng, the pathogen ie bacteria, viruses, fungae.

The inner sanctum ie the body.

Fán,the inner sanctum ie the body.

Let the tender shoots of new growth develop without worry. This includes your own comfort with personal change. The green sprout should not be pulled up to check its roots. The gardener trusts its process. It is the same with the changes you undergo in spring, in the morning and anytime you begin something new. Nourishing the kidney in the winter soldifies this trust. If you missed the boat and did not hibernate this winter, there is always next year. We get lots of opportunities to grow no matter the season or our age.

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If you have trouble relaxing into change during spring, it helps to eat more steamed dark leafy greens. These vegetables are full of magnesium, which relaxes muscles, including the bowels. If you are taking blood thinners, discuss eating these vegetables with your doctor first. Your medication may need to be adjusted if you eat them. Otherwise the Yellow Emperor recommends letting your hair down and walking in the grass barefoot. He says we should go to bed with the sun and wake early. Spring is about the love of the mother for the infant. New growth requires softness.

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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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The Chinese word Qì basically means relationship. It describes how different parts of ourselves and our world relate to each other. Spring is the time when hibernation ends and living things reach out.

In the morning I was walking to the Pine Mountain Clubhouse for the Qì Gōng class. I was going there to move my Qì. As I approached the driveway I saw several patches of frozen water dropping in white cascades down the grass. There was also black ice on the flattened brown turf that was slippery when I tested it. Evidence of the cold night still lingered here. When I returned after class the hard ground was soft and aromatic. It was the smell of unfrozen spring mud. The ice coming down the hill was mushy and pocked with holes. In fact, I was less stiff and icebound after class too! On the mountain we know, like the Yellow Emperor, that the night is winter and the morning is the spring thaw. Melting fluids evaporate into the atmosphere. The sky gazers here hope the water will form into clouds and recycle as snow before spring gets any older.

One description of moving Qì is the cycle occurring between evaporating bodies of water and clouds. Qì is a familiar word to practitioners or patients of Chinese medicine and Qì Gōng. Sometimes you will see it written as Chì but it is always pronounced ‘chee’ with a falling tone. The Chinese character gives us clues to its meaning:

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The outer part of the character symbolizes swirling clouds of gas:

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The inner part is a picture of rice grains:

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(Rice is easy to digest, hypoallergenic and a boon to gluten-free eaters such as myself.) Look at the character:

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Do you see grains expanding as they cook? Do you see the steam rising from the rice pot? Qì also illustrates the digestive process. In Chinese medicine the stomach is seen as the saucepan. It must first heat foods that are cold or raw before their molecules are broken down. Nutrients are then released into the bloodstream from the small intestine. In other words Qì is the vital energy we derive from food. One of my patients had a very hot stomach pulse one summer. When I asked, she was not eating any of the usual hotheaded suspects: spicy food, chocolate or coffee. So I questioned her about cold foods. She was eating large frozen drinks daily. Her stomach was overheating from cooking them!

To me, the beauty of the Chinese language (and the frustration of translators) is that the characters contain many different meanings embedded since at least 1046 BCE. As a writer, the more information I have about a word’s meaning, the happier I am. The character for Qì also represents the gaseous state. The picture can be seen as a cloud rather than rice expanding in all eight directions:

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Water rises as a gas and returns as liquid rain or frozen snow. Qì refers to the energy necessary for these changes in state to take place. Its activity is superficial because it diffuses like fumes filling a container or the atmosphere. It is associated with spring because everything starts to move and ascend after the hibernation of winter. Even our radial pulses start to float on the surface. These are the pulses of spring. A slow thaw in spring means you have done too much in the winter. It takes you longer to get moving even though all around you things are sprouting. Spring Qì is movement. Winter is inertia.

If a Chinese speaker says that you are full of Qì, you could be full of vigor or angry or just breathing. Qì inflates us no matter its source. Qì also references the weather or the atmosphere of a room. When Qì does not move in our bodies, it causes pain. Acupuncture moves Qì to restore a lack of flow in any tissue of the body: skin, muscles, blood vessels, joints, bones and the glands that produce hormones. Areas are targeted by the practitioner through her choice of channels, which are like waterways or roadways on a map. The pulse is my GPS. It guides me to the place in my patient’s body asking for help.

Acupuncture channels create access to the whole body because they form a continuum from its surface to its depths. The map demarcates points along the roadways that influence specific parts of the body. One of the most well known is the Tiger’s Mouth on the web between the thumb and index finger. It is used for headaches. It is not always useful to needle a painful area directly until a point further away has diminished its intensity. It is common to see merchants massaging this point who come to trade at Chinese markets. It is also called Union Valley to indicate its ability to help us avoid suffering by accepting a given situation. If the seller will not lower their price, you won’t be angry when you negotiate with the next one in line. Qì is all about change. Spring is the opportunity for new beginnings and a clean slate.

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