Staying Healthy for Spring
Chinese medicine dates back over 2000 years. This is ancient knowledge from classic texts and wisdom passed down through lineages.
My goal for you is to be inspired to make healthy choices and have a basic understanding of Chinese Dietetics and recommendations for spring. Chinese medicine includes: acupuncture, cupping, moxabustion, exercise, and dietary therapy.
Chinese culture believes that we are a part of Nature and not separate from it. We are subject to, and dependent on its processes. For example, in the winter months we see nature go inwards. The trees lose their leaves and days are darker. Following the processes of nature, we go inwards too, taking time to reflect, sleep, and make stews around the stove.
As we enter spring, we notice that nature is coming alive. There is movement upwards. The bulbs come to flower and buds double in size everyday. Ancient texts tell us to ‘rise early’ and ‘take brisk walks.’ We spring into action with activities that mirror the ascending qualities of nature. This is the time to start those projects you have been reflecting upon this past winter. Push the boundaries of comfort and grow as a human being.
In Chinese medicine, each season has an associated organ system. In the summer it’s heart/fire, fall is lung/metal, winter is kidney/water, and spring is represented by liver/wood. We are in the wood part of the year represented by the liver and the gallbladder organ systems. These are the executive organs, the organs that make decisions and make things happen.
There are five flavors in Chinese medicine. These include: bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, and sour. In Chinese medicine, the energetics of foods in considered. Some foods have an upward energy while other downward. Salty has a downward motion and pungent and sweet upwards. Just as nature during the spring has an upward motion ie the bulbs flower and trees bud, so should we eat upward moving foods.
During the spring we eat sweet and pungent foods. Most vegetables are sweet: carrots, cabbage, cucumber, squash, and pumpkin. As are most fruits, nuts, grains, meats, and seafood. Herbs exemplify the pungent flavor: basil, rosemary, mint, oregano, etc. Mother foods like garlic and celery are both pungent and sweet!
There are a few rules indicated in Chinese texts regarding eating to stay healthy in the spring. The first is to eat less. During the spring months, we eat the least amount of food as compared to any season. This is cleansing time and a time for mental clarity. Next, we eat pungent and sweet foods such as young veggies (thinned from our spring gardens). Lastly, food is cooked at high temperature and for short amount of time so that the veggies remain raw on the inside.
Being the liver time in Chinese culture, it makes sense to focus on detoxifying and cleansing. The liver bears the burden when it comes to staying healthy. Any herbicide, pesticide, formaldehyde, and plastic have to be processed through the liver, not to mention medications as well. The liver functions as a detoxifier and its cellular processes are dependent on nutrients retrieved from the food we eat. This is why it is so important to eat REAL food and avoid processed and packaged food because these foods contribute to the liver’s burden. Vegetables and whole foods help the liver. Vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants which scavenge for toxic chemicals that damage our cells. The liver also is responsible for digesting fats and this process is dependent on nutrients such as carnitine, choline, and inositol. Some examples of these foods: fish, avocado, eggs, cauliflower, lentils, cabbage, molasses, nutritional yeast, and brown rice to name a few. Integrating a variety of herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric and dandelion all aid in liver support.
MORE ON DETOXIFYING:
Just as nature is moving, so too should we. The emunctaries are our organs of elimination. We eliminate by sweating through the skin, movement through the colon, urine through the kidneys, breath through the lung. There are a few detoxification activities that aid the emunctaries.
Dry skin brushing: using a loofah or washcloth gently rub your dry skin with the dry sponge. Start at your hands and work towards your chest. Then rub from your feet, up your legs, abdomen, and work towards your heart. This moves the lymph and exfoliates your skin.
Castor oil packs: Place a dime size amount of castor oil in your hand and over your liver. Put on an old t-shirt followed by a hot water bottle. Let this be for 30 minutes,
Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. Elsevier, Churchill, Livingston. London 2005.
Kasner, Joerg. Chinese Nutrition Therapy: Dietetics in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Georg Thieme Verlag. Germany 2004.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA. 2002.