Category Archives: Seasonal Tips

Vision, Action and the Element of Wood

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

In Chinese Medicine theory, every season has a corresponding element, spirit, sound, flavor, network of channels, and set of energetic properties. In Spring, the element is Wood, the spirit is Hun (soul), and the energy is action, renewal, metamorphosis, and growth. Spring is the beginning of the new cycle of life, representing hope, creation, and the manifestation of dreams and potential. Just as the world around us is blooming and flowering, we too are called to express the notions of our souls and actualize the inspirations of our hearts.

The element of Wood, deriving from trees, is the symbol of expansion. With deep roots in the earth, it stretches is limbs far and wide, reaching for the sun, bending to the wind, and winding its way around any obstacles that cross its path. It does not strive for perfection. It simply holds steady through the storms and advances, undeterred, toward its highest potential. The self-assured aspect of ourselves, determined to stretch farther and aim higher, is supported by how much of this element we posses. The strength of our own personal Wood element is what gives us the stamina and resilience to create, self-actualize, achieve, and persist.

The Wood element is directly connected to vision – both literally and metaphorically. When properly nurtured through action, activity and unobstructed expression, our Wood energy provides us with creativity, foresight and clarity. It drives our ambition and provides us with the courage and stamina to implement our wildest ideas and execute our boldest creations. As Henry David Thoreau aptly states, “In the long run men only hit what they aim for.” Where will you set your sights this Spring, and how will you harness the energy of the season to bring your visions to life?

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Year of the Yin Fire Rooster

rooster“A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.” – Muhammad Ali

On January 28th – the Lunar New Year – we said goodbye to the capricious unpredictable Yang Fire Monkey and welcomed the more placid and practical Yin Fire Rooster. For many this calmer energy will be a welcome change. Roosters are characterized as organized, practical, decisive, territorial and particular. They posses strong ideals, are honest and critical, and value fidelity, punctuality, and proper behavior. They are leaders, who’s proud crow at dawn is a daily call to action, tirelessly commanding us to wake up and rise!

Because this is a yin-fire year there is an undercurrent of volatility, though it will not feel as chaotic as last year. Emotions will rise and reactivity will be heightened, but due to the changeability of fire, these bursts will be short-lived. Because there is a yin or feminine aspect to this fire, the change it provokes has the potential to be warm and healing. This symbolic light will help to illuminate unresolved conflict and hidden truths, allowing us to confront the darker aspects of ourselves and grow as a result. If we can fine-tune and articulate our own principles and ideologies while remaining open to others, there is great potential for personal elevation and social transformation.

Personally, this will be year of enhanced intuition, heightened communication, and emotional sentimentality. The flash of the fire element can bring on quick change of emotions, short-lived anger, fear and anxiety. We need to be wise about where we spend our energy and choose our fights with care. On the whole, people will be more warm-hearted, charismatic, and charming and it will be easier to find happiness in simple pleasures. There is an optimistic aspect to the fire element that encourages playfulness and joy. In this coming year, individual prosperity will come in the form of self-realization, group-oriented action, and small, quiet acts of kindness.

Socially, this will be an important year for community. As clashes in values and beliefs come the forefront we will start to see a restructuring of institutions and a shift in thoughts, actions and influence. Chickens are social animals, so during this time people will feel more connected to one other and find comfort in the gathering of like-minded individuals. There will be power in masses and change will come through collaboration and assembling together. Charismatic leaders will emerge and with them a revival of hope and renewal of strength.

Cock-a-doodle-do!

Information for this post was obtained from the following sources. Check them out
for a more in-depth look at the year ahead:

https://lotusinstitute.com/blogs/news/year-of-the-red-rooster-2017

http://shifting-vibration.com/2017/01/shifting-the-fire-rooster/

http://foreverconscious.com/chinese-astrology-year-yin-fire-rooster-2017

 

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Autumn, Alchemy, and the Element of Metal

mortar-pestle“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

In Chinese Medicine theory, every season has a corresponding element, whose qualities epitomize both the characteristics of that season and the aspect of our personality that allows us to thrive as we cycle through the earth’s energetic shifts. As Debra Kaatz so eloquently states in, Characters of Wisdom: Taoist Tales of the Acupuncture Points, “The element of autumn is metal, the richness that lies within the earth. This is created by what remains of the harvest composting down and enriching the soil with mineral wealth. It also represents the rich gold we have inside that is enriched with the great inspirations of the heavens. Here both taking in and letting go is transformed into earthly gold and inner golden wisdom.”

The metal element is aptly represented by the fall season, the time of year where things return to the earth to be repurposed or recreated. There is a shedding of old ideals, beliefs and baggage, and the powerful transformation that comes with the willingness to reduce something down to its purist form. Metal is often equated with alchemy, defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as 1. a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life; 2. a power or process of transforming something common into something special; 3. an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting. Some of the many powers of metal are its ability to create boundaries, cut away the irrelevant, change shape, and be re-cast into something more purposeful while still retaining its essence. Both the elegance and the magic of metal is its ability to become more valuable and refined through the process of reduction and simplification.

People with a metal constitution tend to be honorable, virtuous, disciplined, and hold themselves to (sometimes impossibly) high standards and values. They appreciate beauty, simplicity, cleanliness, and serenity. A metal person requires minimal sensory input and seeks to clarify truth in its most pure and upright form. They are serious, dignified, and decisive in their actions. While they can often appear as aloof or cold, in fact they are extremely sensitive to nuance and small energetic shifts, particularly to the grief or sorrow of others. Because of their intuitive or empathic nature, they learn to set strong boundaries, and require and enjoy spending time alone in order to rebalance their energy. While their perfectionist nature can sometimes manifest as self-judgment, at their best, metal people will use their idealism and leadership skills to defend virtue and inspire the pursuit of higher standards and truth.

In this powerful season of transformation, it is encouraged that we all take stock of where we are in our journey and separate out what we no longer need to hold, accept, or endure. As we learn from the element of metal, great evolution and mastery can be achieved through reduction. It reminds me of one of my favorite exercises – for which I can’t find the original source – where before we speak we should ask ourselves: “is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”. By revisiting our core values, we can reevaluate and repurpose our pursuits, realigning our actions with our heart’s own truth and living our lives to their fullest potential.

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Nurturing Spirit in the Season of the Heart

summer sunset

“Coming, going, the waterbirds
don’t leave a trace,
don’t follow a path.”
– Dogen, On Non-Dependence of Mind

In Chinese Medicine Theory, Summer is the season of the Heart, of Fire, and of the Spirit. It is a time of illumination and great potential. I love this season because it is tied so deeply to hope and faith, to answering our calling and to reaching our fullest potential. One of my teachers says, “You only have so many heartbeats. How do you want to use them?” When we follow a path that aligns with our nature, the answer begins to materialize.

The Heart, in Chinese medicine, is referred to as the Emperor. It is said to house our Shen, or governing spirit, which allows us to understand our true nature and connect deeply with our personal purpose. This is the part of ourselves that is guided by our intuition and revealed by our whims. The heart does not command what it feels or pre-meditate its actions. It keeps us connected to the rhythm of life, able to relate to and communicate with those around us and experience each situation within it’s own context. When the heart channel is in balance, we feel a peacefulness of spirit, a tranquility of mind, and a clarity to the senses.

When the channel is out of balance we experience anxiety, insomnia, confusion and difficulty concentrating. Any sudden powerful emotional experience will overwhelm the heart, resulting in fright, shock, or emotional instability. We heal our mental suffering through the heart channel by balancing the emotions, calming the Shen and returning to a state of clarity. Allowing our hearts to heal is the only way to heal the spirit, and in doing so, we are better able to heal the whole.

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Eat For the Season: A Spring Recipe to Soothe the Liver and Keep the Qi Flowing

asparagus“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos – the trees, the clouds, everything.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

There is a symbiotic relationship between man and nature, both of which can thrive when we choose to live in harmony with the space that we occupy. Eating seasonally and locally is about much more than just being socially and environmentally conscious. The health implications can be quite profound.

In every season the foods that grow in our region have the added bonus of providing us with the taste and temperature properties that help our bodies adjust to the season. The cycle in which plants flower, and fruits and vegetables grow and ripen, corresponds with the changing needs of our bodies from season to season.

In Chinese Medicine theory, Spring is the season of the Liver meridan, who’s function is strongly associated with nourishment, movement, and the smooth flow of qi. When the channel is out of balance, symptoms such as anger, irritability, muscle aches and pain, stiff joints, spasms, headaches, red itchy eyes, constipation, and feelings of heat or agitation appear.

Foods that help to keep this channel system functioning well tend to be sour in flavor and green in color. Examples include citrus, berries, leeks, leafy greens, and vinegar. Conversely, greasy or spicy foods, alcohol, and amphetamines can have a negative impact on this channel system.

If you’re feeling irritable or stuck, or allergies are stalling your momentum, try this simple but delicious spring recipe to help get your body back on track!

QUINOA SALAD WITH SPRING GREENS & LEMON BASIL DRESSING

Serves: 4-6, Prep Time: 5 min, Cook Time: 30 min, Total Time: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

For the Dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the salad:

2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small bunch asparagus, about 15 spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar snap peas, remove stem and string and cut in halves or thirds (original recipe calls for frozen peas)
2 cups fresh arugula (original recipe calls for 1 avocado, chopped)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped basil

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a small bowl or medium jar, combine the dressing ingredients. Whisk to combine or shake with the jar lid on tight. Set aside.
2. Add water, quinoa, and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.
3. While the quinoa is cooking, cook the asparagus and sugar snap peas. In a large
skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus, peas, and fresh
lemon juice. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, combine quinoa, asparagus, sugar snap peas, and arugula. Pour
the dressing over the salad and stir until well coated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the fresh basil and serve.

I found this recipe on: http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/

Modifications to the original recipe are indicated in parentheses. Enjoy!

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Go with the Flow: Find Your Spring Groove in the Year of the Red Fire Monkey

monkey“The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
– Alan W. Watts

February 8, 2016 marked the beginning of the year of the Red Fire Monkey. As the explosive nature of the fire element meets the capricious trickery of the monkey, expect a lot of swift change and unpredictable outcomes.

Monkeys are playful and mischievous, full of both creativity and ingenuity. These attributes will come in especially handy in a red, fire year, where challenges can arise rapidly, but also be short-lived. Furthermore, the monkey is a metal element, which can clash with fire, causing conflicts and misunderstandings due to opposing energies. While this energy can feel chaotic or unstable, there is also the potential for profound transformation if we can stay steady in our focus and relinquish some control to the shifting tides.

Like all things disruptive, within the pandemonium lies the potential for wisdom
and prosperity. The more creative and imaginative the endeavor we undertake at this time, the better the chance for unexpected success – particularly if we remain flexible and are willing to take risks. We might be feeling more impulsive this year, but equally more intuitive and communicative. The fire element will give our spirit and energy a boost, allowing us to laugh more easily at the monkey’s mischievous ways and perhaps take ourselves less seriously.

Energetically, the spring season aligns with the spirit of the fire monkey, a time
for rebirth, growth, expansion, movement, and the re-awakening of the life process.
It is the time of year to stretch our limbs, and our minds, and seek emotional equanimity by letting the qi flow freely and uninhibited. While the energy of the season puts us in a position to assert our ambition, it also provides us with the clarity of judgment to know when to let go. The better we modulate our intensity and stay flexible, the smoother the flow of liver qi. The smoother the flow of liver qi, the better we can handle whatever curve ball the monkey throws our way.

Since these rapid fluctuations can leave us feeling a bit scattered or anxious, we will be tested over this year in our ability to yield and greet each new wave with a sense of humor and a willingness to be patient and see where it takes us. Since Spring, as the Huang Di Nei Jing describes it, is a time when “the energy should be kept open and fluid,” by bending to the season, we are also better equipped to handle the greater cosmic challenges that cross our paths at the hands of that cheeky monkey.

To read more about the year of the monkey, check out the following links:

https://lotusinstitute.com/blogs/news/84125062-year-of-the-monkey-2016

http://shifting-vibration.com/2016/02/year-of-the-shifting-monkey/

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Spirit, Will & Destiny: Harnessing Your Power This Winter

snowy winter plant

Fate whispers to the warrior
“You cannot withstand the storm”
and the warrior whispers back
“I am the storm”                                                          – Author Unknown

In Chinese Medicine Theory, every season/channel/element is connected with a spirit. The spirit of the Kidney channel is called the zhi.  As outlined in the Huang di Nei Jing, “The Spirit of the Kidneys, the zhi, rules the will, desire, ambition, and survival instinct.”

As with everything, there is a yin and yang aspect to our zhi. The yang component is the more active side, representing effort, determination, and willpower. It is the motivational facet of our ambition – the putting forth of effort to bring us to our goals. When our kidney yang is weak, it leaves us passive and unassertive. When it is overactive or forced, we easily burn out or deplete ourselves.

The yin aspect to our zhi represents something deeper inside of us. It is a persistent, unconscious drive that guides our choices on a more spiritual level, aligned with our higher purpose or fate.  It is that little voice inside coaxing us gently in the right direction as it advocates for our inner truth. This more intangible part of our will is best accessed during self-reflection and meditation – activities encouraged during the winter season. When our kidney yin is weak, it causes a disturbance in this aspect of our spirit, inducing agitation, discontent, fear, and the inability to act.

When we can connect the yin and yang, focusing our efforts on answering to our true calling, our spirit is at peace. This requires the discipline to discover who we are at our core and the bravery to act congruently. By letting our instincts guide us, we can begin to align our actions with our inner awareness, bringing us closer to achieving our highest potential and living a more purposeful, fulfilling life.

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Endings and New Beginnings

lotus lightAs we say goodbye to 2015 and usher in the new year, we are presented with an opportunity to reflect on the past and evaluate how we’d like to move forward in the future. While many of us approach the new year with optimism, quite often as the minutia of our day-to-day lives takes over, we lose focus of our resolutions, falling back into old, comfortable patterns.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Book 1, Pada 28), he discusses mantrum, “that which keeps the mind steady and produces the proper effect.” The idea is that constant repetition, or japa, of one specific word/goal/desire/action will create a habit, until eventually we “imbibe the qualities” of the thing we repeat.

Pada 32 reads, Tat Pratisedhartham Eka Tattva Bhyasah, “The practice of concentration on a single subject [or the use of one technique] is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.” In his discussion of this Pada, Sri Swami Satchidananda enforces that we must keep digging, or working at our goal, even if we encounter obstacles. Steadying the mind on the single object of our attention allows us to give it our full focus and power. This is not to say  obsess, but to stay on one track, so the bigger meaning and ultimate transformation can be revealed.

The idea that concentration is a practice rings very true for me. It requires that we are deliberate in our efforts. To simplify does not necessarily mean or goal is simple, but rather it is pure and undisrupted by distraction, fear and doubt.

He sums it up beautifully saying, “Stick to one thing and forge ahead with that. Why do you want to have this one-pointed concentration? To make the mind clear so you can transcend it. You are not going to cling to the object but just use it as a ladder to climb up. Once you have reached the roof you leave the ladder behind.”

So in thinking of New Years resolutions, perhaps this year we can all choose to focus on one thing that is really tugging at our hearts, and let this year be a practice in concentration on our ability to see it through.

 

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Preparing the Nest

fall leaf on ground“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

I love the ritual of acknowledging an ending and embracing a new beginning and I find myself to be particularly reflective this time of year. Fall is a time for letting go of things that are no longer of value to us, so we can descend toward the earth for our winter slumber with a clear mind and heart, ready to receive nourishment, fresh vision, and new wisdom.

Just as the trees are shedding their leaves and animals are going underground and preparing their nests, fall represents for us a chance to return to the source and do an inward inventory of what we need to release in order to move forward. While outwardly things appear to be in a state of decline, it is just an old skin being shed, relieving us of the past so we can clean house internally and move in a direction that supports the needs of our spirit.

This year, the autumn equinox fell on the same day as Yom Kippur, a day to atone for the past and start anew. As I sat in reflection, I realized the major incidents that repeatedly came to my mind, were things from way back in my past. Had I truly not forgiven myself?

In TCM theory, every channel has a corresponding emotion. The emotion associated with fall and the lung channel is grief, a state that requires acceptance of what is and the fluidity to move through it. Held for too long, it can leave us cold and detached, interrupting the flow of our qi and blocking its ability to facilitate transformation.

With the change in season comes a new opportunity for clarity, prompting us to shed the past and simplify as we move toward the future. Just like metal, the element that so aptly represents the season, we can find power in reduction. The focus of my meditation this fall will be forgiveness. What will you let go of to make your nest clutter-free?

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Food As Medicine: Treating Fall Dryness from the Inside Out

wheat stalk

“The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”  – Thomas Edison

The earth is our most abundant pharmacy, providing us exactly what we need in any given time of year to stay healthy and strong. When we eat seasonally and locally, the foods we are ingesting contain the properties we need to stay well all year long. Fall is the season of dryness and the more abruptly it comes on, the quicker our bodies need to adapt. If you’re feeling a bit parched, try these simple dietary solutions to reconcile these common fall imbalances:

Allergies, Sore Throat, Cough
As the leaves begin to change color and fall from the trees, they become brittle and crumble to dust. When we inhale this particle dust it can cause allergies, cough, sore throat, and inflammation. In TCM theory, our lung channel regulates the qi for the entire body. Foods that are more acrid or pungent aid the lungs in keeping the qi circulating and dispersing. If you’re feeling a tickle in your throat, try apples, pears, miso soup with scallion, cabbage, leeks, onion, garlic and ginger. If the qi is rebelling in the form of a cough, root vegetables help to pull energy downward. If the throat feels raw, tea with ginger or ginseng and honey is not only soothing, but can give you a powerful immune boost. If allergies persist, herbal formulas are a great solution to get them under control.

Dry, Itchy Skin
The moisture from the summer has left the air leaving it cool, crisp and static. To protect our skin from drying out while it works to protect us from the elements, we need to do more to nourish it from the inside out. In addition to the lung-qi boosting suggestions above, the simplest way to keep your skin healthy and glowing is to stay hydrated. Water, water, water, is great in any season. Also, don’t skimp on the Omega 3’s (healthy fats) such as those found in avocados, egg yolks, and olive oil. Oily seeds such as flax and sesame also help to keep the skin and entire body moistened (grind them to maximize the benefits) and sesame and coconut oil are widely used topically to protect the skin and keep it supple.

Constipation
In the seasonal transition when the weather is erratic and windy, the body becomes more vulnerable as it works to adjust to the change. Fall dryness can reach beyond the skin and lungs, moving deeper into the body and causing sluggish digestion or constipation. In addition to staying hydrated, oily nuts and seeds (in reasonable quantities) such as almonds or walnuts can help to lubricate the intestines and keep things flowing smoothly. Mineral rich vegetables from the earth also help to support metal – the element of fall. Things like pumpkin, yams, squash, bananas, walnuts, and beets help to keep our digestion regular and keep our belly’s happy and nourished. Also, chew slowly so you know when you’re full, and eat while relaxed to aid digestion and promote nutrient absorption.

A Deliciously Simple Fall Recipe
Try this seasonal recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen to keep the lungs strong, the throat relaxed, the fluids ample, and the tummy happy:

Ginger-Honey Pear

Ingredients
2 medium-size pears, peeled
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons water

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Cut off the top third of each pear and reserve. Cut out the core of the bottom part of the pear, making a hole but leaving the bottom and outside intact. Place the pears and the tops on a glass or ceramic dish.
3. In a small bowl, combine the honey, ginger, and water. (Heat the mixture to encourage the honey to dissolve, if necessary.)
4. Place the ginger mixture inside the pears. Now replace the top on each pear, restoring its original shape, and brush the sauce on the outside of the pear as well. Save 2 teaspoons or so of the sauce for later.
5. Bake the pears for 10 to 12 minutes, until they have begun to soften.
6. Take the pears out of the oven for a moment and drizzle with the remaining sauce, then return the pears to the oven and broil at a high setting for 3 to 5 minutes, until the glaze has caramelized. Serve warm.

You can find this recipe and much more in Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life. Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, and Mika Ono. Da Capo Press, 2010.

For a more in-depth discussion of eating for the fall season from a Chinese medicine perspective, re-visit this post: http://www.thriveacupunctureny.com/blog/?p=82

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