Tag Archives: chinese medicine

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.

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.

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!

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.

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?

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

A Breath-Based Fall Meditation Practice

“The lung is the source of inspiration – it creates the open space, the emptiness within which new ideas and emotions take shape.” – Harriet Beinfield & Efram Korngold, Between Heaven and Earth

fall forestIn Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Lung organ system governs the reception, movement, and expiration of qi, the circulating force behind the entire function of our bodies. Through the inhale we bring in the pure qi and release the impure through the exhale. This involuntary, repetitive action acts both as a cleansing process and a means of establishing the rhythm by which the body flows. The Lung’s yang partner, the Large Intestine, aids the process by evaluating what nutrients are of value to the body, and what can be eliminated.

This process of discernment, purification, and release has both physical and emotional implications. When the Lung qi is weak, we are most susceptible to sadness or grief, however, grief consumes the lung qi, creating a cyclical pattern of emotional injury. When the lung qi is strong, every new inhale contains boundless possibility and every exhale is an opportunity to release and move on from the past. Every cycle of inspiration, dissemination, and expiration allows us the opportunity to escape from the limitations of our thoughts and to truly exist in the moment.

To honor the spirit of the season, I offer you this simple, breath-based meditation.

The Set-Up

To begin your practice, lie down on your back with a rolled up blanket or bolster underneath your knees. Let the legs roll to a position where they feel comfortable. If the neck is uncomfortable or the chin is jutting toward the ceiling, place an additional folded blanked underneath your head.

Rotate the arms so that the palms and inner arms are facing the ceiling and the chest feels broad and open. If the shoulders are hunched away from the floor, draw each shoulder blade slightly inward and downward until you feel the chest broaden.

The Practice

Once the body is comfortable, take one hand to the chest, one hand to the belly. Close the eyes softly. Relax the facial muscles completely. Let the bones feel heavy against the floor. Let the muscles soften around the bones. Feel the rise and fall of the chest and abdomen as you breath in and out.

Observe the rhythm of the breath and where it is moving. Notice when you inhale if you tend to fill the chest, or the belly, or both. Notice when you exhale where you deflate. Notice the thoughts as they wander in. With the breath as your template – momentary and impermanent – see if you can invite the thoughts to pass through just as fluidly as they enter.

Start to deliberately slow the breath down, making each inhale and each exhale as soft and long and smooth as you can. Try to match the length of the inhale and exhale, never gasping for breath, but letting the flow be even and steady.

Start to move the breath with more intention. Filling up completely, breath in through the nose, down into the chest, then the upper belly, the mid-belly, the low belly, all the way down to pelvic floor. Exhale just as deliberately, emptying first the low belly, then the mid-belly, the upper belly, the chest, and all the way out the mouth. Every inhale a rebound of the exhale. Every exhale a rebound of the inhale.

Imagine something you would like to create more space for in your life. Simple, genuine, true. When you inhale, imagine how it will feel when this desire begins to manifest. Invite that sensation in, in through the nose, the chest, the upper belly, mid-belly, low belly, all the way down to the pelvic floor.

Choose something you’ve been holding on to that is no longer relevant to your present. When you exhale, release it out through the low belly, mid-belly, upper belly, chest, and throat.

Create a word, or mantra, for the thing you wish to bring in and the thing you wish to release. Repeat these words in your mind with each inhale and each exhale, opening up to the future by releasing the past.

Stay with the technique for as long as you are comfortable. When you feel ready, let the breath fall back into it’s natural rhythm. Feel the body completely relaxed, light with possibility, unencumbered by the mundane. Be with this feeling.

The Exit

Start to deepen the breath, reconnecting with your physical body. Notice the weight of your bones. Notice your fingers and your toes. Notice sensation on the skin.

Stretch the arms up and overhead and take a full body stretch like you are just waking up to a brand new day. Bend the knees and roll gently over on to your right hand side. Pause. Then press yourself up to sit.

Join the palms together at the center of the chest. Touch your thumbs to your sternum, tapping into that inner oasis of quiet, simplicity, and clarity. Then bow your chin to your chest, bowing toward the wisdom of your intuition, your heart’s voice, your wise advisor with all the right answers to all of your most important questions. The farthest we ever need to look is within.

Namaste.