Tag Archives: fall health tips

Spirit of the Season: Autumn, Grief and The Po

“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” – John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

In Chinese Medicine theory, every season has a corresponding spirit. The spirit of the fall is the Po – our corporeal soul. It is about movement, sensation, and the connection of our bodies to both our minds and to the world at large. It is what gives us animation, reaction, and human emotion. It governs our visceral responses and our capacity for sentiment and empathy.

The emotion associated with fall is grief. In Chinese medicine theory, grief is said to disrupt the flow of our qi, causing us to withdraw and disconnect with the world around us. As I often discuss in face reading sessions, grief is not only about death or the loss of a person. Our face reveals lines my teacher calls “lost love” that show up when we let a talent or creative passion lie dormant for too long. The body expresses this loss physically to illuminate the emotional blow felt by the spirit. There is also a collective sorrow that can be felt universally in response to world events that pull at our heartstrings. Regardless of the situation, in periods of emotional mourning we often go inward, retreating into our sadness as we ruminate in solitude waiting for the feelings to pass.

The Po allows us to receive and process our grief, even as our grief transforms us. It is the ability to both be and feel. By connecting us with our human urges, it lets us bring an experience into our being, receive the essential message, and ultimately move forward. It supports personal evolution within a world or space that might appear to have a very disparate agenda. Though we might experience tremendous change as a result of our own journey, the Po allows us to stay grounded in the world in which we reside and navigate the familiar from an internal place that might feel unchartered and uncomfortable.

While on any given day we are capable of all emotions, the seasonal cycle highlights and brings to the forefront those feelings or urges that can be addressed while we are in the strongest position to handle them. I urge you this fall to look at the things that might be causing you grief and harness the power of the season to catalyze your own personal revolution.

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.

Eat for the Season: Diet Tips for a Healthy Fall

figs“In the west, dryness is prevalent through the desert mountains that contain a wealth of metal ore and vegetation that is pungent to the tongue. The pungent taste invigorates the lungs and opens the pores.” – The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine

As we enter the Fall season, the bright uplifting energy of summer begins to descend. We see leaves drying up and falling to the earth to be reintegrated into the soil. Animals begin to gather and bury food, preparing for the cold months ahead. As things in nature start to burrow into the ground and the cooling foods of summer are replaced by the hearty root vegetables of the earth, we’re prompted to shift our diets to prepare our bodies to store and insulate for the cooler months to come.

In Chinese medicine theory, fall is the season of the Lung, it’s corresponding element Metal, and it’s yang partner the Large Intestine. The main functions of this organ system are to move healthy qi through the body, protect us from externally contracted disease, eject any invading illness before it worsens, and separate the pure from the impure. Foods that are pungent in flavor, and often white in color, are invigorating and have the ability to disperse, thereby assisting these channels with their tasks. When we choose foods that support the organ system that is dominant in the season, we better support the smooth functioning of our body as a whole.

Supporting the Lung System/Metal Element

Within each organ system there are specific vulnerabilities, manifesting as symptoms when there is disharmony in the channels. Some dietary strategies to handle common imbalances of the Lung system are outlined below.

Dryness: In general, the fall is a dry time of year. As leaves and plants begin to dry up and turn to dust, we inevitably absorb some of this into our own bodies, creating anything from mild irritation, to full blown allergies. As our body’s first line of defense, the Lung system has a natural aversion to dryness and is the channel most deeply affected by it. Some ways that dryness might manifest in the body is dry sneezes, itchy skin, brittle hair, nosebleeds, or dry throat with cough. Some foods to help counteract dryness and support the Lung’s ability to protect the body include: pear, apple, walnuts, eggs, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, leeks, onion, mustard leaf, chive, garlic, and ginger.

Cold: In the transition months, when the weather can be drastically different from day to day, we are more vulnerable to common colds. It often begins with that first prickle of chills at the back of the neck on a windy day (wear a scarf!), and without proper care can progress into something more. Symptoms of a cold invasion include: chills, head and body aches, coughing, sneezing, and runny nose. Foods to help move the cold out more quickly and prevent it from turning into something worse include: soups, broths, porridges, stews, ginger, garlic, onion, cayenne, chili powder, cinnamon, clove, chive, fennel seed, horseradish, winter squash, lamb or mutton.

Heat: If a common cold lingers in the body too long, it begins to burrow deeper causing more severe flu-like symptoms that often manifest as heat. Some common symptoms include: fever, chills, perspiration, sore throat, cough, wheezing, thirst, constipation, and asthmatic breathing. Foods to help clear the heat include: apple, pear, persimmon, mango, celery, carrot, mushroom, asparagus, pumpkin, radish, bamboo shoots, cabbage, nori, and octopus.

Phlegm: Fall allergies, colds, and flus are often accompanied by an abundance of phlegm, congestion, and sinus pressure. Other common symptoms include: mental fogginess, chest tightness/distention, coughing, sneezing, copious mucus, and difficulty breathing. Foods to help break up phlegm include: garlic, ginger, onion, scallion, mustard/mustard greens, fennel seed, rosemary, sage, radish, seaweed, winter squash, shitake mushrooms, turnip, watercress, pear, papaya, and persimmon. Avoid foods like milk, dairy, soy, and sugar when there is a lot of mucus present.

Water Retention: The combination of erratic weather and the need to fight off attacks from external germs and allergens, can overtax the Lung system. If the qi is weak, dispersion of fluids can become compromised. This can manifest as: edema, scanty urination, shortness of breath, or chest fullness. Foods to help strengthen the lung qi and re-balance the system include: garlic, ginger, honey, barley/barley malt, rye, mustard/dandelion greens, mango, pineapple, papaya, celery, carrots, pumpkin, artichoke, asparagus, bamboo shoots, bok choy, nori, aduki beans, kidney beans, mackerel, and sardines.

Fatigue: As the days get shorter and sunshine is less abundant, it is challenging to continue to move at the pace of summer. When the body is forced to fight the rhythm of nature, the extra effort that is required can take a toll. Some common symptoms include recurring colds, weak voice, low spirit, lack of desire to communicate, sadness, or grief. Foods that can help keep us preserve the energy we have and generate the additional energy we need include: apples, pears, chicken broth, walnuts, eggs, yams, oats, artichoke, carrots, onion, radish, sweet potato, yam, mango, orange, plum, licorice, sage, thyme, honey, sesame seed, octopus, oyster, and sardines.

Supporting the Lung System’s Partner Organs/Elements

Chinese medicine treats the body holistically, viewing the channels, organs, and elements as one big integrated system working for the good of the whole. Although seasonal nuance affects our bodies in general, we all have specific patterns of imbalance that tend to arise when external factors or stresses provoke our constitutional vulnerabilities. By better understanding the checks and balances of the system, we can fine tune our diets to our bodies more specifically to support the smooth function of the whole.

Earth/Metal: In five element theory, Earth (Spleen) generates Metal (Lung). If Earth is too weak to provide the nutrients to create Metal, Metal will be weak. Concurrently, if Metal is pulling too much from Earth, Earth will become weak. This tends to manifest as excessive phlegm or mucus, digestive issues, and emotional worry or over-thinking. To support the Spleen channel/Earth element, introduce flavors that are mildly sweet (think oats – not sugar) or yellow in color, such as healthy fruits and grains, to help keep this relationship strong. Some foods that concurrently support the Lung and Spleen channels include: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, capers, daikon, leeks, parsnip, bell pepper, radish, basil, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, ginger, rosemary, saffron, jasmine, and peppermint.

Metal/Water: In five element theory, Metal (Lung) generates Water (Kidney), If Water pulls too much fluid from Metal, Metal will be weak. Their connection is strongly related to fluid metabolism. When there relationship is out of balance it can result in symptoms of dryness, counterflow (cough/asthma), fluid accumulation (edema), or emotional sadness or fear. To support the Kidney channel/Water element, introduce flavors that are salty, such as seaweed or shellfish. Some foods that concurrently support the Lung and Kidney include spices such as chive, garlic, and parsley.

Fire/Metal: In five element theory the Fire element (Heart) controls the Metal element (Lung). If Fire over-controls Metal, the lung qi will be weak. If Metal rebels against Fire, it will effect the heart causing a disturbance of spirit. This often manifests as anxiety, dream disturbed sleep, hot flashes, or mouth/tongue sores. To support the Heart channel/Fire element, add bitter foods such as green tea, asparagus, dandelion leaf and rhubarb, to drain some of the heat generated by overabundant fire or red foods like strawberries to calm the spirit. Some foods that concurrently support the Lung and Heart include: asparagus, broccoli, capers, scallion, turnip, watercress, basil, cardamom, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme, and turmeric.

Metal/Wood: In five element theory, the Metal element (Lung) controls the Wood element (Liver). If Metal overacts on Wood the liver qi does not flow smoothly, causing symptoms such as menstrual irregularity or pain, headaches, depression irritability, or anger. If wood rebels against metal, it can cause respiratory issues or breathlessness. To support the Liver channel/Wood element, incorporate foods that are sour in flavor or green in color such as citrus fruit, green apple, berries, and leafy greens. Some foods that concurrently support the Lung and Liver include leeks, juniper, and lemon balm.

Understanding how different flavors of food affect the body provides us with an abundance of tools to protect our health and support longevity. I encourage you to incorporate some of the suggestions above to address any symptoms you are feeling and take note of the effects. Have a happy, healthy Fall!