Ancient Chinese medicine is rooted in the idea that human beings should live in harmony with the environment that surrounds us.
Each season offers a new opportunity to connect with the natural cycles of the planet. We can take our cues from the plants and animals around us, to better understand how our bodies might be feeling. This allows us to choose activities that will be optimal for our mental and physical health.
Here is a summary of the seasons, what you might observe in your surrounding environment, and how we can use this to increase health and wellness.
Begins with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere this will be around December 21, and in the Southern Hemisphere, around June 21.
Natural cues: The days are short. Temperatures are typically cold. Weather may include more precipitation, snow in colder regions, and increased wind. Trees shed their leaves, plants become dormant, and many animals go into hibernation to conserve energy.
Our bodies tend to want to sleep more, aligned with the shorter periods of daylight. We enjoy taking a slower pace, spending more time indoors, and resting or relaxing.
Chinese medicine indicates that this is a time of reflection and introspection, resting to conserve energy, and renewal so we can prepare for the outburst of life in the spring. Winter is ruled by the water element, which is associated with the kidneys. The kidneys, considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body, must be allowed time for rest and renewal so that they can help us during times of stress, change, and illness.
For optimal health during the winter season, here are some recommendations:
· Reduce your food intake as your activity level decreases, to avoid adding extra pounds.
· Eat warming foods, such as soups and stews, roasted vegetables, and beans; as well as warming spices like garlic and ginger.
· Get plenty of sleep. We do not want to become depleted, particularly during this time when energy in our environment is naturally low.
· Begin practices such as meditation or yoga that will reduce stress. Stress and anger can reduce your immune system function, which is especially important to maintain during the winter season.
Begins at the Vernal Equinox. This will be around March 21 in the Northern Hemisphere and around September 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. On the equinox, day and night are of equal length.
Natural cues: The days are lengthening, and the air is warming up more with each day. Rain falls frequently, bringing new life to the plants. Some flowers blossom; new leaves begin to appear on the trees. Hibernating animals emerge, and baby animals are born. Energy is high as the Earth seems to re-awaken and new life springs forth everywhere.
Our bodies crave cleansing and rejuvenation. Our minds are open to new beginnings, a fresh start, and the excitement of blossoming life all around.
Chinese medicine advises us that Spring is related to the Wood element, which is connected to the liver and gallbladder. These organs help the Qi to flow smoothly through our bodies. Cleansing and health are the focus at this time of year. Increased activity will get that energy flowing. Acupuncture or acupressure can help with cleansing. Spring is associated with the direction East, where we see the sunrise and the dawn of new beginnings.
For optimal health in the Spring:
· Stretch frequently to release toxins, get your blood flowing, and maintain the health and flexibility of your muscles and tendons.
· Get moving! Exercise helps the Qi to flow, and if you can exercise in an inspiring and beautiful outdoor setting, the benefits will multiply.
· Eat green foods. Young plants of springtime, including lettuces and sprouts, as well as greens of all types, improve the liver’s function and make you feel healthy and fit.
· Sour flavors are beneficial at this time. Try lemon water in the morning, add a pickle to your sandwich, or use a vinegar-based salad dressing.
· Plant a garden. Immerse yourself in the new life sprouting from the Earth. Get your hands dirty, and enjoy it.
· Fly a kite. Spring is the time for wind, which brings renewal, stripping away all that we no longer need.
Begins at the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. This will be around June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, and December 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.
Natural cues: The environment is filled with abundant energy, growth and expansion, long days, warmth, and lots of sunshine. Plants grow at their optimal levels; many plants are flowering; the trees are full of thick green leaves. Animals and insects are active and busy raising their young, finding food, and pollinating. More days are sunny rather than rainy.
Our bodies want to move, to be outside, to get away from our cares and responsibilities with a vacation or a long hike in the woods. We tend to feel more inspired, motivated, and outgoing. We want to be carefree, have fun, explore new places, and expand our networks and our possibilities.
Chinese medicine indicates that Summer is a time of expansion, growth, activity, and creativity. It is ruled by the fire element, which is linked to the heart (blood and circulation), mind (memory and thought), and spirit (emotions and consciousness). This is a time to focus on cultivating joy and realizing our greatest potential. Energy is flowing freely in our mind and body, and our metabolism is vigorous at this time. Summer is also associated with the sound of laughing and a red phoenix bird.
Encourage optimal summertime health:
· Eat a light and less-greasy diet in the summer, as indigestion can more easily occur at this time of year. Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
· Eat and drink cooling foods and liquids, as these will reduce heat, clear toxins, and generate more hydration within the body. Vegetables, lettuce, fish and seafood, watermelon, corn, and cool water are recommended. Try sipping cool water infused with lemon and cucumber. Some cooling spices are mint, dill, and cilantro.
· Get lots of exercise, spend time outdoors, have fun, relax, and travel.
· Wake up early, stay up later (aligned with the daylight), and catch up on rest by retreating for relaxation or a nap in the mid-day hours when the sun is hottest.
· Balance your fire element by swimming in a cold pool or natural body of water.
· Laugh and play, activities which strengthen the heart.
Begins at the Autumnal Equinox. In the Northern Hemisphere, this occurs around September 21; and in the Southern Hemisphere, around March 21. On the equinox, day and night are of equal length.
Natural cues: The days are getting shorter and the air is cooler, especially at night. Cloudy, overcast, or rainy days become more frequent. Kids go back to school; farmers work long hours for the harvest; summer vacations are over. We are likely to feel more responsible and less carefree. We unpack our warmer clothes and find comfort in the idea of making soups or chili again. The leaves are changing color and falling from the trees. Plants begin to dry and wither. Things are dying or becoming dormant. Animals are less active, insects are in hiding, and squirrels are gathering nuts for the winter.
Our bodies and minds tend to enjoy a slower pace, reflection, more sleep, lower activity levels, and enjoying the crisp air on our skin. Those who love summer best may feel disappointed and wistful at this time of year, wishing for the long, sunshiny days of summer to return. (I know I do!) We tend toward wanting to come inside, organize, and create order in our lives, to recoup from the wild freedom of summer. We feel fulfilled by gathering food, wood, and other items in preparation for the upcoming winter.
Chinese medicine tells us that Autumn is associated with the Metal element, which governs the lungs and large intestine. The lungs encourage letting go and releasing grief. With the natural world winding down, it is normal to experience sadness, as well as courage, and at the same time we can look with hope to the future. As the season for colds begins, we need to maintain the health of our lungs (and immune system) by dressing warmer, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep. Autumn is also related to the west, the direction of dreams and visions.
For optimal health during the autumn season, here are some recommendations:
· Enjoy the fruits and vegetables of the harvest season. Eat fresh tomatoes, melons, pumpkins, squashes, apples, pears, potatoes, broccoli, and other fresh foods that are in season in your geographical region.
· Take the time to wrap up projects that you began in the spring or summer. Or, begin new projects that might be more suited to indoor work or introspection.
· Open up to your natural tendency to organize and reflect.
· Dress warmly enough to prevent your body getting chilled when you go outdoors. With this in mind, do get outside and enjoy the beautiful colors of autumn, as well as the crisp fall air.
· Get plenty of sleep.
· Adopt a new practice such as meditation or regular acupuncture treatments, to strengthen the health of your body as the weather grows cold.
· Eat warm foods; avoid dairy products, which can increase congestion; and enjoy pungeant foods such as ginger, garlic, onions, horseradish, and mustard.
· Stand facing west, and consider your life path, your dreams, your visions for the future.
The Wisdom Within
Are you looking to improve your overall health and wellness? Are you stressed out, tired or overwhelmed much of the time? Are you missing that spark that you used to have when you were younger? Perhaps your suffer from bouts of depression or anxiety, or feel like you can't keep up with it all.
You are not alone.
There is a reason why we feel this way, and it goes far beyond our hectic schedules or too much screen time. The fundamental issue is that we are disconnected from the parts of our world that are meant to fill us up, bring us peace, and rejuvenate us. We are distanced from nature. We are disconnected from the messages that our own bodies are trying to send us. We rely on doctors, pills, and caffeine to make us feel better rather than seeking the deeper reasons for our illnesses or exhaustion. We bottle up our feelings to appear "together," "professional," or "normal."
We're not meant to hold it all together all of the time. We're not meant to be "normal." We are all different, and we should feel comfortable embracing our true self. When we open up to our feelings, to nature, and to what our bodies are trying to tell us, we can connect with our deeper purpose and uncover our most meaningful and joyful life: The life we were meant to live. If we do the work to access the infinite wisdom and power that resides within us, we connect with the collective energy of the entire universe, and our physical and mental health improve exponentially.
Check out Sacred Planet's online course Discover Your Magic to explore how you can access your inner wisdom, connect with your inner power, jumpstart your optimal health, and live the life of your dreams.
Featured image: Great King Peak in Wuyi Mountains, China