Where’s the Joy? Meditations on the Fire Element

Years ago, when I was living in New Orleans and having a particularly difficult summer, I received a letter from my father. He had just been at a meditation retreat, where a friend told him about this question, “Where’s the joy?”

In the midst of a difficult moment or a destructive thought, just stop and ask yourself, “Where’s the joy?”

My father had found great solace in this question, engaging in it throughout the day. So simple, but it stuck with me. I had been dragging myself out of the house every day for work, biking slowly against the thick air and my own resistance, head down, plagued by mosquitoes and threats of another devastating hurricane. So I began to ask myself, “Where’s the joy?” And when I looked, it was everywhere. It was in the sweet smell of the jasmine bushes, the little breezes that found their way through my hair, sips of iced tea on a hot afternoon. It required that I get out of my head and connect with my body. Joy lived in my sensory experience of the world.

I told friends about this question, Where’s the joy?

They came back to me, telling me that asking themselves that question slowly began to remodel their consciousness, allowing them to see beauty in places they had missed it before.

I wrote out the question and taped it to a friend’s sun visor as he prepared for a drive across the country. He told me he moved it from the visor to the steering wheel, letting it be his meditation for the entire drive.

I wrote back to my father, telling him how profound that simple question had been, how it had become crucial in a difficult time, for myself and others. He quoted my letter in a talk he gave later that year. And years later I quoted his talk, quoting my letter, to a group of acupuncture students I was speaking in front of. The message got passed back and forth, slowly looping in more and more people over the years. This is how fire spreads.

People came up to me after my presentation, days and weeks later, telling me how that question, Where’s the joy? had infiltrated their reality, creating openness where there had been constriction, bringing in the senses and the somatic experience when previously there had been only thoughts.

I’m telling this story because it represents the fire element so perfectly. In Chinese philosophy, the summer season is a manifestation of the fire element. Its color is red, its energy reaches out, connecting and bonding people to each other, and its emotion is joy.

The creativity that manifested from our deepest consciousness in winter and bloomed upward in spring is now bursting out in summer. This represents the peak of our endeavors, the fruition of our rumination, the culmination of our efforts. It is a time of joy and celebration, an excuse to reach out to others in conversation and collaboration.

I will bring up New Orleans again, because it is a place where hardship, violence and oppression are part of everyday life, and yet I have never known a place where people understood better how to be joyful. When someone dies there is a second line to celebrate their life, where music, food and booze are plentiful, where the beloved departed appears on t-shirts and signs, where stories are told with so many tears and so much laughter as hundreds of people parade through the streets to live brass music.

Joy is not the antidote to sorrow, but could it be grief’s boisterous companion? Can we find room in our hearts for all of the big feelings to live together? Can we feel fear and anger and grief and still find the joy?

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi

 The Heart is the most significant and representative organ system of the fire element, accompanied by three other organ systems (fire is the only element to have more than 2 organ systems affiliated, that is the power of fire).

For now I will focus on the Heart and its yang organ pair, the Small Intestine, whose job is to filter the pure from the turbid, sorting substances that have made their way from the stomach and deciding what gets reabsorbed and what goes on to be flushed out the bladder or large intestine. The Small Intestine decides what is serving us and what is not. On every level. It is our discernment, our quality control, our truth-seeker.

The Heart, the Yin organ pair of the Small Intestine, is called on to house the spirit or Shen, in Chinese, and while it has a set of body guards, the Pericardium and Triple Burner, the Heart itself is considered to be our essence, the purity of our selves, recreated and burgeoning in each moment and reflected in the complexion, the eyes and the tongue. If you speak your truth, you are calling upon the Heart via the tongue.

Many factors can affect the Heart.

Fire is necessary to create life. It catalyses the chemical changes living creatures are reliant on, promotes circulation and allows synapses to occur in the nervous system, connecting and passing messages between our brain and bodies in every moment. Fire heats the cooking pot of our digestion, allowing us to transform food and drink into the substances and functions of our bodies. As with everything else, fire in balance with the other elements sparks life. Fire out of balance can destroy it.

In the body, excess heat and fire tend to create symptoms in the upper body, as heat rises. Some symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Skin rashes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heartburn
  • Dry throat
  • Acne
  • Burning, red eyes
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Flushed face
  • Fevers
  • Urinary Tract Infections

Heat is a common pathogen in our modern world because not only is it generated by spicy food and stress, it is also brought on by visual and audio stimulation, overpopulation, overwork, caffeine and alcohol. Inflammation is a common manifestation of fire in the body and can dramatically affect our joints, muscles and bones, or digestive systems, our skin and our moods.

Spending time in nature or quiet spaces, turning off screens and distracting technologies and sitting with ourselves can resettle our Hearts when they become heated by over-stimulation.

Deficiency of heat and fire can lead to depression, or lack of joy. Heat and function are often interchangeable as concepts in Chinese medicine. We need heat, a yang energetic, for circulation, uplifting of the organs and the mind, for fluidity, flexibility and engagement in life.

Joy is the balanced emotional manifestation of the Heart, where mania, anxiety and lack of joy are the fire element's emotions out of balance. A Heart stays in emotional balance when its truth is known and valued, when it is able to express itself appropriately.

This is not always possible in a society where resources are not equally accessible to all and those in power wish to silence the oppressed. For some, true self expression is dangerous and freedom of speech a great risk. If we live in a society where leaders and those with privilege do not want to engage with truth and weave elaborate stories to protect themselves from it, we all suffer. There is no joy in gaining at the expense of others. There is no joy in holding on to old beliefs and systems that have never represented or served the whole of our community.

Joy is fuller and deeper if we share it. Ultimately, an entire society benefits from the comfort, safety and protection of its most vulnerable members. Joy comes from giving and receiving, from opening the Heart to let love in and out, even when love grows in uncertain grounds. Even when love might lead to loss. Trusting the Heart, connecting with other people, engaging in compassionate practice toward self and others and finding the joy are ways of honoring the fire element this summer season.

For more on complicated emotions:

The Hilarious World of Depression podcast

For more on compassionate practice:

Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong by Norman Fischer

Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong (video)

Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises

For more on the Chinese Medical energetics of fire and the summer season:

Wood Becomes Water by Gail Reichstein

Nourishing Destiny by Lonny S. Jarrett

For more on acupuncture:

The Spark in The Machine by Daniel Keown

If you enjoy following the cycles of the season and haven’t seen my other seasonal articles, find out how we got here, to the fruition of our efforts, with my winter and spring articles:

The Empowerment of Anger

Living through the Season of Fear

Posted on July 10, 2017 .

The Empowerment of Anger

Anger is a societal issue as much as a personal one. We have come to associate anger with violence, although studies show that anger leads to violence only 10% of the time. Anger expressed in a healthy, timely manner can actually prevent violence.

Still, anger is one of the more difficult emotions, often flinging us out of control. Anger and frustration, with their elemental wood association in Chinese philosophy, are emotions that push us. They offer growth, determination and motivation, but if that strength has no direction, it can go awry, ungrounded like directionless wind.

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The wood element is associated with wind. Like a great storm, anger comes quickly and when channeled appropriately, also quickly passes. Wood represents vision. Not just because the Liver and Gallbladder organ channels in Chinese medicine go to the eyes, but also metaphorically. Wood energy is a motivating factor, differentiating us from our family of origin by giving us each our own vision and purpose in life.

When that vision is stunted, when we can’t put it into action, when we are lacking in or unjustly denied access to the resources to do so, it is a compromise to the sense of self. This plays out in childhood and young adulthood, the life phase associated with the wood element, as we push against our parental figures. It also happens in an unjust society, where some are given more privilege, access to resources and societal priority than others. This is why we need to defend each other.

“If you are trying to transform a brutalized society into one where people can live in dignity and hope, you begin with the empowering of the most powerless. You build from the ground up.” 
Adrienne Rich

This stunting also happens on a physical level. When qi is not allowed to flow freely, it stagnates and causes exhaustion, heat or unpredictable, intermittent symptoms. This can play out in the physical and emotional body. For more information on the physical and psycho-emotional symptoms that tend to flare in spring, see my article Spring Winds of Change.

“Anger” is the translation of the emotion associated with the wood element in Chinese philosophy, but I like to add the concept of a fierce sense of justice.

 Justice, comprised of strength, vision and flexibility, perfectly embodies the energetic of the wood element. Thusly, when any of these characteristics are compromised, the result is often anger. When one is not allowed to thrive in society. When one watches one’s community suffer at the hands of economic and social oppression. Or when one feels misunderstood and judged by the people to whom they are closest.

Constructive Anger

“When I am angry I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anger can bring up important, unspoken issues, reveal one’s own faults for improved self-awareness, lead to important conversations within all kinds of relationships and allow a kind of vulnerability, intimacy and communication.

Constructive anger is described as anger that is justifiable and framed in such a way where a mutual problem can be rectified. Anger actually leads to a deeper connection between people.

Anger, as an alternative to fear or despair response, is more empowered, with more sense of control and motivation. According to an American Psychological Association article: “Participants primed for anger gave more optimistic--and, as it turns out, realistic--risk assessments…than those primed for fear.”

Fear and sadness tend to elicit a shutdown response, while anger is motivating. From the same article: “[Anger] can spur an entire culture to change for the better, as witnessed by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's and the earlier Women's Suffrage movement.” (1)

Further research suggests that anger leads to better performance, better negotiation skills and more creativity. Anger can lead to important conversations and revealed truth. And suppressing anger has actually been found to create health problems:

“Dr. Ernest Harburg and his team at the University of Michigan School of Public Health spent several decades tracking the same adults in a longitudinal study of anger. They found that men and women who hid the anger they felt in response to an unjust attack subsequently found themselves more likely to get bronchitis and heart attacks, and were more likely to die earlier than peers who let their anger be known when other people were annoying.” (2)

Anger has a healthy place in our society when it motivates us to express our needs, ask for help, unify and motivate groups of people to make greater social change and get to know our inner selves. It is a powerful tool, necessary alongside kindness, compassion, love and diplomacy. Anger is mobilizing. It’s what got one of every 100 Americans and upwards of 3 million people worldwide into the streets in January for the Womxn’s March. Anger got tens of thousands of protesters to shut down airports in support of immigrant rights and millions to learn how to influence local and federal government. Anger has taught us the names of all the Black lives that have been taken through racial profiling and racist brutality.

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Anger will be our ally in the months and years to come as we attempt to mold our country into a more just society for all its inhabitants. When anger arises, we feel called upon to protect our own welfare, and the well-being and survival of those we care about. It causes us to stand up for the rights of those who have been marginalized, known and unknown. Anger reflects our humanity.

Perhaps we have all heard this before and know that anger has an upside, but find that using anger positively and in a balanced way while in the intensity of the moment is more of a challenge.

How to Change the Way You Get Angry

When expressing anger in a personal situation, one thing you can try is explaining in advance that you are experiencing intense emotions and that your perspective and communication may not be as clear as if you were not emotionally charged. This has the advantage of allowing the person to whom you are speaking to choose not to be defensive, but to hear you out.

If you can approach an argument with the idea that your goal is finding a solution, even when you are shaky and somewhat out of control, you may be able to communicate this desire and inspire a more thoughtful, open-minded reaction.

“When someone hears that you are uncomfortable and that the conversation is difficult for you, it increases the likelihood that they will approach what you have to say with empathy. After using this opening, you can then delve deeper into what bothers you, what you think and feel in the aftermath of whatever happened (why anger emerged instead of other feelings).” (2)

If we can notice when we get angry and why, then we can learn what to do to improve our reactions to the things we do and don’t have control over. Anger can motivate self-awareness and positive change.

“An honorable human relationship- that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’- is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.”
-Adrienne Rich
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Here is a break down to help explain how to use anger constructively:

-          Recognize the difference between events that you can change and those that are beyond your ability to control.

-          Use a tone that is not demeaning or inflammatory.

-          When you’re angry, take a moment to slow the situation down. Your impulse is to speed things up because the sympathetic nervous system gets involved and tells you there is a threat to your safety, slowing down and taking a deep breath can calm that reaction then you can…

-          Choose to make good decisions rather than fast ones. This is about reminding yourself that you have options to choose from, even in an emotionally charged situation.

-          If it’s helpful, use visualization to keep yourself focused on a positive outcome. What does the situation look like if your energy is not escalating it? What does it look like if you feel safe?

-          When you are able to take a minute to slow yourself down, calm the nervous system and return to regular breathing, you may be able to observe the other person’s reaction more intuitively. What tone of voice and body language are they using? Are they responding by lashing out or are they looking for a solution?

“Psychologist John Riskind has found that the experience of anger is not as problematic as the belief that the sequence of events triggering that anger is accelerating, that the danger is escalating, and the available window for taking action is quickly disappearing. This sense of impending danger pushes people to do something that might stop the immediate threat but in the longer term will make the situation worse.” (2)

This is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) talking. The threat response of fight or flight. Anger can trigger body memories of other times that did not feel safe, in which the SNS was called upon to react. Fortunately, through awareness and practice, we can notice the shift into a sympathetic response and try to let it pass without being reactive. This can be hard work and may be assisted by therapy, bodywork and other forms of recovery from PTSD.

The more we practice new responses to our own anger and angering situations, the more our brains adapt to find those responses natural. That is the beauty of neuroplasticity, the science of brain adaptation; the more neurological synapses fire in response to a specific situation, the more likely they are to fire that way in the future.

Whether on a personal or societal level, viewing anger as an ally and learning how to use it to make important, positive change can bring us closer to our goals and our vision for a better life.

Resources:

1. http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar03/whenanger.aspx

2. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_right_way_to_get_angry

3. http://www.spring.org.uk/2012/03/the-upside-of-anger-6-psychological-benefits-of-getting-mad.php

4. http://www.spring.org.uk/2008/12/12-laws-of-emotions.php

Posted on March 28, 2017 .

Living Through the Season of Fear: Self Care in Difficult Times

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

- Audrey Lorde

The days are getting shorter and even before the sun sets, the horizon is dim. Darker, wetter, colder, winter is the season of Yin. It is a time for replenishing resources, sleeping more, eating more, and cultivating stillness.

In Chinese philosophy and medicine, winter is the season of complete Yin. Yin refers to everything colder, darker, wetter, slower and more substantial. The associated organs are the Kidneys and Bladder, the colors that characterize the water element are black and dark blue and the emotions are deep inner strength and its opposite, fear.

Winter is a time to check in with our deeper selves. External distractions are at a minimum. The interior landscape calls. The deeper we go the more we can connect with the collective subconscious, the ancestral energy, the endless well of resilience.

Although winter can be a time of solitude and hibernation, we don’t have to do it alone. Our connections with others are extremely valuable in the darkest hours. They keep us true to ourselves. They keep us from getting lost. And our love for and from others is actually able to regulate the nervous system. 

The Autonomic Nervous System

Fear triggers deep instincts in the human nervous system. Fear contracts the body into a sympathetic response, fight or flight mode, where our resources are preserved in the form of mobile energy. Also called “hyperarousal,” or the “acute stress response,” it is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.

In ancient times that was the system that told you to run from the bear. Most of us don’t encounter dangerous predators of the animal world on a day-to-day basis. The threats to our survival come in other forms, from other directions. We have different perceived threats. Still, the body’s response is the same.

If a part of the brain called the amygdala perceives a life-threatening situation, it will contact the hypothalamus which sends out a call through the autonomic nerves to the adrenals to release epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline.

This leads to dilation of the vessels in certain muscles- the ones that poise us to run and fight- while constriction of blood vessels in other parts of the body slows down or stops the digestive process, the immune system and our ability to rest and replenish. A stress hormone cascade affects all of our hormones, dilating the eyes, relaxing the bladder and inhibiting erectile function, narrowing peripheral vision.

Epinephrine and Non-epinephrine, which initiates the balancing parasympathetic response, are produced by the adrenal glands, which live on top of the Kidneys.

The parasympathetic nervous system inspires rest and digestion, and together with the sympathetic makes up the Autonomic Nervous System, which regulates the body’s unconscious actions.

After the alarm bells have sounded, the body has responded and is no longer in perceived danger, the sympathetic nervous system falls back into balance with the parasympathetic, into a “Window of Tolerance” which is a balanced form of arousal that allows us to thrive in the everyday.

Yin and Yang in the Body

This relationship between the sympathetic response and the parasympathetic response illustrates how yin and yang work in the body. When there is a good relationship between the substantial resources (Yin) and functional energy (Yang) then we are in health.

If the body is often in a sympathetic state, it can be hard to bring it back to homeostasis, or into that “Window of Tolerance.” A constantly heightened state then leads to continued production of stress hormones, deduction of digestive function and difficulty with sleep and relaxation. One might feel more agitated, anxious, dissatisfied and frustrated.

Over time this can wear the body down. Burn out can lead to adrenal fatigue and collapse.

So thank goodness for winter and the energetic shifting of the natural world. Our season to rest and repair. To become resilient again. It is a good time of year to take note of the deep resources of the body. Our “Jing,” or essence, which is stored in the Kidneys. By resting enough and eating well, one can rebuild those deep resources. By engaging with community and coming back to a sense of wholeness we can move forward into the fray once again. 

The Importance of Self Care in Difficult Times

To refuse self-care, to ignore the guidelines of nature that requires a season of rest is to risk total burnout. Now, more than ever, it is essential that we not burn out. It will take all of us, lifting each other up, finding safety in community, connecting and pooling together our resources to make it through this difficult time. It is the only way to face fear, to be bigger than the fear, to stay awake and mobile. The alternative is paralysis. The alternative is to give in.

Uncertainty and lack of safety are part of life. For some to a much greater extent than others. For some the worst is yet to come. Which is why it is essential for us to take care of ourselves so we can show up to support those most in need. We must cultivate our inner strength.

The two emotions associated with the water element and winter- deep inner strength and fear- are opposites, in a sense, but sitting with and contemplating fear can lead to great inner strength. But we also must sit with and cultivate joy. It is essential in difficult times to ask oneself, “Where is the joy?”

Now is one of those times when it is necessary to remember joy. We must cultivate the joys of friendship, collaboration, the deep wells of creativity that push us beyond what we thought possible, into an endless pool of possibilities. The formlessness of water is the well from which our creativity springs. I use these water metaphors intentionally. To show you that intrinsically we know all of these human pleasures to be based in our watery oneness. Our deep mysterious origin. The collective sea of our being. Resilience requires the quiet rest of water. The still season of winter.

It is a great challenge to live from a place of love instead of a place of fear. Especially in a time when things are changing quickly, beyond our control, with the threat of taking essential resources away from the people who need them most.

Fear is our animal nature and love is our humanity. Fear causes us to contract, to hoard, to be weary of the “other.” Love brings about opening, reaching out, connecting, drawing from our deepest resources for the good of all. It inspires compassion, resilience, awareness, creativity.

Fear is real. It is appropriate during difficult times, when because of certain ideologies and patriarchies our freedom, our bodies themselves are under threat. All the emotions have their place, but regulating the nervous system so that fear, anxiety and stress do not replace love and compassion is essential.

Self-Care Strategies in the Season of Fear

Connection

We all have a huge impact on each other. Our compassion toward each other matters greatly. Approaching people with loving kindness is an act of rebellion against individualism, capitalism and bigotry. Even just in passing on the street. Especially now.

Feelings of love, safety, belonging and human connection create a hormone reaction that changes our physiology. They release oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding, which is a key influence in maintaining the “Window of Tolerance.” It settles the sympathetic response and brings on the parasympathetic influence. Even thinking about people you love and feelings of love and safety can relax the nervous system. A cultivation could be to spend five minutes a day or longer just thinking about and being grateful for loved ones or feelings of love even from those far away. The gentle gaze or kind words of a stranger can be enough.

Coming together to stand up for what we believe is essential, be it in the streets or over food and drink. Direct action can move mountains. Discussion, planning and strategizing can educate and prepare us. We must be willing to show up for each other now and always. It is how great change occurs. 

Creativity

Because the Kidneys govern our deepest resources and connect us to the great void, the mystery, the collective subconscious, they house the source for our creativity. The water element represents our relationship to the universal muse, the drive and inspiration to create. This is a time to create. This is a time to make beautiful things.

Art is an act of political warfare, after all. Art is not just thinking outside the box, it is deconstructing the box and making it into a rhinoceros. Or a song. Or a love letter to someone far away.

Art is transformation. If we want to transform the negativity, the hate, the small-mindedness, creativity is an essential ally. 

Deep Breathing and Meditation

Deep breathing directly stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s free. You can do it anywhere. It reduces anxiety and stress. Deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to the brain, which increases brain function and can help prevent dementia. For more on this: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131734718/just-breathe-body-has-a-built-in-stress-reliever

Breathing and meditation can be used together to inspire a deep calm. Winter is the quiet season, the dark, still season. It is a perfect time to sit with the breath and let thoughts and feelings recede to the back of the mind. Finding a place of quiet deep in the self can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing the body out of fight or flight. Once you find the still place inside, it is always there in difficult times. For some guided meditations by one of my teachers: http://everydayzen.org/teachings/?sort=date&keyword=guided%20meditation 

Cultivating Joy

Fear often lives in the mind. In theory, the body knows what to do in a dangerous situation, but ruminating on these possibilities can lead to chronic worry, anxiety and depression which then tips the body out of balance.

The body houses so many of our earthly joys. Food, movement, music, sex, visual art, the smell of flowers… It is easy to become stuck in the mind. We use our minds so much our bodies can become neglected. When we are only in our minds we cannot pay attention to the beauty that surrounds us.

Find physical practices like yoga or martial arts that bring awareness to the body. Do meditations that focus on breathing, sounds and bodily sensations. Choose to bring your awareness back into the body whenever possible. Ask yourself, “Where is the Joy?” If you look for it, joy is everywhere.

Even bodies that experience pain and discomfort can be filled with joy. Pain, like fear, is something that can be sat with, examined with curiosity. Pain, like fear, is a necessary part of human life. It can be a teacher.

For people who have chronic pain or have experienced trauma and don’t consider the body a safe place, learning to trust and live in the body again is a process. Acupuncture, bodywork, therapy and meditation can be transformational in healing those wounds.  

Adaptogenic Herbs

“Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” –Angela Davis

“Radix” is Latin for root and the word is present in the Latin names for many adaptogenic Chinese and Western herbs used to nourish the Kidneys and essence. The root of our systems. The deep resources called upon in times of trauma and survival.

Dang Gui- Dang Gui is first and foremost a blood tonic. Blood houses the mind and the emotions. When blood is abundant and flowing smoothly, the body has the resources it needs and the spirit has an adequate place to reside. Dang Gui also tonifies the qi, so the blood has direction, movement and circulation. Dang Gui is always bringing you back home.

Rehmmania or “Di Huang”- Di Huang comes in two forms- “Shu” and “Sheng”- prepared and fresh. The prepared herb is a heavy, sticky blood and yin tonic. It resonates with the kidneys and the water element. Shu Di Huang takes you to the bottom of the ocean. A good herb to assist meditation. Caution: its cloying nature makes it difficult for some to digest. Sheng Di Huang also tonifies blood, but it is fresher and so more moving, clearing heat from the blood that may cause agitation and anxiety.

Ashwaganda is used in the Ayurvedic tradition to moderate the effects of stress in the body. It helps transform past traumas into resilience and facilitates the body’s ability to adapt to short and long-term stressors. Ashwaganda is used to directly combat fear and nourish the body, spirit and mind’s inner strength.

Kava Kava promotes a general sense of well-being and calms anxiety of all kinds.

Other herbs that are helpful in these times are light and uplifting, the leaves and twigs of the plant, while berries resonate with creation, creativity, the seeds of our possibilities.

Schisandra or “Wu Wei Zi” is an astringent, helping the body hold on to its resources. This protects a stressed out system from potential burnout through depletion.

Skullcap is grounding and calming to the mind and nervous system. It helps moderate the physical effects of anxiety as well.

Tulsi is good in times of depression and low energy. It is gently uplifting and opens the perspective when one is unable to see beyond sadness.

Mushrooms have many beneficial properties to the system. The most commonly used medicinal mushroom in most western and Chinese herbal traditions is Reishi or “Ling Zhi.” It calms the spirit while nourishing the blood and qi. This is a wonderful, balanced combination of properties that helps insomnia, forgetfulness, fatigue and listlessness. Ling Zhi builds resilience by helping us deal with and moderate stress. It is also excellent for the immune system, another form of resilience.

Rose or “Mei Gui Hua” is considered a qi regulator in Chinese herbal traditions. It gently moves the qi allowing a new perspective. It also regulates the liver- in charge of stress response and emotional regulation and resonates with the heart for heartbreak, grief and recovering from trauma.

Blending the raw form of these herbs into tea and sipping it throughout the day can cause an overall calming effect. I recommend a consultation with an herbalist and a personalized diagnosis whenever possible. See your local acupuncturist who practices herbal medicine or local western herbalist or herb shop. In Seattle excellent local herb shops are: Sugar Pill, Rainbow Remedies and the Herbalist. In New Orleans check out Maypop Herb Shop. In Asheville Silver Leaf Apothecary and Take Care Herbals. 

Essential Oils

Essential Oils are strong medicine. They are the essence, or “Jing” of the plant and therefore resonate with our own essence. When using essential oils it is important to use them medicinally and therapeutically. If applying to the skin, most essential oils require dilution. Inhalation has a rapid and profound effect on the system.

Bergamot- Brings light into darkness and is good for depression. It is balancing, uplifting and gently warming; helping to resolve emotional conflict, uplifting the mind and balancing mood swings.

Clary Sage is for people who worry about external factors, the future and things that haven’t happened and may never. It helps to see clearly the things we are afraid of. Calming, euphoric and balancing, Clary Sage oil is for excessive or prolonged overstimulation leading to mental, emotional or physical tension and restlessness. 

Siberian Fir grounds the mind into the body and strengthens in states of grief, fear and insecurity. This oil is also beneficial for emotional roller-coasters. Siberian fir can clarify and resolve confusion, apathy and indecision. 

Frankincense uplifts, calms and grounds at the same time. By producing a focused mental composure, Frankincense oil encourages insight and creativity and helps with meditation. It can reduce overstimulation and relieve worry and listlessness and bring about liberation from sadness, and the cultivation of detachment with compassion. Good for meditation, it enhances levels of consciousness for “the mind that can accompany all experiences.”

Geranium helps treat anxiety, insomnia (applied on chest) and mental overwhelm. It is a good oil for someone who is always questioning their own knowing

Rose is considered the “Oil of Humanity” and allows us to be present with liberation and free expression. Rose is about enjoying the blossoming of each moment.

Sandalwood inspires the harmony of mind-body connection. The oil supports centering, inner security and self-assurance. Sandalwood is also used for withdrawal and worry, and for general tension or apprehension.  

Stone Medicine

Stone medicine is also very powerful and to be taken seriously. Stones resonate with the Jing or essence of the earth and therefore the Jing in the body. I am only going to talk about two of my favorite protective stones. Both are black in color, resonating with the winter season and the water element.

For more information look for The Book of Stones by Robert Simmons and Stone Medicine by Leslie J. Franks.

Black Tourmaline is used for psychic protection for anyone living in challenging places or situations. Which is all of us, right now. It protects against electromagnetic radiation and can keep one’s personal energetic sphere clear of destructive or chaotic energies. You can meditate with it or carry it around with you. The stone also clears its holder of negativity and imbalance. It helps purify the energetic field for deeper consciousness.

Shungite contains Fullerenes, a powerful anti-oxidant. It is said to absorb and eliminate health hazards that affect the mind and body. Shungite also protects against electromagnetic radiation and has been proven to purify and revitalize water. For more on Shungite: Shungite: Protection, Healing and Detoxification by Regina Martino

A Note on washing stones: Because many stones remove negative energy, they can collect it. When you first acquire stones, or after using them for a while, it is good to cleanse them. Here are some tips on how to do that: http://healing.about.com/od/crystaltherapy/a/cleargemstones.htm

Welcome to winter. May we and all living things benefit from a period of rest and reflection. Even amidst what can feel like chaos beyond our control.

Posted on December 13, 2016 .

Help your Brain, Memory and Mood: Eat Well. It’s science. And ancient Chinese wisdom.

We have entered late summer, the season of the earth element. Plants that were a bright and vibrant green in spring and a dark, sumptuous green in early summer have turned golden. It is the time of harvest and preparation for winter and yet the days are still long, warm and glorious.

Earth is one of the easiest elements to characterize because so many cultures consider the earth a nurturing, parenting figure. There are many names for the earth spirit and many images and rituals honoring it. Earth is the harmonizer, the balancer, the stabilizing force. It is a good element to call upon in times of transition and uncertainty.

In Chinese medicine, the organs of the earth element are the Spleen and Stomach. (Note: some translate “Spleen” as “Spleen-Pancreas” because this organ system is credited with some of the functions of the pancreas, like metabolizing sugar and digesting foods with enzymes). They are the organs that take in food from the outer world and convert the nutrients into blood, qi and fluids of the body. When the digestive system isn’t functioning well, the very substances of our body are compromised. Instead of turning food into physiological substances, a weak Spleen can create dampness in the forms of weight gain, water retention, Candida (yeast) and other fungal infections, foggy-headedness and depression to name a few.

The Chinese medical view on the physical functions of the Spleen include:

Digestion and Absorption

Building Blood and Qi

Keeping Blood in the Vessels

Ascending Fluids and Preventing Organ Prolapse

Housing the Thoughts/Intellect

The Spleen, along with the Stomach, is responsible for all the earth element’s functions of bonding, nurturing and grounding. They govern boundary setting, decision-making and memory.

The Gut Feeling

Have you noticed that when you are nervous or upset it’s hard to eat? When the nervous system becomes heightened into sympathetic, or “fight or flight” mode, it affects our ability to digest.

There are 500 million neurons in your gut, or the enteric nervous system. That’s five times more than the peripheral nervous system. The “gut feeling” is real. It is your nervous system communicating with you. It is the body putting in its two cents. The mind doesn’t make decisions alone.

An estimated 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the digestive tract. Serotonin affects mood, social behavior, memory, sleep, digestion and even sexual desire and function. Most anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals target the serotonin circuitry (SSRIs).

The cells that produce serotonin in the gut (remember, 90% of it) appear to be dependant on a good, healthy gut bacteria, according to several studies. And gut bacteria is affected by what you eat. Some foods feed the “good” bacteria and some feed the “bad” bacteria and yeast (like Candida). When the bad bacteria outnumber the good -called dysbiosis- and the delicate balance of the GI tract is thrown off, not only are serotonin levels potentially reduced, but it lays the foundation for other disease- and symptom-causing destruction to take place.

But not only that! Many chronic, degenerate and autoimmune diseases are now being linked to compromised gut health. Anything from eczema to arthritis to fibromyalgia to diabetes.

In short: what you eat matters. A lot.

It may be obvious that the state of the mind affects the digestive tract, but the reverse is true as well. The microbiome, aka, all the little bacteria (100 trillion of them) in the gastrointestinal tract have a direct impact on brain function and the immune system. They are responsible for eating up irregular cells and free radicals and protecting the body from foreign invaders. They are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the epithelial cells in the gut lining to prevent leaky gut (food substances entering the bloodstream) and malabsorption (cells not being able to take in the nutrients from food). They also break down food and provide some nutrients like B vitamins.

The main things that cause imbalances in the gut microbiome are:

Antibiotics

Stress

A diet heavy in sugars and carbohydrates

A lack of necessary nutrients and healthy fats

Antibiotics have an important place in our medical system. However they are often overprescribed, and even when necessary, it is very important to take care of the digestive system after taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kills bad bacteria, but they kill good bacteria too, so it is very important to regrow the good kind of bacteria after taking them. I recommend taking probiotics and eating probiotic foods any time antibiotics enter the system. Probiotic foods include:

Sauerkraut (salt-fermented not vinegar-pickled)

Kimchi

Yogurt

Kefir

Kombucha

Miso

Fortunately, these foods are easy to buy or make and taste delicious. They can be added to meals or eaten on their own.

The gut thrives on biodiversity, so the more strains of probiotics you eat and take, the better.

Stress can cause inflammation of the GI tract making the body more susceptible to infection. It shuts down blood flow to the digestive system, affecting the digestive muscles and secretions and can cause constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn.

An excess of sugars and carbohydrates feed the unhealthy bacteria, causing Candida overgrowth, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, and heightened cholesterol and insulin levels.

Proteins, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats are necessary to build strong cells of every kind. The cell wall is comprised of 40% fat. Do not believe the hype that low fat is better for everyone! There are people who need to watch their fat intake, but most of us just need to focus on the healthy fats like olive and coconut oil, avocado, nuts and grass-fed animal fats. Once the gastrointestinal tract is compromise, it’s harder to absorb these necessary nutrients from our food. For more on healthy fats and the role sugar plays in throwing off the balance of the digestive system, see my article here.

Chinese Medicine and the Intellect or “Yi”

So how does all this relate back to Chinese medicine? According to Chinese philosophy, each of the yin organs houses a spirit or "soul" of the body. When that organ is in balance, the soul has a safe place to rest and reside. When that organ is out of balance, the soul may lash out, fall out of balance, or become docile and hidden.

The Spleen houses the “Yi” or the intellect. In essence, the Spleen houses thoughts and is responsible for memory, concentration and mental function.

Some of the mental signs that the Spleen is out of Balance are:

Indecision

Mental exhaustion

Poor memory

Lack of boundaries

Clutter

Cyclical thinking is a common sign of Spleen involvement. Because the earth spins and goes through cycles, cyclical movement and circular thinking are pathologies of the earth element.

Mental taxation is a common cause of Spleen imbalance that befalls students and academics, but fortunately there are herbs, essential oils and formulas for just that.

In Chinese medicine, the connection between gut health and mental health is a known. For thousands of year doctors have designed acupuncture protocols and herbal formulas to treat imbalances that affect the gut-brain connection. It’s nice that western medicine is now on board!

More and more scientific studies are showing the important role digestive health plays in mental health. In an age where so many people are burdened with anxiety, depression, insomnia, ADD/ADHD and Alzheimer’s, it is crucial that we examine the body as a whole entity and regard digestive health with the emphasis and importance it deserves.

 

Resources

More about fermented foods and how to make them:

 www.wildfermentation.com

 

More about gut health:

https://chriskresser.com/gut-health/

http://guthealthproject.com/8-common-health-issues-caused-by-an-unhealthy-gut/

http://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/better-digestion/how-stress-affects-digestion/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

https://www.caltech.edu/news/microbes-help-produce-serotonin-gut-46495

 

A good fall reboot and reset cleanse:

http://heartbeetsholistic.com/cleanseinfo/

Posted on August 29, 2016 .

Spring Winds of Change: Emotional Self Care through the Spring Transition

In my corner of the world everything is blooming. Sleepy browns and subtle greens have been replaced with something vibrant, humming. The air carries a rich cacophony of smells and bird songs. Petals and seedlings whip through the air with every breeze, curling and scuttling along the pavement.

This is the Pacific Northwest, so an attitude change is noticeable too. People are making eye contact with each other, saying hello, discussing the weather, the flowers, anything and everything that creates a connection. We are no longer hibernating within ourselves but reaching our fingers upward to the sun. Reaching out to each other.

From a Chinese philosophical perspective, this is the transition from the quiet, internal depth of the water element to the creative, driven, reaching energy of wood. It can be a slow or rapid transition. Although the leaves take their time unfurling and the buds open on their own schedule, a blast of warm days can accelerate the whole process until you find yourself shedding layers in the sunshine, craving movement over food, running over movies, a strange desire to plant your hands in the earth.

The wood energy is represented in the body through the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems. In balance, these organs manifest as creativity, courage, drive, uprising. The smooth flow of qi through the body makes it feel limber, flexible, ready. Out of balance, wood energy can look like anger, timidity, resistance, insomnia, headaches, muscle strain and sprain, tightness, dizziness, frustration. It is a time of year that reminds us of our abilities and our limitations.

Even in the city where I live, nature is looming, influencing our moods, our activities, our progress through the day. The natural world is procreating and that creative energy is infectious. We may find ourselves swept up in the desire to build, craft, mold, carve, weave, paint, mend and make. We may want to run, bike, swim, leap, cartwheel and dance. But life does not always make room for these new energetics. And the body is not always able to do these things. The frenzied energy of spring has its shadows too. When that creative, impulsive energy is suppressed it stagnates. It becomes Liver Qi Stagnation, Liver Wind Stirring, Liver Yang Rising.

As a clinical acupuncturist and Chinese medical practitioner, I see many symptoms spring up this time of year that are related to the wood energy of the Liver and Gall Bladder:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Leg cramps
  • Itchy, red eyes
  • Digestive problems
  • Menstrual symptoms and more

I also see a lot of psycho-emotional energetics shift and change this time of year. People experience more:

  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Insomnia
  • Mania
  • Panic attacks
  • Body dysphoria
  • Depression

There is an elation and a relief that winter has ended. There are reasons to go out into nature, move the body more, socialize more, get sun on the skin and other activities that inspire good mood. But it can also be a tricky time of year for some, and an illumination of certain emotions that are exacerbated by the wood energy. Think rising, growing, reaching, upward energy, that when it is not grounded, can be alarming and difficult to balance.

It would be nice if everyone could get acupuncture this time of year to smooth and settle the transition. Yet, there are simple self-care steps you can take to help moderate these symptoms and feelings.

 

Exercise: The Importance of Moving Qi in the Channels

There have been a lot of studies about the impact of exercise on mood and they all have the same conclusion: exercise improves mood. It lessens depression and anxiety. Most of us know that when we are physically active, we feel better.

Physical activity means different things to different people and is based on access, ability, time and motivation. Most of us are lacking in at least one of those categories. A lot of my patients come in saying they know they feel better when they’re getting regular exercise, they just don’t do it. I’m guilty of the same thing sometimes.

I start people off easy. 10 minutes of stretching a day. Work it into your morning or bedtime routine. Focus on simple stretches that work the areas of your body that are most stiff, tense, or painful.

Consider walking or riding a bike if you are able to do that instead of driving or taking the bus. If you like to exercise at home, make yourself a playlist of songs you’ll be excited to listen to. Or for simple stretches try http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/7-simple-exercises-busy-people-can-anywhere-anytime.html

Recently a friend introduced me to 15 minute youtube workouts. If you have access to the internet, there are a ton of them aimed at getting your heart rate up and your body supple for the day in just 15 minutes or less.

Here’s one for beginners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GS_z6FG_jqE
Or if you prefer a dance-based workout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTH5saFBDqA

You don’t need fancy equipment or clothes, an expensive gym membership or even very much time to get the qi moving in the channels and relieve the kind of frustration and muscle aches that comes from being still when the body wants to move.

Make sure to respect your body and your abilities and not push yourself beyond what you are capable of. Start where you are.

 

Diet: The Energetics of Food and Mood

The foods that nourish us in the spring are not the same ones that were nourishing to us in the winter. Different fruits and vegetables are in season and they illuminate the various energetics we need to cultivate in the spring. The right foods are often able to balance whatever the spring winds have stirred up.

Most of it is intuitive. If you feel a little manic, flighty, anxious - you can imagine that as an ascending energy (the rising, reaching energy of wood). It is considered a hot energy from a Chinese medical perspective. Grounding and cooling that energy can be helpful, with things like:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Beets
  • Meat
  • Yogurt
  • Dark leafy greens

Also avoiding or reducing hot foods that exacerbate those feelings: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, spicy foods that stir things up. For many people experiencing anxiety, food becomes unappealing and it is easy to go all day without eating. But eating is very grounding and brings you back to your body!

Feelings of depression are common in the spring season. Depression, as the word would imply, is a descending, heavy energy and can be improved with light, uplifting foods:

  • Fresh herbs
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Foods to reduce or avoid are ones that create a heavy or “damp” (as we call it in Chinese medicine) energetic in the body:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Other heavy, sticky starches

Tonifying the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems with food is also a good approach. Here are some foods that resonate with the wood element and should be consumed in the spring:

  • Sesame Seeds (black or white) and Flax Seeds
  • Tarragon, Rosemary, Basil, and Parsley
  • Raspberries, Black berries, Plums, Strawberries, and Lemon/Lime
  • Spinach, Seaweed, Beets, and Parsnips
  • Beef

Preparation styles can change with the season as well. Light cooking - steaming, sautéing, braising and grilling - are ideal forms of spring cooking. Not to mention fermentation! Generally, lightly-cooked and mildly-seasoned, fresh, in-season vegetables complement the energetics of spring.

 

Cultivation:

Perhaps the most important way to care for your mental health in the springtime- or any time- is to come up with a cultivation that works for you. I meditate, but I also do ceramics, garden, hike in the woods and find moments to connect with my breath while waiting to cross the street or just before falling asleep at night.

Consider the time you spend worrying as time that could be spent cultivating. Worry in itself accomplishes very little to change whatever situation is threatening your wellbeing. And it is not an easy process to interrupt. It takes work to change the way the mind functions. But research now shows that through neuroplasticity we are able to change the way our minds work. But it takes practice. It takes cultivation. For some that is meditation, for some it is mantra, for some it is prayer. For some it is in listening to music, carving wood, pounding nails, assembling engines, washing dishes.

I find my mental peace in the smell of the lilacs, the feel of little warm breezes in the hair, the rays of sun against my skin. It’s not likely that cultivating will fix your problems or completely rid your life of stress, pain, anxiety or fear. It won’t pay the bills.  But it can help you ride those waves with grace and connect you to a wider perspective, reminding you of the earthly joys. Some guidelines on mindfulness: http://tulane.edu/health/wellness/upload/MBSR-Workbook.pdf

 

Community: Opening Up to Yourself and the World

Connecting with other humans and animals can inspire a sense of wellbeing. In fact studies have shown that connecting with others reduces stress and blood pressure, is a key to feelings of contentment and even leads to longevity. Be they family or chosen family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, strangers, most of us have frequent encounters with people in our lives. Many of us feel alone when we are under stress and strife, but reaching out to connect with others can remind us that we are not. Doing activities with other people, even making eye contact and saying hello can get you out of your head for a minute and into the world.

 

The Mind and Body

In the Chinese language there is no vocabulary to differentiate between diseases of a physical, mental, emotional or spiritual nature. It is assumed that if something is happening on one level, it is happening throughout. Even in English we have many sayings that indicate the crossover between the physical and mental. “I am shouldering the stress of the family.” “My heart aches.” Pain and illness can originate from any of these places and healing can likewise come from any level. Working on mental health can lessen physical pain. Cultivation can help with digestion and sleep.

The statistics vary, but between 1 in 10 and 1 in 4 American adults are thought to deal with diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives. This article is meant to empower us to do what we can to acknowledge, honor and shift the pain, frustration, stress, worry and mental illness we experience. For many, these tactics are not enough and seeking help is essential. If you cannot boost your mood through exercise, food, cultivation and community, you are not a failure! I encourage the patients who come to see me for mental health issues to see a therapist or find a cultivation teacher, take herbs and supplements and maybe even anti-depressants if needed. It is important to me as a healthcare practitioner to shift the stigma around mental health.

There is a lot we can do to take control of our own wellbeing. Making sure the body (and mind- for they are inseparable) gets what it needs to function at its best, and creating space for self awareness and perspective can greatly improve the quality of life. It’s never the wrong time to find balance and shift your way of being. 

 

Here are more resources on what’s been discussed in this article:

More on fermentation:

http://www.wildfermentation.com/

More on herbal medicine for mental health and self-care:

https://takecareherbals.wordpress.com/

More on food energetics:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5048/Food-Energetics-Traditional-Chinese-Medicines-Best-Kept-Secret.html

More on connection with self and others:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/loving-connection_b_2559654.html

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/connect-others

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/

An important article about grief:

http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/478/the_geography_of_sorrow

 

Book resources:

Food:

The Paleo Cure by Chriss Kresser

The Tao of Healthy Eating by Bob Flaws

Changing Seasons Macrobiotic Cookbook by Aveline Kushi and Wendy Esko

Cultivation:

Anything by Pema Chodron, including: Start Where You Are and The Places That Scare You

Solid Ground: Buddhist Wisdom for Difficult Times

Chinese Medicine:

Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life by Gail Reichstein

 

 

Posted on May 11, 2016 .

Winter Breakfast: How to start each cold, short day with exactly what your body needs

Our bodies need different foods depending on the season and climate in which we live. Here is a little guide to some delicious, nourishing breakfasts good for a cold winter, including recipes. Yet, remember that every person’s body is different. Your own body’s reaction to the foods you eat can tell you more about what’s good for you than any food trend.

For example, after you eat:

  • Do you feel tired?
  • Do you feel bloated, nauseous or have heart burn?
  • Do you feel clear-headed and energetic?
  • Do you still feel hungry after certain foods?

Take these recommendations and experiment to see what works for you in these cold winter months. Use it as an excuse to explore your internal landscape. Winter is the season of introspection, hybernation and self reflection.

We have all heard it said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet so many patients come to me with the admission that they often skip breakfast all together. Many of us do not feel hungry in the morning, we are in a hurry or we begin with coffee or other caffeinated beverages that kill the appetite.

As a result blood sugar drops and the body is forced to use its stored energy instead of producing more energy for the day. If your stores of energy aren’t good to begin with, that’s when you hit the morning or midday slump. You end up feeling sluggish and ready for a nap instead of ready to take on the day.

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach actually raises stomach acid production at the wrong time, which can cause a decrease in stomach acid at the right time, when you need it to digest food. This means even if you are eating enough nutrients, you might not be absorbing them. It also causes food to pass through the system quickly, affecting proper absorption.

While winter is a time for slowing down, it’s still full of responsibilities. So I’ll share with you some ways to keep in tune with winter while staying clear-headed and awake for the short days we have.

Following the Seasons: Eating (and living) in Harmony with the Winter Season

From a Chinese medical perspective, the hours of 7-11am are when the Spleen and Stomach are the strongest and digestion is optimal. So, yes, eating between those hours is very important. It gives us the energy for the day. It sharpens the mind. But not all breakfast is full of the nutrients to fuel a full day and most of the typical “healthy” American food trends tend to err on the side of a sweet/cold/raw breakfast.

This may be the main problem with the American diet overall. Sugary beverages and carbohydrate snacks take the place of nutrient-rich meals, so Americans find themselves overweight and undernourished, full of “empty calories” which means carbohydrates and sugars that provide a quick burst of energy without actually giving the body many nutrients. The body converts sugar and carbohydrates to fat and calories because it is getting too many of those and not getting the proteins, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats it needs. For more on the roll fat and sugar play in the body, see my article Fat Vs. Sugar: How fat has taken the rap for sugar’s mischief.

As an acupuncturist rooted in the traditions of Chinese medicine, I look at the stomach as a cooking pot that is trying to get food into a digestible consistency before its nutrients can be absorbed. The harder the stomach has to work to warm and “cook” food, the more of those nutrients it has to expend and the less get stored to fuel your day.

The Stomach and Spleen are considered the primary producers of qi and blood. The qi of the body is somewhat equivalent to energy and the blood is the body’s circulating nutritive substance, so feeding the Spleen and Stomach what they like and when they like it assures that you will have strong qi and blood, necessary for function and health in everyday life.

Sweet/cold/raw foods take work on the part of the stomach to break down so nutrients can be absorbed. And that’s if they even contain nutrients! Some studies say that raw foods contain more nutrients than cooked foods. This may be accurate, however those studies are seldom able to measure just exactly how much of those nutrients are absorbed by the body. Other sources say even though cooked food contains less nutrients, what is there is more absorbable, so the benefits to the body are greater. Vitamins, minerals and proteins do you no good if they just pass through you!

All of that said, there is no food trend or idea that is healthy, across the board, for all people. Therefore the ultimate, healthy breakfast will vary person to person. And it will vary season to season. On a nice, hot day in spring or summer, a bowl of fruit and yogurt or a smoothie might be perfect for a hungry morning tummy. But in January? When it’s 20 degrees outside? The same rules do not apply! It is natural for our bodies to emulate the rhythms of the natural world. This means we slow down in the winter. The cozy couch with a book is more appealing than the nightlife. A bowl of soup sounds better than a salad. You may put on a few extra pounds in the winter. Sleep more and exercise less. To an extent, that is a healthy, natural pattern. This is our yin season. It is the time to store up resources, rest, heal and rebuild so when spring unfurls its tendrils we are energized and ready for each warm breeze. Our bodies’ needs are different in the winter and so should our diets be.

The Winter Breakfast

I recommend warm, cooked breakfasts in the wintertime. This may feel hard to achieve for the busy person who rushes through the morning to get to work on time. As important as sitting down and taking time to chew, taste and swallow food is, it’s not always possible.

The crock-pot is one helpful tool, a brilliant breakfast cook, preparing anything from oatmeal to congee to stew to yams while you are still dreaming. Indeed, wash a few small to medioum sized yams and throw them in the crock-pot before bed. Set it on low and in the morning you have soft, delicious yams. You don’t have to add water or anything! Just poke a few holes in the skin with a fork so they don’t explode. Add butter or cook an egg or sausage to go with it.

Here are some guidelines and recipes to help make planning and executing a healthy breakfast easier. Of course I believe the ultimate determining factor to what your body considers a healthy breakfast is how you feel after you eat it.

A breakfast that makes you want to go back to sleep is probably not giving your body what it needs for the day.

If you are hungry again an hour after you eat, you may be needing more protein and carbohydrates.

If caffeine wakes you up for about 2-3 hours and then you need more, perhaps waiting an hour or two before you drink it (or not drinking it at all) will inspire your body to take control of its own energy-building. A real, natural energy that doesn’t push you beyond your capacity.

If You’re an Oatmeal Person….

For some, oatmeal is the perfect breakfast food. It is full of protein, fiber and carbohydrates so it can give both immediate and long-lasting energy. And we are talking whole oats, not instant oats here.

For someone with an active job, the carbs in oatmeal might be necessary fuel. Someone with a desk job might feel comatose after a bowl of oatmeal. Let your body decide.

If oatmeal is your chosen morning meal, consider adding nuts, seeds and a little dried fruit for a sweetener. Or mix in some nut butter or yogurt once it’s cooked.

Oat and buckwheat groats are a good protein-rich alternative to quick oats. If your mornings are busy, throw all your ingredients with plenty of water into a crock-pot at night, set it for low and wake up to delicious hot breakfast.

Cinnamon and ginger are excellent winter spices to keep your immune system strong and your blood circulating in the winter months.

Winter Breakfast Recipes:

Congee

In China, congee is a common breakfast food. Congee is a rice porridge that can be sweet or savory depending on what is added. Congee is a staple food in Chinese medicine and can be cooked with Chinese herbs and proteins and eaten by the infirm and the healthy alike.

  1. Combine 1 part rice (or other grain) with 7 parts water in a pot on the stove or in the crock-pot. I advise soaking the rice for 1-4 hours before cooking for maximum digestibility. Rinse the rice and add to the pot.
  2. Either simmer on low, checking frequently, or set the crock-pot to low and leave all day or overnight. You will know the congee is done when the individual grains of rice melt into a porridge. On the stove congee cooks in 4-7 hours.

Savory Chicken Congee
Add to rice and water:

  • Slices of chicken, cooked or raw
  • Chopped carrot
  • Black pepper
  • Fennel

Sweet Breakfast Congee
Add to rice and water:

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 slices of fresh ginger root
  • A handful of Chinese dates or slices of medjool date
  • Small slices of apple

Protein + Vegetables= The Perfect Breakfast (for many!)

Starting the day off with sausages and kale or spinach and an egg, baked tofu slices and collard greens or leftover chicken and Chinese broccoli gives you protein, vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy day. With minimal carbohydrates and sugar, there should be no “crash” after this meal.

Apples and Sausage

A comfort food favorite of mine, we ate this delicious winter meal for dinner when I was growing up, but it makes a perfect breakfast food as well! You can use whatever type of sausage you prefer: chicken, pork or lamb.

  1. Slice sausages into bite-sized pieces. Slice apple.
  2. Preheat oven to 375.
  3. Mix the apples and sausage together in a baking dish with a lid or lay tinfoil across the top. Bake for 25 minutes or until the apples are very tender.
  4. Uncover the dish and let cook another 5-10 minutes until they sausage is golden brown.

The apples melt into a sweet and delicious sauce for the sausages and I find the two foods together are so delicious and complementary they need nothing more.

Squash Pancakes

Squash pancakes have become one of my favorite breakfasts. Fast and simple, full of goodness, you can dress them up any way you like.

Mix well into a bowl:

  • 1-2 coarsely grated summer squash (depending on size).
  • 1 large or 2 small egg(s)
  • A healthy scoop of nut butter (I prefer almond butter)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The ingredients should form a consistent “batter” after mixing. Then:

  1. Heat a skillet on medium on the stovetop. Add 1-2 Tablespoons of coconut or avocado oil
  2. Once the oil is hot, scoop the batter onto the skillet and form pancakes about 3-4 inches in diameter. Let the pancakes cook until the edges look crispy before flipping. The pancakes should be a golden brown, light and fluffy. They may be a little crumbly.

These delicious and simple snacks can be eaten at any time of day. You can wrap one up to take with you on the go or sit down to a whole stack.

I enjoy adding walnuts and kimchi to my batter before I cook it, but you can play around with the recipe, adding anything you like. Onions, grated carrot, garlic, apple slices.

Mung Bean Pancakes

If you haven’t noticed, I recommend simple, fresh, delicious food. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive (of course it certainly can be!) and for those intimidated by the idea of straying from packaged foods, I have tried to include recipes that are forgiving for the new cook.

  1. Soak 1 cup of mung beans in 3 cups of water overnight. You might wake to find the mung beans have absorbed all the water! This is good. It makes the beans more digestible and softens them for the next step.
  2. Rinse the mung beans well. Put them in a blender with a pinch of salt. Add just a quarter cup of water to start. Turn on the blender and observe the consistency. You want the batter to be thick but pourable, like regular pancake batter. Keep slowly adding water until it has reach the proper consistency and then blend on high until the batter is smooth and even.
  3. Heat a skillet on medium and add 1 Tablespoon of coconut or avocado oil (I recommend these oils because they are full of good fat and can cook at a high temperature without burning). Once the oil is heated, pour the batter into pancakes 3 inches in diameter. Let the pancakes cook until the edges are crisp and lifting off the skillet. Flip the pancakes and cook until golden.

These light and chewy pancakes have a distinctly bean-y flavor and are delicious with butter and real maple syrup, yogurt and jam or savory with curry or sated vegetables.

 

Worldly Wisdom on Breakfast

Gallo Pinto is a common breakfast in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, combining rice and beans with a colorful array of vegetables.

In Egypt Ful Medames is made for breakfast by slow cooking fava beans and drizzling them with olive oil, lemon and garlic.

In Uganda it’s green bananas in beef stew.

In the Cundinamarca region of Colombia they eat changua, a milk soup with cheese and scallions.

In Burma, there’s rice vermicelli in fish broth and in Pakistan, spicy potato and chickpea curry.

This gives you an idea of a variety of breakfasts eaten worldwide that are well-cooked and protein rich. And some of these hot, spicy breakfasts are eaten even in hot climates! So perhaps we need to change the way we think about breakfast. How do we want to wake our bodies up? What do we use to fuel our day? And in the winter, how to we honor the season instead of resisting it?

    Posted on February 12, 2016 and filed under Food, Winter.

    Sugar vs. Fat - How Fat has Taken the Rap for Sugar's Mischeif

    There is a strong debate going about the health risks of consuming sugar versus fat. It’s difficult to know what or who to believe. And the information presented to us keeps changing.

    Is sugar causing obesity and diabetes? Is fat responsible for heart disease? Are they both evil, or are they being falsely villianized?

    Of course, like most health-related issues, the answers aren’t simple. Some fats are good for us andsmall amounts of glucose are necessary. In a culture of extremes, we must look for moderation in this heated debate.

    “The diet industry is polarized around simple debates such as fat vs sugar because there are huge amounts of money at stake. Farmers, food manufacturers, lobbyists, scientists and authors of diet books need to defend one or other side.”

    - Dr. Alexander Van Tulleken, MD, The Sugar Blues

    It’s easy to villianize sugar. And there are good reasons to.

    Yet, sugars found in fruits, vegetables and grass-fed dairy products are balanced with dietary fibers and essential nutrients. The consumption of these sugars is not bad, it’s the amount of sugar consumed in the average American diet that is the problem.

    Consider this: it is believed that in 1822 the average American consumed 45g of sugar every 5 days and in 2012 the average American consumed 765g of sugar every 5 days. That’s about 130 pounds of sugar a year. And most people don’t know half the time that they are even eating sugar because it is hidden away in supposedly savory, store-bought foods. Until the government acknowledges the link between the spike in American sugar consumption and serious illness and puts restrictions on the “sugar-marketing” that has become so prevalent, it is up to us to regulate our own sugar intake.

    “Humans weren't designed to eat this much sugar. We used to get sugar once a year when fruit fell from the trees. Even honey was protected by the bees… Now, we eat 140 pounds, roughly, a year, on average. Our bodies simply didn’t evolve to be able to handle that.

    So it hits the liver, the liver says I don't know what to do with all this sugar, so it starts to metabolize it in unusual ways and it gets turned into what are known as low-density lipoprotein particles. And that's the worst kind of cholesterol.”

    –Sanjay Gupta, Chief medical correspondent CNN

    The food industry is not doing us any favors when they add sugar to most packaged and prepared foods: spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, crackers and chips. Even the organic ones. When we eat these foods we don’t think we are getting huge doses of sugar, but we are. Likewise, carbohydrates convert to sugar in the body and many carbohydrate foods like white bread also contain no nutrients. Your body feels full, but actually it is starving because those empty calories do not provide the body with the nutrient resources it needs.

    “If you want to lose weight it will be much easier if you avoid processed foods made with sugar and fat. These foods affect your brain in a completely different way from natural foods and it's hard for anyone to resist eating too much.”

    -Dr. Alexander Van Tulleken, MD

    Fruits and other natural sources of sugar also include nutrients and dietary fibers needed for a healthy system. Added sugars and industrial seed oils (canola, safflower, sunflower, see below for a more complete list) add calories without providing any nutrients, hence the term “empty calories.” These foods make your body feel full, but really it is not getting the nutrients it needs. Enough of an imbalanced diet and the body thinks it’s starving, even as weight is gained.

    On a list of ingredients, sugar may be listed under the following names: sucrose (table sugar), corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup (made in labs to be even sweeter than possible in nature), fruit-juice concentrates, nectars, raw sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, fructose sweeteners, liquid fructose, honey, molasses, anhydrous dextrose, or other words ending in “-ose,” the chemical suffix for sugars. Sadly, even natural and organic foods touted as being healthy contain evaporated cane juice. Which is just sugar with a fancy name.

    All said, there’s good reason to seriously reduce the amount of sugar you consume, even natural sugars.

    Reasons to Avoid Sugar

    1) Sugar consumption has a strong negative impact on the immune system. At a blood sugar level of 120 and above, the body's ability to destroy viruses and bacteria is reduced by up to 75%. As little as 20 grams of sugar has the capacity to compromise immune function for the 4-6 hours following ingestion. Recent studies have shown that long-term daily ingestion of sugar raises the risk of developing cancer by as much as 60%.

    2) Sugar consumption depletes minerals from the body tissues, skeleton, and teeth. Mineral depletion occurs from sugar consumption in several ways. Most obviously, sugar represents "empty" calories in the diet thereby reducing daily nutrient intake. In addition, sugar upsets absorption of nutrients that we do eat by compromising the integrity of our digestive tract. Finally, a high sugar diet promotes inflammation and oxidative stress that out body has to counteract by pulling neutralizing minerals out of our bony stores and teeth.

    3) Sugar consumption leads to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Unless the fructose from sugar consumption is immediately used as fuel, the liver stores it as fat. Fat is transported away from the liver into peripheral fat stores by LDL and VLDL (types of cholesterol), raising the risk for cardiovascular disease. Oxidative stress from high blood-glucose compounds this problem by creating inflammation along the walls of the arteries.

    4) Sugar is addictive. Sugar consumption stimulates the "reward" centers of the brain by initiating a surge of dopamine release. This effect is also seen with the ingestion of cocaine, opiates, alcohol, amphetamine, and nicotine. In addition, sugar promotes the release of endorphins, which create a sense of euphoria and increase the likelihood of addiction.

    5) Sugar causes depression. Because the brain relies on a stable supply of glucose for normal functioning, rapidly rising and falling blood glucose significantly undermine its functioning. Depression, anxiety, aggression, and fatigue are all side effects of sugar consumption because the brain struggles to adapt to the highs and lows in blood sugar provoked by rapid absorption of glucose from the gut.

    6) Sugar consumption leads to insulin resistance and can pave the way for gestational or type 2 diabetes. The accumulation of fat in the liver following excess sugar consumption is a trigger for the body to begin "ignoring" insulin, the hormone that drives sugar into our cells. As insulin resistance worsens over time, type 2 diabetes develops. Complications of diabetes are systemic and can include cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, poor wound healing, and neuropathy.

    7) Sugar strongly interferes with digestive health by favoring the growth of intestinal yeast and slowing the passage of food through the intestine. Overgrowth of yeast leads to permeability of the gut wall and undigested proteins can "leak" into the blood stream. The immune system reacts to foreign protein in the blood, leading to food allergies and setting the stage for auto-immune diseases.

    8) Sugar consumption by children is associated with learning disabilities, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, allergies, obesity, tooth decay and eczema.

    9) Sugar consumption during pregnancy can lead to gestational diabetes, toxemia, and premature labor. Children born to mothers who consumed high sugar diets during pregnancy are more likely to be obese and struggle with insulin resistance and diabetes during their life.

    Because of its strongly addictive quality, sugar represents an increasingly prevalent portion of the American diet. Although sugar consumption has become mainstream, it is important to remember that sugar is a highly processed plant derivative that is challenging for the body to process on a daily basis.

    Sugar consumption taxes every system in the body including the digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular system, and skeletal system. Diets that are high in sugar have been associated with high rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, allergies, attention deficit disorder, depression, and cancer.

    For more info on sugar and what it does in the body: http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2013/06/17/everything-you-need-to-know-about-sugar/

    The Good and the Bad

    “Next to sugar, there is not a worse food to put in your mouth than vegetable oils. They look suspiciously similar to sugar because these oils are highly processed and highly refined. They are very unstable (think: create free-radicals), they turn into trans-fats, and when you consume these oils, they increase inflammation in your body.”

    –Dr. Scott Olson, ND.

    The difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats is extreme. Fat is essential to the body for several reasons. It stores energy. It insulates us. But most importantly, our cell membranes are made of phospholipids, glycolipids, and cholesterol.

    The cell membrane is what protects the cell from its surroundings and decides what enters the cell and what doesn’t via selective permeability. Phospholipids are the largest component in the cell wall and they are essentially made up of saturated and unsaturated fats. Lipids allow for nutrient exchange. Cell health affects everything: brain function, heart health, joint mobility, to name a few. Simply put: eating good fat ensures that the cell membrane has integrity and is protected.

    Furthermore the good fats in our diet are not the ones that make us overweight. Eating bad fat compromises all the cells of the body. Bad fat is what affects cholesterol levels, creates fat storage and clogs up the liver. And by “bad fat” I don’t mean saturated fat. I mean processed, human-made fat. Fat that offers the body nothing and replaces important building blocks with poor, unstable substitutes.

    “’Bad’ fats, such as trans fats, are guilty of the unhealthy things all fats have been blamed for—weight gain, clogged arteries, and so forth. But good fats such as omega-3s have the opposite effect. In fact, healthy fats play a huge role in helping you manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.”

    - Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal Ph.D.

     

    Good Fats

    Monounsaturated Fats

    • Avocados and Avocado Oil
    • Olives and Olive Oil
    • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
    • Natural nut butter (containing just nuts and salt)

    Polyunsaturated Fats

    • Walnuts
    • Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
    • Flaxseed and Flax Seed oil (keep refrigerated)
    • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
    • Non-GMO soymilk and tofu

    Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    • Salmon (especially wild-caught king and sockeye)
    • Herring
    • Mackerel
    • Anchovies
    • Oysters
    • Sardines
    • Pole and line-caught tuna
    • Lake trout
    • Algae such as seaweed (high in EPA and DHA)
    • Fish oil or algae supplements
    • Walnuts
    • Flaxseed
    • Brussels Sprouts
    • Kale
    • Spinach
    • Parsley

    Other Good Sources of Fat

    • Grass-fed beef, bison and pork
    • Grass-fed dairy (for those who tolerate dairy)
    • Free-range chicken
    • Free-range chicken eggs

    The Importance of Grass-fed Meat

    Grass-fed beef has up to five times more Omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. It has two to five times as much CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid)- oddly enough one of the number one weight loss supplements in the world and associated with lowering cancer risk. When they do studies that say red meat can cause cancer and is unhealthy for the heart, they are talking about corn-fed, factory-farmed red meat, not grass fed red meat. It’s a whole different animal.

    Grass fed animals live under humane conditions and have less of an impact on the environment, unlike factory farming, known to be as bad for the environment as driving. The close-quarters of factory-farmed cows require the use of antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease. Those antibiotics are then transferred to our bodies when we eat the meat, affecting the delicate balance of our gut microbia. Growth hormone is used in factory farming to increase the size of the animals before they are slaughtered. This also transfers to the human body upon consumption.

    It’s no wonder red meat has gotten a bad reputation! If studies are done using meat from animals that live in their own feces, are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, often never see the sunlight, can’t move they are packed in so tight and die in terror, it is no surprise to me that the results reflect negatively on the consumption of red meat.

    And sadly, the only reason corn-fed, factory farmed meat is cheaper is that the government subsidizes corn, saving feedlot farmers billions a year and doing nothing for the environmentally aware, humane grass-fed meat farms.

    For more on this issue: http://foodrevolution.org/blog/the-truth-about-grassfed-beef/

    Bad Fats

    Artificial trans fats are really what you are looking to avoid. Anything with a shelf life. As in: most packaged foods. Human-made vegetable oils are fats that have been deformed during a process called “hydrogenation.” Vegetable oil is combined with hydrogen gas to create oil that will not spoil if it sits around on a grocery store shelf for 8 months. These partially hydrogenated oils (you may have heard that term before!) increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by raising the bad cholesterol, LDL, lowering the good cholesterol, HDL and creating inflammation in the body.

    These fats can be found in:

    • Packaged snack foods
    • Margarine and processed vegetable oils: Safflower, Sunflower, Canola, Palm Kernel, Corn, Soybean, Cottonseed, Peanut, Grapeseed
    • Commercially produced cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, and breads
    • All “partially hydrogenated” oils

    For more on how to eliminate bad fats and incorporate good fats into your diet, see this informative article: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-fats.htm

     

    After Note:

    Allow me a small tirade. Health should not be a trend. Access to healthy food should not be a luxury or a privilege. But it is. Most food as it originates in nature is healthy. It is through genetic modification, forced crop growth and harvest and processing that food becomes unhealthy.

    What we are offered in boxes, bags and cans at the store has traveled so far and gone through so many steps to get to us. More often than not each of those steps detracts from its benefits to our body.

    The simpler, the fresher and the less processed food is, the better it is for the body. Plants and humans evolved together, after all.

    It is a major problem that the food industries responsible for a majority of our health problems are subsidized and supported by our government. It is a problem that small, organic farms struggle, and that simple food costs more money than processed food. Because our health affects every other thing in our lives, because the health of the American people is a current crisis, I cannot help but think we need a food revolution.

    Healthy food should be a basic human right.

    Posted on February 11, 2016 and filed under Nutrition.

    Thriving through Seasonal Transition: Summer to Fall

    The nights have become colder and if one is caught after dark without a coat, the chilly wind prevails. Collars are lifted, sweaters are wrapped tight. The cough drops are sold out at the local health food store. Thicker blankets are hauled out of the closet.

    The heat is yet to be turned on in my drafty, old apartment building, but the nights are dropping down to the low fifties. And still, the high arc of the sun brings warmth to our backs, creates the illusion of an Indian summer. When the wind picks up there is the skittering sound of dried leaves.

    I would recommend that when the weather turns you go home and make chicken soup with onions. Or stewed pears.

    Nibble on some daikon radish. Wrap a scarf cozy around your neck. Get knitted hats and gloves out of the closet. Sip on ginger tea with honey. Because who wants to be one of the people at the co-op fighting over the last five dollar bag of cough drops just to get you through the day? Who wants to end the glory of summer with a cold?

    Fall Energetics

    Chinese Medical theory explains how harmonizing our habits with the seasonal transitions can help us enjoy a healthy, contented autumn and winter.

    With the weather changes comes an adjustment time for the body. The outward energetic becomes inward. The skin that celebrated sunshine must now protect from wind and cold. It takes the body a moment to understand that everything has changed. In that time we are vulnerable to “the wind that carries a thousand diseases.”

    This is the concept in Chinese medicine that wind has the power to bring illness into the body if the body is not protected. A “cold” in Chinese medical vocabulary is called a wind cold. The most susceptible places on the body to wind cold- the neck and the upper back- are the same places that love to catch a last ray of summer sunshine.

    The good news is that we evolved on this planet alongside many of the natural cures to keep us healthy. The foods that are abundant in the fall seasons-

    • root vegetables
    • squash
    • members of the alum family (garlic and onions)
    • pears and apples
    • nuts and seeds
    • pungent herbs and spices

    These are the things that can keep us healthy through the seasonal transition. In the summer we tend to crave cold foods and beverages. These are fine when the temperatures around and inside us are high, but as the shift into cooler, shorter days comes upon us, it is important to also shift our eating habits.

    Too many cold, raw foods in the fall and winter seasons build up dampness and mucus in the system. We are given a list of “healthy” foods and eating habits by food trend culture that does not seem to take into account our location, season, body constitutional type, or our current health problems and illnesses. There is no one healthy way of eating that fits all people through all seasons. The natural world knows this, and so do our bodies, if we choose to listen to them.

    The Season of Metal

    In Chinese medicine and philosophy, the Fall season is associated with the metal element and the organ systems of the Lungs and the Colon. These are a yin yang organ pair that share some fundamental energetics.

    The Lungs are responsible for drawing in pure air, exhaling impurities and descending and disseminating the pure qi that has its origin in the inhalation throughout the body.

    Disorders of the Lung include any breathing disorders, allergies, immune deficiencies, autoimmune disease, and skin problems, as well as emotional issues of inappropriate grief and boundary setting. The Lungs are known in Chinese Medicine as the organ that loathes cold and dryness.

    A happy Lung is a warm, moist Lung, flexible enough to expand, deflate, and circulate qi. Foods that benefit the Lungs tend to have warm and moistening energetics.

    Preparing for the seasonal change from summer to fall can help you avoid the common cold or flu, and if you live in a place that becomes cold, dark and gray in the fall, it can also help combat the emotional impact of seasonal affective disorder or mild depression.

    Transitioning one’s social activities from beach time, bar-b-ques and sports to dinner parties, craft nights and fall hikes with a thermos of tea can prevent a feeling of isolation.

    The Colon, or Large Intestine, is responsible for appropriate letting go, in every sense of the term.

    Any intestinal disorders including diarrhea, constipation, leaky gut, inflammatory bowel disease, hemorrhoids, and fatigue are in the realm of the Colon. Even issues of emotional letting go- living in the past, holding on to relationships and ideas that are no longer healthy- can be related to a Large Intestine imbalance.

    Many people experience these Lung and Large Intestine symptoms more intensely in the fall season. Paying attention to your body and eating the foods that grow abundantly through the fall season in your climate can reduce these symptoms.

    In the summer I live on fruit and cold salads, grilled meat and fish, and I hardly think about food.

    I know the season is transitioning into fall without even checking the temperature, because suddenly I crave soup and lasagna, baked squash and steamed leafy greens. The burners are going, the cookbooks are out and full of bookmarks, the grocery bags are full, there’s bone broth with scallions and ginger for breakfast and root vegetable bake for dinner. It is a cozy time for warm, cooked food and quiet activities, gatherings around a fire or over a steaming pot.

    Ten Food-Based Medicinals to Promote Autumn Health

    1. Bone Broth If you haven’t been turned on to this simple, super nutrient-rich food, now is your time to get familiar. Full of protein, minerals and amino acids, bone broth has been shown to improve digestion, immunity, joint strength, sleep, energy and even enriches the collagen in your skin. I recommend using grass fed animal bones (chose your favorite) because they have more nutrient density than conventionally raised meats and are raised without antibiotics and hormones. The good news is that you can use the bones multiple times, to make literally gallons of bone broth (recipe to follow).

    2. Ginger In the world of Chinese medicinals, ginger is essential to treating a wind-cold attack. Ginger releases the exterior, where wind attacks first begin, flushing out the pathogen before it reaches the interior of the body. It warms and settles the stomach for ease in digestion, it transforms phlegm and mucus and resolves toxicities in the body. Ginger is also considered analgesic, antibacterial, anti-infammatory, antiparasitic and hepatoprotective (prevents damage to the liver) to name a few of its benefits. Boil it for 10-15 minutes in water for tea, throw it into soup stock, grate it into stir-frys and sauces. Ginger is considered a longevity root.

    3. Onions/Garlic/Scallions The alum family has much to contribute in the way of warding off cold and protecting the body’s immune system. Alums have a place in every medicinal tradition. From a Chinese Medical perspective, they release the exterior and induce sweating (to push pathogens out) and clear nasal congestion. They boost the immune system and protect the heart. Not everyone tolerates Alums. Notice if you have a digestive reaction.

    4. Daikon Radish Daikon has the pungent flavor and white color associated with the metal element and the Lung and Colon. It is known to address food stagnation and ease breathing by clearing phlegm from the Lungs.

    5. Miso A Chinese medicinal formula to treat the early onset of a wind-cold from the 3rd century medicinal handbook Emergency Formulas to Keep Up One’s Sleeve is simply made from fermented soybeans and the whites of scallions. If you’ve been underdressed in a windstorm, stressed, or hanging out with a sick person, a steaming bowl of miso soup with scallions could keep you healthy. Miso is full of probiotics that boost the immune system living in your intestines.

    Delicious miso soup with vegetables.

    Delicious miso soup with vegetables.

    6. Honey nourishes the lung and resolves phlegm. It moistens the throat and helps resolve cough.

    7. Pears stewed pears are also considered moistening to the throat and Lungs.

    8. Peppermint and Eucalyptus Essential Oil Both of these essential oils are known to protect the body from wind invasions. They can be sniffed right out of the bottle daily, before or after being around sick people, or when flying on an airplane to prevent illness. One-three drops can be added to a cup of boiling water and the steam can be inhaled, or the oils can be added to salts in a bath.

    9. Cinnamon Another super herb of the Chinese Medical world, cinnamon has a long list of benefits including boosting the protective qi of the body, warming the channels and dispersing cold for aches and pains associated with cold. It is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective.

    10. Vitamin D Research is showing that Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system. Most research suggests that the best way to get Vitamin D is from limited sun exposure: 15 minutes-2 hours a day depending on your skin pigmentation and location. For times when sun is scarce and bare skin may be even more scarce, 4000-6000IUs of Vitamin D drops can help boost the immune system and the mood, something many of us need in the colder, darker months. If you suspect you may be low in Vitamin D, consult your naturopath or doctor.

    Recipes

    Bone Broth

    A highly nourishing, protein and mineral rich food, excellent for intestinal health and rebuilding of the gut lining. A great item to have in the fridge and freezer for easy reheating. You can sip on the broth by itself or add veggies (and meat) to make a quick soup. You can use the broth instead of water for steaming and boiling other foods (adds great flavor and nutrient value). Soup bones can be purchased from most butcheries and grocery stores. The joints and marrow-bones are best, where the bone has been cut so you have access to the inside of the bone.

    Any bones will work. Suggestions are: buffalo, beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork. You can crack poultry bones with a hammer before boiling to get to the marrow. A left over chicken or turkey carcass is perfect.

    1. Put bones and joints (they can contain meat as well) into a large pot or slow cooker. Fill with water and add salt to taste.
    2. Cook covered on low for 3-24 hours. The longer you cook the bones, the more they will yield. Adding a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the water and soaking the bones for 30 minutes before turning on the heat will help extract minerals. Add peppercorns to the broth if you wish.
    3. Keep adding water as it boils down to get the most out of your bones and use them several times each!

    Root Vegetable Bake

    A simple and delicious way to cook any of the abundant fall root vegetables now showing up farmers markets and grocery stores.

    1. Pick your favorite root vegetables in an array of colors and flavors. Peel and chop into 1-inch cubes. Add chopped onion and whole garlic cloves. Add chopped rosemary, parsley, oregano, thyme or any other herb you like.
    2. Toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat all the root cubes. Salt and pepper to taste.
    3. Bake on 350, first covered to allow the roots to cook in their own juices and then uncover to brown the last 10 minutes.  Roots typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes to become soft.

    What's Your Favorite Fall Comfort?

    Comment below with your favorite fall foods, vegetables, or self-care that helps you transition into the shorter autumn days and cooler autumn nights.

    Looking for help? Whether it be the tingle of a cold coming on or help thriving in this new season, schedule an appointment »

     

    Posted on October 14, 2015 .