Asian medicine grew out of many traditions that correlate health with living in tune with nature. It is by living in harmony with nature that we learn to flow with life’s changes and adapt to our current life circumstances.
Spring is a time of vibrancy in nature. The trees wake up as the amount of daylight increases and the earth warms up. It is a time of growth and expansion after the quiet and restfulness of Winter. In Winter, we take the time to see what ‘seeds’ we want to plant for the next year, and Spring is the time to take action by planting those ‘seeds.’ Spring correlates with youthfulness and new beginnings. It is the best time of year to make decisions, and to initiate changes and new projects.
Spring is associated with the element of Wood and the two energetic pathways or meridians that travel directly to the Liver and Gallbladder. Although these meridians are named after the two organs they serve, they are a part of a larger energetic system and have many attributes and correlates. For example, disruptions in the function of the Liver and Gallbladder energetic systems can result in problems such as depression, headaches, eye problems, and digestive disturbances and difficulties in movement due to joint problems. Imbalances of the Liver and Gallbladder meridians are also related to poor planning, decision making, and vision for one’s future, which can result in frustration and irritability, and anger.
Suggestions for having a meaningful spring:
- Start a garden or window box and watch your plants grow and flourish. Contemplate the process of the seedling sprouting, growing, giving, pulling back and transforming. Or, visit a greenhouse!
- Just as you would spring-clean your home, adjust your diet to include foods that cleanse the Liver and Gallbladder, such as spring onions, lettuce, lemons, limes, and dandelion and other greens.
- Get outside and exercise. Movement activates the liver and gallbladder organ systems, lifts the mood, and strengthens the muscles and tendons which stabilize the joints. Stretching and walking are excellent forms of exercise and are a great way to celebrate warmer weather.
- Look at areas in your life where you express irritation and frustration. What is this telling you? Try planting seeds of patience!
In Classical Chinese Medicine, one can improve his/her health by living in harmony with the seasons. Summer is a time of warmth and growth on all levels of the body/mind/spirit. Just like the crops in the fields, people are also at their peak of activity- social gatherings abound! It is a time to start reaping the fruits of our labors. The ‘seeds’ we chose to cultivate in Winter, and then planted in Spring, are now maturing and reaching their highest peak.
Summer is related to the element of Fire and to the Heart and Small Intestine meridians. While the Heart is related to the physical heart, as well as, joy and communication, the Small Intestine is related to listening, mental clarity, and sorting what is nourishing from that which is not. Although not recognized in the predominant paradigm in Western medicine, the Heart Protector and Triple Heater Meridians are also connected with the Summer season. The Heart Protector is responsible for the circulation of blood and protects one on all levels of the body/mind/spirit. It is responsible for setting healthy boundaries and is thrown out of balance with any betrayals of trust (such as physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse). The Triple Heater is important in helping with the regulation of body temperature between the upper, middle, and lower portions of the torso. It also deals with relationships in society. A balanced Fire element allows for a healthy heart and circulatory system, emotional warmth and good communication.
Suggestions for having a meaningful and healthy summer
- Eat lots of fresh, sun-ripened produce from your garden or buy from the farmers at the farmers’ market to give them your support.
- Give gratitude for all that you have rather than focusing on what you need to have and do. Reflect on what makes you smile.
- Practice generosity during this time of abundance. Gifts do not require money. Heart- to – heart giving can involve making dinner for someone, creating a tape of your favorite songs, weeding a friend’s garden, or babysitting their children.
- Give yourself some solitude and free time to take a nap, read a good book, walk in the woods, listen to a favorite CD, or watch the flowers grow.
- Go out dancing!!! Or fishing!!!
In Asian medicine, there are actually five seasons, the fifth being Late Summer. While Summer is the time of growth, Late Summer is the time of ripening and harvest. If all has gone well, it is a time of abundance and gathering. Late Summer occurs roughly between mid-August and the first frost. This time of year relates to the Earth element and the Spleen and Stomach organ systems. Thus, the focus of Earth and Late Summer is about taking in and assimilating nourishment on all levels of life including our minds and our spirits. It is about knowing how to really care for ourselves and others. Problems associated with malfunctioning Spleen and Stomach meridians can include digestive problems, eating disorders, lethargy, excessive bruising, organ prolapse, weak muscles, candida, excessive thinking, and inability to give and receive nurturing.
Suggestions for having a meaningful late summer
- Notice how you feel about home: Where do you feel at home? Are you good at making yourself at home? Think of what you can do to bring a greater quality of peace, joy and contentment to the place where you live.
- Find a new way to take care of yourself: Allow yourself to know what would be healing for you-then make it happen. Knowing how to nurture yourself is essential to your health.
- Notice when you are hungry and what you are hungry for. Sometimes hunger is not for food, but speaks of an emotional or spiritual emptiness. If you feel such emptiness, identify that and seek the appropriate ‘food.’
- Eat without hurry in a calm atmosphere, and while sitting at a table. Chew your food well. Remember the saying ‘eat your liquids and drink your food.’ Listen to light, enjoyable music if you like but avoid reading while you eat.
- Be physically active: exercise relieves stagnation, regulates weight, and gives good tone to muscles and flesh. It also helps free you from excessive thought and worry, easing nervous tension.
- Be grateful for all you have. Remind yourself of this each night before you go to sleep. Find ways to share yourself and your gifts with others. Like nature, be bountiful!!
Late Summer is all about harvest, including what we have harvested in our personal lives. It is about enjoying the harvest and being generous to others. Moving into Autumn, we now take the time to reflect on the past year and contemplate, metaphorically, those ‘seeds’ we planted in our lives that have done well and those which have not. It is a time to appreciate one’s past decisions and activities that have been fruitful. We can also learn to appreciate the more challenging aspects of our past. Ultimately, we realize that we learn and grow from all aspects of our lives, regardless of whether they have fulfilled our goals, dreams, and wishes. When things need to change, we learn to not be so reactive and instead, to move into action for positive change. We learn to how to take appropriate action. In Autumn, we should be able to savor the sweetness of life and be thankful for what we have received and accomplished. It is truly a time of gratitude.
In Asian medicine, Autumn is related to the Metal element, and to the Lung and Colon meridians. The Metal element is also related to the heavens and our spiritual connections, as well as all the wonderful mineral and gemstones in our Earth. Metal is related to knowing what is essential in life. Both the lungs and the colon take in nourishing substances and let go of waste and what is harmful.
Conditions related to Metal imbalances might include a predisposition to various respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, or sinusitis. Other problems may include IBS, constipation, or issues concerning the skin, as the skin is considered the third lung in Asian medicine. Since grief is the emotion associated with the Metal meridian, inability to let go of old traumas is often found. The key virtue for Metal imbalances is to know when to let go! The key phrase for Autumn could be ‘discover what matters most and live it.’
Suggestions for honoring the autumn season
- Like the deciduous trees, practice letting go. Ask your self what possessions you have that you no longer need and gently let them go. Find them another home where they can be useful to someone else.
- Prune back your activities as we head towards the quiet of winter. Stop doing what no longer nourishes the soul. Create some empty space in which, in time, something new can grow.
- Breathe deeply, taking in the pure chi from Heaven. Try this exercise: take a breath, inhaling as deeply as you can, then try to pull in a little more air and hold it. Hold it until the lungs involuntarily release the breath and let all the air out, then push even more air out. Repeat this exercise three times. Notice how it feels to be full, and then how it feels to be empty. This joy is always available. It is a gift of Autumn, the element that rules the lungs!!
- Each evening, reflect on at least one wonderful thing in your life today. It may be watching a falling leaf, experiencing a kindness, or listening to the song of a bird. Write a few words about one of these experiences to deepen your awareness and gratitude.
- We all have habitual perceptions, fears, moods and memories that do not serve us well. When one visits, smile at it and let it go on its way. You can let it be, exactly as it is, but not allow it to take over your consciousness. It can simply ‘sit on the sidelines.’
Winter is related to the Water element. We have experienced the expansion and vitality of spring, the growth and joy of Summer, the bounty and generosity of Late Summer, and the reflection and letting go of Autumn. It is a time to go within and generate and store energy for the coming year. It should be a time of ample rest and quiet. Like the trees and animals, we need this time of quiet to build our reserves and reflect on our lives. In Winter, we can choose what ‘seeds’ we want to plant for the coming year.
Winter is a time of rest and rejuvenation. It is odd that our culture puts many social demands on us over the holidays. We are asked to be joyous, active, outgoing and gregarious. Yet, nature is saying we should be quiet and warm, sitting by the fire with friends, sipping tea and eating warm yummy foods. No wonder we get so stressed out over the holidays!!
Winter is related to the Water element and to the Kidney and Bladder meridians. The Water element is associated with one’s ability to handle cold weather and the emotion of fear. Besides regulating the kidneys, the Kidney meridian is related to the bones and the teeth, hearing problems, growth, maturity, and aging in general. The Bladder meridian controls the urinary bladder as well as the spine and the autonomic nervous system.
Suggestions for having a meaningful and healthy winter
- Take time to be still and reflective. Use the quiet time for inner work that will build your reserves for the next year.
- Keep warm – don’t allow yourself to get cold to the bone.
- Eat warming foods, including root vegetables, as well as, stews, beans, squash and whole grains.
- Get more rest. Follow the winter sun-go to bed earlier and rise later.
- Seek inner warmth through spending time with close friends, perhaps sitting by a fire, and drinking warm fluids.
- Dream. Use winter to let ideas and plans germinate. Wait until spring to begin new projects.
- Spend time beside various bodies of water (oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, and waterfalls). Notice the different qualities of water-its flow, force, and stillness. How is the water different at various times of day, in different seasons and weather conditions? As you grow in your awareness of and sensitivity to water in its natural forms, you will automatically and naturally grow in your awareness of the Water Phase within yourself.