Seasonal Health and Your Environment

Caring For The Environment

Tao quote: The Tao does nothing, but leaves nothing undone. If man could observe it, all creations would be transformed by themselves. Lao Tzu Tao Te Cheng quotes (37)

What is the meaning behind this quote? Can we heal the planet by doing nothing? I hope to come back to this quote at the end of my talk to share how it might hold some wisdom on caring for the environment.

What does Traditional Chinese Medicine have to do with caring for the environment? Chinese medical theory stems from philosophical teachings of the Nei jing, an important classic of Taoism. The foundational premise of Chinese Medicine comes from the notion that we need to live in accordance with the rhythms of the universe. Humanity at large remains in good health when they live in balance with nature.

The Chinese didn’t dissect the body. They looked to the environment to find clues as to how the body works. The first principle of Chinese Medicine that I will explain is Five Elements Theory. Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood.

Antigonish Acupuncture - Caring for the Enironment

We have a birthing cycle (arrows on outer circle) and a controlling cycle (arrows on the inside of the circle). Each element or organ system is in a constant dynamic relationship with all the other elements. These elements correspond to a direction, a season, a climate, a colour, a taste, a smell, a time of day, an emotion and an organ system. For example fire and water interact in nature, heart and kidney interact in the body. If there is not enough water than fire gets too hot. If there is too much fire than water will dry up. The same balance needs to be maintained between our heart and kidney. Lets translate this into diagnostic strategies in the clinic. Say a man walks into my clinic. Initially I notice his complexion is pale, he has a dry cough, and his demeanour is somber. After a full intake he tells me he has asthma, it is worse in the fall, he suffers from constipation and he has worsened after losing his father 6 months ago. Now lets go back to our 5 element theory and look at the element of Metal. The colour of Metal is white, the season is fall, the emotion is grief, the organ system is lung and large intestine. All these signs together tell me this man has an imbalance in metal.

The question is always how does man live in accordance with this natural cycle? A good start is to adhere to the seasons, the climate, the time of day, the tastes. For example right now the season is fall, the climate is getting cooler, days are getting shorter. Our energy or Qi is beginning to shift inward. In summer our Qi is expansive and moves in an outward direction. In fall our Qi begins to turn inward and slow down. So if we listen carefully our bodies want to naturally follow the rhythms of nature. Our body wants to retire a little earlier, dress a bit warmer, maybe eat more warming vegetables like squash or sweet potatoes (the colours of fall!). To contrast, this is not the time to indulge in cold foods like we can in the hot summer.

Another principle of Chinese Medicine is of course Yin/Yang Theory. Two opposites that mutually control, support and transform into each other. Yin/Yang theory explains patterns, relationships and change, or how things FUNCTION. They explain the continuous process of natural change. Yin/Yang is dynamic, ever changing, like the natural world. Again, in clinic I must determine is the condition Yin or Yang? Internal or External? Cold or Hot? Deficient or Excess? And my treatment plan must seek to return the body to a more balanced state of this natural law.

Antigonish Acupuncture - Caring for the Enironment

Lets move from diagnostic strategies to treatment plans. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are
becoming increasing accepted here in the west, and they are the main methods I use in clinic. Another method that a Chinese physician would prescribe is Qi Gong. Qi Gong is a major part of Chinese Medicine. Along with dietary changes the physician would give you Qi Gong exercises to do for healing. If diet and/or Qi Gong didn’t improve the patients condition than the physician would prescribe acupuncture or herbal medicine.

In 2009 I was fortunate enough to meet Master Li Jung Feng. It was then I began my training in Sheng Zhen Gong. Although this Qi Gong was similar in many way to what I had learned in my medical training, it also had some significant differences. Like all Qi Gong it is a self healing technique that increases energy flow. Master Li opened my eyes to a wider perspective. Sheng Zhen Gong is not only a technique, it is a profound message. A message that the world needs now more than ever. The message is we have forgotten our natural state. We are no longer in touch with the truth of who we are. We are out of sync with the rhythms of natural world. Nowadays no one feels satisfied. Our mind are perpetually busy, we spend our time trying to get this or that from the world. We are all full of stress and worry. This constant state of feeling we need something from the world has created a world that is suffering from our incessant need to “take” or “get”.

Through the practice of Sheng Zhen you are able to return to your natural state. Master Li often will say, open the heart and merge with the universe. Through the meditative movements the person is able to set aside their worries, needs, and busy minds. Our minds are so busy trying to get us what we want that we have never stopped to consider is what we want important? or more importantly, is what we want good for us? When you learn to quiet the mind, you learn to listen to the heart. What do our hearts really want? Opening the heart and merging with the universe is returning to our natural state. Our natural state is an intimate relationship with nature. The result of being “out of touch” with our environment has lead us down a path of destruction, not realizing we are also destroying ourselves. How do we get back? Sheng Zhen offers a way back….we rekindle our relationship with nature by quieting the mind so that we can reconnect with nature. So we can “return to oneness” with nature. To refer back to Chinese medical theory, it is the perspective of medical scholars that you are a microcosm of the universe. You are not only a part of nature, but you embody nature. Master Li’s vision is that when you return to your natural state and merge with the universe you empty yourself of all
differences. It is when we recognize our deeper commonalities that we can began to work together for the good of all. Quieting the mind and opening the heart will have a positive effect on your family. When more families calm the mind and open the heart, it will have a positive effect in the community. When more communities calm the mind and open the heart the country will benefit. When more countries can calm the mind and open the heart it will have a positive effect on the world.

Getting back to caring for the environment and the question what can I do? What can I do right now to help change things for the better? The question feels so overwhelming. How can we possibly make a difference? Until we foster that deep connection with nature, our minds will continue to lead us down the path of destruction. A disconnected mind can easily pursue a path of destruction. So the FIRST thing we must do is stop incessantly doing. Slow down. Reconnect. Merge. Become one with nature. Return to our natural state. THEN our actions in the world will cease to be destructive. Did Lao Tzu understand this when he said: The Tao does nothing, but leaves nothing undone. If man could observe it, all creations would be transformed by themselves.

How could we destroy that which we are one with? A good image is the women who is pregnant with her child. She naturally wants to take of herself because in doing so she takes care of her child. The two are mutually existing and thriving together in harmony. We are as intimately connected with nature as mother and child.

If we look at the second part of Lao Tzu quote he seems to say when we observe the “nothingness” we may then transform all of creation. We mustn’t think that we literally do nothing. On the contrary we WILL take action in the world BUT this action will stem from a place that is in harmony with the rhythms of the universe. Master Li teaches that the universe has an abundance of healing energy to offer at any moment. Is is a divine power that gives unconditionally. If and when we harness this power there is no question we will move in a direction that is harmonious with our environment. And quite effortlessly I suspect. A direction that is aligned with the laws of the universe.

Sheng Zhen Gong and/or Eastern philosophy can teach us to change our focus. To move away from that which does not sustain life and move towards a harmony with nature that allows life to thrive. I will leave you with another ancient quote to ponder. “He who masters the true nature of life does not strive after that which is of no use to life”- Chuang Tzu

Winter Health

For Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the natural world holds an abundance of secrets that highlight what might be going on in our bodies. Because dissecting the body was considered taboo in ancient China the Traditional doctor relied on observation of the natural world for clues as to how our body functions internally. As in many traditions we were considered a microcosm of the earth.

It is not a stretch to assume we also are affected by the positioning of the sun just like the natural world. After all we are part of nature too! TCM theory includes 5 elements which follow the flow of seasons. So there is a season AND an organ system pertaining to each element. The Winter corresponds to the Water element. Water in TCM theory nourishes and regulates the Kidney and Bladder. Two organs responsible for filtering and storing. Now that we are into the heart of Winter the body’s energy or ‘Qi’ is at it’s deepest. Just as everything in the environment is hibernating, laying dormant or we might even say pausing due to the fact that the sun is farthest from us now, our physical bodies are doing the same. Energetically we are more still, more reflective. This is the time we store reserves for the busy active Spring and Summer to follow. We have longer nights for more sleep and shorter days for less activity. When we are in touch with the rhythms of the natural world an harmonious relationship develops. A relationship based on respect and intimate understanding. During Winter if we adjust our lifestyles with more down time our bodies rest internally. Keeping both the mind and body quiet during Winter allows time for us to digest ideas, store energy, or build Qi (life force). Physical vitality (jing) and mental clarity (shen) will be abundant, nutritive Qi (ying) and protective Qi (wei) will be strong. This is what the art of expelling disease and the art of longevity is all about. – Shuang Yuanchen Shujuzi: Inner Chapters. The Yellow Emperors Classic (a medical text dating back to 240 BC) stressed the importance of preventing illness:

“In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good government or emperor was able to take the necessary steps to avert war.If someone digs a well only when thirsty, or forges weapons only after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Aren’t these actions too late?”

Some simply strategies for living harmoniously with the natural world include:

  • Retire to bed earlier! When we get more sleep this time of year we foster good kidney energy.
  • Eat more root vegetables. This is not the time to indulge in too much cold raw food. Our bodies want warm cooked vegetables that are in season.
  • Stay warm, don”t sweat. Your mother was right when she said “keep your kidneys warm.” Sweating is expelling energy, we want to store and conserve energy.
  • Make time for reflection, meditation or prayer. Just as our bodies need to rejuvenate by doing less so to our minds benefit from stepping back from the busyness of over thinking.

Autumn Health

There is nothing like the crisp cool scent of Autumn.  As the hustle and bustle of summer fades away things settle more into a routine during the fall.  We have school and schedules all falling into place which allows us to adopt a more regular lifestyle.  Summer offers us a delightful abandonment of rules like bedtime, supper time, etc,  whereas autumn brings a more organized routine and less hectic pace.  The full season of Yang (summer) is transitioning into Yin (winter).  During this time we want to gather our energy back inward rather than expelling it outward.  It’s time to prepare for the winter months ahead.

In the five element theory Autumn is considered the time of Metal.  A time where the energy shifts from outward (the growing season) to inward (time of rest).  Autumn is that transition.  We let go of the busyness of doing.  We let go of that full expression of summer and take stock of what we harvested.  Now is the time to examine what we need to keep, and what we need to get rid of.  Just as the trees no longer need their leaves, we let go of what we don’t need.  We keep only what is essential to our lives.  When the trees drop their leaves they become the rich compost that nourishes the next harvest.  The grand cycle of life where nothing  is wasted and everything is part of the whole.

The organs associated with Metal are the Lung and Large intestine.  Both organs take in what they need and expel what they don’t.  It’s a balance between absorbing what nourishes us, and expelling what harms us.  Metal energy reflects our true selves.  What is our essence?  What lies deep within that is pure and true?  That is what we keep and all else is not needed.  This is the ideal time to ponder what habits strengthen your system, and what habits weaken your system.  When we let go of that which no longer serves our deepest self we make room for that which nourishes our true self.  Just as the lung and large intestine do for our bodies, we must do for our minds and spirit.

“This is time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, not allow desires to run wild.  One must keep the lung energy full, clean, and quiet.  This means practising breathing exercises to enhance lung Qi.”  – The Yellow Emperor Classic of Medicine

Simple Strategies:

  • De-cludder your environment.  Organize and throw away all that extra debris that will only weigh you down over the long winter ahead.  We can let go just as nature is doing all around us.  We can let go in order to honour that pure essence within.  We are not our stuff and we are not our hurts!  Let them go.
  • Deep breath.  Be away of your breath and take some time to sit and be present with the breath.  Watch it deepen and soften as we focus our minds.  Staying present allows us to take stock of what we do have.  Practising gratitude for the harvest is a perfect autumn activity.  Whether it’s a full garden, good friends, or simply the blessing of waking up to another season – be grateful.
  • Take some time to contemplate your deepest values.  Ask yourself what you might be holding on to that is weighing you down.  Are there things in your life you need to set aside?  Are there old beliefs that no longer nourish your true self?  Allow the energy of Autumn to guide you along your personal path of what is best to keep, and what is best to let go.  The wisdom of nature provides an excellent example of the cycle of renewal – letting go of old, making room for new.

Summer Health

It’s summer!! What a wonderful time of year. It is not hard to see the flurry of activity that emerges with the hotter days of summer. People, plants and animals are all busy with activity this time of year. We might say that summer is the most Yang (active) of all the seasons. Everything is growing and maturing. It is the season of maximum expansion. All that spring planning is beginning to manifest! We only have to look to our gardens to see the activity of the season. Finally the tomatoes plants are high and the onions tips are long! I think everyone can relate that summer is a busy time of year, but oh so full of life! In Chinese Medicine summer corresponds to the Fire element. To give you a brief summary of the Five Element Theory take a look at the following chart: Fire generates Earth. Earth generates Metal. Metal generates Water. Water generates Wood. Wood generates Fire.

Antigonish Acupuncture: Five Elements

Each element corresponds to an organ system, an emotion, a season, a colour, a taste, a smell, a time of day, etc. Summer falls under the Fire element in Chinese Medicine and the organ system is the heart/small intestine. A strong and well balanced Fire element leads to strong heart that governs and circulates the blood. On a spiritual level the heart ?houses? the mind therefore love, warmth, enthusiasm, mental stability are also signs of a healthy Fire element.

Once again we find ourselves trying to live in harmony with nature. During summer the body is exposed to more heat and humidity so it becomes more important to eat cooling foods. Just as in winter our bodies want more warming foods now during the summer our bodies benefit from more cooling foods. Some examples are strawberries, watermelon, cucumber or mint. These foods provide a nice balance when the weather is hot and humid. The Yellow Emperor (regarded as the founder of Traditional Chinese Medicine) had some wisdom on the season of Summer in the ancient text The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine:

In the three months of Summer there is an abundance of sunshine and rain. The heavenly energy descends, and the earthly energy rises. When these energies merge, there is intercourse between heaven and earth. As a result, plants mature and animals, flowers and fruit appear abundantly. One may retire somewhat later at this time of year, while still rising early. One should refrain from anger and stay physically active, to prevent the pores from closing and the Qi (energy) from stagnating. Emotionally it is important to be happy and easygoing and not hold on to grudges, so that the energy can flow freely.

Summer holds the power of maturity. Only when the flower is in full bloom can it share it”s pollen to make more floweres. It is the same with us, when we reach full maturity we can share what we have learned with others. When our fire element is in balance we are able to give and recieve love unconditionally. In turn our relationships blossom. The heart is the sovereign of all organs and represents the consciousness of one’s being. It is responsible for intelligence, wisdom and spiritual transformation.’Qi Bo ‘ The Yellow Emperor’s Classics of Internal Medicine

Simple Strategies

Get out and enjoy the weather. This is a great time to reconnect with the natural world around us. Allow yourself to pause and see the flowers, feel the grass, and hear the birds.
Spend time connecting in your relationships. The natural world is fully alive and vibrant right now. We can do the same with the important people in our lives. Fire energy naturally moves outward, so being expressive with your loved ones encourages a healthy heart and mind. Think family gatherings, reunions, BBQ”s, beach day with friends!

Rest at midday. The time of day for heart is 11am to 1pm. Make sure you are eating a light balanced lunch. When it”s hot and humid take a siesta! This helps avoid accumulating internally heat and it”s a nice balance from all the activity this time of year.

Nourish your spiritual practice. The heart is considered the supreme ruler of all other organs systems. So a calm and peaceful heart will benefit the entire body. If our hearts are troubled the whole body will suffer. Nourish the heart with stillness, meditation or prayer.

Spring Health

Is it safe to say Spring is coming? Here in Antigonish we have certainly endured a snow filled winter. We may have had enough winter but mother nature has her own rhythms regardless of what the calender says. Nevertheless one day soon we will be out checking the gardens for those glorious first signs of emerging life. There is a certain feeling that comes with the first signs of spring, as if we can finally step out and allow our own rebirth to begin. The days are getting a little longer and a little warmer which in turns supplies us with a little more energy to ?begin again? just like the seeds.

The spring season corresponds to Wood in the Five Element Theory of Chinese medicine. If we pay attention to the natural world it is easy to see the Wood element in motion. The determination of the dandelion breaking through the earth, or a new born calf struggling to nurse under it”s mother, all are signs of the fierceness and power of Wood. With winter behind us we are reminded of the ability to begin again. To emerge into action with new found growth and vision. The tree is a perfect Wood symbol. Nourished by water (our winter element!) it grows endlessly under the right conditions, becoming strong and magnificent. A tree must have strong roots but must also be flexible. If roots are not deep enough strong winds can ‘uproot’ the tree, or if the tree is too rigid and fails to bend or sway in the wind, it may snap and break. The strongest trees are securely grounded and supple, they can adapt to the changing winds.

We can learn much about our own systems by watching nature. In traditional Chinese medicine Wood governs the Liver and Gall Bladder. So like the tree our Liver energy is bursting forth now in response to the change of seasons. It could be considered the official planner. Ideas and insights that may have been brewing all winter can now emerge, grow and manifest in the world. If our Liver energy is strong and unimpeded we will feel the urge to start things, a garden, an exercise program, a spring cleaning? We may feel the need to change something in our lives. The energy of Spring/Wood/Liver will support or challenge us to make that change. So like the tree we must have strong roots, yet also be able to ‘roll with the punches’ as they say. In other words if our long term plan has a solid foundation we can continue to grow despite the occasional setback. This the perfect time of year to act on that project you have been thinking about starting. Take a lesson from the tree. Stay persistent, you undoubtedly will run into strong winds, but if you remain flexible and keep adapting, you will continue to grow and thrive.

The physician who knows how to harmonize the liver knows how to treat the hundred diseases.

(Zhou Xuehai,’Reflection Upon Reading The Medical Classics’)

Simple Strategies

To improve your liver function add more greens to your diet. Green is associated with the element of Wood, hence green foods have a particular relationship with liver health.
For Chinese medicine the liver is responsible for spreading the Qi (energy). To enhance and support this function incorporate some daily stretches, this will help avoid a stagnant liver which can cause feelings of depression or frustration.

As the days get warmer be careful not to peel off too many layers of clothes and then get caught in the wind. This time of year although it is hot in the sun the wind may still be cold and remember the liver (or wood!) is susceptible to wind. For example wind invasion around the neck can result in liver headaches.

Because the liver needs to detox what you put into your body, this is great time of year to keep it clean. Overeating and processed foods are two of the biggest factors leading to liver congestion. Give your liver a break and simplify the diet with natural whole foods.