Late Summer: Nourish & Transform

Late Summer is upon us. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is considered the “Fifth Season.” 

In TCM, each season has its own associations and qualities (color, taste, sounds, emotions, etc.). Late Summer is about proper nourishment leading to transformation. It is a time to center oneself and build strength through digestion, which in turn boosts the immune system as we move into shorter, colder, darker days of fall and winter. The other side effect of well functioning digestion, is a clarity of thought and the strength to follow through on your goals. On the flip side, if digestion is off and nourishment poor, we tend toward fatigue, weight gain, catching colds, and worry.

Now is a great time to refocus on your health, and clean up the diet after summertime fun.

The qualities associated with Late Summer provide hints for how to get there:

Color: Yellow and Orange

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Element: Earth (central to all other elements, it is literally the ground beneath our feet, and grows all that nourishes us…this is a good time to reconnect to the earth with hiking and walking.)

Direction: Center (when we are in balance, we say we are “centered”, and also, not coincidentally, where our digestive organs are located)

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Taste: Sweet (like carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes)

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Organs: the Stomach and Spleen (Now is the best time to strengthen them.)

Time: 9-11 a.m. (This is considered “spleen” time on the Chinese clock. According to the clock, the stomach is strongest between 7-9 am–a good time for breakfast–and the spleen helps to digest between 9-11 a.m. During Late Summer, digestive strength is given a boost during spleen time.)

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Sound: Singing (Someone with an out of balance spleen, tends to have a sing-songy voice.)

Odor: Sweet, Fragrant

Body Tissue: Muscles and Flesh (Strong spleen function means strong muscles. Weak spleen function / digestion means weak muscles, cellulite, and being overweight.)

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Sense Organ: Mouth, Lips (Those who are constitutionally “spleen” people tend to have full lips. Pale, dry lips are a sign of weak spleen function.)

Climate: Damp (An out of balance spleen will manifest dampness. Signs of dampness include being overweight, having muscle aches, sinus trouble, a runny nose, foggy thinking, etc.)

Spirit: Thought (or “Yi” in TCM terms) (The health of the spleen is manifested in the intellect. Weak spleen can mean foggy thoughts. Strong spleen tends to bring clarity. Note that too much studying / computer work can actually damage digestion.)

Virtue: Clarity, Integrity, Manifesting Intentions (can occur more easily when digestion is healthy) 

Emotion: Worry, Pensiveness (can occur when there is a spleen / stomach imbalance)

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Since now is the time to work on good digestion, here are some general guidelines for how to do so….

Nutrition and Digestion, Chinese Medicine Style:

The right diet is arguably the strongest preventive medicine there is. Proper nutritional therapy is also a good way to treat any of the body’s ailments.

A Chinese Medical book from 1601 states:

 “The spleen/stomach network is the main source of life-sustaining postnatal energy.” 

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In other words, your genetics, plus diet and digestion, make up the state of your health.

So what is healthy eating, and what foods are recommended? 

BASIC NUTRITIONAL GUIDELINES, TCM STYLE:

GUIDELINES FOR “HOW” TO EAT:

  • Eat in moderation — don’t consistently overeat, or under eat. Surviving on a banana and coffee until dinner time is not a great idea. Eating until your stomach hurts in not a good idea either. Some say it is best to stop eating when you are “two-thirds full.” Wait twenty minutes after you finish eating and check to see if you are still hungry. 
  • Sit down to eat — Mealtimes that promote proper digestion are calm and relaxed, with your focus on your food . Eating while driving, reading, texting, arguing, watching tv, working, etc., is harmful to your digestion. The more often you can sit down at the table and eat calmly, the better.
  • Chew your food. Thoroughly. — The digestion process actually begins in your mouth. If you gulp food, you are skipping that step and forcing your stomach to work harder. Gulping food also leads to a tendency to overeat.
  • Have dinner before 7 pm—or at least three hours before you go to sleep. A full belly at bedtime is a leading cause of insomnia and digestion is not optimal at night.

If you tend toward emotional eating, eating on the run, or making poor food choices, I highly recommend this book.

GUIDELINES FOR FOOD AND DRINK to AVOID (on a Regular Basis):

  • Limit raw, cold, and iced food and beverages — They are very hard to digest and over time weaken your digestive system. Room temperature and warm food and drink are easier to digest. However, raw and cold foods can be digested with a little more ease in the summertime. If you pay attention to eating seasonal foods, this is an easy guideline to follow (salads are fine in summer as long as they don’t upset your stomach, and you’re not eating them all the time). Late summer is a good time to switch from salads to steamed vegetables.

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  • Limit dairy, as well as greasy, fried, and oily foods. The best dairy to choose is FULL fat and grass-fed. (Low fat dairy is highly processed and often sugar is added to make it taste better. We need to readjust our thinking that low fat means healthy. It doesn’t!)
  • Avoid refined sugar and flour as much as possible— this Includes fruit juices, dried fruits, and those awful “protein bars”. If you are attached to your protein bars, here’s a good link to help you choose the best ones.
  • Limit fruit in general. It has a lot of sugar. Here is a list of fruits lowest in sugar.
  • Limit alcohol. (To see the benefits and risks of alcohol click here.)
  • Limit meat. (Some people need more meat than others….meat provides warmth and nourishes our blood….but meat at every meal is not necessary. Generally, eat twice as many vegetables as meats. All meat is not created equal—organic meat, grass-fed red meat, and wild fish really are much healthier!)
  •  Limit / Avoid processed food. A great list of 20 foods to definitely avoid as much as possible is available here.

SOME FOODS THAT MAKE YOUR SPLEEN / STOMACH Healthy and Happy:

  • Cooked (or lightly cooked) vegetables — and lots of them!
  • Fresh seasonal foods–the food you find at the Farmer’s Market.
  • Soups and Stews
  • Winter squash
  • Sweet potatoes / yams / carrots
  • Eggs
  • Meat in moderation, especially if slowly cooked (beef, chicken, duck, lamb, fish)
  • Brown rice, sweet rice (also called “sticky rice” or glutinous rice — rest assured, it IS gluten free)
  • Digestive spices like cumin, coriander, ginger

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For a more detailed nutritional guide according to the principles of TCM, check out this link (it’s especially useful if you know your Chinese Medicine diagnosis).

The list above is not exhaustive. If you have the time to cook at home, there is a recipe service that provides daily menus for eating seasonally with Chinese Medicine principles here.

There are loads of other recipes and menus for healthy eating with the seasons. This is a wonderful website where you can view foods currently in season with many recipes linked to each food. Explore and have fun!

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR “SPLEEN” is OUT OF BALANCE:

Many people in contemporary society sit too much, eat too much, and worry too much. It’s a perfect triad to generate what is called “Spleen Qi Deficiency”. Here are common symptoms:

  • Weakness of the body and muscles
  • Chronic Tiredness / Fatigue, especially after eating
  • Tendency toward loose stool with undigested food
  • Diarrhea when eating cold or raw food
  • Pale tongue with thin or thick white coat
  • Weak pulse
  • Low appetite
  • Weight gain / Trouble losing weight
  • Tendency to worry / overthink
  • Physical and mental stagnation, feeling “stuck”
  • Abdominal bloating and other digestive complaints
  • Crave sugar

Long term, Spleen Qi Deficiency can develop into a more serious imbalance that can include:

  • Feeling cold all over, or cold hands and feet
  • Edema / water retention
  • Desire for warm food / drink
  • Diarrhea 
  • Prolapse of organs including some cases of hemorrhoids
  • Frequent miscarriages
  • Feeling of heaviness in the body
  • Lack of thirst
  • Sticky / sweet taste in the mouth
  • Thick, white, greasy coat on the tongue
  • Lots of phlegm 
  • Brain fog
  • Obesity

To sum this all up, healthy digestion and proper nutrition are key to overall well being and disease prevention.  This transitional time between summer and fall is an ideal time to commit to a cleaner diet made up of seasonal and fresh foods. If your digestion is already suffering, or if you recognize yourself in the “Spleen Qi Deficiency” symptoms above, now might be a good time to get some extra help with acupuncture and herbs.

Bye bye summertime!

Gabby late August Bulb

 

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crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

510-919-5689

 

 

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6 Tips for Staying Healthy During “Sugar Season”: Preventing Colds and Flus

It’s early October and a great time to prepare yourself for cold and flu season, or what some have renamed the “sugar season” which officially begins the day after Halloween. The average person tends to get three colds per year–usually in the wintertime. Do you know that Western scientists don’t actually know for sure why we get more colds and flus in the winter? In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), they have known for thousands of years that being exposed to the wind and the cold, along with a weakened “wei qi” (immune system) can bring on a cold or flu. But it’s just within the last few years that western scientists are beginning to understand this is true!

Scientists have recently discovered that being exposed to and breathing in cold air reduces our immunity. They have also agreed that what we eat directly impacts our immune system. A lowered immunity combined with more time spent swapping germs indoors seems to be one clue to why we get more colds and flus in the fall and winter.

So, in addition to washing our hands and staying warm, here are some good tips for preventing colds and flus by way of boosting your immune system:

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  1. Stop the sugar

High sugar intake decreases immune system cells that attack bacteria for at least a few hours after eating a sugary food or drink. Americans in general consume too much sugar, especially since “low fat diets” came into fashion. All of us tend to eat more sugar than we realize. Between Halloween and New Year’s there are many occasions to indulge–coincidentally during the “flu season.” Is it that more viruses are circulating or that we are weakening our immune systems with sugar? If you’re wondering how much sugar is too much sugar, take a look at this good articleAnd remember there is also a lot of sugar in that after work glass of wine!

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2. Eat Seasonally

Pay attention to the foods coming in to season at the Farmer’s Market–and eat plenty of them! They happen to be high in the vitamins and minerals necessary to boost the immune system and prevent colds and flus. They are also whole foods, which will encourage cooking at home, and avoiding processed foods that are often loaded with bad stuff for your body.

Two good lists of seasonal foods, and other seasonal advice:

Fall foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

Winter foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

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3. Get Enough Sleep

Being well rested gives your immune system a boost. It may or not be possible or realistic for you to “get enough sleep.” You may be living with babies, pets, your partner’s snoring, etc., and other outside circumstances that interrupt your sleep — I know some of those things can’t be changed. But if they can actually be changed (sleeping in a different room, for example), please take the leap and do it! The world is a different place when you get more sleep.

You may also be someone who wakes up at 3 a.m. worrying, or has trouble falling asleep, or have aches and pains at night– with some help and effort (herbs, acupuncture, meditation, etc.) these problems may have some solutions.

In any case, according to ancient Chinese wisdom, living with the seasons is one of the keys to staying healthy. The fall and winter are times to be a little less social, to slow your activities down, get more sleep, and to cozy up.

Be honest with yourself about how you can get more sleep– turning the TV or your phone off earlier, installing light blocking curtains in your bedroom, or allowing yourself to take naps (or learn how to nap), and saying no to social obligations when you really are too tired. Many of us also avoid realizing how tired we actually are by using caffeine to “get us through the day.” I suggest gradually cutting down on caffeine to allow yourself to be tired, and then to sleep when you feel tired. This might mean taking a little break from your “normal” life. Eventually, you won’t be so tired!

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4. Exercise, and move around during the day.

Exercise boosts the immune the system by decreasing the body’s stress chemicals (which compromise the immune system) and increaseing feel good chemicals that encourage a good night’s sleep. Generally, thirty to sixty minutes per day of moderate exercise (walking, for example) is all it takes, in addition to moving around a bit throughout the day–that is, not spending extended periods of time sitting.  Even if you exercise 30 to 60 minutes each day, it may not be beneficial unless you are making a point to stand up and do some light activity for a few minutes every hour. For those with desk jobs, please check out this article on “Sitting Disease”.

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5. Address Your Stress

Although our lives occasionally give us a break from our troubles, generally we all have stress. In a world where change is the only constant, stressful situations will always arise (or as the Buddhists say “life is suffering”). There is nothing we can do about that. We can, however, learn to respond better to stress. Responding “better” to stress takes commitment to change our habitual responses and get a new perspective.

I strongly encourage learning to meditate, if even for ten minutes a day. One study showed that people who meditated over an 8 week period had improved immune response up to four months later.

There are many good books, websites, and local groups that can help to support a meditation practice. The benefits are countless. I recently discovered some wonderful online resources put out by the sweet and funny Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Here is a link if you are interested in trying out a meditation that is shorter than fifteen minutes: short meditation

If you don’t like that style, look around and ask around to find a style that works for you. If meditation is a turn off, you can try yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. If practiced regularly, they are also great stress relievers.  Spending time with loving friends and family also can help relieve stress, or watching funny movies, laughing more, dancing, listening to or playing music, getting a massage, acupuncture, taking a bath, exercising….there are many ways to de-stress, you just have to discover (or remember) what your way is, and commit to it before things get out of control. Lowering your stress levels boosts your immune system, not only preventing colds and flus, but other more serious diseases, too.

Here’s a link to some really corny jokes that you can tell to all your friends to boost everyone’s immune system. Ha ha!

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6. Use Herbs and Acupuncture

Of course herbs and acupuncture help to boost the immune system and lower stress as well. If you are someone who gets frequent colds during the year, you may be a good candidate for one of several immune boosting herbal formulas. Please ask me!  Getting regular acupuncture treatments helps to turn off the stress response as well as boosts the immune cells that kill infection. 

IF You Do Get a Cold….

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And finally, please remember that if you do catch a cold or a flu, stop taking any herbs you may be on for other conditions. Often those herbal formulas include tonic herbs which will make a cold worse!!! Instead, rely on the age old advice of resting, hydration, and actually yes, chicken soup. Herbs specific to your symptoms (designed for colds) can help a lot, and get an acupuncture treatment to help reduce the duration of the ailment.

There are Chinese Herbal formulas that you can buy at certain grocery stores like Berkeley Bowl or Whole Foods, but they should be specific to your kind of cold. In TCM diagnosis, there are different kinds of colds (mainly two, “Wind Heat” and “Wind Cold”) so you want the formula that’s right for your cold symptoms.

Here is a link to a graphic that can help you decide what kind of cold you have: wind heat vs wind cold

Please Share! If you have tried and true remedies, homemade teas, etc., that work for either prevention or resolving cold symptoms, please share them here so others may benefit from your wisdom and experience.

I am hoping you stay healthy during the coming months, and enjoy the cooler weather!

Much Love,

Frances Wocicki, LAc, MSOM, MA

www.crowheartacupuncture.com

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Moving Into Yourself in the Fall (Your body is talking to you…are you paying attention?)

The older I get the faster it seems time flies. It’s hard to believe the summer is coming to a close and it’s already September. Hopefully summer has been a time for you to be outdoors more, spend more time with your family and friends, enjoy all the fresh summer produce — especially the delicious watermelons this year! — and get back in touch with your body.

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For some people, though, summer gets very busy with kids, parties, travel…filling the long days with a whole lot of action and little self care.

During fall it’s time to wind down and to begin turning your attention inward a bit. If the heat and activities of the summer were too much, it’s can also be time to do some repair. I hate to mention it, but cold and flu season are just around the corner and will go a lot better if you put the right building blocks in place to prevent getting sick. That makes September and October prime time to put yourself in the best health possible…before flu season hits, and before the temptations and busyness of the holidays.

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That makes this the perfect time to share a string of five odd words that changed my life, and the way I look at prevention of disease. I stumbled on these words while helping my mentor to organize his computer files a few years ago. The document contained only these words, with arrows between them, and no explanation. It said, simply:

“Disattention=> Disconnection=> Disregulation=> Disorder=> Disease”

After reflecting on those five words, it was like finding the rosetta stone to the true origination of most diseases. It begins with “disattention” — being too busy to check in and take note of how you’re feeling and responding appropriately.

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As an acupuncturist I see a lot of conditions that are preventable, but which have become chronic or severe. Prevention is a lot easier, and more pleasant, than living with chronic or serious conditions. At the first signs of something being “off” — whether it’s your mood, energy, appetite, digestion, or a new ache or pain — is the very best time to get treatment. But noticing these first signs involves taking time to connect with yourself and checking in to see how you are feeling. I recommend even just one minute each day to close your eyes and turn inward and scan your body, check in with your thoughts and feelings, and see how you are doing.

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You could do that right now.  Close your eyes and slowly move your attention through your body from head, neck, shoulders, abdomen to your legs and feet. That’s a physical check. How do you feel? Is anything bothering you? What is it? Where is it? What do the areas of discomfort need in order to feel greater ease and health? It’s important to ask what you need to feel healthier, instead of just to feel “better”….because sometimes what might make us feel “better” (in the short term) is a tub of chocolate ice cream. There is definitely a place for chocolate ice cream, but the goal here is discovering what health promoting behavior is needed. Your body is smart. It will know, or at least know what is making it feel so lousy.

You can also tune in to your heart, emotionally, get quiet, and see how you are feeling. This can be easy for some, who have strong body or emotional awareness, and will take more practice for others. Treat what you find with respect, as you would a friend. Just notice your emotional state.

This “check in” can be very brief. But learning to pay attention is the first step on the path of well being.

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“Disconnection”

“Disattention”, or ignoring, your body/mind/emotions can lead to a “Disconnection” from yourself — when you ignore your needs you are likely to stop addressing them in a positive way, and are more likely to take on behaviors that aren’t necessarily in your best interest — eating too much, sitting too much, not getting enough quiet time, not laughing enough, etc. Being disconnected allows the unhealthy behaviors to take root.

“Disregulation”

After ignoring your needs for awhile, your system goes into a state of “Disregulation.” Disregulation can be thought of as mildly to moderately noticeable symptoms, like a slower metabolism, feeling too hot or too cold, a change in appetite, lower energy, and a range of “weird” symptoms that a doctor might disregard (like a lump in your throat, or feeling crabby more frequently, for example). It’s really nothing serious, but you find yourself thinking that maybe you should improve your diet, or exercise more, or get more sleep. THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME to increase your self care and prioritize healthier habits. Changes in habits require support and commitment.

“Disorder”

After some time of disregulation, “Disorder” ensues. Disorder can be thought of as a problem. You have pain quite regularly now in some area of your body, or you’ve gained too much weight, or your blood sugar is pre-diabetic, or you have insomnia regularly, high blood pressure, depression, etc. These are physical, mental, and emotional disorders that are now regularly interfering with your sense of well being or impacting what you are able to do.

THIS IS AN ESSENTIAL TIME to address your health with regular self care and support. This is also the point where herbs and nutritional supplements can make a huge difference in turning things around to prevent more serious chronic diseases.

“Disease”

When your mind/body is disordered for long enough, you may develop a serious disease. For example, a sensitive stomach and long term stress can turn into acid reflux, which can turn into Barrett’s Esophagus, which can turn into cancer over the long haul. Or years of ignoring mild back pain turns into degenerative disc disease which may result in surgery and long term physical limitations. Years of eating too much sugar and not getting enough exercise can result in diabetes and kidney disease.

All disease starts somewhere. Because our bodies are quite resiliant and the changes over time are subtle we gradually grow used to feeling bad and don’t really notice what is happening. What is happening is that disease is being born. 

“In short”

In short, not paying attention to yourself can lead to disease — whether it’s just a cold, or something more serious like stomach ulcers, infertility, diabetes, arthritis, panic attacks, cancer.

Pay close enough attention to your body/mind everyday that you build good habits and get the care you need when something seems off.  Rest when your body asks for it, eat when you’re hungry, and stretch when you’re feeling tight. Prioritize your wellbeing.

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There are signals our bodies give before reaching significant illness and chronic disease. Our bodies communicate with us (or at least try to). The primary key to staying well is listening to what our bodies are telling us, and CARING about what they have to say.

Once you begin regularly paying attention, the pathway to good health looks like this:

“Attention=> Connection => Regulation => Order => Ease”

Paying ATTENTION to how you feel will lead to CONNECTION (to your mind/body) so you begin to give your body what it really needs (sleep, good food, exercise, laughter, etc.). When your body has what it needs, there will be REGULATION of your systems and symptoms (making necessary changes and gettiing care) and this leads to ORDER, or everything running pretty smoothly. When your mind/ body has order, the result is EASE!

We don’t just wake up one day with Type II diabetes. Hypertension does not usually occur overnight. Ulcers don’t come from only one day of worrying and eating poorly. These, and other diseases, are the result of long term imbalances that once began as minor discomforts that went unnoticed and unaddressed.

This fall, I can help you to work on rebalancing that which is already off-kilter, and helping to prevent disorder by reducing stress, strengthening your immune system, and keeping things flowing smoothly. 

There’s no time like the present, eh?

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May you find true wellbeing. 

Crow Heart Acupuncture and Herbs has two locations in the East Bay: the Rockridge neighborhood of North Oakland, and on the Albany / Berkeley border just off of Solano Avenue.

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Make an appointment:

Website: https://www.crowheartacupuncture.com

Email: crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

Phone: 510-919-5689

Here is a Mindfulness Quiz from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. It’s a good start on the path to paying attention–and look around on their website for other tips on how you can be more mindful of yourself!

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/4

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“Our body is precious. It is the vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” — The Buddha