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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My Top 7 Tips for Better Health (& Happiness)

Some people make resolutions to improve their health on New Year’s Day. We all know that by January 3, most of those pledges go out the window. In my opinion, the dark, colder days of winter are not very inspiring. I encourage you to take advantage of the energy of summer to put some new habits into place; the longer days, warmer weather, and increased social interaction just make it easier.

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Here are my top seven suggestions for the most important behaviors that can lead to a healthier, happier you:

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1. Increase your pure water intake. A lot of people complain they don’t like water, or they don’t feel thirsty. Your desire for water will increase once you increase your water intake. That means it’s hard at first, but will get easier. And please don’t drink ice water! Room temperature or warm water is easier on your digestion. Ice water and cold water will eventually weaken your digestion.  Every system in your body needs a lot of water. If you’re not drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, please increase your water intake. And, yes, you’ll be using the bathroom more often. But the benefits are worth it (benefits of drinking water).

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2.  Manage your stress. Life is not perfect and will never be perfect. So the best thing to do is be prepared to deal with stressful situations. Because they happen. There are many practices that can help to ease our stress response. Chocolate, Facebook, and wine are some go-tos, but in the long run they make things worse. Better choices? First, giving yourself permission to take care of yourself. I think this is one of the biggest obstacles. It’s almost as though because the world is so full of suffering, and we all can be so hard on ourselves, we think something is wrong if we’re not suffering all the time, too. It’s the oxygen mask on the airplane thing – you’re no good to anyone else unless you’ve taken care of yourself first.

So, pick something that you feel good about doing. Don’t be afraid to try something new. In the Bay Area we have a lot of great options— classes for yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong; places to go swimming; good weather to walk, run, and bike in.  Many beaches and parks–nature is a great healer. And of course we have the internet with a lot of how-to videos that can help with any of these things. But please don’t get lost in your computer. If you’re curious about meditation, but it sounds scary, here is a good guide to demystify it and make it more approachable by explaining the different types: meditation types.

 

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3. Eat more vegetables. Preferably vegetables that are in season (it’s the Chinese Medicine way, and makes sense no matter how you look at it), and organic (who needs pesticides? not me.). Like cold water, raw vegetables are harder to digest. Some raw vegetables are fine, especially in the summertime, but the majority of your vegetables should be at least slightly cooked so your body doesn’t have to work so hard. The vegetables with the most benefit are greens. Rule of thumb: half your dinner plate is vegetable matter, and you eat a variety of colors – green, red, orange, yellow. The contents of your dinner plate can be beautiful. I don’t recommend juicing – it removes all of the fiber and leaves you with a whole lot of sugar.

4. Move your body more. In Chinese Medicine there is a tenet that stagnation equals pain. So, your body needs to move to keep its tissues, tendons, muscles, and bones healthy. At the very least, rotate your joints. Shoulder rolls, hip circles—slowly go through the range of motion for each of your joints. And walk. How about dancing? A sedentary lifestyle causes a host of problems. That said, I don’t recommend extreme sports. And I’m not talking about being Iron Man. I’m talking about taking the stairs, walking the dog, and not sitting at the computer for a full hour without getting up. If you’re allergic to exercise, sign up for a class at your level that might make it fun. Or find a friend who wants to exercise with you. And watch this video. It’s the most important health video I have ever found:

most important health video ever

 

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5. Make sleep a priority. If you’re sleeping less than six or seven hours per night, get more sleep. If possible, go to bed earlier or wake up later. The recommendation in Chinese Medicine is to be asleep by 11 pm so your body can restore itself. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, there are things you can do. First, practice good sleep hygiene. (Here are a few recommendations for good sleep hygiene: sleep hygiene.) Second, herbs and acupuncture will probably help. Third, good dietary habits, exercise, and stress management will help too!

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6. Remember to laugh. Funny movies, funny friends, puppies, children….remember the things that make you smile and laugh and seek them out. Forcing yourself to smile actually helps sometimes too. When my husband and I were dealing with a particularly stressful situation a few years ago, I heard that forcing yourself to smile can actually work. So I made him force smile with me. It’s such a ridiculous thing to do with someone, that despite the hard situation we were in, it actually worked to get us to laugh and to ease the tension. (The force yourself to smile study is here) And by all means, remember to balance your intake of bad news with good news, music, cat videos, stand up comedy, and simple silence.

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7. Tell Frances this list is way too long and then choose just one thing from it. Choose the thing that sounds the easiest, or the most fun, or maybe is the change you most need to make, and commit to it. Remember, “Better is the enemy of good.” You do not need to be perfect! Trying to be perfect can ruin everything. Doing something good is good enough!

Much love, and thanks for reading.

Raising a glass of water to your health,

Frances

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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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