Spring Health Tips and Recipes

Spring is a time of re­birth, cleansing, and renewal. In Chinese medicine, Spring is the time of the Wood element, or ‘Liver’ energy system (TCM ‘Liver’ is not the same as your physical liver organ).

The ‘Liver’ circulates energy (Qi) and blood around your body and is responsible for clear vision and direction in life, creativity, assertion, calm, and regular menstruation. A balanced Liver is pivotal to the maintenance of good health, and one of the most susceptible to emotional stress.

Taking care of it preventatively can help avoid or reduce many chronic imbalances. In the face of life’s challenges and injustices, it is common to experience “Liver Qi Stagnation”, which feels like:

Physically
•       body pains, stiffness and tension (especially neck, back and hips)
•       digestive problems, e.g. bloating, heartburn, reflux, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
•       PMS (pre­menstrual syndrome), breast distention, painful/irregular periods
•       difficulty rising in the mornings
•       a “wiry” (tense-­feeling) pulse

Emotionally
•       feeling frustrated, irritable, angered, negative, or depressed (if we suppress our anger)
•       emotional ups and downs
•       difficulty expressing ourselves or addressing conflicts constructively
•       feeling stuck, uncreative, inflexible, or without a clear vision and purpose in life

A Quick Liver Stagnation Remedy

Liver Stagnation Recipe
If you experience many of the above signs, this recipe is great to quickly stimulate the Liver out of its stagnancy.

If you have heat signs (red face, red, dry eyes, splitting headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, dry constipation, etc.), replace the vinegar below with lemon or lime juice. This recipe is helpful in the short term but shouldn’t replace making longer-term dietary or lifestyle changes you want to make (for your Liver’s sake)

Ingredients
• 1 tsp unrefined vinegar (e.g. apple cider, brown rice, rice wine vinegar)
• 1 tsp raw honey
• 1 cup warm water

Keep a Happy Liver
The Liver is one of the most involved organs in emotional processing. How emotions affect our physical health and vice versa is an exciting area of research and exploration these days. Check out this article I wrote about emotions and your body.

So, how can we keep our ‘Liver’ (not the anatomical liver, by the way) systems happy this season?

• Laugh! Prioritize fun, relaxation, and enjoying the moment (meditation helps with this!)
• Find friends & safe spaces where we can assert and express ourselves (creatively too)
• Practice being thankful for what we have now, focusing less on what we are dissatisfied with
• Seek support/ways to let go of, move through, or find peace with old emotions. Remember that spring is a time of new beginnings, and the Liver gets stuck with holding old grudges.
• Yoga, tai chi, expressive movement, acupuncture, herbs and massage all move stuck Qi

Nutritionally, many people gravitate toward cleansing during the Spring. Speak to your TCM practitioner about what kind of cleanse would work best for your body type. Also ask about personalized herbal formulas that can help.

Eat Your Greens
ASPARAGUS
Green is the colour of the Liver and Spring (according to Chinese Five Element theory).

Enjoy plenty of young plants, greens, sprouts, mung beans, radishes, and lightly cooked foods. Use less fats, salts, processed foods, and strong spices in cooking. Honey­mint tea and herbs such as basil, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, fennel, chamomile, chrysanthemum, dandelion root, milk thistle seeds, peony root, lemon balm, peppermint, etc. are all helpful to balance the Liver.

AsparagusAsparagus is one of the first vegetables ready for harvest in the spring. See below for delicious seasonal recipes to help your Liver Qi flow:

1. Warm Asparagus Salad with Basil + Mint Pistou

2. No-Cream Pasta Primavera


Enjoy!
 For a personalized Chinese medicine assessment, nutritional and other recommendations, contact me.

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Beating the Winter Blahs

Pauline on winter walk, in non-matching outfit

Bundle up to get some winter outdoorsy time, even if your colours clash

Winter is the season of the “Kidney-Adrenal” energy system according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. The TCM Kidney-Adrenals (not the same as your physical kidneys, please note) are the foundation of all life energy the body. So winter is a time to focus inward, conserve energy, and nurture our long-term strength through rest, reflection and gentle exercise. Here is a beautiful reflection on embracing, not just enduring, this season.

Maintain your spirits and energy by layering up to get fresh air and sunshine, keeping your lower back and legs warm at all times (leggings, long johns, leg warmers, body warmers, fuzzy slippers, hot water bottles, etc!), and sleeping earlier. Dressing properly to protect your body’s Qi is vital not only to preventing colds and flus, but to preventing and healing from other chronic health imbalances. 

Seasonal nutrition is another great way to take care of yourself. Chinese medicine dietary principles consider each individual’s balance, the season, the properties of the foods themselves and how we cook them. Come in for a personalized assessment and diet plan, or click here for more general info: 5 winter food tips, and some simple winter recipes!

Sometimes aches and pains are worse in the cold, so this year might be especially painful. Some types of low back pain, for example, can worsen in the winter. If low back pain is chronic, it is also often associated with the Kidney-Adrenal energetic system. Support your low back with qi gong exercise, gentle stretching and strengthening, rest, acupuncture, moxibustion and Chinese medicine. Click here for an article I wrote about low back pain.

I spent a wonderful 10 days over the holidays volunteering at the Ontario Vipassana Meditation Centre and highly recommend the experience. Check out my meditation resource sheet, or ask me for details.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are excellent for maintaining your energy and immune levels, minimize aches and pains, and balance yourself emotionally. In my clinic, I like to use a lot of moxibustion (mugwort) during winter acupuncture, as it deeply warms the acupuncture meridians and gives more energy to the body that way. You can use moxibustion on your own at home. If you’re not sure how to, or want to discuss what would benefit you the most, consider getting a custom consultation or treatment. I also offer a free 15 minute phone consultation for new patients.

Got your own ideas for surviving and thriving in the winter season?  Add them in the Comments below to share with others… thanks!

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5 Winter Food Tips

winter sceneNOTE: The info below is for general information only. It doesn’t replace a personalized assessment and a therapeutic food plan specific for your constitution (yin/yang, hot/cool, dry/moist, organ system balances, etc.).  A more personalized Chinese medicine therapeutic diet should take priority over these general seasonal suggestions, especially to address specific health concerns.

Click here for a few winter recipes!

1) How we eat is at least as important as what. Enjoyment and mindful eating (paying full attention to tastes, textures, smells, etc. while eating) is the single best ‘dietary’ change we can make. A keen ear for your body’s messages is more important than memorizing all the rules in a nutrition textbook. 

Relaxed eating is good from both the Chinese medicine and Western biomedicine point of view. When you’re stressed and in ‘sympathetic nervous system’ (i.e. ‘fight or flight’ mode), your body shifts blood circulation away from digestive functions. Stress reduces stomach acid levels, hampering digestion and absorption. In Chinese medicine, not only stress but any ‘pensiveness’ interferes with digestion (you digest ‘thoughts’ as well as the food). So, don’t stress about what you eat!  Nourish yourself with a kind, loving, accepting, and gentle attitude. Eat a slow meal while relaxing and enjoying the food – deliciousness and joy is important for nutrition too!  

2) Include the 5 flavours daily, but slightly more salty and bitter flavours in the winter.  The 5 flavours are: sweet, salty, sour, pungent (a.k.a. acrid/spicy), and bitter. The ‘sweet’ flavour means the ‘full sweet’ tastes of grains, vegetables, etc. (not ’empty sweets’ of sugars, desserts, etc.), and this flavour should predominate in all seasons. In the winter, however, a slight increase in the salty and bitter flavours can benefit the Kidney-adrenals and the Heart (closely tied to our mental-emotional state). Some foods with bitter (and other) tastes include: kale, turnip, celery, asparagus, burdock root, carrot top, lettuce, watercress, parsley, endive, rye, oats, quinoa, chicory root, and many herbs. Salty foods include seaweeds, salt, millet, barley, miso, etc. 

3) Eat to minimize ‘Dampness. Dampness = fluid where it’s not supposed to be. This can manifest in phlegm/mucus problems, foggy thinking, edema, cysts, tumours, yeasts, low immunity, feeling heavy/sluggish/foggy (physically and mentally), etc. Dampness impairs your digestive ‘fire’ and overall warmth/energy; and it contributes to allergies, low immunity, and chronic illnesses.

Damp-causing foods include: dairy (especially cow), almost all sugars (including most fruit), wheat (sprouting helps), overly-salty food, meats and eggs, most fats and oils, yeasted breads, alcohol (i.e. liquid sugar), food that is hard to digest (raw, cold, inadequately chewed, etc.), and refined, processed, stale or rancid food (including most commercially shelled nuts and seeds, especially peanuts).

Eating excessive amounts, too quickly, overly complex meals, and late at night also contribute to Dampness, as do toxins, anxiety and worry.

4) Eat warmer and protect your digestive & life fire. In winter, it is best to cook foods longer, at lower temperatures, and using less water. These factors increase the meal’s warming qualities. Making your food “warmer” and easier to digest will preserve your ‘digestive fire’ and help you absorb more nutrients. 

Easier to digest = (1) at least slightly cooked or broken down, (2) in moderate amounts (“until 70% full”), in simple combinations (unless all cooked in the same pot like a stew or soup), (3) warm in temperature, and (4) well-chewed. 

If you have cold signs, eat warming foods such as oats, parsnips,  mustard greens, winter squash, butter, quinoa, walnuts, onion family, chicken, lamb, trout and salmon. Warming spices include dried ginger, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel. Food that is too ‘hot‘ actually releases warmth and cools you (e.g. chilies, hot peppers).

5) Be Kind to your Kidneys. Eat dried foods, small dark beans (adzuki, black beans, etc.), seaweeds, steamed winter greens, millet, barley, legumes, goji berries, and black/blue foods, which are good for the Kidney-Adrenals.  Avoid toxins in food and water, intoxicants and environmentally, sleep early, don’t overwork, keep your low back, legs and feet warm, and make sure to get plenty of rest. Check out these basic Qi Gong exercises to support the Kidney-Adrenals!

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