Haunani Chong Drake
Chinese Medicine & Ayurveda Spring Wisdom: Spring Into Action
Spring is the time for renewing your commitment to yourself, your health and wellness goals, your relationships, and stuff, a.k.a. spring cleaning time. Let the natural flow of the Spring season assist you in this internal process.
Spring is here (at least in Southern California it is) and you can sure tell by the awakening of all the senses when you walk outside. The sun is up longer. The baby birds have hatched and are chirping away...at 4am. The smell of citrus blossoms and other spring annuals fill the air. The mornings are cool and crisp rejuvenating the whole body with a deep breath. The afternoon sun kisses the skin in the most sensual way that makes the whole body glisten with new life. There's also a lot more eye candy at the farmer's market. Noooo, not that type of eye candy (well ok, that too), but more vegetables and fruits to tease the eyes and pocketbook.
Even if you're not in Southern California, or your Spring has not yet arrived, continue reading this blog so you can begin to prepare your body for the most healthful Spring yet.
Spring is the season of renewal and rejuvenation. After a long winter "hibernation" (check out my blog: Winter Wisdom) or slowing down of the internal and external world, spring is when the seeds of life, love and all relationships begin anew. Like the new sprouts poking their heads up from the dark earth into the shining bright light, our bodies and minds are in harmony with the same natural process. Remember, YOU ARE ONE WITH NATURE. This is the time to allow the inner and outer self to start new, clean out the old winter funk and prepare the body and mind for a fun-filled summer.
As a clinician, this is the time when I begin to see more upper respiratory conditions (colds, cases of flu and allergies), chronic congestion, irregular digestion, pain conditions, unexplained weight gain, and other conditions caused by inactivity of body or mind (overweight, depression, lethargy). These conditions can be understood from an Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine perspective.
In Ayurveda, Spring is dominated by the qualities of Kapha. Kapha begins in late winter and continues into Spring bringing with it to the body and mind: dark, heavy, inert, cold, oily, static, soft and cloudy qualities. This is why I don't, do not, recommend starting "New Year Resolutions" in January. There is not natural energy in your environment or internally to keep you inspired and motivated. January is a time for rest, staying inward and being contemplative. However, Spring is the perfect time to begin that "New Year" resolution. If anyone asks, say you're following the Lunar New Year calendar.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, spring is dominated by the qualities of Wood, governed by the organs of the Liver and Gallbladder. The qualities of Wood are to grow, be active, reach out, distribute and move. Subsequently, the Liver and Gallbladder have similar qualities of movement, cleansing, decisiveness, and regulation of physical, emotional and mental energy, referred to as "qi".
We can integrate this Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine wisdom to give us a full perspective of how to stay healthy in Spring. The natural tendency of the body and mind are to be Kapha in the Spring: slow, heavy and clouded. Chinese Medicine wisdom tells us how we can balance these Kapha forces by choosing actions and foods that are more Wood in quality: moving, cleansing and rejuvenating. Since the liver is responsible for governing healthy emotional balance, this is also the perfect time to release any stuffed emotions, resentment, anger or frustration making room for more sunlight (literally and figuratively) to fill in that space. Kapha likes to settle in the chest, so it's also very important to exercise the lungs either with more physical exercise, breathing exercises and chest opening stretches.
The main overall theme of renewal and rejuvenation of spring can be summed up into the common phrase "Spring Cleaning." Below is a guideline of ways you can implement Spring Cleaning in your life, inside and out. Don't worry about doing all of these. Choose one or two and start there. Typically starting with something external to the body (the last bullet) feels so good, you will begin to naturally feel inspired to make more changes more internally.
Ways to Spring Clean:
Increase your physical activity or change up your exercise routine to be a bit more challenging (length, duration or activity). An invigorating walk or mindful movement practice (yoga, tai chi or qi gong) first thing in the morning will break-up the physical and mental kapha tendencies.
This is a great time to begin yoga since yoga focuses on strengthening the ligaments and tendons which are governed by the Wood and Liver energies.
Meditate daily: focus on releasing stuffed emotions, trauma, resentment, anger, or frustration. To assist in this process, I recommend visualizing a green or emerald color light to wash through the body or fill any areas of the body that feel stuck.
Acupuncture: Your favorite acupuncturist can help to move and smooth imbalanced Liver qi, helping you feel more balanced and inspired to live the life you know you deserve.
Breathe more! This goes hand-in-hand with increasing your physical activity. If you increase your exercise routine or start a new one, you will naturally breathe deeper and for longer. First thing in the morning, step outside and take 10-20 deep, long, full breaths. For those of you who practice yoga regularly, practice more invigorating pranayama like kapalabhati, brahma breathing, or fire breath.
Sweat. Try to sweat at least 5-7 days a week. Even if you can't sweat through physical exercise or yoga (best recommendations), take a hot bath, visit a sauna or steam room. You should feel invigorated after a sweat. If you feel tired or lazy, you've sweat too much. Take a day or two to build up your energy before you do anything strenuous.
Drink 1 cup of warm lemon water first thing in the morning. Warm up 1 cup water and squeeze 1/2 a lemon into the water. Chug. Yes, chug. If there is one internal Spring Cleaning guideline to start with, start here! Sip on warm lemon water throughout the day for additional cleansing.
Eat in Season! Eat GREEN! Eat Bitter! Other tastes to focus on: pungent/spicy (in moderation), astringent like grapefruits and lemons, and pickled items. If you don't know what's in season, go to your local farmer's market, or just read this blog. Leafy greens, sprouts, and green veggies (artichokes, asparagus) are abundant right now. For good reason. The bitter taste in these foods cuts through damp, phlegm and thick mucus (all forms of kapha build up in the body). Bitter also helps to cleanse the liver, the blood and digestive tract, allowing the body to feel more energized.
Recommended teas and drinks for Spring: Dandelion root tea, burdock root tea, milk thistle, peppermint, gao ju lang/Immortal Tea, Ginger tea, Kombucha.
Clean out your environment: closets, computer files, office space, bookshelves, collections and storage spaces. If you're having a hard time implementing one of the above suggestions for yourself, start with your external environment. This will usually inspire you to feel better internally as well.
Spring can be a scary time for some people because spring is yet another time (like Autumn) for change and transformation. Spring is the gateway to Summer. Autumn is the gateway to Winter. Especially after a cozy winter routine of eating hardier foods, enjoying the warmth of staying inside longer and sleeping longer (hopefully), Spring can be a love-hate relationship. However, as Alan Cohen, states so beautifully, "It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power." So I invite you to be courageous, clean inside and out, physically and mentally and allow yourself to be inspired by the renewal of life this spring. In short, be an example for others this Spring. Move your body and mind in the direction you want, not what others want for you. Release anger, frustration or stored emotions in healthy ways like exercise, mindful movement, meditation, and yoga.
Note: Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine are constantly guiding us to find our balance in physical, emotional and mental health. Balance is an individualized feeling and point of awareness that only you can truly know. Each season allows us the opportunity to dive into different areas of our life to create a whole complete circle, or flow, of health and wellness. By following the seasonal patterns of Nature, you can learn the infinite wisdom of how to stay in your own flow and balance.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This is a reference work. It is not meant for diagnosis or treatment and it is no substitute for consultation with a licensed health care professional. Please visit your primary health care provider before starting new exercise or diet routines.