Lessons From the Seasons

In Chinese Medicine, the body is seen as being both a reflection of and a microcosm of the surrounding environment. One meaning of this is that, as the seasons gradually transform into one another, so changes the internal environment in each person. We are part of the natural world, and as such our bodies participate in the yearly cycles that we see going on around us. To maintain health, it is essential that we maintain harmony. And the way to maintain harmony, both within ourselves and with the environment in which we find ourselves, is to be aware of the seasons and to modify our lives in simple ways so as to create a balance between the inside and the outside.

The following essays contain information about Chinese Medicine’s way of looking at each season and some suggestions to help you weather the seasons gracefully and joyfully. I hope you find them helpful!

SPRING

Spring is springing! As things begin to grow again, it is a time of ebullient, unbridled, upward and outward energy. It is burgeoning Yang after the deep Yin of Winter, and for people it is a time when our internal energies (Qi) begin to come closer to the surface after having “hunkered down” for a few months. The Liver (and its associated functions of moving Qi and storing and harmonizing blood) is the organ most active in the Springtime, so we should keep it in mind when making daily choices. Exercise is almost always a good choice to keep the Liver functioning well, and it is best to balance the exuberant energy of the bluster, exuberant Spring with slower, grounding movements, like those of Tai Ji, Qi Gong, or Yoga. It may finally be sunny, but be aware that the climate is unpredictable: dress in layers, and keep a hat or scarf with you to keep out the chilly wind, especially if you are perspiring.

Our food choices are of the utmost importance all year round, but can make a very big difference in the transition from Winter to Spring. To ease this transition, we begin to consume foods whose actions in the body mimic the Qi of the season. Some of these foods, which are in season (or soon to be) would be beets, Chinese cabbage, carrots celery, eggs, figs, olives, potatoes pumpkin, pork, adzuki beans, sweet potatoes, shitake mushrooms, sprouted wheat berries, and barley. Fresh, leafy greens and lightly fermented foods also can help to move Qi upward and outward from its deep winter hiding place.

We must keep in mind that the relative harmony of the Liver has an effect on our emotions. Reducing stress on the Liver (try stopping daily coffee, or try a Liver Cleanse) and in our daily lives (or at least trying to not take the stresses so seriously) can be a great help in navigating this wonderful, wild season.

SUMMER

Summertime is the brightest, warmest, most Yang of all the seasons. Out in nature, the sun is shining, the plants are growing, their fruits are maturing, and things are generally at their fullest and most prolific. For people, life is a little easier when the season is Yang in nature…it takes less energy to maintain our body temperatures, the warm air makes our muscles a little looser and easier to move, and physical energy is just a little easier to come by. If we have our way, summer is the ideal time for playing, for frolicking and for having fun.

Of course, in the modern world, most of us don’t get to indulge in quite as much fun and frolic as we might like, as our work schedules don’t usually change just because it is summer and the beach is calling! We still can, however, do what we can to stay in harmony with the energy of the season. Modifications of activities and eating habits can help us stay in tune with summer.
Being outside as much as possible (avoiding, of course, the hottest time of the day) gives us a chance to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings and experience the ebullient and joyful Yang nature that surrounds us. It is great to do things like hiking, swimming, walking, and other sports—the body is ready for lots of activity-but we must always be moderate and be sure not to overdo it. Drinking lots of fresh water (with a little fresh lemon in it) is also necessary, especially if we have been perspiring.

The foods of the season—fresh fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, are all expansive, yang energy foods and can be consumed freely during the summer. Hot nature foods such as black pepper, cinnamon, green pepper, ginger are also in harmony with the energy of summer and can be consumed in small amounts. Again, moderation is key-don’t think you can eat a whole watermelon and leave it at that. Remember to keep your meals balanced, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and quality protein. It is best to eat simply during this season-simply prepared, light foods are preferred over heavy, difficult to digest fare.

Join the season, with its warm, expansive, uplifting energy, and let your spirits rise with the summertime!

AUTUMN

Summer, the most yang of all seasons, comes to a close, and with Autumn we begin the move towards the Yin time of the year. This means that the extroverted, energy-expending nature of Yang is gradually making its return to the more introverted, energy-restoring nature of Yin. It’s a yearly cycle that we do well to observe, and to mirror in our lifestyles and food habits, in order to stay healthy by maintaining a balance between our internal Yang and Yin energies.

It’s time to follow the harvest in our diets, transitioning from the fruits and raw veggies of summer to the cooked, warming foods of Autumn-root vegetables, squashes, grains, and stews. As Autumn can be drying, it is best to incorporate moistening foods, such as porridge, soups, and warm ginger tea into our daily routine. It is also important not to overexert oneself, and to exercise only to the point of mild perspiration. Remember also that the temperature can drop quickly, and that you should wear sufficient clothing to protect yourself from the cold.
Think of it as the early stages of a modified hibernation, during which we fortify ourselves and increase our storehouses of both Yin and Yang to prepare for the Spring. Prioritize things like sleep, healthful eating, gentle exercise, contemplation, and family. Make an effort to eschew the stressful and overextended type of holiday season in favor of one that represents what you really value in life. Take charge, take care of yourself, and your joy will radiate onto those around you.

WINTER

As Autumn transforms into Winter, the cycle of the seasons is moving from partial Yin to the deepest Yin. This means that the nature of the Winter is like the nature of Autumn, but more so. Moving from chilly to cold, from dark to darker, the season contracts into itself, conserving and condensing its energy in anticipation of the miraculous expansion that will occur come Springtime.

In order for us to thrive during the Winter and to be replenished when our own Springtime comes, we do well to mirror that deepest Yin energy in our own lives. It is a time for less intense activity, for quiet contemplation, for peaceful, home-and-family-centered living. When we venture outdoors, perhaps for a brisk walk or for morning Qi Gong exercises, we must simply observe the weather and dress appropriately. Remember to keep the neck and upper back cozy under a warm scarf to protect that delicate area from the chilly air.

The Winter is a time when foods we eat should be warm, nourishing, and even slightly rich. Cooking times can be longer, with such foods as soups and stews, whole grains, and long-cooked root vegetables predominating. Cold foods and raw foods are to be avoided to maintain a balance between the outside environment and our internal environments. Ginger, with its warming and digestion-soothing qualities is a perfect food to add to Winter meals.

If we keep the season in mind and actively choose to be in harmony with it, we will all come to Spring rested, replenished and ready for the cycle to begin again.

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