Welcome to Resolutions Week! Today we'll be discussing exercise and its importance as viewed from the Chinese medical perspective.
Many many MANY people make exercise a part of their New Year's Resolutions. (It's definitely made my list!) We all know that to be truly healthy, exercise is an important building block. So why do so many of us struggle with the motivation to get up and move our bodies regularly?
We are a society of stress. Our jobs are stressful. Our families are stressful. Traffic is stressful. We're expected to do so much in so few hours! In Chinese medical theory, stress is associated with the Liver and the Wood element
. Stress prevents the Liver from doing its job of keeping our Qi moving in a smooth fashion. If our Qi isn't moving properly, we start to get symptoms of unhealth.
When we exercise regularly, we are mechanically making our Qi flow. Think of all those muscles moving. That blood pumping. The sweat pouring. Your Qi follows each of them. So even though the stress may be making it difficult for your Qi to move smoothly, when you exercise, it is being forced to do so, which will help ease your levels of stress. See how that works? It's a great feedback loop!
One of the reasons we may find it difficult to get motivated to get moving is because of our Qi not moving properly. Think of it like a car with a dead battery. If the battery isn't sending power to the engine to start it, you're going to have to push-start it. It's hard to be motivated to push that car, especially if it means having to get up earlier in the morning! However, if you know that if you push that car and get the battery fixed so it'll start easily when you tell it to, it's much easier to get out there and start pushing!
So get out there and fulfill your New Year's Resolutions, and know that you're doing your body good to get that Qi moving! Remember, it'll get easier to continue with your new habit once all those little bits of Qi get unstuck!Resolutions Week - IntroResolutions Week - Part II - Healthy EatingResolutions Week - Part III - Quitting SmokingResolutions Week - Part IV - Willpower
I liked this article from Natural News (copied below) and wanted to share it with you all. Apparently I am in the mood for some autumnal foods. Bonus recipe at the end!In Traditional Chinese Medicine, autumn is represented by the metal element, which corresponds to the Lungs and Large Intestine. Weakness in this element shows up as ailments in the Lung and Intestines: allergies, asthma and constipation. The remedy can be found in this season's most notable food: the pumpkin or squash.
The pumpkin is round, orange and sweet. It corresponds to the earth element in the five element cycle. Earth is the mother of metal. In Chinese medicine there is a saying: when there is weakness in the child (in this case metal: lungs and large intestine), nourish the mother (in this case earth.)
Weakness in the lungs will show up as:
Because the lungs open onto the skin, one may also see acne, eczema and psoriasis. The paired organ to the Lungs is the Colon, so weakness here will show up as constipation, diarrhea, or IBS.
In Chinese medicine, the pumpkin is known to relieve damp conditions such as dysentery and eczema. It promotes discharge of mucus from the lungs, bronchi and throat, easing bronchialasthma. (1)
Not only does the flesh of the pumpkin benefit the Lungs and Large Intestine, the seeds are especially good for the intestines, easing constipation and acting as a parasite cleanse. Known as nan gua zi, pumpkin seeds are especially known to alleviate tapeworm and roundworm. For this purpose pumpkin seeds are taken by boiling into a strong tea known as a decoction or grinding into a powder to be taken with water.
Nutritionally, pumpkins are high in beta carotene which is converted by the body to vitamin A. Beta carotene protects the mucous membranes of the body and has been shown to protect both the lungs and large intestine against cancer. (2)
Soup is an excellent way to nourish the body this time of year. The following soup can be made with pumpkin or any kind of yellow winter squash. Make sure to save and wash the seeds, which can then be salted and baked at 350 degrees until dry.
Nourishing Pumpkin Soup
- 1 pumpkin or squash, halved, seeded, and baked face down on baking sheet at 350 until soft (1/2 hour to an hour depending on thickness of squash.)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 cups water
- In soup pot, saute onions, garlic and carrots in olive oil until softened.
- Add water, flesh of the squash scraped from the skin, maple syrup, salt and pepper and mix well.
- Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Cool and blend until smooth.
- Reheat and serve.
- Pitchford, p.508
- Ibid, p.313
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA.
Bensky, Dan and Gamble, Andrew. Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica.Eastland Press, Seattle.
Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine. Acupuncture, A Comprehensive Text. Eastland Press. Seattle.
Wood is our fifth and final element to discuss, so here we go!
Wood is the element that controls our abilities to make decisions, make goals and achieve them. When Wood is out of balance, we have trouble making decisions. We are unable to make goals, let alone complete them.
Wood is associated with the organs Liver and Gall Bladder. The Liver helps our emotions to flow smoothly, so if Wood is imbalanced, we may have trouble expressing emotions. Or we may get easily frustrated and irritated. In extremes, Wood that is way off track may lead to controlling, abusive behaviors, anger or addictive personalities with possible substance abuse.
Some physical signs that your wood is out of balance may be:
- Painful cramping during menstruation
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
- Eye problems
The color associated with Wood is green - the color of spring. And much like in spring, when new growth is springing forth, the Wood element is all about new ideas and personal growth. This is typically the cause of frustration for an imbalanced wood element - the inability to grow, change and make a difference in the world.
Try some of these to keep your wood element in balance:
Go hiking through the woods. Trees are pure wood energy, and they'll help you balance out your wood element.
Make simple plans and follow through with them.
Wear the color green! I really like jade for this purpose. Alternately, you could wear something made from wood.
I hope you've had a lot of fun talking about the 5 elements and have learned a lot about yourself and your environment!
We're nearly through our 5 element discussion! The next element is the element of Water.
Water is the source of fearlessness, determination and sense of will-power. When our water element is weak, we may be anxious, withdrawn or fearful.
Aging, as well as the organs Kidney and Bladder are related to the water element, so physical complaints that one may experience are:
- Urinary complaints (incontinence or frequent urination)
- Menopausal symptoms
- Hearing problems (including deafness and ringing)
- Sexual dysfunctions (low libido, erectile dysfunction, etc.)
The color associated with Water is black. This didn't make sense to me when I was first studying Chinese medicine until someone explained that Water was also related to the season of Winter and the time between death and birth.
Think of being in the womb - there is no light.
Think of Winter when the sun might not make much of an appearance (especially here in Portland!) for days, weeks or months.
So, how do we strengthen our Water element?
Go swimming. What better way to honor the water within us than to immerse ourselves in it?
Like all of the other elements, surround yourself with items that are black. Some sources also link dark dark blue with Water.
Hibernate. Okay, not really. But get a lot of rest, and go easier on yourself, especially in the Winter. Winter is the time of Water and of preparing yourself for Spring when life will begin anew.
Tomorrow is the last stop on our Element discussion. We'll be talking about Wood - one of my favorites!
Woo! We're half way through our discussion of the five elements, are you enjoying yourself? I am! Today we're going to talk about Metal.
The metal element controls our sense of organization, self-control and conscience. Also our boundaries and sense of right and wrong. When we are balanced, the above qualities are exhibited. When our metal element is out of balance, we may become unorganized, socially inept (think self-control), we may become inflexible in our lives and unable to let things go - both physically (think hoarders) and emotionally (think grudges).
The organs associated with metal are the Lung and Large Intestine. People with metal imbalances may notice some of the following physical symptoms:
- eczema and other skin conditions
- changes in bowel habits (because of metal's relation to the Large Intestine)
The color of metal is white, so to strengthen your metal element, consider surrounding yourself with items or clothing that are white in color.
Go through your closet and get rid of clothes that no longer fit or no longer like. Someone else would probably love these items, and it's a great way to practice letting things go.
Organize your kitchen junk drawer (yeah, we all have them!). Putting things in their place will make your metal element feel much calmer!
If you find yourself dwelling on a situation from the past where you were wronged, take a moment to quiet yourself and focus on letting go of the grudge/anger/sadness. How do you do this?
Forgiveness might be the right word for you and your situation.
You might find that what works for you is to see some good that came from the situation. Yeah, your boyfriend may have cheated on you, but look at the wonderful person who came into your life because he was no longer occupying that space. Finding the positive can help you let go of the bad!
Tomorrow we'll discuss the element of water. I bet you can't wait! (I know I can't!)
The next element in our discussion is the element of Earth.
Earth is the element of being grounded, nurturing and compassionate. When our earth is strong, each of these traits are exhibited. When we're out of balance, we may worry about things, or over-think them until we're blue in the face. You know that test you took last week? If you're still thinking about the answer to number 27, then you need to strengthen your earth element. Weak earth may also exhibit as being meddlesome (it's not exactly compassionate or nurturing to get in on other peoples' business, is it?).
Unlike the fire element, which we discussed yesterday, the earth element doesn't appear in excess, only in deficiency. Some physical symptoms of weak earth may be:
- Loose bowel movements
- Being over weight
- "Fuzzy Thinking"
- Other digestive complaints
So what can we do to strengthen our Earth? As with any element, we can surround ourselves with clothing, items and foods that come in the color associated with the element. For earth - think "earth tones" - browns, oranges, yellows.
Since the earth element has to do with nourishment and digestion, consider eating easily digestible foods (fully cooked, not raw) and those coming from the ground that have earthy colors. My favorites are carrots and sweet potatoes. Squashes are also great earth-building foods!
My favorite way of building my earth is to go camping. Being away from the city with all of its straight lines and hard surfaces and really enjoying the dirt under your fingernails is a great way to connect with your earth element!
What's your favorite way of grounding yourself and connecting with your earth?
The first element we're going to talk about in this five-part series is Fire.
Fire is the element that relates to drive, passion, desire and enthusiasm. When our fire element is strong, we are able to experience all of these without trouble. When the fire element is out of balance, one may experience a feeling of being "burned out" (literally!) or being anxious.
Symptoms that you may feel if your fire energy is too low are:
- A lack of enthusiasm
- Restless sleep
- Muddled thinking
- Decreased sex drive
Some symptoms that may signify an excess of fire energy are:
- Heart palpitations
It should come as no surprise that the ancient Chinese linked the Heart to the element of fire (and all that passion!) but they also linked the Small Intestine, Triple Burner and Pericardium to fire.
So how do we keep our fire element strong? You could wear more red items, since red is the color associated with fire. Consider a necklace that has red in it. Or a new red shirt!
Meditate on the color red.
Eat red bell peppers!
Remember that fire has to do with enthusiasm, and try to foster that in your day to day life. Find something small to be excited about. It could be that you're going to try making a new dinner tonight (or an old favorite!). Get excited about it!
So, tell me, what are some of your ideas for keeping your fire element strong?
Over the next five posts, I'm going to talk about each of the Chinese elements. In Chinese medicine, the elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood affect every aspect of our environment, our health and our lives.
We'll investigate their associations with color, certain bodily organs and functions, emotions and much more!
I hope you're as excited as I am to dig into each element in turn and see how they intertwine and affect our lives and our health!
Our family is putting a vegetable garden in our backyard. This is something we've wanted to do for a long time now and it just didn't ever seem to happen. We're super excited about it and look forward to our bounty! We're going to keep it simple this year - plants that pretty much grow like weeds - tomatoes, zucchini, beans, etc.
I'm not sure which part of it I'm most excited about.
Our backyard had been destroyed by the dogs, so we're really getting it put back together this year. That makes the organizer in me pleased. This is the metal in me.
I'm excited to get my hands in the dirt and to connect with the soil directly. I love being in the dirt. Being soild. This is the earth in me.
I look forward to watching all of our little plants change daily and to watch them reach for the sky. They're so adventurous! This is the wood in me.
The sun beating down on my back while I tend to my garden, absorbing that heat, that warmth - can't wait to bask in it! To let it empower me! This is the fire in me.
To water my little plantlings and watch the water snake its way around the garden, to watch it soak down through the earth, finding resistance, finding a way around, a way through - whatever it takes to make it to the roots of those little plants. This is the water in me.
Gardening can fulfill so many needs - exercise, sustenance, a breath of fresh air. Who knew it could also fulfill so many elemental needs as well?