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Jun 13

Winter and the Element of Water

Winter is a time when the essence in nature is revealed to us. The trees have lost their flowers and leaves, and only the bareness of the trunk and branches are left. There is stillness, an inwardness, as nature seeks to conserve its energy to be ready for the next season of growth.

Winter Tree

For us, it is a time for inward reflection, to get back to the essence of ourselves. It is a time of nurturing the self by meditating, reducing the amount of activity you do, and going to sleep early and waking later. Without enough energy saved, the growth of Spring will be stunted and full potential unreached.

With plenty of reserves, we find that we are more courageous and have strength of will. Without enough energy stored, however, the emotion of “fear” can excessively predominate. We do all need a certain amount of fear to make sure that we stay alive – for instance, being fearful of moving cars in case we get run over or pausing to consider whether to eat that sandwich you made a week ago! Where the Water energy is unbalanced, the type of fear felt would be that of not having enough and of not being prepared for the future.

There are some amazing acupuncture points (well, even more so than the other amazing acupuncture points) on the Water meridians, the Kidney and Bladder meridians, that can lift and regenerate your spirit, just when you have been completely exhausted by life and the will to hold onto it is weak. They can bring you back to a place where you feel safe and you can find the peace and strength to allow yourself to begin your healing.

Some signs of Water being out of balance could be:

  • lower back pain
  • knee pain or weakness
  • sexual problems
  • fatigue or shortness of breath
  • anxiety or excessive fear
  • inflexibility or resistance to change

A few things that you can do to work with the energy of Winter are:

  • sleeping early and rising late, at least no earlier than the sunrise
  • spend more time on your inner self such as meditation, reading literature that nourishes the soul, being still and more aware of yourself and your surroundings
  • include more “warming” foods in your diet such as whole grains, squashes, beans, peas, root vegetables and garlic
  • spend time with people who are close to you, deepening relationships in a quiet and relaxed manner

Gumenick, N. (1997). The Five Elements: Water5elements.com. Retrieved 12 June 2015, from http://www.5elements.com/docs/elements/water.html

Franglen, N. (2006). Keepers of the soul: the five guardian elements of acupuncture, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Apr 25

Autumn and the Element of Metal

http://healthinflow.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/autumn-leaves-sml.jpgAutumn and the Element of Metal

Autumn is the season of Metal energy. It is a time when the fruit of Late Summer has been harvested and trees drop their leaves, to return to the Earth, enriching it for future growth in the cycle of the Elements. This energy of getting rid of the unneeded keeps us unclogged and allows us to be able to receive the pure and see the essence of who we are.

Grief is the emotion of Metal and expressing our grief appropriately allows us to experience the loss and separation needed, and then let go. It helps us to get rid of what we no longer need and start afresh. When our Metal element is unbalanced within us, grief can be excessive and constant or cannot be expressed at all.

The Large Intestine, the “Drainer of the Dregs”, is one of the Organs associated with Metal and its function is to expel waste products and any toxicity in our body. However, it does this more than at a physical level and applies to the mental and spirit levels, too. In the process of growing up and just day-to-day living, we often have had to deal with a lot of garbage and if we don’t remove it, it creates a toxic dump, clogging us up and making us mentally and spiritually constipated. This doesn’t allow us to experience the purity and beauty around us.

The Lung is the other Organ associated with Metal and it receives the pure, like the crisp Autumn air. It inspires from the Heaven, allowing the new and fresh in. It is the “Receiver of Heavenly Qi”, which allows us to receive pure Qi, connect to spirit and have a deep and real connection to others.

When the Metal element is unbalanced, some of the physical symptoms you can experience include skin problems, asthma, cough, bronchitis, emphysema, constipation and diarrhoea. However, underlying this, we can tend to feel a lack of spontaneity and freshness, depressed, stubborn and isolated.

Metal adds richness to the Earth and in us, it is related to our own sense of richness, our own self-worth. We cannot see how precious we are or how we have something meaningful to contribute. People with an unbalanced Metal element will often be attempting to seek to prove their worth by gaining status, power and assets, which they find still leaves them unfulfilled. They often find it difficult to “let go” because the respect, recognition and quality they seek is gained from  outside of themselves through possessions, achievements, attachments and attitudes.

Treating in Autumn is more effective for the Metal element and you can support your own Metal element by noticing the energy of the season and living with it.

  • Begin to rest and quieten, acting and speaking when necessary, taking care not to overexert yourself.
  • Go through cluttered areas and clear it – give what you no longer need to friends, donate or sell.
  • Review your attitudes, including resentments, jealousies, hatred, envies, and try to resolve them and let them go.
  • Step outside and breathe in the fresh, crisp Autumn air every day and as you breathe in, allow it purify you as you and as you breathe out, allow negativity and impurity to leave you.

Gumenick, N. (1997). The Five Elements: Wood5elements.com. Retrieved 20 April 2015, from http://www.5elements.com/docs/elements/metal.html

Franglen, N. (2006). Keepers of the soul: the five guardian elements of acupuncture, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

 

Feb 25

Late Summer and the Element of Earth

We’ve all heard of the seasons Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – but what about Late Summer? Is this even a season? In Chinese Medicine, this is the season that sits between Summer and Autumn. It is a time past the budding flowers of Spring, past the time of growth and maturation of Summer and into the time of harvest, the fruits of which nurture us as the earth nurtured the fruit. In Chinese Medicine Five Element theory, this time is associated with the element of Earth. We all consist of the Five Elements which are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water and we’ll see how the Earth element displays itself in us.

Late Summer and the Element of Earth

The Organs associated with the Earth element are the Spleen and the Stomach. These Organs have functions which are physiological but have an equivalent psycho-emotional function.

The Spleen is the Controller of Transforming and Transporting. It converts food and drink into Qi (energy) and Blood, and transports this food essence and fluid around the body. When an imbalance occurs, fluids may accumulate and cause conditions such as oedema, fluid on the lungs, and aching and stiff joints. Mentally and spiritually, when the Spleen is not in balance, this can result in thoughts not being processed and distributed appropriately. Sometimes, there can be thinking that’s not converted into action, poor memory and concentration, or thoughts and worries that can seem obsessive.

The Stomach is the Controller of Rotting and Ripening. Food is taken in through the mouth, chewed, swallowed and enters the Stomach, which continues to break the food down so the beneficial parts of it can be used to create Qi. A healthy Stomach also allows us to digest mentally and spiritually as well, enabling us to take in information, break it down, process it and absorb it. When the Stomach is out of balance, physically, a person can experience symptoms such as nausea, hiccups, vomiting and bloating.

There are times of the day when particular Organs have more Qi and function optimally. The time of the Stomach is 7am – 9am and the Spleen is 9am – 11am. It is best to have breakfast in the hours of the Stomach and then allow the Spleen to digest the food in the hours afterwards. If a person’s Stomach and Spleen are weak, they may find that they have a poor appetite in the morning and are also more tired at those same times in the evening, between 7pm – 11pm.

Enjoy this time of Earth – enjoying this pause between the Yang of Summer and the Yin of Autumn. It is a time of nourishing yourself in preparation for a quieter part of the year.

Nov 23

6 Self-Care Tips for PMS

6 Self-Care Tips for PMS

Most women know about PMS as over 90% of women experience one symptom of PMS and over 50% of women experience more than one symptom. Symptoms can include:

  • mood changes such as irritability, aggression, tension, lower self-esteem, depression
  • fluid retention such as bloating of the stomach, swelling of the feet and ankles, breast swelling and soreness
  • pain such as abdominal cramps, back pain and headaches
  • food cravings, binge eating
  • nausea

In Western Medicine, this collection of signs and symptoms is considered a normal part of a woman’s reproductive life. However, in Chinese Medicine, it is your body expressing disharmony within itself.

The Liver organ system in Chinese Medicine controls the free flow of Qi (energy) in the body. Emotions are also a form of energy and when they are not expressed appropriately or at all, the free flow of energy starts to get blocked, creating Liver Qi Stagnation. This can cause emotions which are associated with the Liver anger, frustration, resentment and annoyance, which are emotions which can cause the Liver Qi Stagnation, so a cycle is created.

To break this cycle, here is some self-care you can apply:

  1. Avoid coffee, alcohol, hot and spicy foods, rich and fatty foods, and large amounts of red meat before and during your period.
  2. Acupressure “Nei Guan (Inner Gate)”, located three finger-breadths from your wrist crease, this point moves Liver Qi, calms the mind and reduces nausea.PC6 Neiguan Acupuncture Point LocationPC6 Neiguan Acupuncture Point
  3. Practice gentle and mindful exercise such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga. It cultivates your body through physical movement as well as develop mental awareness.
  4. Regular meditation cultivates mindfulness and gives you the ability to deal with your emotions in a healthy way. You can just “watch” your anger and by doing this, it removes the “charge” of the anger and your conscious and unconscious reactions to it.
  5. Write in a journal to help you stay in touch with your emotions.
  6. Avoid excessive work and maintain a balanced and regular schedule for eating, sleeping, working, exercising and resting so no undue stress is placed upon your physical, mental and emotional self.

As you can tell, the main culprit in causing PMS (and in fact most diseases) are emotions. If we can learn to be aware of them, recognise them and allow them to flow through us and out of us constructively, we can reduce the disharmony that is created and causes illness.

Oct 5

Spring and the Element Wood

Chinese character for "Wood

Did you know that even 5000 years ago, the Chinese knew that Spring was time to get things done! Still to this day, they believe that all of nature and us as human beings are made of up 5 fundamental energies – the 5 Elements. These 5 Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. In my training as a 5 Element Acupuncturist, I could learn more about people and the flow of life by watching the 5 Elemtns as they produced the 5 seasons of the year than any of my textbooks.

Let’s look at the element Wood. It creates the season of Spring; this is the beginning of nature’s cycle, a time of new beginnings and growth. Wood is the energy that pushes the new grass through the snow, produces new branches from old wood and the new leaves of the year. Spring bursts forward with hope and optimism, offering renewal after the quiet still time of Winter.

The ancient Chinese also believed that there are 12 main acupuncture meridians in our bodies and likened these meridians to officials in a kingdom, each official in charge of a part of our personality as well as our physical being. Wood energy can be found in two of these meridians: The Gall Bladder, known as “The Upright Official who Excels in Judgement”; and the Liver, known as “The Official in Charge of Planning”.

So what are these Wood meridians doing in us? They are helping us look toward the future, making plans and take decisions. Wood is the part of us that sets boundaries with others and helps us have a healthy relationship with anger and assertion – it is also the part of us that senses what is right and wrong.

When our Wood energy is not working, we can feel a little hopeless, have trouble making decisions or even seeing what the future has in store for us. Poor Wood energy can lead to procrastination even when we know they are the things we really want to do.

Spring is the time of the year when these meridians are at their best, ready to wake us up from the quiet time of Winter. Like the new green buds on the trees, we can be bursting with new ideas, ready to make plans and have the energy to make them happen. It’s Spring, so let’s get going!

Thank you to Gye Bennetts, my teacher in Classical 5 Element Acupuncture
www.5element.com.au

Sep 8

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival: Mooncake Heaven

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival for 2014!

This is a time of family gathering and giving thanks to them. Traditionally, it is also a time of gathering of the harvest and giving thanks for the abundance nature has provided. It is also a time of big banquets, followed by my favourite once-a-year dessert, “Moon Cake”.

Mooncake

Moon Cakes are a big feature of this festival, their roundness symbolising completeness and unity. The cakes are gifted to each other and are shared amongst family and friends, and this sharing is a show of the completeness and unity that moon cakes represent.

Generally, they are made with lotus seed, which in Chinese Medicine, has astringent, sweet and neutral properties and targets the Chinese Medicine organs of Spleen, Kidney and Heart.

The sweetness supports and nourishes the Spleen, aiding your digestive system as well as any diarrhoea associated with weak Spleen energy.

The Kidneys benefit from the astringent nature of the lotus seed and helps a person to keep their Kidney Essence, which is a person’s vital energy. In men, it can help with weak sexual function and in women, with excessive vaginal discharge.

The seed also has calming properties and can subdue restlessness, palpitations and insomnia, particularly if consumed with the seed kernel.

So, as well as being a celebratory food, Moon Cakes have positive health properties, too, though bear in mind that in current times, there is more sugar in them than traditionally, so do enjoy it but in moderation!

Jul 28

Skating on the Other Side of the Ice

When you get an injury, the first thing people reach for is ice. It constricts blood vessels to reduce swelling and inflammation and it desensitises nerve endings to reduce pain. It sounds great, doesn’t it?

Ice Pack

However, in the area of injury, you will find dead tissue as well as blood and other fluid leaked into the tissue. When you apply ice, it reduces the supply of nutrients, such as oxygen, and white blood cells which help to clean up the area, and decreases lymph drainage and removal of damaged cells. What you end up with is a stagnant pool of rubbish that is starting to congeal and harden, sticking onto your muscles, tendons and ligaments. In addition, ice causes your muscles, tendons and ligaments to contract, and post-injury, they have already contracted as a result of having been overstretched, making it more difficult for normal movement to be regained and once again, slowing the healing process.

Additionally, from a Chinese Medicine viewpoint, coldness can also penetrate our energy systems, which is why sometimes, arthritic-like pain is felt when it is cold.

So, what can be done instead?

  • Apply emergency acupoints to reduce pain and stimulate energy and circulation.
  • Cup and bleed local area to remove stagnant blood and fluid.
  • Self-massage with liniments that move the blood, reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Massage towards the heart to assist with lymphatic drainage.
  • Apply cooling herbal poultices to reduce inflammation, move the blood and nourish the muscles and tendons. There is a “herbal ice” called “San Huang San” which is the gold standard poultice for acute injuries and is best applied immediately after being injured.
  • Rest the injured area to prevent further injury.
  • Apply heat with wheat bags or have warm baths once redness and heat have dissipated.
  • Move the area gently when able in order to maintain movement and circulation.

If you don’t have anything available except ice, use it sparingly only for ten minutes every hour, and only in the first 24 hours, and see a Chinese Medicine practitioner as soon as you are able!

Jul 8

Mindful Eating

When was the last time you really savoured your food? Do you find that you’re often in a rush in the morning, scoffing down your toast whilst finding your clothes for the day and making your lunch at the same time? Or you might even be eating it in the car in peak-hour traffic? Does multitasking at work with lunch and your e-mails sound familiar?

Food is the main source of energy that we get and it is vital that we absorb all we can from it using a digestive system that is functioning optimally. Eating mindfully, being present with the food and really savouring the tastes, smells and textures, helps us to do this. It can:

  • improve your digestion, particularly because chewing produces saliva which starts to break down the food in your mouth
  • reduce your overeating because it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realise that your stomach is full
  • help you be satisfied with less because you can trust yourself to feel satisfied after a couple of blocks of chocolate rather than the whole block

image

So, how do we mindfully eat?

  1. Start small: Choose one meal or snack a day with which you will be mindful of and build from there.
  2. Avoid multitasking: Remind yourself that eating is important, it is something that you are doing now, and the other things, including watching TV or reading a book, can wait whilst you are being present with your food.
  3. Only eat at the table: This will help you focus on your task at hand, which is eating, and not walking around doing something else.
  4. Breathe: This seems like a given but by taking a conscious breath, we bring ourselves to the present, which will help us to eat mindfully.
  5. Appreciate the appearance: Before you eat, allow yourself to drool over the food.
  6. Focus on each mouthful: Savour the aroma, the taste, the texture, the sensations and feelings that the food triggers in you. Does it bring you back to your grandmother’s kitchen? Does it make your throat feel warm?
  7. Chew: Take your time to thoroughly chew your food. Feelings of food lumps going down your throat is a sign more chewing is needed.
  8. Use cutlery and put it down between mouthfuls: Eating with cutlery makes each mouthful smaller and more digestible. Between each mouthful, putting your cutlery down gives yourself time to finish chewing and swallowing a bite of food before the next bite.
  9. Eat quality food: Eating quality food means that you will enjoy it more, be more satisfied and eat less.

The best time to have breakfast is between 7-9am, which is the time when your Stomach energy is strongest. I really enjoy having breakfast early in the morning, when the world is still quiet outside, and at this time of year, the sun is casting its first orange rays of light on the world – a great time for practicing mindful eating!

Apr 14

Foods for Autumn

Autumn is one of my favourite seasons of the year, though according to Taoist philosophy, there can be no favourites – the seasons are as they are and we can enjoy them all! The weather is mild, the air feeling fresh and crisp and of course, the change that is happening in nature is beautiful and fascinating.

Autumn Trees

The season of Autumn is related to harvesting, pulling in together and gathering. There is abundance but also contraction to prepare for Winter as it approaches – leaves and fruit fall, seeds dry, the sap of trees enters the roots. The foods to focus on this season are astringent foods and heartier flavours and foods to prepare to store energy for Winter.

Astringent foods are sour-flavoured and are contracting in nature. Some of these foods include sourdough bread, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, leeks, aduki beans, salt plums, rose hip tea, vinegar, cheese, yoghurt, lemons, limes, grapefruit and the sour varieties of apples, plums and grapes. Sour foods are very effective in small amounts so take care with the consumption of extremely sour foods.
The cooking method for these foods is to cook with less water, at a lower heat and for longer periods of time to internalise the energy of the food.

Autumn also tends to be drying in nature, though dryness affecting the body can occur in any season. Some symptoms of Dryness in the body are thirst, dryness of the skin, nose, lips and throat, and itchiness. Foods which moisten the boy include soybean products, spinach, barley, millet, pear, apple, persimmon, loquat, seaweeds, almond, pinenut, peanut, sesame seed, cooked honey, milk and dairy products, eggs, clam, crab, oyster, mussel, herring and pork, as well as a little bit of salt. The milk and other animal products are more appropriate for people who have dryness with weakness, frailty and diagnosed as Deficient in Chinese Medicine.
Foods to limit to avoid drying include bitter, aromatic and/or warming foods which include many spices and herbs.

Enjoy slowing down with the cooking and gathering into yourself!

Dec 30

Food for Summer

Summer is a Yang season, which means that lightness, brightness, liveliness, expansion, growth and creativity are the principles that hold true at this time of year. So to live in accordance with these natural principles to enhance your health, the lifestyle we live and the foods we eat are important. The last post focused on the Chinese Medicine summer lifestyle of waking early and being light-hearted (in Chinese Medicine, this is the season of the Heart) and this post will focus on its complementary component, the summer foods for good health!

Varied, many-coloured fruits and vegetables are the way to go this season and creating a visually appealing display of the food will enhance their benefits. The cooking style should be light, which means lightly sauteing at high heat, steaming and simmering foods quickly.
On particularly hot days, create a cooling atmosphere in which to eat, such as having a picnic under a tree or dining al-fresco on your back patio, and eat foods that are cooling. These include:

  • salads
  • sprouts (particularly mung, soy and alfalfa)
  • fruit (especially apples, watermelons, lemons and limes)
  • cucumber
  • tofu
  • flower and leaf teas such as chyrsanthemum, mint and chamomile

To help regulate your temperature, drinking hot drinks and having warm showers will cause sudden sweating and cool your body down. Also, having hot-flavoured spices will intially cause your body to become warmer but will actually disperse the heat from the inside to outside. Some of these foods include:

  • red and green hot peppers
  • cayenne red pepper
  • fresh ginger
  • horseradish
  • black pepper

As always, have these foods in moderation because if you have too much cooling food, it causes contraction in your body and you will hold in sweat and heat, and it will also affect your digestion. For this reason, it is also important to avoid icy drinks and cold foods such as ice-cream. If you have too much dispersing spices, it weakens your warming energy and being able to stay warm in the cooler seasons may be lost. Also avoid heavy foods such as meats, eggs and too many nuts, seeds and grains because they will create sluggishness.

If you find yourself with any combination of the following: red face, red eyes, a bright red tongue with a yellow coating, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, skin eruptions, nose bleeds, constipation, mouth ulcers or an unusually large appetite – it is possible that you have excessive heat in your body and following a diet as above, will help to cool you down!