Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Spring lifestyle

Spring is finally upon us with its expansive energy of growth and its rich tapestry of life. After such a long winter, it is only natural to feel heavy, unfit, and sluggish. While in winter we concentrate on staying warm and consuming the necessary nutrients to maintain a strong immunity and  prevent the elements from harming us, in spring the focus is on cleansing the body and returning to a more active lifestyle to help us get rid of the cobwebs and the extra weight and toxicity accumulated during the months of less activity and of richer foods.

Our modern society -with its unchanging timetables, supermarkets stocked up with every possible food throughout the year, and artificial room temperatures- tends to make us unaware of the real impact of the seasons on the workings of the body. However, failing to observe the changing needs of our body according to seasonal changes often results in lack of balance and disease. 

Different seasons bring different crops, temperatures, and amount of daylight which should naturally be accompanied by a change in diet, activity, and sleep patterns. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), like the Chinese culture, observes seasonal changes and considers that adapting our diet and lifestyle to the seasons plays an important role in the maintenance of health and vitality. 

Spring in TCM

A return to life, growth and expansion

Spring is associated to the Wood element which in turn relates to the TCM Liver organ. It is a time of coming back to life, of expansion and growth, and of the arrival of new life. The energy stored throughout the winter months serves as a propeller of new life and makes seeds sprout, animals reproduce, and our energy levels rise to make us feel vital again.

In spring we also see the arousal of Wind which not only refers to the climatic factor but is also considered by TCM as the potential carrier of many diseases which can cause rapid onset acute illnesses such as colds, headaches, allergies, neuralgia, and palsy;  as well as symptoms that move from one part of the body to another.

The expansive energy of spring can also bring up excessive heat or illnesses that started to develop before or during the winter but which did not manifest during those months due to the contracting effect of the cold which produces an inward movement of our energy during that season. This is one of the causes of allergic symptoms that may suddenly develop during this season.

How to be healthy in spring

Spring is here: time to come out of hybernation
When we have a strong constitution or make a point of conserving our energy and health throughout the cold months by following a suitable winter lifestyle, our vital force will be naturally re-awakened by the spring and we will feel more alive, motivated, and able to make plans and undertake new projects. However, as pressing family and work responsibilities can make it difficult to attain the ideal amount of rest, exercise and nutrition during the winter months, many of us may instead feel heavy, sluggish, and unhealthy when the spring comes. Those suffering from allergies may even find this season unbearable as their symptoms start to get triggered by the blossoming trees, and the awakening plants all around.

These are the most important steps to feel healthy and vital at this time of year:

Look after your Liver
Because of the close relationship between the spring and the organ of the Wood element - the Liver- we need to make an extra effort to keep this organ healthy at this time of year. To learn how to do this visit my 
post on the TCM Liver.

Spring clean your body and mind
An excess amount of toxicity and fat is likely to have accumulated in the body during the slow months of winter when we exercised even less than usual, ate heavier and richer  foods and perhaps consumed more alcohol to keep us warm and to cope with the darkness. This accumulation may cause blockages in the various systems of the body and may easily result in symptoms when the strong outward spring energy results in more active circulatory system and detoxifying functions of the Liver.

A good spring detox followed by a balanced diet that keeps toxicity to a minimum will have a positive impact on any symptoms caused by accumulation. If toxicity is high, the beneficial effects of a good diet could be rendered minimal unless it is preceded by a good detox. You could say it would be like pouring fragrant water into a blocked drain, it will mix and be corrupted by the pre-existing stagnant water unless the blockage is cleared first. 

Follow the weekend detox plan suggested on my previous post or other plans preferably under the supervision of a nutritional or TCM practitioner.

Spring diet
If you follow the cleansing weekend detox, try to continue eating healthily and keeping toxicity to a minimum after you have finished so your Liver and your body can have space for renewal and bodily functions can attain greater balance. Make a conscious effort to have a balanced a diet, adhering as much as possible to the TCM concepts of diet and nutrition.

In addition, in spring it is useful to:

1) Start the day with a cup of hot water with the juice of half a lime or lemon. Alternatively add a shot of apple cider vinegar and a small amount of raw honey. This enhances Liver function and creates an alkaline environment which is conducive to health.
2) Keep hydrated throughout the day by drinking at least 2 litres of preferable warm (or at least not chilled) water or even better chrysanthemum, or fresh mint tea. Nettle tea is also a good choice.
3) Avoid alcohol, excessively spicy food, greasy food, and caffeine as they tend to create too much toxicity and overheat the Liver which may result in symptoms such as acid reflux, headaches, eye problems, high blood pressure, etc.
Step up the greens in springtime
4) Keep up the intake of green leafy vegetables and include slightly pungent spices and herbs in your meals such as onion, garlic, chives, basil, coriander, parsley, cumin and mustard seeds. Have plenty of asparagus and artichokes which are particularly good for the Liver and in season at this time of year.
5) Use light cooking methods such as stir frying and steaming which are best in spring as they keep the cooling quality and moisture of foods. Small amounts of raw foods can also be beneficial at this time, provided you don’t have a weak digestion or feel constantly cold and tired.
6) Consume small amounts of honey or molasses which are highly nutritious and whose sweetness can soften the Liver and prevent problems due to Liver Qi stagnation (for more on this refer to my post on the TCM Liver)

In springtime we are are likely to feel more energetic and motivated to do exercise . If you still feel heavy and sluggish, it may be useful to start by doing a gentle detox like the one recommended in my previous post before you start any kind of exercise regime so that you avoid the extreme aches and pains produced by the heavy release of toxins after the first work outs.

If you haven’t got a preferred form of exercise, have a go at different types of moderate outdoor exercise such as brisk walking and cycling. Swimming is also a good choice. Try exercising for at least half an hour 3 times per week and combine with some gentle stretching, pilates or yoga. This way you will be both fit, strong and flexible, three very important factors in good overall health and in having a good flow of Blood and Qi and a healthy Liver.

Protect yourself from the Wind
In many cultures the idea of not trusting the weather in spring is reflected in warning proverbs such as: 'Ne'er cast a clout till May is out' or “hasta el 40 de mayo no te quites el sayo” -don’t take your tunic off till the 40th May-.

Spring is the season of rapid changes and strong winds so we need to be prepared for sudden drops in temperature, rains, and strong winds that may make us unexpectedly cold, shivery, or soaking wet. This exposure to sudden changes can make us ill particularly if we are out of shape and with lowered immunity after the long winter. TCM considers the Wind a carrier of other disease factors which combined with it can cause chills, fevers, headaches, palsy and many other symptoms. For this reason it is advisable to always carry a light scarf and a light jacket or waterproof cover to protect us from the elements when the weather conditions rapidly change.

Plan and make decisions
The spring is traditionally the season of changes, decision making, and new beginnings. In TCM, it is the Wood element that rules our decision making, and ability to see detail, organise and plan ahead and the organs of the Liver and Gall Bladder are regarded as the rulers of these mental abilities. When in health, the Liver and Gall Bladder will power our creativity and vision and will enable us to make quick decisions and effective planning.

Because in TCM all functional relationships are reciprocal, this also means that taking time to organise our ideas, weigh the pros and cons, and project into the future before jumping into new waters or embarking on big projects may help power up the Liver and Gall Bladder functions.

Spring allergies

Allergies are rife in spring
Allergic rhinitis, hay fever, and other allergies are the most common problems directly associated with the spring season. Because allergies are an expression of an exaggerated reaction of the immune system to a stimulus, one of the most important things to do is to be as toxin-free as possible. This not only means extra care with general hygiene, air quality and the products that may affect our skin, but also with what we put inside the body.

If our system is already dealing with high toxicity and acidity in the form of alcohol, greasy food, tobacco, drugs, chemical additives, etc.; we are more likely to react to external allergens as our immune system is already burdened from the inside. The reason for this is that a large part of our immunity is found in the digestive system and the health and strength of our immune system as a whole is inextricably linked to what we eat and drink.

TCM can be very effective at treating hay fever and other allergies. Acupuncture helps relieve inflammation and pain, improve circulation, and decongest the nasal passages; while specific Chinese herbal remedies can be used to treat more stubborn or severe symptoms. In addition, a good TCM practitioner should provide suitable dietary and lifestyle advice to help enhance the effectiveness of treatment and prevent the recurrence of symptoms. Visit my previous post on hay fever to learn more about TCM views and treatment of this condition.

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