Chinese Medicine in Spring
Spring is here, a time of transition and change, when the contractive cold moist Yin energies of Winter gradually give way to the expansive hot Yang energies of Summer. This process involves movement and wind, the weather is still unstable in spring, vacillating between new warm breezes and the old colder weather of the season just past. There is still plenty of moisture in the ground that even remains cold.The days are longer, but its not even May, let alone the long days of summer and its relentless sun.
This transition from the absolute Yin of cold winter with its relentless nights to the absolute Yang of hot summer with its relentless days is dangerous. The weather is fickle and windy. One day is cold and windy the next hot and then the next again cold. The day is hot but the nights cool. So our boy has to keep adjusting and adjusting. In this way Spring is, like Autumn, a hinge between the two extremes of weather. For hinges to work well they must be be lubricated. Stay loose. Protect your body from the extremes. Choose the middle path.
This natural strain of Spring Wind leads to very specific kind of infectious febrile disease. Certain kinds of pox and measles are prevelant in Spring, whereas flu and colds are more in Winter and polio in Summer. Even viruses have their season. Chinese medicine identifies categories of febrile disease found in Spring as “warm disease” and we use different herbal medicine to treat these than we do to treat “cold disease” of winter.
And, it is said that if a winter cold is treated improperly or inadequately, then the lungs are weakened and prone to infectious disease in Spring. Always prevention.
Springtime is a time of new beginnings; the very word leaps off your tongue like a rush of young water. Every culture marks this season with a festivity, from the New Year celebrations in India and Iran, to the Passover and Easter of Jews and Christians, to the ancient fertility celebrations of Nature worshipers all over the globe. No reason the egg of Easter is also found on the Passover Seder plate.
A time of unfolding, the upward spread of new life.
In Chinese medicine the ancient classics speak of Spring in almost romantic terms: as a time of rising up and unfolding, as Mother Earth is once again invigorated by the Solar energies she was sundered from in Winter. Now the Yang (outward movement) within her Yin (stored energy) rises up and propels the Yin energy from its deep places, spreading her multicolored luxuriance all over the land in a steady march towards the magnificent radiances of Summer.
Gardeners will understand this, and some will be reminded of The Song of Solomon. The will for life is at its maximum in Spring–animals all over are mating and laying eggs. So too, in ancient China, this was a time when the emperors would give amnesties to the imprisoned. It is a time to refrain from killing and accord special respect to living things.
Nei Jing Advice: Early to bed; early to rise. Exercise in the morning out in the courtyard.
While the ancient foundational text of Chinese medicine, the Nei Jing/Yellow Emperors Classic advises us to go to bed early in winter, but to rise late, after the sun has warmed the land, Spring is a time to retire early, and to rise early, to get up in the morning with one’s long hair still down and do Tai Qi and other exercises out in the open courtyard. This brings the dormant still energy of Winter out from the deep layers of the body (bones and organs) into the muscles and tendons, which are particularly affected by this season. Its also a metaphor for how to respond to a time of change, with tai qi, which enables looseness and flow.
In Springtime the Liver Qi moves the deep well of Kidney Qi up and out to nourish and flood the Heart. By summertime this energy floods the heart completely. Summer is a time of great joy and flourishing in nature.
In Spring it is said a buoyant step and supple movements (such as in Tai Qi) allows the energies of spring to penetrate our bodies, We mimic nature, moving out into the open, like the early shoots of bulbs and other perennials out in the garden.
Chinese Medicine Nutritional Guidelines: Bitter leafy greens to keep the Liver Qi smooth. Lighter foods to engender digestive fire.
In Chinese dietary therapy, the consumption of bitter green leafy vegetables and herbs, like parsley, celery, romaine, kale, arugala, rapini, dandelion or any of the myriad “Choy” found at the Chinese market, is recommended to help cleanse the Liver and Gall Bladder from any impurities accumulated during the long winter months. Spring is the season when the liver energies are most taxed, and when it is natural to cleanse.
Fresh or freeze dried Stinging Nettles (Urticaria) are a great tea at this time of year, along with burdock, yellow dock, chamomile, skullcap and peppermint to open the liver flow, and as always, fresh ginger to bolster the digestion.
While Chinese medical tradition in no way eschews the consumption of flesh, this is a good time of the year to eat more lightly so the body can focus its energies on adapting to fluctuating weather, rather than on the digestion of the warming heavy foods appropriate to winter. Light grains like rice, millet, quinoa, and buckwheat are recommended, as are sprouting vegetables like new Asparagus, Bean Sprouts, and my favorite, snow pea sprouts called Do Miao available at any Chinese or Vietnamese market.
Ayurvedic Medicine: Spring Cleaning with a Kitchari Monodiet Fast
This is accomplished very effectively through the “Monodiet” fast in which you restrict your diet for short periods (e.g., one day weekly or on retreat for as long as a week or two) to one or two simple, easy to digest foods like rice, steamed vegetables.
Kitcharee, (below) an easily digestible rice dish with the protein of mung dal and the Agni stimulating quality of mild spices like cumin and black pepper is most popular for this purpose. Restrict your diet for one or two days to the following recipe and drink Ayurvedic Pitta, Vatta, or Kapha tea throughout the day to cleanse the tissues and balance the three “Doshas” (constitutional elements). The advantage to this style of fasting is that you get all the benefit of resting and cleansing the digestive tract, without weakening the body.
In India this is the procedure followed in Ayruvedic retreat centers that specialize in week long Panchakarma healing treatments. Kicharee can be modified according to your own specific Dosha and eaten as a cleansing food throughout the year once a week.
Tips for Spring: Spring Cleaning of Body and Mind
- Cleanse the Body with an Ayurvedic Modified Fast using Kicharee
- Get a “Seasonal Transition” treatment from your local Acupuncture/Chinese medicine practitioner
- Take a day off and go to the Hot Springs
- Go hiking in the desert or forest to observe nature’s subtle seasonal energies.
- Get out into the garden to feel Nature’s Qi. Nothing connects you to nature like the garden over the course of the year. The changes in the plants over time remind you where you are.
- Do a deep cleaning of your home. Clean the places your normally miss. Have a yard sale. Spring is a great time to assess what you need and what you can do without.
- Go through old papers and discard what is no longer necessary nor useful.
- Open your heart to the nourishment of poetic experience; take a weekday off and go to the museum or for a long walk. Observe while you go: What are 5 ways the light, sounds, smells, and foliage reflect the season we are in?