Posts filed under ‘Seasonal Advice’

Smoothing the Winter –> Spring Transition

Happy Spring, and Happy Daylight Savings Time! Turning the clocks ahead is one of the best events of the year, in my book — I just love the longer, lighter evenings and the promise that spring really is coming.

In that erratic, New England way, but it’s coming. As I write this, it’s April 1, the front yards in my neighborhood are practically carpeted with crocuses, and it’s snowing. Need I say more?

I’ve been feeling a bit erratic myself — both more energetic and a bit more impatient. Which makes sense, actually. From a Chinese medicine point of view, our bodies are little microcosms of the world around us. In early spring, energy that’s been dormant all winter starts to move, but hasn’t had a chance yet to burst forth.

It’s common for people to feel lighter and more optimistic this time of year, but it’s also common to feel really cranky or discouraged. (For all we know, the tulips are feeling the very same way as they wait to come out.) If this is happening for you, don’t worry, it’s just the change of seasons.


What to do?

Here are some suggestions for moving through the slower winter energy and into the exuberance of spring!

Do Some Spring Cleaning
. I’ve been having this crazy urge to de-clutter and organize. Suddenly it seems very important, and satisfying, to buy new storage bins and get everything in order, and ditch the stuff I’m not using. There’s a reason there’s an age-old tradition of spring cleaning — it moves all the energy that’s stuck in the clutter, and makes room for the movement and growth of spring. I highly recommend it, if the mood strikes.

Up Your Exercise. There’s more energy available this time of year, and it’s a good time to move from gentler exercise into something more vigorous. If you’re feeling tired or resistant, it’s more likely right now that it’s due to your energy being stuck, rather than depleted. Push yourself a little to do some aerobic movement — you’ll probably feel more energetic and happier.

Look For Where You’re Stuck. Often if our energy is low, there’s something in our lives or hearts that is blocking it. Take a minute to get quiet, and go inside and ask yourself, what’s getting in the way? Be willing to be surprised. Some things you might find: decisions or changes that need to be made; conversations you’re avoiding; people or activities you’re done with and need to let go.

And while you’re inside, ask yourself what kind of support or help you need to clear those things away. It’s usually not a small task to make changes like these, and you deserve some patience and assistance.

Eat Lighter: In the winter we crave, and need, heavier foods like proteins and starches. In the spring, these foods can literally clog our energy flow. Try adding more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and avoid dairy and fried foods. You’ll feel lighter and more energetic. Eating just a little bit less also helps keep things open and moving.

Do Something New, Different, Fun, or Funny: Having fun and laughing are, quite seriously, the very best things you can do to get energy moving. A new activity or new place does even more to get you out of a winter rut. Make this a strict appointment in your schedule, just like a medical appointment. You’ll get just as much out of it.

Have a Seasonal Acupuncture Tune-Up. I highly recommend this, especially if you’re having a hard time with irritability, muscle tension, or erratic energy levels. The winter to spring transition can be the roughest of the year (because of that “stuck” dynamic) and an acupuncture treatment can help get your energy moving and bring you more in tune with the changing season. Let me know if you’d like some help with this.

April 1, 2011 at 4:58 am Leave a comment

Dealing with the Darker Months: Wisdom from Chinese Medicine

When I was in college, I did a 6-month off-campus study program in India. Being so far south, the hot season was can’t-move hot, and during the “cold” season you might need a light sweater in the evening.

Living near the equator also meant that the length of the days didn’t change much at all from season to season. The sun rose at 6:30 AM and set at 6:30 PM, year-round. Of course, it took several months for me to notice this, but I was amazed how disorienting it was to be without the usual (for me) rhythm of long, luxurious summer days where it’s light until 9:00, and deep winter nights that begin in the midafternoon.

While I do love the seasons I grew up with, I’ll have to admit they can make it difficult to regulate energy and mood throughout the year. Sometime in October I start wanting to go to bed at 6:30. Usually that passes, but it remains harder for most of us to find the active energy and enthusiasm that seems so available in the lighter summer months.

Chinese medical texts recommend surrendering to these seasonal changes. Winter is a more “yin” time of year, marked by stillness, quiet, and more internal pursuits. It’s natural to sleep more, go out less, and attend to our home and personal lives. This time balances out the “yang” of summer, where we tend to be more active and engaged.

Still, it’s important to take care of our energy level and our spirits during this time of year. Slowing down is okay; exhaustion and unhappiness are not. Winter is an ideal time to focus on our own physical and mental health. Yet there are so many things that distract us from self-care: all the things we need to get done, first off, and then a culture that values productivity more than it values people. But the truth is we offer to the world what we have within ourselves, and so we need to care for that. Try making your well-being a priority this winter.

Here are my Top Four Ways to Thrive in the Winter:

1. Get as much light as you can. Early in the day is best, because it helps reset your internal clock. Going out for a walk early in the day can make a huge difference in your mood and energy. Another alternative is to use a light box. This is especially helpful if you suspect you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (see sidebar). For more information on light therapy, go to www.cet.org
2. Schedule active time. You’re less likely to go out for a spontaneous bike ride after dinner, so it’s helpful to make standing plans to go out, exercise and/or see friends. A dance class, a regular date with a gym buddy, a midwinter party, a weekly or monthly dinner date, or tickets to concerts or plays, will all help you combat cabin fever.
3. Find enjoyable quiet activities. We are actually supposed to be more contemplative, creative, and inner-focused at this time of year, so make the most of it. Often in the summer we’re too busy or restless to devote ourselves to meditation, knitting, reading books, journaling, cooking, or art, all of which can be deeply satisfying activities for those lower-energy days.
4. Reach out for support. If you’re feeling low, it can be hard to find the energy to let others know and to ask for help. Whether it’s low-level winter blues or full-on debilitating depression, you deserve support. Let your family and friends know if you’re struggling. And be open to finding professional help as well. Therapy, support groups, bodywork, and Chinese medicine can all relieve depression and help you manage difficult times.

January 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm Leave a comment

Holiday Prescription

Here we are, smack in the middle of the holiday season. It’s still hard for me to register 50 degrees as a December day, but as I’m writing this it’s 4:15 and the sun has already gone down, so it must be true. In just a week the days start getting longer again, and we’re about to step into the year 2011.

This month-plus of holidays — Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, New Year’s — is a tricky time. It can be a reminder to cherish family and friends, and to enjoy and appreciate all the blessings we have in our lives. It also can become a time of painful self-evaluation, or a sad time when we feel our losses even more acutely than usual. For most of us, it’s a mixture of these things.

Whichever holidays you celebrate, or ignore, I have 3 prescriptions for you:

First, give yourself permission to really enjoy what you enjoy about the holidays, and to dump as much as you can that feels like obligation. It’s really okay if you don’t do everything, or if it doesn’t look the way it’s “supposed” to.

Second, be gentle with yourself and leave some time for the things that nourish you most — even, and especially, when you feel too busy. No matter how well things are going, everyone has some tender spots this time of year, and we need our friends, yoga, dancing, meditation, art, long hot baths, you-name-it, at least as much as we ever do.

Third, and perhaps most important: evaluate your life some other day. If you’re not satisfied with your family situation, or you think you should have accomplished more this year professionally, or whatever — be kind to the pain you feel, but don’t try to analyze and fix everything right now. January’s plenty soon enough, if you want to make some changes. For now, just relax into the next few weeks and find joy wherever you can find it.

And, if I don’t see you between now and then — best wishes for a peaceful, joyous beginning to 2011!

December 14, 2010 at 2:32 pm Leave a comment

Keeping Cool in Summer

Summer heat can feel great; or, sometimes it can be a bit much. If you’re feeling cranky, exhausted, lethargic, yucky-all-over, or just plain too hot these days, you’re not the only one! Try these suggestions for keeping you happy, healthy, and cool when it’s hot and muggy outside:

1. Check out the list of cooling foods below, and incorporate them into your diet (watermelon is actually listed in ancient texts as a medicinal substance for a condition called “summer heat,” which is similar to sunstroke or heat exhaustion).

2. Try eating cold soups.  I’m a new convert to this one — they’re light, cooling, and a great way to get vegetables when you finally get tired of salad.  Try the cucumber-yogurt-walnut soup here: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2008/06/cucumber-yogurt-soup-recipe.html. — it incorporates several of the cooling foods listed below.  Or surf around and find a recipe for gazpacho, minted pea soup, or chilled avocado soup.  Let me know what you find!

3. Who can resist ice cream? I can’t.  But do try to keep it reasonable, especially if you tend to feel nauseous, stomach-rumbly, foggy headed, or heavy and lethargic in this weather.  Ice cream is a triple whammy for your Spleen — it’s cold, sweet, and dairy-based.  All three of those things (which, admittedly, are the whole point of ice cream) are hard on the Spleen and make it more difficult for your body to cope with the humid weather.  The same goes for those latte-like frozen concoctions from Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.

4. Get up earlier, stay up later, and rest at midday if possible (you can tell your boss I said so!); Chinese medical texts suggest this as a way of living in harmony with the season. (Countries that do afternoon siestas are way ahead of us on this one!)

5. Sleep cool. Even those of us who love the steamy weather have trouble sleeping in it.  If you have air conditioning, night is the time to use it.  If not, make sure you close windows and blinds during the heat of the day, and use window fans to bring the cooler night air in when you go to bed.  A cool (not freezing cold!) shower before bed can also help.

6. An ice pack behind the knees can do wonders to cool the whole body; one of the main acupuncture points for clearing heat is located there Just make sure you wrap it in cloth so you don’t give yourself frostbite (this has happened before!).

7. Drink lots of water.You know this, of course, but it’s easy to forget to do it.  And, go easy on alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, which are dehydrating.

8. Headaches in this weather? A recent study found that the likelihood of getting a headache goes up by 7% for every 5 degrees of temperature increase (this probably isn’t news for those of you with migraines).  Try this home remedy:  1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in an 8-ounce glass of warm water helps balance electrolytes and fluids to get rid of a headache.

9. Take care of yourself in air conditioning.  As lovely as it feels, it can be shocking to the body to go back and forth between hot and cold air — especially if you’ve gotten sweaty outside.  According to Chinese medicine, cold can invade your body through your open pores, causing colds, headache, neck pain, and muscle pain.  Try to keep indoor and outdoor temperatures as similar as possible, transition gradually if you can, and keep a sweater handy so you don’t get chilled.

10. Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine are appropriate if you’re still way too hot after trying these things; if your mood, sleep, appetite, or energy is significantly affected; or if you have health conditions (such as headaches, digestive issues, skin rashes, or dizziness, for example) that get much worse in summer. A large part of Chinese medical diagnosis centers around the balance of heat and cold in the body. Treatment can help cool down an overly-warm constitution, making you healthier and more comfortable.

COOLING FOODS FOR SUMMER

These foods, according to Chinese dietary therapy, help cool your internal body temperature and lessen the impact of hot weather.  Most of them are in season now; I suggest stopping by your local farmer’s market to get the freshest and tastiest available.

Apricot
Watermelon
Cantaloupe
Lemon
Peach
Orange
Asparagus
Sprouts
Bamboo
Bok choy
Broccoli
Chinese cabbage
Corn
Cucumber
White mushroom
Snow peas
Spinach
Summer squash
Watercress
Seaweed
Mung beans
Cilantro
Mint
Dill

July 12, 2010 at 10:01 am Leave a comment


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