Potent Organs for Winter
Winter is just one of the five seasons acknowledged by Traditional Chinese Medicine. The ancient Chinese followed the belief that humans should live in harmony with the cycles of nature. During the winter months, the darkness and cold indicate that we should slow down, take care of our health, conserve our strength and replenish our energy for the upcoming spring and summer months. This is observed in the animal kingdom, and it should also be considered a good rule of thumb for human beings.
Each season has multiple associations that help us adjust our habits as things change, which makes it easier to keep the body and mind balanced. Winter is ruled by the water element. The water element is associated with the kidneys and urinary bladder. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy, the kidneys are the source of all energy found within the body. This energy, frequently called qi (pronounced “chee”), is what keeps us alive and allows our bodies to function properly. During the winter months, it is vital that we nourish and nurture our kidney qi.
Winter is typically a time when we decrease our daily activities. Because of this, we should also decrease the amount of food that we eat to avoid gaining excess weight. It is also recommended that excessively cold and raw foods be avoided or at least countered with things like hot tea. Cold and raw foods can deplete the kidney energy over time. This can lead to problems with digestion, sleep and much more.
It is suggested that during the winter months, we should emphasize foods that are warming to the body. This includes things like soups, stews, root vegetables, beans, garlic and ginger. Also foods like whole grains and roasted nuts can help keep the body’s core warm, while providing healthy nourishment.
The second organ associated with the season of winter is the urinary bladder. The urinary bladder is a reservoir where water in the body collects for disposal. The urinary bladder receives impure or dirty fluids from the small intestine and then further transforms these fluids into urine. The urinary bladder then stores and excretes urine as needed. This function also plays an important role in helping to regulate a person’s blood pressure. The ability to transform the impure fluids depends on the energy of the kidneys.
One of the most important things anybody can do during the winter months to stay healthy is drink plenty of water. Winter, in most places, literally drains the moisture out of the body. It is recommended that we drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, even during the winter months. However, the thought of drinking cold water in cold weather is a concept that tends to keep a lot of people clinically dehydrated during the winter months. This is why warm water with lemon or hot tea are good substitutes. We are still ingesting water, while avoiding the cold that could potentially damage our core.
By following the guidelines set forth by nature, we can also remain in balance with the natural world around us. This is how our ancestors did it and it served them quite well. Perhaps there is something to be learned from the wisdom our elders passed down through the generations.
All About Acupuncture Points: GV-14
Governing Vessel 14 is called The Great Hammer. This point is located below C 7 on the spine. C 7, the seventh cervical vertebrae is the one which is the most prominent. Traditionally the vertebrae were referred to as hammers because of their resemblance to the tool. This point is great because it is the intersecting point for all of the Yang meridians in the body. In winter time, this point is often used to treat colds and other illnesses that are common this time of year.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine there are six types of evils that can afflict the body. Wind, cold, heat, dryness, dampness, summer heat are the six evils, or excesses. Governing Vessel 14 is good at expelling pathogens in the body, including invasions of wind and cold, as well as summer heat. Wind cold can enter the body through the area between Governing Vessel 14 and Bladder 12. This is why it is important to wear a scarf in the winter. You want to protect your body from an invasion of wind cold. If you do become afflicted you may get a cold, fever, flu and experience coughing. In the summer, excess heat can cause high fevers and GV 14 is effective in reducing them. GV 14 can also be needled to keep the wei qi (the protective qi, akin to the immune system) strong, thus protecting the body from external pathogens.
Due to its location on the neck, GV 14 can be used for neck pain or stiff neck, pain along the spine, headaches, toothache and sore throats. As you can see, Governing Vessel 14 is not only a great point in general, but a critical point during the winter months when cold and flu season are upon us and the threat of evil wind and cold is all around us.
A study published by the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at the holistic effects of acupuncture treatments. The study looked at how acupuncture treatments were conducted and evaluated. One of the areas this study looked at is how acupuncture influences the function of the brain. By using functional MRI imaging, the researchers were able to see certain areas of the brain were stimulated during the acupuncture treatments. The anterior insula and striatum, areas involved in motivation processing, were very responsive to the treatments. The study confirmed acupuncture on specific points can activate motivation centers in the brain, thus leading to increased physical motivation in the participants.
Everybody experiences times where they have no motivation. Lack of motivation can be caused by many things: weather, depression, nutritional deficiencies, rejection and even not exercising.
Lacking motivation can be detrimental to your health. Even though everybody knows they should be exercising and eating right and getting proper sleep, many of us choose not to. This becomes a bad habit that can actually develop into depression, fatigue, insomnia and even nutritional deficiencies that can cause even worse physical problems. We tell ourselves we don’t have time or we have no motivation or willpower. These are just stories we tell ourselves. EVERYBODY has time to care for themselves. It’s just a choice we have to make.
Acupuncture can help put the pep back in your step when it comes to motivation. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), lack of motivation is considered some sort of blockage along the energetic pathways that run throughout the body. Most commonly, this affects the gallbladder and liver pathways. Over time, this lack of motivation frequently develops into depression. When the body is depressed, nothing seems possible. But the fact of the matter is that, there are underlying causes to depression that begin with the lack of motivation.
The reason TCM works so well at addressing and correcting motivation problems is because it addresses the body holistically. When people go to their doctor and tell them that they have no motivation, they are frequently prescribed antidepressants. But the problem with antidepressants is they don’t address the underlying causes of the issue. TCM looks at everything: the body, the mind, the environment and the emotions. This allows for treatments to be customized to the needs of the patient instead of a one size fits all approach.
As mentioned, the liver and gallbladder pathways are most commonly associated with lack of motivation. When either or both of these pathways become blocked, motivation dissipates and people become depressed. One of the first things that happens is emotions become involved and send signals to the digestive tract. This is why many times, people who lack motivation or who have developed depression have no appetite. Energy comes from eating healthy foods. But when we have no appetite, we tend to crave things like sweets and carbohydrates because they give us the “emotional high” that temporarily sedates the depression and lack of motivation. But this quickly goes away and we end up right back where we started.
The gallbladder pathway is important when motivation is lost. The gallbladder pathway is associated with courage and decisiveness. Lack of motivation causes most people to not be decisive. The inability to decide or act or the lack of motivation to act is associated with a weakness of the gallbladder system. Regular acupuncture treatments can help with this issue, as well as moving energy along both the liver and gallbladder pathways, thus restoring balance to the body and increasing motivation.
A study published by BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at the effects of acupuncture in the treatment of depression. For the study, rats were exposed to three weeks of chronic unpredictable mild stress, which put them into a state of depression. Once depression had set in, the rats were then treated using two acupuncture points for 10-minute sessions. What was discovered was that depression-like behaviors were decreased using this treatment method. Therefore, it was determined by this particular study, that acupuncture indeed has positive effects on the symptoms of depression and can be used as a means to treat the disease.
Depression is defined as a mental disorder characterized by feelings of dejection and severe despondency. Worldwide, nearly 350 million people suffer from depression and nearly 16 million of those are in the United States alone. Statistics show women tend to be more likely to experience depression and young adults between the ages of 18 to 22 are also at higher risk. Symptoms of depression include extreme irritability over minor issues, anxiety, restlessness, irrational anger, lack of interest in everyday activities, thoughts of death, insomnia, severe fatigue, weight gain/loss, difficulty concentrating and unexplained aches and pains. When these symptoms occur for more than a few weeks, depression may be the reason behind them.
As shown in the aforementioned study, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very effective in treating depression, not only short-term, but also long-term. Modern medicine usually treats depression with antidepressants and psychotherapy regardless of the presenting symptoms. In contrast, TCM diagnoses each patient on an individual basis and treats the specific symptoms, while also addressing the root of the illness.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help alleviate symptoms of depression while also attacking the root cause(s), thus bringing the body and mind back into balance. The body and mind are inseparable and should be treated as a whole, which is the approach used by acupuncturists. When we experience emotional challenges and become upset, our physical body may become affected as well. Then a vicious cycle begins because the emotions are greatly impacted by what we can and cannot do physically.
The theory behind treating depression using TCM, all revolves around the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is considered the vital energy that flows through the body and animates everything. When Qi is blocked or stagnant, illness can take root, either physically or mentally. Qi flows throughout the body on energetic pathways or meridians. Each energetic meridian is associated with an organ and each organ has its own emotion. For example, the emotion of the liver meridian is anger. When Qi is blocked and liver Qi stagnation occurs, anger can then manifest. From the same standpoint, if a person is excessively angry, the flow of Qi can be blocked creating stagnation.
Acupuncture releases endorphins and activates natural pain killers. By doing so, it improves the flow of Qi throughout the body while eliminating blockages and bringing balance to the mind and body. Endorphins counter the symptoms of depression and allow the person to resume a normal life.
If you are suffering from depression and are looking for a natural way of dealing with it, contacting a licensed acupuncturist might be exactly what you need. A local acupuncturist can help you navigate the waters of depression without the harmful side-effects of pharmaceuticals, while helping you get back to a happier life.
Five Self Care Tips for Winter
Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that humans should live in harmony with the seasons. According to traditional Chinese medicine there are five seasons: winter, spring, summer, late summer and fall. Each season has many associations that help us change our habits, allowing for a more balanced mind and body.
When these systems were being developed, people were living in harmony with nature. People rose with the sun, ate what was available during the different seasons and they were much more aware of their natural environment. What to wear, when to wake up, when to go to sleep and what activities to engage in were all dependent on the weather and the environment. Because of this, people were capable of staying healthy throughout the year and their immune and organ systems were strong enough to ward off disease.
1. Get some rest
In TCM, the season of winter is a time of repair and rejuvenation. Winter is associated with the kidneys, which hold the body’s fundamental energies. Rest is important for revitalizing the kidneys.This is why some animals hibernate during the winter months. We should also spend more time resting during the winter months to help prepare our bodies for the months ahead when most people expend more energy.
2. Incorporate self reflection
Winter is a really good time to turn inward and do some reflection. Practices like tai chi, qi gong and yoga can be very beneficial during the winter season. These practices help us connect to our inner selves, while supporting the kidney energy. They also help relax the mind and calm our emotions. Things like journaling and meditation are other ways of reflecting during the winter months. Long term, these practices can be very helpful at extending a person’s life.
3. Drink water, lots of water
The kidneys are closely associated and ruled by the water element, which is the element associated with winter, so it is important to remember to drink water during wintertime. Drinking room temperature water is a vital step to maintaining sufficient kidney qi throughout the winter months.
4. Eat warm, seasonal foods
Choose foods that grow naturally during the winter. Items such as squash, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, root vegetables like beets, greens, carrots, mushrooms, apples, pears and cabbage are great. During the winter months, cold foods like salads and raw foods should be avoided as they will deplete the immune system. There are also foods that specifically target and nourish the kidneys, including kidney beans, beef, goose, duck, black beans, lamb, chicken, dark leafy greens, garlic, ginger, walnuts, quinoa, asparagus, celery, onion, fennel, scallions, cloves, watercress and turnips. Sea salt is also helpful, because salty is the taste associated with the kidneys. As with anything, moderation is key. Too much salt can actually tax the heart, which then causes the kidneys to work overtime.
5. Treat yourself to some TCM
Traditional Chinese Medicine utilizes numerous modalities and tools to help keep the body balanced and prepped for the seasonal changes. Acupuncture and moxibustion are two of the tools that are regularly used to boost the kidney qi. Moxibustion is a practice where dried mugwort is burned very near the skin to warm and boost the qi within the body. There are certain acupuncture points that are essential for boosting kidney qi. Most are located either on the lower abdomen, below the umbilicus or on the lower back above the hip bones, in the areas of the kidneys. Applying moxibustion to these areas is a wonderful way to boost the energy reserves of the kidneys.
When we align ourselves with the natural processes of life and the seasons, our bodies will adjust and perform optimally, just as they are intended to.
Do you ever wonder why the supposedly healthy and widely recommended food you’ve been eating is not helping you feel your best? The key could involve what Chinese medicine refers to as the energetic quality of a particular food. In TCM, those qualities are based on different properties of the food, including color, taste and preparation.
During winter, it’s important to be aware of these different energetic qualities to help yourself stay healthy and in balance with the natural world. These tips can apply to any season, but since so many of us tend to get sick in wintertime, it’s especially important this time of year.
According to Chinese medicine, the body has two components: yin and yang, which are like water and fire. These two elements are constantly trying to achieve balance so you can feel your best, and while most of us are a mixture of the two, at times one quality can dominate. Yin refers to a colder nature: more pale, feeling cold, having lower energy, loose stools, feeling more introverted and having clear and white fluids. Yang, on the other hand, is hotter in nature and includes a more outgoing personality, dry mouth, thirst, craving cold drinks, perhaps being prone to constipation, producing darker urine, having yellow sputum and feeling easily angered. Many people are a mixture of the two, so a proper diagnosis from a licensed acupuncturist is a first step toward a proper diet fit for your constitution.
The organs of the body are also considered yin or yang. The heart, spleen, lungs, liver and kidneys are yin, solid, with substance, while the small intestines, gall bladder, stomach and urinary bladder are yang and involved with movement and transport. Eating the wrong foods for your particular nature might interfere with the body’s balance and exacerbate problems even if the food is nutritious biochemically. Just as some foods might disrupt you internally, each of these properties is also connected to the external, natural world, and balancing that out with each season is an important part of healthy eating in TCM. Here are three examples of food qualities.
Cold: Cold foods would include fruits and vegetables that grow in the summertime. It also would include cold foods that are refrigerated, iced or frozen. If you want to include more fruits and vegetables, it is advisable to eat them at room temperature or cook vegetables lightly to make them easier to digest. Examples of cold foods are watermelon, apples, bananas, fruit juices, kelp, cabbage, tofu, eggs, yogurt and cucumber. Eating these foods will reduce heat signs in those with excess yang energy. If you are already cold, or it is wintertime, these foods might interfere with the digestive fire of the stomach, and you would not absorb the nutrients well. In addition, if you have a cold condition, such as chronic arthritis of a cold nature, or premenstrual cramping due to cold, it might make you feel worse and more achy.
Warm: Foods that are considered warming speed up the metabolism and include ginger, cinnamon, cherries, garlic, onion, lamb, chicken, hot peppers, and quinoa. If you’re running hot, you might want to eat these sparingly and include cooler foods. For example, if you have a hot condition and are in pain due to inflammation, you would not want to eat hot and spicy foods. On the other hand, if you’re not already inflamed, these are great foods to reach for during the colder winter months.
Damp: When the digestive system is not transforming and transporting food and fluids well, you get what is termed in Chinese medicine as “dampness” or phlegm build up, which is an increase of mucus. This can leave you feeling sluggish, foggy, congested, bloated and heavy. In such a case, a combination such as a banana and yogurt, which is highly nutritious, might not be right for you, as those foods promote dampness. Foods that increase dampness include dairy, greasy, fatty, fried foods, some antibiotics and alcohol. Examples of foods that help this condition are barley, basmati rice, alfalfa sprouts, lemons, green tea, walnuts, and mushrooms.
In addition to those mentioned above, there are food tastes such as sour, sweet, pungent, salty and bland, which affect different organs of the body as well as the absorption and distribution of food. Food is medicine. Ask me today if you want to know more about your own personal constitution.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.