As the seasons change, so does the type of energy that influences the earth. Chinese medicine explains the cycle of the different aspects of the universal energy, or qi, in terms of 5 elements. These 5 elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each element is associated with a season and a personality-type that embodies the energy of that element.
The Elements and their associated season and archetype are:
Fire: Summer / The Wizard
Earth: Late Summer or the Transitional Time Between Seasons/ The Peacemaker
Metal: Fall / The Alchemist
Water: Winter / The Philosopher
Wood: Spring / The Pioneer
As we approach summer, the season of the fire element, notice how the energy on earth gets brighter, more expressive. It naturally gets hotter, thanks to the proximity of the great fire in the sky, and it draws people outside and together. There is a sense of vibrancy that is awakened in us during this time.
The Wizard is the embodiment of this energy: colorful, enchanting, expressive, full of enthusiasm and an appetite for life. She is a magnetic speaker. He is an enchanting leader who leads from the heart. They are teachers, visionaries, and they possess magic.
Are you a wizard? Here are some questions to help answer that..
If you answered yes to any of these, you have at least a little wizard in you. We all have some features of each elemental energy, some more than others. If you answered yes to all of these, you’re a bright fiery wizard!
As it is the central philosophical foundation of Chinese Medicine, the importance of balance can never be understated. A fire can provide comfort and warmth or it can be disastrous and destructive. Signs of a fire burning too strong are excess perspiration, inability to rest, excessive talking, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, red face, rashes, cramps, issues with blood circulation and even the actual enlargement of the heart organ itself from overexertion. If this excess fire is not kept in check, it will inevitably lead to burn-out and a complete reversal of what we know to be associated with fire. Signs of a burnt-out wizard are someone that is nervous and withdrawn, or easily startled.
The unregulated desire to share oneself can lead to a loss of boundaries, which can lead to a loss of self. The beautiful fire of creativity and expression can thus turn into ashes of desolation and voicelessness. We can think of someone like Robin Williams as an example of a wizard who experienced both extremes of the fire-type personality. He shared his powerful magic with the world but also suffered from depression and isolation.
Some general but important reminders to help keep your fire in balance:
Timing is everything. Nature knows this and teaches us if we are paying attention. From winter to spring we can witness a drastic change in our environment. As that fresh spring breeze blows in and the cold barren landscape transforms into a vibrant display of life, we may feel like getting outside and shaking off some of that winter sluggishness.
In Chinese medicine, Spring is liver time, which is a time of rebirth, growth and movement. It is also a perfect time for supporting our liver function with some gentle detoxification. In accord with Chinese Medicine theory, the regeneration of liver cells is measurably more prolific after the spring equinox. Our bodies know what to do. Liver function, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), includes regulating the movement of qi (energy) and blood in the body. It’s all about getting things moving again after nature’s slow season.
From a western biomedical standpoint, the liver is mainly an organ of detoxification. The liver degrades old red and white blood cells and breaks down toxic chemicals, cleansing and refreshing the blood. It actively filters 1.3 - 1.5 liters of blood every single minute. It also synthesizes bile which carries toxins out of the body through the intestines.
There are 2 main phases of detoxification in the liver that process contaminants like medications, alcohol, and environmental toxins. Phase 1 is responsible for transforming fat-soluble compounds into water-soluble compounds. Phase 2 converts pesticides, alcohol, toxic metals, excess hormones etc. into safer compounds that can then be eliminated by other organs.
Herbology is the internal medicine branch of TCM. We can support liver function and in turn our natural spring renewal process with the use of some Chinese herbs. With an understanding that the safest and most effective herbal therapy is a customized one, we can look at a few herbal detox superheros:
Turmeric: (jiang huang)
TCM categorizes this herb as a blood mover. It unblocks qi and blood stasis and eases pain.
Western pharmacology recognizes its blood-moving and anti-inflammatory properties as well. It is known to support both phase 1 and phase 2 of liver detox. A study on mice showed it also improved liver detoxification by lowering inflammatory markers, reducing oxidative stress and increasing glutathione (another important body detoxification product made in the liver).
Turmeric can be enjoyed as a food, seasoning, supplement, or in tea. ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder can be added to meals. Be sure to add a little black pepper to increase absorption. You can also grate fresh turmeric root into soups, salads and curries.
Schizandra Berry (wu wei zi )
This amazing medicinal herb is also known as 5 flavor berry because it exhibits all 5 flavors. It also remarkably enters all 12 meridians and therefore has multiple beneficial effects on the body. It is mainly thought of as having an astringent action, which can treat symptoms of liver and kidney deficiency by preventing loss of qi and yin fluids. Bio-chemically, it is known to support regeneration of healthy liver cells. It has been used to help induce regeneration of liver tissue after part of the liver was surgically removed. It also activates the phase 1 detox pathway, helps to decrease free radicals, protects cell membranes, and can assist in lowering stress-related increases of liver enzymes.
Small amounts of the berries can be eaten fresh or dried and there are also tinctures, powders and supplements. But why not relax with a cup of some medicinal and delicious 5-flavor tea?
Gold Coin Grass: (jin qian cao)
Another herbal powerhouse to keep on hand for spring cleaning is Gold Coin Grass. TCM functions are to drain damp, remove heat and toxins, and eliminate stasis. In Western herbology, it is recognized for its ability to dissolve and prevent gallstones and promote bile secretion to help to move sediment and clear bile ducts. This is in addition to it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects
Gold Coin Grass is known for making a drinkable tea, but can also be taken as a supplement or tincture. It is not advisable for patients with diarrhea or those on anti-diuretic medications.
Listen to your body this spring. You may hear it calling for exercise, or emotional release. While you’re at it, try one of these 3 herbal superheroes and see what their powers can do for you!
To discover the full benefits of Chinese herbal therapy and how it can help you optimally adjust to the changing season, call your Chinese Medicine practitioner to schedule your next appointment!
Migraines are ranked the 3rd most common disease in the world, affecting at least 12 % of the world’s population. If you don’t suffer from them, then you most likely know someone who does. As too many of us know from experience, they are periodic painful attacks on one or both sides of the head with various accompanying symptoms such as nausea, and sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Women are 3 times more likely to suffer from them most likely due to hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle and menopause.
Migraines are also the leading cause of days lost due to disability in the world among people under 50 years old. Let alone the economic cost to US employers (estimated at 19.3 billion ), this debilitating condition steals a significant amount of the victim’s time. Migraine attacks can last up to 3 days with a couple more days on either end with the pre-migraine symptoms (thirst, fatigue, neck stiffness, esp on one side) and the post migraine ‘hangover’. For most sufferers these episodes can happen 2 to 4 times a month!
Conventional treatments include pain relievers, triptans (these affect the serotonin receptors thought to be involved in migraine episodes), anti-nausea medications, and preventative measures such as botox injections, other medications and even surgery. Triptans are the most commonly used drug for migraines and, according to a study, offer migraine relief within 2 hours of attack in 42 to 76% of patients. Triptans are contraindicated in cardiovascular disease, breastfeeding moms, and anyone under 18. There is also the risk of drug dependency. When it comes to prevention, between 17 and 29 percent of patients discontinue preventative medication because of adverse side effects such as anxiety, vomiting and weakness.
This is where acupuncture steps in, with no major contraindications or side effects. It also boasts notable effectiveness for a condition desperately in need of more effective treatments. According to a Cochrane review of about 20 studies, it was found that acupuncture is at least as effective as prophylactic drug therapy for migraine and it is safe, long-lasting and cost-effective. Other studies in the review have shown acupuncture to be even more effective than topiramate and flunarizine (common standard medications). With acupuncture, migraine frequency was reduced by 50% or more in up to 59% of the individuals tested. Also, it was noted that 50% of those visiting an acupuncturist reduced their reliance on painkillers.
Acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory which describes energetic pathways throughout the body that can be rebalanced through strategic application of fine needles at various points on the body. Unchecked imbalances can result in organ pathologies and pain. Studies looking to explain acupuncture’s effect on the body from a biomedical perspective have documented effects on parts of the nervous system that control cardiovascular and digestive functions, as well as changes in levels of certain neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine), hormones (like luteinizing hormone) and the release of endorphins (our natural painkillers). Research was also done using magnetic resonance spectroscopy to specifically investigate acupuncture’s effect on the nervous system in the treatment of migraines. Results suggested the possible involvement of recovery of neuronal mitochondrial function of the pain pathway.
In addition to acupuncture, TCM offers other modalities that can help in the treatment and prevention of migraines, such as cupping, gua sha and tui na (manual therapies), moxibustion (the burning of mugwort along points and channels), herbal medicine, and lifestyle guidance. While many of those who deal with painful and disabling migraine attacks will need some conventional therapies, acupuncture and the system of medicine it belongs to can offer much needed support and improved outcomes.
If you or someone you know suffers from migraines, don’t hesitate to see what acupuncture can do to help! Call today!
Spring is a time of renewal, regeneration, growth and energy. Plants and animals awaken from their slumber during the cold winter months, and vital nutrients stored in the roots of the plants and bodies of the animals come to the surface as life becomes more vibrant and fluid.
Human beings are no different. Humans stay indoors more during the winter months, and tend to pack on a little extra weight in the process. As the weather warms, humans become more gregarious and spend more time outside enjoying nature. This is just a natural process.
Therefore, it makes sense that what was observed by the ancient Chinese should still hold true today. Humans are supposed to take their cues from nature. As a species, humans should be more active during the warmer spring months. And to do this, we need proper nourishment. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is sometimes translated into energy. This Qi is the vital substance that keeps our bodies functioning until the day we die. To keep the Qi plentiful, we need to eat the proper foods at the proper times.
During the spring, we should be eating foods that have upward energies, such as green, sprouting vegetables. But we also need foods that will provide the extra nourishment for the increased amounts of activity that accompany the season of spring. This is where sweeter foods play a vital role. Foods such as fruits, nuts, yams, carrots and potatoes can provide the extra energy needed during the spring. But be careful not to overdo it. Too much sweet can overload the body and make it sluggish.
Sweets should be countered with pungent foods. Pungent foods aid in the movement of Qi upwards and outwards through the process of perspiration. Pungent flavored foods include scallions, onions, ginger, radishes, garlic, leeks and chives.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, spring is the season of the liver and the gallbladder. These organs regulate a smooth flow of energy throughout the whole body. However, they are prone to stagnation because we do not take proper care of ourselves. This can manifest as anger, irritability, depression, insomnia and even pain. Stagnation can occur when people eat too many poor-quality foods that may be full of chemicals.
Foods that help ward off stagnation include foods rich in chlorophyll, such as wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella, parsley, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens. All of these foods are abundant during the months of spring. It is also a good idea to have a glass of warm water with a slice of lemon first thing in the morning. This will help detoxify the liver and gallbladder to start the day off fresh. Lastly, foods that have a slightly bitter taste can help ward off heat in the liver. This includes foods like asparagus, quinoa, romaine lettuce and dandelion tea.
If you are curious about how to eat according to the seasons, contact a local licensed acupuncturist. They will be able to guide you along your healing journey through the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine and nutritional counseling.
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.