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At the end of this week we'll officially be entering Spring, something most of us have been waiting for impatiently the last couple of months. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), spring marks the decline of Yin, which predominated the winter months, and the reawakening / renewal of Yang, which arrives at its peak in the summertime. In order to maintain our health & longevity we must obey the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang as they move through the seasons, which means we must eat and dress according to the season in order to preserve the balance between ourselves and nature.
In TCM theory, spring is all about growth, movement, and expansion; and is associated with the Liver (wood element). The liver governs the distribution of Qi and blood, and it's in the beginning of spring when Qi comes out of its winter hibernation with a strong flow and the desire to expand. In Western Medicine this relates to a more active metabolism; so its important that we encourage the flow of Qi through being active and sustaining a proper diet. Keep in mind that since spring is a Liver season, diseases associated with the Liver (high-blood pressure, high-cholesterol, and cerbrovascular diseases), are more prominent, because of such pathological patterns as Qi stagnation, blood stasis and hyperactivity of Liver Yang. You can think of these as the liver overheating, poor lipid metabolism, atherosclerosis, and internal heat that rises up to harass the heart. Another common Liver pathology during this season comes in the form of emotional disturbances like anger, frustration, and stress, which can damage the Liver's ability to function properly.
Not getting enough sleep or being a "night owl" can also affect the Liver and promote disease. The motive for this is because the night is considered Yin, and so is the Liver and the blood. If one stays up too late this aggravates the Liver, which needs to rest; allowing the body time to heal & rejuvenate itself. During this period of rejuvenation the blood retreats, and enters the Liver to enhance the function of the Liver cells, which in turn accelerates the metabolic functions of the organ, and improves the Liver's ability to detoxify the body.
In order to maintain a lifestyle that is in balance with the spring season, the following general principles should be followed.
1. Calorie and protein intake should be maintained at optimal levels.
Since it's still cool in the springtime our bodies require slightly more calories to stay warm; although, not as many as is needed in the winter time. Since it's still cool outside, proteins tend to be used up more quickly for energy, so these should be slightly increased as well.
2. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Your body needs more vitamins and minerals to upregulate the immune system in order to protect itself from invading pathogens that are more prevalent as the temperatures warm up. Also, there is more wind during the spring, and wind carries these pathogens, which can enter through the mouth, nose and back of the neck. This is why it's important to eat right and harness strong defensive Qi (immune system). As always, you should eat twice as many vegetables as fruits; ensuring you get lots of antioxidants like vitamin A, C, and E, which boost the immune system and destroy anything that penetrates the body's outer line of defense. Vitamin A regulates the immune system and acts as an anti-inflammatory protecting your lungs against respiratory infections. It can be found in kale, mustard greens, and spinach, as well as, sweet potatoes and carrots. Vitamin C has an anti-viral effect, and is particularly good at destroying free radicals, those pesky little molecules that seek out and destroy healthy cells. Good sources of vitamin C are: papaya, pineapple, oranges, broccoli, and Brussels Sprouts. Vitamin E also protects are cells from free radical damage, and increases our body's resistance to disease. Look to spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, and avocados for this anti-oxidant.
3. Eat a light diet that is slightly warming in nature, and avoid greasy, fatty foods (= fatigue), as well as, spicy and cold foods.
A springtime diet should include slightly warming foods like, brown rice, millet and porridge. Acrid foods can also be included like onion, garlic, cayenne or paprika, and ginger. Green onions and ginger are especially useful against colds and flu.
4. Balance the Spleen and Liver through proper diet.
Another important reason to keep the Liver in check during the Spring, is because when the Liver becomes bound up, the Qi stagnates, which can also cause blood stasis and heat. It is then possible that the Liver will attack the Spleen / Stomach causing digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome. To prevent this from happening we want to balance these two organ systems through proper diet and exercise. For the Spleen, we want to eat foods that are nourishing and strengthening like: fennel, carrots, sweet potatoes / yams, pumpkin, zucchini, and beets. Try to avoid over-thinking / worrying, sweets, greasy - fried foods, cold or chilled drinks and raw food, which can weaken the Spleen and digestive system. To nourish the Liver, eat green colored foods, green apples, peppermint tea, rose hips tea, kiwi, rye, artichoke, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes. Things to avoid include anger, frustration, fast food, greasy food, alcohol, spicy food, and excess amounts of sour foods.
5. Spring is the best time to detox.
During the winter months most people have a higher fat intake because there bodies are in conservation mode, in other words, were hibernating and trying to conserve energy. There is little activity during these months, people are more reclusive, and spend even more time in front of the tele. Due to all this lack of physical activity our bodies accumulate large amounts of toxins, which lodge themselves in various tissues and organs. As a result of this toxic accumulation we can become sluggish / fatigued, loose focus, have poor digestion, lowered immune response, and higher blood cholesterol. Since the represents the Liver and renewal, it's the perfect time to purify the body by doing a detox. Some foods that have naturally detoxing abilities are: strawberries, blueberries, cilantro, celery, kale, cherries, and lemons.
Have a GREAT spring and take care of your livers!
Posted by: Scott Stewart, LAc, Dipl.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it’s believed that the source of our life was a gift to humankind in the form of the Three Treasures, Jing, Qi, and Shen. Since there are no literal translations for these words in English, they’re often translated as essence (Jing), vitality / energy (Qi), and mind / spirit (Shen). These energetic substances constitute our body and mind, sustain our life and provide a connection to the source from which all things originate - the Dao. In Daoist philosophy, practitioners have a holistic view of everything within the cosmos, and strive to bring harmony to all the varying degrees of relationships that compose that existence. On a microcosmic level, the goal is to harmonize oneself to both earth and heaven, because man is the intermediary between the two.
The first step in this process is the transmutation of the body, mind and spirit into a harmonious unit. This process is what Daoist practitioners call inner – alchemy. The same is true in TCM when we treat patients, we are trying to re-establish harmony between the body, mind and spirit, which can easily be disrupted by our hectic, stressful (both physical and mental), technologically – driven lives. Below is a description of each of the three treasures and how important it is that we maintain their balance in order to lead a healthy life.
Jing (essence) is the densest (most Yin), of the three substances, and is often presented in analogies as the wax and wick of a candle. Jing represents our potential, just as a tiny seed holds the potential to sprout and grow into a giant redwood tree. In the body, Jing resides within the Kidneys and is considered the biological basis of the human body and mind; the product of the joining essences of the mother and father, also called Pre-Natal Jing. The Pre-Natal Jing is inherited from our parents at conception and carries all the traits of our ancestors; and so it is often correlated with genetic information / DNA in a biomedical sense. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it’s taught that we only receive a small amount of Pre-Natal Jing, so you should do everything in your power to conserve this precious substance, because without it we would have no life. Not only does Jing, especially that given by the mother, nourish the embryo and fetus, but is also responsible for growth & development in the body and all reproductive activity. Jing is what synthesizes into a woman’s menstrual blood and a man’s semen. There is also Post-Natal Jing which is acquired from food / drink after birth. The Stomach extracts the nutrients and then they’re refined into nourishment & Qi by the Spleen, which distributes them to the rest of the body.
Qi is often referred to as "vital energy" or "life force". From a Daoist perspective Qi is the source of everything, in other words, the basic substance of the cosmos and all phenomena which it contains. Qi is innately able to transmute and condense from the most subtle to the most dense of existences. It is the motive force that animates our lives, allowing us to move, to breathe, moving blood through our bodies, and allowing the organs to function. Of the Three Treasures Qi is associated with humankind; therefore it is the intermediary between earth and heaven. In analogy, Qi represents the flickering flame of a candle - the energy which is expended from the physical transformation of the wax and wick.
Shen is the most Yang and the most subtle of the three treasures. Shen represents our inner divinity, sometimes referred to as the divine spark, and therefore is associated with the heavens. The Shen resides in the heart, which is considered the emperor of all the organs in the body. Although it is common to translate Shen as spirit, it should be understood that this is not spirit in the Christian sense, instead it should be thought of as our inner light, and it’s this inner light that is reflected in our eyes. Think of the old saying, “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” that’s Shen you’re looking at. A healthy Shen appears as bright and clear eyes. Shen is also responsible for molding one’s personality including both the mental & spiritual aspects. There is an inverse relationship between the Shen, Jing & Qi. When the latter are strong and prosperous, the Shen will be nourished, happy and radiant. If the Jing & Qi become deficient, the Shen will be unhappy, suffer, and become disturbed. Conversely, if the Shen becomes disturbed, unhappy, depressed or anxious, this will also affect the Jing & the Qi; first by disrupting the smooth flow of Qi, then by weakening the Jing, bringing the whole body into disharmony.
To finish our analogy where the Jing is the wax and wick of a candle and the Qi is the flame; it is Shen that represents the radiant glow given off as light. In this analogy the interrelationship of the Three Treasures can clearly be seen through the dependence of the candle light on the wax, the wick and the flame; Shen is greatly dependent upon the healthy cultivation of the both Jing and Qi.
The Three Treasures are not only a gift to be cherished, but an ongoing project to be cultivated for the benefit of our own personal and collective energetic evolution. Regardless of whether we are practitioners or patients, are goal should always be the same, which is to strive towards harmony within ourselves, with each other, and with the cosmos.
During an acupuncture treatment, when the licensed practitioner inserts a needle into an acu - point, they will usually twist and rotate the needle, or move the needle up and down at different levels within the tissue. This is called needle manipulation / stimulation. Needle stimulation is only performed at point locations where it is safe to do so.
While the acupuncturist is stimulating the needle the patient will feel one or more of a range of sensations, which are referred to as deqi.
The different sensations that can be experienced are as follows:
These tend to be the most commonly reported experiences while the needle is being manipulated. If a patient feels a sharp, burning pain or a pain that is uncomfortable and doesn't dissipate and go away, the patient should advise the acupuncturist, so they can adjust the needle for a more comfortable experience.
Why do we want deqi and is it necessary?
Clinically, practitioners want a deqi response, because it is associated with a higher rate of efficacy and better patient outcomes. Is this what the research says? Yes and no.
Over the past 15 years or so, there has been more interest in the subject of deqi, but many of the studies were qualitative and focused manly on the patients's perception of deqi. More recently, there have been a few quantitative studies that have utilized new technologies to measure brain responses, tissue displacement, blood flow and amplitude of myoelectricity (electrical activity in skeletal muscles) at needling sites.
There is scientific debate over the efficacy of deqi. Some studies provide evidence that there is a difference in how effective a treatment is with or without deqi; that when deqi is present patient outcomes are better. Then there are those who conclude that deqi is not necessary for treatment efficacy.
My own clinical opinion is that degi is necessary and does promote better patient outcomes. One major problem with studies is that they are controlled and so do not represent real - life situations, most particularly, treatment plans which are ongoing, not just a limited amount of visits within a predetermined time frame.