Traditional Chinese medicine, with its long history, has many ways that we can stay healthy in these uncertain times.
An important concept in Traditional Chinese medicine is awareness—awareness of your environment as well as your internal world. One form of this internal awareness is attunement to our own bodies. Our bodies speak a language that we have largely forgotten. Our bodies communicate through aches and pains, feeling energetic or tired, or a bad feeling in the pit of our stomach. Becoming sensitive to our bodies and what they are trying to tell us will take us a long way toward knowing when something isn’t right. This knowing will give us the opportunity to change things and give our bodies what we need to keep them healthy.
Another element of our internal world is our emotions. Emotions can disappear in the background as our busy minds deal with matters of the day. But just as tuning into our physical feelings can tell us if something needs attention, tuning into our emotions can make us aware of other issues.
One of the ways we can tune into ourselves is to take some time—every day—to check in and listen. How are you feeling? How are you doing emotionally? Does anything hurt? How is your sleep? Have you eaten today? This simple act may seem small, but it can have a big impact. Once you start working it into your daily routine, you will begin to sense small things and be able to make adjustments before they become big things that can potentially make you sick. You are remembering how to listen, and your body will love you for it.
This simple act can be transformative because it helps you recognize the cause and effect of certain aspects of your life. You will notice how your body responds to certain foods, how your mood can shift with the weather, or how exercise can lift your spirits. This self-awareness can give you the motivation you need to make healthy changes and do things that make you feel more alive.
Tuning into the environment is an extension of tuning into yourself. Have you ever noticed how good you feel going for a walk in a forest? That is you reconnecting with the natural world, a connection people have had for thousands of years. That connection has been severed in many ways as we’ve come to spend ever more of our time indoors and working in jobs that are disconnected from the cycle of seasons and the outside world.
Traditional Chinese medicine teaches us about the beauty and practicality of living in harmony with the seasons.
As the seasons ebb and flow throughout the year, so should our diets and behaviors to be more in harmony with our natural environment.
In winter, energies slow down and go inward. Warming soups and stews using root vegetables cooked for long periods to increase their warming properties are best to preserve our yang or fire energies in this time of ultimate yin.
Spring energies begin to come to the surface and expand outwards, like the new plants pushing their way out of the ground, hungry for the sun. Green foods that cleanse the liver are best eaten in the spring to “clear out” the system of all that has been accumulated over the winter.
Summer represents the outward expression of energy and is about growth, expansion, and abundance. Summer is a time to wake up early and go to bed later to profit from the longer days and abundant sunshine.
And fall is when energies begin to move inward again and we find ourselves starting to go to bed a little earlier. This is the time to finish up projects, clean out our closets, and process old emotions that are taking up space. Fall energy teaches us the beauty of letting go.
What Can I Do?
Become aware of the seasons and change your behavior and diet accordingly. This, in addition to helping you to stay healthy, will also help to reconnect you to the natural rhythms that we have evolved to follow.
You don’t need to make big changes; subtle shifts can help to gently transition us from one season to another. For example, while the Western world has the tradition of setting a New Year’s resolution at the peak of winter, Chinese tradition teaches that you are far better off to start a new habit in the spring when the expansive energies of the season encourage you to expend new energy.
Tuning into yourself and tuning into the season can help you become more aware of how you are connected to the natural world and its major cycles. This is insight you can apply in your daily life.
Emma is an acupuncture physician who has been in practice since 2006. She has a consulting practice called Thrive Consulting and runs a website called Chinese Medicine Living where she writes about how to use Chinese medicine principles to live a healthy lifestyle in the modern world. She is a lover of martial arts, the natural world and a good cup of tea. To learn more visit @ThriveConsulting.