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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Autumn and the Metal Element

December 17, 2015
The Metal Element

Happy Holidays! I want to continue our discussion on the fall season and how the energy of this time should guide you in your everyday lives. Autumn is represented by the metal element. Precious metals such as gold and silver reflect the pure and valuable substances, whether physical or emotional, in our lives. The metal element symbolizes order, organization, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. It’s a time to finish those projects you started during the spring and summer and harvest the rewards (or “medals”) of your hard work. While spring and summer was a time to be outdoors and play in an external environment, we should turn inwards and inside during the fall and winter seasons. The organs most affected during this season are our lungs and large intestine, or colon. The energy of the lung and large intestine are also at its peak during autumn.

Why the lungs and large intestine?

The lungs and large intestine may seem like two arbitrary organs to pair together. However, the rationale behind this is quite logical. The lungs are associated with clear thinking and communication (since we use our lungs to speak), openness to new ideas, and the ability to let go and experience happiness. The lungs are responsible for taking in the new and pure. This is physically represented by breathing in the crisp clean autumn air, filling it with the oxygen we need to think clearly and for our bodies to function properly. On the other end, the large intestine or colon is in charge of getting rid of waste. It is the last cycle of digestion that “lets go” of what our bodies don’t need, releasing it out of our system and keeping only what is vital for us to function. But we not only need to get rid of the physical garbage in our body, but our mental and emotional garbage as well. When we are mentally and emotionally constipated, there is no room to take in the new and pure experiences that surround us. Does it make sense now?

Holding on to or letting go of things can be expressed in terms of emotional attachment. Emotionally, autumn is a good time to internally reflect on what we may be hanging on to physically and mentally that we don’t need in our lives anymore. Are you still holding a grudge from years ago that you can’t seem to let go? Are you still grieving over the loss of a loved one or a failed relationship? Are you keeping those clothes and shoes in your closet that you haven’t worn in years?  This is the best time to let go of any past negativity or sadness in your life and donate the things in your home that you haven’t used in years. We can only absorb and receive what is new and useful (the pure) if we make room by letting go of the old or donating to others more in need.

Resolving Grief and Sadness

The emotion associated with autumn and the metal element is grief and sadness. Grief that is properly expressed and resolved actually strengthens us physically and emotionally while repressed grief and sadness injures our lungs, interfering with their function of dispersing nutrients and energy throughout our bodies. Those with healthy lungs have a balanced sense of holding onto their principles and keeping commitments while also knowing when to let go of something, whether it be a physical possession or emotional attachment. In relationships, if your lungs are healthy, you will know when you need to let go (if the relationship is not healthy for you) and process the associated grief and sadness appropriately. On the other hand, those with weak lungs have a difficult time processing grief and attempt to stifle it, which results in never completely letting go. Simultaneously, they can also be unorganized and either lose their things easily or hold on their belongings with unreasonable attachment. Those who have lung and colon problems such as bronchitis, shortness of breath, cough, allergies, nasal congestion, emphysema, frequent colds and sore throat, constipation, diarrhea, spastic colon, and abdominal pain usually have unresolved sadness that needs to be cleared. Recognizing and sharing these feelings with others is a good way to start dissipating these emotions.  So the key is not to ignore your sadness, but deal with it in a healthy way to maintain emotional balance.

Restoring your metal and keeping your lungs healthy

Here’s what you need to do to keep your metal element and lungs healthy this fall and winter season.

1) Breathe deep – The best way to strengthen your lungs is to breathe deeply. When our brains and bodies don’t get the oxygen it needs, our energy, memory, and immune system are affected.

2) Let go of negativity or any past grudges – It’s always good to let go of negativity, but the fall season is the best time to process and deal with it since the lung and large intestine energy is high during this time.

3) Clean, reorganize, and donate – The fall season is a time to de-clutter your home and get rid of things you don’t need. Letting go of the old allows room for the new, whether it be physical possessions or emotional experiences.

4) Keep your neck and chest warm – The weather during this season is cold and windy, so the lungs will be especially susceptible to this climate and getting sick. It is the only organ in our bodies that is directly in contact with our outside environment so it’s important to keep them strong during the cold weather. I always keep an extra scarf in my car to keep my neck warm.

5) Take walks outside – Walking outside during the fall season is a great way for our lungs to take in the clean air as well as get exercise.

6) I talked a lot about what types of foods to eat during the fall season in my last post (read more about it here.) To recap, eat more warming foods and less cooling or raw foods to combat the cold weather. Our digestive and immune systems need to be strong for the colder months so warming foods help strengthen both the stomach and lungs. Because it is dry and windy, soups and stews, cooked over long periods of time on medium heat are nourishing and easier to digest. Foods that are good for the lungs such as rice, sweet rice, oats, carrots, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, fresh ginger, garlic, molasses, rice syrup, barley malt, and herring are also great to eat during the fall season.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and spending quality time with their family and friends!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

 

 

 

 

 

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Mind-Body Connection and Our Emotions

May 13, 2015
The Mind Body Connection and our Emotions

While Western medicine usually sees emotions as a secondary factor or an effect resulting from physical disease, Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions and oftentimes as the primary cause of disease. Emotions are not “good” or “bad”, but reflections of how we interact with life experiences as well as ourselves. It is important for us to express different emotions at appropriate times. For example, when a loved one passes away, one should feel grief and sadness. In fact, it is abnormal not to, and detrimental to our physical health if we ignore or suppress these emotions as they will manifest physically in our bodies. Our emotions also become the cause of disease if they are extreme and especially if they are prolonged over time. The inseparable connection between the mind and body shows that emotions are not only the cause of disease, but that they can also be caused by disease. For example, having prolonged fear and anxiety, the emotions associated with the Kidneys, can cause Kidney weakness. On the same token, weak or deficient Kidneys, which can happen after having too many children in a short period of time, may cause fear and anxiety.

Suppressing appropriate emotions or having prolonged emotions will cause emotional blockages in our meridians and may ultimately lead to physical disease. Each emotion is connected to a different organ system in our bodies. It is important to find out the underlying emotional component and treat the appropriate organ system and its corresponding meridian (I will discuss meridians and acupuncture points in more detail later). These emotions are then processed and released, so that we do not become “stuck” with the emotions, resulting in physical problems. This is the intricate connection between the mind and body. There are seven major emotions in Chinese medicine. Let’s take a look at each of these emotions.

Anger

Anger is the one emotion that will include several other related emotional states. It is probably the emotion that most of us deal with on a day to day basis from stress (road rage anyone?). It can also be expressed as:

  • resentment
  • repressed anger
  • irritability or annoyance
  • frustration, (internalized anger)
  • rage
  • indignation (anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment)
  • animosity
  • bitterness
  • impatience
  • violence or belligerence
  • arrogance
  • stubborness
  • aggression
  • impulsive or explosive personality

These emotional states will mainly affect the Liver and if they persist can cause Liver Qi or blood stagnation (review Qi and Blood pathology here and here). Anger can also cause Qi (energy) to rise in our body causing signs and symptoms to show up in our head and neck such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, a red face, red tongue, or thirst. Headaches are one of the most common symptoms caused by anger. Who hasn’t gotten a headache after being really angry?

Repressed anger and resentment, usually towards a family member, can also develop into depression. In this case, someone can appear subdued, depressed, and pale. The way to determine whether the depression is due to anger or sadness is to look at the tongue color. Depression due to anger will manifest a red or dark-red tongue and wiry pulse.

Anger can also affect the Stomach and Spleen (digestive system). The interaction between our Liver and Spleen/Stomach (digestive system) will become clear when we discuss The Five Element Theory. The take home lesson of this is not to get angry while you are eating, which can easily cause digestive problems.

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Liver

– When liver qi stagnates, the best thing to do is eat less (unless you are malnourished). It is also important to eliminate foods that further damage the liver, such as foods high in saturated fats (meat, cream, cheese, and eggs).
– Foods that get rid of liver qi stagnation are moderately pungent foods, herbs, and spices (review the Five Flavors here) : watercress, all members of the onion family (chives, garlic, leeks, scallions), mustard greens, turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, marjoram, fennel, dill, ginger, horseradish, rosemary, mint, and lemon.

Joy

Joy is only a cause of disease when we experience excessive excitement or continuous mental stimulation (no matter how pleasurable), which will affect the Heart and cause Heart Yin deficiency. For example, a migraine attack can be triggered by sudden excitement from good news. Have you ever been so happy and excited about something that caused a headache or your heart to flutter and skip a beat?

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Heart

In order to enrich the body’s yin, the Heart will usually rely on Kidney Yin for replenishment. Foods that strengthen Kidney Yin will also strengthen Heart Yin. These foods include parsley, wheat berry (sourdough bread), and sweet rice. Herbs that strengthen Kidney Yin include: rose hips, oyster shell (in supplement form), clam shell, schisandra fruit, raspberry and blackberry leaves.

Sadness

Sadness or grief directly weakens Lung Qi but also affects the Heart. Prolonged sadness and grief can lead to symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, depression, or crying. This is most common after the death of a close family member. In cases of severe grief, this can lead to more devastating diseases. A poignant example is when Christopher Reeve’s wife, Dana Reeve was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 44, despite never smoking, less than a year after his death. Sadly, she also passed within 7 months of her diagnosis.

Foods that support Lung Qi

– Foods and herbs that strengthen lung qi include rice, sweet rice, oats, carrot, mustard greens, sweet potatos, yams, potatoes, ginger, garlic, molasses, barley malt, and herring.
– Cooling and mucus forming foods should be restricted (citrus fruits, milk and dairy products, spinach, chard, and seaweed).

Worry and Pensiveness

Anyone out there who thinks or studies too much? If so, your Spleen and Stomach, or digestive system will directly be affected causing symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, and loose stools. This is most commonly seen in those in school, graduate studies requiring excessive mental work, or those with demanding intellectual occupations. Spleen weakness and deficiency will cause accumulation of mucus and phlegm in our bodies and is further aggravated by a person who doesn’t eat on time, eats too fast, or discusses work while eating. Sound familiar?

Chronic worry will not only injure the digestive system, but also the Lungs. The most common causes of worry are financial, employment, and family problems. Weak Lung Qi will lead to anxiety, shortness of breath, and stiffness in the shoulders and neck. Instead of worrying about your problems, do something about it, since worrying will only make you sick and do nothing to resolve the situation.

Foods that strengthen Digestion/Spleen and Stomach Qi (previously discussed here)

– Foods that help Spleen Qi deficiency are sweet and/or pungent.
– This includes complex carbohydrates: rice (in the form of congee), oats, spelt, sweet rice
– Carbohydrate-rich vegetables: winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, trurnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, and pumpkin
– Pungent veggies and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg
– Severe deficiency will require small amounts of animal products in congee: mackerel, tuna, halibut, anchovy, beef, chicken, turkey, or lamb.

Fear

As I discussed above, fear and anxiety are the emotions associated with the Kidneys. An easy way to remember is when someone is scared, they pee in their pants. Good analogy? Fear drains Kidney Qi and makes it descend. It also drains our Essence (read more about Essence here). Fear in children causes descending Qi and nocturnal enuresis, usually from insecurity. In adults, fear and chronic anxiety will deplete the Kidney’s Yin, or cooling power, and cause heat in the face, night sweats, palpitations, dry mouth and throat.

Foods that Nourish Kidney Yin and Essence/Jing (previously discussed here)

In general, foods that nourish the Kidney will also nourish Jing. However, choosing the appropriate foods and herbs to strengthen our Kidneys largely depend on each individual’s constitution and condition.

Cooling Jing Foods – for those who tend to have heat signs and symptoms, yin deficiency, or excess

– chlorella, spirulina, black beans, seaweed, wheat grass, blue-green microalgae, almonds, and bone marrow soup

Warming Jing Foods – for those who tend to have cold signs or deficiency symptoms

– royal jelly, bee pollen, milk, clarified butter, placenta, dear antler, walnuts, animal products (chicken, liver, beef or lamb kidney) and warming seafood (especially mussels; also trout, salmon, anchovy)

Shock

Mental shock affects the Heart and Kidney. It will suddenly deplete Heart Qi leading to palpitations and insomnia. It also affects the Kidneys since our bodies must use Essence to replenish the sudden exhaustion of energy. This can cause night sweats, dry mouth, dizziness, and tinnitus.

What you need to know:

  • Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions. This is the mind body connection.
  • If emotions are suppressed or prolonged, physical disease may manifest in the associated organ. Weak organs can also cause the emotions to appear.
  • The seven major emotions are anger (liver), joy (heart), sadness (lungs), pensiveness and worry (stomach and spleen), fear (kidneys) and shock (heart and kidneys).

Which emotion do you think you are most affected by?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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