Summer has arrived!

We experience Fire, one of the five elements from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, most fully in the season of summer. At this time, our energy levels that began rising in the spring expand to their greatest potential. We can enhance our own health by understanding the special functions of the warmest season. Through this awareness we can help balance our own Fire energy.

Summer brings the energy of Fire, which makes it easy for us to give and receive warmth. It is the time to enjoy the fruits from the ideas planted and the plans we made earlier in the year. Autumn, the season of letting go, will be all the more difficult for us if we have not experienced the fruition of our hopes and plans.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Fire element manifests in our body through the heart, small intestine, pericardium, and the function known as the triple warmer, which regulates internal body temperature. Symptoms of an inner Fire deficiency are: chills and numbness of the extremities, impaired circulation of the blood and bodily fluids, and menstrual, urinary, and sexual dysfunction. The lungs can lose their ability to expand and contract fully and easily, resulting in poor oxygenation of the blood, coughing, and nasal congestion. We may experience sluggish digestion, abdominal pain, and watery diarrhea because the digestive organs lack the heat needed to process and assimilate nourishment.

At the other extreme, excessive heat can result in painful inflammation of the joints, hyper sexuality, chronic infections, dryness of the lung, inflamed throat and sinus, burning diarrhea and urination. Excess heat can also dry out the stool and cause constipation. Affecting the heart, an excess of Fire can cause anxiety and sleep disturbance.

Fire affects the amount of fluid in the body: Too much heat dries up our internal reservoirs and waterways, and at the other extreme too little heat can result in an excess of fluid. Menstruation, sexual secretions, lubrication at joints, digestion, and metabolism, to name a few, reflect and depend upon the balance of our Fire element.

On a deeper level, the Fire element expresses itself as joy and manifests within us as love, laughter, and enthusiasm. During summer, the season of maximum expansion, we can become aware of ourselves at our fullest. Drawing on the expansive warmth of Fire we
are able to reach out and relate to the world more easily.

When our Fire is low, we lack the ease of sharing joy or compassion. Though we might crave these qualities, our relationships may be fraught with anxiety and fear of rejection. We may feel sexually blocked or inhibited, shy, or emotionally cold and easily hurt, or even overly dependent on our partner. Without the knowledge of who we are in the strength of our Fire element, we can neither enter into relationships fully nor express our true selves. Instead, we plan and calculate our moves defensively, then present an image of ourselves that lacks integrity and is not sustainable.

At the other extreme, a Fire imbalance can manifest as being stuck in overexpansion like a never-ending summer: too hot, too much, always laughing, always joking, always talking, always "on," finding it very difficult to slow down and rest.

When our Fire is healthy, it responds appropriately to meet the tasks at hand. We know when and with whom we can be warm and open, and when and with whom we need to be more protective.

How is your Fire? Is there joy and laughter in your life? Are friendships important to you? Did you grow up in a warm family? Was it cold? Is the emotional climate of your home stable and peaceful? Is there conflict in your workplace? How do you heal from a broken heart? How are love and sex related for you? Know that in summer the energy of Fire supports you in enriching your enjoyment of life, your relationships, in getting closer and more connected, in outward expansion and in being receptive to others. And remember, be patient with yourself, if you still feel blocked in this area, there will be another summer. We will have many chances to open, to extend compassion, to forgive.

Ways to tend your inner Fire

  • Have fun on a regular basis, even if you have to work at it at first. Make it a priority - schedule your fun, if that's what it takes. Don't compromise. Consider fun as important to your well being as work or anything else you do.

  • Give of yourself to others. Take the time to listen. Delve into your own heart and find what you have to give to others unconditionally.

  • Live your passion, whether it be the singing in a choir, dancing, sea kayaking, advocating for the environment, or spending time in the garden. If you don't know what your special passion is, don't stop looking. And when you find that great interest, dive into it wholeheartedly and enjoy!

  • Get physical. Get into your body and out of your head. Exercise, dance, run or play. Practice heart opening yoga postures (anything that opens your chest). Basically, find something you love and get your circulation going.

Spring is here

What an absolutely beautiful weekend!  It was wonderful to spend time in the garden prepping the beds for planting, doing some much needed weeding (with some help from my little one) and picking bowlfuls of fresh leafy greens for dinner.
So much is in bloom, nettles, fawn lilies, shooting stars…Spring has definitely arrived.

In Acupuncture theory, Spring marks the beginning of the yang cycle.   After resting through the Fall and Winter, you should notice that you are feeling more energetic and social.  Spring is a good time to take action on plans that have been developing through the winter months, with clear vision and a sense of purpose.  Many people feel the urge to de-clutter and do a ‘spring’ clean.   And, with increased daylight hours and warmth, we spend more time outside interacting with friends and family.  This often supports a shift in perspective.  Spring is the time for growth and change, a great time to let go of old patterns that no longer serve us.  

The element associated with Spring is Wood.  In traditional Chinese medicine, the Wood element represents the liver and gallbladder.   The liver from this perspective provides us with our vision of the future, helping us to find the direction we must take to live our lives harmoniously.  The gall bladder gives us the ability to make decisions and judge wisely.   When the Wood element is unbalanced, decision-making and establishing a clear sense of direction can be difficult.  It is not uncommon in this state, to feel frustrated, stuck or even angry.   Alternatively, when these organ systems are in balance we are able to see new possibilities and to consider wisdom of the past, in making decisions.

Support yourself through this transition by adjusting your diet:

  • Consider starting your morning with fresh lemon juice in water,

  • Incorporate lots of leafy greens, beets, carrots into your meals

  • Enjoy high quality protein rich foods – eggs, fish, raw nuts/seeds and whole grains.

  • Harvest some young spring nettles, full of minerals and excellent lightly steamed and added to soups/stir fries.

Certain herbs also support this organ system, and acupuncture can be effective in helping us to transition smoothly with the season.

The Wood energy of Spring is an expression of life at its strongest, a time to expend the energy you have conserved through the winter months.  Enjoy!


Building our Reserves

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

During winter, snows replenish earth’s water reservoirs and plants return their sap to their roots, re-collecting their energy. We too need a “winter season” to restore our energy, build our reserves and reflect on our lives. Paradoxically, the winter holidays demand a different type of energy, we are often expected to be active, busy, outgoing and gregarious. This expectation when we are called to be quiet and restful, can be the cause of additional stress as we experience opposing pulls on our energy.

According to Acupuncture Theory, all seasons have an associated natural element, organ and emotion.  In the case of Winter, these are Water, the Kidneys/Bladder, and Fear/Will, respectively.  

Our energy levels can be likened to a water source with a reserve cache. Ideally, we want to use the reserve sparingly, and replenish it quickly if used. When we are constantly dipping into our energetic reserves we can become depleted. Winter gives us an opportunity to restore these reserves so we can be ready for the energetic demands with the shift from extreme yin to extreme yang in the Spring.

We are physically, 75% water. Without the cleansing flow of the Water Element, the mind loses its flexibility, our memory suffers and we have difficulty clearing old negativity and habituated patterns that no longer serve us.

The Kidneys and Bladder are the organs controlled by the Water Element and associated with Winter. The bladder is your reservoir of energy; the kidneys are the storehouse of constitutional energy, or essence. Physical symptoms of an imbalance may manifest in the form of urination problems, decreased libido, hormonal imbalances, anxiety disorders or a deficient metabolism.    

Willpower is the domain of the water element, exhibiting in its two extremes the power of ambition and the paralysis of fear – those with an imbalance in this element can manifest either in their approach to life.  Water gives us the ability to be internally quiet, to listen with our mind and spirit.  When this element is unhealthy, we respond to life with an excess of fear or with a complete lack of fear.  Neither extreme is appropriate, both are expression of an imbalance.

The light is returning and days are getting longer, fortunately, there are still a couple more months of Winter with which to nourish ourselves in preparation for Spring. 

Suggestions for self-care during the Winter Season (or anytime you need to replenish your reserves)

  • Take time to be still and reflective. Use the quiet time for inner work that will build your reserves.

  • Practice “wakeful” resting. Know what rests you – meditation, walking, painting or writing – and make time for these activities in your life.

  • Keep warm – don’t allow yourself to get bone cold.

  • Eat warming foods, root vegetables and beans, squash and grains.

  • Get more rest. Follow the winter sun – go to bed earlier and rise later.

  • Seek inner warmth – spend time with close friends.

  • Take time to play – with your kids, games with your friends, a vacation.

  • Monitor changes in the quantity and quality of your energy throughout the day, using that awareness to make wise choices about how you use your time.

  • Dream. Let ideas and plans germinate. Wait until spring to begin new projects.

  • Spend time beside different bodies of water (oceans, lakes, streams, rivers) and notice how you feel.

  • Consider the additional energetic support of acupuncture. Each person carries within their own healer, acupuncture works to encourage this innate healing process, gently reminding the body to follow its own unique path to health.

Oh Sweet, Elusive Balance

Dr. Kristin Schnurr, ND

There is a slight nip in the air today. The days are starting to get shorter.  It’s time to harvest the many tomatoes ripening in our garden, to warm up with bowls of butternut squash soup and to dig out sweaters from the basement. We are beginning to store and stack wood to keep our house warm and cozy through the colder, darker days of winter. And I am preparing to leave my little nest and return to my practice. Fall has arrived.

In acupuncture theory, the move from one season to the next is a cosmically significant event. Humans are viewed as microcosms of the surrounding natural world, so seasonal changes can greatly influence how we feel. Fall, which marks the beginning of the yin cycle, is noteworthy because it signifies the transition from the more active seasons to the more passive time of year.
All seasons have an associated natural element, organ and emotion, which, in the case of Fall, are metal, the Lungs, and grief/sadness, respectively. Acupuncturists examine these associations to determine whether a person is appropriately adjusting to a seasonal shift.

Fall is a good time to set boundaries, finish projects and begin an internal process of introspection. This is happening in our house and our garden, as well as in my head, as I consider how best to balance my return to work with my new role as Charlotte’s mom.  

The internal organ system associated with autumn is the Lungs. Lungs are considered by Chinese medicine to be the “tender organs”. The Lungs control the circulation of the Wei-Qi, which is the defensive Qi that protects you from the invasion of flu and colds. The Wei-Qi circulates on the surface between the skin and muscles and works to warm the body. If the Wei-Qi is weak, the skin and muscles will not be warmed properly. A weakness in the Lungs can lead to a weakness in the Wei-Qi, making a person prone to frequent colds.  

Support your Lungs and Wei-Qi by being sure to dress for the weather. In Victoria that usually means wearing a scarf or a sweater.  With the change in weather, the diet should also change. Eating excess cold and raw foods creates dampness or phlegm, which is stored in the lungs. Sugar and dairy products create phlegm, while garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish and mustard are beneficial to the lungs.

Emotionally, Fall is a time of letting go.  For many people, a tendency toward sadness, a pulling inward as we grieve the separation from the inessential, is normal as the weather dims.

Seasonal affective disorder is a common diagnosis for people who experience depressed moods in the colder, darker months. Although some people are legitimate candidates for medication, a large number are simply experiencing the predisposition to sadness that is normal for this time of year. The inability to settle into this shift, or transition out of it, suggests an imbalance.

Acupuncture helps make sense of how seasonal changes affect health. Armed with this understanding, people can make better-informed decisions about treatment options and remain strong for the onset of winter.

In my house, our nutrition is on track and I have dug out some sweaters and scarves. I am talking through my feelings about the upcoming return to work. And, I am scheduled for regular acupuncture. Next step: the elusive full night of sleep!