An often ignored but fundamental aspect of Chinese Medicine is idea of adapting oneself and one’s life to the Earth's natural cycles and the seasons. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine (commonly recognised as the key doctrine on the subject) emphasises living in a natural synthesis with the seasons as the single most important principle of health and healing.
The reality is that modern lifestyles move us away from the movements and patterns of nature and disconnect us from these natural cycles. Most of us live in over-crowded urban environments a world away from nature. No distinction is drawn between the food we eat and activities we pursue throughout the seasons of the year. Our immune systems are weakened as we are less exposed to the natural elements.
It is a sad truth that the vast majority of humans have lost their natural rhythm and following this it is not entirely surprising to see our world plagued by sickness, stress and imbalance. In Chinese Medicine it is recognised that most sickness can be prevented and treated by reconnecting the individual with nature and the cycles of the seasons therefore preventing illness before its onset.
Below I have included a short summary of each of the seasons inherent nature, along with suggestions on how we may live in greater harmony with them. Treatment for any illness is only temporary unless we are able to harmonise ourselves with the natural cycles of our planet. This is an intelligent, simple peaceful way to to live, and the beauty of a natural lifestyle is that by and large, it involves doing less rather than more.
‘The three months of the spring season bring about the revitalization of all things in nature.’
Spring is the season of birth, growth and rejuvenation. It is the most beneficial season to begin new projects and endeavors, to be active and free in our movements. This is the time of year it is advised to stretch, open the body's joints and lengthen the tendons and ligaments in order to clear any pathogens or stagnation trapped in these areas.
One should avoid holding onto or indulging in any excessive emotional states, especially anger and resentment as this will injure the Liver, the organ associated with Spring. Instead one should be ‘open and un-suppressed, both physically and emotionally.’ With diet, as the weather warms we can begin to eat more raw food in than in winter and cook our food for less. Lightly steaming and stir frying are the chosen methods of cooking.
‘In the three months of summer... plants mature and animals, flowers and fruit appear abundantly.’
Summer is the season where all things in life come to blossom and fruition. In this season it is advised to enjoy the fruits of our endeavors of Spring and fully appreciate life’s pleasure and beauty. If we remain somber and withdrawn in this period it is said we will injure the Heart, the organ associated with summer. As in Spring we should be physically active to keep the joints supple and sweat regularly to release pathogens from the body.
Our diets in summer should match the climate, with the heat this is the season to enjoy the most raw food, the abundance of fruits berries and salads that naturally grow this time of year. When we cook it should be lightly as in spring. Generally it is a season to eat less as we do not need as much fat to warm our bodies.
‘In the three months of Autumn all things in nature reach their full maturity.’
Autumn is the season where growth reaches its peak and all things begins to decline. The atmosphere turns melancholic and all things in nature prepare for death. It is a time for appropriate grieving and peaceful consideration of the things that passed in the summer. However one must be careful not indulge in sadness and depression as this will injure the Lungs, the organ associated with Autumn.
‘Just as the weather in Autumn turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from depression so that one can make the transition to winter smoothly.’ With Autumn our diet should return to have more cooked foods and soups. It is a good season to eat pungent foods such as garlic and onions to help support the lungs.
‘During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide and return home, just as lakes and rivers freeze and snow falls. The philosophy of winter is one of conservation and storage.’
Winter is a time of hibernation for many animals and plants and our actions should not differ greatly from this. It is a time of consolidation and reflection of the previous year, a time of peace and stillness where we can return to a tranquil state and recharge our energies ready to begin the next spring in a fresh and positive manner, free from the emotional disturbances from the last year.
Winter is perhaps the season most people adapt worst to. It is a time to be inactive in terms of work, physical exercise and sexual intercourse. Indulgence is these things will greatly damage our Kidneys, the organ associated with Winter and the source of our strength and essence. Our diet should consist of mostly slow cooked foods such as stews and soups. It is imperative to stay warm and maintain good stores of healthy fats. This is considered an unhelathy time to eat to much raw food and salad.
For more articles please follow the link in my profile below and be on the look out for my 'Food is Medicine' series which I will begin publishing shortly.
(All quotations taken from; The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine (Neijing Suwen) translated by Maoshing Ni.)
Article written by Nick Lowe Msc - Aston Tirrold
Nick Lowe holds a Masters Degree in Chinese Medicine and runs clinics in South Oxfordshire. In practice he supports his use of traditional Eastern methods and theory with modern anatomy and physiology for the most effective results.
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