Tag Archive | Exercise

Autumn and Oriental Medicine

Autumn in Austin
Image by Andreanna Moya Photography via Flickr

Autumn begins at the equinox, where the day and night will seem to be equal in length. During this season harvesting and eliminating can be seen as crops are brought in and leaves change colors and float to the ground. Creatures in nature tend to become more dormant and focused on preserving energy. Yang Qi (warmth, vibrance) goes inward, & Ying Qi (combination of air/ da qi and food qi/ gu qi) starts to grow.

The fall corresponds to the “Metal element,” which has a quality of moving inward and represents the organs of the lungs, the large intestine, and the skin. The Lung and Large Intestine energies affect respiration, digestion, nutrient assimilation, and opening and closing of skin pores. They are also seen as the main organs for cleansing & detoxification. The Lung manifests in the nose and represents an entrance for clean air/ da qi into the body. The Large Intestine is seen as a segway for elimination of unwanted and unnecessary constituents from the body.

The metal elemental energy is associated with processing and grief, letting go of old attachments and emotional baggage. Autumn is a good time to assess what we value and determine what is needed. As we do this we realize who we are without constraints, in effect remaining positive and calm.

The Lungs are strong in the fall, but exercising less than the spring & summer is essential to store yang qi for the winter. This can be optimized by choosing exercises that do not require excessive sweating, focusing more on athletic skills & techniques, and practicing inward-directed movements such as Qi Gong, Tai Qi, Yoga and breathe work. In terms of recovery acupuncture, herbal medicine and tui na (Chinese clinical bodywork), accompanied by the philosophy of going to bed earlier and waking up later applies well in this season.

This is also an excellent time to rejuvenate the lungs and to cleanse and nourish the skin by avoiding extreme dryness.

Potential imbalances can be seen in the immune system/ wei qi, respiratory problems (allergies, shortness of breath & asthma), skin conditions and constipation.

Foods that will help balance the metal element, nourish and protect body fluids/ jin ye, should be warmer, sweeter and slightly sour. But not pungent, acrid or spicy as these can be too dispersing & may cause damage to body fluids.

Here is a general list of foods that can nourish  the body during autumn: pears, white fungus, onion, garlic, chive, ginger, turnips, daikon; yellow, orange vegetables like carrots, yams, sweet potatoes; dark leafy greens, such as mustards, kale, chard and spinach; and rice, quinoa, amaranth or oats.

This is an easy recipe that is beneficial to eat at the beginning of autumn or winter:

  • 1 pear – peeled, remove seeds
  • Fill with 30g Fritillaria bulb/ chuan bei mu (a licensed acupuncturist can provide this)
  • Steam 10-15 minutes, cut into 3 equal parts and add local bee honey/ feng mi.

This can also be cut into cubes, added to rice & water to make congee.

As the air becomes cooler and our environments become more still, we can learn from the world around us. Turning towards introspection, and nourishment via breath, food and Oriental Medicine, we can allow an opportunity for conserving strength and a renewal of energies/ Qi.

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Oriental Medicine & Spring Expansion

~ Spring Dreams ~

Image by ViaMoi via Flickr

In spring, all creatures take advantage of energy that was stored during the fall and winter months. New growth can be seen moving upward and outward, both emotionally and physically, via the reappearance of plants and animals, as well as our own emerging perspectives on life.

Spring is the season linked to the Wood element, and the Liver and Gall Bladder organ system. The energetic Liver should be soothed, nourished or regulated. Its function according to Oriental Medicine (OM) is to circulate Qi (energy) upward and outward in the body as well as control the other organs. The Wood element is characterized by growth and wind, which tend to be found more often in the spring. Wind can strengthen the Liver, but too much can cause it to overact on the Stomach and Spleen. This can lead to a disharmony that may manifest as stomach upset and/or digestive disturbances, acid regurgitation, and possibly diarrhea. For those that may have overworked themselves the previous season, their immune systems may be compromised.

Spring allergens from grass and trees are blown through the air into our bodies. Theses allergens can affect a person, particularly if they are overstressed by life or emotionally overloaded. This, in turn, will weaken their digestive function and wei qi/immune system. An unbalanced Liver energy may result in mood swings, depression or irritability, and occasional outbursts of emotion.

To assist the Liver Qi to flow, incorporate activities that both enliven and relax the body. Exercise should be calm and fluid. Try breathing exercises, stretching, Qi gong, Tai Qi, light weights, and/or yoga. Joint support is important, as the tendons and ligaments are a manifestation of the Liver energies and is well covered by the aforementioned modalities. Rest and recovery, as for every season, are imperative to good health. In this season, going to bed somewhat later in the evening and waking up earlier are applicable.

Springtime foods should be sweet in flavor to nourish the spleen, with some pungentness (spicy) and warmth to help soothe and regulate the Liver’s functions, such as black sesame, quail or Chinese yams. Include some fresh greens like kale and spinach as well as young plants or sprouts. Foods that help soothe the Liver if it is out of balance include chive, onion, peppermint, beans, sea vegetables, vinegars, lime, & animal liver. Although sour flavored foods are good to have at this time, more is not necessarily better. Foods that clog the Liver, such as processed, sugary foods, excessively fatty and hydrogenated fats, are devoid of life and should be kept to a minimum. Other foods to avoid include salty, cold in temperature, excessive raw foods, or difficult to digest foods, accompanied by a decrease in calories to reduce the load placed on the Liver.

Acupuncture and Tuina should be utilized frequently to boost the immune system, alleviate sinus pressure & headaches associated with allergies, assist in digestion, moderate mood swings, and assist in recovery from exercise.

“In the spring and summer when food is plentiful and humans tend to become lazy and slothful, finger pressure is used to increase digestion, fire and restore vigor.” Qi Bo – Yellow Emperor’s Classic

By incorporating regular self care practices via mindfulness, nutrition, exercise, acupuncture and bodywork, one can best retain and improve their own health during this season of growth.

Read about the coming Summer

Traditional Chinese Medicine Summer

Summer is a time filled with joy and laughter, warmth, and an upward moving energy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this season is associated with the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Burner organ systems and they are represented by the fire element. Much like Spring, Summer is considered to be yang in nature as is reflected in hotter temperatures and increased daylight. Yang Qi is on the surface of the body and is associated with increased energy and productivity. States such as Texas have longer summers, which changes the ways we eat, exercise and live in our environment.

The Heart controls blood circulation, blood vessels, nourishment of the five sense organs and sweat. An unbalanced Heart may result in Heart fire manifesting as irritability, insomnia, excessive dreams and sometimes even inappropriate laughter.

The Small Intestine “separates the turbid from the clear”. This means it pulls nutrients from the food we eat and refers to differentiation in clarity of mind and thoughts. An imbalance in the Small Intestine may present as digestive difficulties or a foggy mind.

Cold in or around the body can cause many pathological conditions for which heat brings relief. External heat, however, may cause its own slew of problems for a person who already has internal heat. It may aggravate moods in the form of irritability, hot flashes for some, excess sweating for others or combinations of symptoms. Poor digestion, feelings of heaviness and fatigue, and headaches are common.

Chinese medicine practitioners historically categorized foods according to their temperature and tastes. The temperature does not refer to the cooking temperature, but to the food’s effect on body temperature.

Suitable summer foods should clear heat (bitter, cool) and generate jin ye/body fluids (sour, sweet sparingly, cool) to prevent summer-heat conditions in the body. Summer time foods that alleviate heat include xi gua/watermelon, lu dou/mung beans or mung bean juice, ku gua/bitter gourd, bo he/mint, bo cai/spinach, fish; steamed veggies such as bok choy, bamboo, Chinese cabbage, seaweed, broccoli, corn, cucumber, snow peas, summer squash, cilantro, dill, cantaloupe, asparagus; fruits like lemon, peach, orange, egg plant; and sprouts.

Here is an expansion on some of the foods just mentioned:

Lu dou (Mung Bean) is sweet, cool, and assists the heart and stomach. Mung beans clear heat and summer-heat from the body via diuresis and assist in detoxification. They can be eaten as soup or congee. Mung beans are not suitable for people with simultaneous poor digestion, fatigue and diarrhea.

Ku Gua (Bitter Melon) is very good in the summertime. It is bitter, cold and assists the Heart, Spleen and Stomach. It clears summer-heat, brightens the eyes, clears toxins, can reduce blood sugar and help with weight reduction. Bitter melon can be prepared with food or as a preventative for sunstroke when dried and prepared as a tea.

Avoid excessive amounts of greasy, hot, spicy foods, especially if a person has characteristic signs of yin xu/yin deficiency (night sweats, hot palms/feet, inappropriate sweating, or excessive dryness in the body). Do not eat ice cream or consume alcohol (typical imbibers will have a thick yellow coat on their tongues).

Some tasty and easy to prepare recipes are as follows:

Watermelon Tomato Juice

  • Ingredients: Watermelon 500g (1.10 lbs.), Tomato 300g (0.6 lbs.), sweeten to taste
  • Prep: Squeeze watermelon and tomato to get juice.
  • Actions: Clears summer-heat, promotes urination, and induces body fluid. Used for summer time heat with thirst and sweating. Also good for overindulgence in alcohol.

Lian Zi Lu Dou Zhou (Lotus Seed & Mung Bean Congee)

  • Ingredients: lotus seeds 20g (.04 lbs.), mung beans 50g (~1/4 cup), jing mi/long grain rice 100g (~1/2 cup)
  • Prep: Cook as congee.
  • Actions: Reduces summer-heat and strengthens digestion.

Exercise in the summer should be done late morning and emphasize the heart and cardiovascular system. Of course your region should also determine the best time, as some mornings may be stifling.

As always recovery is key to enjoying your season and promoting longevity. Sleep should revolve around waking up earlier and staying up later to help fit into the season, with naps or meditations during the hottest part of the day. Don’t forget the importance of hydration.

Regular TCM treatments such as Acupuncture, Tui Na, herbal formulas, cupping and gua sha are all methods that restore vital functions to our health. In summer they can cool the body off and relieve stress.

“In the spring and summer when food is plentiful and humans tend to become lazy and slothful, finger pressure is used to increase digestion, fire and restore vigor.” Qi Bo – Yellow Emperor’s Classic

For more information on summer, see TCM Summer: Keeping Cool in Hot Times.

Tapering

Tapering is a planned short-term reduction in exercise load during periods of intense training, the time leading up to a competition, and/or as a recovery tool post event. Without a tapering plan over-training may occur, particularly in the “all or nothing all the time” personality.

Tell-tale signs and symptoms of over-training include but are not limited to:
• Elevated resting heart rate
• Decreased exercise performance
• Muscular weight loss due to a loss of appetite
• Emotional/psychological stress that is perceived as greater than normal
• Frequent colds
• Chronic fatigue

By systematically decreasing training intensity or frequency for 3 to 21 days, short and long term performance goals can be met with less chance of injury and sense of loss. Tapering periods can be used as planned pivot points to enter the next stage of training. By incorporating tapering methods between phases from strength to power, as well as post competition through active recovery or (dynamic) stability training you can guard against over training.

Hydration

COCONUT CLIMBING KIDS of OLD CEYLON

Image by Okinawa Soba via Flickr

This summer, it is important to be prepared when exercising outdoors. Our bodies are composed of about 75% water, which may be lost as sweat, faster than it is replenished. The body perspires to release excess heat and allow for evaporation to cool the skin. Electrolytes which help to maintain proper hydration are lost through the same process. Heat, humidity, exercise intensity and individual factors will influence how quickly a person perspires. Unintentional dehydration can be caused by poor choices in fluid intake, dislike of the available options, avoidance of a ‘full,’ feeling, or a misunderstanding of proper hydration.

Hydration as it relates to body weight lost during exercise:

% Body Weight Loss Symptoms
0.5% Thirst
2% Stronger thirst, discomfort, loss of appetite
3% Dry mouth, reduced urine
4% Increased effort, flushed skin, impatience
5% Apathy
6% Difficulty concentrating
7% Impaired temperature regulation
8% Dizziness, labored breathing, confusion

Good strategies to maintain hydration are as follows:

  • Do not rely on thirst alone to indicate hydration levels during the summer.
  • Begin hydrating 2 to 3 hours before exercising with 14-22 ounces of water.
  • During exercise drink 6-12 ounces of water for every 15-20 minutes. Adjust up or down for exercise intensity and weather.
  • Post exercise replenish any weight lost with water, *electrolytes for proper balance and recovery.
  • Eat foods that assist in hydration and electrolyte balance such as watermelon, cucumbers, mung beans and lotus seeds.

*Electrolyte drink sources: coconut water or sport drinks (no high fructose corn syrup added).

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