Summer Wellness Series: Moving into Fall

This article is the final in a special Summer Wellness Series I've collaborated on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Read all the installments here or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

With the Fall Equinox this week in the Northern hemisphere, we are deep in the transition moment from Late Summer in Fall. The days are perceptibly shorter, there may be a nip in the air in the morning, and even in the Bay area where there are still hot days to be had, the sidewalks are beginning to have piles of leaves, and our energy is turning inward and slowing down.

It’s an oft-noted irony that the time when the Earth is encouraging us to slow down and go inward is the time in our external calendar when things are getting busiest - back to school, the ramp up to the holiday season, and for us in the United States this year, an extra layer of work and anxiety around the mid-term elections and all that is at stake.

Your body might express this experience of cross-purposes with trouble sleeping, digestive upset, and as the Fall moves on, skin complaints, allergies, colds and sinus trouble. Seasonal self-care through the Summer (see the #tcmsummerwellness series !) can help buffer some of these, and here are a few self-supporting practices to consider incorporating this month;

  • sleep more. The days are shorter, and our energy is waning. In pre-industrial times (ie most of human history), we went to sleep and woke with the sun. Even 15 minutes earlier can make a difference. Chronic sleep deprivation is one of the most serious health issues facing modern people.

  • eat cooked foods. Save your raw salads and melon for next summer - save your body some energy by transitioning to cooked foods - if a salad is a must-have for a lunch on the go, try making one with cooked veggies - blanched greens, roast zucchini and peppers topped with chickpeas under a dijon vinaigrette, topped with a few toasted seeds or almonds for crunch. Very chic and easy to transport in a mason jar!

  • Give your lungs extra TLC. The Fall is the season of the Lung - they are especially vulnerable to allergens and viruses at this time of year. Improve the quality of the air indoors with an air purifier, air purifying plants and give your pillows a wash to eliminate allergens. Ask your acupuncturist about allergy treatments (best started before you are sneezing!) and buy or make some natural cold remedies to keep on hand so you can take them at the first signs of illness. Try Fire cider, Ginger-Scallion tea and this go-to list from Erin on natural remedies and herbal formulas for cold. My fave essential oils to keep on hand at this time of year, especially for steam inhalation: Rosemary verbenone, balsam fir and sweet thyme (linalool).

  • Going deeper: I wrote this essay on resting in sync with the earth a few falls ago. What does it mean when we don’t get enough rest? What are the personal and global consequences of our exhaustion and burnout?

May your Fall be filled with love and health, and time for darkness, rest and contemplation! For help with specific health challenges, including scheduling treatments or finding a practitioner in your area, contact Erin and I!

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Immunity + Lung Health Class + Clinic! Special Event November 19

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The fall is a great time to take extra care of our lungs - this is when cold and flu season starts and the dry, windy weather kicks up allergies, coughs and other lung issues. For all of us in the Bay Area the awful fires this year have layered on a heavy burden of toxic smoke and breath-taking sadness, fear and shock. With my colleague Erin Wood of Erin Wood Acupuncture and Herbs, I'm offering a special afternoon class and treatment clinic at Vibrant Health and Wellness in downtown San Leandro. Learn herbs, foods, essential oils and breath work to help restore your lungs and prevent and treat cold and flu. After the workshop, we'll relax into a community style acupuncture treatment to boost your immunity and help you breath easy (needle free options available!)

Space is limited, $30 including samples and treatment. RSVP here.

Vibrant Health and Wellness in downtown San Leandro is home to an intimate upstairs workshop space. There is some parking including handicapped spaces behind the building, and lots of free street parking. The workshop will be held up one flight of stairs with a bathroom on the same level as the class. We will be using essential oils during the class. Call or email with any questions and I hope to see you there!

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Candy corn, pumpkin spice, and seasonal eating

Scroll to the end for seasonal recipe ideas if you don’t want to read my rant!

We crave the foods the earth offers

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What’s the deal with pumpkin spice flavored everything? Why do we go so nuts for manufactured foods like candy corn, Shamrock Shakes, Cadbury Creme Eggs and so on? I’ve seen this insight attributed to Michael Pollan - that ultimately we crave seasonal eating at a deep ancestral level so we flock to these commercial substitutes (let me know if you have a source on this - it’s not original to me).

Once strawberries, oysters, pheasant, asparagus, peaches and fresh churned butter were transient seasonal delicacies, enjoyed for their fresh, once a year flavor, as well as the health benefits that our ancestors reaped from eating seasonal foods. Modern agribusiness has cut us off from the rhythms of the earth and sold our ancestral heritages back to us as pumpkin spice m&ms.

My family in Canada sometimes mocks my commitment to seasonal local eating, given that I live in California, with a 12 month growing season, surrounded by farms producing some of the world’s tasty produce all year long. I ate seasonally and locally when I lived in Toronto as well, and there were a lot of apples and beets during the winter, I’m not going to lie. On balance eating seasonally is generally tastier (and more frugal) as we eat the foods when they are at their best, and can enjoy heirloom varieties that won’t withstand the rigors of transport and supermarkets. We also gift ourselves with the intense pleasure of eating a food for the first time in the year (in Judaism, we have a special blessing to acknowledge the wonder of that moment - the taste of the first strawberry of spring, the first peach of summer, the first pomegranate of fall)

Your perfect diet

A central tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine and many traditional and holistic approaches is that there is no one size fits all approach. In modern Western culture, we quest constantly for the ‘perfect human diet’ (in fact there’s a best selling book by that name) but let me break it to you. There is no such thing.

Western science is only starting to understand the barest glimmer of how food and nutrition actually interacts with our body processes, and is continually exasperated by contradictory findings when it tries to study whether a particular food or macronutrient or diet is ‘healthy’ or not. The dualism of dominant western thought endlessly strives to judge whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ but this profoundly misunderstands the nature of reality. Your genes, your age, your lifestyle, the climate where you live, your history, what you ask of your body - all of these deeply affect what is ‘’healthy’ for you. Fortunately, we don’t need to wait a couple of thousand years for Western dietitians to figure this out - we have the wisdom of all our ancestors and traditional knowledge available to us.

One thing I have come to understand in recent years is that the toll of modern ‘foods’ including food processing, additives, intensive hybridization, genetic modification, as well as environmental degradation and toxic exposures has resulted in an even more challenging situation for many people, where what appear to be natural whole foods cannot be tolerated. There are folks whose health restricts them from certain foods - like wheat - that are cornerstones of traditional diets. But is it really wheat as our ancestors or even other countries know it? Witness the common phenomenon of North Americans with wheat or grain intolerances who are able to eat bread and grains in Europe or Asia without symptoms. Undoubtedly being on vacation can reduce our stress load and improve our digestion, but in fact there are measurable differences between American and European wheat and bread.

Understanding the properties of food

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn that all foods have different properties. These are based on the Five Flavors, each of which has different effects in the body. This enables us to understand foods as active, interactive substances that we can combine and use for pleasure, nourishment and healing.

The Five flavours are: Pungent, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Sweet. Different seasons have affinities for different flavors, and we benefit from emphasizing that flavor in the right season. This approach to food can be a study in its own right, but I really believe it is accessible to any home cook who is interested in this approach. Soon it becomes second nature to choose and modify recipes in harmony with the season or with particular needs or conditions of those who will be eating. It’s really just part of cooking to think about complementary flavors and properties - you are already doing it when you choose what to make for dinner!

There are a variety of cultural approaches to this, and I recommend exploring Ayurvedic sources like Acharya Shunya’s Ayurvedic Lifestyle Wisdom or the works produced by the Weston A. Price Foundation which promotes traditional eating from a European perspective. The Tao of Nutrition by my teachers Dr. Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease is a friendly introduction to the specifics of the TCM energetics of foods, and I love the recipes in Daverick Legget’s Recipes for Self-Healing. California based Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast is probably my number one recommendation for the North American resident looking to eat seasonally.

So, where to begin? Where you are of course! If you’re in the US, visit www.seasonalfoodguide.org for a fun interactive listing of what’s currently in season in your area (you can even get the app!)

Foods and flavors of Late Summer:

The Earth element rules late summer, and conveys a sense of both transitions and neutrality - neither here nor there. The direction associated with the Earth element is none -  the center. Foods that support the Earth element often carry its associated color of golden orange or yellow, as well as being relatively neutral or sweet in taste, grounding, comforting and calming. As we move from the expansive activity of summer to the challenges of Fall, and the often frantic pace of modern life including returning kids to school, projects on overdrive to finish out the calendar year, accelerating towards the frenzy of the holiday season, these weeks are ones where emphasizing simple, comforting and easy to digest foods is a blessing.

Gorgeous golden seasonal foods in California right now include persimmons, cantaloupe, winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes

Meals to try could include squash soup (or squash curry with meat or legumes for a one pot meal), carrot salad with raisins, or lentil dal over baked sweet potatoes. All of these are easy to make ahead, pack for lunch, or heat up quickly at the end of busy day for a peaceful, centered meal that will nourish you body and soul.

Foods and Flavors of Autumn

The Metal element rules autumn, and conveys an energetic sense of contraction, withdrawal, the harvest and the in-breath. We are gathering-in and preparing for winter, darkness and the quiet and restful time of the year (in theory!). Metal and autumn are associated with the lungs, skin and respiratory system - and we certainly know this as the onset of cold and flu season. The pungent or spicy flavor, which warms the body and opens the lungs is the associated flavor - our friend pumpkin spice, with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger and allspice does both these things, and is a wonderful example of a medicinal, seasonal food (when not in m&m form!) Metal is associated with the color white and many white foods help alleviate dryness, considered the most common cause of illness and dis-ease during autumn. We can cook longer, slower dishes, infusing them with warmth and helping us to slow down.

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Seasonal autumnal foods which reflect the autumnal white color - the blanching of the vibrancy of late summer and the contraction of the natural world include pears, apples, bok choy and cabbage, celery root, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, endive, turnips and mushrooms. Most of these are also beneficial for the lung system. Pears are a traditional remedy for lung ailments and western researchers have identified a mucus thinning component in pears which helps people with asthma breathe easier

Meals to try are roasted cauliflower soup (roast florets in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, then puree with chicken stock), chopped celery root and fennel salad, leek and potato soup, and poached pears. Here’s my recipe. (Oh and pick up some good quality pumpkin spice blend or make your own - a wonderful addition to poached pears or baked apples!)

Poached Pears - serves 4

4 pears, any variety
Water or tea to cover, about 4 cups (try Earl Grey for a taste of elegance)
Spices to taste: try cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, and star anise

For Asian pears, use an apple corer to hollow them. Regular pears can be cut in half and the core scooped out. Bring water or tea to a simmer in a medium sauce pan - add the pears and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until the pears are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Lift out with a slotted spoon. Delicious with a drizzle of honey, a natural antimicrobial and lung moistener.

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TCMTalk for October - Holistic Halloween Survival

This month Denise and I doing a special Hallowe'en Perispook, focused on surviving the sugary onslaught that's starting to rev up! Our fave acupressure, herbal support, essential oils and dietary strategies for keeping your balance as we head into sugar season.

Tune in live on Thursday, October 13 at 4 pm PST on Periscope  or watch the replay on our Youtube channel. You can find links to everything we discuss on TCMTalk on our Pinterest Board.

If you have questions, join us live or email us at TraditionalChineseMedicineTalk@gmail.com

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A season of rest - for you and the world

Traditional Chinese Medicine and holistic medicine are about harmony and balance - but what does that mean? It means we move in sync with the external rhythms of nature, not fighting against them. What those rhythms are and what being "in sync" means in practice is traditional knowledge: based on observation over thousands of years. Western science itself is starting to grapple with the idea that what we learn is passed down in our DNA to our children and we can 'know' these things without ever being taught them - we might call it our 'intuition,' our 'wisdom' or as my Granny would say, 'the common sense God gave a chicken'.

The transformation of yin and yang in the four seasons is the basis of the growth and the destruction of life. The sages were able to cultivate the yang energy in spring and summer and conserve the yin energy in autumn and winter. By following the universal order, growth can occur naturally. If this natural order is disregarded, the root of one’s life will be damaged and one’s true energy will wane.
— The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, trans. Maoshing Ni, PhD

Here's an outline of the year as it corresponds to the primal polarities of Yin and Yang. We sail through the year, transiting from Yin (darkness, stillness, rest) into Yang (brightness, action, movement) and back again (I recognize this cycle applies most to those living farther from the equator. The traditional medicine of equatorial peoples no doubt contains its own applications of harmonious living). The apex of each energetic moment is also the beginning of the transition into the next. Right now as we approach the Autumnal Equinox (and celebrate the mid-autumn festival), we are travelling into the most Yin time of the year:

When we accept the reality of change. and the forces that are affecting all us earthlings, we don’t use our resources fighting it - we modify our experience harmoniously, softly, gracefully. This is what I think a lot of "New Age" philosophies are trying to get at when they talk about being "supported by the universe" or the "law of attraction" - when we align ourselves in harmony with the earth cycles, with the massive, manifest patterns that are exerting themselves on our being, we FEEL supported, because we are - the wind is at our back, we are planting in planting season, harvesting in harvest season, and we are much more likely to get the outcome we want and expect.

So back to Fall and rest - as you can see from the yin yang, the Summer solstice, the most YANG time of the year, is the moment when the earth begins its energetic transit into yin - into darkness, cold, wetness, quiet, inaction. As the months progress through the autumn equinox, keeping the frantic pace of modern life becomes even harder. Our energy lowers, our sleep is longer, deeper, we feel quieter, more introspective. We suffer more as we face the growing contradiction between the earth’s energies and the requirements of capitalism - start school, take the kids to soccer, 60 hours of work each week, joyless exercise, big salad for lunch, drinks after work, hurtling ourselves through space, as our cells are insisting more loudly that we slow down, put on weight, sleep more, do less.

As a healing practitioner and as a human being, I often have an internal reaction to this type of discussion (people need to rest more! Folks need to do less and slow down, sleep more!) because so many people literally cannot. Cannot access, cannot afford, cannot find the time. And here too there is a yin and yang - the yin of the personal and the yang of the political. The yang of global capitalism requires an infusion of yin from anti-capitalism and holistic political organization. Political issues like universal health care, paid family leave, universal basic income, housing reform, environmental protection etc., are yin in nature - they nourish, they share, they prioritize rest, healing, redistribution, slowing down so everyone can catch up. Right now the earth and human society is suffering on a massive scale from a lack of rest, from a denial and denigration of the yin energies of existence - the quiet, the dark, the still, the cool, the wet, the chaotic, the unknown, the feminine. Is it any wonder our poor mother earth is becoming hotter, drier, suffering from yin deficiency, hot flashes and night sweats?

I hope you are able to join me this fall in bringing more yin into existence - I don’t want to close on a note of despair, so let me share some of my suggestions for bringing more yin energy into your life right now.

  1. What can you stop doing or simplify? Do you have a bevy of activities? What can you quit for a few months and return to in the spring? (this goes for your kids too!)
  2. Do you have a meditation or mindfulness practice? This is the perfect time of year to start a stillness practice - even a few moments in the day can be powerful
  3.  Can you go to bed earlier? every hour we’re awake after sunset we’re fighting with our biorhythms. Maybe the next episode of Stranger Things can wait.
  4. A regular practice of rest: Shabbat or the Jewish sabbath is a profound weekly rest where observant Jews refrain from all kinds of work, including the use of electronics and spending of money. Consider incorporating a weekly habit of rest: screen free time, family dinner, no shop Saturdays. Ritualizing this time can be a supportive way to introduce a regular restful practice:

May you have a restful and restorative Fall!

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

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TCMTalk for September - Immunity, the energy of fall, and what's wrong with the world?

I'll be sharing more in written form in an upcoming blog post, but join me tomorrow on Periscope starting at 4 pm PST for TCMTalk live video chats. My colleague Denise is traveling this week, so I'm scoping solo. Learn more about my favourite essential oil and herbal helpers for the season, and some of my unfiltered thoughts on why we all need to slow.the.hell.down.

See you there! You can always watch archives of all vids from TCMTalk (including Denise's great September scopes on acupressure, cupping, gua sha and more) on our Youtube channel, and follow us on twitter, facebook and pinterest for links to everything we talk about and what's coming up.

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Hallowe'en Periscope! October 29 @ 4 pm PST

My colleague Denise Cicuto L.Ac of Cicuto Acupuncture and I have done a few periscopes together now. Periscope is the new social media app for smartphones that lets you share and watch live videos. They're so fun for us that we're going to get together regularly to share health related info and answer questions from our perspective and knowledge as Physicians of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

This Thursday, October 29th at 4 pm, we'll be talking all about Hallowe'en! Herbs, habits and recipes to help you avoid a sugar bender or recover if you don't,  why we love pumpkin, and some Hallowe'en themed acupuncture: the famous 'Ghost Points'. Hope to see you there!

How to join us on Periscope: Download the app, sign in with your twitter handle or phone number, and then find and follow me: @sfherbalkitchen and Denise @cicutoacu. You can watch the broadcast for up to 24 hours on Periscope, or visit our Periscope Pinterest board where will share links to things we discuss during the broadcasts, as well as a permanent link to watch them after they're gone from Periscope.

Save the date for our future broadcasts, Thursday, November 19th, 4 pm PST, Thursday December 3, 4 pm PST and Thursday, December 17th at 4 pm PST!

Happy Perispooking!

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Friday Roundup - October 2

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

Pic from The Nourishing Gourmet

Pic from The Nourishing Gourmet

Pumpkin Spice Season: Well, it's here, the annual onslaught of 'pumpkin spice' flavoured everything. I think that our excitement over this annual appearance reveals our attunement to seasonal foods. The delight in once a year foods is one we share with our earliest ancestors. Of course, those foods used to come from the earth, not the marketing department.  The deep orange sweetness of pumpkin and other winter squashes, and warming, stimulating spices like ginger, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, are very much in tune with shortening days and cooler nights. I eat my squash in these pumpkin pancakes from Balanced Bites - bake the squash yourself to get it local, and cheaper! (and fine, here's a dairy and sugar free homemade pumpkin spice latte recipe if you must!)

This Week's Herbal History:  Healers and parfumers have been distilling essential oils for centuries. This article gives a fascinating overview.

Fall Sale Still On! My new labels are rolling out, and I still have some stock of my 'classic' labels on SALE. As of Friday morning, I still have sale prices available for Three-in-One Serum, Swimming Dragon Oil, Basic Balm and Ex Libris Balm. Other items are available with brand-new labels!

Have a great weekend!

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