Navigating Seasonal Transitions - How to stay Healthy Year Round
It's currently the end of summer and school has just started back up for the year. It's a time of transition as we step from the carefree, hot, often highly social and outdoor focused summer energy to the gentle turning inwards and slowing down energy of fall.
Some people lament this changing season but there are many (myself included) that look forward to the less social and extroverted time and welcome some more cozy inside time and that shift of energy that fall brings - Back to routine, crisp days and cozy nights and a little more darkness. As a natural introvert, I feel a bit socialized out by the end of summer and gladly welcome this quieter time.
For many though, the transition from one season to another can be very uncomfortable. For some they find themselves getting sick easily every seasonal shift, or for others they notice themselves feeling more emotional or unsettled as the seasons change.
Believe it or not, this is actually a pattern in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Seasonal transitions are part of the system associated with the Earth phase and it quite literally has to do with our ability to stay grounded and nourished year round. This system is linked with our digestive tract and our ability to absorb - both nutrients and all that life throws our way. This is the system that is responsible for taking the nutrients the earth provides via the plants and grains we eat shifting them into the building blocks of our bodies -Skin, bones, blood and energy
Plants (fruits and vegetables) absorb the nutrients from the soil and when we eat them our digestive system extracts what it needs and excretes the rest. If this system is weak or depleted, we are not able to absorb the nutrients that the earth is giving us. We can't absorb what life is giving us. Often a person with an imbalance in this system will experience digestive weakness (no appetite, loose bowels), fatigue, chronically stuff or blocked sinuses, may be over weight and have trouble loosing weight or have trouble putting on weight. They may also experience lassitude or lethargy after they eat as their body doesn't have enough energy to digest the food properly and they get exhausted. They be chronically fuzzy headed or just lack the oomph to get through the day.
This system is all about nourishment. When we're balanced in the Earth phase, we feel satisfied and grateful for all we have. When we are lacking, we have trouble absorbing nutrients, we may worry or fret obsessively or feel disconnected from our body. Someone with an imbalance in this system may struggle with feelings of not enough - not enough time, money, worthiness, food or just material goods etc..
Seeing as the body and earth is where all of life takes place (not much going on without and earth or without a body to work your magic in!), it is essential to keep this system strong and healthy year round. Luckily there are a few very simple things that can be done to help keep yourself nourished and healthy and your digestive system strong year round.
Eat whole foods and limiting processed or highly sugared foods as much as possible. Whole foods give us what we need to thrive. When we eat processed foods our body isn't getting nourished and will often tell us this via cravings. When we're sated and nourished we don't get cravings. When we don't get what we need, our body will say "maybe if I eat more of that I'll get what I need". The problem is, if we keep eating nutrient zero foods (read: chips, cookies or highly processed foods) we will never get nourished so it's a vicious cycle. If you love chips, try eating some nutrient dense greens first, and then if you're still craving chips have them after. Chances are your cravings will lessen considerably once your nourished. It's not about restricting and denying yourself (No Chips), but it's about allowing yourself to get nourished first!
Seek balance in your life and activities - activity followed by rest. Stimulation followed by calm. If you have a busy day or have a lot on the go, be sure to schedule in downtime and honour it the way you would honour time committed to a friend or work meeting - with respect.
Seek Nourishment -This system is a lot about nourishment - body, mind and soul. Look at the many ways you get nourishment in your life - time with friends, nature, a good book, stimulating conversation, creating art or through movement etc. and seek to spend quality time participating in nourishing events and with nourishing people regularly.
Eat warm cooked foods and shift away from raw or cold salads or drinks. Our body needs to warm up foods to above body temperature to stimulate digestive enzymes and break down the food so we can absorb it. If we lightly cook our food, our body doesn't have to work so hard to absorb the nutrients and that means we get nourished easier!
Avoid skipping meals or having coffee on an empty stomach (which stimulates our adrenal glands to pump our adrenaline or cortisol which sends our system into overdrive and a state of stress - think coffee jitters!). If you do love your morning coffee try to add something high fat and protein (coconut oil or collagen) to help balance out the stimulating effects.
In seasonal transition times try to make the change of season soup listed below. Soup is one of the best foods to strengthen your digestive tract and by adding in some of the simple food supplements, you can boost your immune system and help prevent seasonal colds and flus and deal with stress in the body.
Change of Season Soup
The soup has a slightly bitter taste on it’s own. To improve the taste, use it as a base for a hearty chicken soup or bone broth made with a whole organic chicken and shiitake mushrooms, onions, leeks, carrots, yam, daikon radish, beets, turnip, kale or other local harvest vegetables.
Drink regularly during seasonal changes or throughout the year if you're feeling rundown. People who are in the midst of a cold or flu should not drink the soup until after they have recovered.
To make change of season soup, you will need equal parts (2-3 oz each) of the following herbs. Chinese herbal shops sometimes sell the herbs pre-packaged for convenience or try the following suggestions:
You can use equal parts of each herb (eg. 4 sticks of herbs 1,2, and 3, and a handful of goji berries)
Astragalus/Huang Qi – 4 sticks, 15 cm long. This herb is an adaptogen, helping the body to better manage stress. It also stimulates the immune system and it tonifies the body overall.
Codonopsis pilosula (Dang Shen)– 3 sticks, 10 cm long This herb is important in tonifying Qi energy (according to TCM principles). It detoxifies blood. It increases blood and the production of other immunity-important fluids. It is an adoptogen, helping the body to better manage stress
Chinese wild yam (Dioscorea sinensis/Shan Yao) – 2 sticks, 5 cm long.This herb relaxes the smooth muscles along the digestive tract. It is also great for the liver and is anti-inflammatory.
Chinese wolfberries or Goji berries (Lyciium barbarum/Gou Qi Zi) – 3 tbsp.These berries strengthen the liver and the kidneys. They also work to improve the immune system.
1Fill a large stock-pot with water. Add the above herbs to the pot and place the lid on. Bring to a boil and simmer for 4 to 6 hours. If the water level boils down, add water to refill if necessary.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the herbs from the pot and allow the soup to cool. This recipe makes about 4 liters of herbal soup.
To make a more hearty traditional soup
Sauté onions, leek, ginger and garlic on medium heat until soft
Add celery and carrot for a few minutes then add chicken and ample water including the Chinese herbal mix
Bring the water to a boil, cover and simmer for about 1.5 hours or until the chicken is cooked. (If you are making the soup without chicken simmer for only 1 hour).
Remove the Astragalus, Codonopsis and Chinese wild yam from the pot with a slotted spoon then add any other vegetables and spices you enjoy in soup and continue simmering for about 20-30 more
Wishing you a happy and healthy season full of all the things that bring you joy and nourishme