Summer is nearly here in Portland, and everyone is feeling better. Spring and summer are predominantly yang phases of the year, as opposed to fall and winter which are predominantly yin. Yang is outward, expansion, warmth, light, movement, daytime, awake, motivated, get things done energy. Yin is anything yang is not; inward, contraction, cool, dark, stillness, night time, sleep, rest and recuperation.Nature reflects this energy. In spring, young shoots appear, reaching for the faint sun. By the time the sun reaches it’s peak, the mature plants are bearing fruit and vegetables in abundance. Come Fall, plants are beginning to wither and die, shedding their tired leaves, and when winter comes around, nature takes a rest to sleep.
This interplay of yin and yang is reflected in our daily rhythm; we wake as the sun comes up and are active during the day, and as night falls, we have the opportunity to rest. Yin and Yang wax and wane and are both equally necessary. Chinese Medicine Practitioners are aware of the seasonal and circadian changes in energy and how our bodies follow suit, and we work closely with this energy. It is one of the ways we use the power of the medicine in disease prevention.
According to Chinese Medicine theory, the best time to treat symptoms that are worse in winter, is summer. The best time to treat symptoms worse in fall, is spring. And vice versa. Treat symptoms that flare up in spring during the fall, and symptoms that flare up in summer during the winter.
Two conditions that come to mind that are generally exacerbated during the cold, dark, damp winter months, are arthritis and asthma. During this yin time of year, our yang energy has retreated, as it is does at night time. Yet the best thing to balance this would be an aprropriate dose of yang energy. And when is that awake? Summer! That is when we can access yang energy because it’s out to play. If we can tap into yang energy with needles and herbs during summer, when it is strong and receptive, you will feel more balanced in winter. If you always seems to get bronchitis over the winter, see your Chinese Medicine Practitioner during the summer. You could think of it as follows; is it more productive to have a conversation with someone when they are awake or asleep? If I wanted to get in touch with you about the next day, would I call you at 3am? No I would call you during the day. If we want your yang energy to do it’s job during the winter months, we communicate with it during the summer. This is thinking ahead, proactively, with prevention in mind.
A great teacher of mine, Dr Zhang recommended the following for the the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the peak of yang energy: “Take lamb (the “hottest meat) and cook it with Fuzi (the most warming herb in the Chinese Pharmacopeia) to make a stew. Eat it, and also burn moxa (a herb that sends heat deep into the channels) over ST36 (a specific acupuncture point on the yang brightness channel), and you will suffer less in winter”. According to Dr Zhang eating hot stew and performing tonifying warming treatments at the peak of summer, which might sound counter intuitive, was what would help us most during the winter months.
Our yang energy keeps us healthy, and protected from colds and flu. The strength of our yang during the winter months is partly dependant on how it is treated in summer when it is most accessible. Waiting till winter when it is relatively dormant is not the optimum time to work on it.
Complimentary, alternative, holistic, and natural are a few of the terms given to the modalities that fall outside conventional western medicine. My experience is that the majority of us think of them as an alternative and or complimentary. We get sick and then choose to see an Acupuncturist, either instead of, or alongside a primary care physician.
What we are missing is that the real power and ability of Chinese Medicine lies in prevention.
As the Nei Jing, the 3000 year old foundation of Chinese Medicine tells us “In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good government or emporer was able to take the necessary steps to avert war. Treating an illness after it has begun is like surpressing revolt after it has broken out. If someone digs a well when thirsty, or forges weapons after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Are not these actions too late?”.
So while you might be enjoying improved health, energy and vitality during the summer months, remember this. Winter is just around the corner.
Article authored by: Helen Speith, L.Ac. is passionate about Chinese Medicine and appreciates the opportunity to share this path to health and wellness with others. She is a graduate of the Masters program at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, and a licensed Acupuncturist in the State of OR. Call 503-417-1774 to schedule an appointment with Helen at Jade.