We live in a cyclic world where there are phases constantly in rotation. Women have monthly cycles (hopefully), we operate on a 24 hour, cyclic clock and every 3 months or so, the seasons change too. Of course, there are phases within phases, an even though we might be technically in summer, we can still have cooler days, however what does change are the leaves on the trees, the height of the sun, the time the sun rises and sets – it is all dependent on where you are in the world and where planet earth is circulating. There’s a lot to take in! TCM breaks it down another layer and looks at the organ energies. Each organ has a prominent time throughout the year, this can also assist in diagnosis if there are symptoms that are seasonal. Our bodies are always telling us something!
Perhaps you’ve stopped and observed how you feel when the seasons change. Each season has special characteristics that come as part of the package. Chinese Medicine loves to observe the body through the changes and support it best with the right diet and lifestyle according to these fluctuations. I want to break it down for you so you can best draw on this as a guide, no matter where you are in the world.
Possibly everyones favourite time of the year. We are inclined to be more social and active, it is the most Yang of all the seasons. The sun is high in the sky, the daylight lasts longer, the goodness that the sun provides by way of Vitamin D helps us to feel energized and alert. Summer is the time when we can enjoy ourselves to the fullest. This is how we should feel moving into the warmer months and if you are finding yourself feeling horrible or disliking seasons, it’s a good idea to look inwards as to why. If there is too much internal heat in your body, summer may be unbearable. When heat accumulates in the body we can see issues such as dehydration, constipation, lethargy due to sweating and overall fatigue.
Organs: Heart and Small Intestine
What to eat: in summer, we can get away with a little more cold and raw foods if your digestion is good. If digestion is sluggish, it’s a clue, since the Small Intestine energy is abundant during this time. Adding pungent flavor to the diet is a good idea at this time.
Foods to include: strawberries, watermelon, tomato, lemon, peach, cucumber, asparagus, bean sprouts, fish to name a few.
Emotions: it’s important to avoid excessive anger during summer according to TCM theory. Anger will further exacerbate internal heat. Maybe save anger to warm you up in winter! (jokes)
During autumn, the days remain warm but the nights begin to get cooler. Autumn is a very dry season where the leaves also prove this fact as they prepare to fall. The air is dryer. We are still happily social, but we can notice as things begin to wind down. This season is all about organization – tying up loose ends as we prepare to go inward during winter.
Organs: Lung and Large Intestine. Often we can see respiratory issues arise as we move into the autumn.
What to eat: foods become beautiful and bright during autumn.
Foods to include: sweet potato, ginger, garlic, cabbage, pears, walnuts, black rice, broccoli, yoghurt and pickles are some amongst many others.
Emotions: the energy of the lungs is about letting go, so anything that is bugging you, now is the time to sort that stuff out once and for all!
It probably comes as no surprise that winter is the time to bunker down, to go inward, rest more, eat a little more and go slowly. Winter is the most Yin of the seasons, it’s cold and we often feel its wraps. More inward activities are best taken during winter – yoga, writing, journaling and gentle movement.
Organs: Kidney and Urinary Bladder. Looking after our bones is also key during winter according to TCM.
What to eat: it’s a good idea to cook foods longer at lower temperatures to really tonify the body during winter. We can then benefit from them better as well as easily digest them to really take advantage of their nutrients to nourish the body.
Foods to include: broths, soups, stews, roasted nuts, dried fruits, celery (looks after bones too), asparagus, alfalfa, endive and turnip are on the ‘in’ list.
Emotions: fear is the emotion associated with winter. It’s important to recognise emotions as they arise at any time and allow your body to feel them.
Perhaps there is a reason Spring has claimed the ‘title’. We have a spring in our step, trees and plants spring new buds and flowers and we tend to feel awakened as we move out of the inward energy of winter. Spring can bring along with it, brightness, dampness, and rain as the season is about generating new growth. In fact, the weather in spring can be unpredictable so it is a good time to be prepared to not get stuck in the cold. Spring is a time of expansion, of new ideas and projects that can blossom to life over the coming warmer months. It’s important to keep the back of the neck covered during this time too, so that pathogens don’t easily invade and cause illness in the body. We may also like to engage in more active movement during this time.
Organs: Liver and Gallbladder. They are in charge of smooth flowing energy throughout the body that may have become stagnated during winter.
What to eat: As we move into spring we can enjoy young sprouting plants as well as sour flavours that help to strengthen the liver energy.
Foods to include: lemons, hawthorn fruit, pickles, spinach, apples, fennel, oregano, shitake mushrooms, and peas to name my favourite.
Emotions: motivation – face everything that comes our way.
I’m certain you can easily see just how intricate the seasons are and the influence they may have on our systems. If we can understand each season and what it brings, we can better support our body, our digestive system and our lifestyle to suit, rather than work against the natural rhythms that exist. This is truly living in harmony with our surrounds and brings with it a lot of health benefits when we can live in unity with the world around us.
Written by TCM Doctor, Nat Kringoudis.