Why Seasons Matter to Wellness: An Herbalist’s Perspective
Why Seasons Matter to Wellness: An Herbalist’s Perspective
Staying in sync with Nature’s rhythms takes effort in our modern world. But the benefits include optimal health and wellness, as well as a sense of inner calm.
An East Asian Approach to the Seasons
One of the most fundamental ideas to wellness is that humans are a part of Nature and not separate from it- as we have come to believe. The schisms pulling humans apart from Nature and its inner mechanisms are constructions, and false ones at that. Indeed, Classic Chinese Medicine philosophy teaches people to live in harmony with the seasons, or Nature’s rhythms.
Effects of the Seasons on Health
Because humans are biologically programmed to be in sync with Nature and its rhythms—be it the rising and setting of the sun or the turning of the seasons—we can expect to be at our most well when we find that balance. It’s also important to remember our part in the greater narrative: Nature, as a force, is ultimately stronger than anything we can create. Nature always wins in the end. Winter always comes, as does spring. We are born, we mature, we die. This is the natural order of things. When we think that we are above the laws of Nature, we almost always end up paying a price— whether it’s our health or our planet’s.
East Asian medicine teaches five seasons: spring, summer, late summer, fall, and winter. Each season brings its own offerings. When we live in sync with the offerings of each, we can better achieve a full and healthy life. It’s when we try to fight the changes of the seasons that we run into trouble.
How to Transition Between the Seasons for Optimal Wellness
Don’t fight the transitions between seasons. Instead, appreciate every season for the gifts that it brings. Cultivate good sleep habits, eating with the season and exercising appropriately. Once you learn to swim with the tide rather than against it, transitioning between seasons can be simple.
This one is easy, right? It’s awesome and awe inspiring to see the trees spring back into life. The emergence of buds on trees and the brilliant green of spring never ceases to amaze. We stretch upwards and outwards, expanding after months of contracting inwards to stay warm, conserve energy and warmth. We’ve rested and We are ready to re-emerge with new vitality. If you think about it, we are just like the trees and flora. We lighten up our food and eat more greens, simply because they are more available (and we’re sick of root vegetables). Greens also help us to move while cleansing us of the (necessary) things we’ve stored during winter.
Hot summer days bring fruit bursting with flavor and delicious juices to quench our thirst from enjoying the bright sunshine. Think of your fondest summer memories, whether you’re jumping in a cool creek on a hot day, chomping on juicy watermelon, wearing light airy clothes or soaking in the sun, life has such a carefree rhythm, especially compared to winter.
Classic Chinese medicine sees late summer as its own distinct season. The light starts to change, and we know what’s coming, but before Nature forces us to turn inwards, it blesses us with bounty and harvest. We know it’s time to take advantage of all the remaining days of warmth and long days.
The fall season brings beautiful light and colors, and more bounty, this time heavier and starchier foods that store well, to help us through the winter months. Fall is almost like a last kiss. Think of fall as a time to start shedding, as we prepare to hibernate, rest, and recharge.
Winter is a time to turn inward; it is a time to rest as we store our energies so that we can regenerate again come spring. It is a time of family closeness, enjoying sweet root veggies, the wood stove, and early nights.
Seasonal Diet and Activity Suggestions
Hiking in every season is a great way to be in tune with each season and to appreciate the distinct characteristics and beauty of Nature, whatever your environment. Just be safe and smart and plan accordingly so you don’t dehydrate, overheat or get too chilled.
Nature tells us what to eat each season, so listen. It’s preferable to eat fresh produce at the time of year when it’s naturally harvested and ready to consume. To eat a seasonal diet, seek out locally grown produce, whether you pick-farm or support local small farmers. Locally grown food can also help us reduce our carbon footprint, by eliminating food transport. Plus, fruits, vegetables, and other offerings from Nature taste better when fresh and are at peak nutritional value.
Edible gardens, even if they consist of a few planter boxes on a windowsill are a wonderful way to indulge Nature. Not only is it important to learn what fresh food tastes like, it’s important to teach children how food is grown while developing their palate to appreciate such freshness. Convince your schools to have gardens.
In Classical Chinese Medicine, general diet guidelines include rice, millet, wheat, and beans as staple foods, with various seasonal fruits, meat, eggs, and vegetables.
When you think about staying in step with the seasons, you’re also paying homage to the way our ancestors lived. In pre-modern times, they were able to connect with Nature without the obstacles we face today; but to them, they were just doing what came naturally.
Pungent flavors Add onions, coriander, wheat, fermented soya beans, dates, and peanuts. These foods and flavors help to move the yang up and out, much like the energy of the trees starting to bud.
Limit acrid, sweet, dry, and hot foods, while incorporating more tomatoes, lentil beans, cucumber, lettuce, smoked plum, watermelon, and mung beans. Note that excessive cold foods and drinks are harmful to health. In fact, in areas where damp heat persists, drink things like roasted barley tea. Spicy food is consumed to keep the pores open, allowing for sweat to push to the surface to cool us down.
Limit acrid and hot foods and consume more soft foods which have a moistening effect, such as glutinous rice, rice, sesame, honey and dairy products.
Consume more warm and hot foods, such as mutton, beef, including root vegetables, stews, and soups.
Listen to your body, mind and spirit
Transitions are challenging, even when they bring much needed or exciting change. Regardless of the shift we are going through, be it a move, a new job, or the changing of seasons, it can often feel like we're passing through a doorway that is too narrow for easy passage. The changing of the seasons is no different. I have many patients that come in for seasonal treatments to help smooth the way.
Each person has their own sticky spots with their own unique set of discomforts and imbalances. Although our tinctures offer off the shelf/ over the counter support, there is no one size fits all seasonal support. So it's important to listen to what your body, mind and spirit are asking for in choosing the formula that is the best fit for how you feel.
In my private practice, what I find most commonly is that people feel irritable and agitated as we move into spring. Grrrr is super helpful in these situations, especially as Spring is the season of the Liver. This formula helps to promote the natural movement of the Liver, while smoothing the rough edges.
Bleak and Blue can help in the dreary months of late autumn and winter as we turn inward and become less active. The grey skies and colder weather slow us down, weigh us down, and can make us feel like we're moving through a thick fog. This formula is designed to help lift the fog, get things moving, and lighten our step and mood. It's also helpful for people who are slowed down by summer humidity as well.
Moody Biatch was intended for PMS, but we've found so many more great applications for it! My husband who is very troubled by hot humid days finds much relief from this formula. He tends to get swollen and pissy on those sweltering August days, but this formula helps drain his internal humidity, heaviness and irritability that it causes.