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Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Filtering by Tag: seasonal health

the yang within the yin

Katie Gordon

Welcome to the first Saffron Zen post of 2011!  I know it's about time.  As winter progressed and we approached the New Year, I could sense myself contracting, like I was going into hibernation mode.  According to Chinese Medicine, that's what is supposed to happen during the winter season.  Winter corresponds to the element of water and the kidneys, bladder and adrenal glands.  Winter is the time to store our energy, nourish our bodies, minds, and souls. The kidneys are where our chi, our energy, is stored to be used in times of stress, illness, and as we age.  They can be thought of like a seed which stores so much potential energy for the life that will one day spring forth from it.  Stress is the main source of kidney chi deficiency.  As our chi is depleted, our adrenals get burnt out trying to keep up with us in the non-stop pace we set for ourselves, especially during the holidays.  In times of stress, it's important to take time out to also relax, restore, and rejuvenate.  Most importantly, winter is the time of year when we need to sleep!  Remember that thing we're supposed to get 8 hours of per night?  Shoot for 9 hours instead.

However, TCM theory also says that in the dead of winter appears yang, the sun energy, light.  Since the New Year, I've noticed a pretty major, though subtle, energetic shift.  I've been wanting to go out more, socialize, see and be seen.  It almost feels like a blossoming, an opening of my spirit.  It's the yang within the yin.

So although we're oh-so-gradually heading into the yang time of year, and even though it was 70 degrees and sunny today in So Cal (sorry for those of you in New England where it just snowed 2 feet in a day),  it's still January, and we still need to be nourishing our kidney chi by resting, relaxing, and enjoying warm soups, hearty whole grains, and lots of ginger tea.  That was a really long sentence.  At any rate, here's a recipe for miso soup that should not only warm you up in no time, but also is an amazing cure for the cold that everyone seems to be catching right now.

Miso Soup adapted from 101 cookbooks

3 oz. dried soba noodles 4 c. water 2-4 Tbsp. miso paste (I used white, but experiment with other kinds) Handful of spinach, or other leafy greens 2 green onions, tops removed, thinly sliced Pinch of red pepper flakes

Cook the noodles and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Pour some of the hot water into a bowl and whisk in the miso paste to thin it out.  Add the thinned miso paste back into the sauce pan.  Taste, and then add more if you like, using the same method as before.

Keep the noodles separate until just before you serve the soup, otherwise they can get mushy.  Just before serving, divide the noodles between two or three bowls, add the greens, onions, and red pepper flakes, and pour the broth over them.

Makes 2-3 servings.

Note: You can also add mushrooms (I like shiitake mushrooms, plus they're great for the adrenal glands), tofu, cilantro, ginger, etc.  It's fun to play around with miso soups, trying all kinds of variations depending on your mood.

Ascendance of the Earth

Katie Gordon

The first apples have appeared in the local farmers market, and even though the days are still warm, the nights have become cool and crisp.  Fall is fast approaching, but as summer wanes, time seems to hang suspended in the air, the pause just before Autumn serves up her harvest.  Indian summer.  It's a time of peace in which we can appreciate the fruits of our labor and that of the Earth.

In Chinese medicine, the time between Summer and Fall is the season of the Earth element.  According to the book Between Heaven and Earth, "Earth's density and mass sustain our momentum, keeping us aligned in the direction of our desired goal."  It is during this time that we can use this energy to generate change without losing our balance.  Earth and its energy represents our center of gravity, the place we always come back to when we need grounding.

Late summer, the time when Earth emerges, is associated with transformation.  Makes sense, right?  Days are getting shorter, weather is getting colder (in most places within the northern hemisphere), school is starting again, summer's time of fresh fruit and vegetable abundance is at it's climax, and soon we'll be heading into the wintery decay.  It's all part of our earthly cycle.

The organs related to Earth are the spleen (yin) and stomach (yang).  The spleen is one of the main organs of digestion, it helps to recycle red blood cells, and is where white blood cells trap organisms that cause infection.  Energetically, it incorporates whatever we take in, food, experience, etc. into the substance which makes us who we are.  According to Sarah Powers, it is the source of life for other organs because it takes the pure essences of ingested food and converts it into blood and chi.

We all know the stomach is primarily responsible for digestion, assimilation, and distribution.  From the stomach, immediately usable nutrients are sent to the spleen and things that need to be further broken down are sent  to the small intestine for more filtration.  Consider this: the stomach is the first thing to receive our food, other than our sense organs (mouth, nose, eyes, etc.).  It is responsible for nourishing our energy on all levels, physical, mental or emotional, which is why it is so important to take in unpolluted food and food that will nourish our individual constitutions.

Remember when I said our Earth energy is what grounds us?  So what happens when this energy, our spleen chi, is out of balance?  Our whole system can fall into a state of disharmony.  We end up feeling disjointed, uncertain, stressed out, and mentally and physically drained.  Our sleeping, thinking, eating, even breathing patterns can be thrown off.  We feel "ungrounded."  We may experience feelings of anxiety, worry, pensiveness, or off-centeredness.

This obsessive, anxious thinking depletes your spleen energy.  You may begin to feel mentally tired and dull.  Soon you might start to notice some digestive issues you've recently developed (or maybe you've always had them since you've always been an overthinker) ranging from indigestion, gas, and bloating to IBS.  When you deplete your spleen energy, it affects your stomach since they have an energetic relationship.

Likewise, it's possible to deplete your spleen energy.  Irregular eating habits, lots of cold or greasy food, and eating close to bedtime can all contribute to a decline in spleen energy.  When your stomach and spleen have to work harder to assimilate and digest the food you take in, it can lead to physical depletion of spleen chi, which eventually can cause mental weakness.  The mind affects the body just as the body affects the mind.  What you feed yourself contributes to your overall well-being on all levels, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I read a quote the other day that said "Don't think.  If you do think, act."  The next time you start to overanalyze or obsess over something, ask yourself if you can do anything about the situation.  If you can, take that first step.  If you can't, try to let it go.  This ability to "let go" in our lives is an important skill for our health as well as our sanity.

So in this time of Earthly abundance, take a moment to enjoy this brief pause between birth and death, growth and decay, and cultivate a sense of groundedness, of being at home inside yourself, at ease wherever you are, while still being able to connect with the world around you.  You'll notice if you take a moment to ground yourself in this time and place, you'll be able to think more clearly as well as be more adaptable when the unexpected arises.