I always know we are moving into late summer when the peaches start dropping from the tree in our garden, and the birds seem drunk on the sweet blackberries that grow down by the creek. Now begins the season of the harvest, the season of great abundance and nourishment. In Chinese medicine, Late Summer is actually considered a season unto itself, and in the Five elements framework this season corresponds to the Earth element. As with all of the elements, there are so many potent healing themes contained within Earth. I like to take some time to unpack some of these healing themes in my monthly newsletters, as when we explore and integrate these different facets of ourselves, we can move towards greater health in all areas of our lives.
Health is really so much more than the absence of disease or pain. Health is so much more than eating right and exercising, though these things are indeed very important! But the highest level of health is fully stepping into and embodying the truest core essence of our being. It is being in rhythm with who we came into this world to be. It is living in a state where we can shine the radiant light of our true heart, and we generously share that light in all aspects of our lives. The beauty of the inner tradition of Chinese Medicine is that it is a path of coming home to who we really are. It is the path to health at the deepest, constitutional level.
Sometimes we may lose touch with this core essence of our being, or we may not even realize it exists, because the pain and suffering in our lives has caused us to shut down our growth/healing in some fundamental way. Many of us fall into patterns in an effort to cope with the pain--patterns of undermining or sabotaging our growth, patterns of self destructive habits or thoughts, patterns of identifying with our sickness, and not with our true nature. The Five Element acupuncture approach is to help clear those patterns, and to reopen that path that leads us back to who we really are at our deepest, most radiant core.
We each have one element that is our main constitution. This means that the core themes of that particular element make up the core themes of our life; this element holds both are greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses. And although one element is our primary constitution, all of the five elements live within each of us. We need them all to be working together harmoniously, like a family of energies inside of us. Just like in a family, when one element is brought into greater health, it brings the other elements into greater health as well. Focusing on the healing themes of a particular element during its corresponding season is a great way to work on our self-healing throughout the year. So now that we are entering the season of late summer, let's focus our healing energy on our Earth element, and the teachings it holds.
Earth is the element of the harvest, and of deep sustaining nourishment. It is the part of ourselves that, when healthy, knows when to give and when to receive. It is the part of ourselves that knows how to balance our own needs with the needs of others. This is the "ecology of needs". Earth is the element of ecology, and ecology is all about balance. One of the key themes I've been contemplating in regards to Earth lately is the role that self care plays in this ecology of needs. This has taken on an even deeper meaning for me personally, as being a mom to a toddler is teaching me how essential it is to make time and space for self care. If I don't learn how give myself what I really need, then I don't really have much left to give to my child. There needs to be a balance for there to be a healthy ecology. This applies to other areas of our lives as well. Do we have enough inner abundance to give all that is needed in our relationships and friendships, in our work, in every area of our lives? Or are we running on empty?
We can think of ourselves as the soil from which our life grows. When we tend to our own self-- our soil-- with the right amount and the right kind of nutrients, then there can be an abundant and nourishing harvest in our lives. Abundance means that not only do we have enough for our self, but we have enough to share. Our soil's health is dependent on healthy self-care, and the fruits that grow from this soil are what we in turn harvest in our lives. Our relationships, our families, our careers, our passions, our spiritual paths-all of these are the fruits that want to grow and offer themselves in our lives. Will they be abundant and teeming with delicious nourishment? Or will they be withered and scanty, leaving us with a constant aching hunger? The answer lies in the extent to which we tend to our own soil-- our practices of self care!
A misconception that some people may have is that self care is selfish. But self care is not the same thing as unchecked hedonism or indulgence. There is a big difference. True self care is the basic foundation for health. When we are the healthiest, we have the most to give. Again and again I have seen so many people sacrifice their own self care thinking that doing so, and being "selfless" is somehow a gift to others. But the opposite is true. There is a wonderful expression: "To be generous, one must first be rich." Being "rich" means being deeply nourished. Being deeply nourished depends upon us creating time and space for our own self care. This means we need to do the things that are truly nourishing, not just pleasurable or distracting. There are many things that are temporarily pleasurable but that actually deplete us, or numb us out. So we need to discover for ourselves the ways in which we can truly nourish ourselves, and thus become stronger. We also need to know how we can fit these self care practice into our daily lives, so that we may be continually feeding a rich and healthy soil. This healthy soil is what will in turn yield a nourishing and delicious harvest of fruit--the harvest of our lives.
But it is not always so easy to figure out how to truly nourish ourselves! We all have unique nourishment needs. This is why my next women's healing circle will be devoted entirely to going deeper into this theme of self care and nourishment, and into exploring how the Earth element manifests uniquely within each of us. Details are below. I hope you will join us!
Come join our women's healing circle and learn more about the Earth Element in you!!
Daughters of Demeter is a series of healing circles for women. Each circle has a different seasonal theme, based on the teachings of the Five Elements fused with archetypes of the sacred feminine. Following the flow of the seasons, these groups invite us to dive deeply into all of these different facets of ourselves, so that we may come to understand ourselves at a more meaningful level, and so that we may also learn how to move past any obstacles keeping us from flourishing and blossoming fully in our lives. Together we will be learning and sharing in an intimate, safe, and sacred circle of sisterhood. We will be doing this work primarily through guided writing prompts and personal sharing. We may also incorporate qigong exercises, elements of ritual, and sacred song based on the season and element we are exploring.
Our next circle gathers to explore the Earth Element, and the archetype of the Mother. We will explore several rich and potent themes in this session, including our relationship to nourishment, the sacred art and practice of self care, balancing the "ecology of needs" in our lives, and learning to mother ourselves. With the intention of healing, we will go beyond exploration and dive into discovering practical ways to make healthy and needed change in our lives.
We will be doing this healing work at my clinic here in beautiful Happy Valley on Sunday August 30th, from 10:00 to 12:00. The cost for the Earth session is $30, but participants that register by August 15th will receive an early bird discount of $25. Pre-registration is required. For now I am only offering one of these healing circles for each season and element, so if you're interested be sure to sign up soon, as space is limited!
Between my own personal cleanse I've been doing, the clients I'm currently helping with their cleanses, and the talk I did last night on the subject, I've got Spring cleansing on the brain! One of my absolute favorite foods to eat during a spring cleanse are beets. They are an amazing food for liver health, for promoting regularity, and for both purifying and building the blood. One fabulous way to get the healing properties of beets AND probiotics is to consume beet kvass. A naturally fermented traditional Ukrainian beverage, beet kvass is easy to make and a wonderful daily tonic for liver and digestive health. I'm going to share how I make beet kvass, adapting a recipe from the Traditional Foods bible, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon...
Make your own beet kvass...
Thoroughly scrub and/or peel 3 beets. Chop coarsely and place into a 2 quart glass jar. (Optional: also add 2 Tb. of fresh grated ginger root). Add 1/4 cup liquid whey (see how to make below), 1/2 Tb. unrefined salt, and water to fill the jar. Stir well and cover.
Allow to sit at room temperature for about 4 days. Transfer to fridge and enjoy a small glass once or twice a day as a wonderful tonic.
To make liquid whey:
Liquid whey can be used for starting many probiotic-rich fermented foods and beverages, including beet kvass. Here's a video showing a method similar to the one I like to use to obtain my whey. It is pretty easy, and also yields a delicious yogurt cheese after you separate the whey. I have had the best success using the St. Benoit plain yogurt, which is available at many health food stores (it comes in a glass jar). I use a small muslin cloth bag to strain the whey from the yogurt into a quart-sized mason jar.
I really encourage people to start exploring making your own traditional fermented beverages like kvass and kombucha-- it is so much cheaper than what you buy at the store, and many of these are very easy and to make. Consuming naturally fermented, probiotic-rich foods and beverages is a key component to our health (read my post on healthy eating for more on this subject).
Rethinking our perspective on cleansing… “Cleanse” versus “Detox”
I like to think of a cleanse as a seasonal renewal and an opportunity to get into balance, rather than a “detox” for a couple of reasons. One is because I strongly believe it is important to have an empowering, health-affirming perspective in relationship to our bodies and our healing processes. In other words, I don’t find it to be helpful on any level to think of oneself as “toxic”. I also have found that the most effective cleanses tend to be relatively simple and gentle, and are ones that allow the body’s own inherent cleansing mechanisms to take place. I strongly believe that the body has its own inherent wisdom for finding balance, if the appropriate diet, healing practices and herbal allies are utilized. It is my intention as a practitioner to help people in this gentle yet profound way of cleansing.
What is a cleanse?
There are many different types of cleanses. Some are ancient healing traditions from various cultures and some more modern inventions. Some are very specific protocols (such as the Master Cleanse) and some are more a set of guidelines that can be adapted and tailored towards varying constitutions. The cleanse I help people with in my clinic is more the latter kind-- a set of guidelines and principles, largely based on dietary choices, but also using herbs and other healing modalities. A big part of a cleanse is of course supporting the detoxification and elimination processes in the body, but a balanced cleanse should at the same time support and nourish the body's vital energy.
Why do a cleanse?
Cleansing can greatly benefit a person’s overall health, because essentially it is giving the body a break. By cutting out foods and substances that put strain on the body, we free up the body’s own inherent healing energy. The liver doesn’t have to work so hard processing toxins when we are not taking in any toxins! In addition to cutting out the things that put a strain on our health, we emphasize incorporating foods, herbs, and self-care practices that strengthen the body’s own inherent cleansing and healing capacity.
I believe that most people can benefit from doing a gentle spring cleanse every year, because even if we don’t have any specific health conditions we are struggling with, we can all benefit from a “reboot”, where we set aside some time and energy to really focus on our health. But there are some specific health conditions that can often really benefit from this type of cleanse. Some of these include:
When do we cleanse: aligning with the Wood Element, and why we cleanse in Spring
In Chinese Medicine, each season corresponds to one of Five Elements. Spring corresponds to the Wood element, represented by trees, plants and all green living things that grow and thrive. The Wood element has the Liver and Gallbladder as its associated organs and acupuncture channels. The liver and gallbladder, as we know, are vitally important in the cleansing process. When these organs or energy pathways have stagnation, there can be an incredible amount of frustration, irritation, even depression. There is a sense of not being able to move forward, a sense of stuckness. It can go the other way too: when we are chronically stressed, frustrated or irritated this can create stagnation in these organ systems. Springtime, and the Wood element, is about new beginnings, growth, and rebirth. When we do a cleanse, we are allowing our bodies (and our spirits) to get unstuck, to grow, and to move forward in life with vibrancy. We are getting the energy moving, in a direction of healing and growth. We can do encourage ourselves to let go of old habits and patterns that do not serve our overall health and happiness, and that keep us stuck on any level.
Interestingly, the element that keeps Wood in balance (through the K’o cycle of the Five Element framework) is the Metal element, which is the element associated with Autumn. Here is one way to think of the relationship between these two elements, and how they relate to the cleansing process: If a tree doesn’t let go of its dead and dried up leaves in Autumn, there will be no room for the vibrant, new green growth of Spring. We need to release old, stuck energy before we can truly heal, grow, and thrive. This is the energetic dynamic I like to focus on when helping people do a Spring cleanse, working with these two elements. It’s also interesting to note that one of the organs associated with the Metal element is the colon. An important part of the cleansing process is elimination, letting go. Thus, it is important to make sure that we also focus on the colon and bowel elimination when we do a cleanse. On a physiological level this is how toxins that have been released from the cells then can be released from the body (also through urination and the skin via sweating). There are many different ways to facilitate colon cleansing, through many different healing traditions. I prefer the gentle method of increasing water intake, probiotic-rich foods, and whole plant foods that promote regularity. Supplementing with foods like ground flax seed or chia seed can also be helpful.
When Not to Cleanse…
I advise people not to do a cleanse in certain situations. If you are sick with a cold or flu I advise waiting until you have recovered, and your energy and immune system is stronger. Remember, when we cleanse we are moving the energy in the body; if the body is greatly depleted from an active infection, moving the energy will only weaken the person further. I also advise people not to cleanse when they are pregnant or nursing, to prevent transmitting any stirred up toxins to the baby and also because the diet should be more rich in animal protein and building foods at these times.
How Long to Cleanse?
It varies with individual constitutions and health concerns, but most people would benefit from a cleanse lasting anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. When I am guiding people with their cleanse in my private practice I will often take a gradual, incremental approach over the course of a month.
*Components of a Cleanse Part One: Diet*
An important note: I really encourage people to focus their energy and intention more on the foods on that they "should" eat during a cleanse and less on the ones that they "shouldn't." While it is true that we want to cut out or greatly eliminate certain foods during a cleanse, we don't want that to be our whole focus, or we enter into what I call a deprivation mindset. Thinking to ourselves "I'm really excited to eat all of these vibrant and delicious foods that are so nourishing to body" is so much more health-affirming and positive than thinking "Well, I can't and shouldn't eat this or this or that". So I encourage us to shift our perspective towards the positive, and really relish all these wonderful foods we can and should eat during our cleanse. And as someone who is equal parts foodie and nutrition nut, I'm a firm proponent of the fact that healthy food can and should be delicious!
Foods and drinks to reduce, avoid, or eliminate during a cleanse:
All sugars and artificial sweeteners; sodas; breads and flour products such as pasta, crackers, etc.; processed foods; fast foods; caffeine (small amount of green tea ok); alcohol; dairy (small amounts of raw, pasture-raised dairy may be ok for part or all of cleanse, but keep to a minimum); red meat and pork; possibly all animal protein for all or part of cleanse, depending on constitution.
Foods and drinks to emphasis during a cleanse:
A wide variety of organic, in-season vegetables-- lightly steamed, sautéed, and some raw in salads (depending on individual constitution and strength of digestion). Specific vegetables to focus on: dark leafy greens such as kale, dandelion greens, arugula, and other bitter greens; fresh sprouts such as sunflower sprouts; parsley and cilantro; radishes; beets (and their greens!); roasted roots; also naturally fermented vegetables such as raw sauerkraut or kimchi; seaweeds. For some people it is also a good idea to incorporate “green drinks” into a cleanse; there are some very good superfood green powders available in health food stores. Spirulina and blue-green algae are also potent superfoods with both cleansing and strengthening properties.
Properly soaked and well-cooked grains and legumes. Quinoa, millet, rice, and other whole grains are excellent whole grains for a cleanse, if prepared properly by soaking and cooking thoroughly. Kitcharee, made from mung beans and rice, is an excellent cleansing and nourishing food (see recipe, and consider doing a 1-3 day kitcharee fast as part of your cleanse). Congees are also a good way to prepare grains in a highly digestible way. It is very important to soak all grains and legumes to make them digestible.
Optional: Some pasture-raised and traditionally prepared animal protein. While grassfed red meat and pork are often important nutrient-dense foods in a balanced diet, they usually should be eliminated during a short term cleanse, when the emphasis is on lighter, much less nutrient-dense foods. Poultry, wild fish and seafood may be eaten, though some people may choose to eat a completely vegetarian diet during a cleanse, depending on their constitution and preference. Pasture-raised eggs and non-pasteurized and/or fermented dairy such as raw milk, yogurt, or kefir can be part of a cleanse for some people, but should be kept to a minimum. The emphasis should really be on whole plant foods during a cleanse, but for many people it is still a good idea to eat a small amount of animal protein for part or all of the cleanse, depending on one's constitution. A cleanse shouldn’t last much longer than a month, which in general is not long enough to set up nutritional deficiencies that can occur in a long-term vegan diet. If animal protein is eaten it should be pasture-raised/grassfed, and completely free from antibiotics and hormones.
Plenty of fermented foods and beverages: miso, raw saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha, beet kvass, water or coconut kefir, etc. A cleanse is a great time to really build up one's internal microbiome of beneficial flora by consuming probiotic-rich foods and drinks.
Small amount of soaked or sprouted raw nuts, seeds, or nut/seed butters: As with grains and legumes, soaking ensures they are digestible.
A wholesome fiber supplement such as ground flax seed and/or chia seed to promote regular bowel elimination
Organic, in-season fresh fruit or dried, unsulphured fruits
Beverages: at least 64 ounces of water a day, warm or room temperature, with fresh lemon juice squeezed into it; kombucha; beet kvass; herbal teas (dandelion is a great one for cleansing); green drinks; a little bit of organic green tea ok
*Components of a Cleanse Part Two: Herbs*
Note: I highly recommend consulting with an experienced and professionally licensed herbalist before beginning any herbal supplements. While many herbs are quite gentle and food-like plants, others have a much stronger physiological effect on the body. Some herbs are not appropriate for certain constitutions or health conditions, and can even be harmful, so please check in with a skilled herbalist before you incorporate herbs into your cleanse. If you are taking prescription medications or have been diagnosed with a medical condition, please consult your primary care physician before taking any herbs.
There are so many wonderful herbs that can facilitate the cleansing process. Here are a few of my favorites, and some key points about them:
Dandelion: the leaf is a wonderful kidney cleanser and diuretic. The root is superb at clearing liver heat and effectively cleansing a congested liver and gallbladder. It stimulates bile secretion and can be used to improve digestive function. The root also has a mild laxative effect, making it a great herb for increasing elimination during a cleanse. It is one of my favorite herbs for clearing up difficult skin conditions. The roasted root in a tea is a delicious alternative to coffee.
Milk Thistle: Milk thistle seed is a phenomenal hepato-protective herb, meaning it protects the liver from damage. It also helps the liver to regenerate. It is thus a wonderful herb for people who have taken or are currently taking any type of drug (whether over-the-counter, prescription, or recreational) or who drink alcohol on a regular basis or have a history of drinking. And it is a good herb for most people to take, because in modern life we are all exposed to environmental toxins to some degree.
Turmeric: Most people these days think of turmeric as a powerful anti-inflammatory, but what many people don’t realize is that it is also a wonderful herb for liver cleansing. It stimulates bile production, decongests the liver, and promotes digestive health. Along with dandelion root, it is also a great herbal ally for chronic skin conditions such as acne, itchy and inflamed rashes, and eczema.
Artichoke Leaf: This is a great one for a sluggish liver and gallbladder, with difficulty digesting fats or sluggish digestion. Its bitter flavor stimulates bile production, and it’s a great one to prevent the formation of gallstones. It is often included in Digestive Bitter formulas.
Bupleurum (Chai Hu): An herb often used in Chinese Medicine to spread or smooth out stuck liver qi. Stagnant liver qi that results in depression, PMS, or mood swings can often be effectively treated with Chai Hu, or a formula with that as a chief ingredient. It is also great for the chest pain or stifling feeling that accompanies liver qi stagnation.
Chinese Herb Formulas: There are many phenomenal Chinese herb formulas that balance and invigorate the Wood element, and the liver and gallbladder system. I have seen incredible results over the years that I have been using and prescribing these ancient formulas. It is best to consult with a practitioner of Chinese Medicine if you are interested in taking Chinese herbs, as it is a completely different diagnostic system than is used in western herbalism, and requires someone with a firm understanding of Chinese Medicine to make an appropriate herbal prescription.
*Components of a Cleanse Part Three: Self-Care Practices*
In addition to dietary changes and herbal supplementation, there are many self-care practices that can greatly enhance and facilitate the body’s cleansing practice. You may choose to do some or all of these practices during your cleanse.
Massage: Therapeutic massage helps improve circulation and increases oxygenation. It also moves the lymph and helps with the elimination of toxins. It is ideal to get a professional massage once a week during your cleanse, but you can also do a self-massage. You can do your full body self-massage after a bath or shower using a blend of essential oils in a pure oil base such as olive oil or coconut oil. Some essential oils that are particularly helpful during a cleanse include grapefruit, lemongrass, juniper, lemon, and rosemary. Be sure to drink plenty of water after a massage.
Dry-brushing: The skin is a huge organ of elimination, and we can greatly facilitate our cleansing process by doing some dry brushing. Using a natural skin brush or loofah, brush the skin starting at the feet and moving upwards. All strokes should go towards the heart. Be sure to shower after dry brushing to rinse away the dead skin and debris.
Therapeutic Baths: Taking baths with natural mineral salts, seaweed, essential oils, and/or herbal infusions can greatly enhance the cleansing experience. Remember that the skin is an organ of elimination, so when we sweat we help the cleansing process. Saunas and sweat lodges are another wonderful cleansing ritual. You may want to do a facial mask with a clay, such as bentonite, kaolin, or French green clay, during your bath to pull toxins out of the skin. Drink plenty of water when you do a therapeutic bath, sauna, or sweat lodge.
Oil pulling: An ancient Ayurvedic practice in which you swish oil around in your mouth (I suggest coconut oil) first thing in the morning, for 10-20 minutes, then spit it out. This helps cleanse the mouth and gums of toxins and bacteria, and many people report feeling whole-body healing benefits from regularly doing this practice.
Exercise: During a cleanse it is ideal to do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and longer stretches if possible. Qigong, yoga, brisk walks, hiking, dancing, swimming, and bicycling are all wonderful ways to move. There are some specific Qigong exercises that support the Wood element and Liver/Gallbladder meridians, as well as certain yoga postures. Remember, the Wood element is all about movement, so get out there in the fresh spring air, amongst the living green trees, and move your body!
Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an amazingly powerful way to move stuck energy in the body, mind, and spirit. It is also great because each treatment is tailored to YOU and your specific health concerns and needs. A relaxing acupuncture session is a wonderful way to turn inward and “check in” with yourself at a deep level, while at the same time getting emotional support and herbal expertise from a skilled practitioner.
Journaling: Write about your vision for this next season of growth. Think about your life as a garden. What seeds do you want to plant? What seeds are beginning to sprout already? What do you want to manifest? Where are you headed? What are some potential blocks (internal or external) keeping you from this new growth--what weeds need to be pulled? What do you need to let go of?
Spring cleaning: Clean your house, smudge it with sage or cedarwood, get rid of/donate any clutter you no longer need, put fresh flowers in vases. We are profoundly affected by out physical living environment. Make yours a peaceful and beautiful sanctuary, free from excess clutter.
Cleansing the mind: Allow a bit of time each day to empty and quiet the mind with meditation. Consider doing a media fast, where you “unplug” from TV, radio, Internet, I-phones, Facebook, etc. Even if you just do it for one day, this can be a powerful practice for finding the spaciousness and quietude within, especially if combined with meditation. You might want to combine this media fast with a day (or more if possible) of total silence, where you completely refrain from speaking.
SPRING CLEANSE PACKAGE!!
Last year in my clinic I offered a guided spring cleanse package for some of my clients and I got such good feedback that I've decided to do it again!
In this package you will get:
Four 90 minute private sessions that combine acupuncture, massage, and consultation. I will provide guidelines, specific self-care suggestions and counseling, meal plans, shopping lists, and recipes tailored towards your needs and constitution. I will also prescribe an appropriate herbal formula for you. We will go over your specific health concerns in each session and you will have unlimited email support for the entire four weeks of your cleanse. The combination of massage and acupuncture in each session will not only be deeply relaxing, but it will also be helping your body cleanse and move stuck energy.
This entire month-long package is only $300, though its actual value is well over $400! I will be offering this exceptional package for the months of March, April, and May only. Payment plans accepted.
This is an amazing way to do your yearly spring cleanse under the guidance and care of a practitioner, and with weekly massage and acupuncture sessions in addition to all the nutritional and herbal support!
For decades I have been interested in nutrition and healthy eating. Several months before I got pregnant with my son (now a healthy and thriving 15-month old) I began to do intensive research on nutrition. I knew the importance of a healthy diet to increase one's fertility, to ensure the health and proper development of the fetus as it grew, and then, once born, the importance of the mother's diet in relation to breast milk quality and quantity. So I was strongly motivated to dive even deeper into food as the ultimate medicine.
My research, combined with my prior knowledge of health as a holistic healthcare practitioner, led me to finally have an answer the perennial question so many people ask of "what is a healthy diet?" The answer: a nutrient-dense, traditional foods diet. Unlike the countless trends of "diets" that rise and fall throughout the years, this way of eating is based on the diets our ancestors ate, before industrialized and processed food was introduced. Different traditional cultures across the globe had very different diets, but they also shared some very key aspects: food wisdom passed down through the generations prior to the advent of industrially processed and denatured food. The modern Traditional Foods Movement is a return to these principles of eating. I'd like to share some of these basic principles, as I know so many people who are confused about what they should be eating and feeding their families for optimal physical and mental health. Below is a list of the basic foods that comprise a whole food, nutrient-dense diet.
1.) Pasture-raised meats, eggs, and wild-caught fish. While I think many people can thrive on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (one that includes eggs and dairy, but no meat), from a nutritional standpoint I cannot recommend a strictly vegan diet for anyone, and ESPECIALLY not for growing children. There are no traditional cultures that followed a strictly vegan diet, and this is not a coincidence. There are many nutrients, absolutely essential for mental and physical health, that simply cannot be obtained from a purely plant-based diet. As a teenager, I was a strict vegan for five years of my life, and it was primarily because I was appalled at the treatment of animals in industrial agriculture, and this a valid point that needs to be addressed. At the time of my veganism, I was not aware of a movement towards traditional agricultural farming methods that uphold ethically and environmentally responsible practices. It also turns out that the meat, eggs, and dairy that comes from animals raised in the old-fashioned, pre-industrial way is actually superior from a nutritional standpoint. The Traditional Foods movement is adamant about obtaining animal protein from small farms with traditional farming methods and NOT from animals raised in factory farms and CAFO's (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).
It would be unheard of in an indigenous culture to throw away some parts of an animal that was killed for eating. One of the principles of a traditional diet is making use of the whole animal--bones, skin, organs in addition to the commonly eaten muscle meats. This is both a way to respect the animal who has been killed, by not wasting any part of it, but it's also a way to get an incredible amount of nutrients. Making a broth out of the leftover roast chicken carcass is a great example of how to enact this principle. There is an entire book written about the healing properties of bone broth--it is such good medicine!
2.) Dairy that is full-fat, raw, non-homogenized from cows or goats raised with traditional farming methods. Our ancestors didn't have skim or low-fat milk! The low-fat/non-fat dairy products came out of a widespread belief (propagated by the industrial food industry) that eating animal fats will make us fat. Wrong! The biggest contributing factor to obesity (besides a sedentary lifestyle) is a diet high in sugars and refined, processed carbohydrates (more on this below). Low-fat and non-fat dairy, in addition to being denatured by unnatural processing methods, is higher in sugars and much lower in the fat-soluble vitamins that are so essential for mental and physical health and wellbeing. "Milk alternatives" are also highly processed food products devoid of nutrients (which is why they will add synthetic vitamins A and D to these alternative milk products and to low-fat dairy). So it needs to be full-fat and it really should be raw, if possible
Pasteurization came about in a tme when there were dirty and unsanitary farming practices and people were getting sick from contaminated milk. Modern day raw dairy farmers have access to equipment and practices that prevent such contamination (such as stainless steel tanks and refrigeration). Most modern raw dairy farmers are also regularly inspected by government agencies to ensure they are following completely safe and sanitary practices. Because it retains its natural enzymes, raw milk is easier to digest than pasteurized (I for one get a lot of mucus, sneezing, and sometimes stomach pain when I drink pasteurized milk-- symptoms I never get from raw milk). I drank raw milk throughout my entire pregnancy and now I give my toddler the same milk. I attribute his phenomenal health largely to this wonderful superfood that we get directly from the farmer at the weekly farmer's market. Some people find raw goat milk easier to digest, and some people can only tolerate dairy in its cultured forms (i.e. yogurt or kefir). Every body is different, so I suggest people find what works best for them, within the context of traditional dairy products.
3.) Organic, seasonal, and locally-grown fruits and vegetable. Local and seasonal means you're not eating blueberries or tomatoes in January! By eating produce that is grown on small local farms, without pesticides, you are getting the optimal vitality and life-force from your fruits and veggies. Right now, in the dead of winter, the only fruits that are really in season here are citrus and kiwi. And guess what? They are wonderful sources of Vitamin C, right in the midst of cold and flu season! Balancing the nutrient-dense foods we get from the animals with the lighter, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables is the perfect balance of foods that are building and foods that are cleansing. When people forgo all animal foods for only plant foods they are basically eating a diet that is cleansing without building. This may feel good at first, and can be therapeutic for short-term seasonal cleanses, but in the long run it is a recipe for serious deficiencies. So while it's good to enjoy a fresh organic salad from the farmer's market, don't neglect getting your nutrient-dense foods in as well!
4.) Grains. Boy, is this is a hot topic these days! Grains have become vilified in recent years, and actually with good reason. When not prepared properly, grains are extremely hard to digest and can pose a lot of health problems for people. This is where Traditional Food wisdom comes in handy. Our ancestors knew that grains needed extra preparation if they were to be nutritious and digestible foods. So they soaked and soured their grains a long time, and then cooked them a long time, often into watery porridges. Through proper preparation, they found a way to make a food, which in its raw form is virtually indigestible, into a highly nourishing staple.
But in modern times we've lost this food wisdom in regards to grains, and are now paying the price, health-wise. There are a few ways we've been eating grains our modern culture that pose health threats. On the one hand, there is the industrially processed flour products (such as crackers and boxed cereals) which are completely denatured by a process called extrusion, so that they can get into those shapes. These flour products also often contain rancid vegetable oils that promote inflammation in the body. "Whole grain" and "natural" crackers and boxed cereals do the same industrial processing, so don't be confused! The other way we've gone awry with grains is to eat a lot of "whole grains", but without doing the proper soaking and long-cooking methods essential for improving their digestibility.
In response to all the grain-induced health problems, many people have opted out of eating them altogether (as in the Paleo diet). While this works well for some people, I actually advocate including in one's diet some whole grains--just prepared in the proper, traditional manner. Eating a diet primarily comprised of meat is not a financially viable option for many people, nor is it a very sustainable option from a planetary perspective. Grains can be a nourishing and affordable part of a whole foods diet, as long as they are prepared correctly.
5.) Legumes, nuts, and seeds. These also require soaking and thorough cooking to optimize digestibility and nutritional value. I recommend cooking them all day in a crockpot, after soaking them. Avoid canned beans, which are not prepared in the traditional method. Like grains, lentils and beans can be very nourishing and versatile staples in a diet. Nuts and seeds can be soaked in salt water and then put into a food dehydrator to make "crispy nuts" as a healthy snack. Be sure your nuts and seeds are fresh, not rancid. They are best stored in the refrigerator.
6.) Healthy, traditional fats. Long vilified, traditional saturated fats such as butter, ghee, coconut oil, and even lard provide valuable fat soluble nutrients such as Vitamins A and D. These fats have been used for cooking by traditional cultures for countless generations. Cholesterol, which most of these saturated fats contain, is actually and important nutrient for hormone production, fertility, cognitive function, and many other functions in the body. Cholesterol is especially important for children and their developing brains. A delicious and nourishing food for toddlers and children is steamed vegetables tossed with pasture-raised butter (the more yellow in color the more nutrient-rich) and sea salt. Extra virgin olive oil and some nut oils also play important roles in a whole food, traditional diet. The oils we should be avoiding are the modern industrial vegetable oils that do not have a history of traditional use: canola, soybean, and corn are some of the most commonly used of these unhealthy oils. They create inflammation in the body, and oxidation of the cells.
7.) Fermented foods and drinks. The mainstream medical world is finally catching on to the important role that beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, play in one's overall health. Not only limited to digestive health, more and more research is revealing that having balanced internal flora has a lot to do with emotional health and cognitive function. There is an entire field of research emerging in regards to the "gut-brain axis" and the "human micro-biome." Probiotics also play an important role in immune system health.
Traditional peoples didn't necessarily have hard science proving that naturally fermented foods were good for you--but they had generations of experience. Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, raw sauerkraut, kim-chee, beet kvass, miso, real sourdough... virtually every traditional culture regularly consumed some form of naturally fermented food or drink, rich in this beneficial bacteria and live enzymes. I suggest having a little glass of a fermented drink like kombucha or kvass, or a little scoop of sauerkraut with every meal. It will improve digestion and ensure that your own internal micro-biome is thriving in balance. This is especially good for pregnant moms, as the health of your flora will be passed on to your baby at birth and through breastfeeding. When babies are introduced to solids it is a good idea to introduce some of these foods in small amounts as well. It will get them accustomed to the sour taste at an early age, and it will ensure they too have a healthy internal ecosystem. My little toddler loves kombucha, sauerkraut and unsweetened yogurt!
As you can see, getting people to eat a nutrient dense, traditional, non-industrialized diet is something I am very passionate about. In my acupuncture clinic I strive to help all my clients start to understand how food is medicine, and how eating healthy isn't about deprivation--it's about nourishment and enjoyment. Healthy food tastes and feels good in the body. My nutritional guidance is something my acupuncture clients can rely on, included in the cost of their acupuncture sessions. I offer this because I see the best results in people's healing when they are eating nutrient-rich medicine three times a day!
There are some great resources out there if you want to learn more about real, nutrient-dense foods and the Traditional Foods Movement. Here are some of my favorites:
Cookbook: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Cookbook: Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice (so much more than just a cookbook, I love how she explores food from so many angles)
Cookbook: Nourished Kitchen by Jessica McGruther
Organization: The Weston A. Price Foundation www.westonaprice.org
Organization: Nourishing Our Children www.nourishingourchildren.org
On the eve of a rainstorm here in the Santa Cruz mountains, I am thinking about the Water element, and its corresponding season, winter. Each of the Five Elements has a virtue associated it, a place from which we shine when we are in our true state of health and alignment with that element. The virtue of Water and Winter is wisdom. What is wisdom? Where do we find it? When we say that somebody is wise, it is because they have told or shown us things that ring true within us; we nod and say, "Yes! That is so true!" Thus, the wisdom we are seeking and finding in others was actually already within us all along. We just needed to hear it from somewhere outside of ourselves for it to ring true and awaken us in some way. The question I have been exploring as we move into winter is this--how do we continually access our own inner source of wisdom? It is wonderful to have all of these wise people shedding so much light for the benefit of humankind-- all of our teachers, sages, bodhisattvas, gurus, healers, mystics. But where did they find all of that light? Where can we find the light?
We find it in the darkness. It is in our depths that wisdom lies, like a jewel at the bottom of the ocean. To find wisdom within ourselves we must be the deep sea diver, brave and willing to dive into the darkness and the mystery. It is no wonder then that the emotion most often associated with the Water element is fear. To dive into our own depth and darkness, to face the mystery and the unknown-- fear is a very natural response when faced with the immensity of this task. The healing path of the Water element is to transform this existential fear into the wisdom, the deep knowing that goes light years beyond the brain processing information. Wisdom is not acquiring more information. Wisdom is a state of deep knowing that does not require thinking or data processing.
Being a deep sea diver means accessing our own depth, our own deep well of knowing, gnosis. So often this access to our own inner depths feels blocked. We thirst so strongly for this inner wisdom to which we have lost our connection, or perhaps to which we have never felt a connection. We thirst for wisdom, and so we seek for it in others. We seek teachers, religions, wisdom traditions, books. And there is nothing wrong with this... to a certain extent. As humans we have so many wise people, both living and passed, whose own profound access to the depths is of great benefit to humankind. There are countless wisdom traditions passed down through the generations. There is no reason not to drink from this endlessly flowing spring of wisdom and teachings. But eventually we arrive at a realization, as we drink of this wisdom passed to us through the various traditions and teachers. We realize that all of this wisdom, this deep knowing, has always been within our own being all along, and now we must learn how to open that channel, that access to our own depth of knowing.
And this is where the work begins.
For to open that channel to our own inner wisdom, we need to not only glimpse but be able to reside within our own depth, our own stillness. Far below the continually crashing waves and storms of our busy, thinking minds, there is the stillness. There at the bottom of the ocean, in the depths of our being. It is very still down there where the jewel of our wisdom resides--still, dark, and silent Can we find this place within ourselves? Can we be still? When we cultivate the practice of finding the stillness and silence within us, we begin to have access to that inner source of wisdom. We can hear what our hearts know to be true because we've created space for listening.
Practical ways to create that space. Daily meditation practice. At first, when we sit down to meditate, all we can hear is the incessant noise of our own minds. Planning, worrying, fantasizing, rehashing... when we first begin the practice of sitting still and silent it can be maddening how loud and chaotic our own minds are! But if we stick with it, and this requires commitment and discipline, eventually the noise begins to dim. Slowly, but steadily. Like a pebble thrown into a placid lake, we simply observe those initial ripples that spread out. And then the ripples subside and there is the stillness, the spaciousness, the deep water of our own being that holds all of the wisdom we seek. So we practice meditation, noticing our breath, noticing our minds, noticing the crashing waves and turbulence of our own consciousness. And then we begin to notice what is under the waves, that fathomless and powerful depth of our own wisdom. It was there all along.
Other ways we can access this ocean of wisdom within ourselves... Practicing slowing down in our daily lives. Allowing there to be times when we don't do anything. Practicing silence. Allowing times when we don't say anything. Entire days of silence can be profound experiences. These practices can feel incredibly uncomfortable for many of us, even frightening. That's okay. We can notice the discomfort, notice the fear. We can acknowledge these feelings with our breath. We can begin these practices for short periods of time in the beginning. Baby steps. We can start with meditating just ten minutes a day. As time goes on with our meditation practice, we begin to notice an opening in our consciousness. An insight rises to the surface from our depths; and because we have slowed down and discovered our own silence, we are now able to truly listen to this insight, this jewel of wisdom that arises from our own being. The more space and stillness and silence we allow, the more these jewels begin to surface from our depths--or, we are now able to deep sea dive long enough to find them there, at the bottom of the ocean, in the depth of our being.
Welcome to my new web page! I'm excited to now have a site with a blog format, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts and insights about health and healing here. As we move through the seasons of the year, I like to explore the healing opportunities and teachings that each season has to offer us, based on the teachings of the Five Elements. I intend to share many of these explorations in this blog, as well as information about nutrition, Traditional Foods recipes, and practical tips regarding wellness and self-care. Feel free to contact me with any questions about health, Chinese Medicine, or my acupuncture practice. You may also want to subscribe to my free monthly e-newsletter, in which I share many inspirational and informative articles. Thanks for checking out my website and stay tuned...
I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.