Living with the rhythms of the seasons is an often ignored aspect of modern Chinese Medicine. This is the idea of adapting ourselves and our lifestyles to the Earth’s natural cycles and the seasons. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine (commonly recognised as the key doctrine on the subject) emphasises living in a natural synthesis with the seasons as the single most important principle of health and healing.
The reality is that modern lifestyles move us away from the movements and cycles of nature. Most of us live in over-crowded urban environments a world away from nature. No distinction is drawn between the food we eat and activities we pursue throughout the seasons of the year. Our immune systems are weakened as we are less exposed to the natural elements and need to filter out more pollutants and chemical material from our bodies.
It is a sad truth that the vast majority of humans have lost their natural rhythm. Therefore it is not entirely surprising to see our world plagued by sickness, stress and imbalance. In Chinese Medicine it is recognised that most sickness can be prevented and treated by reconnecting the individual with nature and the cycles of the seasons.
Below I have included a short summary of each of the seasons inherent nature, along with suggestions on how we may live in greater harmony with them. Treatment for any illness is only temporary unless we are able to harmonise ourselves with the natural cycles of our planet. Living with the rhythms of the seasons is an intelligent, simple and peaceful way to to live. The beauty of living a natural lifestyle is that by and large, it involves doing and spending less rather than more.
‘The three months of the spring season bring about the revitalization of all things in nature.’
Spring is the season of birth, growth and rejuvenation. It is the most beneficial season to begin new projects and endeavours, to be active and free in our movements. This is the time of year it is advised to stretch, open the body’s joints and lengthen the tendons and ligaments in order to improve the circulation and remove any stagnation trapped in the joints.
It is advised to avoid holding onto or indulging in any excessive emotional states, especially anger and resentment as this will injure the Liver, the organ associated with Spring. Instead it is desirable to be ‘open and un-suppressed, both physically and emotionally.’ With diet, as the weather warms we can begin to eat more raw food in than in winter and cook our food for a shorter amount of time. Lightly steaming and stir frying are the chosen methods of cooking.
‘In the three months of summer… plants mature and animals, flowers and fruit appear abundantly.’
Summer is the season where all things in life come into blossom. In this season it is advised to enjoy the fruits of our endeavors of Spring and fully appreciate life’s pleasure and beauty. If we remain somber and withdrawn in this period it is said we will injure the Heart, the organ associated with summer. As in Spring we should be physically active to keep the joints supple and sweat regularly to release any excessive heat from the body.
Our diets in summer should match the climate, with the heat this is the season to enjoy more raw food than the other seasons. We should make use of the abundance of fruits, berries and salads that naturally grow this time of year. When we cook it is advised that it be lightly as in spring. Generally it is a season to eat less as we do not need as much fat to warm our bodies.
‘In the three months of Autumn all things in nature reach their full maturity.’
Autumn is the season where growth reaches its peak and all things begin to decline. The atmosphere turns melancholic and all things in nature prepare for death. It is a time for appropriate grieving and peaceful consideration of the things that passed in the summer. However one must be careful not indulge in sadness and depression as this will injure the Lungs, the organ associated with Autumn.
‘Just as the weather in Autumn turns harsh, so too does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from depression so that one can make the transition to winter smoothly.’ With Autumn our diet can include more cooked foods, baked dishes and soups. It is a good season to eat pungent foods such as garlic and onions to help support the lungs.
‘During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide and return home, just as lakes and rivers freeze and snow falls. The philosophy of winter is one of conservation and storage.’
Winter is a time of hibernation for many animals and plants and our actions should not differ greatly from this. It is a time of consolidation and reflection of the year, a time of peace and stillness where we can return to a tranquil state and recharge our energies ready to begin the next spring in a fresh and positive manner.
Winter is perhaps the season most people adapt worst to. It is a time of rest and to lessen the intensity of work, physical exercise and sexual intercourse. Indulgence is these things will greatly damage our Kidneys, the organ associated with Winter and the source of our strength and essence. Our diet should consist of mostly slow cooked foods such as stews and soups. It is imperative to stay warm and maintain good stores of healthy fats. This is considered an unhealthy time to eat to much raw food and salad.
(All quotations taken from; The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Chinese Medicine (Neijing Suwen) translated by Maoshing Ni.)