I grew up with a clever rhyme about beans being a “magical fruit” due to the sounds they often produced after consumption.  Reflecting upon this still brings a chuckle but also is a reminder of how often flatulence, bloating, acid reflux and all sorts of bowel imbalances get normalized in American culture. In my practice, I often hear things like, “oh, this is just how I am” or “some amount of gas is normal, right?” In actuality, all of the above symptoms are signals that your digestion is less than optimal. Why does it matter? In short, poor digestion leads not only to discomfort and potentially embarrassing symptoms but also to systemic inflammation and can develop into more serious disease states. What can you do about it? While every individual is unique and is treated as such in clinic, what follows are a list of some common ways to optimize digestion on a day to day basis.

Build With Quality Raw Materials

Eat a balanced diet composed of fresh, organic vegetables (especially root veggies and dark leafy greens), fruits, nuts, seeds and grains along with grass fed or wild caught meats if you choose to eat meat. These foods provide nutrients for whole body health but also specifically B vitamins and minerals such as zinc and magnesium that are necessary for adequate production of stomach acid and proper assimilation of nutrients. Avoid conventionally grown (non -organic) foods along with processed foods and sugars as they often contain harmful pesticides and herbicides which are known to cause harm to the mucosa of your gut. This disruption of gut mucosa inhibits your ability to absorb nutrients and can further lead to autoimmune and more serious disease states. In addition, processed foods and sugars actually take more energy than they give, depleting your stores of B vitamins and minerals that are critical for normal digestion.

Simply Eat When You Eat

Let eating take center stage by settling down to nosh in a relaxed environment rather than eating while driving, standing or multi – tasking. Avoiding these activities when eating helps minimize the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn helps to regulate levels of stomach acid to ensure proper digestion.  Focus on chewing each bite thoroughly in order to maximize the digestive process that starts in your mouth. Allowing this mindfulness to continue after meals aids in attuning to foods that may provoke digestive upset and would be best avoided or prepared in alternate ways.

Drink Up Between Meals

Imagine concocting a rich, savory stew then pouring a bucket of ice water into it. Ridiculous right? But that’s what we, often unknowingly, do at mealtimes.  Drinking copious amounts of liquids with meals, reduces the production of stomach acid and dilutes the chemical soup of digestive enzymes, stomach acid and bacteria that aid in processing food. Shoot for drinking liquids in between meals in order to stay hydrated but not interfere with the digestive symphony at mealtime. If you desire to have a beverage with meals, choose one with digestive properties such as a cup of ginger or lemon tea, kombucha or occasionally a small amount of beer or wine. If you feel that you need a beverage to swallow your food this is often an indication that you are not chewing your food thoroughly enough.

Befriend Fermented Foods

Have you ever wondered why those little pickles, famously called cornichons, always end up with the charcuterie, the miso soup gets served before your favorite sushi or a bratwurst is often blanketed in kraut? Traditional cultures have long known that the secret to good digestion lies in a bacterial process. Fermented foods are fairly ubiquitous in various cultures, most commonly known in the above examples along with kimchi, yogurt, kefir, apple cider vinegar and kombucha. These fermented foods and beverages contain the trifecta of factors necessary for proper digestion: acid, enzymes and probiotics. In addition, the beneficial bacteria they contain, often known as probiotics, contribute to a balanced gut microbiome. Modern research has shown that a healthy microbiome is involved in normal function of just about every bodily system and helps regulate normal immune, hormone and stress responses as well as brain function. Want to embrace the power of these foods and beverages? Try adding ¼ to 1/2c cup of unpasteurized, fermented veggies or beverages to each meal and observe how you feel. If you notice that adding fermented food increases your digestive symptoms this is often a clue that you may have a bacterial imbalance that would best be corrected via acupuncture, herbs and dietary change.

Sprout It Out

Grains, nuts, beans and seeds all are contained in a convenient protective coating in order that they may survive until conditions are ripe for germination. If these foods are consumed before they have the opportunity to be sprouted, the protective outer coatings can cause digestive distress and inflammation due to the phytates and lectins they contain.  Once again, we take the nod from traditional culinary systems and see that sprouting these foods not only removes the protective coating with its inflammatory compounds but also improves nutrient assimilation by creating digestive enzymes. Sprouting is fairly easy to do but pre-sprouted products are also available in most health food stores and even some major grocery chains. If you’re keen to give sprouting or fermenting a try, a great resource is the cookbook, Nourishing Traditionsby Sally Fallon.

Aperitif anyone?

Digestive bitters, traditionally derived from plants such as gentian root, have long been utilized to improve digestion, often in pre- dinner cocktails. Their efficacy lies in the ability of the plants’ bitter compounds, once detected by taste buds, to signal a release of stomach acid enzymes, and bile thus priming the body for digestion. Prepared bitters are widely available in a variety of flavors but check to make sure they are free of artificial colorings or flavors. If you feel inspired, you can also make your own concoction.  And no booze is necessary to enjoy. Try a bit of your favorite bitters in a small amount of sparkling or still water with a wedge of citrus. Refreshing and effective!

Harness The Power of Herbs

Once again, we look to the wisdom of cultures past who have traditionally incorporated herbs and spices into daily cooking not only for their flavor but also for their digestive benefits. Chances are you may have some helpful medicine hiding out in your cupboard or fridge right now!  In fact, many commonly used herbs such as ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, black and red peppers, and various mints have powerful digestive properties. If you’d like to explore utilizing culinary herbs as medicine, a great resource is Alchemy of Herbsby Rosalee De La Foret.  This book provides great insight and recipes on how to incorporate common herbs into your diet and also speaks to the unique properties of each herb that may make them more suited to one type of person over the other. If this peaks your interest in utilizing herbs more intensively as medicine, keep in mind that practicing herbal medicine safely and effectively takes years of study. Therefore, it is best to seek guidance from a trained herbalist if you wish to incorporate more concentrated forms of herbs such as pills, powders or tinctures into your treatment regime. A trained professional can best assess what combination of herbs will best support your unique constitution and chief complaints.

Back Away From The Tums!

Antacids and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are often used to treat acid reflux or indigestion. Initially these might sound like a helpful solution as they can neutralize acidity but they in truth make reflux even worse. Here’s why: Adequate levels of stomach acid are crucial to breaking down food, in particular proteins and fats. When the pH of the stomach becomes more basic, food (especially proteins and minerals) will sit and essentially compost, creating heat that rises up in the form of bloating or reflux. In addition, low stomach acid levels leave your body more prone to pathogenic bacteria such as H. Pylori which can cause and exacerbate acid reflux. So instead of reaching for an antacid, focus on utilizing a fermented food or digestive bitters with each meal to help restore the proper balance of stomach acid and bacteria. Sometimes these measures are enough to correct reflux but more stubborn cases respond best to a regime of herbs, acupuncture and dietary change.

Give It a Rest

Minimize snacking between meals and stop eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow your digestive system a chance to rest and reboot. In addition, implementing periods of intermittent fasting of 12 or more hours per day has been shown to not only improve digestion but also to lower insulin and cortisol levels, improve mental clarity and help maintain healthy weight. If you are drawn to try intermittent fasting start slowly, fasting 8-10 hours per day between dinner and breakfast. If you do not experience weakness, headaches or dizziness you can increase the length of the fast slowly. Some patients report feeling their best fasting 14-16 hours per day, but every individual can have a different response to extended fasts. Please note that intermittent fasting is not indicated for everyone. If you are a diabetic, elderly, frail or have a history of eating disorders intermittent fasting is not advised without the supervision of a medical provider.

While this list contains only a handful of suggestions, even these can be overwhelming for some individuals. If you feel led to experiment with some changes, try integrating just one this week and observe how it impacts your digestion and overall well – being. Then try adding in other tools, one at a time. Many patients find it helpful to keep a journal in order to keep track of  strategies they’ve implemented along with the symptomatic changes they’ve observed. Finally, in all things the key to change is mindfulness. Keep paying attention and your body’s inherent wisdom will start to point you to lifegiving dietary rhythms and a more harmonious digestive system!

Spring Into Life!

Spring, glorious spring! … a time when the stored energy of winter rises up and bursts forth in a fantastic array of green shoots and colorful flowers. As animals awaken from their long winter naps or move on to summer territories we are also invited to awaken and begin a new season of growth!

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the season of Spring is associated with the Gallbladder and Liver organs. The health of the liver in particular is critical  for proper detoxification, digestion, iron storage, blood sugar regulation as well as the production of cholesterol, protein and beneficial immune factors.  Read on to explore how you can best support these vital organs via food and lifestyle…

 

MEDICINE VIA FOOD:

Nature once again provides a nod to what will best serve us this season as it springs forth in new growth. We can live in harmony with this example and feel our best by following the suggestions below and eating earlier in the day to allow for proper digestion during sleep.

  1. LOAD UP ON GREENSsprouts, salad and dandelion greens, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are rich in phytochemicals that aid your body’s natural detoxification processes and aid digestion. If these are new to you, consider starting with a simple goal of including at least one fresh, green plant food each day. Many farmers markets are now open and are great sources of these nutrient dense foods. Sprouting kits are also easy ways to quickly grow your own greens at home!
  2. CHOOSE MINIMALLY COOKED AND RAW FOODCook food for a shorter amount of time such as steaming or water sauteeing to preserve its cleansing properties. Include at least a small amount of raw food in your diet daily unless you are prone to loose-stools. If you have trouble with digestion, consider implementing some suggestions in the link below.
  3. LEAN ON LEGUMES FOR PROTEIN – beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of protein that also contain phytochemicals and high amounts of fiber which aid in removing toxins, feed beneficial gut bacteria, promote regular elimination and maintaining a healthy weight. Avoid excesses of nuts, oils, meats, sugars and alcohol which can make the liver and gallbladder sluggish, impeding digestion and detoxification pathways. Have trouble digesting beans? Be sure that you’re preparing them properly by starting with dry beans and soaking overnight or buying pre – sprouted products. Explore more info here about optimizing digestion…https://kairoscw.com/2019/06/27/optimizing-digestion-101/

MOVEMENT:

In TCM, the liver and gallbladder are associated with the Wood element and the body’s tendons which are nurtured through movement. A traditional picture of the body and the Wood element in healthy states is that of flexible and resilient bamboo, bending and flowing with the wind. Similarly, we are invited to choose daily movements that promote flexibility, increase circulation and overall resilience. Focus on trying activities that bring you joy… perhaps sports, swimming, hiking, cycling, dance or a hike in nature.Purpose to set aside even a short window of daily activity to reap the benefits Need more suggestions to get started? Consider the following…

  1. START SMALL – If you’ve been sedentary for a while, be encouraged that even a 15 – minute walk has been shown to improve mood and mental clarity, lower blood pressure, relieve pain and improve digestion. Start with small increments of daily movement and increase as you are able!
  2. MASSAGE FOR THE SOLE – Foot massage is an easy and relaxing way to help increase circulation, support detoxification and bring balance to the whole body. Start by soaking your feet in warm water for 5-10 minutes followed by rolling a tennis or golf ball to massage the soles of the feet- spending extra time in the liver and gallbladder areas in the center of the feet as pictured here.
  3. EXPLORE YOGA, TAI QI OR QI GONG – These ancient practices are all centered on balance, flexibility and flow and have a myriad of health benefits for mind, body and spirit. Most local gyms and YMCAs offer at least one type of these classes or you can explore classes online. Keep in mind that any postures or forms that involve gentle twists and  those that open up the hips and sides of the body are especially good at improving circulation to the liver and gallbladder.

MINDSET:

A winter of being couped up, especially amidst a global pandemic, can be enough to leave many folks feeling stuck, frustrated or irritated. TCM acknowledges that these negative emotions can cause the liver and gallbladder to become overloaded and stagnant, potentially translating into physical symptoms such as headaches, poor digestion, hormone imbalance, weight gain, skin issues and overall feelings of dis-ease. In addition, to supporting these organs via food and movement, help to cultivate a mindset of kindness and peace  via the following…

  1. GET CREATIVE! Living with a creative intention shifts the focus from old and entrenched ways and leaves space for something new to be born. Work in harmony with the new life of Spring and start a garden or do some landscaping. You might also consider taking up a new art form, learning to play an instrument, exploring photography, trying a new recipe, building that project you’ve been putting off or wherever else you creativity leads. Creativity not only helps us feel better but also translates into greater productivity!
  2. BREATHE IN POSSIBILITY –

Intentional breath work is a powerful way to shift your overall well-being quickly.

Consider engaging in a simple practice of mindful breath work as follows…

WHILE INHALING SLOWLY: Focus on breathing in thoughts of possibility, kindness and peace

WHILE EXHALING COMPLETLY: Focus on intentionally releasing anger, frustration and stresses 

For more mindful breathing techniques and to further explore the  health benefits of proper breathing check out…

https://kairoscw.com/2021/03/09/the-power-of-breath/

 3. CLEAN IT UP – Research indicates that folks living in clean and clutter – free environments report feeling happier, less stressed, more focused and energetic and reported more restful sleep. So this season is great opportunity to do that “Spring Cleaning” you’ve been putting off. If the prospect of cleaning a whole home is overwhelming, start small with one room, closet or drawer. Be mindful of the cleaning products you choose to use as many conventional products contain harmful allergens, carcinogens and hormone disruptors. This is also a great season to clean out your personal care products as they too often contain harmful chemicals.

Ewg.org offers helpful resources to aid in detoxing your cleaning regimes or read more at…  

https://kairoscw.com/2019/09/30/a-clean-sweep-practical-tips-for-home-detox

 https://kairoscw.com/2019/08/27/cleaning-up-your-personal-care-products/

 

WHAT ONE CHANGE CAN YOU MAKE THIS WEEK TO PROMOTE NEW LIFE AND VITALITY THROUGH FOOD MEDICINE, MOVEMENT AND MINDSET?

       

       Need more support in your healing journey?

        Reach out to set up an appointment today…

                        We’d be honored to help!

The Power of Breath

 

To meditate with mindful breathing is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

 

“When one gives undivided attention to the vital breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a tender babe.”
― 
Lao Tzu, 6TH CENTURY BCE

 

If you had access to a FREE TOOL that could help induce states of calm, improve your overall health and well – being today and prevent disease would you use it?

If the answer is yes then…

 Breathe in- 2-3-4-5 and out-2-3-4-5 … and again…and again…

Breathing is essential for life and therefore we are designed to do it automatically, without thinking. However, we also have the ability to consciously change our respiration with intention.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

OLD WISDOM TRADITIONS AND MODERN SCIENCE AGREE: IF YOU’RE NOT BREATHING CORRECTLY YOU’LL NEVER BE HEALTHY!

Ancient Chinese, Indian and Greek texts are replete with the importance of proper breathing for vibrant health. Likewise, old spiritual traditions have long known that the key to unlock states of calm, greater awareness and connectivity is through mindful breathwork. Essentially the ancients knew that improper breathing prevented healing and was a precursor to disease…or dis-ease. Conversely, mindful breathwork was universally understood as a powerful and immediate way to change the mind and improve overall health immediately. If you didn’t catch that incredibly significant bit here it is again…

MINDFUL BREATHING CHANGES OUR PHYSIOLOGY AND OUR EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD… IMMEDIATELY.

Ok, you might say, that worked for the ancients, but we live in a modern world full of technological advances. Is mindful breathing still important today?  Let’s explore what the research suggests…

 

WHAT DOES MODERN SCIENCE HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF INTENTIONAL BREATHWORK?

It seems that what was once true is still true when it comes to the power of breath in maintaining and improving health. Modern research studies have revealed that utilizing ancient breathing practices can provide a myriad of health benefits that include; decreasing stress, relieving anxiety and depression, preventing panic attacks, improving quality of sleep and relieving apnea, improving lung function and reducing or relieving asthma, lowering blood pressure, regulating abnormal heart rhythms, improving immune, digestive and cognitive function, maintaining healthy weight, regulating hormones, increasing athletic performance and decreasing pain.

 

INTRIGUED? HERE’S A BIT MORE BEHIND THE MECHANICS OF VIBRANT BREATHING

  1.  BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE

Our noses are incredible organs that are designed to warm, filter and humidify air to condition it before arriving in our lungs. This helps to protect our delicate lungs from airborne pathogens and SIGNIFICANTLY improves breathing efficiency. Unfortunately, many of us tend to breathe through our mouths while waking or sleeping. Why does this matter? Mouth breathing shrinks our airways, dries out the mucosal membranes in our throats and exposes our lungs to cold, unfiltered air and harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.

  • Nasal breathing provides 20% more oxygen as compared to mouth breathing!
  • Nasal breathing has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Nasal breathing can help to reduce the incidence of snoring and sleep apnea
  • Nasal breathing stimulates the production of Nitric oxide which sterilizes the air, dilates airways and enhances the o2 taken up by the blood
  • Nitric oxide, which is produced via nasal breathing is antiviral and currently the subject of COVID-19 trials
  • Nasal breathing helps to maintain open airways and proper facial bone structure. Conversely, mouth breathing changes the shape of our faces, causing airways to close
  1. BREATHE LESS AND EXHALE MORE

In our stressed – out modern worlds, many of us are stuck in chronic over breathing patterns. Over breathing throws off the delicate oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) balance which is necessary to induce states of calm and to properly oxygenate every cell in the body. Spending more time in exhalation allows levels of carbon dioxide to build up which might sound harmful BUT without adequate levels of C02 in our body we will never fully thrive. Why?

  • In a process is known as the Bohr Effect (named after Nobel Prize winning physicist Christian Bohr who discovered it) C02 is necessary to offload 02 from the blood to be used by the cells. More specifically, hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood to the cells and C02 must be present to cause the release of O2 in the blood into the cells.
  • CO2 dilates the smooth muscles in the walls of the airways and blood vessels to increase breathing efficiency and blood flow to all areas of the body. This results in increased O2 delivery to all bodily tissues and organs, and has been shown to improve asthma, heart and skin conditions, improve athletic performance and even help to dissolve fat
  • When we over breathe, less O2 is released to the muscles and tissues and they work less effectively and efficiently. It is noteworthy that over breathing for just a few minutes can reduce blood flow to the brain by 40%!
  • Adequate levels of C02 ensure adequate O2 levels which regulates a neutral blood pH, a necessity to promote cell life
  • Adequate levels of CO2 are necessary to produce calming neurotransmitters and human studies reveal that long slow exhalations increase CO2 and helps to prevent panic attacks!
  1. CHEW YOUR FOOD WELL!

Not only is thorough chewing essential for proper digestion, it is vital for the formation of healthy airways and dentition. Skeletal records show that as little as 400 years ago, before the advent of braces, human skulls had completely straight teeth, broad faces and well – defined jaws. Records show that the diet of ancient civilizations included large amounts of fibrous vegetables, nuts, seeds animal matter and ligamentous animal protein that required a significant amount of chewing. Compare that to a standard modern diet that is highly processed, soft and fiber poor which results in a need to chew very little. What affects does chewing less have upon our health?

  • Chewing causes the release of stem cells in the skull that help to build new bone in the face, resulting in better jaw alignment, improved head posture, wider and stronger airways and a more youthful and balanced appearance. Contrary to previously thought, humans are capable of regenerating facial bone well into their 70s and possibly beyond
  • Breast fed babies have a significantly lower incidence of crooked teeth, snoring and sleep apnea as compared to bottle fed babies. This is due to the increased positive stress of chewing and sucking during breast feeding that does not occur with bottle feeding
  • Lack of chewing can lead to facial bone loss which results in not only “sagging” faces but also airway obstruction as the soft tissues in the throat have less bone to attach to, often resulting in increased incidences of snoring and sleep apnea
  • Chewing gum (especially harder varieties like mastic gum) and a variety of palate expanders have also been shown to build facial bone, even in adults. To explore the latter, contact a dental professional who specializes in functional orthodontics.

LOOKING FOR SOME EASY WAYS TO MAXIMIZE THE BENEFITS OF BREATH? HERE ARE A FEW SUGGESTIONS TO GET STARTED.

 

  1. CONSCIOUSLY BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE

Maximize your breathing efficiency by focusing intentionally on nose breathing even for just a few minutes at a time. You may choose to do this while on a walk or during a prayer or meditative practice. You might also begin to simply observe yourself throughout the day and notice how often you find yourself breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. If you have trouble breathing through your nose, you can explore the resources listed below for tools. Both books offer simple techniques that may be helpful in clearing your nose. If these are not helpful you might consider booking an appointment with Dr. Schmidt to assess possible causes of nasal obstruction and treatment via acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle change.

  1. MODULATE THE RYTHYMN OF YOUR BREATH

There are limitless ways to do this, but you may start by experimenting with either of the following commonly used patterns…

  • EXHALE MORE FOR GREATER CALM – experiment with a breathing cadence that focuses more time in exhalation. Try inhaling to a count of 4 and exhaling to a count of 6 or longer. Experiment with extending your exhalations with the intention of fully emptying the lungs of breath
  • EXPLORE THE OPTIMAL CADENCE – 5.5 -6 BREATHS/MINUTE – try breathing in for 5-6 seconds and exhale for 5-6 seconds for several minutes. This pattern has been shown to be the most efficient breathing rhythm with a myriad of health benefits and is interestingly the cadence of many ancient mantras and prayers such as the Catholic rosary.
  1. OBSERVE THE BENEFITS

Be a curious observer of yourself and pay attention to how experimenting with different breathing practices affects your physiology either through subjective observation or with the use of a tool.

  • SUBJECTIVELY – after several minutes of breathing you may note increased feelings of calm, sensations of warmth, a rosy color in the cheeks, reductions in tension and pain or increased saliva in the mouth. All of the above are signs that your nervous system is shifting into a calming parasympathetic state, where healing, rest and proper digestion can occur!
  • VIA TECHNOLOGY – Want to measure the physiological changes mindful breathing makes? Consider using a simple and easily accessible tool such as a blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter or a heart rate variability monitor. Take a measurement before beginning a breathing practice and then again after 5 or more minutes of practice and observe the differences.

MINDFUL BREATHING IS FREE MEDICINE THAT CAN BE PRACTICED ANYWHERE BY ANYONE AND CAN HAVE PALPABLE BENEFITS IN JUST A FEW MINUTES OF PRACTICE…. HOW WILL YOU CHOOSE TO INCORPORATE IT TODAY?

 

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Check out the following resources full of research references and practical tools…

Krasowski, J. A. (2020). Breath, The new science of a lost art: by James Nestor, New York, NY, USA, Riverhead Books.

McKeown, P. (2015). The Oxygen Advantage: The simple, scientifically proven breathing technique that will revolutionize your health and fitness. Hachette UK.

A WORD OF CAUTION: IT IS BEST TO BEGIN BREATHING PRACTICES WHILE SEATED OR LYING DOWN AND NEVER NEAR OR IN WATER AS MADE FAMOUS BY WIM HOF. PLEASE USE WITH CAUTION AND CONSULT WITH YOUR TRAINED MEDICAL PRACTITIONER FOR FURTHER GUIDANCE. THIS POST AND THE INFORMATION PRESENTED HERE IS NOT INTENDED FOR DIAGNOSIS OR TREATMENT. PLEASE CONTACT OUR STAFF IF YOU DESIRE FURTHER SUPPORT IN YOUR HEALING JOURNEY.

Restoration: Winter’s Invitation

“IN WINTER THE BARE BOUGHS THAT SEEM TO SLEEP WORK COVERTLY, PREPARING FOR THEIR SPRING.” 

-Rumi

The thought of Winter might bring to mind images of still and snowy landscapes, relaxing days on skis and skates or perhaps a bear slumbering away in the safety of its den. In nature, Winter is a season of quiet, of storage, of renewal and a preparation for the rebirth of Spring. It is a time where the lifegiving energy of plants goes inward and many animals burrow away in states of hibernation to rest and await the exuberance of a new season.

WHY IS THE WINTER SEASON ESSENTIAL FOR VITALITY?

 

In our modern world where productivity is often praised as the highest goal, the quiet rhythms of winter may not often be valued. Wisdom traditions however have long known that winters’ rest and restoration is a prerequisite for summers bounty. One might say that winter holds the potential for summers growth in its storehouses of water and nutrients. If you doubt the truth in this, talk to any seasoned farmer or gardener and they’ll be quick to affirm that any patch of ground that isn’t amended and allowed to rest won’t be worth “a hill of beans”.

Similarly, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long understood that without proper rest and renewal our health will begin to fail. Taking the cue from nature, TCM prioritizes the Winter season to focus on restoration and highlights the importance of nourishing two organ systems in particular, the Kidneys and the Urinary Bladder. In TCM both organs are associated with the Water element, their renewal analogous to filling of lakes and reservoirs or a deepening snowpack in order to nourish growth in the hot days of Summer. From a Western Biomedical viewpoint, the association of the kidneys and bladder to water will perhaps make intuitive sense as both organs are involved in fluid metabolism and urine production. The kidneys remove waste products from the blood and send them via urine to the bladder which marvelously expands to store this waste until we reach the nearest loo.  However. There’s more to the story…

 THE ROOT SYSTEM…

In TCM the kidneys are also grouped with the adrenal glands and are collectively regarded as the roots or energy storehouses of the body, that govern growth, bone health, reproduction and aging in the body. A quick review of modern physiology will help remind us why the ancients held these organs in such high esteem and prioritized the importance of their revitalization.

The adrenal glands, also known as the suprarenal glands as they sit atop the kidneys, produce an array of valuable hormones including cortisol, DHEA, epinephrine, norepinephrine and aldosterone that regulate:

  • immune function
  • metabolism and healthy weight
  • blood pressure
  • response to stress

The kidneys also serve a variety of critical functions including:

  • filtering the blood and removing waste products from the body via urine
  • removing toxins and drugs from the body
  • modulating the levels of potassium, calcium, sodium and phosphorus.
  • balancing the fluids in the skin and rest of the body
  • releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure
  • producing an active form of vitamin D that promotes strong, healthy bones
  • releasing hormones that control the production of red blood cells

When the adrenal glands, kidneys or bladder are in states of dysfunction a myriad of debilitating conditions can ensue including: osteoporosis, nerve damage, high blood pressure, nutritional problems, cardiovascular disease, extreme fatigue, urinary disease, hormone imbalance and even life-threatening kidney failure.

 

THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT THERE IS MUCH WE CAN DO TO SUPPORT THE HEALTH OF OUR “WATER” ORGANS! Check out the following tips on how you can fill up your own reservoirs today…

 

 REST:

PRIORITIZE THIS! If we don’t have a “well” to draw from we will most certainly experience disease in one form or another so recharge your vitality by…

*Getting to bed well before midnight and allowing yourself as much sleep as you need.

* Giving yourself permission to take breaks and short naps as needed

* Letting go of  tasks or relationships that are energy drains

* Getting massage, acupuncture or other bodywork to help support your body’s built in systems of renewal

* Planning a day or weekend away by yourself or with an encouraging companion where the only goal is to simply enjoy and unwind…no work allowed!

 

REPLENISH YOUR STORES WITH NOURISHING FOODS:

*Make soup the star of supper:

Focus on rich and warming organic bone or root broth – based soups. These one – pot meals provide vitamins, minerals and collagen to help energize and nourish bones, joints, skin, smooth muscle (your bladder thanks you!) teeth and raw materials to support healthy organ function.So, load up that slow cooker with quality raw materials in the morning and ladle up a heaping, hot bowl to enjoy fireside come evening!

 *Include dark colored produce and grains in your diet:

You’ve likely heard the nutritional advice to “eat the rainbow”, which is wise as various colors of plants contain different phytochemicals with unique nutritional benefits. In TCM, Winter is associated with the colors black and blue (picture the depths of the ocean) and is a time to highlight the antioxidant rich plants such as blue and blackberries, black rice and sesame seeds, dark leafy greens and beans, dark purple cabbages and cauliflower, dark mushrooms and seaweeds. These dark pigmented plants contain the highest amounts of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are incredibly cell protective, prevent urinary and other infections, aid detoxification, lower cholesterol and are powerful cancer fighters. The value of these rich pigments is not recent news, in ancient China black rice was so valued for its nutritional content that it was forbidden for anyone to eat except for the Emperors…and thus it developed its alias as “forbidden rice”. Thankfully this superfood is available to even us commoners these days!

*Bring on the bitters!

The bitter flavor is often left out in the standard western diet in favor of sugar or salt. This is unfortunate as bitter compounds have a slew of health benefits. TCM holds that bitter flavors have a downward and clearing action. Probably the most familiar application of this are digestive bitter tinctures that sometimes show up in aperitifs. This time old tradition was and is still used because upon tasting bitter compounds our digestive systems begin to excrete acid, enzymes and bile in preparation to digest whatever meal was to follow. But bitters go beyond digestion. Bitter compounds have also been shown to help regulate immune function and to help improve the detoxification capability of the kidneys and liver! Great! How do you work these helpful compounds in? They are found in great amounts in leafy greens, root vegetables and in the skins of citrus fruit. Unsure of how to use citrus peel? Try including the zest of citrus in your favorite dressings or dishes, add some orange or tangerine peel when brewing herbal tea or simply eat a bit of the natural “wrapper” with that next delicious orange.

*Just One Cup thanks… and Hold the Goodies:

Allow your adrenal glands a chance to be restored by minimizing caffeine and refined   sugars, both of which cause excess cortisol releases, taxing the precious adrenals. Stick to one cup of coffee or caffeinated tea in the morning when your cortisol naturally peaks and if you want a second cup, switch to warming herbal teas such as ginger, cinnamon, clove or orange that are nourishing but don’t cause cortisol spikes and adrenal depletion.

 

MOVE MINDFULLY:

We are designed to move daily for health, but winter is a time to focus on moving in ways that conserve and restore energy. Consider the following …

*Reduce the intensity of your workouts at least one-two days per week to allow for repair and recovery

*Include practices such as yoga, qi gong or stretching that serve to balance, strengthen and restore the body, mind spirit connection

*Practice self-massage – soak your feet in mineral or Epsom salts (skip if prone to loose stools as Epsom salts are laxatives) and follow up with massage by rolling a golf or tennis ball on the soles of your feet. This acupressure technique will help to bring balance to the entire body and strengthen both the kidneys and bladder as their nerve pathways run through the soles of your feet.   Spend a little extra time massaging Kidney 1, also known as Bubbling Springs using the guide for location. In TCM this point is well known for its ability to for cleanse, rejuvenate and awaken up the entire body.

 

LISTEN UP:

In TCM the ears are associated with kidney health so the relative quiet of winter is an excellent time to nourish your spirit via reflective questioning and listening. Spiritual traditions have long known that without these intentional and meditative “pauses” it is difficult to be aware of and learn from where we’ve been in order to thoughtfully decide where we’d like to go.

 In your reflections you might consider the following meditations…

*What slowing and nurturing rhythms help me to feel calm, peaceful and nourished? How can I be intentional to engage one of these practices this week ?

*What draining habits or relationships am I being invited to let go of or address that I might rest and experience peace more completely? What is a next step I can take  toward being free of these obstacles in order to experience restoration?

 *What tools, support or perspective do I desire to help develop more resilience to stressors?Whether you’re already engaging in restorative practices or haven’t even begun to consider them, be encouraged that any ways you choose to replenish your well of reserves today will provide refreshment come Spring and Summer. Purpose to include even one small, 2 minute change this week that can intentionally nourish your mind, body and spirit!

NOTE: As with all our posts, the information presented here is not intended for diagnosis or treatment. If you are need of support in your healing journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out for our help. We’d be happy to schedule an appointment or give you referrals as needed. You are not alone!

 

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