Happy New Year
Up until a few years ago conversations during early January would always lead to the question “Have you made any New Year’s resolutions?”
Friends and family members would then proceed to tell me their top two or three resolutions, which would generally be about things they would like to stop such as smoking, alcohol or sugar. Alternatively it would be things they would like to start such as running, yoga, or other pursuits to improve their fitness.
Over the last couple of festive periods I have noticed that questions about New Year’s resolutions have dwindled and that conversation has become focused on similar but new topics….
Enter: Veganuary, Dry January, and Sugar free for January!
My interactions now include discussing the implementation of various health practices designed to negate the consequences of overconsumption at Christmas. By being healthy for January.
Whatever the practice people have chosen, the objective is clear – to improve wellbeing.
Of course, people’s individual reasons for seeking appointments in January vary. But I do notice similarities at certain times of the year in the symptoms that my clients report.
This time of year tends to be when people experience more tiredness and sluggishness. We help to address this by supporting the energy or “Qi” of the stomach, which can be compromised by eating too much.
Sometimes it seems more appropriate to concentrate on the “Qi” of the Liver if it has been compromised by drinking, or by energy that has become stuck (we call it Qi stagnation) due to inactivity.
With this in mind, let’s discuss some ways to improve your wellbeing after the festive season in accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM’s) understanding of how our lifestyle choices affect us.
There are three lifestyle factors that tend to occur during the festive season, here are some ways in which we can restore balance to your health during January and beyond.
Lifestyle factor 1
We become more sedentary
As you may remember if you received my previous articles, the understanding of Yin and Yang is the central theory of TCM. It helps us to understand how our environment and our lifestyles affect us. This principle teaches us how we can prevent, maintain and restore our health.
How does being more sedentary affect us?
Yin and Yang theory shows us that our health is based on balance. We can in simple terms think of inactivity as Yin and activity as Yang. If you have been more sedentary than you would like over the holidays, now is the time to restore balance to your Yin and Yang cycle.
Sufficient exercise and movement helps to keep our Qi flowing. The absence of this flow can lead to the condition TCM calls Liver Qi stagnation.
How will Liver Qi stagnation make me feel?
Quite literally stuck. You may feel a bit irritable (other life pressures can exacerbate this) or find it hard to focus on getting jobs done. You may wake between 1-3 am, you may have hypochondrium pain, (pain under your ribcage) and you may also feel a little stiff, as if you would benefit from a really good stretch.
What we can do?
This is the easiest of the three lifestyle factors to remedy, we just need to get moving!
TCM favours moderate activities rather than high- intensity exercise.
Think brisk walks and stretching exercises! this will help release our stuck “Qi”
One phrase to keep in mind with this is that consistency is key!
Lifestyle Factor 2
We have eaten a little too much
Mmm, mince pies, Christmas pudding, leftover stuffing and cranberry sandwiches, yum. But according to TCM rich food and large quantities of them can play havoc with our digestive health.
How does this affect us?
Overeating can lead to a condition that TCM terms “dampness” the nature of dampness is that it weighs us down causing us to feel heavy.
What can we do?
Stop eating when you are 80% full. Avoiding overeating is a fundamental principle in most Eastern medicine systems.
This is because when we overeat it creates stagnation in our digestive system. The excess food sits in our stomach waiting to be digested and the result is that we feel tired and lethargic.
Eat with the Chinese clock
The Chinese clock, also known as the horary system, postulates that each of our organs and meridians are strongest and weakest at certain times of the day. Accordingly, the Stomach Qi is at its strongest between 7-9 am. So food consumed at this time will be properly digested and we will be able to extract the nutrients from our food more easily.
Avoid eating late at night
When it is possible, try to eat your evening meal around 6 pm. Stomach Qi is at its weakest between 7-9pm so your digestive system will have to work harder if you eat later.
If you do eat later in the evening you could choose to eat lightly, such as a warming soup made of seasonal vegetables to help support your digestive function.
A wise TCM saying worth remembering is that “the stomach has no teeth”.
Chewing your food well helps your digestive system by supporting your “digestive fire”. The truth is that most of us eat too quickly and most of us do not chew our food enough.
What is your digestive fire?
If you imagine a cooking pot with a small fire underneath it then this is the way TCM views our digestive system. The fire beneath the cooking pot gently warms the food breaking it down, warming it and making it easier to assimilate.
Your digestive fire sits beneath the food in your stomach warming and extracting nutrients to help nourish your body.
When our digestive fire is good and strong we digest food easily avoiding symptoms of digestive imbalance such as indigestion, bloating and diarrhoea.
When we chew food for a sufficient amount of time we naturally warm it before it reaches our stomach, this is especially important for raw food that is already cold.
Then when our food has been sufficiently chewed the process of digestion has already begun. This reduces the work that our digestive fire has to do once it reaches the stomach.
If your digestive fire is deficient food will sit in your stomach for longer and it will not be well digested.
Lifestyle Factor 3
Drinking too much alcohol
TCM views all alcoholic beverages as warming. When we drink too much alcohol our Liver can overheat and become too hot. This “hot” energy can cause our Liver and Heart Qi to rise to our face creating a flushed appearance. The heating effect can also lead to dryness and many people notice this dehydration manifesting in their complexion after drinking.
What can we do?
We need to support the liver by helping it to detoxify your body and to make sure that you are adequately hydrated. The number one way you can do this is to ensure you drink enough water.
Then, think green! The liver is greatly nurtured by green leafy vegetables, so this January try adding cabbage, kale,
brussel sprouts, watercress, lettuce, radish greens and carrot tops to as many meals as you can! These exceptional foods have many great benefits and will cleanse and restore your liver!
Acupressure at Home
If you have booked to see me in January we will be using acupuncture to restore balance after the festive celebrations using acupoints chosen based on your personal constitution. But in the meantime here is one of the most useful universal points that you can start using at home now:
It is called “Zu San Li” and is found on the outside of your lower leg. This point is known to beat the bloat, restore energy and to get your Qi moving again, it is suitable for everyone. You can reap the benefits by massaging it in a clockwise direction for a few minutes per day.