Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring Cleaning!

Spring is here! It’s no surprise that we feel compelled to clean out and organize our lives, be it our house, car, office or body. With the world outside turning green and life sprouting up everywhere, we are rejuvenated with long awaited energy, enthusiasm, and lightness after a long, cold winter. Humans are connected to the earth, to Mother Nature and her seasons. Concepts and principles within Traditional Chinese Medicine highlight important aspects of the spring season and the human desire for cleansing and removal of unnecessary weight and burden.

Chinese Medicine employs The Principle of the Five Elements. The five elements refer to wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. According to the principle, all change, both external and internal, occurs in five distinct stages. Each of these stages is associated with a particular time of year, a specific element in nature, and a pair of organs in the body. The changing seasons of the year, and your body’s organs and bodily processes are all linked together.

Spring is represented by the wood element and affects the liver and its complementary organ, the gallbladder. These two organs are usually the primary targets for springtime cleansing. According to the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for the smooth flowing of energy throughout the body. Liver energy allows for the appropriate movement of emotions. If your liver energy is stagnated, anger and rage overcome you easily. If your liver energy is well regulated in the body, you show assertiveness. When the liver functions smoothly, physical and emotional activity throughout the body also runs smoothly. It also influences all the other organ systems to function properly.

A few things you can do to take advantage of the liver energy in springtime are stretching and movement, eating fresh, green foods, and eating bitter and sour foods. By stretching or doing yoga, you will promote the movement of blood into your tendons and muscles. In Chinese medicine, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then release it to the tendons in times of activity, maintaining tendon health and flexibility. Try a nice long stretch upon waking. A diet rich in whole foods is an essential component to health. In Chinese culture, seasonal produce serves as medicine. Given that spring is represented by the color green, it is best to eat budding fresh vegetables, such as baby lettuce and asparagus. Eating young plants - leafy greens and sprouts - can improve the liver’s overall functions and aid in the movement of its energy. Sour or bitter foods are also very good for the liver and the gallbladder. An excellent choice is a simple lemon and olive oil drink. This is a particularly good option for your spring cleanse, as the acidity helps to contract your liver, while the olive oil works on your gall bladder. It’s easy to prepare: Simply cut one organic lemon into pieces (seeds removed) and mix with about one-and-a-quarter cups of spring water, along with one tablespoon of olive oil. Then, strain the contents—not too much, as you still want some of the pectin to remain—and drink before bed on an empty stomach. Not only will this support the gentle discharge of toxins from your liver, but many of my patients have found that it improves their sleep as well. (For those with liver issues or a high toxic burden, however, I always recommend that the lemon and olive oil drink be started at a reduced dosage of only 1/4 of the general mix.)

Quick, sensible ways to aid the liver and body during spring cleaning is through a simple detox. When you wake up, don’t reach for a cup of coffee. Instead, have a hot cup of water or fresh squeezed juice. For a few days, try to eliminate alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes. Reduce consumption of heavy, greasy foods rich in saturated fats and sweets loaded with refined sugar. Also, try to minimize use of chemical-based household cleaners and personal health care products (cleansers, shampoos, deodorants and toothpastes), and substitute natural alternatives. Learning how to manage stress well will help your liver to perform at its best. A simple way to relax after a stressful situation is to go for a walk, clear your head, or call a friend. Remember that the longer you stay stressed and angry, the longer harmful levels of stress hormones are active in your body.

Other simple ways to help your body detox in the spring:

1. Eat plenty of fiber, such as brown rice and fresh fruits and vegetables. Make a salad with fresh greens, radishes, and beets. Fiber is one of the best ways to eliminate waste.

2. You may benefit from herbs shown to help and protect the liver, such as dandelion root, burdock and milk thistle, as well as drinking green tea.

3. Take vitamin C, which helps the body produce glutathione, a liver compound that drives away toxins.

4. Drink more water. Aim for eight glasses a day. It sounds like a lot, but after a few days, you will crave water, since your body will be using it effectively.

5. Take a few deep breaths. This allows oxygen to circulate more completely through your system.

6. If you haven’t already, try a sauna. A good sweat allows your body to eliminate toxins through the skin.

7. Dry-brush your skin to increase circulation and toxin elimination. Special brushes are available at natural health stores.

8. Exercise. It’s wonderful for your body, and stimulates your lymphatic system, which is another major player responsible for toxin removal.

You have the power to create huge changes in your health and how you feel!

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