Easing into Spring

We’re at that awkward phase between winter and spring. It feels as though the worst of the winter weather is behind us, the days are starting to stretch a little but the wind can still bite and don’t mention the rain.

In chinese medicine winter is the time of the kidneys, which must be protected and nourished. You do this by storing your energy rather than expending it. It is the most yin of the seasons. When the weather turns cold everything in nature goes to sleep.

This is not the time to start jogging or aerobics or anything else that makes you sweat. Avoid rushing around. Instead go to bed early and get up late. Stay inside where it’s warm and rest.

Your mind also needs to rest. The kidneys are closely associated with the fundamental drive that is called ‘zhi’ (志) in Chinese. Zhi is often translated as ‘will power’. Most fundamentally it is the survival instinct, which keep us going in the darkest times. In less extreme situations it is that which identifies and works towards goals and things that we want.

Eating what is in season is always a good way to comply with the chi of the time. So in winter, eat root vegetables. Nuts, especially walnuts and chestnuts are particularly good for the kidneys, as is lamb. Avoid cold food and drink as your body must burn energy to warm it up before it can be used. This is part of ‘leaving the cold and seeking the warmth’. Hold onto your chi and hibernate. vegetables[1]

Spring is the time of sprouting. The Chinese character ‘sprouting’ is sheng 生, which depicts a plant growing out of the earth. This is the time to return to activity, ‘briskly walking around’ after having hibernated over winter. The energy that we have been storing can now be used and enjoyed. Still, we are reminded to let our hair down and to relax the body. Being more energetic doesn’t mean that we have to be tense, either physically or mentally. Relaxation allows the zhi 志, that which is of the heart/mind to sprout.  Now is the time to activate the zhi through relaxed activity.

Spring is the beginning of the yang cycle of the seasons. Like all beginnings it starts slowly and gently. Doing the same will keep us healthy. It is tempting to rush out on the first warm, sunny day in Spring and go for a very long walk or cycle. This is too much too soon. It is always best to follow the season. When the green tips of plants are just emerging, we can do the same in our activity, starting gently and slowly. Later as the earth warms up and the plants grow more vigorously we can follow suit.

Eating what is in season is always a good way to comply with the qi of the time. So in spring eat plenty of green leafy vegetables and sprouts, mung beans, broccoli, etc… When it is cool cooking your food is better, but as it warms up you can eat more salads.

Tai Chi and Qigong which make up part of the chinese medicine family are forms of gentle exercise or moving meditation as some like to call it that help us to balance and keep in harmony all the elements of our body and mind. It’s gentle approach to exercise at this time of year goes against the western traditions of New Year fitness resolutions and extreme diets and cleanses.

It is more like the seed sleepily wakening from it’s winter slumber, contemplating bursting forth, but cautiously waiting for the warmth of the sun. It’s gentle nature makes it perfect for those of us who are feeling too delicate to rush to the gym for reasons of health, or age and also for those of us who mentally are struggling still with winter, our darkest of times.  Tai chi gently strengthens us and guides us forth into spring.

Younis Fakhfakh will be teaching Tai Chi starting Monday 2nd February. This will combine various elements of the above to create a much greater experience and awareness of mind body interaction. At the end of the 6 weeks course you will have learned the full Chi gong sequence, the loosening exercise programme and the Tai Chi mini set, to give you a full taste of Tai Chi.

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