7 wellness tips for your spring routine, according to traditional Chinese medicine
“Treat a disease first with food – only if this fails should drugs be prescribed,” advised the famous Sun Simiao, the prolific 7th century Chinese physician and writer. Centuries later, this principle remains at the heart of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practiced today, which is about creating harmony in the body.
We are all made up of yin (cold) and yang (hot) elements, according to TCM, and their balance is what keeps us healthy. If yang is dominant, yin-promoting foods should be eaten to prevent disease – a hallmark of imbalance – and vice versa. Whether you need more yin or yang in your diet changes with the season; an idea that the West has kissed with the rise of seasonal food. But eating what grows nearby and now is not just about savoring ripe produce; it also restores your body’s balance. “Nature will give us what we need to balance”, notes Adrien chang, a Chinese-American cook and food writer who often bases his meals on the principles of TCM.
As we gently shed the energy of winter hibernation, Chang says we should be consuming a range of seasonal foods, especially those that help cleanse the liver – vegetables like leafy greens or bitters, spring carrots and radishes. The liver needs special attention during this season because it is Doing overtime provide vital life force, qi, through the body. But Chang cautions that while food is certainly a central pillar of TCM, lifestyle practices are just as important (and seasonal!) Aspects of balancing mind, body, and spirit; exercise, sleep and stress reduction all play a role. TCM is “less a quick fix and more about feeding what is missing or reducing what is in glut,” he explains.
Here, Chang shares seven TCM-backed tips on how to get through the winter and re-energize your spring routine:
Get good rest, but don’t go to bed too late.
That means going to bed around 10 p.m. – certainly before midnight, Chang explains – and rising with the sun. Our bodies no longer need to hibernate like we used to to save energy in the winter, but we also want to make sure that we are rested for the longer spring days ahead.
Take it easy on the exercise.
Remember: the seasons are changing massively and this affects us energetically and physically. In the spring, it’s best not to shock your system by hitting the ground while running (pun intended). Warm up first with gentle exercises that make your heart beat but are low impact and low stress. “I do a lot of yoga and Pilates, and I recently started incorporating tai qi and qi gong into my routine, something my grandfather did every morning,” Chang says. “I also do a lot of hiking because I love the mindfulness aspect of being outside while shedding my blood.”
Eat local and in season.
“During the winter we used to eat warming foods like garlic and ginger, but now we can start eating cooler foods to balance ourselves out,” Chang explains. Stick to what nature has to offer: cool-weather springtime greens like pea sprouts, mustard greens, and kale, including flowers that start to grow in warmer weather. Check with your local farmers or farmer’s markets if you have access to them, and keep what they are currently growing. When in doubt, go for leafy greens, lots of vegetables, and whole grains, and you’ll be off to a good start.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a place with a lot of greenery, finding wild herbs is a great way to reap the benefits of what’s free and plentiful all around. Nettles and mugwort emerge around this time of year, and both are used in TCM to treat your liver. Chang also likes to use wild yerba buena, an immune-boosting, antioxidant-rich herb with a flavor profile similar to oregano, in pastas and teas. Not confident in finding wild plants? You can also buy herbs in the Bay Area Shop Herbal folk.
Stir in hot water, tea or soup at mealtimes.
This applies all year round. Chinese and many others is and South East Asia cultures agree that the ingestion of warm liquids balances your body’s physical and energetic temperature. Cold water is too taxing on the body, but teas and soups (like Cantonese stew lo foh tong) are believed to balance a meal and aid digestion.
Make rice porridge.
Jook, as we call it in Cantonese, is a rice porridge made from slow cooking rice with chicken broth or water for hours, until it reaches a consistency similar to that of a risotto. Typically, it’s served with a number of toppings and sauces, like cilantro, green onions, and chili oil. Chang turns to jook in the spring to make rice easier to digest and considers it a perfect container for raw or cooked vegetables. (The spinach namul, for example, would be great on jook!)
Take it easy on alcohol right now.
“Protect your liver at all costs! Chang reiterates. “We all know how alcohol can destroy it, so resist the urge to drink all day in the sun on the weekends.” (A tall order, we know.) While not a cocktail substitute, ju hua chrysanthemum tea– the variety usually served with dim sum – is great for your liver. Goji berries too!