Intimate Rhythms: Changing With the Seasons

All things are of one pattern made; Bird, beast, and plant, Song, picture, form, space, thought, and character, Deceive us, seeming to be many things, And are but one. -- Ralph Waldo EmersonWe once knew the earth and her seasons in the same way that we knew ourselves. The rejuvenation of spring, gratification of summer, industriousness of fall, and cold quietude of winter were reflected in our lives as we labored, ate and worshipped in harmony with the alignment of earth and sun. Business, medicine, religion, social convention -- all were based on the rhythm of the seasons and our own intimate rhythms.Gradually, as food gathering became industrialized, and trains, planes, trucks, refrigerators and supermarkets enabled us to store and eat foods grown in other times and climates, most of us lost the need to pay such close attention to seasonal cycles. Nature has become, for the most part, something to protect ourselves against, with high-tech shelters, fibers and drugs. Still, innately, we follow the ancient rhythms, though often we do not consciously acknowledge their significance.It is both blessing and curse that we live in such a diverse society. Though we no longer have a single, widely shared belief system, we do have the opportunity to learn from the many modalities -- both old and new -- that continue to honor and foster our connection to the earth and her cycles. Following are interviews with a cross-section of people whose daily practices keep them attuned. In sharing their insights and knowledge, they provide us with a variety of ways that we can re-connect with the seasonal rhythms. All address the issue holistically, seldom drawing lines between the secular and non-secular. For when we act in harmony with the seasons, we become more harmonized with ourselves, not only physically, but psychologically and spiritually as well.Many of us find the transition from fall into winter the most difficult. As the days shorten, frequently so do tempers, and many of us succumb to an array of illnesses. But a number of the ailments that affect our bodies, minds and souls during seasonal shifts can be avoided if we actively participate in keeping our health. And while standard Western medicine often disregards the link between natural cycles and our physiological and psychological health, there are traditional medical systems -- still widely practiced -- based entirely upon those connections. Two of the most well-known, Ayurvedic (Indian) and Chinese medicine, offer dietary, herbal and practical guidelines that flow organically through the seasons.IndiaAyurveda is an intricate system of healing, based on the integration of natural rhythms, diet and lifestyle. The term Ayurveda, explains practitioner Dean Campbell of Yoga Central, is made up of two Sanskrit words: Ayu which means "life" and Veda which means "knowledge of." And this knowledge of life, accumulated over thousands of years, affords Ayurvedic practitioners unique insight into the human body and its relationship with the environment."When there's a seasonal transition," says Campbell, "the energetic forces, or doshas, are high. It is during these junctions that we need to back off and be patient as we move into the next season fully. During fall, there's a lot of dryness and roughness, so we should try to offset that by avoiding dry, rough foods, like popcorn, chips, rice cakes and raw vegetables. Eat lightly, but have warm moist foods like soups and stews. You should also drink fresh ginger [tea], which strengthens the metabolism. Once we are fully into the winter season, after the Winter Solstice, then you can eat a little heavier. "As Campbell points out, it isn't just our metabolism that is a little off during transitions. "During the fall in particular, there's a lot of wind and movement, and we get a little anxious, nervous, hyper. When things are really active, we need to counterbalance with rest and relaxation. Try just being for awhile, instead of doing."ChinaChinese medicine sees the body as a microcosm of nature, and good health as a balance within the body's ecosystem. Says Chinese herbalist and acupuncturist Natalie Clausen of the Acupuncture Association, "The whole premise of Chinese medicine is about being in harmony with nature. There is an understanding that diseases of certain organs are more prevalent during specific seasons, and that precautions should be taken prior to the season. For example, if you get allergies in the fall, treat them in the summer. If somebody has weak kidneys, which means they won't do well in the cold of winter, you tonify the kidneys with acupuncture and herbs the season before."Clausen explains that in an-cient China people visited the doctor only two times a year: before the change of season from winter into spring, and before fall turned to winter. These visits, involving acupuncture and herbs, were personalized tune-ups of the body's systems. "If you got sick during the following season," says Clausen, "you didn't have to pay the doctor. That's how well balanced they were. Unfortun-ately, in our culture today, we're so out of synch that it would take far more than a trip to the acupuncturist to keep us from getting sick."Still, Chinese medicine is as applicable to our needs today as it was to our ancestors 5,000 years ago, though Clausen has had to adapt her practice to suit the local climate and physique. "Medicine develops in the culture that it grows from," she says. "In Utah, people are hardy and heavy from a lot of excesses, so fasting, cleansing, and the consumption of raw foods is more appropriate here than it is in China. In a modern-day acupuncture clinic we adapt to the local environment and treat from that perspective."Chinese medicine, like Ayurvedic, also addresses our changing dietary needs and emotional responses. As Clausen explains, "One underlying theoretical basis is the Five Elements. Each element has a corresponding season and climate, and in that season, the organ most likely to become imbalanced. There is an emotion most commonly felt, a taste craved, and so on. It also provides an outline of the foods that are most beneficial during that time. For example, fall, the season of dryness, is metal, and we are most likely to experience imbalances of the lungs. If we are suffering from such an imbalance, we crave pungent, spicy foods, and will experience excessive grief. The foods recommended to be eaten in fall are rice, chestnuts and onions.""Winter is water," she continues. "The organ most commonly affected is the kidney. People who suffer from kidney problems are always cold. When our kidneys are weak, we crave salty foods, are unable to stay warm, and experienced excessive fear. Dates, beans, peas, leaks and pork are considered appropriate, balancing foods."Chinese medicine believes that disease enters the body through the points on the back of the neck and skull. Clausen says that the back of the neck and the head should always be covered in cold weather, and she verifies the validity of still another age-old maternal doctrine. "It's true that one of the easiest ways to get sick is to go outside with wet hair. It allows the cold to come into your body, and that's where colds come from."The Chinese are also very concerned with keeping their kidneys warm in winter," she says, "because they are associated with life force and sexual energy. Those who are really into Chinese medicine -- like many martial artists -- wrap their kidneys with sashes and belts to keep them warm."Chinese medicine also recommends following the seasons in your sleep cycle. "In the summer when the light is up earlier," explains Clausen, "it's healthy to get up with it, but in the winter when it's still dark in the early morning, we should sleep longer. The fall/winter is the yin/dark/rest time, summer is yang/light/active. We're moving through yin now, so to keep healthy we need to get more rest."East and WestDr. Todd Mangum of Red Rock Associates is a Western physician with a decidedly Eastern bent. Many of his recommendations echo those of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, though he dispenses his own resourceful brand of modern and traditional wisdom, especially in regard to seasonal synchronization."I always tell people that the four food groups are light, water, food and air. Unfortunately, everybody always forgets light, especially in the fall and winter. We must remember that light is a nutrient, and in order to keep our circadian rhythms in balance, we need to absorb at least half an hour a day of unfiltered, unmasked UV light. And that means going outside -- not just sitting in a sunny window, or under a light -- without sunglasses or even contacts, since UV light is absorbed through the eyes."Mangum, too, recommends eating denser, richer foods during fall and winter, such as root vegetables and hearty, rich soups. He also warns against any cleansing or fasting until spring. "We want to be storing right now, not cleansing," he says.He finds echinacea, garlic and high doses of Vitamin C to be invaluable in fighting colds, but says that timing is everything. "The most important thing is to pay close attention to when a cold is coming on, and do something immediately. If you feel a scratchy throat, don't go to bed, thinking that you'll treat it in the morning. By morning it will be too late. Hit it hard with a lot of Vitamin C or a Chinese herbal preparation."Mangum doesn't recommend taking echinacea (a commonly used, powerful anti-viral herb) or golden seal (a natural antibiotic that clears up congestion and is an excellent remedy for sore throat and chest congestion) on a continual basis. "You don't want to constantly stimulate the immune system with the echinacea, and golden seal can throw off the digestive tract. One week of the month for each is best."Fall and winter are the times, says Mangum, when we should wind down, physiologically and psychologically. "Remember that it really is the equivalent of a long night time. We are meant to go inward, to hibernate. It would be much more appropriate if, rather than running all over and getting stressed during the holidays, we could just sit around the fire with our families."Deep EcologyEqually important to tending our bodies during seasonal junctions is attending to our minds and souls. In the realm of natural rhythms, this means no more -- and no less -- than paying rapt attention to what's going on, in both our internal and external landscapes.Jan Magleby is a psychotherapist specializing in Deep Ecology, a therapeutic approach which encompasses the observation that everything in existence is interconnected. The practices of Deep Ecology draw from those of many land-based cultures who, she says, implicitly understood what many of us have forgotten: that humans are not separate from the rest of the world. Magleby's clients learn to participate more directly in the natural environment, often holding sessions in the garden adjacent to her office, where they can observe firsthand the cycles of birth, growth and death."I believe that humans become imbalanced when we fight against natural cycles," she says. "I love thinking about the perennial wisdom of the saying, 'For everything there is a seasonÉ.' With my clients, I emphasize changing focus, learning how to recognize that everything is interconnected. The best way to do that is by observing (continued on next page) what animals do, what plants do, how other forms adapt to changing seasons and situations."Magleby herself has benefited from that wisdom, having had a long-time aversion to cold weather. "I personally resist winter, so I've explored ways to help myself make the transition. I had a wonderful experience taking a t'ai chi class in the rose garden at Sugar House Park. I made the assumption that we would move indoors when it got cold, but instead, we continued to practice outside. I'll always remember the first time I did t'ai chi in a snow storm. It taught me a valuable lesson. Too frequently our inclination is to go in and cover up when winter approaches, and there is a time for that, too, but part of adapting is actually being outdoors in the changes."Earth ReligionsMagleby's therapeutic practices frequently (and deliberately) parallel the ritualistic practices of those who follow ancient spiritual paths. To shamanic practitioner Michael Bryner, and Wicca adherent Gretchen Faulk, active participation in the earth's cycles is the essence of their religions.In tribal cultures, shamans were religious leaders and healers, and the keepers and creators of their people's myths. Bryner, with his background that includes psychology, bodywork, yoga, Buddhism, and Native American, Peruvian and Mayan studies, is working to create a new mythology, one that bridges the abyss between modern society and nature."In ancient cultures, the aboriginal people always had a way to work with seasonal changes, particularly if they were important or difficult," he says. "There was always a spiritual tradition about how to be in relationship with nature. But for us, as modern people, how to work with our relationship with the world around us is not commonly understood -- we are not taught, we don't experience the model of how to do that, except through small rituals like going back to school in the fall, or buying a winter coat. What I am pursuing is how to bring back the connections in context of the world today, I want to weave it back to where we work with seasonal changes in a meaningful way."Bryner explains that Native American shamans use animals to work with interfacing with seasonal change. Fall is the seasonal of the bear, he says, who after the autumnal equinox, begins battening itself up for winter by foraging, then little by little, slows down. This way he acclimates himself gradually itself to "the great going within time" -- winter.To the Native Americans, like the Chinese, fall is the season of grief. It is also a time of release, of letting go. "As is the case in our own inner cycles," says Bryner, "some seasons are more difficult. In the West, we have a tendency to avoid certain emotions and states, thinking that there is a special way of being, always happy and 'successful.' But in shamanism, the greatest teachings come from adversity, it's what takes us into our shadows, our homework. If we are not wounded in the world, then we are not able to carry medicine of the world. Our personal medicine, gifts and abilities all come from our wounds, so we should accept and learn from these feelings."One way to support this process, says Bryner, is to find a relevant way to fit into the seasonal cycles and even self. "Learn how to walk in life's changes by looking at animals, by looking at the wisdom of those other than ourselves. In doing so, we garner the teachings needed to bring us into the oneness of all things."To Gretchen Faulk, too, the Earth's cycles are cause for celebration. As a Wiccan, she observes eight Sabbaths, which cover the seasonal transitions: solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days. Each holiday is vested with spiritual, cultural and ecological meaning, and celebrations traditionally last three days."It is part of our belief system that being in touch with the earth promotes mental and physical health. We evolved on this planet, we are very much a part of this place, and we ignore that at our own peril. There is no way to be completely whole without being in touch with the earth."Faulk believes in the power of ritual, both communal and personal, to connect with the elements. "You don't have to be a country dweller to observe or participate in nature," she says. "It doesn't matter where we are -- what's important is observing and participating in the changes." Magleby also stresses the importance of ritual. "I think that practicing reverence for all creation through daily rituals is one of the most profound things we can do. These rituals can be as simple as sitting in a sunny window, or attuning to the moon cycles. Because we are often unconscious of natural changes, we think that we are at their mercy, rather than being collaborators. Ritual brings us into the action, and brings us into balance. And when there is balance there is fluidity, and when we are fluid, we adapt well to change."Wiccan, therapist, shaman and physician -- all share a common belief that we humans are intricately and inextricably connected to the natural world, that despite generations of estrangement, our pulses still beat to the primeval rhythms of the seasons. Through their diverse approaches, they offer us many tools we may use to find our own way to living in harmony with the seasons and ourselves. For, as Michael Bryner puts it, "There are different keys for different people, there is no single way. And it is through finding our own way that we become connected, and connectedness is a great medicine for this world that we live in."Sidebar OneFall/Winter Bodycare* To counterbalance the dryness of the fall/winter season, Dean Campbell recommends at least once a week rubbing warm oil over your body about 20 minutes before your bath or shower. The heat causes the oil to soak into your skin, and you're left feeling soft and silky, without being greasy.* For deep, natural hair conditioning, nothing beats pure honey. Honey is a natural humectant (a substance that helps another substance -- in this case, hair -- retain moisture), is high in potassium and helps kill bacteria. Massage a handful through damp hair, cover with towel or shower cap and let sit for 15-20 minutes before rinsing thoroughly.Herbs* Ginger: This spice has a proven track record of stimulating circulation in the feet and hands, causing healthy sweat in mild feverish conditions (such as with the common cold) and produces watery mucus which helps unblock stuffed-up noses. Small amounts in food help to stimulate digestive juices, relieving indigestion and flatulence. It also reduces motion and morning sickness.* Echinacea: A powerful anti-viral herb with immunity-boosting effects. It works well as preventative medicine, and help fight disease that has already set in.* Goldenseal: A natural antibiotic that clears up congestion and is an excellent remedy for sore throat and chest congestion.* For sinus and head congestion: Take herbal steam treatments, using eucalyptus, sage or pine. Place a drop or two of pure essential oil into a pot of boiling water and breathe in the steam, taking care to stay at least a foot away to avoid burns.Autumn Rejuvenation Ration(from The Detox Diet, by Elson M. Haas, M.D.) 3 cups spring water1 tablespoon ginger root, chopped1-2 tablespoons miso paste (do not boil) 1-2 stalks green onion, choppedCilantro, to taste, chopped1-2 pinches cayenne pepper2 teaspoons olive oilJuice of 1/2 lemonBoil water. Add ginger root. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in miso paste to taste. Turn off burner, then add green onion, some cilantro, cayenne, olive oil, and lemon juice. Remove and cover to steep for 10 minutes. May vary ingredient portions to satisfy flavors. Diane Olson Rutter is Catalyst's staff writer. She finds stories such as this one a pleasant diversion from nerve gas incinerators, biological warfare and environmental pollution.


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