Eugene Lee Mahoney, LAc, AEAMP
Mirroring Our Well-being with the Season
The Roll of the Jie Qi in Informing Our Well-being through the Seasons
The Jie Qi of Chu Shu
As we enjoy the last few weeks of summer, arguably the best time of the year here in the Northwest, we increasingly benefit from the light of the sun and our cooler late summer evenings as Fall approaches. It is during this time of seasonal transition that I’d like to write to about a concept in the medicine tradition from which modern acupuncture is also based, the idea of Jie Qi.
As acupuncturists we are trained in this very traditional lifestyle and dietary guide on how to stay healthy during the various transitional seasons of the year (the Jie Qi). The reason the guide was developed was from a keen and observational pool of traditional Chinese practitioners many hundreds of years ago, who through keen observation and detailed notes discovered a relationship that was cyclical in nature and mirrored in the natural world around them to understand that each of the seasonal intervals. Each provides us with a practical guide to healthy living during that time as each interval possesses its own challenge to short and long-term health.
It is within this system that the year is divided into 24 fifteen-day segments. Starting with the Chinese New Year in the beginning of February (this is determined on the Lunar calendar so the date on the Julian calendar is not fixed). The Jie Qi then progress throughout the year in fifteen-day intervals. Each of the 24 Jie Qi is named to highlight the main “energetic” present during that period usually mirrored in nature in multiple ways.
This is but one of the many tools acupuncturists use to provide guidance to our patients on how to personalize their plan for well-being, it along with acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Chu Shu and the “Hiding Heat”
The current Jie Qi, beginning late August, is Chu Shu or “Hiding Heat”. It is the last period in which the heat of the full sun is felt. Chu Shu is also an important turning point here in the Northwest. There is a noticed change from long warm sunny days to gradual darker and cooler nights. Some of the best strategies to protect from this fluctuating temperature is something we Northwesterners typically do well already (out of necessity). That is layering. During Chu Shu it is recommended to:
· Cover up a little more with lighter but wind-breaking fabrics to counter the cooler nights and mornings that begin to creep in from now through Fall to avoid chills and possible colds and flus that are common at this time of year.
· The most important areas of the body to keep protected from the elements are the neck, shoulders and lower back.
· Remembering to still stay cool during the warm sunny days and remaining hydrated.
This Jie Qi, Chu Shu or “Hiding Heat” or late summer, is known mostly for its more dramatic temperature changes between warm days at the peak sun and cooler nights and early mornings.
Best practices for staying healthy during the late Summer
To be more in tune with the demands of the Jie Qi is to be better in-tuned with how nature is changing. Not only the temperature but also the light. As night begins to move in and days become ever shorter, the doctors of Ancient China noticed that plants and animals were also beginning to prepare for the Fall and Winter. Activity became less pronounced, and plants were starting to slow their outward growth and concentrate on storing energy in their roots and bulbs.
And so, it is for our own body’s need to turn to less strenuousness exertive spending of energy or qi and more storing and conserving. Because Fall has not yet begun and with Chu Shu we are still in Summer the changes in our behavior need only be small and gradual with the mindfulness that soon all will tip towards complete storage and conservation as the Winter nights dominate. The Jie Qi of Chu Shu recommends the following to help us maintain our well-being during this season:
· Gradually add more sleep either in the morning or evening either through earlier to bed or later to rise. As the nights pull in signaling the slowing down of the world so do our bodies require a little more conservation.
· Stay dry and warm on the cool wet days while also cool on those often-warmer early Autumn afternoons that we are blessed with in the Northwest.
The principles of Jie Qi tell us that it is possible to thrive physically and emotionally during these days. The earlier you prepare and adjust your lifestyle according to the season, the better you will weather the next few months and subsequently the next few Jie Qi.
In acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the Jie Qi of Chu Shu is also correlated as being important to maintaining the health of the Lungs and digestive tract. These are especially susceptible to dry and cool damp conditions. Stressing them makes us more prone to upper respiratory or digestive difficulties as the Fall approaches.
Chu Shu and your body’s health account
In nature, animals and plants are turning towards storing, conserving and preparing for the darker cooler months. It was observed by these early doctors that nature was preparing for rest, sustainability, and conservation. Whether seeing that in the collection of stores by animals that remain active during the Winter or the fattening up of animals who hibernate, or the slowing down of plants above ground to put energy into their roots below ground, they realized that health and homeostasis relied on our efforts beginning in Chu and Shu continuing in the subsequent Jie Qi of the Fall season.
Diet and activity are key factors in helping the body move from the extraneous exertive activity of Spring and Summer to the conservation and sustainability during Winter. Some ways one can do that is by following suggested dietary focuses during Chu Shu:
· Foods to increase in the diet are those that have sour, fresh and light, or bland flavor profiles as these have nourishing, consolidating, and conserving energetics that help support the body in its need to begin to turn inward. Foods like citrus, cherries, fermented foods, cucumbers, nuts, seeds, legumes, squash, yams, sweet potatoes, etc.
· Foods to decrease are those that are spicy, stodgy and fatty. As they either deplete and expel (like those of spicey foods) or tax the digestive system (like those of the latter) already stressed from the changing requirements of the body during this seasonal transition.
As mentioned before, organ systems stressed by this time of year most, is the digestive system. Easier to digest foods like mentioned in the first bullet point help ease off on its demands. And it goes without saying avoid any foods in this list that you are allergic or sensitive to.
With any of this there is no requirement or set quotas to reach but rather an allowance for us to make our own decisions and adjustments that make sense according to our own individualized needs and preferences.
It is easy to read “storing”, “conserving”, and “consolidating” and immediately think it is asking us to gain weight. In truth, it is more about training our qi. The suggested foods and practices are more about training the qi (the energy & function)of the body towards getting used to less availability of things like external heat, light, and certain types of food. It was observed that the qi of the body worked differently during the darker colder months versus the lighter warmer ones.
Exercise & Rest during Chu Shu
The final element to being in harmony with the current Jie Qi of Chu Shu is in the area of activity or exercise. To continue with Chu Shu’s theme of it being a time of year to start turning towards consolidating, conserving, and storing, Chu Shu is a time when moving away from (gradually) intensive exertive exercise and towards more flexibility and core work in one’s daily exercise routine. Also, make sure while doing any intensive exercise that causes heavy sweating, or taxes the system, that the key areas of the body (see above) keep dry, covered, and warm (especially during the cooler times of the day).
Like in the dietary recommendations of this time of year, those for activity we are not being expected to go all in on the restorative and maintenance aspects of physical health but simply to change the ratios around types of activities, to be more balanced for the season. You can still run, bike, train, cross fit but find ways to add a little more flexibility training and core strengthening as those have been found to be the most key factors in maintaining physical health and mobility as we age.
Simple activities like warm-ups, stretching and cool downs before and after exercise are important all year round but especially so in the cooler months, if you want to avoid muscle, tendon injuries.
Chu Shu summarized
All this to say that the Jie Qi of Chu Shu “Heat Hiding” (or rather late summer) has arrived and for the next fifteen days one should expect to see both heat and light to begin noticeably waning, manifested in darker, cooler evenings. These are good reminders that Fall is just around the corner, a time when the darker nights will overtake the daylight hours.
But Chu Shu is a great reminder to begin changing our tactics for staying healthy in the colder months and to transition ourselves away from summertime habits.
· Try to stay dry and warm at night, while also staying cooler during the peak hours of the day. Layering is key as we all know.
· Consider modifying your activities to support the body in maintaining equilibrium of core temperature, which means transitioning from very exertive activities to lighter training, with a focus on flexibility, warmups and core strength.
· Add more and more lighter, easy to digest foods that have a restorative and consolidating quality with flavor profiles that are sour, bland, fresh or light.
As at any other time during the calendar year, moderation is everything and is the key point in the idea of Jie Qi. A system that reminds us that how we reach and maintain homeostasis in our bodies changes as the year progresses in the seasons. Different strategies are needed depending on which one of these 24 segmented intervals are present. And we are reminded by these changing needs through the signs of nature in the weather, the contrast of light and dark, warm and cool, the behaviors of plants and animals, and even our own bodies.
Over the next year more Jie Qis will be introduced along with the strategies of living and eating, exercising and staying healthy, as the time of the year, its Jie Qi, guides us.
Make an appointment to help stay healthy
Chu Shu and the transition into and through Fall challenges our Lungs and Digestive system. Things like colds, flus are more prevalent, and our digestive systems can become more sensitive and irregular. The cooler weather affects our flexibility and performance sometimes leading to injury while working out or while at work or even doing our favorite activities. Sleep can be affected, and anxiety or headaches can appear.
If you are experiencing or beginning to experience any of these symptoms or conditions, please don’t hesitate to make an acupuncture or naturopathic appointment as soon as possible here at North Seattle Natural Medicine. We have several practitioners who are available to help. Whether it be immune related, injury recovery or general health and well-being, the practitioners at NSNM have many years of successful experience listening, treating, caring, and working with patients to you reach their health goals.
Feel free to call or make an acupuncture appointment to see us at North Seattle Natural Medicine. If you have questions about how to stay healthy during the Jie Qi of Chu Shu or through the transition of Summer to Fall, come see us! If you are already feeling adverse effects of the changing season, please reach out and make an acupuncture appointment today. Let’s move forward toward better health and wellness, together!
You can make your appointment by calling (206) 629-5180