Self care means making time to do the things that help you live well and support both your physical and mental health. Self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. Unfortunately self care is one of the first things that falls off your list of priorities in times of stress and yet that is when you need to prioritise it the most. You can’t give from an empty tank.
The wonderful thing about Chinese medicine is how it treats the whole person, not just the symptoms. One of the foundations of Chinese medicine is the Five Elements, which are Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire. These elements are linked to different organs, emotions, and body systems and are used to explain how the organs of the body interact with each other and how they are influenced by the world around us.
When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, Chinese medicine emphasizes balance and harmony. This is where the Six Best Doctors come in, which are Diet, Air, Water, Exercise, Rest and Sunshine. These six elements are just as important as the Five Elements in Chinese medicine, and they all work together to create a healthy and balanced life.
Earth element – Nutrition and Digestion
The element of Earth is associated with the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach. A healthy diet is essential for our bodies because it provides the nutrients and energy we need to function properly. The following points are suggestions to help you nourish yourself in the best possible way.
- Eat a variety of seasonal, local, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to help support your immune system, promote healthy digestion, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
- Shop at your local farmer’s market or have a look at the Sydney Markets seasonal guide to help you pick seasonal, local foods.
- “Eat whole foods, not too much, mostly plants” according to Michael Pollan, if you want to eat for optimal health.
- Eat for your body type. If you always feel hot then avoid the curries and chillies and hot spices. If you can’t cope with the cold weather swap out the salads and smoothies for warm, cooked food and include plenty of ginger and cinnamon in your cooking. If you would like to find out more about foods that warm, cool, dry or moisten watch my free workshop on the Energetics of Food
- Warm, cooked foods will help to keep your digestive fire alight and improve your metabolism. Cold, raw food can be hard to digest if you have digestive issues.
- Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. The energy of our digestive system is strongest in the morning and if you find you have no appetite for breakfast then your body is telling you that your Earth element needs some extra support.
- Avoid inflammatory foods – Carbonated drinks, Refined sugars, Artificial foods, Processed foods
- Supplements or herbs can help if you feel you need extra support
- How well you digest and absorb the nutrients in your diet is as important as what you eat. If you have digestive issues acupuncture can help so make an appointment today to get that sorted
Metal element – Fresh air
The metal element is associated with the Lungs, Large Intestines, and the skin. You might wonder what these systems have in common. They are actually all important organs of elimination.
- Fresh air boosts immunity by increasing the amount of oxygen you get, in turn helping white blood cells function properly to kill bacteria and germs.
- Time outdoors, in nature, reduces stress and anxiety and elevates mood so make time to visit your local park daily or spend time in your garden as often as you can
- Long, slow, deep belly breaths engage the diaphragm and massages the digestive system. Deep belly breaths help switch off the flight and fight response which switches on the rest and digest response.
- Meditation or mindfulness exercises generally focus on the breath which helps reduce stress – try the Smiling Mind App or Insight timer for short guided meditations
Water element – Stay hydrated
The element of Water is associated with the kidneys and bladder. Drinking plenty of good quality (filtered) water is crucial for the body to function correctly. It helps to flush out toxins and waste products from the body, regulates body temperature, and helps maintain healthy skin, joints, and muscles. I love, and highly recommend, Zazen alkaline water filters.
- The best way to hydrate is to add a dash of fruit juice or a squeeze of lemon juice or electrolytes (eg: Nuun tablets) to your water or try coconut water or fruit infused water. Some herbal teas can also be hydrating
- Consume plenty of wet foods as well – soups, broths, porridge, fruit
- Try to drink more between meals and less with meals so as not to dilute your digestive juices
Wood element – Exercise
The element of wood is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder. It is said that the Liver is responsible for the free flow of qi through the body. Essentially this means good blood circulation. If you are moving then your qi and blood will move as well. It is also an important organ for detoxifying the body.
- Make time to for walks in the sunshine and fresh air and get your 10,000 steps daily
- Exercise helps to strengthen muscles and bones, improves circulation and cardiovascular health, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.
- It also helps reduce stress levels and promotes better sleep.
- Qigong and Taichi lowers stress and anxiety, increases focus, and improves balance and flexibility. It may even reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases. My Qigong classes run most Friday afternoons at the Blackheath Fitness Centre
- Swimming is a great for your lungs
- Whatever exercise you enjoy, do at least 30 min of moderate physical activity every day
- If pain prevents you from exercising, then relieve your pain with acupuncture
Fire – Sleep
The element of Fire is associated with the heart and small intestine. The Heart is said to play a central role in sleep pattern problems and emotional disorders in Chinese medicine. Additionally, studies have suggested that there is a strong association between sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal diseases.
- You need adequate quality sleep so your body and mind can function properly. Sleep is thought to help keep the immune system strong, the heart and blood vessels healthy, as well as allowing for growth and healing. It can also help control appetite and weight and promotes attention, memory and learning.
- It is important to try to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night so the body can recover, recharge and repair itself appropriately.
- The most restorative sleep you can get is between 11pm and 3am so try to be in bed by 10.30pm at the latest. This will help reduce stress levels, and have a positive effect on your mental health and immune system function.
- If you have problems sleeping acupuncture can help
Sunshine – All elements benefit from time in the Sun
Sunshine is essential for our health as it is the major source of vitamin D in our bodies (about 90%).
We absorb sunlight through our skin (Metal element) and it is synthesised predominantly in the liver (Wood element). The other 10% comes from our food (Earth element). While its key role is in bone health (Water element) vitamin D also regulates cell proliferation and differentiation, and has immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic properties. It helps promote good sleep (Fire element) and helps boost our mood.
- From October to March, around Australia, 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure of the face, arms, and hands before 10am or after 3pm, three to four times a week, will give you enough Vitamin D without skin damage. In Sydney in June and July, you may actually need short periods of exposure in peak UV times ie 10am to 3pm to get enough vitamin D.
In conclusion, Chinese medicine’s Five Elements and the Six Best Doctors work together, in a holistic fashion, to promote health and balance in your body and life. By incorporating these elements into your daily routine, you can maintain good health and prevent disease. Remember, balance and harmony are key to a healthy and happy life!
If you feel you are in need of a bit of extra self care or support with any of the issues mentioned above then book an acupuncture appointment today.
Your feedback and questions are always welcome so please leave a comment below.
For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Tania Grasseschi (Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Qigong and Wholefood counselling). Tania is an AHPRA registered practitioner of Chinese Medicine located in Katoomba, NSW and has spent 6 years lecturing at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Sydney campus.
The information provided on this site is for educational purposes only, and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Remember that you are responsible for your own health and safety at all times.