Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer ~ these are the seasons we all pass through as we travel the cycle of the year. We celebrate with food and ritual-laden holidays. But, there is so much more ~ daily, weekly, monthly and personal cycles within cycles that affect our health, moods, desires, tasks and foods….and each of these, if attended to, lets us live within the constructs of nature, allow us to make sense of our place in the universe and make our efforts worthwhile-individually and as a human/global society.
Only the last 100 years of technological advances have allowed us to not be totally dependent on the day/night and seasonal cycles. Unlike our ancestors, we can choose to disregard the light/dark cycle each day and eating seasonally, but the results have not always been positive. Do we need to return to primitive living to be healthier and happier? Probably not- but we can give credit to much of nature’s wisdom where credit is due and acknowledge certain cyclical needs and live accordingly. With all our choices is the imperative to choose wisely and in doing so, experience life’s rewards more fully.
“Look to the seasons when choosing your cures” ~ Hippocrates
So, we will continue to move forward with modern life, but we need to stop denying the effects of environmental stressors on our general health. Eventually, we will evolve to catch up with some of these lifestyle changes, but we are not there yet as evidenced by the types and amounts of chronic illnesses suffered by people in the most industrialized nations: HPB, Type II Diabetes, Depression, Autoimmune disorders such as Lupus, MS and Arthritis, Digestive disorders Reproductive difficulties and Seasonal Affective Disorder…the list goes on. If we were to keep track of our illnesses, moods, cravings, energy levels, etc., we would find regular ebbs and flows that may be coordinated with yearly/daily and monthly cycles. Doctors know that more excessive bleeding takes place during surgeries near the Full moon, Midwives know more babies are born at that time. Mental health workers see more intense peaks in disorders when the moon is full (thus our terms “lunacy” and “lunatic”). The Japanese take daily biorhythms of government workers whose jobs impact public safety and do not have them work on their “bad” days. There are more heart attacks in the summer on Mondays, more gastrointestinal problems and diabetes among night shift workers, more reproductive issues with women who have no opportunities for complete darkness during the night or direct sunlight during the day. Some say farmers should plant by the moon or astrological signs for healthier/more productive crops. Why is the best bread made on a humid day near the full moon? Why are herb roots harvested in the Fall? Why are county/state fairs held in late summer? Why are candles associated with Christmas and Chanukah-winter celebrations? Why are soap and candles made in the Fall? Are babies conceived in the Spring or Winter healthier?
Let’s take a look at each of these cycles that impact us in profound ways, learn a bit about each, respect the influences and hopefully, to integrate our modern lives with this ancient aspect of life… to regain our footing in the natural world.
Each day, week, month and year, there is a rhythm of ~ calm/busy/wind down; still/burgeoning/dwindle; birth/life/death; and no better metaphor that that of plants- seed/flower/seed….
~ The YEARLY CYCLE ~
Amazingly, the earth rapidly travels through space and spins on its axis as we make our way around the Sun in a year’s time. In spite of the speed in space, all seems calm and sometimes a lazy pace to us. However we perceive it, our travels do affect us.
Many of our cherished holidays fall near to the Solstice and Equinox dates when we are closest and furthest from the sun. Our current calendar year honors the sun, while some (including the Jewish calendar) still honor the moon. The year is broken into 4 quarters ~ Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox, Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox.. what we call the Four Seasons. We are beginning to understand how our physiology changes to cope with the weather change and unseen or poorly understood natural occurrences. Our blood thickens in winter, thins in spring, we retain fat in winter and shed it in summer, our moods change in relation to available light, our energy levels ebb and flow with the seasons as well. Sunspot activity has huge impacts (good and bad) on our weather patterns and at least for the young, becoming another year older has an important psychological role.
We are meant to be able to sleep/rest/hibernate more in Winter to dream and pull inward during the dark and cold months. We know we have to recharge batteries and get tune-ups for our cars, but rarely do we think of our bodily needs with the same respect. How can we go full speed in the warm, sunshine-filled months if we don’t take the time to rest? We are meant to eat heavy/fatty/carbohydrate type foods in winter and eat fresh foods in the summer. Yet, we pretty much eat/sleep and have the same activity level ALL year–which is the beginning of the STRESS cycle–a cycle that we do not want to impact us daily.
~”..a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear and a time to mend..”~
~ The MONTHLY CYCLE ~
The most obvious and visible influence comes from the Moon. The word “month” refers to the moon cycle”. We write poems, songs and love letters about it, gaze at it, follow its phases on calendars, walk in its light and retreat in its darkness…the Lunar cycle affects everything in our environment.
Wolves howl to the full moon, plant growth and the tides are affected, women who live in areas of complete night time darkness tend to have the menstrual cycles in sync with moon phases. These are just the things we see and know–imagine what is less obvious and yet to be discovered. Just as the sun allows life on earth, the moon shares responsibility for equally important aspects of our existence.
When the moon is full, many people have trouble sleeping. Unfortunately, most people actually have no idea what phase the moon is in, and so, have no idea why they are having trouble with insomnia. Women living in areas of night darkness without excessive lighting, often ovulate during the full moon, feeling more sexual and energetic during their fertility peak. Again, unfortunately, many women do not track their cycles, much less understand how the moon’s phases affect their own. Conversely, when the moon is new/dark, we tend towards lower energy, are less hungry, and are more withdrawn. All of the other days of the month find us somewhere along that path- each day a bit different.
LIVING and EATING BY THE MOON ~
Changing what we do and what we eat according to the moon phases can make you feel better simply because you are following the flow of environmental influences.
There are three moon phases each month to be aware of: Full, Waning and Waxing ~
During the FULL MOON- This is the time for the most strenuous activities, socializing, and to keep you going the most hearty/building foods. High protein and carbohydrate meals are well digested (as long as you ARE more active). But also, have some fun with your food and eat things that remind you of the moon either by color or shape (melons, mushrooms, grapes, eggs, onions, tomatoes, berries, nuts and (swiss) cheese. Herbs during this time are those that maintain energy, such as mints, rosemary, black teas. By no accident of nature, the above foods happen to be considered aphrodisiacs by most cultures, along with vanilla and garlic.
During the WANING MOON (the period between Full and New Moon)- We slowly begin to physically and emotionally hibernate, requiring less activity, food, and social opportunities. Lighter more cleansing foods are best- more soups, juices, fruits, salads, vegetable proteins in moderation.
As we come to the few days of the dark moon, before the sliver of light begins to show again, this is a time of release, no activity related to growth, a good time for a water, juice or fruit fast- or to begin a HEALTHY dieting regimen. There are prohibitions regarding staying out of gardens, doing no planting or cooking. Often we hear of women who are forbidden to touch foods, or tend gardens during their periods–but remember, women used to have periods during the new moon. The Jewish tradition honors Rosh Hodesh–the “head of the month”, celebrated on the New Moon, on which women are not required to work. RELAX ~
The WAXING MOON period (from dark to Full moon), is when our energy gains momentum, new ideas begin to be implemented, those cravings for a bit heavier foods start and things generally seem to move along smoothly. Plants, hair, and nails grow more vigorously. Choose to build foods-light proteins and dairy (yogurt) . This is a good time of the month to start exercising or any new routine you keep putting off—but is NOT a good time to begin a diet.
Try to get out each night and see the moon, or follow its changes on a calendar so you can be more conscious of its impact on your life.
The WEEKLY CYCLE ~
Depending upon your tradition, the week begins with a day of rest. Today, we pack in tons of activities that we don’t have time for during the week–which is fine–as long as you find the activities enjoyable and revitalizing. The other key is to prioritize more and do less, so there are actually enough hours in the day to get everything done. On your day of rest, eat, drink and be merry…for tomorrow you may die–literally or metaphorically. Monday is dreaded by most people because school/work begin. That dread also seems to be a factor in the statistical peak in fatal heart attacks on Monday mornings.Thinking of the week as having a rhythm as does the month can help structure eating/activity patterns to keep you from feeling frazzled/depleted–even if you hate your job. Start slow on Monday in terms of food and drink–maybe tea instead of coffee, lemon balm, mint or lavender instead of an Excedrine. Take a leftover lunch instead of getting fast food, so you have some control over calories/fat/salt/sugar. The impact of food on moods is way understudied.
As the week progresses, pace your activities and prepare for Wednesday’s “Hump Day” doldrums with fruits/veggies–and maybe a quick power nap. As Friday nears, the anticipation of the weekend makes you feel better even though you are working, so build toward your fun activities and heaviest food consumption. Take a deep breath and take part in the ritual of a special Shabbat or Sunday meal to symbolize the quiet turning point of the week.Using the culinary herbs such as sage, oregano, chives, thyme, cinnamon, parsley, rosemary, etc. all help to enhance digestion of heavier meals, aid circulation and calm nerves (without causing drowsiness)–perhaps a way to fend off those Monday heart attacks.
The DAILY CYCLE~
Morning, Noon,Evening and Night, this may be the cycle we abuse the most to our constant detriment. We are meant to slowly progress into the day, but we find ourselves hitting the floor running-rushing breakfast if we even bother having it. Our ancestors did not need the many studies that show a good, protein rich breakfast eaten in a relaxed setting leads to better learning, and productivity–and less hunger for empty calories. A meal together at the beginning of a day, lets us slowly unfold into whatever hectic tasks we will face later. It also used to be that the heavy meals of the day were breakfast and lunch and/or late afternoon–with dinner being rather light. This allowed for more calorie burn off during the busy time of day, and thus, easier digestion. Going to bed on a full stomach leads to the type of fitful sleep Scrooge encountered and makes it difficult for the body to repair and rest if heavy digestion has to be accomplished instead. Herbs for illness, generally, should be taken during the day, and ones for relaxation, at night. Salads and soups make for a healthier dinner, but in this culture, we have turned around lunch and dinner. Our bodies don’t care too much for the change — zapping us with nightly acid reflux, insomnia, constipation, and headaches.
During the productive part of the day, remember to eat a light snack of nuts and yogurt or fruit and a piece of cheese, to maintain energy and keep sugar levels balanced–which will control cravings for candy or muffins–or the 8th cup of coffee to get you through the day. Take a walk at lunch or break time and get 10 minutes or so of sunlight and air. Sun, along with foods affects moods and health in profound ways as does the proper allotment of darkness. As evening approaches, a mental shift occurs so we can prepare for winding down. The Celts called times like twilight a period of “twixt and tween”, neither this nor that, a mystical in between period where magic occurs. Practically, we can use this time to reflect, gather with loved ones and sustain our bodies- a gentle rejuvenation of family/personal time. It was common to take an after dinner “bitter”- to help digestion and enjoy cordiality. Bitters were generally bitter herbs (anise, wormwood, gentian, mints, hyssop..) steeped in wine, cordial, brandy and sipped. Human entertainment/conversation rather than TV. The rest of the evening spent in baths or reading, with dimmed lights.
Bedtime had many rules. Wash up or bath, a long time spent on hair brushing, opening a window a bit–no matter how cold and sleeping in absolute darkness and without noises. Sleep was recognized as needed for good health and 8-9 hours was common- not unusual. Many foods/herbs aid in restful sleep- like chamomile, skullcap, catnip, and at times, valerian. Dairy products in moderation are also useful–as are other, lighter proteins. The point is to recreate the quiet from active and social- returning to the passive and personal every day as much as possible. QUIET
Each of us, depending upon our age and month of birth, tend to fall into one of the seasonal types in terms of our desires, health problems and tasks of life. So, we do a dance with every day, week, month and year to make our personal existence make sense in the scheme of things. A 2-year-old, (metaphorically in the “morning or spring” of their lives), finds the cold winter months long and boring and if not given enough physical activity, will be unbearable. Many people born in a particular season, may have a real affinity for it, whereas those not, might hate it. It makes us all unique, but without understanding the driving forces–and sometimes competing forces, it simply makes us out of sorts, depressed, or ill. Figure out what season of life YOU are in and work with your innate impulses as best as possible. Young/Spring, Adult/Summer, Middle age/Fall, Old/Winter. You are somewhere in the cycle. Explore the seasons as they correspond to foods/activities/typical health problems….
~ WINTER ~
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”~ Adlai Stevenson
Winter may be most people’s least favorite season because there is less to do. But, consider that the slower pace is absolutely necessary to health and happiness in the other, more active seasons. Winter is the “night” of the year, requiring us to slow down and REST–just as a good night’s sleep allows the body to repair itself, digest fully and work out stresses in dreams, Winter gives us the same opportunity–on a much larger scale.
Many of the negative things we identify winter are either thing we should embrace for better long term health or things that are caused by trying to do too much during a season calling for restraint. Continuing on a full daily schedule when your body would rather be in retreat will lower immunity and make colds and other respiratory illnesses more likely. Pretending to be at full stamina when it is dark and cold–and when our pets are sleeping peacefully, leads many to believe they are depressed or need more caffeine. We also suffer from the delusion that we must be constantly productive.
Instead, we should cut schedules back in winter, sleep as much as possible ( and NOT feel guilty about it!), dream, think of future projects–but not really attempt to do much at all–except those things that are truly nourishing to your spirit. Tasks such as sewing, writing or art–low physical impact things that prefer you to go at a slow pace or think and relax while doing them, are what the closed in, homey winter months offer the space to concentrate on.
Nurture yourself with all the holidays–most of which use LIGHT/CANDLES as a common ritual to remind us that in the darkness, the light will return… And don’t feel bad about all the fatty foods either–our blood thickens and we put on a little layer of fat to keep us warm.. so use moderation, but ENJOY!
Winter is when we rebuild, nest, look inward, plan, tend to family… to pull into self and hold loved ones closer.
“It is the first mild day…each minute sweeter than before…there is a blessing in the air”. ~ Wordsworth ~
Spring Fever! Is that good…or bad? Maybe both? The juices start to flow, we see changes in nature and want to get out and participate, to implement long held plans…but it can be a confusing time of year too–unpredictable weather, colds, feeling too antsy and sometimes angry. This is a huge transition from inactivity to hitting the ground running. Our bodies are changing with the season too–thinning blood, shedding winter fat and the liver is in charge of most of these changes. The Chines call the liver the “seat of anger”–meaning an an ill-treated liver will cause negative feelings–“full of bile”.
This season is all about an easing back into activities, expanding, being more social, which can be more easily accomplished by using liver tonics for a limited period. Spring tonics were a staple in our grandparent’s day, differing from region to region and often due to their stirring the liver to cleanse, could cause the anxiousness of spring fever, but in a short time, make you feel much better.
Spring cleaning is a multi- layered task. It can be literally, cleaning the house from top to bottom (which is also good for health), it can refer to making a new to-do list which states new priorities and weeds out the dysfunctional ones, it can mean cleansing the body with a gentle fast, or simply throwing open the windows/doors and changing gears to being outside—but–take it slow to avoid the common change of season colds.
Eating changes too–spring greens, fresh picked foods, lots of pure fluids…and planting a garden and eating the nutrient filled greens from the beets/carrots/radishes/chard/spinach you overplanted. Don’t throw them away….EAT your WEEDS!!
~ SUMMER ~
“Leisure is sweet when it follows work well done”
The full enjoyment of life can be had in the summer.There is a lot of work to do, but so many hours of sunny days to play as well. Most of our time should be outside, working up a sweat, accomplishing all the tasks planned last winter, keeping your yard/gardens and home looking tidy..and then…all the fun activities. Now, there is plenty of time for a good balance of work and frivolity. BALANCE is the key, because, for all the potential for good times, heart attacks occur more in summer (on Monday mornings), than in any other season. WE too often forget the fun part and equally as important, we forget to change our diets again to fit the needs of the season.
Being vigorous in your garden work, remodeling plans or sporting activities is usually a mainstay of summer, but if you have continued the high fat/cooked/salty diet of winter..all year…the circulatory system will eventually become overloaded. Take care.
This is not the time to reflect much..get out and DO. Start diets, new routines, big projects, try new things, be with people (festivals and fairs are in the summer, partially because it is easier to travel, and because germs are less viable in warm/dry/air conditions). Enjoy your body, get moderate amounts of sun to build bones and clear lungs and keep your emotions on keel and build stamina.
Be merry..because tomorrow…there will be a nip of Fall in the air.
~ FALL ~
“In the autumn..earth scents and the sky winds and all the magic of the countryside which is ordained for the healing of the soul” ~ Monica Baldwin ~
The crispness of the fall air and the turning of the leaves is a favorite time of year for many. While we can see decline everywhere, there is a vibrancy that is unmatched–even in summer: sort of a last hurrah–and oh what a hurrah it is!
Fall foods are very distinctive full of flavor and richness. These are foods we have watched grow all summer, nurtured and cultivated–ones that provide high energy and a nice even level of warming to spur us on to get all the unfinished tasks of summer completed and enable us to batten down the hatches. This is the start of evaluation, pulling in, quieting down and hopefully, feeling some sort of satisfaction.
~ Whether you grow your own crops or have spent the year on some sort of meaningful work, this is a time of HARVEST–to reap what you have sown in all areas of your life. It is an old tradition to leave part of your harvest as thanks to the earth, but also as an act of charity…Thanks and Giving are really what everything is about in the end….which leads us to several large family gatherings (Thanksgiving/Chanukah/Christmas) before the cold of winter sets in.
~ Whether you pay attention to or participate in any one season’s unique aspects affects your wellbeing in EACH of the others…it is a matter of creating Balance vs. Imbalance. Taking care of each bit creates a whole/healthy/useful/satisfying life.
~ LIVING THE SEASONAL CYCLE ~
So the question is “Where do I begin putting all this information into practice?” Begin where you ARE! As you read this, remember that everything humans did was and continues to be informed and shaped by seasonal dependence–we just don’t always recognize it.
Crafts, rituals, cooking, art, medicine making, dance, animal husbandry, science, religious practice….none of these were seen as frivolous or optional, rather as necessary for life. Learning or re-learning ANY skill helps reconnect you to the seasonal cycles and to better understand others, our history, to access instincts, bodily cycles, and needs….and then..to healthier living as individuals and as a society.
Still, it sounds like a lot to process and make sense of, so start in your comfort zone of interests/abilities and try any one of the following: cook only local/seasonal meals, decide to celebrate all the holidays (holy days), learn a craft or experiment with a skill you already have by using natural materials, make beer/wine, raise livestock…the possibilities are endless…and addicting! When we begin investigating/learning and doing tasks the way our ancestors did, it becomes obvious WHY they did them and WHEN. Then, we can start to make sense of our modern life, see the value in integrating all aspects of life from the mundane to the frivolous and to let our lives flow with the natural cycle and not against it…to be PART, not APART.