Spring, scarves, and stomachs

By Mary Beth Ladenheim

It’s no secret that as people start to sense the arrival of spring, they go a little nuts. As an acupuncturist, I believe there’s a physical reason for that. People are directly connected to the natural world. As the world unfurls itself from winter to create new life, we get revved up. Springtime in the acupuncture clinic brings an array of maladies borne of that special recklessness.

The resultant pathology depends on the person’s own tendencies. I, for one, used to herald the coming of spring with an injury, literally launching myself into obstructions in my haste to get out in the not-warm-enough-yet weather. In addition to sprains and strains, the typical spring ailment hovers in the head cold/sore throat/allergies/headache range.

A simple – but remarkably effective – way to stay well in the spring is to downgrade to a light scarf and hat. People too quickly discard scarves and hats in favor of the weather to come, rather than the weather that is. This leaves vulnerable acupuncture points on the head and neck open to spring’s moody and invasive weather.

The system responsible for defending the body from all forms of injury has its root in the stomach qi. So one of the best things we can do to stay well is to eat well. When we eat in a non-nourishing way, our defensive qi suffers and we cannot function at our optimum levels. A variety of problems arise. We might have a hard time focusing and creating. Our bodies could fail to fight off illness, or won’t fully heal. Maybe we chew thoughts over in our minds without ever fully digesting and releasing them.

Chinese medicine has its own particular guidelines about what, how, and when to eat. The guidelines are not based on nutrient content, but rather on the idea that everything in the world has a nature: I do, you do, iron does, and so does a chicken. When things interact – which they do whether or not we recognize it – stuff happens, usually in the form of a change. What happens when I eat a spoonful of almond butter depends on the interaction of my overall nature, the almond butter, and the conditions we’re in. It is not necessarily the same thing that happens when someone else eats almond butter – even in the same conditions.

What this boils down to is that there’s more to eating well than assimilating healthy ingredients. If you gathered everything listed in a pancake recipe and ate each ingredient one-by-one, you could not be said to be eating pancakes. Something happens when we combine the right ingredients in the right conditions. Suddenly there are pancakes where before there were none.

Eating well means eating regularly – but not constantly. It means eating cleanly – but not neurotically. It means feeding your whole body through your stomach – not just pleasing your taste buds. It means feeling incredible.

This article was originally published as Healthy spring: an acupuncturist’s view in the Spring 2013 edition of The Co-Optimist, a publication of Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op. It appears here with permission.


  1. Dreama Katt says:

    This concept of how we rush to greet spring fits an unusual pattern of spring injuries for me–how humorous and TRUE! Never thought of it this way before, thanks for the wake up call to being more mindful. What food for thought! Thank you.

    1. MBH says:

      Thanks, Dreama! Most of my experiences with recognizing patterns have been humorous, too. Maybe that’s a choice? But man, it cracks me up.

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