Podcast Rhythms of Life

Dr. John Nieters L.Ac, DAOM, discusses

  • Winter – Rest/ hibernate. Sleeping 11-12 hours a night. Warm, hearty foods. Light/ moderate exercise
  • Spring – Green vegetables, high antioxidant, high fiber, sleep 8 hours, increase exercise/ move/ stretch.
  • Summer – Time to work on projects, Eat lightly, Minimal alcohol, hot spices, 5-8 hours of sleep.
  • Autumn – Finish projects, Red/ Yellow/ Orange vegetables, Retire near sunset/ rise with dawn, Take care of lungs, breathing exercises.

Podcast Show Notes:

00:00  Kathryn Black L.Ac: Hello, my name is Kathryn Black, from The Balancing Point. I am here with Dr. John Nieters. John, we have a few questions that patients have had regarding this time of the year. They’ve been coming in feeling very tired, just not feeling right, wondering if they’re coming down with something. And I’ve noticed you’ve been talking quite a bit about the seasons at this time and what that actually really means.

00:32  Dr. John Nieters L.Ac DAOM: Yeah, I’m going to give you a short answer. For people that just need a little pepping up, it’s like, no, this is not your fault kind of thing. And then I’m going to talk a little bit more about the Traditional Chinese ideas about this stuff. Now, one of the things to remember about the Chinese ideas of medicine, nutrition, et cetera – they’re phenomenally accurate.

You know, we live in a very xenophobic environment. If the American doctors didn’t discover it, it doesn’t exist kind of thing. Even foreign doctors are often dismissed. And so now that’s not to put anybody down. This is common in most fields. We’ll hear people talk about, well, look at the science. Well, that’s a stupid term. Yes. Because science isn’t a thing. Scientific method is a method of looking at the universe and a method of research. There isn’t actually any science as a thing, because science is never the truth. That’s not the point of science. The point is, you observe reality. You come up with a hypothesis. You test the hypotheses and you come up with the result. OK, that’s a scientific method. Then taking that result, you then start that process over and hopefully, eventually you get to something that’s useful and gives you a lot of information – accurate information about the universe.

And one of the things about the scientific method, if it’s accurate, it can always be replicated. You can always do the same methodology and come up with the same result. So the Chinese were doing the scientific method at least 2500 years ago. They just didn’t call it science. And so people say they weren’t scientific, but their observations were so brilliant. And I’m not Chinese. I have nothing to gain. I don’t think it’s a great medicine because I do it. I chose it because it’s great medicine.

Now, Western biomedicine has many advantages, you know, the surgical techniques, the drugs, et cetera. But Chinese medicine is still way ahead in many areas and people don’t really realize that. And so, for example, I probably have 100 – 150 diet books or exercise books, probably 200 to include exercise. And there’s a new one every week. And someone’s telling that they have the best diet plan. They have the best exercise plan. And of course, that’s total crap because everybody’s different. There is no right diet for everybody. There’s no right exercise program for everybody. There’s so many factors. But they’re selling books. And when people ask me, ‘well, where do you go for your information?’ I say, well, I read all this stuff. But ultimately I go back to the Huang Di Nei Jing, which was the Yellow Emperors classic of medicine. Now, there’s a lot of disagreement about when that was written 4000 years ago – 2000 years ago – 2500 years ago. I don’t know when it was written, but it’s been there a long time. And what’s extremely significant about it is, it was already a completely formed system. This was the entire system and it was being communicated. And that system is phenomenally accurate. I can’t think of anything that was written in there of any significance that hasn’t been proven the size of your organs, the way your energy circulates.

04:18  The Chinese mapped out the entire neurological system over twenty five hundred years ago, literally. In fact, I recommend anybody interested in that. I did a really fun talk at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in October of 2019. It’s actually the most popular talk I ever did. It was really kind of funny because I didn’t think it was very good, but I explained why acupuncture works and what the neurological basis of it is. And I went in to lots of history, including the fact that Otzi, the Iceman, the guy that was buried, they dug him up a few years ago. He was buried in the Italian Alps or the Austrian Alps. Six thousand years ago, Otzi, was getting acupuncture. He actually had the acupuncture meridians tattooed on his body and the acupuncture points. I took my son to the Smithsonian a couple of years ago where they have a big display about Otzi getting acupuncture. This is 6000 years ago, so who knows. 

05:23 But one of the things that they talked about was the fact that we developed to fulfill a particular niche. Like pandas, I’ve been told, can eat massive amounts of eucalyptus leaves. And that’s all they eat. I think it’s pandas. And they can live on that. No other animal can do that, but they develop because that’s what they had. And so human beings develop like all animals on the planet, to live with certain diets, with certain flows of energy, like bears. They hibernate up there. And there are other animals that hibernate because it saves calories. But almost all animals. And I say almost, I can’t think anybody that don’t, slow down in the winter. Their metabolism slows down so that they don’t burn as many calories so they can survive to make it through the winter. Humans are the same way. We have built-In mechanisms to slow down our metabolism. It’s just that we have forgotten the important fact that we’re animals and that we developed in rhythm with this planet. For example, 100 – 200 years ago. There’s no way I could have gone anywhere locally and eaten bananas. I probably couldn’t have gotten oranges. These are all seasonal fruit. And the fruit was maybe available for a couple of months at most, but usually a couple of weeks. And so we had very limited food supplies depending on the region we lived in. And most importantly, everything was seasonal. You know, in one time of year, you have a lot of vegetables and other time of year you have no vegetables. And our bodies were designed for that flow… That seasonal flow.

07:20  So in Chinese medicine, there are five branches, basically. One is acupuncture and moxibustion, which we know about, most people know about. And moxibustion is the same system. You’re just burning herbs over the points. And then they’re herbal formulations, which many people are familiar with. They’re over 10,000 formulas, insanely, insanely safe. There was just a study done at the Cleveland Clinic who has an herbal clinic now. They’re one of the top 5 hospitals in the country always. And they now have their own herbal clinic. And their first four hundred ninety nine thousand doses, they got 3 very minor side effects. They got a headache, skin itching and I think diarrhea. Yeah, you give 499,000 people aspirin and somebody is going to die. So this is phenomenally safe. And then we have body work, Tui Na massage, cupping, Gua Sha, things like that. Then energy work internal called Nei Gong an external called Qi Gong.

08:25  And then we have nutrition. Nutrition is a huge part of Chinese medicine. And the Chinese developed a system that was primarily based on color. Now, Western scientists would look at that go, that’s ridiculous. How do you based nutritional system on color? Yeah, very easily. Green plants have constituents in them that make them green. They’re high and chlorophyll. They’re high in other nutrients. They’re very cleansing. They have a lot of fiber. 

There’s a consistency to these green plants and it’s consistent that they come out in spring. The starts raining, the sun comes out and all these greens, we are supposed to consume massive amounts of green in the spring. Then the green dries up and we go into summer. If we go into fall, what’s available? You’ve got red, yellow, orange. All of those mean that they’re very high in beta carotene. Which turned into vitamin A, which protect the liver and the eyes from the dryness of the fall. Plus massive antioxidant content in those colors so that it’s protecting us from viral infections, etc.. So the short answer is yes. People are supposed to be tired in the winter. But every year, starting about November 15th, 90% of my patients will come in and say, ‘oh, my God, Doc, I don’t know, it’s a matter maybe I’m dying. I’ve never been this tired in my entire life. I can’t stay awake. I don’t want to do anything. I don’t have any motivation.’ We do electronic records now, but it was really fun when I did paper records because I would flip back my chart and I’ll go, Hey, Bob, you said exactly that same thing last November 15. And let me take a look here. Yeah. And the year before, on November 20th, you said exactly the same thing. Because people forget and in the winter, through a variety of mechanisms that when I get into a little bit longer, talk about this, are designed to slow down, shut down your metabolism so that you don’t burn too many calories in the winter. Because you need those calories to stay warm and get you through the through the winter.

10:59  If we go back to that book, I mentioned the Huang Di Nei Jing, which is the Yellow Emperors classic of medicine in that book, basically, there were two books. One is called The Su Win, which is the one I want to talk about. It was known as a fun question and answer format. So the emperor would say, ‘well, my dear Minister, why do people’s teeth fall out when they’re 40?’ And then one of the ministers and there are a variety of translations and they’re all not exact would say, ‘ah, yes, Emperor Huang Di, that’s the natural way of things.’ And they’d give an explanation. Well, chapter one is called The Universal Truth. That’s kind of a big title. I’m going to paraphrase, but Huang Di basically said, ‘Hey, Qi Bo, in olden times I’ve heard that people live to be 100 years or more and they were really healthy.’ And this was at a tough time in China a couple of 1000 years ago. So people are lucky if they live to be 50 and they’re worn out, their teeth fall out, they can’t have children, et cetera. What’s going on? Is it because of all the bad influences around us? Now, this is 2000 years ago. So they’re bad influences were a fraction of what we have right now. We’re bombarded with massive, grotesque amounts of electromagnetic energies. 84,000 chemicals have been dumped on us in the last hundred years. Only 25% of it ever been tested for safety. Many of them are deadly. In fact, you used to do a demo when you talk to people about detox and you had that remember that huge, huge bag of baking soda and you drop it on the floor and it was weighed 16 pounds and you’d say that’s how much of this toxic pesticide residues that you’re consuming every year, because that is the amount. And I love that demo that you did. It was like, oh, my people would gasp. But that means your body’s got to get rid of that 16 pounds on top of everything else that’s happening. 

And so that’s a reasonable question now. And he thought it was even reasonable then. But Qi Bo’s answers are interesting. And he basically said in the past, people practice the Dao usually spelled Tao, sometimes Dao, means the way – and here it means the way of life. It’s like if you want to have a long life, live this way. And it’s phenomenally accurate. When you look at Daoist’s, there was a guy who lived 256 years recently, just died. I don’t remember how many wives he had, but it was recorded, because it was in modern enough times that they recorded all of his children and all of his wives and he finally died at 256 years old.

Now that’s not normal, but it’s possible. And so he was a Daoist adapt who was really living that life. He said they understood the principles of yin and yang. Yin is the passive, solid elements of thing. It’s exactly the same as Einstein saying E=MC squared.

14:15  Energy, which is Yang, equals matter, which is yin, but just really speed it up. There’s some consonant that’s speeding it up. And that’s exactly what yin and yang is. Werner Heisenberg, who one of the most famous physicists of the last hundred years, and he’s the one who created binary language for computers and they had the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle about electrons. The rumor is when he got his Nobel Prize, he wore a Yin Yang T-shirt.

He said, ‘I didn’t create any of this, the Chinese did.’ What he’s saying is they understood how to balance. And here we see people that are either so sedentary that they aren’t developing themselves, they’re not putting any yang out or they’re so they’re burning the candle at both ends and they’re burning up there Yin. In the example, I use a lot of people, it’s like, well, if you look at a fireplace, the Yang is the heat, And then you’ve got Qi coming off, which is doing some things. But the yin is the firewood. That’s the matter that’s being burnt to create this yang. And I look at them and say, you burned up all your firewood and now you’re burning your furniture. Right, because they are they burned up all of their natural sources and now they’re living on the secretions from their adrenal glands and they’re running low on those. 

15:43  What he said is, they understood how to practice yin and yang. They created practices, something called Daoyin, which is a lot like yoga – posture’s breathing, stretching exercises. Yoga is great, but so is Daoyin, and they practice meditation to be in harmony with the universe. He said, so they lived very long lives and they ate a balanced diet. They ate seasonally. And they ate at regular times. So they didn’t grab a cup of coffee and an apple turnover and eat it on the run. Which destroys all of your digestive system doing that. They avoid it.

Now this was a time when people worked their butts off, but he’s saying they avoided overstressing their bodies and their minds. They worked hard. They working out in rice paddies, but then they relaxed. They didn’t come home and get on the Internet. They didn’t get involved in political arguments at night. They worked their butts off during the day and they came home and ate a nice meal and hung out with their families to balance that yin and yang. And they refrained from overindulgence. Basically, they lived in harmony with the seasons.

16:51  And so every animal, actually every I think organism, but I don’t know that for sure has rhythms that they live by. So we have daily rhythms. The Chinese laid out a body clock that showed when each organ was the most active and also when you could do the best treatments on them, when they would most receptive. And they were very accurate, extremely accurate. Now in the West, we have those same body clocks that have been mapped out.

We know that at certain times of day, the the blood pressure skyrockets the most at 6:45 in the morning, which is not coincidentally, when most heart attacks happen, around that time. Because people get up there in a hurry, they’re there, their blood pressure skyrockets and they have a heart attack.

But the highest time in general for the blood pressure is 6:00 in the evening. When I have people take their blood pressure at home, I’ll have them do them at least twice a day. I don’t have to do them every day, but I want to see how is it in the morning? How was it in the evening? Because that will give us a lot of information about what’s causing the high blood pressure. But we know that at certain times of the day, coordination is highest, concentration is highest at about 10:00 in the morning. So I urge my patients to get most of their heavy thought work done in the morning.

That’s why we’re doing this podcast now while my mouth still works more or less. And you have the fastest reaction time, though, is in the afternoon physical reaction time. So it’s very interesting. And there’s tons of stuff online about these circadian rhythms. The daily rhythms of life.

18:37  Now, we also have monthly rhythms with menstruating women. It’s a lot more obvious,  They’re going through a time with very low hormonal activity while they’re bleeding and then their estrogen picks up and then there’s a feed back to the pituitary gland. Estrogen falls because the FSH changes and then when it gets down to a minimum, then Luteinizing hormone kicks in, says ovary, pump out that egg. And then the progesterone goes up and that stays high about twelve days and then it drops.

And this happens every month, and it happens in relationship to lunar cycles. In fact, women who menstruate on an empty moon and who ovulate on a full moon are healthier, have fewer cancers, all the way down the line, are healthier. Because that’s what women were designed to do, was to be in synchrony. Not just individual women, the whole tribe would bleed at the same time. The whole tribe would have full moon festivals.

Those were fertility festivals. That’s when all the women were fertile. So they had these festivals. And so the whole tribe would be on those same schedules. And now it’s very haphazard. For example, women that do shift work or work at night have dramatically higher breast cancer risks because their estrogen cycles are so disorganized. So, again, these cycles now we can override them. We can override our daily cycles. You can get up at 2:00 in the afternoon and go to bed at 4:00, my son was doing that when he was home.

20:17  Yes, but you’ll find if people get into a rhythm where they’re getting up early, going to bed early or in general, tend, like Ben Franklin said, ‘early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’ Well, then we have annual seasonal things where our bodies change on an annual basis. And this is where seasonal eating and seasonal sleeping come into play. So that’s kind of what I most want to talk about here. There’s also a lifetime cycle.

20:48  Women are in Chinese medicine are considered to be on seven year cycles at around seven years old, all the teeth come in and the hair gets luscious. And then at 14 (now it’s way earlier, which is deadly), women would start to menstruate. At 21, they had reached really peak physical levels. And it goes on every seven years. On men it’s eight year cycles. And anyone who’s been around teens and young adults knows that women physically and mentally are way ahead of men or at least a year ahead on all of these phases.

And so the Chinese realize that. And still today, retirement ages are different for men than women because their hormonal levels are different. But anyway, I’m not going to get into that too much. But what I want to talk about is seasonal living. So we’re just about through with the winter. We’re getting close, but it’s still winter. And winter is the time when almost all animals rest or hibernate. Human beings are no different.

That’s one of the silver linings of COVID that we’re in. People didn’t travel all over the world visiting family in winter and then come home and get very sick, get flu and colds, etc. I’m not saying any colds or flu because people are not doing that. They’re staying home. They’re being quiet. They’re being with their loved ones. There was some friends, you know, there talking. And that’s what winter is for. It’s for that quiet socialization. And also it’s the time to look inward. Should never start new projects in the winter. The winter you can do planning. You can assess what you did last year. You can say, ‘oh, in the spring, I want to do this.’ You never start a diet in December. Well, it will not work. And so it’s really the time for introspection. But even more importantly, it’s the time to bring warmth to the internal organs.

22:57  So during the summer, if you’re out in the sun, you’re getting massive amounts of energy. There’s the solar energy cycles, there’s the Earth’s energy cycle that are giving you really positive energy. The sun itself is giving you positive energy. And you’re getting energized.

During the winter, you were an energy donor. So if you’re outside and you’re at 98 degrees and it’s 30 degrees outside, energy only goes in one direction. It goes from high to low. So you are actually heating the universe, particularly the air around you. You’re heating it. So it takes a huge amount of your energy to do that. So during the winter, you’re an energy donor and you want to minimize that.

So, for example, in terms of tea, I always like to look at tea for these things. This is a time that Earl Grey tea, black tea, strong teas, but Earl Grey having those warming, cardamom and bergamot, those herbs that bring the warmth to the center, they don’t make you perspire. They bring the heat internally. Ginger would be another kind of in between, but somewhat. And so those are the teas or the drinks. You always want to drink warm, but you should drink very warm in the winter. Moderate – light exercise. It’s not the time to do heavy exercise. Your blood is thick. It’s going to clot easily. It’s heart attack season. So people who go out and shovel the snow off their cars die at an amazingly high rate. I mean, it’s just the easiest way to have a heart attack. So it’s not the time for heavy exercise. Move, move, stretch. Do that stuff to keep your blood moving. Food should be very hearty and always warm. This is not the season for salads at all. It takes energy to heat for your digestive system to break down the vegetable. To be able to absorb them, so you want to cook your vegetables, hearty foods, if you eat meat, eat meat some some some grains, but cook them and beans, really hearty foods.

25:13  But the one that really tears people up is sleep. Human beings are designed. And when I say designed, I mean, if you look at their hormonal daily fluctuations and annual fluctuations. They are designed to go to sleep an hour to two hours after sunset and get up about an hour before sunrise. So traditionally, even in the Renaissance, people couldn’t stay up. they had candles,  You don’t want to waste your candles.

So the sun went down at five o’clock. You were asleep at 7:00pm. Sun came up at 7:00am. You get up at 6:00am. And that’s what the body was designed for. And so in the middle of winter, people should be in bed for 11 to 12 hours because we have 14 hours of darkness.

People look at me like, are you insane? I said I used to be insane. I used to fight that all the time. Now I’m in bed for 10 – 11 hours and I feel great. 

26:16  So anyway, so that’s winter. It’s the time to go internal. Now we’re coming up on spring, which is great. This is where you start new projects. Everything is green. The sun’s coming out. It’s beautiful. The air’s fresh. It’s warm enough that you’re not giving up huge amounts of your energy. It’s the time to cleanse. You’ve had all these heavy foods during the winter. So you want lots of greens which have high chlorophyll content, a lot of fiber, and they’re going to just clean you out.

For tea, you’d want a green tea. It’s very it’s extremely beneficial to prevent illness and also because of the high antioxidant content. And it’s a little cooler, a lot cooler, actually, than the black teas. So that’s the time of green tea. Winter is the time to practice going internal meditative spring is the time of equanimity. You want to practice mindfulness. 

Because spring, although it’s a time of a lot of growth, is also a time of anger and frustration. It’s the time of the liver and the liver will get agitated and it wants what it wants and it wants it yesterday. And so a little time spent in equanimity. Slowing down when you’re talking to people a little bit so you don’t get carried away. And now you don’t need as much sleep. Because the days are getting longer, maybe eight hours again, one to two hours after sunset, an hour before sunrise.

27:53  And so the Chinese would say early to bed and early to rise. You still going to bed early, but you can get up earlier in the winter. It’s early to bed, late to get up. And so now we’re starting to stretch this out. Now you can exercise more, you can do a little heavier exercise, just build into it slowly because your blood still going to be a little bit sludgy.

28:18  Getting into summer now. It’s hot, depending on where you live. But in most places it’s hotter. And so this is a time when you can put all of your attention and energy onto projects. You can work hard all day and still socialize in the afternoon. In the evening. And so this is a time when you might find new friends or do bigger social gatherings. 

It’s a time when you can do more hours of work. Projects should really predominate in some way, whether it’s your family doing projects and vacations, et cetera, or whether it’s your work, your job. And this time you want to eat really lightly. That’s one of the keys with the summer eat light. Small portions, lighter foods, soups, things like that. Minimal alcohol. Alcohol’s way harder on the system during the summer because alcohol is very heating. Going out for a two martini lunch with a steak and potatoes, you just might drop dead by summer.

29:29  In the winter you’d be OK, but not in the summer. You want hear the chilies and spices to make you perspire. The Mexican spices, the southern South American spices that bring everything to the surface, make your face red, sweat running down everything. Because that’s going to cool you off.  Now it’s late to bed and early to rise during the summer. I might get like I said, I’m right now getting about 11 hours, but in the summer, I’m rarely in bed after four o’clock. So I need a lot less sleep and I feel just as good. The summer is the time to practice enjoy. It’s the time of the heart. And this is when you want to really open, like I said, maybe even meet new friends, go on vacations to see loved ones, things like that. So it’s time to open your heart and experience joy.

30:27  Fall getting colder again. The crops are all in. So you start to gather and prepare. It’s a time when you want to finish most of your projects and some of them may linger into the winter. But mostly you want to have your projects, like if you’re going to open a new office somewhere, you do that in the spring and you work your butt off in the summer and in the fall, you finish kind of all the touches and in the winter you just kind of sit back and enjoy, So you want to eat seasonally again, red, yellow, orange vegetables again, high in antioxidants, high in beta carotene, they protect you.

31:07 This is a time you’d probably want to drink an oolong tea or a Pu-erh which are in between a green and a black. So they’re slightly the enzymatic process is allowed to go for a little while, but not as long as black tea. And so it doesn’t heat you as much. You get a little warmth, but it’s not going to overheat you. The fall is the season of the lungs in Chinese medicine. We call the lungs the repository of grief. So you want to really protect your lungs.

So again, lots of those good quality vegetables I recommend. Also white foods, a lot of mushrooms. Mushrooms are very good for the lungs. Garlic prevents infections. So red, orange, yellow and white is what I would see a lot of for the lungs. And this is a time when you want to do a lot of breathing exercises. Because you want to help the lungs stay open again. Movements, fine. You can still exercise fairly hard, but just start to taper that off a little bit toward the winter.

Retire near sunset and rise with the dawn. So it’s kind of in between there, you’re going to bed earlier than summer and not as early as winter. And if you live that way, I promise you’ll feel better.

This whole idea of the best diet we’ll get into soon. But I mean, just think about it logically. You’ve got age differences.

32:39  You got infants who need to eat differently than teens, who eat differently than menstruating women, who need to eat differently than men doing a physical job. You’ve got different energy requirements. You’ve got someone who sits on their rear end of the job versus a professional football player versus a professional bike rider who might need 8000 calories a day and still be skinny as a rail. To get the guy at the office eating 8000 calories a day, they’re not going to be able to get out of their chair.

33:09  So, again, different energy requirements, hormonal differences. So sex is an issue in terms of which foods are best at supporting different hormonal levels. Gut health. Can you actually metabolize and absorb the food that you’re getting? Genetics? You know, we do a lot of genetic testing and we see so many genetic anomalies that refer to how people should eat. You know, I have patients that, you know, I mentioned the red, yellow and orange vegetables.

Well, we see patients who can’t convert the beta carotenoids to Vitamin A, and they need to get direct vitamin A. And we see this across the board, different issues. So everybody needs a different diet. And then you’ve got allergens. You know, some are born with and some are acquired.

33:57 So we will get into best diet, I promise everybody, because we’re going to do a about an hour long program soon introducing what’s often called detoxification. That’s OK, because there is some of that going. But it can also be a little misleading. So we can call it a flush, you can call it whatever. But we’re going to talk about that and then about food requirements and kind of best diets for different people.

34:26  And we’re not doing that yet because it’s not time to do it. That’s a spring time cleaning. You don’t want to start that January 1st. I know. I mean, it’s like the Lunar New Year. Starts the second week in February. That’s when we should consider New Year’s resolutions. It’s like you want to do a detox, you want to do a diet. Start with the Lunar New Year. Well, thank you everybody for tuning in. And thank you for Kathryn for moderating and get everything together here.

And we’ll be back next week with another show. Thank you. 


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Western Perspective, Integrative and Functional Medicine. 

The Balancing Point health radio talk show about Traditional Chinese Medicine, supplements, nutrition, and more.  Host Dr. John Nieters, acupuncturist and health educator.  http://www.thebalancingpoint.net

Inspired by this podcast to take action in your life? Visit Alameda Acupuncture.

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