Inner Spring Cleaning

Gary Piscopo, ND, LAc 

The season of Spring is one of renewed activity and energy. After the long winter, people are inspired to clean out their dwellings and beginning tending to their lawns and gardens. The most influential book in Chinese medicine, the Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen (“Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine”) has this to say about the Spring:

“The breaths of Heaven and Earth are prepared to give birth; thus everything is developing and flourishing…During this period, the body should be encouraged to live…one should reward (it) and not punish (it).”

Just as it is appropriate to attend to one’s external world during the season of Spring, it is also appropriate to attend to one’s inner world. Though people in the West like to propose changes to their lifestyle at the beginning of the calendar year, it is well know that such New Year’s
resolutions rarely last. This is understandable, since the Wintertime is not conducive to such changes. To assist with the process of “inner spring cleaning”, it may be helpful to have a sort of plan, just like a homeowner might have a plan concerning the sequence of rooms to clean in their house when doing regular spring cleaning.

The Four Pillars

A model I have found helpful in this regard is called the Four Pillars. Based on my studies of Chinese and naturopathic medicine, the Four Pillars represents the foundational aspects of personal health. It may be helpful to think of each Pillar as an inner space one can step into in order to assess if it needs “cleaning”. While I have listed the Pillars in numerical fashion, this does not imply that one is more important than another. They work together and all of them are necessary,
just like bathroom is not more important than a kitchen … well, at least most of the time.

1. Sleep: the importance of a good night’s sleep continues to be well documented in the scientific medical literature, which recommends at least 8 hours of sleep for the average adult. Sleep problems are thought to contribute to many disorders, including fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. In Chinese medicine, the Shen or Mind is not found in the brain but is rooted in the Heart. If the Heart is healthy, the Mind will be properly rooted and sleep will be sound. If the Heart is disturbed by stress, chemical toxins, or other pathogenic influences, then sleeping will be disturbed. One way to ensure a good night’s sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene. This involves activities like decreasing caffeine, going to bed at the same time each night, and not doing stimulating activities such as bathtub waterskiing
within four hours of your bedtime. Making good choices around the quality and quantity of your sleep, the first Pillar, is probably one of the more important things you can do for your health.

2. Diet: it is clear to most people how important diet is to their health and well being. Choices around the amount of processed vs organic food, the amount of fruits and vegetables, and the amount of water intake have a critical impact on long-term physiological function. From the perspective of Chinese medicine, each food is assigned a different flavor, of which there are five: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or pungent. One of the goals of a good diet is to have a balance of these different flavors, as each one affects a different organ. As the Spring is related to the Gan or Liver, having slightly more sour foods, such as lemons, can be helpful. Mild detoxification and fasting can also be useful.

3. Lifestyle: the third Pillar encompassing a range that is well beyond the scope of this small article. Lifestyle has to do with the choices you make about the way you live your life. As such, it has to do with areas as diverse as how much exercise you do, what kind of habits you encourage, how you manage your finances,
the quality of your relationships, and so on. Inner spring cleaning in this area has to do with appraising the quality of your decisions and assessing if they are contributing to the type of lifestyle you desire. A excellent resource in this regard is the book/tape “Yes or No?” by Spencer Johnson, MD.

4. Mind: one of the real advances of the last century, beginning with Freud, was the breakthrough in appreciating the influence of our mental perspectives on our health. This Pillar encompassing things like your belief system, your coping skills, and your subconscious motivations. There are many, many resources that can assist you in “cleansing” this area, should you judge this necessary.

Done properly, inner spring cleaning can be just as rewarding as the regular kind. Best of all, you never need a dust pan.