5 Changes for our health

Interview with Katarzyna Jaszczyk-Grska, an enthusiast and trainer of 5 Elements cooking and Chinese medicine.

Natalia: What I always liked about the Chinese tradition, is its predilection for the word ?change.? We have I-Cing, the ancient Chinese oracle called the Book of Changes, cooking based on 5 Elements (also called phases, forces, changes). It seems that the Chinese have for a long time observed the cyclical nature of life on the Earth and tried to follow the changes?

Kasia: Yes, the Chinese observed carefully what?s going on in nature and were aware of the cycles as well as the fact that everything is in a continuous process of change; it is even said that change is the only constant. According to the traditional Chinese medicine the human being is a part of nature and living by its laws is one of the basic conditions to staying healthy. It should manifest through cooperation with different natural cycles, like seasons or phases of the Moon.

What then is the role of the doctor? To teach people cooperation with these rhythms?

TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) is a preventive medicine. The role of the doctor boils down to education, making the patient aware which lifestyle and diet best support their health. One aspect of education is recommending life in accordance with the seasons, the daily rhythm and, in the case of women, their menstrual cycle.

Why did you take up Chinese medicine?

I discovered TCM while looking for alternative methods of treating allergies. I was in a way forced by the helplessness of the western medicine and unimpressive effects of years of ?treatment? and desensitisation. Afters years and years of dependence on frequent visits at the doctor?s and taking drugs I relished in the perspective of independence and taking matters in my own hands. 8 years ago in the autumn I changed my diet and since its effects in reference to allergy became visible already in the following spring I began to go deeper into this knowledge. I?ve been doing it until now and I suppose that?s the way it will stay...

In descriptions of the Chinese medicine we usually encounter such terms like Yin and Yang, energy Qi. Could you explain them?

TCM comes from tao philosophy, in which the concept of Yin and Yang is the basic theory explaining all phenomena taking place in the world and, through analogies, in the human body.

It speaks about two principles, energies, which on the one hand are opposing but on the other complementary ? the existence of one is the condition for the existence of the other. The basic element of this theory is continuous process of change: Yin into Yang and Yang into Yin. It is hard for our western minds, accustomed to rigid definitions, to grasp the full meaning of this theory . In the Chinese philosophy we think through analogies, there are no rigid definitions, so it is impossible to define Yin and Yang with western standards. Something is Yang in relation to something else, e.g. in diet and nutrition, which are my field, vegetables are Yin and meat is Yang, thus carrot is Yang in relation to meat, but within vegetables it?s Yin compared to, say, tomato.

You also mentioned Qi. It refers to life energy and it is a very important factor differentiating the Chinese diet and medicine from the western one. Energy, Qi, fills our body and flows through energetic channels called meridians in the 24-hour rhythm. Each organ in the body has its own meridian. Free, undisturbed flow of energy in the body ensures balance and thus health. It is mostly living in harmony with the rhythms present in nature that allows us to preserve the balance of energy in our body.

Where does the name 5 Elements cooking come from? What are these elements?

Five Elements is the second important theory describing the processes in the Universe. Observing nature, the Chinese identified five phases or forces (energy fields), most often referred to as elements. They are representative of the seasons: spring, summer, late summer, autumn, winter; or stages in life: childhood, youth, adulthood, maturity, old age. In each phase, as well as each season, different lifestyle and diet are most favourable. 5 Elements cooking is most commonly associated with adding a dish?s ingredients in a certain order. Such understanding is an oversimplification because in 5 Elements cooking it is equally important what ingredients and spices we use and how we prepare them. For this we need knowledge about the energetic and thermal properties of products. Moreover, different products and methods of their preparation are suitable for different seasons. The 24-hour rhythm is important as well ? for instance even foods cooked in the right way won?t do us good if we eat them too late. By following these rules we can adapt the diet to our body?s needs.

Five Elements correspond also to our body organs and cooking in the right order serves the purpose of nourishing them, strengthening the ones which need support and making the food easier to digest and absorb.

What can this approach offer women?

If we are aware of the properties of products and the effects of different preparation techniques, we can use them to adapt our diet before and after menstruation in order to prevent any unpleasant symptoms prior to and disturbances during the menstruation, and then to strengthen the body afterwards. With the right diet we can also very effectively help women recover after giving birth. Proper diet is also beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of menopause in older women.

According to the Chinese medicine, what is the role of menstruation?

Menstruation is one of the cycles in the woman?s body. Just like the Moon waxing and waning, like the seas? high and low tides - similarly the uterus fills with blood every month and, when conception doesn?t occur, the blood is disposed of and the body repeats the whole process.

This exchange of blood gives the woman?s body an additional way of purifying ? all that is no longer necessary is removed with the menstrual blood. According to the Chinese medicine, before the start of menstruation, all the body?s energy is directed to accumulating the blood in the uterus and then disposing of it, together with all the unnecessary things. Thus a perceptible fall of energy before and during menstruation. Respecting it by allowing the body to rest and limiting activity at this time is crucial for the woman?s health. Also, correct diet before and during menstruation supports the body and doesn?t increase its workload.

Is there anything we should avoid before or during menstruation?

A very important aspect of cooperating with the cycle is awareness that during menstruation our energy is down, the immune system is weaker and so we are more exposed to outside influences. It is crucial to protect the body from wet and cold ? avoid swimming or cold showers, keep feet warm, refrain from washing hair or be extra careful when doing it.

Protecting ourselves from wet and cold is especially important during puberty ? it will prevent from painful menstruations. If we don?t pay attention to it, cold can penetrate into the liver meridian and it may result in cramps in the abdomen, cysts on the ovaries and prolonged menstrual cycles.

What are the general rules of a healthy diet?

Generally speaking, such a diet is based on:

-prevalence of (preferably home-)cooked food without artificial additives

-using local, seasonal products

-following the rule: ?Eat breakfast like a king and dinner lika a pauper?

-eating slowly, in a nice atmosphere and with pleasure

Thank you for our conversation!

Katarzyna Jaszczyk-Grska ? has been studying the Chinese medicine for 7 years. She began from a course in nutrition and she applied its principles in her own household. For 6 years she has been learning the Chinese medicine from teachers of the Avicenna Institut. She completed a 4?year course of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) run by Matthias Hunecke and has been continuing her education at a 4?year course of Differential Diagnosis run by Claude Diolosa. She took part in several short courses, among them Gynecology in TCM (C. Diolosa) and the Four Pillars of the Body ? about Chinese herbs. Since 2007 she has been conducting cooking workshops: ?Benefit from the Food?s Energy.? She is willing to share her knowledge with people who enjoy cooking, who want to take proper care of themselves and their close ones and are open to changing their eating habits.

Soon another interview with Kasia about TCM?s methods of preventing and dealing with menstrual cycle?s anomalies.

 
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