Yin deficiency signs are pretty clear:
- flushing face
- night sweats
- hot flashes
- dry throat
- racing thoughts when you try to go to bed at night
- sore back
- ringing ears/tinnitus
You know what this sounds like? Menopause. Or for some women, menstruation. Or others just…life.
You see, women are mostly yin. We are yin to the masculine yang. So yin deficiency tends to be a bit more obvious in us. Maybe that’s why in my practice this recipe is the one I tend to recommend the most.
So why is it that this simple tonic can be so helpful for women? Read on.
How women age
People age. It’s a fact of life and no amount of needles, herbs or pharmaceuticals is going to change that. So for natural medicine practitioners it becomes a matter of how we age and what we can do about easing each transition.
Men and women age differently and as they age they encounter different hormonal and physical issues. In fact, the Nei Jing goes into detail about our age cycles and how it impacts us at each phase of our life.
For a woman, her kidney energy becomes prosperous when she is seven, as kidney determines the condition of the bone and teeth are the surplus of bone, her milk teeth fall off and the permanent teeth emerge…Nei Jing Su Wen, Chapter 1
According the the Nei Jing, women enter their cycles at seven and continue through life in cycles of seven.
At age 14 the Nei Jing states that a healthy woman will begin her period. At 21, when our wisdom teeth have grown in we are considered a normal adult. At 28 we are at the height of jing, qi and blood and our whole body is “flourishing”. This is considered when our body is at its strongest.
By 35 the Nei Jing says we begin to decline gradually. We start to lose hair and develop wrinkles. At 42 our hair lightens and by 49 we’ve exhausted our Tiangui – the substance that governs our reproductive ability and menstruation and we enter menopause.
Men begin at 8 and go through life in cycles of 8. They age more slowly and can reproduce longer. But don’t be jealous. Women age gracefully through a decline of yin. Men age through a depletion of jing, meaning it’s sudden – one year they’re fine and rolling along and the next their back hurts all the time and they have arthritic knees.
So where women at 49:
…(turn) old and feeble, and by then, she can no longer conceive.Huang Di Nei Jing
For men at 48, they lose their kidney energy and become tired and cold. At 56 their tendons become rigid and “fail to act so nimbly” and at 64:
The debility of kidney cause the weakness of the tendons and bones. Thus, at this stage, his essence and vital energy turn to the utmost decline, his teeth fall off and every part of his body becomes decrepit.Huang Di Nei Jing
No wonder my herbs teacher said he’d rather age like a woman – sooner in life, but more gracefully.
But remember – all of these cycles, for men or women, depend on you living an average and healthy life. If you live an exemplary life (according to the Nei Jing) you can lengthen these cycles. And if you wear yourself out? You can easily shorten them. And that’s where the modern Western woman gets into trouble.
Yin deficiency is a warning
When I was in school we weren’t explicitly trained to think of yin deficiency as a condition for older women but it was heavily implied. But in my clinical practice I’ve been seeing it and younger and younger women.
Qi is function. It’s how we function and the function of our body. If we have a hard day and we go to bed tired we have a minor qi deficiency that can be treated simply with rest. If we keep pushing ourselves and denying ourselves appropriate sleep we have to turn to diet to fix the deficiency.
Food and the air we breathe are combined to create zong qi. If we eat an appropriate diet we can rebuild our body even with mild sleep deprivation. Especially if we’re breathing right, or exercising moderately.
If we aren’t eating, breathing and sleeping right, things go downhill quickly. Because we keep pushing our bodies we start to dig deeper and deeper into our foundation until eventually we’re tapping our kidneys to make it through the day. As I’ve mentioned before, our kidneys not only govern reproduction, they govern our aging. By recruiting our kidneys we pull from our foundation. For women, this means we deplete our kidney yin before moving into jing.
In our Type A, sympathetic dominant go-go-go world this is happening with younger women. This leads to things like infertility issues from irregular cycles, painful and delayed labor, premature menopause, and thyroid issues.
But while yin deficiency is a red flag and should be taken seriously, there’s a silver lining – you haven’t tapped your jing yet. And according to Dr. Lia Andrew’s “Three Golden Opportunities” theory you have multiple chances to recover. But you don’t have to wait until your next menstrual cycle to start treating yourself. You can do it today with a consult with an acupuncturist and a trip to the grocery store.
Yin tonifying water
Before I get into the recipe and why it works I would like to emphasize that you should talk to an acupuncturist first. Most people do not have only one pattern and treating your yin deficiency at home could make other issues worse.
Do not try this recipe if you get bloated after you eat, have post-nasal drip or issues with loose stool or diarrhea.
A refreshing, yin tonifying beverage
- 1/2 lemon or lime
- 750 ml water or 3 cups – one average camelback or nalgene bottle
- 1-3 tsp honey
Wash lemon or lime and cut however you fancy
Put fruit in a water bottle
Fill with water
Add honey, cover bottle and shake until honey is dissolved
Twice throughout day refill water bottle without replacing fruit or honey
Compost/discard fruit at end of the day
Yeah, it’s that simple. So easy and yet this is my most commonly prescribed recipe in all my years of practice. Traditionally it is only done with lemon. Lemon is energetically cold and sour. It promotes the circulation of qi and blood and clears heat (hot flashes!!). However, I think you’ll notice that I made my water with lime. The reason requires going a little bit more deeply into food therapy theory.
Yin tonification comes from combining sour and sweet, preferably through something energetically cold. Lemons do this really well. But limes are also cold and sour. They enter the same channels (meaning they effect the same categories of function) as lemons – Gallbladder, Liver, Kidney, Lung and Spleen. And they have the same functions – the circulation of qi and blood and clearing heat. The difference is in the color.
Green, or qing is the color of the liver. Because our society is so sympathetic dominant (fight/flight all the time) I see a lot of liver kindey yin deficiency instead of straight kidney yin deficiency. So women come in stressed, anxious, with low milk supply and back pain for their postpartum treatments. Or their periods are painful, irregular, with clotted menses and intense emotional swings. Or their menopause symptoms are out of control.
Using lime helps treat that liver blood deficiency and the liver qi stagnation at the same time as the kidney yin deficiency.
Also limes taste better. But that’s just my opinion.
Honey, if you remember from the lactation boosting post, is sweet to help other foods and herbs tonify but also aids in their moistening functions. Yin deficiency is hot and dry. Honey helps keep the sour citrus from pulling away too much moisture.
So there you have it! A simple recipe to help you boost your yin. Even if you don’t need it now, file it away or pin it somewhere because chances are you have a lady friend who will.
Wondering if yin tonification is right for you? Click below to schedule today!
Resources and Links
Qi? Jing? Yin? Check out this post for an explanation of basic TCM terms
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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