Dec 4, 2013
As a healer and a teacher I always need to be aware of how much I am giving away professionally and how much I am receiving personally. I’ve taught yoga for long enough that I know there are periods of time when I’m depleted and my teaching is static. Other times I’m on fire with new ideas and teaching nourishes me. As with any job it waxes and wanes.
But over the years I’ve discovered that if I make the practice of receiving be equally important in my life I have so much more to give. In order to keep teaching yoga I need to take really good classes where I get to be the student and be wowed by a flow sequence or how good a posture feels. In order to be a successful acupuncturist I need to get regular acupuncture and bodywork to make my body strong and keep my mind clear. In order to hold the healing stories of my patients, I also need good friends who listen to my life stories and witness my journeys.
What I am getting at is the concept of purposeful, deliberate Receiving. How can we balance the depletion with the refilling this holiday season?
5 Ways to Practice Receiving
1. Nourishment: An easy way to receive this holiday season is by enjoying the treats. The next time you get a sugar craving or need a carb fix think about what would be the most nourishing and enjoyable treat. Spend the extra money for quality ingredients and take the time to get exactly what it is you want. Once you have finished getting that treat, take more time to savor it fully. Don’t enjoy a treat while in the midst of a deep conversation or while watching television. Make that treat the full show and let the tastes and sensations of indulging be the nourishment.
2. Appreciation of Communal Time: The people we get to see around the holidays are often the people we don’t get to see on a daily basis. Really receive their presence by engaging in quality conversations and activities. Hear how they are doing and be honest and specific about how you are doing. Allowing yourself to have a full connection with loved ones in the midst of a hectic season can be very filling and replenishing. Avoid counting the minutes until your next activity or responsibility and be fully present at each engagement.
3. Celebrate the Alone Time: Even the best extroverts need alone time in December. Don’t trade out your weekly yoga class for holiday shopping with your best friend if you know that hour class is the only thing keeping you sane. Sticking to your usual routine or even increasing your wellness routine during December may be a much needed gift to yourself all month long. Take advantage of discounts and treat yourself to a little pampering to show up at holiday parties looking healthy, rested and peaceful.
4. Get Creative: Just because your favorite recipe calls for white flour, processed sugar and tons of shortening doesn’t mean you have to use it year after year. The internet is a wealth of information on how to make everything taste delicious with whole grains, less dairy, less or no sugar and higher quality ingredients. Check out some of my favorites cooking websites Smitten Kitchen, Nourished Kitchen, Crazy Sexy Wellness, Oh She Glows, and Nourishing Gourmet.
5. Rest: We can find rest in unexpected places if we appreciate it fully. The next time you are waiting in line or being put on hold close your eyes and rest. Take a mini savasana in the grocery store, or at your desk. Just close your eyes let your whole body relax and appreciate the stillness of not doing anything, not accomplishing anything. All the sudden you will want the line to move slowly or for that hold music to keep playing in the background.
WoH December Specials are posted on our facebook fan page. Like us to find out more info.
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Nov 20, 2013
I have this new rule for blogging. If I hear of something more than 4 or 5 times from my patients in a two-week period I write about it. Call me silly, but this whole sharing a universe thing makes me think we are subject to the same twists and turns of fate. So today I’m sitting down to write about anniversaries.
Growing up I knew of two anniversaries, my parents’ wedding anniversary and the anniversary of their first date. Being the romantics that they are (and the fact that they dated for six year before marriage) they celebrate both every year. As I got older I realized they secretly observed their late mothers’ birthdays without talking about it. As I got older still I started noticing how some dates were so important that the arrival of the date the next year made us think about the year prior and sometimes we could almost relive that same stress or joy.
It wasn’t until I started doing work supporting survivors of sexual assault that I learned about anniversaries. Among trauma specialists of any kind, there is a notion that the body remembers trauma in the season and sometimes even the week of the anniversary of the trauma. It can just be the basic feeling sad and remembering, or it can be a really strong psychosomatic flare-up. Old symptoms that have been long gone suddenly reappear with a resurgence that matches original intensity.
As a health care provider I have to be mindful of the anniversaries I do know about and be inquisitive when I see symptoms reappearing without reason. Living in the Pioneer Valley and working with the patient population I do, my patients usually have done the work and know which seasons are hard for them. So if there is that level of self-knowledge it is my job not only to hear their worries, but to also hold and validate that the “anniversary effect” is quite real and they need to take extra care of themselves when their time comes around.
As an acupuncturist when an anniversary rolls in for one of my patients I’m on the look out for an increase in pain levels from an old car accident, increased anxiety or depression if there is any history of trauma or abuse and less obvious (but equally important) an increase in grieving when there is a loss of a loved one or a history of divorce.
Most of the time what a patient needs around a difficult anniversary is permission to temporarily change their life a little. Is it okay to take the day off of work and do something fun and positive? Is it okay to be extra tired and/or emotional in this difficult time? Is it okay to need to reach out to families and friends ahead of time and ask for some gentle encouragement and support? Yes, Yes, Yes!
In the same way every year we like to celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries, it is also important to honor the healing process from challenging anniversaries.
Our bodies remember things like weddings, first dates, birthdays of loved ones, important events, old injuries or accidents, work starting dates, getting fired dates, death dates, surgery dates, and so on and so forth. Even in the midst of a high stress situation (whether positive or negative) the body is inundated with sensory stimulus.
I still remember the afternoon heat on my back walking to the church on the day of my wedding, the feel of the evening drizzle on my bare arms as we walked home together at the end of our reception. I remember the taste and smell of our lavender wedding cake, the delicious local bread and the array of colors in the bouquets friends brought to adorn the church during the ceremony. I remembered all that and so much more even though I was peaceful, relaxed and joyful the whole day. Imagine what your body is capable of experiencing, even subconsciously, when the body goes into fight or flight mood and all senses are heightened.
If you don’t believe me try this exercise, take a moment today and just walk outside and experience this November day. Feel the crisp autumn wind, watch the bare trees moving with the wind, hear the crunch of the leaves beneath your feet and just let the body remember some of your November memories. See how much is there. Without very much effort you probably can drop into several different ages and though you might not come across anything other than moments in your life (in this season) when you were mindful, you might bump into some old memories that are long lost and worth remembering.
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Nov 13, 2013
One of my favorite aspects of Chinese Medicine (there are so many to love) is the theory on getting sick. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in germ theory. We all have to in this world of epidemics and infections. But the best epidemiologists (even my mother-in-law) will admit that there is a certain mystery after an exposure as to why some people get sick and some people don’t.
In Chinese Medicine it is all about relativity. How is the state of the body RELATIVE to the state of the germ? If the body is stronger, the germ doesn’t stand a chance. If the germ is stronger, the body doesn’t stand a chance. Sounds simple, but in real life it isn’t. Unless you know the warning signs and can count the strikes against you.
I’m writing this blog post because I was “sick” this weekend. Now for all intensive purposes I wasn’t sick at all. I had a little headache, some good body aches, a low grade fever and fatigue. Most people wouldn’t even notice these symptoms, but I know that those are all the warning signs of sickness so I laid very low all weekend, stayed inside, drank hot tea, took loads of Chinese Herbs and returned to work on Monday feeling great. It never progressed past the point of being uncomfortable.
Now how did I get sick in the first place? I played detective to figure out why I got sick and why my husband did not? Let’s review my Friday.
Strike One: Friday morning I woke up rested, organized and healthy. It had been a quiet week with plenty of time to rest and an unusual number of nights with good sleep. I shouldn’t be susceptible to even a big germ. When I left the house on Friday to bike across town for my 10 am class I got a flat tire. No big deal, except it took 20 minutes of sitting on the side of the road waiting for the cab to pick me up. Friday was cold and and I got pretty chilled being out for that amount of time. On another day that wouldn’t be enough to get me sick.
Strike Two: One of the downsides/perks to being a health care provider is treating sick patients. It is a perk because I get to make sore throats instantly disappear and magically unblock nasal passages. It is a downside because sometimes no matter how well I wash hands and keep the office clean I get sick myself. Strike two was definitely treating a sick patient Friday afternoon. I treat a lot of sick patients (well not really that many this fall-super healthy patient load lately), but usually it doesn’t make me sick.
Strike Three: I left the office feeling great and rushed to meet my husband for a rapid dinner before we were to hurry off to Holyoke for a dance concert. I was running late and ordering dinner took longer than expected and when my meal arrived instead of it being room temperature it was quite cold. But we were late so I threw the cold meal down the hatch (got a very bad stomachache in the process) and we hurried off to pick up our tickets.
Strike Four: We arrived at the dance concert to find out that the first act of the concert was actually going to be held outside next to one of the canals in Holyoke. Yes, you can imagine it well—20 degree weather, light wind off the canal and 30 minutes of standing still. The dance was amazing, really amazing, but after the first part we were ushered inside to an unheated concert hall and proceeded to sit in maybe 30 degree weather for another 30 minutes. I am embarrassed to say we couldn’t make it for the second dance piece we were frozen through and rushed home to drink tea and go to bed early.
Saturday morning I woke with a stiff neck, sore throat and head-to-toe body aches. My husband woke well rested. If any one of those strikes had happened differently I might have had a healthy weekend.
I’m writing this post to educate you that we all have options about getting sick. We need to think about sickness with a three strikes and you are out kind of mentality. A very dangerous strike is exposure to the elements: heavy rain, deep cold, intense heat or any kind of wind. Exposure to the elements weakens the body’s defense and allows germs to enter more easily. Cold congeals the body making muscles stiff, heat depletes the body of fluids, wind races through the vessels of the body carrying with it coldness or heat depending upon the season and rain dampens the body and settles heavily in the joints causing pain. When the body isn’t functioning well we are susceptible to the tiniest germ in the room.
Bottom line: You can definitely catch cold from being cold. I proved that this weekend. In the fight to stay healthy this fall try adding a scarf to your wardrobe, keep your foods warm and when you are exposed be mindful that you do your best to fight it off. Think of the common cold like an unwanted overnight guest. You want to make the house of your body as inhospitable as possible.
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Nov 5, 2013
In Chinese Medicine we use the phrase “nourishing the yin,” to describe rebuilding and supporting the production of body fluids. Western Medicine might see “yin deficiency” as hormonal depletion or adrenal exhaustion. But we think of it as a liquid deficiency, everything has dried up.
We are born with an adequate amount of yin and it slowly is used as we age. We get drier as we get older. But certain things prematurely weaken the yin; think sex, drugs and rock and roll. Add to that list overwork, fear, long-term worry, trauma and excessive exercise.
One naturally nourishes the yin by sleeping deeply and without disturbance for 8 or more hours a night during the “yin time,” which to make it easy would be around 6pm-6am. If one goes to bed too late (midnight or 1:00am) they have used the yin instead of nourishing it. If someone sleeps in late maybe until 9am, they have rested, but they have not successfully nourished the yin from 6am on. If someone dreams a lot, wakes a lot, worries a lot at night, they are not nourishing the yin, because yin by nature is restful, relaxed, and slow-moving. You can see it is very easy to damage the yin.
The phrase “burning the candle at both ends” is appropriate for thinking of the yin. You deplete the yin by staying up too late and waking too early, and working too hard while you are awake. Yin is the hardest substance to build because it requires deep levels of intentional rest.
I’ve read enough Wharton and Fitzgerald to know that back in the day people used to go on Holiday or go abroad to some place warm to recover. One didn’t go on holiday for 10 days or a long weekend. One was in Europe for a season or a year. The level of rest was much more thorough than we permit ourselves these days.
What is even worse is that there was an acceptance in those days (mind you it was among the wealthier classes) that people could burn out and the noble thing to do was take a significant amount of time off to recover and then return to life. We have lost that respect for the idea of recovery.
We all know that yin and yang need to be in balance for us to live in harmony. But we are producers, we are do-ers. We live in a very yang world. Taking time off is considered weak, or worse, lazy.
Lately my body has been calling out for stillness; deep, prolonged, highly unproductive stillness. I’m lying in bed for 30-40 minutes before rising in the morning and sometimes I spend long chunks of time sitting looking out the window. It took a while for me to notice it happening and it took longer for me to allow it to happen.
This summer we raced through airports, flew across the Atlantic, walked most of Paris in three days, hiked a mountain in Colorado, drank far more champagne than my body is used to, socialized until all hours and just generally got exhausted. So now even after four weeks of rest following our busy summer I’m still noticing this need for stillness. I always know the point at which the stillness is enough for the day when I suddenly remember the laundry and care that it is still in the washer.
So many times I hear patients talk about eating better, exercising more, coming to my yoga classes more often, eating less sugar. What they don’t understand is that without rest none of that is possible. Rest supports and nourishes the yin, which in turn builds will power and the desire for action. The desire for action is a clear sign when the body is refreshed. It is very different from action due to obligation, which depletes the yin and further exhausts the body.
What if we could intentionally step back and fully see our physical and mental health? What if we could see or guess which symptoms would clear up with rest. How could you then incorporate rest and stillness into your life in a way that would be meaningful and productive?
I’m self-employed so when I think of things like future planning, employee retention, employee health and sustainability it is in my best interest to make sure I have adequate amount of time for wellness so I can keep seeing patients for the next 20, 30, maybe 40 years. It is time you start to think of your mind as boss over the employee of your body. If your body isn’t taking care of itself your mind has to step up and consider if the body is going to be capable of providing for the mind long term.
Stillness is a very manageable form of rest, it can happen in an elevator in between floors. It can happen at a red light or in the line at Starbucks. The best moments of rest are when we fully permit the body to be still and enjoy doing nothing at all.
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