What I really meant to say …

What I really meant to say …

rhoda1I wanted to share with you something I wrote while I was on my Writer’s Retreat back in the end of February. You, my lovely and human patients, came to mind later when I read this, because I so often am faced with clients asking me if I can basically stop them from aging or make them young again, give them the same energy they had at 20, or the same body shape and abilities. We all wish for this, and I thought it might help to hear that I do, too.

In the workshop, we were given the prompt, “What I really meant to say…..”. I wrote:

What I really meant to say was lost in the gap of my missing teeth. Who knew that losing two upper molars would cause my tongue to slip and slide sideways and not continue to smoothly perform its’ talking function? Each time, it surprises me that the words are not coming out the way I intended, some kind of mishap between what forms in my brain and comes out of my mouth. It frustrates me, feels slightly embarrassing and freaks me out a little. It feels like a precursor of what’s to come as I age and things begin, well, continue, to not work as I expect. Teeth don’t stay put,  the back can no longer pick up four-year-old children, energy can no longer maintain me for twelve hour days. I realize my image of my–self had not included this falling apart stuff, aging. Don’t we all imagine ourselves as still 25 years old? Even my 86 year old mother says she imagines herself as 40. And yet it is normal, something that happens over and over again to everyone we know; I knew aging would happen, but I denied it. My mind playing tricks on me once again, funny to think about one part of my brain thinking it is amazed by how another part keeps playing these tricks. Delusions of stasis and forever-ness and when I get “there” it will be better, delusions that I guess bring me some kind of peace at the moment. Part of being human, I plod along, watching it, surprised, embarrassed, amazed and then amused. O Silly Me, silly us, people, just being people. Coming together, falling apart, and wishing we had said something else.

P1020531 rhoda2

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Holiday Stress and Meditation

holiday-meditation-320I’ve been surprised at how many people are coming in totally stressed out the past week or so. I mean, I do normally hear about patients being stressed out, but now they are REALLY stressed out. And then I remembered, oh, yay, it’s the holidays. Isn’t it sad that this time of celebration, togetherness, light and love has gotten so stressful? Everyone worrying about buying presents, sending cards, making it to yet another holiday party, how much they’re going to spend, etc, etc?

Last year, I posted a link to a great article about avoiding stress at the holidays. It might be worth it to check it out, either again, or for the first time. The advice is good. Basically it’s saying, create your own traditions and memories and only do what you enjoy doing. Don’t feel obligated to do what you don’t really enjoy, or for everything to be perfect. If you really enjoy making cookies, do it. If not, don’t. If you really enjoy decorating the tree, great, but maybe it doesn’t have to be perfect, maybe it’s ok if the kids or a bunch of friends and neighbors help. We could go through a long list like that, but I think you get the idea.

Another idea I would offer is to make time to take care of yourself. I see too many people end up getting sick or burned out over the holidays because they didn’t. Schedule time for a nice massage, manicure, acupuncture, or quiet walk and make it sacred. You are part of the sacredness we are celebrating. Your body is your temple, you need it, you may not feel that you love it, but try saying that you do. Try saying out loud, “You are my temple, body, I love you.” Does it feel difficult? Silly? Do you come close to tears? Or are you laughing? Any of which may show that we just don’t take this seriously enough, so we’ve even grown to think of it as ridiculous, or we’ve neglected ourselves so much that it makes us cry. I know this is what can come up because I go through this myself. And I know if I’m saying those words out loud and I start to cry, it’s time to schedule some acupuncture or massage, or at least some alone time.

Lastly, I’d like to emphasize once again the importance of deep relaxation, as I mentioned in my post about the free therapies last spring. My favorite form of deep relaxation is meditation. Taking at least 15 minutes a day to just sit quietly and do nothing but focus on my breath may seem like nothing, but has been everything to me. First of all, it just gets me to slow down. Once I’ve done some meditation, I move through the next part of my day more slowly and consciously. This also means my heart rate has slowed, I’m not tensing as many muscles unnecessarily and most likely I’m not pumpin’ the adrenalin. It also brings clarity. Sometimes my mind is racing so fast, I can’t even see clearly. After pausing for a bit, I can suddenly see what’s important and what’s not. It becomes easier to make decisions and I become more efficient.

Part of the clarity is seeing what I do to myself. Since I am trying to focus on my breath, I sometimes really notice what thoughts do come up (not always, of course, there are times I get lost in thought even in meditation, but noticing that and coming back is a form of awareness in itself). I see how hard I’m being on myself. That my mind is full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘to dos’ and it all comes down to that I’m not good enough somehow. On some days, I just cry about that. On some days, I notice it and go on. And on some days, more and more as the years go by, I’m able to not only notice it, but then to say to myself, you know what, I AM good enough. Do you know how good that feels? I think that is the single best thing that calms me the most. Because when we’re not feeling good enough, we sure are going to be tense. And stressed. All I can ask is that you give it a try. Give yourself that present this holiday season. At first, it may feel difficult and it may seem like you’re thinking more, just because you’re noticing it. In the long run, the benefits are endless and full of light. Like the holidays.

Chaos, Where Great Dreams Begin

“Before a great vision can become reality, there may be difficulty. Before a person begins a great endeavor, they may encounter chaos. As a new plant breaks the ground with great difficulty, foreshadowing the huge tree, so must we sometimes push against difficulty in bringing forth dreams.”

chaos character

Wei, Chinese character for “chaos.”

When you enter my office, you’ll see a picture of the Chinese character for chaos, or difficulty, pronounced wei (way). It was left for me by the previous tenant, but seemes particularly a propos to me right now as I go through growing pains. It’s NOT exactly the one most of us have heard about by now, that within crisis there is opportunity. Those who know the Chinese language well point out that this crisis equals opportunity idea is an oversimplification or misconception that Westerners take to extremes. The character on my wall by itself means simply “chaos” or even “danger”. Put together with another character, ji, the two form a word that can mean “crisis”, and that other character, ji, is the one some say means “opportunity. However, that ji character by itself actually means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).”

Here, we are just talking about the single character wei, which is indeed chaos. I prefer to think of it in the way described above, of a small plant trying to push up out of the ground. Pushing up out of the ground is a strenuous and tumultuous affair. Anything could happen. In the right circumstances, yes, it could turn into a huge tree. But it could also get stepped on, eaten, or scorched. So it is also a delicate moment, when great care is needed. This character can be a particular reading of the I Ching, a Chinese method of divination. In the reading for this character, it mentions that it is important to act with reason, and ethically and honestly during such a time.

I can certainly identify, because taking on the whole clinic myself since the other practitioners have moved out has definitely felt like a strenuous and tumultuous affair. Much has gone well, but there have been daily struggles, technical difficulties, and just a lot to do. It also feels like the culmination of years of hard work, starting with when I began acupuncture school. So after years of “germination,” it feels like I am finally pushing through the ground toward my dream. It’s all felt alternately joyous and anxiety ridden.

This character reminds me that it is normal to feel some difficulty as I strive to grow toward my dream. Sometimes we feel like we are the only ones struggling, the only ones who feel like this, the only ones having this particular problem. The wisdom of those who came before us is that we all experience some difficulty of some sort or another, and someone else (probably millions of someones) is definitely feeling the same thing you are, somewhere. It helps to remind myself of this, and also to remind myself that this chaos of changing furniture, difficulties with voicemails and internet connections, cash flow, and the like, is part of the growing process toward a worthy end. The great dream of helping as many people as I can with Chinese Medicine, and of spreading the word about how it can help women in all phases of life, is blossoming.

The Importance of Deep Relaxation

Deep RelaxationTwo weeks ago we talked about the Three Free Therapies of Chinese Medicine. The last of the three, deep relaxation, is just as important as the other two, diet and exercise, but gets so much less emphasis in our society that it deserves special attention.

Deep relaxation can be anything that puts your body into a relaxation state, or, in medical jargon, in a parasympathetic state.  Most of us now have heard of the “fight or flight” response, a state of our body that evolved for high threat situations, where heart rate and blood pressure go up and blood moves to the muscles for action, while adrenaline is released.  This is part of the body’s sympathetic nervous system response and can be helpful in small amounts. The problem lies in the fact that our society has gotten to be so high-stress and fast-pace. We are continuously bombarded with so much information and are subjected to such high expectations that our bodies are in a perpetual state of  “fight or flight.”  Being in this state too much is quite draining, even if we don’t think so or notice at the time. In the long run, this can lead to adrenal fatigue.

In that previous post, I was talking about Liver Qi Stagnation and encouraging a smooth flow of Qi energy.  If you think of the “fight or flight” response, what do you imagine happens in your body?  Muscles tensed for action, nervousness, constriction.  This tension and constriction also hinders the smooth flow of Qi.  So, to encourage smooth flow, we need to let go and relax.

According to Bob Flaws, L.Ac., studies in China have actually shown that doing just 15 minutes of some sort of deep relaxation per day has significant effects on health, including better sleep, decreased digestive problems, less pain, and many other benefits.  Getting some deep relaxation doesn’t have to be anything fancy, it could be spending 15 minutes sitting in a chair with a cup of calming tea, looking out the window, and having relaxing thoughts.  That’s the trick, if our mind is racing with worry or our list of a million things to do, it won’t be so relaxing.  That’s why many of us need something more, like acupuncture, guided visualizations, and/or meditation.

Simply lying on the treatment table for acupuncture for 30-60 minutes can have an element of deep relaxation.  In addition, the acupuncture itself strongly induces us into that state, promoting the the ultra smooth flow of Qi, the release of serotonins and anti-inflammatory agents.  It’s like a triple shot mocha of relaxation!  (yes, that’s right, coffee has the opposite effect, by the way!).  At least lying or sitting listening to a CD of a guided visualization can help guide our minds and bodies toward relaxation rather than worry.  There are many available these days, and each individual is unique as to what he or she finds relaxing, a female or male voice, music, a lot of guidance or a little…..find something that works for you.  I like one by Gael Chiarella called AM/PM Yoga Meditations, with 8 different 15 minute soothing  journeys.

Meditation has been the single most powerful and beneficial tool in my life. For me, the ultimate way to train my mind to let go and relax is through meditation. There are many forms of meditation, from the “quite simple” to that which is hung with all kinds of trappings. However, it all starts with simply taking a comfortable sitting position and watching your breath.  A most important aspect is to do the best you can to stay with your breath, but DON’T judge yourself.  Everyone, everyone, everyone has lots of thoughts.  When you notice you are distracted, just notice that, and go back to the breath. It sounds so simple, and yet is so profound.  This is how we can train ourselves to drop more easily into a relaxation state, and you’ll be surprised at all the other benefits you can get as well. I find that this is such an important topic that I will have to continue in another entry so I’ll tell you about those as soon as I can.  Until then, be well, let go, breath!

Three Free Therapies of Traditional Chinese Medicine

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Spring can sometimes be a time when the Qi energy is more likely to get “stuck.” With the big upsurge of Yang energies (growth, warmth) if there are any tendencies in our bodies for lack of smooth flow, (which is common), adding to it can make things worse (Yang energy is concentrated Qi). Imagine a stream with a rocky area where twigs and leaves have become stuck like a small dam so that a small pool has developed behind them. The flow has slowed in that area enough so that there is this small pool or eddy, and yet the water still trickles through; there is still some flow, so it might not be noticeable. Increase the amount of water with no change in the ability to flow, and that pool will grow bigger. True, some of the water may even overflow onto the banks of the stream, or pour over the top of the mini dam. This is less likely to happen in the human body, although it could; but within the close confines of our anatomy, it is usually a problem when Qi or Blood flows outside the vessels. More often, there is an increase in the back up behind the dam, causing more pain, more bloating, more PMS, more allergies, and even inability to sleep (I’m seeing a lot of that right now).

Acupuncture helps greatly to relieve this, and we can also do our best to prevent it. When helping patients learn how to keep their Qi energy flowing smoothly, I generally quote the Three Free Therapies of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as taught to me by one of my teachers, Bob Flaws. They are:

  1.  EXERCISE: This keeps not only the blood circulating, but the Qi as well. However, TCM recommends exercise in moderation. Too much can drain your Qi and Yin excessively, and cause other problems! 45-60min, 4-5 times per week is usually enough, every day is fine, too.
  2. DIET: This usually has more to do with preventing build up of heat or cold or phlegm, or with properly nourishing the Qi, Blood, and organs, but keeping the organs healthy and well nourished, especially the Liver, does aid in the smooth flow of Qi. So, keeping the Liver clean with fresh dark green leafy vegetables, and not eating too much sticky foods, like anything greasy, or more than a couple tablespoons of nut or nut butters, helps keep it open and flowing, and nourishing it with small amounts of meat (eating healthy, organic liver nourishes your own liver!)
  3. DEEP RELAXATION: This means taking at least 15 minutes a day doing some sort of meditation, acupuncture, guided visualization, Savasana (corpse pose) after yoga, etc. This topic is so very important for our culture that I’m going to write a whole blog about it….next time! Stay tuned!!