Zen Shiatsu Meridian Stretches

Greetings Dear Readers,

Where there is Qi flow there is no pain”. – Chinese proverb

I thought I’d share some excellent exercises to balance the body by focusing on releasing the meridians one by one.

5eThese stretches come from the Shiatsu tradition which is based on the five element system of medicine.  If you already know which meridians (also known as channels) are out of balance you can focus more on those ones.  For a general tune-up you can work through the whole sequence.  For the entire sequence, the exercises are performed in the order on the flow of energy according to the Five Elements as they are linked below.  You can incorporate these stretches into your daily or weekly routine for best results.

Please remember that the effect of these stretches, like acupuncture, is cumulative, meaning that each session builds upon the next so that the energy is building up in each organ system over time. It takes persistence but often one can start to feel the boost in energy after the first session.  Intention is important.  You can set an intention to increase the flow of energy in the body, to relax the channels, to strengthen the energy of the channels and organs, and the corresponding muscles, tendons and ligaments so that your energy is directed to flow in a smooth and unobstructed way for the relief of pain, to improve mobility and for general health.

 

Enjoy!

Yours in health,

Cynthia McGilvray, R.Ac.

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Enliven Your Liver this Spring with a Fresh Twist

Hello All,

Yay! it’s finally Spring!!

Spring is associated with the Wood element which governs the Liver and Gall Bladder systems. Foods that are sour and foods that are green, especially young green foods such as micro-greens, A.K.A. sprouts (alfalfa, mung, brocolli sprouts, etc.) are excellent for the Liver/Gall Bladder systems. Here’s an interesting raw vegan salad dressing recipe you can try

with yourfresh green salad.

images-7

images-8 This recipe comes from FullyRaw Kristina’s video blog. Yes, it’s an unusual combo but like many of her recipes, sure to please the taste buds.

Ingredients:

3-4 cups fresh cut mango

1 cup pitted dates

1 large tablespoon fresh rosemary

*optional – sliced pineapple

Mix ingredients in a blender and serve. Fun things are often so simple!

Yoga Exercises for Spring

Certain yoga postures such as twists are especially good for the Liver/ Gall Bladder systems because they help move qi in the “Middle Jiao” (area just under the ribs, between the rib and the navel). There are many variations of the yoga twist that you can try. Here are a few below that you can incorporate into your daily routine. images-5images-3images-4images-6

On the mental-spiritual plane, the Liver is associated with irritability, anger, frustration.  One way to channel this energy is to engage in creative projects that allow the mind feel expansive and open to seeing life as full of infinite possibilities.  It’s also helpful to remember that the people we may feel anger towards also suffer in many ways too.

Wishing you a dynamic and healthy spring.

Yours in health,

Cynthia

Liver Qi Gets A Move On

triangle

triangle (Photo credit: daniel.julia)

Greetings Dear Readers,

Liver Qi Stagnation is a very common condition.  The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi (energy) in the body.  One famous quote in TCM “Where there is movement, there if life, where there is no movement, there is no life”.  Acupuncture is an excellent way to move qi that has become stagnant.  Between treatments there are many additional ways to help your Liver system with this process.

Lifestyle:  Liver energy is the energy of Wood.  It is likened to young plants in spring pushing their way through the earth and bursting with new life on the surface.  This pushing upwards energy is similar to a healthy assertiveness on the mental level.  When Wood energy is low there is timidity and lack of action and decisions to make things happen.  When Wood energy is stuck or too strong there is aggression, anger or irritability. 

500 year old green tea fields, Boseong, Jeolla...

500 year old green tea fields, Boseong, Jeollanam-do, South Korea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Diet: The colour green is associated with the Liver and the Wood element.  Eating green foods such as lettuce, kale, green tea, dandelion leaves, broccoli, sprouts, artichoke hearts, asparagus, olives, etc. is especially helpful to do each day.  Sour foods such as all citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit), vinegar, cranberries, also assist the Liver system.

Exercise:  A stretch for the Liver channel is wide-angled forward bend.  Triangle pose and Fish pose also open and release energy in the Liver channel.   Walking is associated with the Liver system and walking in a lush green forest is even better.    

English: Finger Painting.

English: Finger Painting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Helpful thoughts:  The mind has a powerful influence over the body.  The mental/spirit side of Liver energy is called the “Hun” which is related to our ability to create visions, have dreams and perform visually creative activities such as art.  Here are some thoughts or affirmations that relate to balancing Liver energy:

“I can see my dreams coming true.”

“I am free to make my own healthy choices.”

“I allow myself to express my creative spirit.”

Acupuncture is also an excellent way to move Liver Qi and results are felt quite quickly in most people.

How’s your Liver Qi doing? Love to hear your comments and questions.

Yours in health,

Cynthia

Tasty Asian Kelp Salad

Greetings Dear Readers,

If you’re anything like me you may find the taste of kelp a bit too much to bear.  Knowing the health benefits of kelp, I’ve tried to all kinds of ways to get it down, from kelp powder pills to kelp pieces in soup to raw kelp noodles.  None of these are very appetizing to me.  This recipe really does kelp some justice.  Here we have the tanginess of the rice vinegar that subdues the kelpy taste into palettable proportions, the  sesame seeds and sesame oil brings a rich nutty taste and a little Braggs or soy sauce enhances the flavour.

The trick I learned from a Chinese friend (whose parents insist she eats more seaweed), is to buy kelp that is very light and thin, almost brittle.  You may need to shop around and ask in Asian markets to find it.  The kelp I’ve seen in health food stores is quite thick.  After it’s soaked it’s rather chewy and rubbery and not so fun to eat.  So think thin and flakey when buying kelp pieces.

TCM Benefits of Asian Kelp Salad

This dish benefits the Kidneys and Liver systems.  In TCM the Kidneys are the “Mother” of the Liver so strong Kidneys suport a healthier Liver.  Kelp is known as the “vegetable of long life” and is very rich in minerals such as iodine and is indicated for hypothyroidism.  Like other seaweeds it removes Phlegm and Damp, softens hard masses such as cysts, tumours, and fibroids and is used in the healing and prevention of cancer.  Kelp is cooling and helps clear Heat toxins such as the effects of radiation therapy, promotes urination and strengthens the Yin (moisture) of the body.

Sesame strengthens the Liver and Kidney channels.  Sesame helps with Kidney deficiency issues such as weak legs, early greying of hair, cold feet, dry stools, infertility, poor memory, poor milk production in women, paralysis and dizziness caused by deficiency.

Vinegar enters the Liver and Stomach.  It breaks up stasis, speeds up blood flow, clears toxins, stops bleeding and kills worms.  The sour flavour in vinegar moves Liver Qi and is indicated for Liver Qi Stagnation issues such as frequent sighing, cold hands and feet, anger or irritability, and headaches and painful menstruation.

Asian Kelp Salad

1. Soak kelp pieces in water overnight.

2. Using 3 cups of soaked kelp, drain place in bowl with 1/4 cup of black sesame seeds.

3. Mix in 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil and 2 Tbsp. vinegar.

4.  Add Braggs liquid aminos/tamari or soy sauce to taste.

5.  Mix all ingredients together and let stand for an hour or more before serving.

6. Enjoy!

Yours in Health,

Cynthia

Unpacking Your Food Cravings with Eastern Food Therapy

Greetings Dear Readers,

Changing your diet means putting your body through a transition.   It takes the body some time.  The mind also has to get used to not eating its comfort foods, those foods we crave in times of stress.  The key here is  rather than jump right back into the ice cream, potato chips, chocolate, cheese or whatever turns your crank; the key is to unpack those cravings and find out what they are about.

I’ll give you an example.  For many years now my pet craving has been popcorn with butter and salt, as well as fried seaweed snacks.  Crunchy, salty goodness my mind says.  From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, foods are craved because they change the flow of energy through the channels of the body in a way that matches our needs, corresponding to our Excesses and Deficiencies.  People with Kidney/Bladder (Water element) issues (deficiency) tend to crave salty foods because salt increases the water in the body.

On an emotional level the Water element is about fear.  When fears surface or are confronted, salt cravings tend to increase.  These people will also have more salt cravings during the Water period of the day.  (In the TCM organ clock the Bladder hour is 3-5pm and the Kidney hour is 5-7pm).   I can actually predict my craving and know I need to have some salty rice crackers on hand around 3pm.  So this is valuable information because when you don’t know why the craving is there or it feels out of control, TCM wisdom is there to help you examine the craving and find some healthier alternatives.

Once upon a time I really liked eating salty potato chips.  As I tried to find replacements for this unhealthy behavior, I realized that partly I was deficient in essential fatty acids and was craving fat.  The other part was the salt.  So I switched to air-popped popcorn with flax oil and Mexican chili powder and found this to be a good substitute.

Now you ask, what about Mexican chili powder?  Yes, so this relates to the Heart in TCM.  The Heart channel, as well as its’ Yin/Yang pairing, the Small Intestine, as well as the Pericardium and the Triple Warmer, these organ systems all belong to the Fire Element.  People with Fire element issues tend to either crave spicy foods (deficiency or blockage) or avoid spicy foods (excess or blockage).  For some people who crave red hot burn-in-hell chicken wings, it’s helpful to use the wisdom of TCM to understand why this happens and how to shift this habit in a way that still gives the body and mind the balance it’s seeking.  So if hot chicken wings is the craving, it may be that it’s just the stimulation (Fire element=nerves=stimulation) of the spice that the person is after.  In that case, flavouring healthier foods with more peppers and spices will help a person feel satisfied while eating healthier.  And still, there are some people who put tabasco sauce on everything, including ice cream, but that is for another post.

Ok chocolate lovers, so you thought you were going to sneak by unnoticed? Now it’s your turn!  Is chocolate healthy or unhealthy?  The debate rages on.  TCM says chocolate and all caffeinated foods (tea, coffee, yerba mate, green tea) relate to the Heart and Fire element because they stimulate the nerves (nerves are governed by the Fire element).  These stimulants are also all bitter foods.  Bitter is related to the Fire element.   Bitters have a cooling, descending nature in TCM so bitters helps cool a condition called “Heart Fire” in TCM which is very often linked with emotional stress and insomnia.

You are probably already familiar with substituting processed white sugar with honey, dried fruits or juices.  In TCM, the sweet flavour is associated with the Spleen and Stomach channel and the Earth element.  Other associations with the Spleen and Stomach are the mother, nurturing, home, and groundedness.  People who have a difficult relationship with their mother (mothers produce milk so dairy cravings fit in here as well), perhaps not receiving enough nurturing in their life, not nurturing themselves, people who have moved home recently or moved residences frequently, travel a lot and feel “ungrounded”, these people tend to crave more sweets.  Sweet cravings can also happen when the Spleen is weak from too much mental work (Spleen on the mental level governs the intellect).

However, sweet cravings in TCM are not just about the Spleen and Stomach.  Often the Liver is involved here as the Liver, in the “Control” cycle of Qi, controls the Spleen/Stomach.  For many modern people the Liver Qi is stagnant, congested, overheated.  In this case the Excess of the Liver causes the Liver to “attack” the Spleen and/or Stomach.  So when the Spleen gets weak from being attacked by the Liver, sweet cravings can also develop as a way to increase the Spleen Qi.  People with Liver issues may also crave Liver type foods, especially sour foods like lemon, orange juice, cranberries, green foods,

any kind of citrus, olive oil, sour dough bread, also foods like onions, garlic which help break up stagnant Liver qi.  People with stuck Liver Qi tend to also experience frustration, irritability, anger and wake up between 1-3am.

Lastly, cravings for pungent flavours such as mints (peppermint, winter green, spearmint, think teas, gum, candy), wasabi, horseradish, and onion family foods, these relate to the Metal Element in TCM.  The Lung and Large Intestine channel belong to Metal.  In many cases people are deficient in Metal energy. So when Metal is too weak to control the Liver, the Liver gets overheated and congested.    Metal controls Wood (Liver/Gall Bladder) in the Control cycle.  People with deficient Metal may also experience a sorrow that never seems to get resolved, constipation, (both physical and emotional constipation) and they may wake up between 3-5am.

Ok so now you can go analyze the foods you eat and feel more insightful about what your body or mind are asking you for.

Do you notice any interesting patterns with your food habits?

Love to hear your comments and questions.

Your in health,

Cynthia

5 Yin Organ Exercises

Greetings Dear Readers,

According to TCM, all things in the universe are a mixture of Yin and Yang.  Yin is moist, dark, cool, quiet, female, still and substantial.  Yang is hot, energetic, male, bright, fast, exuberant, and non-substantial.  Yin refers more to our solid and substantial aspects such as our form, our bones, muscles and body fluids while Yang refers more to our body heat, energy, and movement.  Yin energy allows us to relax, rejuvenate, rest and recuperate.  Yang energy gives us energy, speed and drive.

The aging process is a gradual decline of both Yin and Yang.  Yin deficiency is very common in our modern society where we have seen an over-emphasis on all things Yang.  There is a celebration and fascination for all things loud, fast, flashy, being very fast or being very busy all the time.  Since we are not always abounding with Yang, we rely on unnatural ways (caffeine) to be more Yang (energetic) as our modern media dictates.  When we push ourselves over our limit our body cannot easily replenish our Yang Qi so it dips in to our savings account, our Yin energy.  Over time we burn out of both Yang and Yin. When the Yin (cool, stillness, substance, moisture) is missing we see dryness, heat, restlessness and loss of body mass.  In Western medical terms Yin deficiency can appear as attention deficit disorder, diabetes, hot flashes, insomnia, osteoporosis and anxiety to name a few.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the five most important organ of the body are the Yin organs, the Lungs, Kidneys, Liver, Heart, and Spleen.  Each organ is said to contain an essential Qi which promotes the smooth harmony and functioning of the corresponding aspects of the body and mind relating to that organ system.  Each of the five Yin organs has both a positive energy when it is strong and clear and a negative energy if it is congested, weak or toxic.

Qi Gong is an excellent way to keep the organs healthy and strong .  An ancient qi gong set called the “5 Yin Organ Exercises” will do just that.  This is a set I’ve done regularly, often daily.  The benefits I experienced included a sense of groundedness, better digestion, less tension and positive mind.

The following videos demonstrate how to do the warm-up, the exercise for each organ and the closing exercise to gather the Qi inwards.

The virtues of the Lungs are honesty and integrity.  When the Lungs are weak or have negative qi, a person can develop sorrow or an overly rigid personality.

The virtues of the Kidneys are will power, wisdom and fearlessness.  A person with weak Kidneys may become unmotivated because energy or drive is lacking.  There may be fear, confusion or paranoia.

The virtues of the Liver are compassion, creativity and generosity.  If the Liver is weak or stagnant the person may develop anger, hostility, impatience, blocked creativity or timidity.

The virtues of the Heart are joy and a sense of order.  If the Heart Qi is weak or stagnant, the person may experience chaotic thoughts, mania, or be easily startled or anxious.

The virtues of the Spleen are trust, intellectual thought and empathy.  If the Spleen Qi is weak the person may experience mental fatigue, worry, obsessions, or feel disconnected from others.

Like all Qi Gong exercises, it is done at a slow gentle pace with mindfulness of the breath and the dan tien (inner space four finger widths beneath the navel towards the centre of the body) This Qi Gong set can be done each day, 12 or 20 times for each organ exercise.

May you receive much Yin energy nourishment.

Yours in health,

Cynthia