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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Eating in Peace

Greetings Dear Readers,

新年好 Happy Ratty New Year

What is meal time like for you?  Do you sit down and enjoy a calm atmosphere and allow time for the food to digest?  Let’s get into the subtleties of food energetics.  It’s not just the food itself, or the vitamins and minerals it’s also the atmosphere and our mind.  The energies of our body and mind and the environment we are eating in that play a huge role in how our food is digesting and what we are absorbing.

Ever notice that being around close friends or nice environments, the food always seems to taste good and you feel healthy and nourished even if the food quality isn’t so great?  Why is that? It’s all about the dining experience.  We’re not just absorbing nutrients from food, we’re also absorbing energies through all five (or six) senses.  Everything we hear, see, smell, touch, it’s all coming in to us on some level, leaving some sort of impression in our body-mind.  The energies in and around us are all felt on some level like having antennae which pick up messages from the outside and relays them in.  In fact, our gut contains an abundance of nerve fibres which shows that our gut really is our second brain and shows us why our eating atmosphere affects our digestion.

Here’s a check list of things that Traditional Chinese Medicine finds important to your dining experience:

1. Sitting down.  Eating while standing or moving about creates Liver Qi stagnation according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.  If you’re drinking a smoothie, it’s not such a problem, but with heavier food, help your stomach out and grab a seat.

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2. Eating mindfully.  This means close the book/newspaper/magazine/computer/TV/ phone/internet and pay attention to the food.  Appetite and hunger are also mental experiences so being mindful of the experience helps to bring satisfaction from having eaten the meal. Look at the food, enjoy the colours, textures, flavours, savour each morsel and feel the satisfaction as it satiates your hunger and nourishes the cells of your body.

3. Eating in peace.  Keep the conversation calming. Talk about what you’re grateful for, hopeful about and what you’re enjoying in life rather than getting into talk about work, having arguments or debates.  Avoid being too intellectual at meals because the Spleen’s job is to digest both thoughts and foods.  So let your Spleen focus on the food.  Once upon a time (not that long ago) going home for lunch was the ideal scenario, a luxury for those going to a day job or school.  Somewhere around the 80’s came the “power lunch” the idea of having business meetings with co-workers over lunch.  Can be fun if you’re on good terms with your coworkers but can cause digestive problems if you all sit and talk about the stressful job during your lunch break.  The same goes with having dinner.  Try to create a peaceful, light, joyful atmosphere and avoid bringing work concerns to the table.

4.  Give time for the food to digest.  After eating, especially a larger meal, most of the body’s

Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

energy is working on digesting that meal.  If you push yourself to do other taxing things like working, doing chores,  mental work like studying or writing then your digestion will be compromised.  It’s good to give your body at least 5 minutes of rest after the meal to just sit at the table and digest.  Don’t be in such a rush to do the next thing.  Slow down a wee bit.  It’s good for your Yin energy.  In TCM, health is a balance of Yin and Yang.  Yang is active, Yin is restful.  Our world has been becoming increasingly Yang and many people are becoming Yin-deficient.  Just relax and feel grateful for the food.  Remind yourself to cultivate some Yin.  There’s a TV channel in British Columbia, Canada where I used to live that during the Christmas season plays a video of a fire place, 24/7.  That’s it, just logs burning in a fireplace for hours and hours, days and weeks.  So relaxing and healing for the Yin energy.  Not surprising, it’s the most popular channel at that time of year.

Bon Appetit!

Yours in health,

Cynthia

Strengthening the Spleen Qi

Purple Carrots

Purple Carrots

Greetings Dear Readers,

Now that we are entering Earth season, also called “late summer” in TCM, here are some seasonal tips to support your Earth energy and Spleen.

Lifestyle:The Spleen is about nourishment, mothering energy and feeling grounded and connected. It’s about the way food is eaten, ideally sitting down, chewing thoroughly, enjoying regular meals eaten mindfully in a peaceful setting.  The mental side of the Spleen is the Yi (say “yee”) which means intellect.  Students, people who study a lot, or anyone doing a lot of concentration and difficult mental tasks are using Spleen energy which can be supported by these tips here.

Exercise: The Spleen governs the muscle tissue of the body.  Massage is excellent for the Spleen system.  A balanced amount of exercise, neither too much nor too little is ideal.  Listening to your body is important.  Regularity is best, a little each day, even 10 or 20 minutes of walking, dancing, stretching, or weights is great. A stretch for the Spleen channel is a yoga pose called “Reclining Hero Pose”. A Qi Gong exercise for the Spleen can be found at: https://cynthiamcgilvray.com/2013/02/07/5-yin-organ-exercises/

Diet: The Spleen belongs to the Earth element in TCM.  Earthy things are round and have earthy colours such as brown, orange and yellow and as such Spleen foods include grains, squash, carrots, potatoes, and beets (esp. good for women).  The Spleen is associated with naturally sweet foods such as dates, grapes, maple syrup and molasses.  The Spleen needs Yang (warm, dry) energy to function at best so adding some warming foods such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and clove to foods will help with digestion and strengthen Spleen Qi.

Happy Earthiness!

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