Tag Archives: traditional-chinese-medicine

Eating According to Your Menstrual Cycle

Greetings Dear (Women) Readers,

Many people promote the idea that for health we need to do the same habits every day consistently.   This seems quite logical in many areas of health such as dental hygiene for example.  However, for women who are in their fertile years, the Yin and Yang fluctuations happening monthly with the menstrual cycle ask that we accommodate with subtle shifts in our diet and lifestyle.

Do you notice changes in your body at different times of your menstrual cycle?  Do you crave certain foods at different times of the month?  The wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dating back thousands of years, details four phases of the menstrual cycle and how they affect women’s health.  Below I’ve added diet and lifestyle tips to help you synch your lifestyle with your menstrual phase for improved health.  Acupuncture can also greatly assist with symptoms associated with each phase.

The Four phases to the menstrual cycle according to TCM:

**please note that for women who have shorter or longer cycles, you will still experience these phases but the number of days for each will be different.  For more detailed information on how to understand your menstrual cycle I recommend reading the very informative book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.

Menstrual Phase (Day 1-7)

This phase starts from the first day (Day 1) of heavy bleeding or flow (not spotting).  Due to the loss of blood, some women naturally feel tired at the start of their menses.  Some spend the day in bed.  Generally, more rest is needed at this time.  During this phase the endometrial lining is shed and then rebuilt.  The endometrial lining is building itself up in preparation for conception.  At this time it is important for women to eat Blood-building foods to assist the body in creating a rich endometrial lining which may become nourishment for a developing fetus.  To balance the body during this phase, eat more Blood-building foods such as dark leafy green vegetables and mineral-rich organic foods such as beets, carrots, black cherries, kale, spinach, hawthorne or goji berries, alfalfa, dates, apricot, prunes, wheatgrass and nettle.

Pre-ovulation Phase (Day 8 – 14)

During this phase which starts at the end of the menstrual flow, the ovaries are preparing several folicles (eggs) for ovulation.  The body becomes high in estrogen at this time.  In TCM estrogen is a Yin substance.  During this phase it is important that the body has enough Yin energy to create fertile mucous (looks like egg whites) which assist the sperm in travelling through the cervix to meet the egg.  To help the body build Yin substance it is helpful to eat Yin-building foods such as persimmon, lettuce, radish, grapes, berries, watermelon, string beans, seaweed, and mung bean sprouts.

Ovulation Phase (Day 15 – 21)

Actual ovulation lasts about a day, normally day 14 or 15 in the cycle.  The shift in hormones that occurs on this day causes the body to go from Yin to Yang.  Yang = heat and it is at this time that  a woman’s body temperature will rise by 0.5 degrees Celcius which is a key indication that ovulation has taken place.  This increase in Yang energy should continue until the end of the cycle.   At this time it is important to support the Yang energy of the body.  To support this temperature increase it is important to eat foods that have more Yang (warm, invigorating) energy.  You may have cravings for spicy warm foods such as cinnamon and ginger and feel worse from eating cold foods like bananas.  TCM recommends foods and herbs which “Nourish Essence” at this time such as walnuts, wheatgrass, ginseng, rhemannia root, chlorella, spirulina, black sesame seeds, raspberries, and blackberries.

Post-Ovulation/Pre-Menstruation Phase (Day 22-28)

During this phase the Yang or warm energy is still normally present and the focus now becomes moving the energy.

Many women notice they have more energy during the later half of their cycle and it is very beneficial to use this energy to do exercise.  Lack of exercise at this time can lead to stagnation in the Liver Qi channel resulting in breast tenderness, clotted blood flow and painful cramps.  A diet high in trans fats, processed foods and unhealthy chemicals can burden to the Liver channel.  If the Spleen energy is weak there may be heavy bleeding (Spleen controls Blood) or early menstruation.  Exercise combined with eating whole foods and healthy fats at this time will reduce breast tenderness, clots in the blood flow and cramping.  Liver Qi moving foods include spearmint, garlic, fennel, cayenne, ginger, black and white pepper, cloves, vinegar, basil, onions, leeks, scallions.  Use of moxabustion can also be used to “warm the Spleen” in cases of heavy or early bleeding.

Do you change your lifestyle according to the time of the month? Love to hear your comments and questions.

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

Your Body Needs Darkness

Greetings Dear Readers,

Human beings spend the first nine months of their lives wrapped in the protective darkness of the womb; a soft, rich and magical place of transformation, preparing the being with a physical form to have this spiritual experience on Earth. In TCM the uterus, called by many names such as “bao zhong” or ‘palace of jing’ (jing=essence) or “Zi Gong” ‘a child’s palace’ is considered one of the extraordinary organs for it’s unique function as a dark palace encasing the magical mystery life.

With the invention of electricity and the light bulb, it seems we’ve become more civilized, moving out of the darkness and into the light. Now we carry on our days’ activities into all hours of the night, working, eating, pursuing hobbies, doing chores, or surfing the internet until the wee hours. We celebrate having more control over our day, more flexibility over our time, more freedom. But what are the health effects of altering the circadian rhythm our bodies have been programmed with since time immemorial?

When the sun goes down, the pineal gland in the brain starts to produce melatonin in response to darkness. Melatonin production peaks in the body peaks at 10pm and drops off when the sun rises. Melatonin plays important roles in regulating hormone production, neurotransmitter production, reproductive cycles and circadian rhythm. Researchers at The University of Selville School of Medicine, Spain, found that melatonin has a significant relationship with the body’s immune system: more melatonin = higher immunity.1

Darkness is your friend. Melatonin actually stops hormone-related cancer cells from growing by changing the cell’s use of fatty acids and the cells’ sensitivity to estrogen. There are many other benefits of melatonin. In one study, animals given melatonin supplements became healthier, had higher activity levels, improved posture, more lustrous fur, and a 20% longer lifespan than the control animals. Melatonin has also been shown to help with depression, Seasonal Affective Disoder (S.A.D.), migraine headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, gastric ulcers, hot flashes in menopausal women (melatonin suppresses luteinizing hormone (LH) in postmenopausal women),
cardiovascular disease (melatonin helps control nitric oxide production, which plays an important role in ensuring proper cardiovascular function), ADD and insomnia in children.2

We need to have all the lights out for this to actually happen. Aaron Blair, the scientist emeritus for the U.S. National Cancer Institute and chairman of the IARC explains that, “melatonin gets made during the dark period . . .if you get light exposure during the normal dark period, it severely reduces the amount of melatonin that is made.” 3 Studies have shown that it only takes a small amount of light such the bedroom door cracked open to a lighted hallway is enough to suppress melatonin production by 87% in rats. Another study showed a significantly lower rate of hormone-related cancers in blind men and women.4

What does Traditional Chinese Medicine have to say? All things in the universe are Yin and Yang in a relative sense. It’s not that light is bad, it’s that darkness is also needed, we need a balance of both for health. What so often seen in our modern age is a deficiency of Yin. Yin encompasses many things such as the darkness, the feminine, quietness, coolness, that which is internal, rest, slowness, depth, creativity, mystery and fluidity (I will write more on these aspects of Yin in up-coming posts). There has been an emphasis in modern culture on all things Yang such as light, speed, sound, heat, external developments, activity, the superficial, the linear, the logical and the known world. This favouring of the Yang side of our natures creates physical and mental imbalances such as inflammatory conditions, racing thoughts, night sweating, insomnia, sensory overload, restlessness, anxiety, destabilization of the emotions, lack of faith, fear and loss of the internal core sense of self.

For centuries there have been people who do long meditation retreats in dark caves in the Himalayas and others who have engaged in special “dark room retreats”. What’s interesting to notice about listening to people who’ve gone through this process is they all have some experience of increased spiritual light. When the physical light is reduced people seem to get a powerful experience of their inner spiritual light, an interesting paradox to consider.

Practical tips to benefit from more darkness:
1. use an eye mask at night (available in travel shops for about $6)
2. expose yourself to bright natural light during the day because the contrast of light exposure in the day followed by darkness at night helps signal the body to make melatonin. If you spend a lot of time inside or live in a rainy place, using a full-spectrum light bulb at your desk or overhead works wonders, even said to improve mood.
3. Use back-out blinds to cover windows that let in city lights.
4. Install dimmer switches and turn the indoor lighting down at dusk.
5. Practice waking up with the sun and going to bed earlier.
6. Remove gadgets with electronic lights from the bedroom or use only gadgets with red lights (red lights are of a different spectrum and don’t suppress melatonin production).

1. Guerrero JM, Reiter RJ. Department of Medical Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Seville School of Medicine and Virgen Macarena Hospital, Spain.guerrero@cica.es

2. http://www.smart-publications.com/articles/the-health-benefits-of-melatonin-are-more-than-just-a-good-nights-slee/page-2

3. Aaron Blair, Ph.D., Scientist Emeritus, U.S. National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., and chair, working group, IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans; Nov. 29, 2007, statement, Elizabeth Ward, director, surveillance research, American Cancer Society; Associated Press

4.Epidemiology. 1998 Sep;9(5):490-4.Reduced cancer incidence among the blind.Feychting M, Osterlund B, Ahlbom A.
Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Acupuncture Relieves Anxiety

Greetings Dear Readers,

Maybe it’s an interview for that job you’re really hoping to land – your heart is racing, palms sweating, feeling jittery, over-heated, butterflies in the stomach. Most people understand a little anxiousness as part of the adventure called life but everyday anxiety is another story. Luckily Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has had great success with getting to the root of this matter.

Rather than just popping a few pills with questionable side-effects, what acupuncture does is effectively re-wire the energy circuits of the body. So instead of all the firey energy from your heart rushing upwards causing dizziness, sweating, ungroundedness, and facial flushing, acupuncture needles in the right places can stop the cascade of neuro-chemicals such as cortisol (released as part of the flight-or-flight stress response) and instead activate opium and serotonin receptors thereby increasing feelings of well-being and relaxation.1 If that’s not enough, the effects can last up to several days with no negative side-effects.

So how did those quirky TCM people figure this out? The ancient wisdom of TCM breaks down symptoms according to patterns relating to the organ systems. In plain English, most people with anxiety will likely have one of the following commonly seen patterns: “Heart-Fire”, “Kidney-Yin Deficiency Heat” or “Blood or Yin Deficiency”.2

People with “Heart-Fire” anxiety often have heart palpitations, ulcers (canker sores) on the tongue, trouble falling asleep and a bitter taste in the mouth when they wake up after a fitful dream-disturbed sleep. This person will benefit from avoiding “hot” foods such as chili peppers, onions, alcohol, caffeine and chocolate and do better with eating cooler foods such as leafy greens, kale, celery or cucumber. In addition it is helpful for them to increase their Earth element (this comes from a Five Element acupuncture protocol called “Turn Fire Into Ash” meaning that the excess Fire in the Heart is calmed by pushing this energy towards the next element in the Creation cycle which is Earth (Fire-Earth- Metal-Water-Wood). The Earth element is increased by such things as letting go of too much worry and over-thinking, eating mindfully, wearing Earthy colours such as brown and eating foods that grow underground such as carrots, beets and potatoes.

The Kidney-Yin Deficiency Heat person will have anxiety along with night sweating, dizziness, ringing in the ears, flushed cheeks, dry mouth and low back ache. This person will benefit from getting more sleep, avoiding overwork, eating Kidney Yin foods such as black beans, seaweed, butter and sesame, slowing down (Yin=slow whereas Yang=fast) and doing meditation or qi gong.

Blood deficiency is very common in women because of monthly blood loss through menstruation.  The person will feel tired and want to lie down, have numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, blurred vision or floaters in the visual field, a pale complexion and scanty menstruation. They do well with dietary changes mainly such as including blood-building foods such as beets, dark green vegetables, egg yolks, bee pollen and the herb “dong quai” (also called angelica).  With diligent daily use of blood-building foods symptoms should clear up in about three months.

The Yin deficient anxious person is essentially lacking essential fluids (Yin is liquid in nature) and experiences afternoon fever, night sweating, dry mouth, and scanty dark urine. This is often seen when a person has been working too hard, staying up late, eating fast food on the run, essentially “life in the fast lane”. This person does well with resting from overworking, going to bed by 10pm, eating slow, home-cooked meals and eating Yin foods such as seaweed, dairy, beans, berries, foods that are black, blue or purple in colour such as eggplant or black sesame seeds and taking a more slow, mindful approach to life.

You do not need to live with chronic anxiety. There is a lot your acupuncturist can do to relieve these symptoms and I have only scratched the surface here. Your acupuncturist will diagnose the pattern by examining your tongue and wrist pulse, observation and a few short questions. You should feel effects during the first treatment.  For those with needle anxiety, (oddly enough I’m one of them), acupuncture needles are very thin (infinitely smaller than the hypodermic needles used to inject vaccine in hospitals) and are often not felt when inserted.  You can also ask for Japanese needles which are as thin as a hair.

Do your symptoms fit any of these descriptions? If so, let’s set up an appointment and get you on the road to better health and peace of mind.

Yours in health,
Cynthia

References:
1. Jaung-Geng Lin, Yuan-Yu Chan, and Yi-Hung Chen. February 22, 2012. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Opiate Addiction. National Institutes of Health.
2. Maciocia, Giovanni. Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide. 2004. Elsevier Ltd.

Zhan Zhuang and the Myth of Qi Gong as “soft” exercise

Greetings Dear Readers,

I’d like to dispel a big myth about Qi Gong: the idea that Qi Gong is a “soft” exercise that doesn’t really give you a good workout.

During aerobic exercise your energy and blood goes to the periphery of your body (the muscles) to give them fuel to stay active.  Many people have the idea that aerobics are necessary to “burn calories/fat” and to bring your heart rate up to keep it strong.  The downside is after the workout you have an oxygen debt from all the fast breathing that leaves you tired and over time depletes your body, specifically your inner organs, your liver, kidneys, spleen, pretty important organs, so that when you’re older, like in your sixties, maybe fifties even, you don’t have so much energy for those kinds of workouts anymore and this deficiency is a weakness that leaves the door open to disease.

Now with Qi Gong, you can accomplish the same benefits of aerobic exercise but with many added benefits.  Your heart and lungs still get toned but in a deeper way.  Breathing slowly and deeply along with the energy movement coming from mental intention allows oxygen to penetrate much deeper into the tissues which helps tonify not only the heart and lungs but also replenishes energy of the liver, kidney, spleen and many other organs.   Instead of feeling tired and depleted after exercise, you’re going to have more energy than before!

Here is a question answered by the Meiming Qi Gong Cultural Centre:

Q:What is the difference between Qigong and other physical exercises?

A:Most physical exercises, such as running and weight training make people sweat and feel exhausted.  These are in principle exhausting exercises, and they only work our body.  During a physical workout, our body remains in a very tense condition.  The slightest inappropriate movement is likely to cause physical injuries.  In addition, this kind of exercise creates exhaustion, leading to a sense of inner emptiness, and inner emptiness makes us eat more and sleep more to feel fulfilled.  This process turns our body into a battlefield, caught between exhaustion and over-fulfilling.  Our body tends to wear out faster.
On the other hand, Qigong increases our internal fortification as well as improves out physical fitness.  With correct breathing control and special body movements, qi travels freely throughout our internal system.  It has the same effect as cardiovascular exercises, while our body stays in a very relaxed condition, with little risk of physical injuries.  Practicing Qigong has all the benefits of regular physical exercises, but not the bad side effects that regular physical exercises will cause.

You can practice Qi Gong in the back yard, at the office, even in an airport departure lounge (did this once and it really helped fix that icky “just-been-on-the-plane” feeling).  And Qi gong has many added benefits.

One of my favourite Qi Gong exercises, called Zhan Zhuang (say “JAN JONG”) literally means “stand like a tree” and is one of the foundation practices of martial arts.  It’s benefits are almost innumerable.  I have listed a few here to get you started.  The benefits you’ll experience will come quickly if you practice daily, if only for 5-10 minutes.  What happens is rather unique to each person.  One of the first things I noticed was I became a lot more grounded and my ability to handle stress improved dramatically.  In spite of not doing any other type of exercise, I kept my strength up and didn’t need the usual push-ups and sit-ups routine I normally do to maintain my strength for shiatsu work.  It felt like meditation and exercise all rolled into one with very little discomfort.

Now I’m not saying there’s anything entirely wrong with jogging or swimming.  Who doesn’t like a jump in the lake on a hot day?  But for simple health maintenance and fitness improvement do you need to hit the gym everyday? No, not at all.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    32 Benefits of Zhan Zhuang (say “JAN JONG”)

  1. reduce stress                                                        22. Increases stamina
  2. alleviates pain                                                     23. Calms nerves
  3. promotes blood circulation                              24. Slows breathing
  4. lowers blood pressure                                        25. Increases red and white blood cell count
  5. increases longevity                                             26. strengthens sinews
  6. become grounded                                                27. Builds Essence (pre-natal Qi)
  7. develops strong Qi/energy                               28. Brings about fitness without oxygen debt
  8. increases mental clarity                                    29. Heart rate slows and becomes more powerfu
  9. increases vitality                                                 30. Relieves many chronic illnesses
  10. loosens tight muscles                                         31. Strengthens digestion
  11. increases bone density                                       32. Strengthens and expands auric
  12. develops strong limbs                                               electro-magnetic field
  13. develops powerful internal energy                        radiation
  14. Improves concentration
  15. improves mind-body connection
  16. perfects postural alignment
  17. builds confidence
  18. improves mental abilities
  19. improves immunity (study shows nutriphils phagocyctosis increases 50%)
  20. improves quality of sleep
  21. increases sense of well-being
  22. puts the body into healing mode
Read more about the scientific evidence behind Qi Gong in The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing By Ken Cohen.
What benefits do you get from Qi Gong?  Love to hear your comments and questions.
Happy November!

Creating Harmony with the Autumn Season

Greetings dear Readers,

Autumn is upon us, the entrance way to the cooler and more introspective phase of the year. For some this brings sadness and longing for the return of warmer days and so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective on how to live in harmony and actually enjoy fall, also called “Metal” season according to the TCM 5 Element system.

In the 5 Element system, spring corresponds with the Wood element, the colour green, new beginnings and vigorous energy. We can see this evidenced in our world during spring when many little plants are pushing forth through the earth with great vigor, green buds on the trees that looked so lifeless only a few weeks prior, people coming out of hibernation and taking to the outdoors on bikes or walks in the park, birds laying eggs and the whole celebration of Easter as a resurrection, new life.

But how are we to understand the Metal element in our daily life? Nature seems to be betraying us with the death of much greenery, the end of the harvest, the shorter days and the need to be indoors. Metal seems to represent loss, death and the shrinking of life which sounds anything but health-promoting. In the TCM view, in order to promote balance in one’s body, mind, spirit and society as a whole we learn to embrace each phase of the year through harnessing the virtues of each element.

Standing in front of a polished brass sculpture I see my own reflection. Of the five elements, only two, water and metal, have the capacity to reflect surrounding images. Metal and water, being the two most yin elements of the 5 Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water) can be associated with the yin capacity for reflection, a quiet time of inaction to allow for deeper insight. Reflecting on one’s being, one’s life, is part of the inner journey, a yin journey. Reflecting is also yin in the sense of receiving something, more passive, as opposed to yang which is more active and acts upon things. A visual message is received and is imprinted on to the shiny metal in a passive way unlike what the Wood element does when it actively pushes out roots and branches or the way fire spreads “like wild fire”. No, metal is not that. Metal sits and reflects the surroundings.

Metal, although malleable, holds its shape under most conditions. It is quite stable. It is strong, perservering and holds it’s value. Metal coins were perhaps the first monetary system of civilization to replace barter and trade economies because the stable element metal can “hold” the value of goods and services. Even during an economic recession like the one we are in now, we can see how gold trading is at its’ prime. It is the stable value that makes people want to invest in metals such as gold when many other investments are volatile and risky. During hard times and economic collapse, gold is unchanging, holding lasting value. The expression, “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth” expresses how metal’s quality of holding value is shown in the way we associate refined or higher class culture with precious metals such as silver and gold. Similarly, on the mental plane the virtue of metal is the capacity for integrity, maintaining one’s value system even under difficult conditions.

On the human level we can also see the virtue of metal in those that have a strong sense of self-worth. When metal energy is unbalanced, a person looses sight of their own value, their self-worth. It has been suggested that a person with a metal imbalance may seek out external things like money, reputation, fame, and respect from the outside in order to compensate for the lack of self-worth they feel within. It is also suggested that such a person may have a hard time letting go of various outdated attachments, achievements, possessions and attitudes because their self-worth is so strongly tied to these things.

This last point brings us to another quality of Metal: letting go. This quality is personified quite clearly in the two metal element organs: the lungs which take air in then let it go and their partner organ, the large intestine which holds the end products of digestion, then lets them go. A 500 mL tin can hold two cups of water only, any more will spill out. Metal is often used to hold things, a metal airplane holds cargo, a car holds passengers, a pail holds water. Metal brings us down to the essentials of life in preparation for the next phase after Metal, the time of Water, or the winter season, a time of conserving energy, hibernation and retreat. I have seen this process in my own life as my dear grandfather passed away at the end of summer. As a family we must let go and grieve for a family member who has passed on. Interestingly, in many parts of Asia, the colour worn at funerals is white, the colour associated with Metal.

This transition from Metal to Water reminds me of the way Theravadan monks and nuns live their lives with a lot of metal themes such as their vow to have only five personal possessions such as a begging bowl, a razor to cut their hair, notepad and pen. Their way of concentrating on the bare essentials of life gives them the time and energy for their spiritual pursuits such as meditation, helping others and gaining realizations. Here we see the meaning of the ancient TCM view that “Metal is the mother of Water”; metal (concentration) gives birth to of water (spiritual realizations).

Even in the west we have a very metal expression “to cut dead wood” meaning to let go of aspects of our lives that will no longer bear fruit (unworkable projects, useless possessions, meaningless activities) to allow enough time and energy for important things we need to do. In other words, we let go (Metal) of what is not beneficial to us to avoid wasting our time and resources in preparation for the winter season. In winter there is less daylight time and sun (yang) energy to invigorate the body to accomplish tasks. One prepares for this period by using the fall season to pair things down. Interesting while metal often holds things, it also lets them go: many tools used to cut things down or off are made out of metal (scissors, knives, saw, axes).

I see this element playing out for me this autumn season as I let go of old projects from the summer that will never get completed or “bare fruit” so that I can concentrate on what is most essential. The abundant growth and fun and frivolousness of summer gives way to an energy of structure, concentration and settling, getting down to business. It is a sobering, contracting and minimalizing energy, as well as a grieving one as one must let go of the warmth and fruits and joys of summer for a more cold and barren (externally) season ahead. Nature is less bountiful at this time so one must use one’s limited resources more carefully.

I also notice the quality of refinement in Metal. To “sharpen the saw” is an expression about fine-tuning or refining one’s talents and skills. In the same vein, the Metal element in TCM is said to represent the adult years in the life cycle, a time when one has already acquired many skills and abilities from one’s youth (Wood and Fire phase) which can now be refined and used in the service of humanity. Similarly, the phrase to “separate the wheat from the chaff” (presumably accomplished with metal tools or machinery) expresses the same quality of letting go of what is not needed, refining, concentrating, getting down to the essence.

Metal holds structure. On a societal level structure takes the form of routines, discipline and formality. The Metal season of autumn marks a return to school for many young people, a place where academic disciplines are taught and there is a lot of structure to the day. Similarly, a marriage is a ceremony that takes a relationship to a more formal level and is often seen as the foundation of the structure of the family, and interestingly, the occasion is marked by the exchange of metal (such as gold) in the form of a ring.

Finally, with all of its structure, Metal also represents boundaries. The skin is governed by the Metal element where the lungs control the pores’ opening and closing. Our skin is the dividing boundary where the outside world ends and we begin. Skin is where we make contact with things outside of us and where we first receive other’s contact. When a baby leaves its’ mother’s womb it first feels the world through the air on it’s skin and takes its’ first breath through the lungs. Similarly, Metal forms what TCM calls our “Defensive Qi” or another word for immunity. The lungs help form the defensive qi that resides below our skin to keep pathogens out.

On a mental level, Metal’s virtue of boundaries is conveyed in the expression “good fences make good neighbors”. A person with healthy Metal can maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. They know what they are responsible for and what they are not. They know where to respectfully draw the line and stay within the boundaries of one’s roles in relationship, family, or community as friend, parent, worker, employer. ect. A person with a metal imbalance is more likely to verge on the side of co-dependence where they experience fuzzy, unclear, indistinct boundaries. They have trouble maintaining the Metal quality of respect for themselves and others in their relationships.

So here are some things you can do for yourself to experience more health and contentment in autumn:

For the physical plane:

1. Keep some sort of exercise routine. The Lungs correspond with Metal and one major way to enhance Lung energy is through deep breathing. Practicing Qi Gong, Tai Chi, yoga
or any such mind-body exercise that includes deep breathing, breath awareness and a more introspective approach will enhance Metal.
2. Thyme tea benefits the Lungs.
3. Eat orange and dark green vegetables. The beta-carotene benefits with Lungs while
the fiber-richness of the vegetables gently cleans the Large Intestine, the Metal element organ pair of the Lungs.

For the mental plane:

1. de-clutter. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to put away the summer clothes, shelve some projects, shred old papers, clear the email inbox, pack things up and practice some “less is more”. The goal here is not to be an aesthetic or any kind of extreme, it’s just about creating some “breathing space” for the mind. With a mind less encumbered by all the junk lying around and never-ending “to-do” lists, you will have mental space to have gratitude for life’s gifts, the real meaning of Thanksgiving which is right around the corner.
2. Think about where your boundaries are (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) and decide what in your life right now is crossing your boundaries and stressing you out. You will feel this in your body when you are in stressful situations. Your feelings are guides to where your personal boundaries are. Give yourself permission to redraw those boundaries. This can take the form of learning to say “no” to certain activities that are no longer supporting your growth, or deciding which foods do not benefit your health and deciding not to eat them or paying attention to your thought patterns and re-directing your thoughts in more positive, hopeful direction when you notice negativity creeping in.

For the spiritual plane:
1. Clarify your value system. Ask yourself “what do I believe in?” and “how do I uphold this value and belief in my daily life?” Seek out a counsellor or spiritual teacher for help.
2. Think about things you’ve had to let go of in the past that served a greater purpose. Reflect with joy and how you let go of those things you didn’t need. Celebrate the courage it took to have faith that the letting go could be beneficial. For example, as kids we lost baby teeth, it hurt for a while but then we got adult teeth which were better suited to our soon-to-be adult body. We had girlfriends or boyfriends that we broke up with. The loss hurt at first and later we felt glad to have room in our life for someone more suited to us.

I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.

Hope you have a happy fall!!

Qi Gong and the benefits of Wall Squats (Zhineng)

Greetings Dear Readers,

Thought I’d share a little tip my Qi Gong teacher once said to me:

“100 wall squats a day, never catch a cold”.

Cool I thought.  I’m always curious, so I did more research on the benefits of wall squats.

Benefits of Zhineng Qi Gong (AKA Wall squats):

*   Wall Squatting is used frequently in China to treat neurological disorders, such as at the Zhineng Qigong Recovery Centre, also called the  “medicineless Hospital” 

*    Activates the kidney meridian (most important system in Traditional Chinese Medicine for increasing vitality and      long life) which bring increased health and strength to the kidneys and adrenals

*    The kidney system in TCM has a spiritual counterpart, the “Zhi”, one’s will or inner fortitude to accomplish one’s                     goals.  Practicing wall squats will boost your reserves and give strength and fearlessness to face life’s challenges with             gusto.

*     Balances reproductive hormones

*     Increases energy

*     Loosens up the back, aligns the spine, opens and clears blockages in the Ren and Du meridians

*     In disease, much of our “Qi” or energy gets stuck around the waist and lower abdomen (also called “lower Dan Tien”).   Since wall squatting                              unblocks this, it has great power to heal many health problems.

*     Strengthens knees, legs and pelvis

*     Increase post-natal qi (in TCM you are born with a certain amount of pre-natal, also called ancestral qi, the rest of your qi comes from post-natal qi with is the energy you gather from how you live your life such as how you eat, how you exercise)

*     Wall Squats promotes Qi and blood flow through the whole body, especially good for the lower back and limbs.

Have you tried wall squats for any length of time?  What do you think about it? Love to hear your responses:)