TURMERIC FOR A FOOTBALL PLAYER’S HEALTH

 

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Is it possible for football players to include non-steriod ingredients into their diets to improve their health, vitality and manage joint pain?  The answer came to me in an unexpected encounter with a 6 foot tall, heavy-set foot ball player that I met in the spice and tea bulk bin area of my favorite grocery store.

“Do you know where turmeric is and what it’s good for?”  he asked me.  Football players are not my usual healthy lifestyle audience but then here was an opportunity to help improve the health and well being of this player and who know maybe the NFL as well.

So, placing my judgement of football and its potential destruction of player’s joints, head injuries, and broken bones aside,  I opened the turmeric bin.  We gazed upon the glorious golden spice as I shared with him how this spice could help relieve the aches and pains of joints that have worn down from too much tackling and running.

Among its many health benefits turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory that can address joint pain and arthritis, lower the risk of heart disease, improve brain function and is a potent antioxidant.  All of this peeked this football player’s interest as he scooped up the spice into a large bag.

“How do you take it and what does it taste like?” he asked.  Turmeric has a mild earthy taste unlike the stinky Chinese herbs I am used to brewing. It is delicious with hot water in a tea, sprinkled on oatmeal, salads, scrambled eggs or whatever.  So simple and yet so healthily powerful!

Before I knew it this football player had his bounty of turmeric and a plan to use it and off he went. As he left he turned around and asked “what does cinnamon do?” I asked, “Do you have high blood pressure?”  “Yes”.  “Put cinnamon on your oatmeal – it lowers blood pressure”.  And then he was gone.

It is my hope that maybe little tidbits of information can make small changes to help people think more about health.  As we  say in Buddhism, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Good Health to all of you.  Would love to hear your comments on how spices may be working to spice up your life and health!

 

 

 

 

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ACUPRESSURE FOR GARDNERS

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Gardening brings the joy of connection to the earth and the rewards of nutritious vegetables and beautiful flowers.  It offers a meditative quality to our minds that teaches us patience and concentration as we sow our seeds, weed, amend the soil, prune and water. These gardening tasks demand that the body stoop, squat, bend, kneel and that can  create lower back pain, soreness, stiff achy muscles and joint pain as we toil away to nurture our garden and forget to nurture ourselves.  What to do?

 ACUPRESSURE TO THE RESCUE

Acupressure is about bringing harmony and balance into our lives. So when the results of our gardening make us feel out of balance our bodies may feel tension, soreness, pain tighteness in the knees, hips, back and hands. Self-care acupressure points are an easy, immediate and effective g0-to remedy.  So instead of reaching for the advil or tylenol reach for an acupressure point.  Here are my favorite points for the lower back aches.

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The garden day is done and here I am relaxing my back on the grass.  Bending and lifting has me drained and so I start with just bringing my knees up to my chest, taking some deep breathes, enjoying the sun on my face and stretching out my back.  I roll my hips back and forth and just continue to breathe deeply and know that all my work will later be enjoyed.

 

I then place my curved fingertips in the center of the crease behind my knees to a point known as B54 (Commanding Middle) and rock my legs back and forth.  This point is particularly good for back pain, sciatica, knee pain and stiffness. When held on an ongoing basis this point can strengthen the back and knees and support the gardener in the next round of planting or pulling weeds!

IMG_1276 Two other very special acupressure points are B23 and B47 known as Sea of Vitality.  After a day of gardening, my  energy level can get zapped.  The rolling and stretching out on the ground also stimulates these two lower back acupresure points.  When standing I press my fingers into these points and breathe deeply and then add my fists to rub them.

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Voila! my stiffness goes away and my reserves of energy get replenished so once again my “Sea of Vitality” is ready to take on the adventure in gardening!

 

So the next time you find yourself with the grand plans of redesigning a garden, be good to yourself.  Try some stretching, deep breathing, press and rub these acupressure points and your body will forever thank you for taking the time to care for yourself.  And if you have some other thoughts on great natural ways to lessen the pain of gardening, please send them along to me.  Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GARDENING AS MY SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

IMG_1180When I bought my home in 1998, my neighbors and friends were surprised and amused when the first service-person I hired was a gardener.  This house came with many fixer-upper needs to address termite damage, sewer backups, chimney cracks and well, the list went on.  But my first thought was to establish a beautiful and healthy garden to add flowers and a comfortable place for me and my two cats Moca and Max to sit outside and enjoy.  We had moved from apartment living in San Francisco.  Leaving the congested city and the heartbreak of a broken relationship we found ourselves in El Cerrito in a lovely home with a large back yard for flowers and fun and plenty of easy parking to encourage friends to visit.

Life is about embracing change and adapting to what transitions can teach us as my Buddhist practice teaches.  But when we are in the depths of pain and sorrow from loss no one really wants to hear about the “silver lining in the dark clouds, or something better is coming or time to move on”.  Trust me, I have been there and the days of moving into a new home was not easy.  It was my best friends who were the ones who came forward with a listening heart and the muscle to actually move my boxes forward to the new home.

In those initial days of filling up an empty home, I enjoyed watching the gardner dig up the garden and amend with new soil in readiness for new life.  My garden was an empty palette offering growth for my heart’s desire of flowers and herbs and vegetables. My new garden would be my sanctuary and my soul healing to see me through this transition.

I love my study of Chinese Medicine because it offers a holistic way of looking at our health and well being from a body, mind and spirit viewpoint. The balance and harmony of these three variables make up what would be considered a healthy being. Yet, so often the Spirit gets lost when we focus only on our bodily aches and pains and malfunctions. We resort to medicines that cure the symptoms of pain and illness but lose sight of what it takes to prevent illness and maintain health.  I am reminded about the importance of Spirit in our lives when I read this quote:

“Loss of soul is an ever-present danger for all of us; we need numerous ways of sheltering the soul and housing spirits so that they will not disappear from loss of memory or sheer evaporation in the plethora of things and events that blow through our lives”  Thomas Moore.

Life can swerve us in many directions.  Family obligations, job demands, media overload and boredom that leads us to take our lives and what we have for granted.  It takes effort to focus on the Spirit within.  Recently I confess I looked at my garden and realized how it seemed a little neglected in parts.  I thought back to how it came to be so many years ago.

Intuition and self  pleasure were my guides in navigating garden nurseries and plant and garden art placement.  MostlIMG_1177y, I chose and planted for joy.  One of my first purchases was  a Buddha.  I strategically placed the statue in the garden so as the morning sun came over my home its first rays would shine on the Buddha.  And another day would begin.  Looking back I can see that my Buddha placement was my intention to remind myself and accept change and adaptation.  It’s another reminder of Nature’s way of leading and supporting transitions.

My garden has grown over these 17 years with markings of transitions.  My selected additions and gifts from friends contribute to the sacredness of the place that I call a sanctuary.  Moca has passed away IMG_1176and a statue has been placed over his ashes that have been incorporated into the earth to support new growth. An olive tree celebrates a honeymoon trip to Italy.  An herb garden planted under the olive tree grows from soil blessed with the sand from a mandala created by Tibetan monks.  A memory garden was created under a plum tree chosen for my first childhood memory of a tree in our back yard and where the plums were made into delicious plum jam enjoyed all winter. Bamboo in large containers offers a gentle, quiet and peaceful soothing sound as I sit in the garden.

Now we are in Spring time.  I look around with fresh eyes.  Time has passed by and my garden has tended itself while I was busy with other life demands. I realize now that its time to renew and refresh both the garden and my Spirit.  A time to reflect. A time to amend the soil. A time to adapt and adjust to California’s four year drought. And a time to bring back the joys and lessons of what a garden can offer.IMG_1173

My sanctuary garden is a blessing to my well being that soothes my spirit and energizes all parts of me.    It’s a place where sitting and reading are supported in a variety of nooks.  It’s a place where qigong and yoga can be practiced on the grass and the life energy of trees and plants can be folded into my being. It’s a place where I can experience Nature’s lessons of growth, adaptation, function, beauty, and self expression. It’s a place where butterflies and hummingbirds are welcomed.  It’s a place where friends gather for a glass of wine and a laugh.  Most of all it’s a place that nurtures me and reminds me to take less for granted and more for gratitude.  Enjoy my sanctuary garden!

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RESOURCES:  The Sanctuary Garden (Creating a Place of Refuge in Your Yard or Garden) by Christopher Forrest and Tricia Clark McDowell

 

 

Posted in Altars, Body Mind Spirit, Chinese Medicine, Garden, Nature, Qigong, Tea, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

SPRING CLEANING FOR THE BODY, MIND, SOUL

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Ah, Spring is here.  Time to open the windows, let fresh air in and spring clean our homes.  It can also mean time to spring clean our bodies, minds and souls after a winter of being closed in.  Detox cleanses are popular to do in the Spring and Fall especially if allergies get activated because of the increase in pollen.  I have suffered in years past from invasions of Spring-time dust and pollen resulting in sinus infections and antibiotics.  Several years ago I took stock of my health imbalances and began to incorporate some natural remedies that have eliminated the infections and brought me into a state of healthy balance.  Now I don’t get sick and antibiotics are a thing of the past.  So before and during the Spring season I have my own favorite ways to stay healthy.

Here are a few of my favorite Spring cleaning tips for body and soul:

1.  NETI POT CLEANSING OF THE NOSE.   The Neti pot is like a little tea pot or Aladdin’s lamp that is filled with warm water (bottled or filtered works best) with a 1/4 tsp of salt.  Tilting your head over a sink, insert the spout into one nostril and allow it to flow IMG_1156through and out the other nostril.  While it seems odd to do, the benefits are enormous.  The irrigation helps to flush out any bacteria that may be clinging to the tiny hairs in the nose.  I do this once a week before Spring starts and then whenever a little tickle in the nose tells me that some unwanted toxins are beginning to lodge in my nose and create infection.  Nasal irrigation really helps to not only clear the passages but to alleviate any congestion.  It is great to use as a prevention of colds and infections and to clear blockages that may occur later.  And as I have written in other blogs I have had such great success in eliminating the need for antibiotics and cold medicines because of paying attention to seasonal changes and polluntants in the air.  My liver and kidneys are healthier and better functioning for it.

2.  DANDELION TEA:  Herbal teas are a mainstay in my diet every day.  Once I discovered that so many herbal teas have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and seemingly anti-everything I couldn’t help but add them to my health regime.  Dandelions are usually seen as nuisance weeds in the yard.  And they are even with their bright yellow flowers.  But the benefits far out way their nuisance reputation.

IMG_1162Dandelion is very rich in protein, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, niacin, riboflavin, potassium and vitamins A,B,C,D and E.  It helps all of the digestive organs (liver, kidney, gallbladder).   It especially helps the liver organ to detoxify and cleanse the blood  It is a great diuretic and it eases bloat and aching joints. I buy dandelion tea in the convenient tea bags as well as in its natural luscious green leafy stalks which can be chopped up and put into boiling water for tea or added to salads to reap its fresh natural benefits.  Even though there are dandelions in my garden and at my local park, I hesitate to dig them up – we do have neighbor dogs that share our local surroundings.  So better to purchase dandelion from my natural food store.

I have found that as I ease into Spring drinking dandelion tea, my systems of digestion and elimination work so much easier.  The earthy quality of the tea keeps me calm and grounded so even when the day becomes longer and I become more active, my moods and feelings remain more balanced.

3.  MORE LEAFY GREENS: Adding more salads to my diet promotes healthy liver, colon and lymphatic and immune systems.  Indoor winter time meant going inward and often meant eating soups and warmer foods and less of cooler salads.  But with Spring  lettuce, kale, spinach are bursting out and lots of salads are on my agenda.  They bring in their own vitamins and minerals  help to stimulate my elimination systems.  Dandelion greens have not been the top of my list but, ok, I am willing to give them a try for health’s sake. 

 Dr. Andrew Weil at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine promotes dandelion greens for their bitter taste because they help to produce bile that is important to optimal digestion.  The bitter taste challenges the liver just as muscles challenged by exercise function better than ones that atrophy from underuse.  

I am learning to expand my taste buds and I have to admit that dandelions are more of a challenge.  But the benefits I feel in a more energetic body that gets me out into Nature and my garden is well worth the effort.  So a few dandelion greens either sauteed with garlic and spinach or a few chopped up in a salad are finding their way into my health care.  

4.  MEDITATIVE MOVEMENT: Meditation is another mainstay of my healthy lifestyle but especially in Spring as I begin to walk more out in Nature and around my neighborhood.  Starting the day with some quiet time to express a positive intention for the day and to move into some stretches and qigong movements sets the tone for me.  I feel armed for the day when I can first touch into my core values, beliefs, skills and joyous goodness.  I see this morning qigong/meditation (sometimes it is 15 minutes and most times 30 minutes or more) as a way to acknowledge the importance of my unique being that in the face of life’s challenges can conquer the day!

So there are some thoughts that work for me and hope that work for you as well. I would love to hear your comments and to learn what you do to ease into Spring.

 

 

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THE GARDENING OF MY SOUL

IMG_1045It’s spring and my roses are now in full bloom – they somehow just know how to to that without my prompting.  I love these guys – so colorful and so fragrant.  There are other flowers and vegetables that were once here last year who fulfilled their mission and then found their way to the great compost of the earth that will then support newer generations of flowers and vegetables.

I like to spend time in my garden just sitting and meditating.  These roses have taken some time to mature sending their viney branches upward and merging with the fence line.  They appear as wallpaper surrounding this sanctuary of what I call my garden.

To sit and reflect in my garden is to understand at a deeper wordless level that Nature follows a path of change and renewal.  Even when droughts or natural devastation occur Nature continues its course and its up to us as stewards of the environment to meet those challenges and move forward.  I always feel good when I walk outside and breathe in good oxygen, stretch my legs, hear the birds and discover what new changes have popped up over night .  Now that I take a closer look and sit in the garden I feel embraced by a new understanding of how Nature is impacting me more.

My garden takes me back to my roots in Minnesota where winters are long and the growing season is short.  Every year my parents might grow a few vegetables but most of their time and effort was in planting flowers.  I can still remember the many trips to the garden nurseries and bringing home bright colored annuals that would be planted amidst the perennials that popped up each year on cue.  The care of the soil and the perfect placement of each flower brought in was well engrained in me.  Choosing and caring for flowers was a year round event. IMG_1061 So even in the winter my brothers and I might go down to the corner drug store and retrieve a tossed out cigar box to bring home, fill with dirt, plant seeds (nasturtiums or bachelor buttons) and pray over them until Spring came and welcomed them into the earth.

Now sitting in my garden, I can smile and reminisce about those times and appreciate how much my growing up years taught me to be a steward of the land and a planter for nourishment and beauty.  Those years were about caring for the soil, planting for food on the table and most of all creating space for the joyous beauty that each flower brings.

IMG_1057My garden connects to times past and to relatives now gone but not forgotten. I garden with the spirit of my ancestors. I remember growing up how my Norwegian grandmother Celia Svebakk Nelson would carefully till her backyard garden and sow zinnias that magically would blossom into a multitude of colors as summer progressed.  And then there my other grandmother Nellie Scanlon whose lilac bush would exude a most fragrant scent from the delicate purple flowers.  I chuckle to myself when I think of my mother’s “field” of pansies – one of her favorite flowers that were often picked and brought into the house and displayed in a pansies bowl on the table.  Everyone enjoyed them including the cat who would jump up on the table and swipe out the pansies and drink the water in the bowl!  What memories!IMG_1059

 

This year I will once again plant tomatoes, beans, apples, plums, herbs, delphiniums, zinnias, petunias, pansies and for the bachelor brother who recently passed away there will of course be a sprinkling of bachelor button seeds.

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And as I watch them grow I will feel the embrace and loving goodness of each family member who has passed through my life and touched my soul and taught me to appreciate the beauty of flowers.

How could I be more in harmony with Nature than what I see and do within my own garden!

 

“Look Deep into Nature then you will understand everything better” – Albert Einstein

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SPRING IS IN THE AIR

Spring has arrived.  Time to shake off the stillness of winter.  Bring in the seeds of hopes and dreams that were incubating during the winter months and plant them in our gardens to grow.  It is our nature to grow and develop and Nature leads the way in giving us many examples on how to push forward, give birth, create new starts and just go for it.

Our days are becoming longer and with extended light I feel the urge tIMG_0953o go outside and discover what is popping up in my area.  A trek to Bodega Bay on the northern California coast fed my senses with a colorful and glorious array of ice plant and other flowers.  The Pacific ocean with its crashing waves created the perfect backdrop for Nature’s welcome to Spring.

IMG_0961Throughout the year, the ice plant remains intact with its green leaves.  But when Spring comes, its flowers emerge as a burst of new energy and life that provides hope and optimism – the vital energy we need to spring forward.  By going out to the ocean, taking a walk in my own neighborhood, or even in looking at my garden I can feel the earth awakening from its winter sleep and getting ready for a new cycle of growth.  Nature offers an essential nutrient – “Vitamin N” that teaches us to put our wifi connections and to do lists aside and open our minds and spirits to the present moment of fresh air, hikes and beauty.

I love this time of year for how I can stretch my legs, open my mind to new projects and possibilities and feed my spirit.  I also know that Spring can also bring on some unwelcome visitors such as allergies, strained muscles and joints and over exertion.  Because I have taken the turn in my life to view my health care as self care and have opened my mind and tool box to a variety of teas and techniques, illness does not invade me as it once did.  Acupressure, qigong, herbal teas, seasonal diet, meditation and of course walking with Nature are my mainstays of healthy living.

In the next few Blogs I will share with you what Spring from Chinese medicine  and other traditions has to teach what I have learned along my road to healthy living.

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“Just living is not enough….one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower”

Hans Christian Andersen

 

 

 

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ELEPHANT SEALS TEACH US TO DIVE DEEP WITHIN OURSELVES

IMG_0861Pt. Reyes National Seashore has captured my heart and attention this winter in so many ways.  It is always a pleasure to venture out onto the beach to picnic and play in the ocean but some seasons have an added bonus of being able to view creatures from the sea who also come to rest and play.  The elephant seals are here on their annual rest, birth, wean, mate cycle and what a sight they are.  I had the pleasure of spending some days with them.  They are magnificent creatures.  As I sat with them at Drakes Beach I wondered if their was something in their seasonal life cycles that offered a message to me.  Here are a few thoughts:

ADAPT – Elephant seals have maintained their tribe over thousands of years.  Once being land based mammals they were forced into the sea and re-established themselves in the sea as a result of catastrophic natural events that destroyed parts of the earth.  Later man hunted them to near extinction.  As forces of nature or even the forces from my fellow mankind may try to bring me down, finding ways to adapt and move forward with my life drive and purpose is a challenge but doable. It’s about being true to your life purpose and not looking back.

BALANCE LIFE ACTIVITIES – The elephant seals have a predictable pattern of spending 80% of their life in the IMG_0864open sea eating, sleeping, digesting and traveling from Mexico to Alaska.  They spend a small period of time on-shore each winter to give birth, rest, and molt before they head back out to sea. Their inner compass brings them to safe and secure beaches such as at Pt. Reyes where their cycle of  life can be protected and their tribe can thrive.  A balance of forging for food and time for rest is a must to regain energy and strength and to not push the boundaries of what our bodies and stamina can maintain.  My winter beach break with the elephant seals brought me into a place of peace and contentment.  I sat there hearing and feeling the rhythm of the ocean along with the quiet stillness of the seals as they lounged on the beach. Understanding that there is a time for action and a time for quietness.  Balance.  The elephant seals follow a pattern that works.  There is a lesson there to find one’s own pattern of surviving and thriving that works and then honor it. One pattern does not fit all.

DIVE DEEP FOR INNER NOURISHMENT – An amazing feature of the elephant seals is their ability to dive deep up to 1,000 to 2,000 feet for up to half an hour to find their nutritious food.  At those depths it’s dark and there are no other competing seals or other factors to get in the way of finding food.  In spite of their big eyes, the ocean at those depths is dark and they must depend on instinct and IMG_0730trust that what they are looking for is there.  What a symbol for me to dive deep within myself into the darkness of the unknowns in life, deep into my heart and soul to find that which will nourish and support me. In some circles of Shamanism the seal is a symbol of the inner voice and the internal compass that gives support and direction.  Going to the depths away from competing forces is a reminder to connect to our deep inner rhythms, feelings and all-knowing self.  During this time of feeding, the female seals are carrying a new life that will come forth in the winter months.  It’s a reminder that I too carry the seeds of my life purpose, dreams and creative endeavors. I forget about these things sometimes because of too many distractions of daily life especially with modern technology.

When I do take that time to follow my instincts and trust that the time in darkness will provide the necessary nutrients and support to bring my creations to a place to be birthed – then I know I am on the right track toward a life worth living. Elephant seals have adapted over time to slow their heart beats, maintain oxygen in alternative ways, and most of all to flow with the currents of the ocean.  All to keep their tribe thriving, create new life, adapt to the changes brought on by nature or man and all with the internal compass that guides.  So many lessons right before my very eyes.

Spring is on the horizon now.  The elephant seals have moved on into the ocean and onto a new cycle of life.  So much to learn from what nature has to offer.

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Look deep into Nature and then you will understand everything better.

Albert Einstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WHAT WINTER HAS TO TEACH US IF WE CARE TO LISTEN

WINTER TEACHES CONNECTION TO OUR UNIQUE LIFE ESSENCE A TIME FOR REST, REFLECTION TO NURTURE OUR HOPES AND DREAMS

Now in the darkest and coldest time of year, I have brought more warmth into my home in the form of turning on the heat, adding more layers of wool clothes, lighting more candles and inviting small groups of friends and family to join me for soups, drink and quiet conversation.  Life has become less stressful and more enjoyable and meaningful as I have learned that clues to a healthy and happy lifestyle may be in what ancient Chinese medicine discovered some 5,000 years ago. More about that later.

For some of my friends and family, winter represents the stress of holiday frenzy, colds and flu and a need to keep up an active pace.  In January, there comes the big push to join gyms, lose weight and actively pursue New Year’s resolutions.  The end of the calendar year becomes the focal driving force to seize the day and push forward into the new year.  It may not occur to them that winter can offer a slower respite time and that stress and illness is not inevitable even with busy work and life responsibilities.

I was once in that frenzy mode.  My growing up years in Minnesota brought the annual snow, ice, freezing temperatures, and yearly cold.  New year’s resolutions focused on setting goals to make the coming year a better one than the last year – Resolutions that often fell flat by March.  Yet, winter did have its highlights and building resilience skills have formed the resourceful independent character that I am today.  I am grateful for those experiences.

Now some years later I look at winter a little differently.  Granted I now live in Northern California where rain in winter has replaced the snow I grew up  with.  It has become  more  like a special time of year to move  inward.  Just as bears find the instinct to burrow inward into their caves to hibernate, so I find winter to be an ideal time to look inward to my hopes, dreams, and passions in life.  It’s a time for self reflection and self nourishment. Taking the time to travel inward has given me multiple benefits that have kept me healthy in body and spirit.  Flus and colds are things of the past for me as I take the time to nourish my body with soups and herbal teas and nourish my spirit with quiet time for myself.  Daily home and work responsibilities are still present but what seems to have changed is my approach and attitude to balance my life even in the midst of chaos.

IMG_0740The flowers and trees in my garden are dormant and resting in the earth.  The job of fruit and flower production is over. I am confident that they are resting in anticipation for the time when spring comes to begin the growth cycle for another year. It happens every year and I trust that it will continue even as we in California experience a drought.  Seasons change. Life changes and it is in our best health and well being interests to build our resilience skills to adapt to the changes with grace and fortitude. Taking time inward helps.

In the Chinese medicine viewpoint human beings are viewed as a microcosm of the universe.   Just as there are daily and seasonal cycles in nature, there are cycles of change within our bodies.  The 5 Element Theory in Chinese medicine captures this dynamic relationship of  Nature-Man. It offers a holistic body/mind/spirit approach to help us to maintain strong health and well being.  Each element found in Nature (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal) has various associations. For example the Water element is associated with winter,  color of blue/black, the emotion of fear, Kidney meridian and the spirit of Zhi (our vital life force and will power).

The emotion associated with Water Element is fear.  That has shown up for me in the past as fear questions:  Did I do enough this year toward my life goals? Am I doing enough to love and support those around me? Am I making enough money?  Today I ask the question: Does any of this really matter in the grand scheme of life? And when I reflect on this last bigger question I see that the answer lies in sorting out my values and living my priorities for health, friendship, family and my place in the world. FearIMG_0489s can creep up in our lives – sometimes for a good reason but just as often for no good reason.  Dark cold days can bring on fear, depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that can deplete energy and make us sick and dampen our spirits.

It’s a challenge to realize that within the darkness there is light.  Chinese medicine teaches this concept of balance to bring harmony. Winter can give lots of opportunity to go deep within and to discover values and practices that can help to address our fears and support and sustain us through the most difficult of life challenges at other times of the year.  The antidote to fear is courage and determination.  Taking “time inward” to discover those attributes within ourselves can make winter a necessary part of our overall being. It takes courage and patience to take the time to delve into winter’s messages to slow down and reflect. It takes courage and patience to accept the fears we might have about our life situation. Looking inward offers an opportunity to plant a seed of intentions (not goals or resolutions) that can be nurtured now and blossom throughout the year.

Here are some ways that I have found winter to be of benefit to my health and well being:

NIMG_0697ATURE  – Walking in winter presents the blue gray skies as a soft way that offers me peace and contentment – especially as I walk near water.

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I find myself going to the ocean to watch the annual gray whale migration from Alaska to Baja, Mexico.  Each of these pregnant whales bears new life following a pattern coded in their DNA to follow the same path.  I will welcome them as they swim back to Alaska with new born calves in the Spring. I breathe in clean ocean air and marvel at the beauty and continuation of life.

IMG_0861This is the time of year when the elephant seals mate and give birth.  Going to the beach this time of year takes on a different experience than in the hot summer.  I stand in awe of these huge masses of beings who find their way to the same stomping grounds each year.  Again reminding me how nature flows on its own in its own time.

 

IMG_0585My walks also take me into the woods where over the past three years I have discovered this little pine tree growing within a rock.  What courage and determination it takes to flourish in what seems like an unnatural environment!

 

FRIENDS  – Winter offers me an opportune time to invite special friends for coffee and in-depth conversation.  It adds to my happiness and well being to slow down and make this happen.  According to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report released in 2013, Denmark was named the happiest country in the world followed by other northern European countries. It’s interesting that countries facing the darkest time of year in winter also balance and welcome the darkness with light and friendship. The Danish concept of “hygge” (pronounced hYOO-guh) is a major contributor.  It is the idea of “cozying down” and togetherness that creates intimacy and a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment all rolled into one.” Beyond the holidays that sense of close friendship is so needed to light up the darkness and warm the cold.

And speIMG_0879aking of friends – one of my best friends is Max, my cat of 20 years!  After five operations to remove phone cords, wine corks and other non-nutritional household items and surviving the fall from the third story flat we lived in, Max lives to exemplify what it means to live with courage and determination to make every day count.  So we do “cozy down” together every day.  What joy our furry friends offer us!

MEDITATION/REFLECTION TIME – Winter teaches us to slow down and find some time for introspection.  These are both keys to helping to sustain ourselves throughout the rest of the year and the rest of our lives. A daily practice of meditation has helped me to remember and appreciate my true essence.  It brings balance and perspective on where I am going in life and how I can best meet the challenges thrown at me. Gratitude for what I have helps me to scare away the fears in my life. Mindful breathing practice has helped me stay focused in the moment, sleep better and maintain a healthier outlook. To be alive, healthy, happy, takes a practice of “time inward” to nurture the vital life force ZHI that Chinese medicine defines.

It has been fourteen years now since my mother passed away in the dead of winter in Minnesota.  I was a major caregiver during her four months of hospice care.  Caregiving is grueling.  The pain and strain of losing my mother wore me out. Yet, every night at 11:00pm, I took the time to sit in meditation to quiet my spirit and replenish my energy.  I took the time each day to go out and walk in the snow near the frozen lake I had grown up with. Meditation and walking in nature helped me to accept the inevitable event of my mother’s death.  It helped me to stay focused and grateful for that time of transition that softened the grief I experienced after.

ACUPRESSURE/REIKI SESSIONS – Acupressure therapy has become a mainstay in my life.  Through its many benefits it releases my muscular tension and promotes blood circulation.  But most of all I appreciate acupressure for its soothing touch that releases the oxytocin in my brain, the neurotransmitter of “calm and peacefulness”.  And it is through the experience of calm and peacefulness that I can regroup within and appreciate my strengths and attributes.  Acupressure and Reiki offers me self-nourishing care options that I can do any where (even standing in line at the grocery store).  It helps to keep me grounded. I love that I can share this magical touch therapy with friends and clients knowing that calm nurturing touch can offer a gift of health and balance.

Winter is a time to listen to one’s soul.  A time to love and appreciate what life brings now.  A time to plant seeds of intentions, dreams and hopes for where life can lead next.  A time of faith that all that we dream and intend will come forward or something better.

And lest we fear that the winter will never end, we can take heart in the words of Albert Camus, “in the midst of winter I finally learned that there is in me an invincible summer.” Seasons change and so do we with strength, courage and patience.

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SURVIVE OR THRIVE – IT’S UP TO YOU

“Survive or thrive” is a very hot topic these days.  Martha Stewart and Arianna Huffington were lead speakers at the QuickBook Connect conference in San Francisco giving advice to young small business owners seeking to make it big like them. Their advice to chill out each day away from computers and social media was not readily accepted. Take time out, sleep more, turn off the tech connections – yeah right!  The response from these up and coming business owners was “I’ll sleep when I’m rich like you”.

Our American culture is well known to value long working hours, competition and material accumulation. It’s how we “get ahead” and how we think that we”succeed”. The pressures to succeed or just keep up whether in the work force or daily living do not value taking time out but in staying wired and connected to many tech venues 24/7.  We have become a society that has forgotten how to care for our bodies and souls and to communicate and interact with those in our community. Too much world news, demands, material accumulation, tech talk not face to face talk……..We become life survivors who at the end of the day find ourselves fatigued in body and soul and often lacking in time and inclination to look within at what may be our passion and purpose in life.

When I think about “Survive or Thrive” in my own life, I have to admit that I was once driven to succeed by long working  hours and exhausting my mind and body to complete work projects.  Work was my mission in life. The money was great.  My material desires were met. Goals to help the world through my philanthropic consulting seemed to help the community.  Yet, something was missing inside.  At the end of the day I  felt depleted not excited. I was surviving but in retrospect not thriving. There were elements in my life that just did not exist and I often thought those elements of living my passion (whatever that was) would come at some later point (who had time?).  Little did I realize that the elements that would define how I thrive in life were pieces of my life puzzle that I needed to define and nurture. They were not something that could be handed to me by someone else. I was surviving in life when I thought I was thriving.

So what is the difference between survive and thrive? Here are my thoughts:

A dictionary definition states: “Survive means to remain and continue in existence and persevere especially in spite of danger or hardship.”  We survive the demands of a long work project. We survive the death of a loved one. We survive the damage of mother nature’s earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes.  In each case, we are reacting to some circumstance outside of ourselves .  We move through each day and do what it takes to make life work.  It’s true that each situation challenges us to dig deep and discover what we are made of. It may surprise us to know that we possess survival skills (perseverance, determination, strength, courage) that may open our awareness and appreciation to who and what we are.  But operating in survival mode day after day will take its toll on our bodies, minds, and emotions.  Sooner or later we could find ourselves in burn-out mode and operating on a tank of empty energy. Its when surviving becomes a lifestyle with no reflection or down time that we lose a sense of joy and verve for life.

“Thrive is to prosper, be fortunate or successful and grow and develop vigorously and flourish.” It comes from a place of knowing our life purpose, fully embracing our passions and confidently living life with gusto and enthusiasm.  It manifests as we actively nurture the gem within ourselves that is our unique knowledge, skills and being to offer to the world around us.  To thrive is trust our inner wisdom that acts as our compass to navigate life in the best way we know how for our own well being and the well being of others around us. The ability to thrive is not measured by outside standards but by a set of internal measurements that each of us must devise and which determines our perception and behavior to the situations we face each day.

The truth is that we need the skills of both surviving and thriving – the ability to face and work through challenges head-on and the ability to reflect, recognize and appreciate our unique inner wisdom that leads us toward a life worth living. Both require effort and commitment and a choice.

For me, choosing to thrive in life has meant a letting go of a way of thinking, competing, and accumulating that was valued by outside standards but really did not bring me happiness nor stoke my inner fire.  And it has taken some time to come to terms and acknowledgement of what “Thrive” means for me and how I can nurture that.  Looking outside the box for health care solutions took me in the direction of Traditional Chinese Medicine, qigong practice, meditation, Reiki energy work – all of which helped me to slow down, tune inward and discover what was important to me.  These modalities were the gateway to my now choice to approach life with an attitude and action to not waste time but to appreciate each moment as an opportunity to thrive.  And to thrive means to be happy, true to myself, and most of all enjoying life with all its ups and downs and challenges and opportunities.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive…and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”   – Maya Angelou

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ACUPRESSURE AND HEALING TOOLS FOR GRIEF

Loss is a fact of life.  It’s part of the journey from the time we are born until we take our last breath.  Loss comes in different forms from loss of job, relationships, financial security, mental health and death of a loved one.  Each loss brings with it a time to grieve and an opportunity to find meaning and hopefully healing toward the next chapter in life.

In my acupressure practice most clients who come to me usually complain of physical ailments such as back or shoulder pain, women’s health issues, digestive issues, insomnia etc.  Some clients who come for relief of side effects of cancer treatments are amazed to find that acupressure provided an additional benefit of soothing their emotional and spiritual well being.  This additional benefit was made possible because Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a holistic approach to viewing a person.  Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual variables have equal standing in diagnosing and treating a client.  My studies in TCM armed me with the knowledge to offer sessions that could address all these variables and to offer self-care acupressure routines as well.

Now, loss and grief have found their way into my life.  Four weeks ago I received the news that my brother died alone in his apartment. He was a Viet Nam war vet who for more than forty years suffered from PTSD, diabetes, depression, stroke and many other health and mental health problems.  When I received the news of his death, it was a shock, expected but not expected.  During much of those forty years, I watched and supported him to seek help when his health/mental health issues took its toll.  As I look back on those many years, I realize that I have been in a state of grieving the loss of who he once was as a vibrant and brilliant human being before the effects of war took over his life.

As I embrace my grief, I have been comforted by friends and family.  The same healing tools that I have offered others, I now am partaking in. The road I chose to help my healing of grief and loss incorporated activities that I already knew brought health and well being into my life.  They included meditation, deep breathing, acupressure, writing, tea and altar honoring. These activities are my friends that I can count on to support me. Each helps me to slow down and tune into my own rhythm and the rhythm of life.

Here is how I bring them all together:

MEDITATION:  Every morning I sit quietly before my day begins. I have practiced meditation for many years and know that when I sit I am open to the feelings and thoughts just as they are real and true for me right now.  Meditation helps me to be grounded and to acknowledge and accept the reality of the loss and grief I feel.  Meditation helps to encourage self compassion  and acceptance that grief may be my companion for some time and that’s ok.  Loss and grief are a natural part of life.  There is no time frame for experiencing grief.  It may come in waves and degrees.   Grief and loss are individual experiences.  This is why I sit quietly in meditation every day to reach down into my soul and inner healer to access what is the right path for me. I know now that this every day practice gives me strength, support, and inner courage to face this difficult time in my life. IMG_0806

Whatever it is called meditation, quiet time, chanting or prayer can open one’s heart and soul to allow one to lean into loss and grief and embrace it for what it has to offer.

DEEP BREATHING:  Along with my meditation, I  take some time to breathe deeply.  It takes practice.  Deep breathing from the belly can bring me back to a more grounded place.  Too often fear, stress, anxiety take over and suddenly breathing comes from a more shallow place in the chest. My shock at learning of my brother’s death left me breathing from that shallow place. Later, I began to calm myself and to practice deep breathing. The benefits of deep breathing-in healthy oxygen and breathing out the carbon dioxide toxins helps to slow the heart rate, increase circulation, improve mental clarity and bring calmness.  I combined my deep breathing with potent acupressure points that in the  past have offered me the peace of mind and emotional balance.

ACUPRESSURE:  My hands have become my healers.  The instruments that offer comfort and solace as I navigate my way through my grief, loss and stress.  What I most wanted when I heard the news of my brother’s death was to be hugged.  My heart was broken, my shock took hold and my tears just flowed.

There are some 365 acupressure points.  When the QI (chee) energy in our system is flowing we are in balance and harmony.  When loss and grief knocked on my door, I invited them in because I knew that these feelings are all a part of what life is all about.   I felt so much sadness accumulating and centered in my chest.  I am a firm believer in “being with what is right before me now” and so my Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) studies kicked in and  have supported me through this time.

As much as I would like to distance myself from the unpleasant feelings of loss and grief I know that healing comes from embracing and living with what is in the here and now.

Here are a few acupressure points I have learned that resonate comfort and support for me. I practice them every day along with deep breathing. IMG_0833 Lu1 (Central Palace) is located three finger widths below the outer portion of the collarbone.

CV 17 (Sea of Tranquility) located at the center of the chest. This point nourishes, supports and calms one especially during heavy emotional stress times.

I criss-cross my hands over the CV 17 (Sea of Tranquility) point and touch the Lu1 (Central Palace) point breathing deeply.  I use these points several times a day which I have found to be helpful to release what my heart holds and to calm my spirit and hug myself. IMG_0840

Grieving takes its toll both emotionally and physically.  I have found that my energy is low and sluggish my focus can be scattered, my sleep patterns are disrupted and generally my overall being is dispirited.

I utilize a combination of CV17 (Sea of Tranquility) with a point just below the navel CV6 (Sea of Qi or energy) that help to balance my system and encourage my resiliency to follow my path in my own way.

To address my emotional state, I find myself holding a point in the palm of my hand, P8 (Laogong or Palace of Labor).  It feels comfortable and a way to release stress and calm the mind. IMG_0839 These acupressure points and more that I will discuss in another Blog have formed the basis of a daily practice along with the deep breathing and meditation that I offer to myself.  It gives me practices to do during a time when I have felt hopeless and helpless.  When the mind scatters and the emotions of the heart are overwhelming, I have found that having a foundation of practices offers some stability in my day and a reminder that life is about change and some changes result in endings that we don’t necessarily want to experience.  Yet, life brings endings that turn into new beginnings and somehow we learn to incorporate our grief into a special place in our hearts and move forward.

ALTAR HONORING:  During this very sacred time of grieving, bringing together pictures, mementos, letters and other reminders of the one who has passed on can be a very healing activity.  My tribute to my brother is showing up in a couple of different places in my home.  In my meditation space, I have my own altar set up with my personal mementos, candle and flowers. I also have a picture of the two of us in a happy, healthy time displayed in my living room.  Both places offer an opportunity to pass by and honor him.

IMG_0847   I have now added my brother’s picture along with rosemary from my garden to the altar. Rosemary has long been considered a symbol of friendship, loyalty and remembrance. I have bundled rosemary with a ribbon and given it as a memento at remembrance services. Now I incorporate rosemary on an altar near my brother’s picture and even combine it with hot water to make a soothing tea that has loads of antioxidants and is known to tonify the nervous system and uplift the spirit.

My grief will probably stay with me for some time.  But with writing this blog and incorporating these healing tools into my life, I feel that I can be on the road to rebalancing my life and that these difficult times will ease in time. My heart that is wounded can heal. IMG_0819

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