Jan 1 2020
Winter envelops us in darkness, much like a fetus is enveloped in its mother’s womb. It is a time of stillness, of waiting. The Water Element corresponds to the season of winter.
During this time of descending temperatures, shorter days and long nights, our friends in both the animal and plant kingdoms slow down to stillness. Snow covers the earth, replenishing her resources. Winter is a time of hibernation, when we gather our resources and prepare for the transitions of death and birth.
In previous articles, we have explored each of the five elements. The Wood Element corresponds to spring, when many animals give birth. Wood symbolizes the explosive growth that occurs in childhood. The Fire Element corresponds to summer, the season when humans enter adolescence and reach sexual maturity. The Earth Element corresponds to late summer when crops ripen and our energies are focused upon nurturing our families and developing our communities. The Metal Element corresponds to the autumn when the leaves first dazzle us with color before turning brown, falling to the ground and decaying. Metal symbolizes the challenge we face as we age – to let go of what is no longer needed and celebrate life’s mysteries and treasures.
In Chinese medicine, the Water Element is the final element in the cycle of change. Fear is the emotion that corresponds to winter and the Water Element. Western culture views fear as having no purpose or value. Fear is considered a negative emotion that exists only to be overcome.
We have a choice: We can run from our fears or we can face them. With courage, fear can be transformational, helping us to let go of what is no longer needed and prepare for the next stage in our lives.
What is it that you fear most in life? Often we are afraid of losing family members, friends or possessions. Sometimes we fear the loss of our physical or mental health. Many of us are afraid of death.
Humans often resist change. We want things to stay just as they are, although they never do. With each passing decade, we inevitably experience loss and concurrent change. It’s just part of life’s curriculum.
Stillness, like fear, is not embraced by modern western culture. We tend to ignore winter’s natural rhythms while staying busy and keeping our minds occupied.
We are tuned to our work and school schedules, rising early in the AM to arrive at an artificially set time. Our days are spent focused on accomplishing goals and performing tasks. When the darkness of evening falls, we turn on our electric lights, smart phones, computers and televisions.
The stillness of winter is inherently a time of reflection. By not “doing,” we have an opportunity to restore, recoup and return to our essence.
Stillness is often associated with fear, loss and death. Why do we fear death? And why is fear considered to be a negative emotion? Perhaps we fear moving into the unknown. Perhaps we resist uncertainty and change.
Winter is a wonderful opportunity to explore both stillness and fear. Consider tuning into the natural rhythm of the sun, rising later and going to bed earlier on the weekends. Spend time pursuing quiet inside your home. Witness the the inner quiet and stillness in nature.
Explore your fear. Is there something you are holding onto that isn’t really serving you? See if you can let it go. The stillness of winter and the Water Element turns us inward. Introspection has the potential to bring us closer to our soul.
In Chinese medicine, Water element is responsible for storage and management of our vital resources. Adequate reserves of water provides us with the fluidity to explore our thoughts, survey the possibilities and gives us the resources necessary to make change. The Water Element is also responsible for separating out our impurities and riding the body of these wastes.
The meridians that correspond with the Water Element are the kidney and urinary bladder. On the physical level, this element is responsible for maintaining fluid balance throughout the body. Too much fluid and we develop edema or congestive heart failure. Too little water and we become dehydrated or develop toxins and subsequent infectious diseases.
Our relationship to fear is often either of excess or insufficiency. When we have too much fear we become paralyzed. We become unable to move, to act, to do the right thing. When we have too little fear we become reckless. We leap before we look, taking unnecessary risks, flirting with danger.
In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are the home of the ancestral chi or in western terms, our genetic inheritance. Qi forms the energetic underpinnings of all life and is stored in the kidneys. While it is easy to “overspend” our energetic resources by doing more than we should, it is much more difficult to restore our Qi.
While the urinary bladder stores fluids and rids the body of waste, the kidneys manage the fluids, keeping them pure and distributing them throughout the system. Acupuncture is uniquely suited to treat water imbalances. Elevated or low blood pressure, low back problems, chronic stress, hyperactivity, paralysis (physical or psychological) and extreme risk-taking are water imbalances.
Additionally, we can cultivate Water element energy each day of our lives by getting adequate exercise, nutrition and rest. The practices of Tai Chi, Chigong and acupuncture are also powerful tools for cultivating our kidney chi and the Water Element.
Dec 2 2019
In the late fall, temperatures drop below freezing. For those who struggle with outdoor mold allergies, this provides a welcome relief. December can bring its own respiratory problems including Christmas Tree Syndrome. Are you allergic to Christmas Trees?
Do you find that your allergies and asthma become worse with the holiday season? Conifers or evergreens are host to over 50 kinds of molds and mold spores which can trigger respiratory illness. Our well heated homes provide an ideal environment for molds and their spores to proliferate. Additionally, pine sap can be double trouble for allergy sufferers. Pine sap can trap all kinds of pollen from trees, grasses and weeds onto the conifers bark. These pollens enter your home with the Christmas tree. Perhaps most importantly, pine sap contains terpenes. Terpine gives the Christmas tree it’s scent and is a common trigger to allergic response.
How do you prevent Christmas Tree Syndrome? Consider spraying the tree outdoors with a mild solution of bleach to kill the molds. Than, hose it down to wash off the bleach solution along with some of the molds and pollen. Allow the tree to dry outdoors (preferably in a garage) with it’s base in water always. Limit the length of time the tree is in your home.
Artificial Christmas Trees can be used instead, but may also be problematic. Most artificial trees are made with PVC, which can off gas toxins into you home. Additionally, it is important to clean the artificial tree and its ornaments every year, as they too harbor molds and dust mites. Before assembling the artificial tree, wipe down its branches with a damp cloth to help control these allergens. When storing the tree, wrap it well and keep it in a dry place.
Consider purchasing a premium air cleaner. At The Air Cleaner Store, we sell the Austin Air HealthMate Plus. The HealthMate Plus has over 60 square feet of medical grade HEPA to remove pollen, dust mites, molds and pet dander from the air. Additionally, this air cleaner has a special carbon filter with over 15 pounds of specially blend activated charcoal to remove odors and VOC’s including terpenes from the air. The HealthMate Plus will help you fight allergies, asthma and Christmas Tree Syndrome.
For people suffering with allergies and asthma, consider acupuncture. Acupuncture strengthening both your respiratory and immune systems. Acupuncture can help reduce or eliminate the incidence of allergies and asthma.
Oct 30 2019
“Physical stress mirrors emotional suffering, relief from physical constraint markedly affects emotional misery.” – Dr. Ida P. Rolf
The Irish say, the past is not the past. Each of us has a history. We are formed by both our physical and emotional experiences. The important things that happen during our journey leave their mark upon us, and shape our structure. Your unique movement pattern reflects athletic and career choices, psychological and physical health, as well as your genetic predispositions.
We are all moving around our physical limitations. When we recognize someone a block away it is often their movement pattern that distinguishes them first. How we walk and move through life is idiosyncratic. Traumatic injury, such as a physical accident or an emotional wound becomes part of our structure.
Consider an ankle sprain. In response to pain, we hold the ankle rigid. This internal bracing is an unconscious and instinctual – we do it to avoid more pain. In a matter of weeks, the fascia, the fabric of the body that organizes the structure, adapts by shortening. This shortening becomes a part of our structural pattern. The fascial shortening influences our movement patterns and our pattern of organization.
What happens when the ankle sprain heals? The fascial shortening remains and stays with us. Without therapeutic intervention the new pattern often remains with us throughout our life. Our freedom of movement (range of motion) becomes limited by the injury and the internal “repair.”
Psychic injuries are also formative of the structure. We often absorb sexual violence into our physical and emotional bodies. The experiences that we are unable to process become “stuck places” in the structure. Young children who become chronically embarrassed will often go through their lives with their shoulders elevated and rolled in, and their head forward.
This defensive posture actually becomes cemented into the structure. The pectoral and upper trapezius fascia shortens and thickens. We may carry these structural changes throughout our lives. Both the ankle sprain and the embarrassment create chronic holding patterns that influence how we stand, move, feel and think.
It is with great tenacity that we propel ourselves forward into space despite our physical and emotional wounds. Our survival depends on our ability to move. We find inventive and unique movement patterns to compensate for our losses.
These compensations come at a cost. Sometimes, the price we pay is the loss of efficiency. It takes extra energy to stay upright and to move when the body is not well aligned. Sometimes, we pay with the loss of confidence. Emotional trauma becomes lodged in the structure.
Rolfing supports the structure to become better balanced. The Rolfer uses deep pressure to release the chronic shortening in the fascia. As the tensions in the fascial network become more balanced, the structure becomes more upright. The stuck places become “unstuck.”
The implications of releasing these chronic shortenings from old injuries are far reaching. As the body changes and becomes more open, the heart and mind changes too, inevitably.
Rolfers use a ten session format to work progressively through the structure. Each session works on a different part of the body. Our goals include helping you become more vertical and upright, with openness and span. Ultimately, we want to help you become more comfortable in your own skin.
Five Element Acupuncture is also a wonderful tool for addressing old wounds and creating balance within the structure. Each area of chronic holding is present in our energetic field as an energetic block. As the acupuncturist removes each of these blocks, the body and the mind and heart move towards balance. Change within the structure offers great possibility and promise for change within the heart and mind.
Sep 30 2019
Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state. David Whyte in conversation with Krista Tippett, 2017
Given a choice, vulnerability is something most of us would choose to avoid. We would prefer not to experience feelings around the loss of a loved one or something we cherish in our lives. We would prefer to always be in charge and in control of our lives and hold onto the things we hold dearest. We have deep seated fears of losing the people and things we love, of being alone and ultimately, we are afraid of death. What is the purpose of vulnerability and of grief that we inevitably experience with loss?
Grief is the emotion that corresponds to autumn and the Metal Element. It has an importance that is often not embraced in our culture.
The Metal Element corresponds to the autumn. As the days become colder, the leaves on the trees dazzle us with their beautiful display of color before they turn brown, fall to the ground and decay. The rains than wash these precious resources into the ground. Nature’s compost prepares the earth for spring. The seasons of growth, maturation, and harvest have come to a close. Autumn is both a time of letting go and a time of inspiration.
What is the role of grief in our lives? When we experience love our hearts are open. Love is a state of grace between a parent and a child, between family members, friends and partners. Our love can also extend into our community, the arts, sports, nature and our connection with the spirit. Love opens us to be inspired.
When we experience loss, the process of grieving has the potential to transform us. Our vulnerability can create an openness in us that can engender growth and change.
We often think that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. This is sometimes true. When we become stuck in a state of grief, we become emotionally constipated; that is, we cannot process our feelings and we become immobile. In contrast, when we are able to process our grief we become empowered and connected to the greater good. Processing grief can strengthen our values and principles.
The Metal element is responsible for the receiving of inspiration and the releasing or letting go of what is no longer needed – expiration.
The meridians that correspond with the Metal Element are the lung and large intestine. In Chinese medicine we like to say, “With our lungs we receive Qi from the heavens.” On a physical level, we breathe in oxygen that is absorbed into our bloodstream through the alveolar membrane, the lining of the lungs. Intuitively, we understand the importance of inspiration. We cannot live without oxygen. Equally important is the letting go of waste. The blood carries carbon dioxide and metabolites to the lungs (alveolar membrane) where they are exhaled into the air.
The Large Intestine collects the body’s waste products and lets them go. When we compare the large intestine to the heart, liver or kidneys, it is seemingly unsophisticated. In fact, the large intestines role of collecting and ridding the body’s waste is critical to our health.
When the lung and large intestine are working well, they help to nourish us with oxygen and rid the body of waste. What happens when things go awry? Asthma, COPD, constipation, diarrhea, and IBS are just some of the maladies we develop when earth is out of balance. Additionally, in Chinese medicine, the skin is considered to be the third lung as we eliminate toxins when we sweat. Dermatitis, acne and eczema are often Metal Element issues.
One of life’s great mysteries is the subtle and transformative nature of these two aspects of breath – inspiration and expiration. A deep inspiration fills us with vitality – Qi. This Qi or breath nourishes our every cell. With each exhalation we let go of what is no longer needed. The exhalation empties the lungs, ridding the body of waste, creating a void or openness. Exhalation clears the palate, opens and prepares us for something new – inspiration.
The Metal element’s cycle of inspiration and exhalation extends beyond the physical. Emotionally, Metal energy embodies our connection to the father. It is our connection to the heavens, to high ideals, to beauty perfection and ultimately, our connection to the spirit. This “fathering” energy is not limited to men with children, rather it is an important aspect of a healthy human being.
We need this sense of heavenly connection as a part of our overall health. Some find this spirit in a house of worship, some find this connection in nature, some find it in the arts. Anxiety and depression are also often related to challenges within the Metal Element.
Being vulnerable and experiencing loss is an essential part of being human. Typically, we become attached to the things we love. If we are not able to process loss and experience our grief, we become emotionally stuck. It is our experience of these darker emotions that transform us and opens us to the unknown. Experiencing grief helps us to become empathetic to the hardships of others.
Acupuncture is uniquely suited to restoring health by harmonizing the energy within the body. The acupuncturist unblocks and balances the flow of chi/energy in the body to help restore our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Acupuncture helps to balance the function of the Metal Element that includes the Lung and Large Intestine meridians. These meridians have a large jurisdiction that includes respiration, the elimination of waste, and also our connection to the spirit.
Clearly, we need more inspiration in the world. Our vision must extend beyond the acquisition of things, power and control. Our values must serve all who are part of this collective, the planet earth.
Aug 16 2019
As tensions build in our world and within our communities, the sentiment, “Every man for himself,” is not uncommon. Aggression is often how this anger and fear are expressed. You can see it on our roadways, in the way in which we drive, and in the political arena, where politics and parties have become so polarized that consensus is rare.
These primitive instincts and behaviors have become dominant in our culture. As our technical prowess grows, the impact of our increasing consumption has taken a toll on the quality of our air, water and climate.
In fact, the vision that must guide us forward is, “We are all in this together!” How do we transition from being self serving individuals into global citizens where each person on this planet matters?
Empathy, the emotion that corresponds to late summer and the Earth Element is in short supply.
The Earth Element corresponds to the late summer season of harvest. The sound of crickets become louder while the nights grow cooler and fruits ripen. If crops are abundant, we reap the benefits and enjoy a rich harvest.
Amidst this abundance we feel safe, secure and fulfilled. During this time of contentment we are supported by Mother Earth and the Earth Element.
The Earth Element grounds, nurtures and regulates our cycles including the rhythm of our breath, heart, appetite, digestion and hormones. Acupuncture can improve these processes that regulate and provide foundation for health and prevent disease.
The meridians that correspond with the Earth Element are the stomach and spleen. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen meridian includes both the spleen and pancreas organs.
These meridians, and their corresponding organs help us to break down the food we eat. Our food contains large molecules including proteins, carbohydrates and fats that are too complex for the body to assimilate. The stomach and spleen break down complex foods into smaller, simpler usable molecules including amino acids, simple sugars and glycerol.
When the stomach and spleen are working well, they help to nourish and support us. What happens when things go awry? Indigestion, reflux, bloating, diabetes, overeating and under eatting are just some of the maladies we develop when earth is out of balance. Additionally, we also now know that the spleen also plays an important role in our immune system.
The Earth element’s nurturing energy extends beyond the physical. Emotionally, Earth energy embodies the irrepressible love of a mother. JR Worsley, who helped bring Five Element Acupuncture to the west defines the Earth’s emotion as sympathy. It is the giving and receiving of compassion, empathy and affection. Earth is about feeling connection. This “mothering” energy is not in any way limited to mothers, rather it is an important aspect of a healthy human being. Anxiety and depression are often related to challenges within the Earth Element.
The Earth Element and the Spleen also correspond to the digestion and synthesis of of information – thought. Our ability to think well is an important part of mental health. The spleen influences our capacity for thinking, studying, concentration, memorizing. ADHD and learning problems are often related to challenges within the Earth Element.
Acupuncture is uniquely suited to restoring health by harmonizing the energy within the body. The acupuncturist unblocks and balances the flow of chi/energy in the body to help restore our physical, emotional and mental well being. Acupuncture helps to balance the function of the earth element, which includes the Stomach and Spleen meridians. These meridians have a large jurisdiction that includes appetite, digestion, hormonal balance, our emotions of sympathy and empathy and also our ability to think and concentrate.
The short supply of empathy in the world is a personal, political and global challenge that needs to be addressed for ourselves, our families, communities and the planet as a whole to prosper. Empathy is as important to our individual and collective well being, as is the Earth Element and Late Summer.