Category Archives for "Living in the Tao of Seasons"

God(dess) is in the Details

 

While all the seasons have their magnificence, autumn has a particular artistry, as attention to form, structure, details is called upon the observer.   In autumn I see the trees in their structural forms.  The skeletons of plants and flowers reveal their previously unseen beauty.   I see the mountain from my window which this summer was hiding behind a leafy ash tree. The distraction of vegetation is gone and a mountain, a rock, a neighbor’s house are able to be seen in this moment.  What I now contemplate has changed.

It is deep autumn
My neighbor
How does he live, I wonder.
Basho

The element of Metal, occurring now in autumn, is about stripping down to the essentials, as we descend into the darkness of yin, leaving the light of yang. There is a mourning, melancholy quality, as insects, birds and animals retreat, the leaves wither and dry, falling to earth, and the planet “dies” until visions of Spring summon it all back.  While there is a grieving over what is departing, there is a concomitant appreciation for all the temporal beauty.  You only mourn what you once deeply loved.

As we turn the light inwards and descend into the darkness, it is a time to reflect on what we hold precious and valuable. Take in the inspiration.  Our biological lungs, with its bronchi, bronchioles, and sub-microscopic alveoli, have a surface area larger than a tennis court! We have this bountiful capacity to take in air, oxygen and qi.  So too does each individual have this bountiful capacity to take in inspiration.

Metal is about living in and with structures – not rigidly to imprison us, but helping us maneuver the chaotic details of life, giving form to art, alignment in our daily lives and focus as we manifest our goals. As you go through your day, direct your precise attention to structures that surround you –  in nature, in human-made objects, in your daily life.  Immerse yourself in the details – God(dess) is in the details, as the saying goes (and is paraphrased here!).

A Seminar to Explore the Magic of the Metal Element


It is autumn and we are in the element of Metal,
with all its beauty and challenges.

Come drink seasonal teas,
learn how to care for yourself and your loved ones
– in bodily and mystical ways –
during this magical season.

The Lung and the Large Intestine are the organ systems of Metal,
a time for Inspiration and Letting Go,
literally and figuratively.

Breathe in … inspiration
Let go … colon health
learn how to care for yourself on all levels.

Saturday, November 13th 2010, 10 am to noon, $25.00
Stone Ridge Healing Arts, Stone Ridge, NY
www.StoneRidgeHealingArts.com

Call for further questions and to reserve your place –
space is limited for this hands-on seminar.

Therese Sibon Acupuncture
845-594-3873
www.ThereseSibonAcupuncture.com

Howling at the Moon – Hallowe’en and the Po Spirits

 

Today is Hallowe’en which is based on the Celtic holiday of Samhain, dedicated to the feasts of the harvest and commemorating the dead. With the introduction of Christianity to the British Isles, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year. The night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve.

This is the time when the veil between the two worlds is at its most translucent – the one we inhabit day to day and the beyond. There is a dance with death, with the dark forces, with the lower spirits – most notably seen in the choices of many costumes for this holiday.  Popular creepy horror movie characters, skeletons, ghosts, anything “sexy” (insert Cat, Nun, Pirate, Nurse) are all displayed on this Hallowe’en night.

At this time of year, Nature is dying around us, the darkness is upon us, Persephone has traveled to the Underworld to remain until spring returns. In Chinese medicine, this is the time of the Po spirits, as discussed in my last post, The Po Spirits of Instinct. (scroll down)

We are now in the element of Metal, connected with the Po Spirits. This is the part of the soul that dies with the body and descends to earth. The Po represent our survival techniques (can we see, hear, smell, taste, touch danger?), in the arena where consciousness is a matter of instinct.  It is in the moment, expressed as a gut response, a bodily knowing.  Often called the Animal soul, it may arise for humans as a nagging suspicion that drags our attention to look at something we are ignoring, most likely because it may prompt us to make a change …. scary, frightening, panic-producing – true Hallowe’en fears!

Within the Chinese character for Po is embedded “bai” for white.  Linked to the light of the waxing moon, the color of bones buried in the earth, this spirit energy is reflective and yin.   Compare this to the Sun shining out, which is yang and connected to the Hun, the part of the Soul that lives on past death, associated with the Spring element of Wood. The Po spirits descend into the earth, eventually becoming the crystals, minerals, metal ores, stones, rocks, diamonds – the inner treasures of this planet.

So, as you dress in costume for this evening’s festivities, help your children do that, or simply see others engage in this seasonal ritual, take a moment and reflect on your own instinctual, animal spirits living within your body.  Communicate with them and request they whisper their desires to you.  Hold their wishes.  Let them know that later, soon, you will Mind them, and decide how best to satisfy their urges.

Then howl
at tonight’s
waning
crescent
moon!

The Po Spirits of Instinct: Day 7 in Metal

Gut Instinct
Have you ever walked into a room and felt danger, and later discovered something was indeed amiss? Perhaps you once met someone and felt a visceral animosity, seemingly unprovoked.  Later on that person does something reprehensible and you recall your initial feeling of mistrust.  Conversely, maybe you have encountered someone who by all outward appearances seemed dangerous, yet you found yourself instinctively reaching out in friendship – a first trust which later proves true.

These are all Po movements, the spirits connected to Metal.  Po are the animal spirits, linked to momentary reactions.   Po are of present time and space, their response quick, unplanned, instinctual.  When presented with a charged situation, these spirits do not consider planning for the next day, or even the next minute – they respond immediately.

The Po Soul until Death
Each person has a po soul, which is the part of the soul that is indissolubly attached to the body and descends to earth with it upon death. The Po spirits are the corporeal soul, the visceral life force, the animal wit that cautions you in the moment to respond.

The Po are considered to be the somatic expression of the soul, and are expressed as we see, hear, eat, cry and most importantly breathe – the most fundamental of all our instincts.  Our first breath marks the entrance of each human being leaving the womb and entering life on

As my teacher, Lorie Dechar, writes in her book Five Spirits: Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological And Spiritual Healing, says of the Po spirits:

“They are closely related to the autonomic nervous system, the sensory receptors, especially the primitive touch responses of the skin, and the interior sense receptors of the visceral organs. … The po are our embodied knowing, our animal wit, our street smarts, the part of us that can sniff out what’s right or wrong, good or bad, safe or unsafe.  Deep below the level of our conscious ability to articulate in words what we think about a person, place, or situation, the po spirits already know, and whether or not we realize it, our body has begun to respond by contracting or expanding, hardening or softening.”

Listen to the Po
The Po are considered the lower spirits, and often overlooked in our modern, cerebral world.  However, during this time of Metal, pay close attention to that gut instinct, that wisdom that only your body holds.   Mind will attempt rationalizing, dismissing or ignoring the Po spirits, but the Po will continue to prod the body, speaking louder and louder until its message is heard.   Our body-mind reacts in distress.   Illness – whether of mind or body – may result if we cannot hear these lower spirits.

This does not mean acting in the moment on whatever gut instinct we pick up, but it does mean listening to ‘what’s not right’, ‘ what needs to be changed’, ‘this is dangerous’, or even the converse statements which assure us that we are in the right place at the right time.   We need to integrate the messages of our Po soul into our life in the manner that is appropriate to our heart-centered connections on this earth.

Shhhh …. listen …. take in, reflect … integrate.

Be well.

The Large Intestine – Literally and Figuratively, Day 6

The Large Intestine
In both western biology and Chinese medicine, the function of the large intestine is to transport and discard waste materials.  However, this organ is more than just a vessel for elimination: it absorbs every last bit of water possible from the chyme, or digested food, and even manufactures some needed vitamins and circulates them to the body.   It doesn’t simply eliminate the almost-used-up nutrients – it extricates every last bit of nutrition that the body needs and then throws it out.

In Chinese medicine, the Large Intestine is termed the “Drainer of the Dregs”.   On an energetic level, it literally – and figuratively – performs this action.   It’s not a question of discarding each and every item, person, relationship, idea that no longer interests us, but rather extracting every last bit of psychic nutrient that we need and then letting it go.  Completely.  Over and done with.

The Nei Jing is an ancient Chinese medical text compiled by several authors over several hundred years and has been considered a fundamental doctrine for more than two thousand years.  It compares the Large Intestine to “the officials who propagate the Way (the Tao), and generate evolution and change”.  On a body level, if our colon isn’t working optimally, we become stuck, stagnant and unable to move forward.  On a psychic level, when we lose the ability to let go, move on and change, we are just as stuck and stagnant. It is fascinating that the Nei Jing used the term “Tao” (meaning the Way), a Taoist philosophical concept, for an organ system that is considered dirty and usually overlooked.   (Except when it’s not functioning for us personally!)

Tap Tap Tapping for Colon Health
Here is a simple exercise you can do on your self, your children, and your patients to inspire the Large Intestine to keep moving.   It is best used with a Manaka wooden hammer (photo above), but you can also use your hands to tap instead. This exercise can be done sitting down or lying down.

First listen to your pulse to pick up its rhythm. Then, using the pulse as a metronome beat, tap clockwise around the umbilicus.   You can use your first two fingers as a tapping agent; if you use the Manaka hammer, you place the “needle” (the long stem part) on the body and gently hammer it on top, to the beat of your pulse.

See diagram below, in which the Large X represents the umbilicus.  Starting at “x1” just above the belly button (approximately two of your thumb widths above), move clockwise around the umbilicus.  Do this three times at least.  The movement mimics the movement of the colon, and the pulse beat helps it start the elimination process.  It can be extremely effective.

I have had great luck using this technique with patients with chronic constipation, and with children as well, as well as on myself once in a while.

8x           x1          x2

 

7x         x x3

 

6x         x5           x4

In line with this Season’s energy of letting go, tune into the health of your Large Intestine, literally and figuratively!

Supporting the Lung during the Metal season, Day 5

In this blog post, we will continue to focus on our lungs’ health during this season of Metal.  As the yin energy of the earth descends to the earth, dryness results. Looking at the leaves, all around us they are drying up, withering and falling to the ground.   Many of us are experiencing that dry throat, sinuses, and skin – the third lung. It is not only due to the heat we may or may not have on in our houses, but to the climactic condition of the season.

First of all, increase the amount of fluids, water in particular, that you drink.  For skin dryness, you might want to consider adding in or increasing omega 3-fatty acids which are in flax seed oil, borage oil, or fish oils.  For the fish oils, I like Nordic Natural, as it’s a reliable brand.  Careful with flax seed and borage oils, as they can go rancid; make sure to refrigerate them.

Use a neti pot
For anyone with allergies, or seasonal dry sinuses, a neti pot is a lifesaver! When the mucous membranes dry out, they become more susceptible to germs and viruses. A neti pot flushes the nasal passages with warm salt water and is an invaluable tool for sinus health. Neti pots have been around for centuries and originally come from the Ayurvedic/yoga medical tradition. Sold at most health food stores, a neti pot looks like an Aladdin’s lamp, or a gravy boat. They are made of ceramic or plastic – I much prefer the ceramic, but if you travel and want to take a neti pot with you, the plastic one is good in that case.

If you’re feeling congested of if you tend to have sinus, nasal or upper respiratory infections, use a neti pot daily – or weekly as a preventive measure.

1. The best way to start using a neti pot is over your bathroom sink, before a mirror. That way you can see when the water is flowing out your nostrils, and guide it better.

2. Fill the pot with warm water and add a quarter-teaspoon of finely ground sea salt (not iodized). Add a pinch of baking soda to this if you like, as it alkalizes the water and makes it a little gentler on the sinuses.

3. Turn your head to one side over the sink, keeping the forehead at the same height as the chin, or slightly higher.

4. Gently insert the spout in the upper nostril so it forms a seal.  Raise the neti pot so the saline solution flows out the lower nostril. If it drains out of your mouth, lower your forehead in relation to your chin.  Some solution may travel to the back of your throat. Try not to swallow it – spit it out.

5. When the neti pot is empty, gently blow your nose.

6. Refill the neti pot and repeat on the other side.

If you have chlorinated water, consider using distilled water to remove the possibility of damage through chlorination.  A gallon will last a long time. You will have to heat it up to a warm temperature, but it worth the effort. I have well water in my home but recently when out of town, I used chlorinated water in my neti pot and it burned.

There is a tincture I occasionally use if I feel added immune support is needed.  It’s called Neti-Wash, by the Himalayan Institute. Made with zinc and herbs, you add it to the neti pot water. This is not a commercial, if someone else has another product they like, let me know! I’ve put a link below with a helpful video of using a neti pot.

http://www.himalayaninstitute.org/NetiPot/NetiPotInstructions.aspx

It’s really easy – my 11 year old does it as she hates being congested.  You might feel a slight twinge of discomfort in your sinuses if they’re really blocked, but it will feel so much better when you can breathe through them after using the neti pot.

A Tonic for the Lungs During the Season of Metal: Day 4

Drinking Sassafras Tea as a Lung Tonic

During this time of Metal, we will look at ways nourish the organ systems involved, namely the Lungs and the Large Intestine. Over the next few days, I will be posting self-care tips that will provide this seasonal protection.

Drinkng sassafras tea, or infusion (a tea steeped at least several hours), can provide immune benefits, with its antiseptic, anti-viral and anti-oxidant properties and with its ability to remove toxins from the body, as it moistens the lungs, alleviating dryness.

Sassafras trees are native to eastern North America and eastern Asia. All parts of the plants are very fragrant. The species are unusual in having three distinct leaf patterns on the same plant, unlobed oval, bilobed (mitten-shaped), and trilobed (three pronged) with the rare occurrence of a five-lobed leaf.  The picture above shows how the leaves look in autumn.  What you want for making a tea or infusion are the yellow leaves, just about to fall off the tree, and some of the smaller branches (twig sized).

Drink this tea consciously – as an herbal medicinal ally – and support the Lungs during this season.

SASSAFRAS INFUSION
To make an infusion, you will need:
– A large glass jar with a tight lid.  Ball jars are best; the half-gallon sizes are usually easy to find in hardware stores, or places that carry canning supplies.    Gallon-sized iced tea jars are great, but maybe more challenging to locate.   Some restaurants may have gallon jars – for pickles, perhaps – that you could recycle.

If using a half-gallon jar, for instance, I would use 8-10 large leaves and a few of the thin branches (it’s not an exact science!).  Fill the jar to the brim with boiling water. (See precautions below.)  Cover and let steep 4-8 hours. The longer you steep the infusion, the more mucilaginous and strong-tasting it becomes.  After the 4-8 hours, check and see if the taste and texture appeal to you.  You can remove the leaves and twigs, or let them stay longer.

3. Strain and drink.  Refrigerate what’s not used.  May be reheated gently.  Add honey or sweetener if desired.

Precautions: When filling jar with boiling water: Make sure the glass jar is at room temperature; don’t have the jar sit on cold stone or metal, as the difference in temperature could cause it to crack; don’t let the kettle touch the edge of the glass.

Controversy Over Sassafras Tea Health Benefits
One of the active ingredients of sassafras is safrole and experiments on mice revealed that this isolated chemical, in large doses, triggered liver cancer in the animals. The FDA has banned sassafras tea and also the use of sassafras in foods and beverages.  However, herbalists are of the opinion that isolated experiments where purified compounds from the tree were injected into mice cannot be accurately relied upon to determine plant toxicity.

Firstly, with this tea, we are using the leaves and some twigs; the safrole is primarily in the root bark.  Secondly, many of the herbs which are being investigated by the FDA have been used for centuries, historically providing health benefits with no cancer, liver toxicity or other side effects.  There wasn’t the injecting of huge doses of isolated chemicals into their bodies either.   For instance, in the Gulf South of the US, sassafras (called filé) is a standard thickener in gumbo.  One would expect elevated levels of disease in this population if that were true.

This is an excellent fall tonic, I personally have used it over 20 years, and other herbalists I know have been imbibing these “toxic” herbs for much longer, with no problems except good health and immunity.