Category Archives for "Living in the Tao of Seasons"

METAL: Inspiration and the Lung, Day 3

We are continuing with our exploration of the Lungs, which paired with the Large Intestine comprise the organ systems of Metal. This is the season to focus on inspiration and letting go. The inspiration will light our way as we descend into the darkness, the yin time. Letting go, winnowing down, paring away the non-essentials help us appreciate the value and beauty in our lives. We take stock of what is is in our pantry in anticipation of winter; we take personal stock of our many talents and strengths, as we prioritize and recognize self esteem and value.

Inspiration is a key motif of this season. Just as we expand our lungs to take in air, the pure qi, so too do we expand our entire beings to receive divine inspiration. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the surface area of the alveoli, the microscopic branches of the lungs, could cover a tennis court. Think of this expanded lung surface area as you take in your next breath, filling all these minute spaces with air and extend that metaphor to the inspiration potential that expands our every moment.

I will explain a variant of yogic breathing which I like to call 360* breathing. Doing these types of breaths during your day can give you many benefits. I formerly worked in an acupuncture clinic which primarily serviced patients suffering injuries sustained from work or car-accidents. Most patients were in severe physical pain, which naturally extends to psychological challenges as well. I noticed that most of them were breathing quite shallowly. When I would ask someone to take a breath, there would follow a short intake of air. I would ask them to take a deep breath, and the patient would take two short intakes of air, reporting that it “it hurts to breathe.” We would do very gentle 360* breaths ….. and magic happened. The ones who continued with this self care at home came back to clinic reporting that their back pain had improved, that they had more energy and they felt calmer. They all experienced better breathing, their nasal passages not as congested, and the few of them who were on asthma inhalers said they had decreased their usage significantly.

Why did this happen?  With regards to the back pain, very often the quadratus lumborum, or QL, is stiff and tense upon palpation.   Breathing deeply gently lift the pleura of the lung – of which there are many running down the back (not just the front of our chest!) The quadratus lumborum runs from the iliac crest and attaches to the 12th rib and the top four lumbar vertebrae.  It stabilized the 12th floating rib (just above the waistline) when you are breathing.  But – if you have back pain, you might tend to breathe shallowly, which causes the muscle to stiffen, which causes more back pain and the cycle worsens. 360* breathing gently massages these muscles and helps lower pain, breaking the cycle. The added oxygen and in turn blood and qi are benefits as well.

With regards to the increased energy, this type of breathing massages the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys. The in and out breath simultaneously stimulates and then calms the adrenals, helping to relieve adrenal fatigue and burnout.

The increased oxygen levels from full 360* breathing brings mental clarity. By supporting the nervous system, this breathing brings calm, peace and well-being.

Try these full breath exercises below and notice that with each breath’s expansion, comes a feeling of expansion in our bodies and eventually in our lives – we are body/mind beings.

FULL BREATH EXERCISES
You can do this type of breathing anywhere – sitting down, reclining, in a car, standing on line, walking about. However, if you are new to this breathing, it’s best that you consciously pay attention to the steps until they become second nature. You may find eventually that in a stressful situation, you will go to this full breath to relax. But at first, it’s best to stop other activities to take this breath break.

Position your body
Sit in a chair, cross-legged on a cushion, or (best for this beginning practice), lying down, arms at the side, palms facing up feet uncrossed. This is called the Corpse or Shavasana pose (shavas meaning corpse in sanskrit).  In particular this is a good posture to use during the Metal, as we return to yin energy as Nature dies around us, combining the Large Intestine energy with the Lung, an inspiration and expiration movement.

If this is new to you, you may want to start the breath with your eyes closed, in order to shut out visual distractions and focus just on the movement of air in your body. Eventually you will want to open your eyes, aware of your environment to allow this type of breath to integrate into your waking, walking, working life. Integration accentuates the yogic background of this breath. Yoga means “union” and the ability to be in union with oneself, the Divine (however you term that), and the external world is a continual challenge and goal. Closing your eyes and being a yogi within is one thing; opening your eyes and engaging with the world as a yogi is another. Both have their place in life.

Three parts of the full yogic breath:
1) Abdominal breathing
Observe your natural breath. You will notice that as you inhale the abdomen rises and then falls with exhalation. Watch this for a few moments to check this flow, then deepen, lengthen and extend these movements.

  • place one hand on abdomen below the navel
  • start with the exhale and completely void all air from your lungs, exhaling through the mouth. Using your hand, gently push the last bit of air out of your lungs and body.
  • Inhale through the nose, lifting your abdomen (which will lift your hand) to its utmost position. Only breathe into the abdomen, the chest is not involved yet.
  • Continue with this for a few breath cycles or so and then stop.

2) Middle Chest breathing
Again observe your normal breath, this time focusing your attention on the middle chest, the ribcage area. You will notice this part of the chest moving slightly up at inhalation and down with exhalation. Again observe this pattern for a few moments. Now again, begin to deepen, lengthen and extend your breath.

  • cross your arms over your chest and place hands around ribcage
  • again, starting with the extended exhale, relax and contract the ribcage, emptying out the chest and lungs completely. Use your hands gently to release extra air.
  • inhale, expanding the ribcage to its limit
    In this step, keep the abdomen still, moving only the middle chest. Do this for a few breath cycles and then stop 

    3) Upper Chest breathing

  • place one hand on upper chest
  • again, starting with the extended exhale, relax and contract the upper chest, emptying out the lungs completely.
  • inhale, expanding the upper chest to its limit
  • In this step, keep the abdomen and the ribcage still, moving only the upper chest. This is a shallow breath, but the purpose of it is to familiarize yourself with the various degrees of breathing. Don’t worry about “getting it right”, just focus on the intention of breathing into the upper chest only. Do this for a few breath cycles and then stop.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: All of the above steps should be done in a relaxed, with no straining. This is free-flowing, effortless, wu wei (action through inaction) method of breathing. At first this breath may be mechanical, filled with bumps, pauses and uneven movement. Stay with it, as you visualize a wave like pattern expanding and contracting. You are aspiring to minimum effort with maximum rewards.

    FULL YOGIC BREATH
    This is a continued movement of the three parts above:

  • Slowly exhaling, relax and contract abdomen, then ribcage, then raise upper chest.
  • Slowly inhaling, expand abdomen, then ribcage, then raise upper chest
  • The full breath is one continuous flow of air, qi, oxygen and movement. Repeat slowly, steadily, consciously.

360 DEGREE BREATHING

  • As all three areas are expanding (Abdomen, Middle Chest, Upper Chest), pay attention to the pleura of the lung which continue down the back of the spine to our low back. Feel them inflate with air, like balloons expanding.
  • Imagine every part of your body expanding as well: the head, neck and shoulders, arms and hands, chest, pelvis, legs and feet.
  • On a cellular level, imagine every cell expanding as well, filling with oxygen.
  • In Chinese medicine, our first breath connects us to Heavenly Qi Energy and continues until we take our last breath. Qi flows through our body in inner pathways called meridians. By controlling our breath and ensuring that every part of our body expands, oxygen, qi and blood move effortlessly and continuously. Blockages which result in pain – on a body, mind and spirit level – can be moved by this free flow.

    METAL: Inspiration and The Lung, Day 2

    

    Continuing with this 7-day series on Metal, we will begin to understand the physical attributes of the lungs, from both a western and eastern perspective. Ways to support the Metal during this season will follow in later postings.

    The Biological Lungs
    The lungs are a pair of spongy, air-filled organs located on either side of the chest. The trachea (windpipe) conducts inhaled air into the lungs through its tubular branches, called bronchi. The bronchi then divide into smaller and smaller branches or bronchioles, finally becoming microscopic.

    The bronchioles eventually end in clusters of microscopic air sacs called alveoli. The total surface area of the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) is the size of a tennis court. In the alveoli, oxygen from the air is absorbed into the blood. Carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism, travels from the blood to the alveoli, where it can be exhaled.

    At rest, a person breathes about 14 to 16 times per minute. After exercise it could increase to over 60 times per minute. New babies at rest breathe between 40 and 50 times per minute.  By age five it decreases to around 25 times per minute.

    The Lungs from a Chinese Medicine Perspective
    The function of the Lung is to descend and disperse qi throughout the body. Taking in “pure qi” through the breath, and exhaling the waste, or “dirty qi”, this organ helps distribute fluids around the body. The Lung governs the skin and hair and is also the main organ involved in our defensive system, as it is directly connected to the external environment.

    The Lung is considered in Oriental medicine to be the “tender organ.” This is because the lung is the uppermost organ in the body and especially susceptible to wind, cold and dryness, which is the predominate quality of the climate in autumn.

    During the season of Metal, the sap in the trees descends downward to the roots below, the leaves drying up and falling down. The strength of every plant and tree goes below to the roots,  making it the ideal time to harvest medicinal roots to obtain maximum nutrients.  Root vegetables are abundant in local farmers’ markets. The movement of all of Nature is descending – a yin movement.

    The lungs mirror this energetic direction as well. As we inhale, the breath descends inward, as the energy of the earth descends inward. This is a time for introspection as we take stock of what we have in store for the winter months ahead.   We exhale the breath after it has been metabolized, releasing the waste by-products of respiration, just as the trees release their leaves once they are no longer viable.

    Inhalation, exhalation …. inspiration, expiration. This is the seasonal energy of the lungs.

    CLOCK TIME for METAL
    The Lung’s peak time is between 3-5 am.  Practicing Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or Yoga, meditating or just breathing deeply is a perfect practice during this time.  Deep breathing stimulates the Large Intestine to eliminate (good for those with constipation) between 5-7 am, its peak hours.

    METAL: Inspiration and Letting Go, a 7-day series

    The Value of Metal in our lives
    Last week, the climate changed from the Earth element to the Metal element. It wasn’t so much a change in temperature, but more a feeling in the air, a turning inward, as we descend into colder, darker weather. There is increased dryness with the ending of the warm humid days of Earth. Even in warmer climes, such as Florida, the degree of warmth, humidity and expansion has dwindled.

    By observing Nature, ancient Chinese philosophers compiled a medicine that treats the body as a microcosm of the natural world. We are human beings living on this planet, and no matter what type of area we live in (urban, suburban, rural), no matter how we choose to live (indoors, outdoors), no matter what our schedules are (rise at dawn, to bed at dusk, 24/7, something in-between), all of us are affected by seasonal changes.

    In the northeast United States, the leaves are changing colors, as the trees’ sap descends to the roots. This declining moisture causes the leaves to wither and shrink, eventually falling to the ground. The days are becoming shorter, the nights longer as we descend into darkness. All around, the animal world is preparing for winter, storing up only what is necessary to survive the months ahead.

    There is a sense of winnowing down, a contraction, a bittersweet quality as we view the beauty around us, sensing its precious temporality. The Earth is going through its cycle of of letting go and dying. Concomitantly, we experience a keen appreciation of what we had, tinged with grief or mourning at its passing.

    These cycles of death and rebirth spiral eternally in Nature, in our lives, in our bodies. On a spirit level, we are deeply affected by the transiting energies. When we align with the energy of the five seasons and their respective elements, we adapt optimally to the change on all levels.

    This is the first post in a 7-part daily series on Metal. This post will cover the Large Intestine’s bodily processes. Tomorrow’s will cover the Lungs. Following that will be health tips to support both organ systems and their spiritual significance in our lives from a Chinese medicine perspective.

    The wisdom of Chinese philosophy dating thousands of years ago combined with a modern biological explanation of the organ systems will deepen our understanding of this precious moment.

    The Lungs and the Large Intestine = Metal
    The Chinese view the the Lungs as the Receiver of Energy and the Large Intestine as the Dust Bin Collector or the Drainer of the Dregs, where its main function is to store and eliminate waste. These two Officials when balanced work beautifully together to allow us to take in air, qi, inspiration while we let go of waste and negativity.

    The Large Intestine:  Letting Go, Literally and Figuratively
    The anatomical function of the large intestine is to absorb water, vitamins and electrolytes from the remaining indigestible food matter that remains after the digestive process and then to pass useless waste material from the body.

    The colon also absorbs vitamins created by the colonic bacteria – such as .vitamin B12, thiamine and riboflavin and vitamin K. This is especially important as the daily ingestion of vitamin K is normally not enough to maintain adequate blood coagulation. An individual that depends on the absorption of vitamins formed by bacteria in the large intestine may become vitamin-deficient if treated with antibiotics that inhibit other species of bacteria as well as the disease-causing bacteria.

    The large intestine is about 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) long, which is about one-fifth of the whole length of the intestinal canal.  It takes about 32 hours to finish up the remaining processes of the digestive system.  It also compacts feces, and stores fecal matter in the rectum until it can be discharged via the anus.

    The Psycho-Spiritual Colon
    In Chinese medicine, the large intestine has a emotional component, inseparable from its physical processes.  Literally and figuratively, the Metal Large Intestine is about letting go.  This does not mean randomly discarding unwanted items, throwing out whatever displeases us.  Just like the biological large intestine which absorbs that last bit of water as well as the vitamins made by the intestines themselves, the Metal Large Intestine is about releasing what does not serve us, after everything which was beneficial has been carefully extracted. Often termed “the Drainer of the Dregs”, this energy is about carefully and consciously discarding the useless, the already digested and used aspects of life, in order to make room for new life – relationships, ideas, and perspectives.

    It is not a coincidence that this element follows Earth – the harvest time, during which the Stomach and the Spleen digest food biologically and life issues psycho-energetically.  We enter the Metal and our Large Intestine energy ‘drains the dregs’, getting that last bit of psychic nutrition from the already-digested situations, issues and relationships we have encountered in our life.

    1 Embracing the last days of the Earth season

    As we head towards the fall equinox, the approximate time when the season of Metal starts, enjoy the last lingering days of the Earth season. The planet has been in equilibrium since mid-August.  Days and nights are in balance length-wise, it is not the heat of summer (Fire) nor yet the coolness of autumn (Metal). With the markets brimming with the harvest, we enjoy the Abundant Splendor of Earth.

    Earth is about nourishment.  It is about gratitude as we harvest what is needed for self and others. The equilibrium of heat/cool, days/nights provides a sense of stability. We are well taken care of during these times.

    Earth corresponds to the biological mother, as well as to Mother Earth. How do we mother ourselves, how do we mother others (no matter what your gender is). We all need care-taking.  Missing out on this important part of the life cycle will cause everything else to be deficient.

    The organs connected with Earth are the spleen and the stomach. As we digest food, the Earth energy also digests the world around it, ruminating food and thought.  When out of balance, this pensiveness could veer into worry. Will there be enough from this harvest to last into winter? Is life secure?  Is my family safe?  The  literal and figurative aspects of digesting the world are key.

    The Archetype for Earth is The Peacemaker, the one who brings balance. Sympathetic, patient, tolerant, the Earth type is the one who volunteers his time, helps others in need. Earth is serene, the center of gravity, the embrace that holds others as they are – without judgment or blame.

    There is this distant acknowledgment that winter is coming, with the need to prepare. Squirrels gather their acorns. Humans gather the bounty as well, putting up canned goods, or freezing, all in preparation for the cold months ahead.

    Ways to appreciate Earth energy

    • First – be grateful! For everything – the good, the bad and the ugly.   And recognize the abundance that is there for the asking.
    • Support your local farms and farmers’ markets.
    • Take time to nurture yourself
    • Take time to nurture others (in that order!)
    • Honor your mother (wherever she may be).

    As you recognize your harvest (your garden, your life’s accomplishments), look to see what you need to release to enter into the next phase of Metal/autumn.

    As you watch nature, clue into that moment when we enter Metal – it’s subtle but noticeable.  The air will have a crispness to it that is here to stay, there will be a  sense of contraction (think leaves drying up and eventually falling off the trees).  A bittersweet quality arises as we appreciate the beauty and its temporality as well.

    40 Day Odyssey to the Oasis of the Heart

    Come, come, whoever you are!
    Even though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times,
    Come, come again!
    Jelaluddin Rumi


    A Spiritual Support Group with Therese Sibon and Karuna Foudriat
    Mondays from October 4 – November 15th
    from 7:00 pm -9 pm
    The Sanctuary
    5 Academy Road, New Paltz, NY 12561


      Throughout human history, in many different cultures, the period of 40 days has a deep significance.  The number 40 appears in spiritual texts again and again as a harbinger of change and transformation:
      a 40 day flood that changes the face of the earth,
      40 years of wandering in the desert before coming to the Promised Land
      40 days on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah
      the 40 day wilderness retreats of the prophets Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Muhammad
      40 days under the Bodhi tree for the Buddha’s Enlightenment.

      A human embryo gestates for 40 weeks and we even have a 40 hour work week!

      Forty days is more than the moon cycle of 28;  it’s more than a calendar month.   Working with this powerful interval of time creates the energy to break down ingrained habits and form new ways of being.  It’s a way of establishing trust in ourselves, the trust that’s required to fulfill our deepest longings.

      As we move into autumn, the natural world is winnowing down, shedding what is inessential for winter. We join in a 40 day “retreat” that encourages us to be in the world but not of it, and to let go of what no longer serves us. Through the commitments we make to reconnect with our bodies, with the natural world, with our inner landscape and with the Source of our Being we uncover the deepest intentions of our hearts.   We receive support that allows us to radiate the Divine Light within and to clarify and manifest our unique Divine Purpose.

      This Odyssey is for:

      …those who struggle to maintain a spiritual practice and /or healthy lifestyle amidst the busyness of daily life.

      …those who want dynamic support, laughter and sacred friendship on the path .

      …those who are drawn to more than one tradition and those who don’t yet have a spiritual path

      …those who want to reconnect with body, nature, soul and/ or Source in their daily lives and who know that these parts of our Being are not separate.

      …those who want to gain focus and clarity about direction and life purpose.

      The Odyssey includes:

      …a meeting prior to the 40 day period to prepare.

      …weekly support meetings.

      …daily early morning meditations.

      …on-line support.

      …instruction in meditation, mantras, mindfulness, dream work, visualization, body prayer and dietary practices from many spiritual paths, including Sufism, Buddhism, Siddha Yoga and Five Element Chinese Medicine.

      ..a workbook
      which includes daily inspirational readings from many sacred traditions and can help document and support the trajectory of this profound inner journey.

    Sliding Scale $200-250

    Therese Sibon, MS, LAc is a 5 Element Alchemical Healing acupuncturist with private practices in New York City and New Paltz, New York. Working on a body/mind/spirit level, Therese counsels clients, including those with cancer and eating disorders, on lifestyle, diet, nutrition, meditation, energy balancing, with a strong emphasis on self-care.   She recently completed a year long  fellowship at St. Vincent’s Cancer Center.  She is on the faculty at TriState College of Acupuncture and an adjunct lecturer for the SUNY New Paltz Nursing Department.

    Therese has also trained as a Social Inclusion Counselor, with Kim John Payne.   For over ten years, Therese has worked with elementary and middle school age children and their families addressing the issues of bullying and teasing.


    Karuna Teresa Foudriat, MEd, is an experienced meditation instructor and ordained interfaith minister of the Sufi Ruhaniat International. She has worked as a hospital chaplain at the Albany Medical Center, providing a healing presence for patients and families dealing with issues of illness, loss of function and death.  A Waldorf teacher for 25 years, she has taught classes in spirituality and comparative religion for children, teens and adults.  She has done long retreats in both the Theravadan Buddhist and Sufi traditions and recently spent 40 silent days in the woods of western MA.

    What nine months of attention does for an embryo

    forty early mornings will do

    for your gradually growing wholeness.

    Jeladdin Rumi


    1 The Power of Greens

    Looking for a power drink, easy to make, loaded with nutrients, a complete meal in itself?  Try making a green smoothie  – greens added to your fruit blender drink of choice.

    I must confess,  when a friend suggested this to me, I was horrified – adding kale to a fruit blender drink?   I like healthy, but it has to taste good.  With my friend’s assurances that it would, I tried it – and it’s delicious.  Even my 11 year old drink, who was quite suspicious of the green stuff added in, proclaimed upon tasting it:  “I like it – and I didn’t even taste the kale!”

    I am thrilled with how much energy these green smoothies provide and can’t say enough about them!! (Friends and family:  my apologies for the constant ravings.) For instance, I like to hike, but eating a nutritionally-balanced meal with adequate protein was not appealing with the heat that we have been experiencing in New York this summer.  When I make a green smoothie – fruit, greens, juice, water with a few possible additions (see below), I do not experience any hunger, weakness, or energy lag.  I can have the smoothie in the morning, bring a sandwich and snacks for lunch, and hike for hours, no matter how high the temperatures.  On a side note, I discovered a great electrolyte powder, Ultima Replenisher, which has been a perfect workout / hike accompaniment.

    As for GREENS –  kale, spinach, carrot tops, beet greens, wild weeds such as dandelion, lambsquarters – they are a power source of nutrition. Adding them to your daily diet will guarantee extra energy and improved health.  Why are greens the perfect food?  They match human nutritional needs most completely. Loaded with minerals, vitamins, amino acids, fiber, rich in fiber, they provide excellent sources of easily-assimilated protein.  The chain of amino acids in greens is much less complex than those from animal sources – meat and dairy for instance – and the body digests them easily.

    By greens, I don’t mean any green vegetable – green zucchini, green beans are not in this category.  Leafy greens are what you want (see list below), which are practically a food category of their own.  Those concerned about combining fruits and vegetables, for fear of digestive issues (gas, bloating, etc)  need not worry.  There is no problem mixing fruits with leafy greens, which are not starchy.  In fact, greens are the only food group that helps digest other foods through stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes.

    It is late August  and we are in the Earth element – late summer, the 5th season in Chinese medicine.  The harvest is abundant and diverse.  Farmers’ markets offer a plentiful variety of fruits and vegetables and getting the recommended daily 9 half-cup servings of fruits and vegetables can be easily accomplished.  Even easier by making a green smoothie with your local produce.  A perfect addition would be wild greens  (aka weeds) growing in your backyard, if you have one – or find them in a park (make sure they are not sprayed with pesticides).  The wild weeds/ greens have so many minerals and are even more easily-assimilable than farm-grown greens.

    Adding these raw greens to your diet will give you energy , will help stop sugar/ junk food cravings (the body is nutritionally satisfied), and can improve your health on so many levels.

    By coincidence, I recently happened upon a book in the library called The Green Revolution.  The book proclaims miracles for the participants in their study who added these “green smoothies” to their diets.  I can attest to my own improved  health and energy, as well as a few family members and friends.  We were all in fairly good health to begin with, so no miracles were needed, but I was intrigued by the book’s claims.

    There’s a lot of information in the book, a little bit here, but the main point of my blog entry is:  TRY A GREEN SMOOTHIE.  Better yet, try them every day for a week or more and witness improved health!

    BASIC INGREDIENTS:

    2 cups of greens

    2 fruits

    2 cups of fluid:  water mostly, but you could use some fruit juice

    Blend well in the blender – you might want to chop the greens and fruits if your blender is not high-powered.

    I like to use water with pomegranate juice, as it’s high in anti-oxidants, and I like the taste.  Frozen blueberries and a banana tends to be my personal fave, but use what you like / what you have on hand.  You could also make a SAVORY GREEN SMOOTHIE, with no fruits – adding tomatoes, avocados (which technically are fruits, but are more savory), garlic, onions, scallions.  The juice of a lime, or a lemon adds a nice touch.

    Flax seed oil is great to add or ground flax seed, but be careful about using the flax meal itself.  It must be ground fresh, and then stored in the fridge or freezer (as you would the flax seed oil).  Flax seed has a high degree of rancidity.

    Nuts can be added – walnuts, cashews, almonds, brazil nuts (perhaps chop them a bit at first, to help your blender).

    It’s really important to vary the fruits/ vegetables you use – for one, you won’t get bored with the drink, for another you’ll get a more diverse sampling of nutrients.

    GREENS: Kale, beet greens, swiss chard, collards, romaine lettuce (any lettuce but not iceberg), spinach, mizuma, arugula, celery, edible flowers, endive, escarole, mustard greens, radicchio, radish tops

    WEEDS: chickweed, clover  (greens and flowers), dandelion (greens and flowers), lambsquarters, plantain, purslane, stinging nettles, lemon, sorrel, garlic mustard, wild chives (aka onion grass)

    HERBS: aloe vera, dill, basil, cilantro, mint, parsley

    SPROUTS: alfalfa, broccoli, clover, fenugreek, radish, sunflower

    This is a high protein drink, without using protein powders, many of which have heavy metals in them. (google recent Consumer Reports article for info).  Most Americans either consume too much protein, or the quality of the protein is not digestible.  With the greens, the chain of amino acids is more easily assimilated, as opposed to meats and dairy whose complex chains are harder to digest.  When the body has too much protein, and cannot digest it, this taxes the kidneys – one side effect is that the perspiration can smell like ammonia, which means your sweat smells like urine.  This is not uncommon, and if the person goes off the protein powders and drinks these type of smoothies, this will correct itself.

    For some people, taking in raw fruits and vegetables may be problematic at first.  If you notice this, start slowly.  Signs of this could be:  bloating, gas, loose bowels.  What would be good to add is ginger – a warming essence – to your diet.  Ginger tea is one way – fresh is best, but a good bag tea would suffice.

    2 Summer, Fire, Red, JOY!



    FIRE!!!

    The expansiveness of summer has arrived!

    The environment of heat, the color red, the taste of bitter, the Heart and its officials, the sound of laughter, the emotion of JOY!

    In Chinese medicine, this is the element of Fire, ruled by the Heart, which houses wisdom and is considered to be the Emperor (or Empress!) of the body.  The determining of the seasons and its elements, is not based on a calendar occurrence.  This date is subjective – a decision based on feeling the energy, noticing the climactic conditions, observing Nature – a constant reference in Chinese medicine.

    These season beginnings will vary from year to year and from one location to another.  Speaking to an acupuncturist friend of mine in Florida early in June,  she related that Fire had just started.  While it was quite hot that particular day, I still was not convinced that it had begun where I live, in New Paltz, NY.  Walking outside in the woods, looking at my garden, the energy still felt like Spring (the element of Wood) – the direction was a moving-upwards, a sprouting, a new beginning sensation more prevalent than the outward expansion of Fire.   But I wondered about the day’s high temperatures …. perhaps spring had jumped into summer early?

    Just then a wind came up, a strong wind that blew the tree branches with a loud gust.  Ah, I realized, it is still Spring.  Spring is Wood, the climate is wind, a yang, upward movement of energy (the seeds sprouting after a long dormancy of winter, where the energy is yin, downwards and holding).  Not that we don’t have winds in summer – there are hurricanes, tornadoes and all sort of manifestations of wind energy – but that type of wind is an extreme storm presentation, not the general climate of the wind in spring.

    Just around the solstice, the Fire element took hold here in upstate New York.   High temperatures prevailing, but this time the energy was moving up and outwards, in an expansive motion.  Buds blossoming, sprouts turning into plants, the green lushness of trees spreading out to provide needed shade from the summer sun.

    Chinese medicine theory is beautiful and poetic, arising from lessons learned by observing Nature and – above all – applicable to your life in this moment, as you read this blog!  I’m going to go into some brief descriptions so that you can use this philosophy pragmatically.  By living in the Tao of the seasons, you will enhance your life in every way – guaranteed.

    Right now we are in Fire, Summer and a full immersion into its richness and splendor will carry you through every other day of your life (even if you hate the heat).  There are 5 other elements, all of which have seasons, colors, organ systems, sense organs, emotions, and more linked to them.

    Late Summer / harvest time is Earth, the spleen and stomach; (this is the 5th season we normally don’t distinguish); Autumn is Metal (lung and large intestine);  Winter is Water (kidney and bladder); Spring is Wood (liver and gallbladder). FIRE has four organ systems: the Heart and the Small Intestine AND the Pericardium and the Triple Heater.

    The Heart is the Ruler and is paired with the Small Intestine. The Small Intestine is called the Sorter.  On a physical level, this organ separates nutrients from the waste in the food we eat.   The Small Intestine influences mental clarity by sorting the enormous amount of psycho-emotional input we absorb daily into what is useful and what is not.   On this level, it helps you decide what is important to you, what your Heart calls for and what you can discard.

    Someone with a Small Intestine imbalance can easily choose, for instance, what he or she would love to do this summer, despite all the choices, ads,clamor from family and work partners.

    If the Small Intestine is deficient, someone might vacillate from one idea to another, feeling dismantled by all the input, unable to sort priorities.  Sometimes the mental overload overwhelms our ability to sort the pure from the impure and despair, hopelessness, and a sense of fulility could arise.

    The Triple Heater is an organ system with no physical presentation.  Among its other functions, the Triple Heater, or San Jiao (prounced: san jow), regulates temperature, ensuring that heat is distributed evenly according to the body’s needs.  For example, the head should be cooler than the abdomen, which needs heat for digestion to take place efficiently.   Untethered heat, which rises, can travel upwards, causing headaches, delerium (not uncommon with children experiencing fever), or worse, a stroke.

    On a psycho-energetic level, the Triple Heater regulates the warmth / coolness we generate towards life itself. What passions burn intensely within us?  What leaves us cold?   Can we accept warmth from others, and give it in return?  How do we react when treated with a lack of warmth, a coolness, from another being?  These are questions related to the Triple Heater.

    In Chinese Medicine, the Pericardium or Heart Protector insulates the Heart from exterior attacks – pathogens, viruses, stress, etc.   It also protects us emotionally from life’s suffering and pain.   We are not supposed to take everything to Heart that comes our way and the Pericardium is the living membrane that can filter out whatever may damange the Heart.   With a strong Heart Protector in place, a person will not “die of a broken heart”.  Rather he or she will feel pain, suffer and process the experience as part of Life’s journey.

    The Heart, the Ruler, the seat of Wisdom …. the Heart is filled with Shen, which is the spirit that connects us to the Divine or Universal Energy, or God (however you choose to define that).  It is also the energy that connects us, heart-wise, to another person or animal. Shen is light, airy, yang, expanding and knows no boundaries.   When we connect with the Shen, everything is possible and wonderful and luminous.

    The Heart houses the Shen, which flies out as we progress through our day, lighting upon another human being, reciprocated – or not – in return, illuminating our thoughts and being with Potential, with Love.  Pain, disappointments, mean words and actions, tragedies – our Heart expands to feel these but is not meant to hold onto them.  The reverberations of the events can pass through the body, digested on an energetic level, as we take in what nurtures us, and let go of what is not beneficial, the process similar energetically to the process of digesting food nutrients.

    In an ancient Chinese document, called the Ling Shu, we are told that there are two Hearts – one the Heart we know of, which is filled with shen: airy, light, open.

    The Shen flies around, like little birds, and come home to roost in the Heart.   There is another Heart within, a tiny space initially, shaped just like the Bigger Heart.   This heart takes in Yi, not Shen.  Yi is messy, and chaotic, dark and noisy.  It is the energy of the Earth element, which is wondrous and beautiful ….. but within the Earth (which we’ll discuss in late Summer when that Element  comes to play).

    In the Heart, this energy does not belong.  Only the Shen – light, ephemeral, non-substantive – belongs in the Heart. So, if our “little heart” becomes bigger and bigger as we stuff the mess, the chaos, the dark noise in it, there can  be little or no room left for the shen birds to come home to roost.   There is no room for the Shen.  Depression, anxiety, turmoil are all symptomatic results from this overcrowding.

    As children, we did not have the tools to protect our Heart, to sort through the pure from the impure, to stablize our moods and our interactions.   As adults, we may remain ignorant or unconscious by choice. At this point of understanding, we can sweep away the detritus in our Heart space, just as we would clear out a cluttered room.

    This is how acupuncture helps us –by clearing out any obstacles to amazing good health.  It works for clearing out the crowded little heart, with its anxieties, depression, turmoil.  It works for the tight muscles in the low back which are obstructing the free flow of blood and qi.   (Perhaps we clench our back muscles in reaction to the turmoil?)

    I am available to help you with all of that!

    A wonderful way to align ourselves with the summer element of Fire is to check in to our Heart – what is our Heart’s desires?  How can we best sort out our priorities, protect our spirit, and safely jump into manifesting our passions?

    Take time in this moment and dwell in the mysteries during this season of Fire and joy.