Winter and The Boys in The Basement

january scrabble
Photo by Plush Design Studio on Pexels.com

It’s January. Time for resolutions.

Right?

Not if you’re a Chinese medicine practitioner.

Chinese medicine revolves around the principle that you live in harmony with your environment. As much as possible, you do things that make you fit better into the world around you, which reduces your stress and allows you to do meaningful things with less annoyance and distraction.

Each season has its features, and each season works better for different activities, energy expenditures, focus of mind, and even what health processes to focus on if you don’t have an immediate problem needing attention.

We’re in winter. By Chinese medicine standards, winter is nearly over, but we’ll get to that.

Winter is associated with the Water Element, which is associated with kidney and bladder functions as given in Chinese medicine. Kidney and bladder are associated with some endocrine functions, mostly involving reproduction and the interplay of the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems, as well as the more obvious urine and electrolyte balancing functions of the anatomical kidney and bladder. We say kidney/bladde, but we also mean adrenals, some thyroid and brain function, a lot of bone function, and parts of the mind.

What does that have to do with resolutions?

Each element in Chinese medicine is associated with mental and emotional processes. Spring is a time when creativity, anger, and ambition rule–the same energy that pushes little plant heads out of the ground makes us want to hit the home improvement store and take on a new project. All that energy running around make us dislike anything that slows us down, so we get angry more easily. Summer is the time for social fun, activities aimed at bringing more joy, and thinking. All that hot weather both encourages more activity, and makes a quiet, contemplative rest when the heat is just too much make sense. Autumn is a time for sorting through things and deciding what to keep and what to let go, just as the trees lose their leaves. It is a time when nostalgia and grief are more prominent, and a time to create the boundaries for the next year (though it is the energy of spring that is more associated with enforcing those boundaries).

Which brings us to winter. Winter is a time of hibernation for many of our fellow mammals. It is ideally a time for us to nest, and is associated with the subconscious in Chinese medicine. It is a time for the potential of things, not their acting out (that’s spring’s job). It is also a time to build resources for the coming year, and to clear out any leftover stuff from the previous year. You finish off the items in your life’s pantry to let new things in.

So winter is a time for thinking and dreaming and pondering. Which brings us to “the boys in the basement.”

In a book on his advice for writing, Stephen King calls the source of creative ideas “the boys in the basement.” He discusses the importance of giving your unconscious mind a chance to come front and center if you want to be a writer–and that goes for any creative pursuit. The boys in the basement are the source of new ideas. They are the guys who don’t monitor their words, who may not always be socially acceptable, but without them you don’t think outside the box.

Winter is the time when the boys in the basement can really do their stuff. Winter is a time to free-associate about your dreams and goals. A time when it’s too cold or there’s too little daylight to get a lot of outside work done. A time when it is easier to get a little extra sleep while the sun absent from the sky. Dreaming, whether wakeful or sleeping, is a good activity for winter.

Winter is also associated with fear or terror–because of its association with kidney/adrenals, but also because it is a time when there is little or no food growing. It’s a time to face possible scarcity, and mentally prepare yourself for using what you have well. It is a time for considering who you are, what you’re made of, and what is important to do and uphold,
no matter what hardships come. Spring, with its early shoots of green things, is around the corner. But you have to survive winter first.

So what does that mean for resolutions?

Winter is not the time to hit the gym, do a cleanse, or start most new projects. It is a time to daydream about them. It is a time, as my friend and colleague Angelica does at work, to create a vision board for what you want to experience in the coming year. It is a time to brainstorm. It is a time to look at what challenges you face, either because you have no choice in the matter, or because you choose to deal with something that has hampered you for years. Try out a few new organizers, find some cool things to read. Look at a seed catalog, art supply store, or paint samples. Prepare, in an open way, for projects you want to begin in the more hyped up energy of spring.

In Chinese medicine, we see spring as starting around the Chinese New Year–February 16 this year. As winter comes to a close and spring sneaks in, begin making those plans more concrete. Decide what time you need to get up to go to the gym or do your run. Close in on a couple of projects on your list. Decide how you will handle eating out on your new diet, and what you will say to the pushy person at work while you establish firmer boundaries in your life. Write out the values you want to focus on with the sharp clarity of focus that can be cultivated with the energy of spring.

I see winter as a time to continue the flow of thought and action that ideally began the previous spring. Spring launches new projects and plans. Summer you have time to share your work with friends, and make any course adjustments. In autumn you begin analyzing what went right or wrong in the year, and deciding what activities will continue or drop off in the next year. And in winter, you begin contemplating how you want the next year to look and feel.

As the year goes on, we will talk about how each season can be used for growth, and health. One of my focus projects this year is studying brain function, particularly as it relates to anxiety. To that end, I’m starting a podcast. If you know of people who are experts in neuroscience, mindfulness, the management of PTSD and anxiety, or who just seem really serene and on track with life, I would like to talk to them about doing an interview with me for the podcast. I would be honored if you would pass my name to them, or their name to me.

As the new year begins, both the calendar year, and to my mind, the coming functional new year this spring, I wish you a joyful and productive year. I am here to help with your health issues, or discuss how Chinese medicine’s principles can help manage life better. Please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Aggravated? Here’s Help!

I am aggravated right now. No real reason. It’s rainy, I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish, and now that I have to do them, there are stops everywhere. I can’t make delicious almond bread until I have a clean place to work. I can’t make my lunch until I finish the almond bread. I can’t sit at my table because it isn’t cleared off.

I don’t want to clear all these things off. In our family breakdown of jobs, these things are not my job. And besides, it’s B-O-R-I-N-G. I have things to do do.

I feel stuck. I feel cranky. I feel restless.

I don’t like this feeling.

What do I do?

As someone who is not known for patience, I have had to learn to deal with aggravation. As someone who is sensitive to stress, I’ve had to learn to deal with in ways that minimize the effect on my body. Here are a few tips that I may not always employ myself (baby steps. . .), but they are useful.

  1. Regroup. If the things around you are mounting up, try distraction first. This method is great for procrastinators, because it is a way to continue to accomplish even if you can’t get the thing you want done. Take a break and fold the laundry, clean out a drawer that’s cluttered, make a phone call you’ve been avoiding. One or two productive wanders frees up space to think and work again; more than two probably means you are avoiding something important and need to refocus on the Dreaded Thing.
  2. Quick meditation. Sometimes you just need a quick chance to recenter. http://www.Just-a-Minute.org has one minute meditations that can help you quickly calm yourself and adjust your attitude. I keep a tab open to the site so I can grab a one-minute break here and there during the day.
  3. Tackle The Dreaded Thing. Since I’m getting worked up over the table being messy, I have at least two options. Clear the thing myself, or ask my husband to interrupt his schedule to do something on mine. The movement might help me, or addressing my peevishness because he hasn’t done what I think of as “his job” might also help me feel less powerless. Either way, I’ve dealt with the issue.
  4. Review the importance of The Dreaded Thing. Why is the thing-you-are-frustrated-with important enough to make you frustrated? In my case, the table has two levels of importance. One, I have things I want to do, and a clear table is a necessity. Two, I wanted my husband to do it and I’m annoyed that he didn’t do it. So if I spend five minutes clearing off enough space to work, the first point is a non-issue. But the second is something I need to work out in my mind or with my husband. Does he often shirk household duties? No, and usually only when he feels unwell. Do I have a long-standing issue with feeling unfairly burdened with responsibilities from events that happened before I met him? Why, yes indeed, I do! The disordered table has assumed the status of A Symbol of Oppression. It now becomes my job to work on the emotion the messy table has generated. I can decide to take care of the pressing issue, and make time to journal about the Symbol later. I can ask my husband to help me as a simple household conversation, without the weight of decades of emotion tied into it.
  5. Accept life as a sometimes frustrating experience. I don’t like this option. Not at all. But sometimes, life just is frustrating. In our household, we are two creative, messy minds in bodies with energy limitations. The occasional messy house is simply part of the fabric of our partnership. In other houses, there are facts. Children will not always behave quietly. Money issues won’t always go away. Chronic health problems may not get better, or even get worse. Accepting the aggravations that come from the unchangeable facts of life is a hard task. But learning to do so, either by working on your own or with a professional counselor or trusted friend, will lessen the irritation. Once you’ve done the long arduous work of accepting that the aftershocks of a car accident, or bad investment, or catastrophic health issue is just “the way life is now,” it will aggravate you less.

Dealing with aggravation is sometimes easy and quick, and sometimes long and painful. Developing the skill of accepting frustration is a valuable task that will free you from a lot of worry and pain. It is worth the aggravation to learn how to face frustration.

Derangement by Metal: Grieving and Anxiety in Chinese Medicine

Every acupuncturist has at least one kind of illness pattern they have a hard time treating. For some, the chronic Earth deficiency, with its frequent love of sweets and ability to obsess on anything, is difficult. For others, it’s Liver Fire, with its tendency to be constantly irritable. For me, it’s severe Metal imbalances that affect the psyche. The pain this imbalance creates is hard to watch, especially since the people stuck in this pattern often have difficulty believing their perceptions are unclear.

Metal element deals with the Lung and Large Intestine, and deals with the emotions of memory and nostalgia, grieving, and letting go of anything that no longer serves you. It is also the system that deals with boundaries (a la the immune system) and as such plays a part in the metaphorical “boxes” a person uses to keep things organized and sorted in their mind. The season of autumn is a time when the Metal element has more say-so in the workings of the environment than any other time of year. Many people notice a tendency towards nostalgia in the autumn, and pull out old picture books to remember old times. Others notice more of a tendency to think of past losses, or a desire to clear out clutter and re-evaluate the things you spend your time on in life.

For someone whose Metal element, or Lung and Large Intestine energy, is severely out of balance, this process goes awry, sometimes to the point of becoming irrational. The organizational and boundary aspects of Metal can become hyper-sensitive, making a person a perfectionist, or overly detailed oriented. The boundary-setting function can falter, making a person either too lenient with those around them, or, more often in dealing with Metal, too strict. The person becomes so convinced of their own opinions on a matter that they cannot see the faults in their thinking, and become overly uptight and even paranoid. When these problems occur, a person can suffer from symptoms as mild as being too picky about how the dishwasher is loaded to a full mental disorder, such as eating disorder, debilitating phobias, panic disorders, and other forms of irrationality.

While serious, life-altering disorders will usually require greater intervention from medical sources, there are ways to help your Lung and Large Intestine energies regain balance. In the continuum of Chinese energetics, the Metal element is nourished by Earth, controlled by Wood, and feeds Water. Keeping these three systems in balance will help normalize the Metal element.

Since a tendency to over-control is considered an excess state of Metal in Chinese medicine, one way to decrease its influence is to minimize Earth element. This process is tricky, because the Earth element is responsible for digestions, and has some weakness in most people. So keeping food easy to digest is key. Rather than eating raw or processed food, eat warm, well-cooked food, such as soups, mildly sweet vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, and unprocessed grains. Raw food is too difficult for most people to break down easily, especially in cold weather. Warm foods relax your entire digestive system. It also helps relax the muscles in your torso, allowing qi to more easily flow from your chest to your abdomen, linking your Metal and Earth energy.

Another problem comes when the Metal Element “over-controls” Wood energy, which represents the liver and gallbladder functions in Chinese medicine.  Wood is repsonsible for enforcing the boundaries that the Metal element creates, as well as supplying active creative energy for things like art, organizing, and business. When Wood is out of balance, people either become listless and lacking ambition and ability to take action. Alternatively, a person with Wood unbalanced can become aggressive in asserting herself. Often this form of imbalance is predominate in the more irrational forms of Metal imbalance. The Metal element virtually enslaves the Wood energy and uses it to fight the encroachment of reality on the opinions of the person out-of-balance.

To soothe the Wood element, and bring it out of Metal’s abusive orbit, you use small amounts of sour foods and plenty of green foods. These foods help Wood energy to “unstick” itself. And stuck energy is a big issue in the particularly severe Metal overbalances. Getting that energy to move allows a person to release their sometimes irrational thoughts and allow other people to help them.

Finally, Water element, which is the Kidney and Bladder meridians in people and animals, is nourished by Metal. Often this energy is weak in the person with an unbalanced Metal energy because the energy gets stuck and refuses to nourish Water. Alternatively, it pushes so much energy into the Water element that its function of providing the oomph for willpower becomes overpronounced, and the poor person cannot allow anyone or anything, including objective reality, to circumvent his or her own will. Grounding the Water element and using the other tips here allow willpower to move to appropriate self-care instead of sometimes arbitrarily strict rules in diet, cleanliness, or other behaviors.

Strengthening Water element can be done by adding small amounts of sea salt or elements from the ocean. Fish, seaweeds, or adding sea or other unprocessed salt to your food can help. Giving yourself plenty of downtime to meditate, daydream, and have unstructured thought is also important. Water element has the most connection to the subconscious mind in Chinese medicine. As such, it deals with the underlying fears and emotions that stir problems in all the elements, including Metal. Nourishing it gives your body the reserves and feeling of grounding you need to improve any emotional or physical condition.

Severe unbalance in any system should be addressed by as many modalities and professionals as you need to restore harmony in your life. In the case of severe Metal element disturbance, you may need to find someone you trust to define your reality if you are having irrational thoughts. Seek emergency care if a disturbed mental process is affecting your life to a great extent, or you have thoughts of harming yourself or others.

Balance is key to all of Chinese medicine. For more information on dealing with your health imbalances, please call or email today.

A Brief Intro to Acupuncture (VIDEO)

Here’s a video I did for New Year New You at Montpelier Family Chiropractic. I plan on doing more videos this year on topics ranging from foods to eat when you have a bad cold to how the seasons affect your emotional health. You can follow my channel on YouTube, or my Facebook page to always get my videos as soon as they’re up. Feel free to suggest topics!

Big News for the New Year–I’m in Montpelier!

After five years at what is now Ariya Chiropractic, I have decided to move on to new things. Effective immediately, I will be moving to Montpelier Family Chiropractic in beautiful downtown Montpelier. I will be there on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Dr. Tree, Mark Atkinson, and Angelica Valencia

I am joining an amazing group of colleagues. Theresa Neiss (“Dr. Tree”) is the chiropractor at Montpelier Famiily Chiropractic. She has been my family’s chiropractor for the past five years. She has helped me, my husband, our friends and my patients stay healthy and happy, often with problems that were not improved at other chiropractic offices. She has a background in nutrition, and is well trained not only in spinal manipulation, but in adjusting every joint in the body. I didn’t know until recently that some chiropractors have little training in adjusting anything beyond the spine. Dr. Tree’s expertise with the entire body has been a great help when I come to her with a hurt ankle or wrist.

Mark Atkinson is the massage therapist here. The massage I got from him was one of the best I’ve ever had. He has special training in pregnancy massage and mobility stretches. His enthusiasm for life will infect you, too, when you see him.

Angelica Valencia is the chiropractic assistant extraordinaire. She is dedicated to natural living, homesteading, patient care and interesting information in general. I love going to the office just to learn what amazing thing she’s learned since my last visit. If you are curious, certainly about healthcare, but also about just about anything else, you will find a kindred spirit in Angelica.

Colleen and Tara round out the office support staff. Everyone at Montpelier Family Chiropractic is friendly, knowledgeable, and interested in you and your health. You will love coming here as much as I do.

The office is a star in itself. It is beautiful, and feels relaxing and open. They have put lovely plants everywhere, and the walls are a lovely green–perfect for me!

Snazzy Waiting Area

A Peek Into Mark’s Treatment Room

Angelica’s Domain

The First Door is My New Treatment Room
Stay tuned and check your email (be sure to sign up for email updates using the box in the upper right if you aren’t getting them yet) for a series of special promotions celebrating the move to the new office.

Please feel free to stop by and say hi. We’re at 17212 Mountain Road in Montpelier across the street from the Montpelier Center for Arts and Education, at the corner of Mountain Road (Hwy. 33, which is Staples Mill Road in Richmond) and Beaverdam Road.. 

Part Six of the Five Taxations: The Boots are Made for It, But Walk in Balance

Photo Credit: Justin Schott

After a long hiatus we’re back to our series on the Five Taxations. Here are the previous articles:

Introduction/Part One: Goldilocks and The Five Taxations

Part Two: I Can See Clearly Now: Part Two of the Five Taxations–Vision

Get Up And Boogie! Part 3 of The 5 Taxations: Excessive Lying Down

Part Four of the Five Taxations: Sitting Needs Moderation

Part Five of the Five Taxations: Maybe ‘Stand Up, Stand Up’ Is Not Always Best

Today’s topic is the Fifth Taxation: “Excessive Walking, which damages the sinews.” Our culture is in love with sitting, but our advice gurus are all about the walking. Walking does have many benefits.  People recommend having a treadmill desk so you never have to sit down. 

A basic tenet of Chinese medicine is “everything in balance.” So we advise against lying down too much, against sitting too much, and against walking too much. Where many people see this as contradictory advice, we see it as common sense. You need to move your body in many different ways and rest it, too. 

“Walking injures the sinews” warns against the exhaustion of overwork. Sinews can cover a most non-muscle, non-fatty tissues in Chinese medicine-speak. Anyone who has experienced tendonitis knows it is often triggered by overuse. 

The sinews are considered to be governed by the Wood element, which also manages Liver and Gallbladder function. The Liver and Gallbladder are the organ systems most affected by stress. Moderate walking, or other exercise, is great for stress and can help you manage the energy generated by emotions, overthinking, and your response to frustrations and problems. 

But too much exercise wears you out. When you are exhausted from overwork, you have a harder time managing stress. You begin to pull on your reserves, which in Chinese medicine means overtaxing the Water element, which deals with the Kidney and Bladder systems. Together with the Liver and Gallbladder, these systems have a huge influence on all the hormonal functions of the body–endocrine, sleep, and reproduction in particular. The Water element also holds your inherited energy, which are your “reserves.” When you don’t have enough energy from your rest and breathing and eating, your body naturally taps into these reserves. Many people can over-exercise for years because they use this reserve energy as they push themselves too hard. But once the reserves are gone, you have nothing extra to help you age gracefully, manage life’s emergencies or major illnesses, or just have the “verve” that makes life a joy.

How much is too much? It depends on the person. Check with your doctor or other healthcare professional for your specific case. My advice is generally to do enough exercise so your joints feel relaxed and loose, and so your daily tension feels relieved. If your exercise leaves you exhausted for more than twenty-four hours after you do it, or if you hurt more than mild aches and pains when you exercise, dial back. If you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart problems, be extra careful and be sure you have health advice from a medical professional who is qualified to help you–that will usually include a doctor at least, but maybe also an acupuncturist, physical therapist, chiropractor, nutritionist, or other practitioner.

So get moderate exercise, including walking. Enjoy it! But don’t overdo it. Like everything else, exercise is meant to be done in moderation.

Self-Care When Illness Strikes

An unintended side effect of illness: I’ve lost some weight!

This summer has been interesting chez Green. I’ve had two illnesses that landed me in the hospital, and needed a procedure that put me out of commission for about a week. It has been a month since I was declared more or less back to normal, and I’m still low on energy and don’t feel anywhere near recovered.

I’ve been shell-shocked by the whole ordeal. As a natural health practitioner who eats clean and uses herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic and other holistic healthcare nearly exclusively, the world of beeping machines and various pills, antiseptics, and scary diagnostic things that zap my insides is overwhelming. And I didn’t even need surgery.

I treat people every day who make multiple trips to a hospital or outpatient facility for procedures each year. Most of my patients take some kind of prescription medication every day, and many more see their doctor for health concerns frequently. After my brief sojourn in the land of modern medicine, I feel for them.

The doctors and nurses who have treated me have been almost universally professional, kind, and compassionate. They have also been overworked, and in a system that treats bodies like machines.

It is surprising how quickly you begin to feel like a piece of meat when people take your clothes and blood, and make your bodily fluids their business. Even knowing it is exactly what I needed to get well did not make me feel positive about the experience. Feeling my body reel from each medication and procedure disoriented me and made me distrust my natural knowledge.

I am used to using food and herbs to gently allow my body to heal. In most cases, this approach is ideal, allowing your body to makes the minute adjustments that encourage balance. In an emergency, you take care of the potentially life-threatening problem and then help your body recover from any side effects. I have had to develop some strategies to help me recover from the more extreme but necessary healthcare I’ve had over the past several months. Here are a few things that have helped me:

  1. Remember every person recovers differently. I have taken far longer than I like to get my energy and verve back. My husband and friends keep reminding me that while I was very blessed in not having as severe a health issue as I could have had, I was still seriously ill. They also remind me that I have always been slightly frail, for lack of a better word, and usually take longer than average to recover from anything, even a night of poor sleep. Once I stopped fighting the time I needed to get better, I noticed I improved more quickly.
  2. Take better care of yourself than usual. I already eat well and try to give myself plenty of rest and moderate exercise. But this illness has made it necessary for me to be extra careful in my food. A little too much sugar, too much starch, or a food I know I do not digest well, and I will feel bad for at least the next twenty-four hours. A night’s lost sleep means a nap the next day, no arguments. If I don’t take care of myself, my muscles hurt, I can’t focus, and I’m likely to have an emotional meltdown. So I try to eat mostly simply cooked food with an emphasis on vegetables. When I stick to this diet, I feel better than when I eat too much sugar or spice. I also give myself plenty of rest, and try–the hardest thing for me–to keep calm thoughts and stay optimistic. I am a recovering worrier.
  3. Make a plan for the future. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness that requires some maintenance. Since I’ve been used to mild symptoms and did not realize they signalled something more serious, I’ve had to educate myself. I knew the “book-knowledge” information from my schooling in healthcare, but learning what symptoms feel like in my body has taken concentrated study. I now have a plan for a)diet changes and herbal supplements as preventative changes when symptoms start, b) at what point I will go to a doctor, and c) when the best course of action is rest.
  4. Accept managing illness is a process. I am still learning the exact parameters to best manage my health. I have made mistake in overdoing things, and I suspect I could have pushed myself sometimes and did not. After being lectured by my friends and family to take the advice I give to others, I took the pressure off myself to be perfect. Now I don’t worry too much about misteps. My goal is to be healthy for years to come, not to be perfect today. I think my strategy is working.

I hope these tips will help you, whether you are dealing with a cold or a serious illness. If you are not healthy, you cannot enjoy life to its fullest. Take the time to take care of yourself so you can enjoy your time on this lovely planet.