The Insightful, Calm, and Caring Year of the Yang Earth Dog

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As we head in to the the Chinese New year of the yang earth dog of 2018 on February 16th, we are expecting a calm, stable completion of what was stirred up in previous fire rooster year.  A dog by nature is loyal and fair; honest communication is the foundation of this creature’s integrity. What you see is what you get.   With its strength in character and moral conviction, social justice will ring throughout the nation and those that stand up for such things will be heard.

 

Dogs are intelligent pack animals, so this is not necessarily the year to go out on your own.  Development of family and “man’s best friend,” are the ones who matter most.  Each pack also has an alpha male and alpha female, so those that fit this leadership bill will be the ones who stand out coupled with the notion of true service for the good of all.  A dog is a protector after all, so those that understand and value what is good for the pack will step into that alpha role.

 

We are also in what is considered a yang earth year, which alludes to the notion of being calm, strong and stable, like a mountain.  This energy is very slow moving, but sturdy.  Planning things out will be of great benefit and yield even more results throughout the year. People’s opinions could be a bit more stubborn, which could lead to conflict due to an eruption of convictions.  Aiming for peace would be the ultimate resolution. The challenge of this year will be setting healthy boundaries without putting up walls.  Living with and sensing some fear is common for a dog.   This will not be the year for fake news, faux-facebook friending, or bullies to have a field day.  People’s honesty and realness will be what builds trust.

 

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Being a yang earth based year, we are more likely to see natural earth-like powerful shifts such as earthquakes and mudslides.  There is also a great likelihood of renewable energy sources to be on the rise, such as solar and wind.  The agricultural industry will take off and things related to the structural home and real estate. Anything green or of the environment will be in the limelight but this could also lead to territorial disputes. 

 

Romance and relationships are bound to be stable and strong.  A dog’s loyalty results in a wonderful joyous commitment, feeling the need for affection and touch from it’s mate.  Those who are single are more likely to meet a partner through their pack, so it may not be the best year for online dating.  Stick close to your friends for that special intro.

 

Body language will speak volumes, so stay grounded.  Take walks in nature to restore and align yourself with the energy in the air.  The earth element in Chinese medicine refers to the spleen, which has a lot to do with pancreatic and stomach function.  This could be the year we see more digestive issues, so keep a diet that is healthy and mild, no overeating or dampening foods such as dairy or excessive alcohol.   The emotions of the earth element when out of balance are ones of worry, rumination, and obsession; when in balance they are generous, loving, and care-giving while not jeopardizing ones own self-care.  Definitely a year to enhance your meditation practice for a stable happy mind.

 

Stick with your pack and share your resources with friends, family and coworkers.  Positive reenforcement will go along way, and those dogs around you will bound to be your new best friend.

Preserve your Energy this Winter

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Seasonal change brings more than just a change in the landscape of the planet;  it changes our internal landscape as well.  Chinese medicine saw this to be true paying very close attention to how the elements affect us.  What season we are in becomes a great mirror for us to consider our activity level, our emotions, and what we should do with our physical bodies.  We are entering winter this month, the time of full yin.  The nights are long, the air is cool, and animals hibernate, this includes us!

 

Chinese medicine is based on the taoist principle of yin and yang which accounts for the duality we see in all of existence and the interconnectedness of all life.  This is represented by the yin yang symbol and as you can see each side has a little light in the dark or dark in the light.    Every concept you can think of in life is only available for distinction because there is an equal and opposite in nature.  You see  nighttime because you can also see daytime.  You know something is hard because you have had an experience of touching something soft. 

 

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The yin aspect is represented by the feminine, the dark, intuition, the water element, and the winter season to name a few.  The kidneys are the organ system we want to nurture and pay attention to as well as its associated organ pair, the bladder and adrenal glands.  The kidneys are our main source of prenatal qi (or energy) and our jing (or reproductive essence).  This helps us rest, rejuvenate, and slow down the aging process.  The kidney health also contributes to the health our knees, low back and hearing.

 

The mammal instinct to hibernate during this season is spot on!  We should hope to emulate this activity by making decisions to not exceed our energy reserves; perhaps not go to that extra party and instead rest, eat nourishing soups and stews, cook with root vegetables or any other seasonal eats and take time reflect or retreat.  If we push ourselves too much this time of year, we as a human specious tend to get sick with colds and flus as well as tax our adrenal glands which help us adapt to the stresses of life.

 

Self-care can go beyond resting and eating and can engage with what nourishes your mind and heart such as acupuncture, meditation, bodywork, herbal remedies, qi gong, tai qi, which are all wonderful for cultivating qi for the kidneys.

Want to know a little background about the winter solstice?   Take a look at a previous blog article

Our Human Biology Lives According to the 5 Elements

Would you like to loose weight?  Have more energy so you can think clearer? Have better sleep?  Work out more efficiently? Feel balanced in your mood?  All of these things are possible if we begin to engage with our daily habits during the hours that the body is naturally inclined to practice them.  We can discover this timing from the ancient Chinese medicine Biological Clock.

 

We are creatures of habit.  This means that are bodies are built to operate habitually.  We are designed according to a circadian rhythm that operates over a 24 hour period.  Its a law of nature and the science behind this phenomenon was most recently awarded the Noble Prize in physiology and medicine.  The Chinese discovered this chronobiology long ago and actually spelled it out for us quite nicely.

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As you can see in the mapped out chart, a lot of us may begin our day during the large Intestines time between 5-7 am.  This would be the body’s most ideal time to go to the bathroom followed by the stomach hours of 7-9 am, when we are most inclined to eat breakfast; the stomach during these hours knows to assimilate the food we eat, followed by the spleen hours 9-11am.  This Chinese spleen organ system is the best time of the day to use our brain and our muscles, so either a high amount of comprehension and memorization or one of the best times to exercise and lose weight while doing so.  In western medicine, they discovered that we have a cortisol rush at 8:00 am; this is our stress hormone that allows us to manage a lot of mental and physical stressors we subject ourselves to.  Right after this is the heart hours of 11am- 1pm, when the blood is circulating the most, the body is the warmest, and the sun is at its peak being the most yang time of day.

 

Moving into some of the evening hours, between 5-7 pm is the time of the kidneys; this means your reproductive essence and fertility is at its highest and would be a great time to engage in conceiving a child.  Being asleep between the gall bladder and liver hours of 11pm- 3 am is so incredibly ideal for our cellular repair, blood detoxification.  The hun, or etherial soul, is associated with the liver and is considered to be our consciousness. If we are in deep sleep during 1-3 am, our hun can return to its resting place in the liver, allowing for an easier mood, less stress, and living consciously during the day.  Also being asleep during the lung hours of 3-5 am is wonderful for detoxing and cleaning out our lungs while we sleep.  This is also when our immune systems are doing their best repair.

 

You might notice if you have a certain weakness or issue with a particular organ system, you are more likely to see symptoms during that time of day on the biological clock.  If you do notice repeated symptoms on an almost daily basis at the same time each day, tell your acupuncturist.  This is very useful information for your practitioner to know, so he or she may better treat you.

Earth Element Medicine Post Solar Eclipse

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The beauty of Chinese medicine is how it sees the whole universe and everything in it as connected.  We are in essence a reflection of the cosmos around us.  When we fall into paying attention to the seasons as they change, we naturally change and our bodies, minds, and hearts follow suit without resistance.

 

Indian Summer is upon us late summer until autumn equinox, which resonates with the Earth Element of nature.  This is such a beautiful time for standing still, quieting down, and nurturing the Earth element inside of us by using the earth itself.  The air is bit humid as we experience it in some regions.  In the transition from the hot heat of summer to the coolness of fall, we are in the in-between yang and yin phases, which is a very balanced state to be in.  Yang is signified by the masculine summer sun, and Yin is represented in the feminine winter moon.  It is more than perfect in every way that we just experienced a total solar eclipse!  The conjoining of the sun and the moon hitting the earth, ushering in Indian Summer is so beautifully timed for all of us to enjoy and reap the benefits of a very balanced state of being.  We all will feel both our masculine and feminine sides equally in the drivers seat of our life.  This means our yang energy, our driving force to do, make order, provide structure is around just as much as our yin energy to rest, rely on intuition, and evoke creativity.  A very delicious place to be and so is the food coming out of the earth.  Our fruits and vegetables are at their ripest; our farmer’s markets are filled to the brim with a variety of delectable treats.  Feast on the harvest inside and out, retreat to home and heart, cook, relax, and slow down.  The more you slow down right now the more you will relish in the beauty of it all.  

 

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Digestion

The Earth Element for the body has a lot to do with digestion, so eating healthy, whole foods is really the way to go.  The main organs that we work with right now are the stomach and Chinese spleen, more thought of as modern day pancreas.  So we want to eat just enough to nourish, but not too much to hinder digestion.  Remaining slow with all actions right now, including eating is the best thing you could do,  If there is too much heat in the body from summer, we might have acid reflux, stomach ulcers, indigestion, and problems with our stools.  Eating blander whole foods, cooked, yellow and orange in color can be very beneficial.

 

Emotions

In Chinese medicine we think our emotions are intertwined with our body, and there are certain feelings that correspond with an organ system.  When the spleen is taxed, we’ll have a propensity worry and ruminate at times to the point of obsessive thought patterns; when the spleen/stomach is healthy, we have a tendency to empathize and support others but not at the expense of our own health.  To keep the earth element emotion in us in check, meditation of all kinds is superb!  Staying with your own breath, your own body sensations, or a mantra is so beneficial for curbing worry and anxiety in its path.

 

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If we were overdoing it this summer, or not getting enough sleep, we might tire easily, feel unmotivated, or have some of those digestive and emotional concerns bubble up.  The Earth element in the body manifests its essence in our muscles, so moving our body in healthy gentle ways will lift fatigue.  One could engage with yoga, qi gong, tai chi, or prana and breath practices to circulate the qi and move the blood.  All of this is wonderful to nourish the blood to prep immunity for the upcoming fall season. 

 

These Indian summer weeks really are time to reflect, stay still, and rejoice in all the new beginnings that are happening around us right now.  Empathize with others, but also empathize with yourself, really listen to the inner landscape, for its a reflection of the earth’s landscape.  Seeing more of the beauty around you is only possible if you can reflect on the beauty within.  This is all Earth Element medicine.  Listen for it, because it here as your guidance.

Tips to Calm Anxiety

Calming anxiety can be tricky, especially if you are in the middle of feeling pretty anxious and you’re not sure how to get out of it.  I’d like to share with you some helpful tools that really can center the mind.  Of course these things would be great to go to in the middle of an anxious episode but they are even better utilized on a day to day basis regardless of how you are feeling, in order to condition the mind and prevent anxiety from coming up in the first place.

As you will see these all engage with the senses

  1. Sound.  You can listen to music or sounds that stimulate alpha wave, theta wave, or delta waves in the brain.  These are the resonate brain waves we pass through on the journey from relaxation into sleep mode.  There will be a lot of resources on music players such as spotify, soundcloud, and youtube.  Here are a couple for your reference:

-Themindunleashed.com

-Look up Dr. Jeffrey Thompson as another place to start for such music composition.

 

2. Smell. Relaxing essential oils will also be useful to change your brain through the olfactory sense door and can be great at bedtime or used in a diffuser in your work or home environment.  Try scents such as lavender, clary sage or bergamot for calming anxiety.

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3.  Pause and Breathe. In the moment, wherever you are, do some deep abdominal belly breathing.  You can do this standing in place in the middle of your work day or while sitting or laying down during a moment of rest. Put your hands on your belly while you do this, so you can feel your breath rise and fall in your own body.  Also putting your hand on your heart is a trigger to release oxytocin, a happy hormone that reminds of the felt sense of love.   I also suggest smiling while you do this. 

4. Touch. Drop in some place for a massage or acupuncture.  This can also get you out of your head, and in your body.  Trigger general relaxation.  Baths with epsom salts and lavender can help to sooth muscle tension and thereby lessening anxiety. 

5.  Listen to some guided meditations and talks.  You can find many resources such as a day to day 21 day guided experience with Deepak Chopra.  Dharma seed is a wonderful app for 1000's of dharma talks coming from Buddhist philosophies; however, if that does not interest you, not to worry, there are many guided meditations that will apply to staying present in your body and breathe, which is really one of the best remedies to getting out of your anxious head and into a relaxed state of being.  If you happen to like some of the talks on there you could check out these instructors: Tara Brach, Guy Armstrong, Mark Coleman, Jack Kornfield, Howie Cohn. Everyone has a different flavor. Here is the website http://dharmaseed.org/,  but is easier to navigate as an app

6.  Diet. Believe it or not, what you eat can have a great effect on your mood. Eating a lot of sugar or carb rich things can hype us up for a little while, even with anxiety, and then is followed by a crash of fatigue and for some irritability.  Eating more protein and healthy fats as those found in salmon and walnuts, can bring balance to your mood, clear your head and prevent fatigue.  

No matter what, remember, there is no quick fix to sooth anxiety permanently.  It is a state of mind that comes and goes in varying degrees.  The more you practice some of the tips mentioned here, over time, the severity of the emotion lessens more and more.

Does the Heart have a Brain?

Thinking with the heart and not the head could now be no longer considered merely a metaphor thanks to recent discoveries by modern neurocardiologists.  Neural cells make up 60%- 65% of the heart rather than muscle cells, as previously thought.  The axonic and dendritic connections of these cells called ganglia and the neurotransmitters between them mimic the neural links found in the brain.

This quite literally makes the heart an “emotional brain.”

As an exocrine gland, the heart secrets the hormone atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) affecting every part of the limbic system, the part of our body that processes emotion.  This quite literally makes the heart an “emotional brain.”  The ganglia in the heart have connections to every major organ in the body as well as our muscular system.  This could be why human emotion can be conveyed through expressive movement and dance or why a person’s stomach could feel tied up in knots with impeded digestion during times of great stress or emotional upheaval.

Heart ache is a sensation the body commonly feels when you’ve lost a loved one or ended a relationship.  The chest can literally ache as you feel a surge of emotional strife.  In the west we understand the brain and its limbic system to be the baring of bad feelings along with the perception of any other emotional state we might feel.  Western medicine has countless prescription drugs to numb the effects of certain emotional states that become unbearable for us.  Modern day psychologists see this as a course of treatment, attributing the reason for these high and low emotional states to be a chemical imbalance in the brain.

TCM does not look to the brain and it’s neurotransmitters as a method of diagnosis and treatment of psychological disturbances as seen in the West. Extreme states of anxiety, sadness, insomnia, and mania are all conditions of imbalances in the heart.   A state of anxiety, for example, could have a diagnosis of ‘heart fire.”  Traditional Chinese medicine sees the heart as the “king organ” of all emotions.  It houses what is known as a the shen.  Acupuncture treatments calm shen and correct imbalances either with the heart or what encases it, the pericardium.  From a mild state of anxiety to a more severe condition of schizophrenia, all look to not the brain, but the organ the heart and its Chinese meridian systems as a way to restore a patient’s emotional health.

Year of the Yin Fire Rooster 2017

We are headed into another new year January 28th, 2017 as the Yin Fire Rooster stands to show his feathers in his usually considerate, mild-mannered, charming kind of way.  Some of us may be in shock or feel tense by the happens of 2016, but the softer yin nature we are about to encounter will smooth things over a bit as we see the repercussion of all the quick decisions made during the monkey year.  The rooster is inspirational and a fearless visionary waking people up with his crow at down because of his strength, bravery, and leadership.  This kind of outlook overseeing the world, will enable us to heal from past actions personally and collectively.

We should all be a little more polite and less stubborn and stick to practical well-proven paths to ensure success, rather than risky ventures.  Roosters can be territorial; this can be both good and bad.  Countries may engage in dispute especially with a war on words, but roosters know how to take care of their flock suggestive to men even being able to stand up for women’s rights, for instance.  One of the most enduring qualities of the rooster is his honesty, so truths will emerge.  We should just be warned not to engage in any “cockfights;” however, because banding together and fighting for a cause will have power when done politely.

What a year for career and finances!  A rooster generally can be his own accountant as he is punctual and focused on details.  We will all be encouraged to take on that hat, organize our finances, start working on debt, and get those ducks in row for years to come.  This is not the year to let your work slide on the job.  Stay focused and invested on the work in front of you.  It is a time to team build being that roosters generally flock together.  Living well together means also remembering hierarchy as you come together for a common cause.  We will all be tempted to restructure things with a new pecking order.  There will be a heightened sense of intuition and non-verbal communication especially from those who were previously quiet.

Because roosters are quite charismatic, this year is sure to be a romantic one.  Especially because we are blessed with the fire element, we will come across a lot of tempting flirts. Just stay alert and don’t be fooled by charm for being the real deal.  Those in relationships will feel that romanticism and want to get married and those married may feel the urge to have a baby.

We will be quite consumed by our health and our looks this year wanting to dress to impress.  A very good year for businesses that involve design, art, and fashion.  People will want to entertain in the home so businesses spilling over into real estate and home decor will also do splendidly.

The other side of the coin to looking good is feeling good.  This is definitely a year to get that gym membership, eat clean healthy foods, do your doctor check ups, and pay extra special attention to the root of your health concerns finding doctors and alternative healthcare practitioners that will help you discover any underlining issues.  We will all have a dose of exhaustion to recover from because of fire monkey 2016.

You’ll want to engage with regular healthy routines.  Set your day up right with a morning ritual so your health takes priority.  This enables a natural flow for you being able to be better balanced financially and show up for work ready to excel.

Generally speaking people will want to gather with family or like-minded individuals looking to more passive forms of social fun and play.  It will be easy to be enthralled and enthusiastic during little moments of happiness.  Someone once said that Yin Fire is like a small bundle of flowers hiding in the woods waiting to be enjoyed.  Lift up your spirits by finding those precious hidden beauties and celebrating those that you find with others.  There is no better time to be friendly even to a stranger, for that warm-heartedness is ultimately what drives the rooster to crow to a fresh new morning.

A Blaze of Light to Come on the Solstice:

It’s been a long and trepidatious 2016, but as we enter the Winter Solstice on December 21st, the longest night of the year, light is at the end of the tunnel . . . literally.  The sun will begin to shine brighter and closer to us in the Northern Hemisphere, calling in more yang energy, that which builds strength and qi after great stillness.  Solstice translated from Latin means “sun set still.”  

Traditionally people would gather around a fire or light a candle to mark the great sunlight that is to come, while also setting intentions of letting go of everything that came before in order to pave way for the new year.   Use this last sacred night of deep yin to reflect on what happened over the year and what you might do differently.

This makes a beautiful holiday to celebrate because it is where the darkness, melancholy, and stresses of life can be met with the hope of a brighter day.  Where true yin meets true yang.  A reminder that all of life works in a balance and nothing can be felt or understood without awareness of its opposite.  To feel the light, you must understand the dark.  Even if 2016 was a hard year for you, always remember that what is challenging becomes the fuel for cultivation. 

The deeper the challenge both personally and collectively the greater the potential for our awakening.

So. . . .

-Light a candle or a fire

-Reflect on the previous year

-Let go of what you need to (even burn these reflections written down on paper)

-Honor what you learned

-Move forward with a new intention

 

The Merriment of Metta

People often ask me after I tell them I’m going on silent retreat, “how can you do that?” My feeling on the matter is, “how could I not?!

For me being in silence and meditating for a few days is profoundly life changing, but it isn’ta walk in the park by any means.  When you strip away the distractions of daily life and you live with just the basics, of eating, sleeping, walking, and sitting amongst a community, it is in this state you so easily meet yourself and in some cases meet versions of yourself you didn’t know were there.

I recently went on a metta and qi gong retreat, where not only did I experience the inner workings of the mind, but I met the power of the heart.  Qi gong (movement meditation) was a brilliant method of prepping the body for what was to come throughout the whole week.

We meditated with the heart opening practices of metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), and mudita (empathetic joy).  We evoked a deep wish for all beings to be happy and safe, no matter what, because ultimately we all have goodness at our core that we can wake up to. We experienced feelings of compassion for the self and others, wishing that we may all hold our suffering with ease and tenderness.  When we celebrated other people’s joys in life and resonated in that feeling, we tapped into supreme joy without our own hearts.

After a heart work out like that, you can hold the sufferings and the joys of others and have equanimity in the face of whatever comes your way.  It can soften anger into courage, fear into beauty, and sadness into compassion.  I feel that inner strength can only come from wisdom, the type of wisdom that one feels deep in their bones, that to this day I have found most profoundly comes from meditation.

Understanding and observing what compassion feels like in your body on an energetic level, felt like training for a fierce heart.  Before the retreat my heart ached for the conditions of the world today, feeling soft and vulnerable.  After the retreat, there’s a strength in there now and a capacity to hold what’s to come my way.

What exactly I will do with this open heart, I am not certain.  But one thing is for sure, it starts with the people that cross my path and my hope is by touching them, it will ripple out further and further to reach more communities.

Finding Gratitude During Challenging Times

I’ve been in those places, and I’m sure you have too: where your mood is not the best, things just don’t seem to be going right, some other challenging aspect of life is meeting you head on, and somehow the world around you appears to be a stressful, depressive one.  Being with all of that, you wonder how will I overcome it, change my mood, or find a smile on my face?

I’ve combed through many types of “feel good” strategies over the years: mediation, yoga, journaling, dance, exercise, alcohol, friends, books, talks, affirmations, prayer, travel, nature. You name it, and I’ve probably tried it in effort to quell the storm that sat inside my head.  The thing that kept coming back as a practice to feel ok again, maybe even joyful or blissful in some circumstances, was the practice of gratitude.

When my heart was hard, it softened.

When I worried much, it brought me back to the present.

When I was self- absorbed with my troubles, I opened up to all sentient beings around me.

It has been difficult in the past when my mood was down   to sit and force a sense of gratitude for things in my life. During these times, it can be challenging to find a connection with a compassionate heart that emerges from gratitude.  So I figured out something, instead of naming off in my head life scenarios related to work, home, relationships, and health, I meditated on something a bit more simplistic.  I tapped into gratitude for the senses that come with being human and the nature on this planet that has stood the test of time. This became a gateway back to the heart softening that felt so familiar from other gratitude practices I’ve experienced in the past.

I began finding gratitude for the parts of my body that are in good working order.  I was grateful for my skin that warms and protects my body; my mouth for being able to eat delicious foods; my eye sight for seeing the beauty of a redwood forest; my breath that supplies and connects me with the air that surrounds us; my legs that are able to take me to all sorts of places.  I began being grateful for the the plants, animals, oceans, lakes, and rivers that nourish us on this planet.

All of these simple things we often take for granted are always there for us.  Taking a moment to recognize their impact in the middle of a stormy life could very possibly bring a smile inside your heart.  Gratitude is not just for when we are feeling good.  It’s actually one of the most useful tools we have when life is difficult.