Labor Day marks the end of summer in the US. It also marks for most of us the “resumption of activities” – back to school, back to getting serious at work, a slew of holidays to stress about starting with Halloween followed by Thanksgiving and then straight into the gift-giving frenzy of the December holidays. After all that activity 70% of us every year will make health related resolutions in January. But by then it might be too late.
The reality is that our fall frenzy coincides with a period that is supposed to be marked by increasing restoration and introspection – a slowing down. Ancient Chinese medical science evolved from a keen observation of nature and an understanding that we in many ways mirrored the same subtle and not so subtle energetic patterns of nature around us. We can observe that in opposition to the blooming and exuberance of the spring and summer, fall is marked by a contraction in life energies not only to prepare for the winter but to conserve and build strength for the next spring and summer bloom.
When it comes to our health we reap more if we follow suit. Attuning ourselves to the seasons is a necessary step to find our way and begin the journey towards attaining and maintaining true health. And in Chinese Medicine it is well understood that it is the things you do in the preceding seasons that determine how well you’ll weather the future ones.
Unfortunately, we tend to wait until the early days of spring (early January) to set our health “resolutions” after we’ve taxed our adrenals and spent our reserves and then we wonder why we feel exhausted in the dead of winter and sputter soon after. By then it is essentially too late to rally forces. So it is time that we set those resolutions in late summer early fall and kick the New Year health resolutions to the curb. We won’t be needing them if we pay attention earlier.
Here are 5 things you could be doing to align with the fall energies to not only better prepare for the the winter, but to also be better equipped to enjoy the spring and summer exuberance in 2020:
- Pay Attention to Your Metal Element In ancient Chinese philosophy the element that resonates most directly with fall is the metal element. In its natural state metal contracts and is hard. When heated, it can be shaped and molded to make shields, swords, and armor. Thus it evokes a protective function. With respect to health the metal element needs to be as strong as much as it needs to be flexible. The organs most directly related to the metal element are your lungs, your skin, your large intestine — all organs that have the most direct contact with the outside and serve the function of mediating between your internal terrain and outside environmental factors. It is understood that anything you do to injure the interior landscape of the body in autumn — poor diet, digestion, sleep; insufficient or excessive exercise, and stress will easily damage these organs and their physiological functions particularly at this time of year. In addition these will be more susceptible to the predominant environmental factors of the season. For instance lung function is easily damaged by external environmental factors especially dryness, wind, and cold – all of which are prominent in the fall. Protecting the lungs from external wind and dryness is a first line of defense against catching colds. If you haven’t already it’s time to pull out the scarves! In addition focus on keeping the lungs moist and warm. When the dry weather of fall affects the mucus membranes of the nasal passages, lungs, and eyes it is much easier for the viruses that cause colds to attach and get into the blood stream. That is why the most common kitchen medicine in China in fall are pears! Pears are cooling and moistening and they have a viscous quality that helps moisten the lungs. Especially the Asian pears which are already at your local NY fruit stands!
- Ramp-up your Skincare Regimen — Skincare is very important in the fall for the same reasons we must pay special attention to the lungs. Your skin is your largest protective organ. The dryness in the air and winds that start to turn cold can be very drying to the skin. Develop a moisturizing skin regimen that works for you and be more deliberate about and consistent with it in the fall. Again, not only will you protect your skin in the season where it is most vulnerable but it will pay off with more radiant skin in the summer as well!
- Move with Pleasure. Don’t wait until spring/summer to hit the gym in a desperate effort to lose those pounds. Fall is the best time to pick the right exercise regimen that is right for you. Swimsuit season is not until months from now so no stressing here. Any exercise regimen that you can maintain through the winter has a better chance of becoming a minimal stress routine that you can stick to. Your exercise routine should be challenging but not exhausting. A more meditative regimen like yoga and tai-chi is a great challenge to take on in the fall. Your exercise regimen can change with the seasons as well. Listen to what your body needs and perhaps most important of all – enjoys.
- Let Go of Toxic Emotions The metal organs also teach us important lessons on the mental/emotional level, namely the process of letting go. When we take a breath it nourishes us with needed oxygen that our body immediately utilizes, but hold the breath too long and it will become toxic. The body utilizes what it needs and lets go (in the form of carbon dioxide) to make room for more. Similarly the large intestine needs to let go of what it is holding so we can eliminate what we don’t need. Just as your metal organs moderate what you take in and direct what needs to go out to maintain homeostasis in the body, on a spiritual/emotional level this process is equally as important. You must clear the mind and learn to let go of toxic emotions that may be holding you back in order to maintain emotional balance.
- Incorporate Mindful Practices – In order to properly turn inward to nurture the self it is helpful to incorporate some type of mindful/meditative practice in your daily routine. Even if you think meditation is not “for you” mindful practices are essential to support the process of introspection necessary to finding balance this time of year. Begin where you are at and find a practice that resonates with you. Your mindful practice for the season might be just making sure to sit at the table in the morning to have your breakfast with no distractions. If that is more than what you used to do before then that is your start to a more mindful health maintenance regimen. In addition, make sure to bring mindfulness particularly with respect to the holiday frenzy. Perhaps you might think of making your end-of-year holiday gift list now and every week take a bite at it. Think of creative ways to avoid the last minute stress spikes as much as you can.
- Less Light, More Sleep –Fall contraction is most evident in the lengthening of darkness over sunlight. That is our cue to sleep more and earlier. More and more modern research is revealing how failure to follow our internal circadian rhythmic cues has a direct correlation with the chronic illnesses plaguing our society. The fall is the best time to start paying more attention to your bedtime practices. Sleep is what helps us to restore and harness our healing capabilities. If you have a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep seek the help of your health practitioner to help you develop drug-free steady habits to improve your sleep.
- Eat the Rainbow – In the fall a plant’s energies begin to contract retreating to its core/roots. The trees let go of their leaves and the earth lets go of its bounty for the harvest. There is no better time than the fall to enjoy nature’s exuberant harvest at your local farmer’s markets. Nature gives us some of the best variety of foods to nourish our bodies during this season. Eating all the colors of the rainbow means stocking our bodies with the phyto-nutrients it needs to nourish us for the year ahead.
So what will you do this fall to make your spring and summer more exuberant? What will be YOUR Fall Resolutions?
#fallresolutions #eattherainbow #movewithpleasure #rootforrealfood #holidayfrenzy #earlytobed #fallfrenzy
If there is one thing I try to consistently impress on my patients as they heal with acupuncture is that the healing is being generated from within. I use the needles to signal the body to self-adjust, to self-correct. There is no masking of the pain or disabling of your body’s healing mechanisms. We are working with (not against) your body’s elaborate equilibrium systems whose sole mission has always been to help you survive and thrive.
One of the mechanisms by which acupuncture is able to do this is by directly impacting our autonomic nervous system – the unconscious elaborate web of triggers and responses that our body instantly engages to help our body adapt. This intelligent, dynamic system is constantly responding to stimuli to help us maintain an equilibrium state of health in our body.
Modern science is revealing everyday just how dynamic and intricate this subconscious response system is. The autonomic nervous system helps us process EVERYTHING as we move through life – from what food we put in our bodies, to how we process an emotional break-up, to how we deal with tensions at work, to how we continue to function after certain trauma that our conscious mind refuses to deal with. Everything we experience has an imprint on our bodies and is being processed in real time without our conscious attention.
By directly accessing these systems through the body – Acupuncture aims to help you get out of your own way to healing. However, it is nonetheless a passive engagement on the part of the person making their way to their acupuncturist. I always hope that patients’ experience with Acupuncture serves as a catalyst to spur their personal journey towards taking a more proactive role in tapping into, trusting, and engaging that intelligence on their own. How can we empower individuals to harness their own ability to consciously attune their own nervous systems?
Throughout my studies and practice I continue to be in awe of what Eastern Medicine has distilled and dissected about what we call in the West the “mind-body” connection. This is a connection we are only beginning to tease through in the West and is why mindful meditative practices are getting so much more attention lately. As a consequence of understanding this connection we are only now beginning to study and understand the scientific basis for the benefits of internal practices like meditation, and other mindful practices on our health.
More interestingly, this is one area where one can start to assume a more proactive role in our inner health – Where we start to heal from the inside out. However, as we are increasingly attracted to these practices much of it still seems elusive, mysterious.
Mystics from various traditional societies, particularly in the East have been attuned to these inner practices for millennia. As a Chinese Medicine practitioner it has always been impressed on me by my teachers the importance of cultivating a robust internal practice to not only safeguard our personal health as practitioners, but to also help us potentiate our healing relationship with our patients.
Lately, I’ve been studying a system of self-cultivation practiced by one of my Balance Method teachers of Chinese Medicine, Dr. Paul C. Wang. Dr. Wang has been traveling the world teaching practitioners how to harness their inner healing abilities through a discipline synthesized and integrated by him – Gong Fa (short for Dao De Gong Fa) – based on the essence of various martial, Chinese medical, and mystical lineages and disciplines he has practiced and honed over the years.
His quote above, “Illness is a state of disintegration and wellness is a state of integration” encapsulates the holistic understanding of what the goal is on our journey to healing. Many of the self-cultivation practices that have been practiced for millennia honor this process of integration. But often we practice mindLESSly. We remain scattered and don’t fully embody the intent of restoring our natural dynamic process of integration.
The Gong Fa teachings aim to take apart this inner process of integration in a language we can understand and teaches us to incorporate it in everything that we do. The novelty of his teachings is that he distills universal core understandings that underpin most holistic, meditative practices. The practice is simple and can be practiced as a stand-alone practice of self-care or easily integrated into any existing personal self-cultivation practice. I have used it with great interest to upgrade my yoga practice in addition to practicing it separately.
Last March Dr. Wang was present at Harlem Chi and opened a small session originally meant for practitioners to non-practitioners as well. It was a short introduction to the practice and I asked him to return to teach a slightly longer session. Dr. Wang will be teaching Gong Fa basics at Harlem Chi on Sunday, September 15 from 2 to 5pm. If you are interested in learning more about this practice please join us! Find out more about this event here.
Rooting in Self-Love
Valentines Day is a day for honoring those we love. However, like many holidays which were originally intended to provide a spiritual oasis of reflection and meaning within the hectic grind of the year, Valentines Day has become more about candy, cards and even sadness over being alone. We are expected to externalize our happiness so often, it becomes a habit that is hard to break. The habits are enforced in our culture via organizations and social situations in which we forget to love and honor the #1person in our lives — ourselves.
It may sound selfish, but a balanced view of ourselves within the context of love will paint a different picture indeed. We are responsible for loving ourselves so that we may allow that love to flow out towards others. In order to achieve this we need to achieve balance.
It is an appropriate time to reflect on the One thing that makes all this possible — The energy of love as expressed in how we take care of our bodies through our day to day behaviors. The energy of love is expressed in how we nourish ourselves with whole foods and cooked meals as well as with activities that nourish our souls; how we place importance on quality sleep to be able to properly regenerate; the time we devote to proper movement in order to strengthen our bodies and move with ease; how we breathe to align ourselves with the present moment; how we claim proper unstructured downtime to rest and rejuvenate. All these expressions of self-love are necessary for us to thrive “in Love.”
These are some of the topics we explore more fully in our Spring Reboot coming again this April. We go way beyond meal plans and diet restrictions and a pure focus on cleansing to fully explore the myriad of connections with everything that nourishes our mind, body, and soul. Find out more here and consider giving yourself or a loved one an opportunity to commit and reconnect to themselves this Spring.
In Love and Health,
What does a book about sustainable farming practices have to do with taking good care of your body? Last year when I picked up “The One Straw Revolution,” which was written in 1978 by Masanobu Fukouoka, I had no idea how it would apply to good health.
Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer and philosopher, introduced ecologically sustainable farming practices which were revolutionary in a time of large-scale industrial farming. In fact, “The One Straw Revolution” is a seminal book in the natural farming movement the world over — something I learned after reading the book.
Even though I live far from a farm, in the heart of NYC, I was fascinated by this book rich in farming techniques. This form of thinking with a heavy emphasis on respecting nature applies completely to how we view and manage our health, and in many ways it has become a personal manifesto. In discussing farming techniques, the book reveals much about how our society has failed to adequately respect nature’s way and how we have suffered accordingly when it comes to managing our health.
Though Fukuoka makes succinct and distinct analogies to our health and our relationship to the earth, I was eager to find another book that might further illuminate these connections when it comes to our health. (Indeed, there have been many written — starting with every one of Michael Pollan’s fascinating books.)
This year I spent my holiday reading a unique book that does just that: “Farmacology: Total Health from the Ground Up” by Daphne Miller, M.D. Miller is a California-based physician who traveled to several innovative bio-dynamic farms throughout the U.S. to explore and document the correlations between how we grow and obtain our food and how we care for our bodies.
In Chinese Medicine, these correlations are supposed to be front and center of our self-care. Profoundly understanding “nature’s way” is not just a new idea — it’s the foundation of this ancient medical practice.
Indeed, Eastern medical philosophy has taken this understanding to a whole different level that in many ways we in the West are only beginning to unravel. As a Chinese Medicine practitioner, adapting these ancient understandings to our modern lifestyle I view as one of my primary tasks when I work with my patients. Beyond using unique therapies like acupuncture and herbal medicine, my task is also to inform and educate on methods of self-care that are connected, sustainable, and effective.
That’s why I am so excited about Harlem Chi’s “Healer Within” Spring Reboot program. Last year we explored in depth these profound connections and correlations and worked through creating the mindset needed to successfully adopt lifestyle changes that honor this philosophy.
“The Healer Within Spring Reboot…was just what I needed right when I needed it!” explained one of our participants, whom I’ll refer to as T.M. “I’ve long been over the yo-yo dieting and short-fixes, but I was having trouble tapping into my own wisdom and resolve to execute a sustainable lifestyle change. I was clearly in need of some structure, support, and accountability, and I received all three through this program.
“I loved the ‘East meets West’ holistic approach, tuning in to the mind, body, and spirit in a woman-centered group. While I dropped pounds — yay! — I learned to move beyond the scale and focus on increased energy levels, better mood and fewer mood swings, radiant skin, a sense of calm, deeper connection to others, etc.”
Indeed the program sought to explore as a group the far more important connections we should be aware of each time we decide to communicate with nature by putting food in our bodies – the energetics of food being far more determinative of the “medicine” it delivers.
In addition, T.M. said that the program especially helped with motivation that encouraged continuing to make positive lifestyle changes.
“I learned to slow down a bit (really hard to do here in NYC) and to make more mindful choices; so much of what I was doing and eating was out of habit, fatigue, and stress/emotions. Now, I feel empowered with some tools and strategies to succeed moving forward,” T.M. said. “Hopefully, the mind shift continues to propel me toward more positive changes and feeling whole again. I received many compliments during the six weeks, but one of my favorites was recently when my massage therapist told me that my energy was more awake. Yes, awake, that’s how I feel!”
Helping people like T.M. feel better and improve their health is amazing, and I look forward to another year of healthful connection with you in 2017! I am hard at work refining this year’s program, which will begin in April. (Sign-up here if you want more information about the program as it becomes available.) Here’s to starting our own “One Straw ‘Health’ Revolution” right in our own community — starting with our bodies!
We had a record number of patients last week at Harlem Chi. Was it a coincidence that our busiest week ever coincided with a contentious and angst-ridden election week? That may be the case, but I’d like to hope that the clinic can serve you as a place for effective healing and wellness in the midst of a crazy, stressed-out world. I am grateful when Harlem Chi can be a calming “third space” where you can decompress and take time out to process.
We’ve seen a lot of uncertainty and witnessed much tension this year. If you’ve been feeling the relentless slow churning of fear, anger, overwhelm and/or anxiety that many are struggling with right now, know that you’re not alone. This deceptively relentless stress challenges our “fight or flight” stress response system and tips us into chronic ailment territory. That means that it’s vital for you to take the time for self-care and mindful interventions. These important actions help us reclaim power over our health — and that’s uniquely important during these uncertain times both at the individual and community level.
As this current climate continues to impact us, I suspect people will seek community more than ever to express their opinions, fears and angst; to bond with others; to hear and comfort one another; and to proactively work together for positive change.
Have a great month. Take extra care of yourselves and enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!
Sharing a recent article I was quoted in….
Acupuncture has gotten a reputation for helping with weight loss. Something about “magic ear seeds” that help you dump the weight has garnered attention in minor circles and I constantly get approached by people wanting to know if acupuncture can help them shed the weight. When women (as well as the occasional man) come to me specifically for acupuncture for weight loss, I discuss with them realistic expectations and make them understand how acupuncture helps with their efforts.
The reality is that weight management is a complicated affair that requires a comprehensive, holistic approach to assure continuous success and as I outlined last year in a blog post specifically relating to weight control, acupuncture’s inherent holistic approach to healing makes it an excellent adjunct to any serious weight loss program.
I find however when it comes to weight control it helps to truly understand this holistic approach and requires a firmer understanding from the individual that embarks on this process as well as their dedicated engagement.
By engagement I don’t mean the usual “crank-up-the-exercise” and “watch-what-you-eat” type. I find that even a dedicated person fails in the long term if the process at any point feels like a struggle. Studies are constantly emerging showing that whenever any activity is engaged in with an underlying fear or obligation it is doomed to fail because it triggers a stress response in the body – the same stress response that forces us to hold on to the weight. Mindset is therefore key. However just knowing better does not lead to doing better. Many of us are bombarded with health advice everyday and we intellectually understand what we need to do but we simply can’t do it, or we do, but don’t get the results we expect.
Ever since I opened Harlem Chi I have been brainstorming the design of a comprehensive program to aid women (men too) on their weight management journey. I hear what individuals who come to me struggle with and have wanted to design a program that is flexible to address the roadblocks encountered in real time in a supportive environment that does more than inform but works more directly with individuals to address mindset issues to help them make the lifestyle changes that will have a longer lasting impact.
Over a year ago I was introduced to Melissa Rapoport, a certified nutrition counselor with a master’s in psychology who works specifically around mindset issues that afflict us when we are trying to make the right health choices. She works from a solid real and whole-foods based approach that really resonated with me. Since our first encounter we quickly became friends and have been meeting almost every week to share and commiserate.
Melissa has led several successful women focused groups around “real food” diet and lifestyle aimed at fostering the right environment to not only inform women but to provide the right amount of support, address implementation blockages, and hold women accountable so that they can adopt the successful mindset to make lasting changes.
And so the program I’ve dreamed about has come to fruition. We have co-designed an intensely interactive face-to-face program that combines the best of East and West to address the real day concerns of people embarking on their personal journeys.
If you are struggling with weight issues or know someone who is find out more about our program here. We look forward to launching this phenomenal event this Spring…
Countless practitioners around the globe were in shock and devastated by the recent news of the passing of Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. To say that I was deeply affected by this news is an understatement. Today I find it important to write something about this Master teacher that had such a profound impact on my practice.
After my first seminar with Dr. Tan just three years ago I was so blown away by what he was able to unlock around my understanding of Chinese Medicine that I took every seminar I could with him during an intense two year period. I was devastated when he had to cancel another seminar I was planning to attend in San Diego this past summer. I knew he was ill but I was praying that I would see him again.
There is no doubt that Chinese Medicine lost a legend. But for those who were fortunate to study with Dr Tan we know what an immense blessing it was to have seen him in action. For those who chose to assiduously study and apply his teachings to recognize their full potential we are more than grateful to have shared his passion and understand our debt to him and his vision.
Dr. Tan challenged all his students not to simply follow him or take his teachings as the gospel but insisted we diligently practice the teachings to make the theory and medicine come to life.
“When you cast a pole in the sun you must see its shadow.” This was more than a simple admonition from the great teacher that acupuncture “always works” — it was a challenge to all of us to rethink, restudy, reconsider our diagnoses and continually deepen our understandings to effect dynamic change everyday with our patients in our practice.
Dr. Tan’s teachings were impressive because they emanated from a thorough and deep study of the Classics. His genius was in his ability to distill the Chinese classics over many years of study and unlock a logic that only a brilliant mind could decipher. This “logic” is what he shared in his seminars with his student practitioners and provided them with the ability to continue to evolve the art and science of acupuncture in their clinical practice. He provided the bridge between the philosophy and theory to actual clinical practice in a way that has eluded many. In addition once you’ve attended a Tan seminar you read the Classics and anything surrounding Chinese medicine with a valuable, distinct, and discerning perspective. Numerous are the numbers of practitioners around the world who speak of revolutionizing their practice after studying with Dr. Tan.
He exuded the type of confidence that only comes with true merit and the assurance that he was called upon to share this knowledge for a greater purpose. His intention was never to play the guru and clothe his teachings in mysticism. His confidence came from a higher calling and thus his intent was to make this knowledge truly accessible to those who would use that knowledge to further study and explore. He not only wants his practitioners to bring this medicine to greater throngs of people globally, particularly in the West, but to empower them to usher this medicine in its rightful place for the healing of this planet in the 21st Century.
Dr Tan was a great teacher because his wisdom was inspired, his mission was selfless and his compassion was great. While I am deeply saddened that I will not see Dr. Tan again I am grateful that he will always inspire my every contact with every patient. He will continue to be one of the driving spirits behind my lifelong devotion to this art and science.
Like every true master with a higher mission Dr. Tan made sure that his teachings would survive him. He trained master students who will continue to propagate the teachings and infuse future generations with the dynamic spirit of Dr Tan and his legacy.
Thus his spirit will not rest in peace but will continue to inspire continued healing for generations to come.
His shadow is cast!
Thank you Dr. Tan.
According to the Chinese calendar — the summer season officially began the first week of May. Thus, a month and a half prior to the official day of summer many Eastern traditions begin to pay heed to the changing season. Continuing with our seasonal attunement series — we focus on one aspect of what it means to remain balanced and in health during the most yang of all seasons — Summer.
Five Element Theory — The FIRE Element
As discussed in a previous blog — the ancient Chinese recognized the connections among the energetic influences they called the Five Elements (or 5 Phases — Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water), and understood the specific energetics that predominate in any given phase of the cycle of seasons. The energetic element associated with the hottest, most yang season of Summer is Fire.
Summer is the season where the yang energies that began to sprout in the Spring grow into their maximum expression and potential. In nature we witness the spring buds bloom into flowers that then make their pollen available to bring forth more life. The days are longer and nights shortest.
According to Chinese medicine the energetic organ which most resonates with the fire phase is the Heart. When we speak about “energetic organs” it is important to understand that the Organs from a Chinese medicine perspective are functionally defined entities and not equivalent to the anatomical organ of the same name. While they encompass the anatomical function of the organ as properly understood from a Western perspective, they also, perhaps more importantly, encompass a wide range of metaphysical and spiritual understandings that give us the tools to better understand the wide spectrum of the mind-body connection in ways that only recently have we been able to articulate from a Western perspective.
The Heart — Connection to Divine Brilliance
Nowhere is this more clearly evident than when we meditate on the function of the Heart from an Eastern perspective. The calligraphy for the Heart is the picture of an empty vessel. It is understood that this vessel must remain clear to maintain the brilliance and clarity of the Heart. Thus the inner work that we as humans are charged with is to keep this vessel “clear” in order to be able to connect with the divine brilliance around us.
The Heart and Our Psychological Integrity
In addition, while the function of the Heart in traditional Chinese medicine parallels its Western anatomic function of pumping blood throughout the body to maintain life, it is also intimately involved with mental and emotional processes. The clear vessel of the Heart is said to house the “shen” – a term that has been invariably defined as “spirit” or “mind.” Thus, considered the residence of the Shen, the Heart is considered the elemental organ most responsible for our psychological integrity.
Nourishing the Heart
Those with a healthy Fire element:
2) Connect with life and are inspired by the Yang nature around them;
3) Connect with oneself by clearing the mind to nourish the Heart.
Accordingly, in order to strengthen the Heart, Summer is the perfect season to:
1) Try something new that brings joy and connection;
2) Engage more with the outdoors to connect with nature — Whether it is engaging in outdoor sports (Get out of that gym!!!) or simply spending more time in nature;
3) Diversify your social connections and engage meaningfully with people;
4) Make healthy food choices by being mindful of and enjoying everything that is in season and less of what can be stored. (Save that for the winter);
5) Start or deepen a regular meditation practice of some sort to calm the mind and be the clear vessel needed to “connect” with yourself, others, and the divine brilliance around you.