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,
Sharing a recent article I was quoted in….
Spending time in nature teaches us among other things that we and all things are connected. While elements in a natural setting can exist for a time isolated and on their own, they will not thrive without the balance that connectedness brings. Each element provides necessary support to the other elements and there is a constant give and take – an exchange of energy. These energy exchanges occur on macroscopic and microscopic levels as well as on an energetic level that cannot be seen.
In many ways Western-style living has disconnected us from this intuitive knowledge. We live and work in man-made settings on a daily basis with little interaction with nature around us. Many of us do not know our neighbors even though we may have lived near them for many years. Technology has revolutionized the way we communicate, yet we are constantly reminded how disconnected we continue to feel. In many ways we may have lost our sense and understanding of this natural connectedness but the connection is still there; it cannot be lost. Though we have been culturally educated to ignore it, we naturally seek this connectedness in many forms.
Because we are so often isolated from one another in our everyday lives, we may not be tuned into the energy exchanges. However, we have all had the experience of walking into a room where people have been arguing; you can literally feel the tension in the air. We have also experienced walking into a party where everyone is happy and having fun. Your body picks up that energy and it has the power to change the chemicals in your system, changing your mood.
We are taught to value our privacy; especially when we are ill or in pain. We just want to be left alone – but by seeking ways to connect with the healing energies of others we are able to utilize that energy to enhance healing. We can learn to be comfortable with those energetic connections again. In many ways Community Acupuncture allows us to tap into that natural connection that we all have. In an atmosphere of healing, we naturally begin to support and enhance one another’s healing process through those energetic connections. An open, group room allows those energies to flow freely between all of the living things in that open space. As acupuncture taps into and releases our body’s natural relaxation and healing energies, those positive energies will flow through the space back and forth between each person, seeking a natural balance.
It is a group energy that is very palpable. As the acupuncturist in the community room I am acutely aware of how energies shift as people step into the community room and how easier it is to get people to relax the more people are in the room — which to most might sound counter-intuitive.
If you are new to acupuncture, in addition to experiencing the impressive clinical effects of acupuncture, I encourage you to pay attention to the group healing energy as well. A great opportunity to do so is to come to our Acupuncture Happy Hour held every 3rd Wednesday of the month and share your experiences……I look forward to seeing you there!