Category Archives: Musings

At the Speed of Yoga

 

This piece isn’t about the collective “we” of shared experience. It’s just about me, my practice right now- written this way because I’m pretty sure anything I’m experiencing in this unprecedented time is being experienced by many of you as well.

More than two decades into a regular yoga practice, surely I hit my mat every day and use my practice to stay fit and healthy, right? Ummm…

Sun salutations are good for expelling anxious energy. But many days I’m too lethargic to do those. Clinical Somatics and restorative poses are good for smoothing out the physical and emotional kinks. But many days I haven’t the focus for the minute, internal referencing. Standing poses are good for restoring balance and creating grounding. But many days I feel too unstable, or just. can’t. even.

So what is a faithful yogi to do? Just get on the mat. I lie on my back, knees bent, and aim first to bring a bit more stillness into the fidgety places- hands, eyes, feet. And sometimes that is the whole practice. Other times it leads to a gentle swaying of the knees, or stretching the legs out slowly, or resting hands on my lower belly and breathing into that space.

Once or twice in the last month, just getting on the mat has led to an “actual” pose or two. My practice has boiled down to just me getting friendly with my mat; saying hello to it every day for even a minute or two; acknowledging that the practice of yesterday is irrelevant to the practice today; and offering gratitude to my beloved mat for always being there to receive me.

Slow yoga, fast yoga, tears-in-your-ears yoga, looks-like-doing-nothing yoga. Whatever I choose is OK.

Living at the speed of yoga,

Melissa Peet, practice manager

The Role of Winter in Chinese Medicine

As we head away from Fall and into the depths of Winter, I find it helpful to consider the natural rhythms of the seasons. In Fall, we look back at all we’ve accomplished throughout the year. We should be savoring the harvest of well-earned achievements, storing away the precious lessons learned, and leaving the vines of old spent ideas as compost for spring soil. Once all of that is sorted, preserved and put up, we say goodbye to one year and prepare for the next. Holidays and celebrations serve to remind us about what is important to us. They fortify us with light and love during a dark, cold season marked by letting go.

After the celebrations, there is space for us to pull inward, rest and restore our energy for next spring. This fallow period may look quiet or still, but beneath the surface, there is magic happening. Under the surface, as we sleep or sip tea or even relax with friends…there is a quiet new energy being formed and nourished. All of the experience of the past is being integrated into our potential for the future. This transformative process is crucial for our growth and development. We are forming new growth rings which mark not only the passage of time, but our very evolution.

This rhythm is present in any person’s life, in any project, in any cycle of days, months and years. In each of these there is time for conception, expansion, reflection and return. Even in a single acupuncture session, our bodies can experience this cycle as we lie quietly, allowing the needles to stimulate subconscious changes within us. Each time we come out of the treatment room, we’ve had a journey through input, response, evaluation and recovery. We emerge having shed a little more of what no longer serves us. We leave a bit closer to knowing what comes next.

Rest and renewal may arguably be the most important part of growth.  This is the preparation period, our innate planning time. And there’s nothing specific we have to do. This winter, allow yourself to relax deeply. Do not avoid the discomfort of silent reflection. Allow your mind to wander. Appreciate where you are and what you’ve learned along the way. Be open to where you might be headed, but not attached to any one path. Resist the call to find yourself lacking and consider that things are progressing exactly as they should be. May you and yours be blessed with the virtues of winter this season: patience, serenity and faith.      –Heather McIver, L.Ac.

 

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting,

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing…

TS Eliot, East Coker

More than Just Needles

I am coming upon the completion of my first full year as a licensed acupuncturist. As a relatively new practitioner, I spent a large part of this first year trying to attract new patients. Toward that end, I have participated in health expos and conducted seminars with the intention of educating the public about this form of health care. At many of these events, I would give brief treatments.

Of course there were many people with the usual reservations: fear of needles, wondering if the needles hurt, etc. Usually, the first half of the health care events would find me sitting alone and ignored at my booth, until the first brave soul decided to try acupuncture. Once the first patient was settled in, people would crowd around with curiosity until I was busy treating and educating.

For practicality, I would use only ear acupuncture for these “sample” treatments. The protocol I used was called the “NADA” protocol which is simply a selection of 5 points on each ear designed to reduce stress and calm the sympathetic nervous system. This type of ear acupuncture is often used in addiction and detox programs, as well as trauma clinics after natural disasters. The ear points provide an almost instant sense of relief and relaxation.

I was happy to witness the effects of these treatments as each newcomer became visibly calm. As the patients sat side by side receiving treatments, they would begin to socialize and share experiences. They would soon open up about ailments and their dissatisfaction with their previous healthcare experiences. Also, the more people began to communicate, the more new people wanted to try a treatment. It seemed that once they overcame the initial fear of needles (or whatever was holding them back) they realized that they enjoyed the experience. This sequence of events reminded me that one of the biggest impediments to my profession is the trepidation of the public to try something new. However, the satisfaction of those who were brave enough to try this gentle form of medicine impressed upon me the importance of continuing to educate and encourage people to try acupuncture.

It was clear from these experiences with the public that there are many who want to take the leap toward having more control of their health and their lives. This principle would extend further, into our ear acupuncture clinic at Stillpoint, and with my private patients. I found that people new to acupuncture are doing more than experimenting–they are looking for an adjunct to the healthcare methods that they have been using. They want to be heard and they want their personal experiences considered when making decisions about their health. They want to educate themselves more, and they are ready to heal. Seeing this has brought me a great deal of satisfaction, and excitement about contributing to their efforts.

At the completion of my first year of practice, I feel lucky to have been able to help these new patients on this path. I thought I knew the benefits that acupuncture could offer, but I am pleasantly surprised to see the personal empowerment that comes from people being willing to step outside their comfort zone and take responsibility for their own health.

 Jason Trakas, L.Ac.

Spring is the Season of Failure

by Heather McIver, L.Ac

In most cultures above the equator, Spring is the season of new beginnings. Baby animals are born, seeds lying dormant underground begin pushing sprouts upward, trees begin to clothe their limbs in blooms. And with those vulnerable new beginnings come threats of failure. Hawks and snakes love young birds and bunnies; large rocks or burning sun can thwart young sprouts; a late frost can decimate a tree’s attempt at fruition.  And yet the plants and animals keep trying. Somehow, despite these threats to life, the tree doesn’t refuse to bloom and birds keep laying eggs.

If you pay attention, you may notice that for humans, spring brings new ideas, new excitement, outrageous projects. Spring fever is not just about romance…it also exemplifies that ascension of Qi that makes us feel invincible, as if we can accomplish anything. We relish the speed with which we can travel to work, the windows open to feel the warming air, our favorite music blaring, the bright colors of green and pink and white trees against the blue sky…spring awakens the senses and we feel connected to everyone and everything. Until we see the blue lights behind us and realize that in our ecstatic appreciation of the world, we let the speedometer creep to 80.

All of a sudden, all that expansive everything-is-perfect feeling drops with a thud into the pit of the stomach, curse words leap out of our mouths uncontrollably, and now the conversation in our head turns mean. “You idiot,” it says, as it runs through all the consequences this mistake will have.  When we are speeding along toward a goal, excited about new possibilities, there are inevitable failures along the way. Getting where we’re going requires us to become friendly with our failures.

Failure is part of the experience of being alive. It’s what happens the moment you engage with the world. As adults, many of us find ways to avoid failure as much as possible. Some of us choose to never take on anything we might not do perfectly. Instead, we spend our time changing channels on the TV, or we get competent at one thing and never bother to try anything new. Some of us try new things but then work so hard that we sacrifice our time, money, health and relationships to be sure we don’t fail.

Children, however, are very good at failure. They fall down. They get up. They drop the ball, they pick it up. They fail to get your attention, they scream louder. They don’t attach any significance to failure, they just keep pushing on.

I wish I remembered the exact moment at which I made failure mean something. At some point—maybe around age 8 or 10 or 13—missing the mark went from “oops, missed. I’ll try again.” To “OMG, I’m stupid!  I can’t do anything! I’ll mess up everything I ever do and die miserable and alone!”

It’s so easy to take our failures as something definitive of our very personhood. “I can’t dance/ sing/ draw/ act…I’m not any good at that.”  What you really mean is that you tried to dance/sing/draw/act once and you got some feedback that didn’t feel very good, and in your attempt to never feel that particular way again, you resolved to forevermore avoid the catalyst for that feedback.  But what if, like children, we allowed ourselves a good cry and then danced again anyway?

Pema Chodron gave a speech at Naropa Institute in 2014 when her granddaughter was graduating. She borrowed a quote from Samuel Beckett who said, “Fail! Fail Again! Fail Better!”  She said learning how to be with failure was perhaps the most important life lesson to learn. In her usual soft manner, she encourages us to “get curious” about how it feels to fail. She reminds us not to admonish ourselves too much, not to blame others too much, not to drown the bad feelings in food or drugs or alcohol—but to sit with them and observe how they move and sway and come and go. To let them be there. Only in the recognition of something’s presence can you actually let it go.

She describes her first meeting with her Buddhist teacher*. Her second marriage had just ended in divorce. She said, “My life is over. I have hit the bottom. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”

He said, “Well, it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you down. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea.”

If you are walking into the ocean, you will get knocked down sometimes. It’s nothing personal. It’s not particularly noble. And maybe some wonderful insight will come from having sand in your face…or maybe not. It’s just what the ocean does. Success and failure is what life does.

So when your kid doesn’t make it on the team, or your best friend doesn’t get the promotion she worked so hard for, don’t try to be helpful. Don’t suggest what they could do better next time or feed into malicious gossip about the person who did succeed. Don’t try to problem-solve or to cheer them up. Instead, allow them the freedom to be in pain. You can say, “I’m so sorry, I know you are disappointed.”  Be the space in which they can let the sadness, anger, resentment, self-pity wash over and through them. Given space, these emotions will move out of their own accord.

Just like a tree will send out blooms again, we all have an innate desire to move forward in life – to create – to make a difference. That desire has its own momentum. Once we can get our minds out of the way, it will take over. It will pull us off the ocean floor and point us in the direction of the horizon.

* Chodron, Pema. (2015). Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better.  Sounds True, Inc. pp 77-79. 

 

 

Aligning with the Seasons: Winter to Spring

by Debby Jennings, L.Ac.

As I sit on this rainy and blustery day, I ponder Spring……….the season and the Five Element correspondences.  This past year has been my first at Stillpoint.  It has been a great year, filled with both challenges and rewards I didn’t know were possible.  I began this journey with a ‘wait and see’ attitude.  Over the year I have come to know many of you and am so delighted to be a part of this journey with you.  As with life, the more we ‘practice’ our trade, the more we learn AND the more questions we tend to have.  As I embark on this year, I have closed some doors and wait for a brief time before closing other ones which have outlived their potential to create joy and inspiration for me.  The journey with Chinese medicine continues to inspire me and push me deeper into the study of this ancient form of healing.

This winter has been a challenge for many of us with the bitter cold.  My garden was decimated by this harsh winter and I am forced to visit the grocer for my normal yard food.  By February each year, I can hardly stand one more minute of cold and dark.  I want to push the spring into NOW.  The wind stirs things up, bringing an impatience to be outside, to get my hands in the dirt and to spring into new growth.

Spring is associated with the Wood element in Five Element acupuncture.  It is ‘green’, the taste of ‘sour’, ‘wind’, the sound of ‘shout’, the smell of rancid, the emotion of both benevolence and frustration/anger, the pushy movement of growth upward and forward.

For those who either have their ‘home-base’ in Wood or who have a good deal of ‘wood’ in their temperament we understand frustration and anger.  Anger gets a ‘bad’ rap in our culture.  It seems to be either everywhere or covered over with the ‘genteel teaching of being nice’.  Anger is a moving energy……….taking us out of our stuck-ness and darkness and bringing opportunities for new growth.

If we ignore these opportunities, we fall into depression and desolation.  If we can learn to navigate the difficult feelings of frustration and anger, looking deep within ourselves, we can see the place we need to grow toward.  We are like trees, standing upright and yearning to move toward the light.  If our forest is too heavily populated, we may have ‘leaners’ weighing us down, holding us back.  If we are too solitary, we risk destruction by wind and harsh storms.  Isn’t it true in life also?  We need to find our place of balance and the things/people/places and activities which nourish us and help us to grow into wiser humans.

In these last weeks of winter, take time to ponder the direction of your growth for this coming year.  Do you need to spend more time near the water or in the woods?  Do you need to move more or rest more?  How will you begin to get a handle on your stress and life’s demands?  How can you ask your companions on this ‘yellow brick road’ to help, or to give you time for solitude, or to share the burdens and the joys?  One of my favorite things is a bit of art by Mary Engelbreit entitled “Don’t Look Back”.  It reminds me of Dorothy on her journey to Oz.  The girl in the picture is at a fork in the road.  The sign for one direction says “No longer an option” and in the other direction “Your Life”.  The girl has her bundle over her shoulder, suitcase in one hand and is striding solidly forward down the path to her new life.

Each spring beckons us to push forward to new life and new growth.  Use this Wood energy of spring to help propel you forward.  As the days lengthen and the weather warms, eat dandelion, chickweed and wild violets to clear the Liver from heavy foods (be sure they are coming from a yard not poisoned by chemicals).  Drink kombucha and lemon water.  Move more and sit less.  Go outside to ‘play’ and lie down on the earth to infuse your body with the energy of Spring.  And take whatever steps you need to grow in whatever direction you deem best for yourself.  We are here to support you on the journey.