Chinese medicine operates from the belief that the body possesses its own innate ability to heal, and that disease symptoms manifest when elemental energies are out of balance. When proper balance is restored, health is the natural result. Not long after I began to study Chinese medicine, I noticed a similarity between how human health is cultivated in this ancient system and how an organic gardener promotes health in plants.
Organic gardening uses natural methods to promote the plant’s powers of growth and healing. In a general sense, chemical gardening follows the approach to health used by Western medicine. An organic gardener ensures a plant reaches its full potential by making sure that the elemental energies the plant depends upon are in a relative state of balance. Temperature, moisture, ph and the gases and minerals in the soil must be in balance for the health and optimal functioning of the organism.
When trying to control a pest population in a garden, there are two ways to proceed. The organic gardener would make sure that the diversity of plants in the garden brought about the right balance of insects in order to control pest populations. They might introduce predatory insects that would feed off the bugs eating the plants without harming the plants themselves. They would also make sure that the soil was well balanced, so that the immunity of the plants is strong. Strong plants can fight off the pests on their own.
In another approach, the conventional gardener might spray the plants with chemicals to kill the pests. This may be effective in the short term, but does not ultimately solve the problem, because it does not address the reason the pest infestation arose in the first place. It may also cause other problems down the road. Modern medicine has such value, especially in emergency situations. But similar to chemical gardening, it can produce unwanted side effects, and does not always deal with the underlying causes of disease.
You may be asked questions by your Chinese medicine practitioner that seem entirely unrelated to the reason you are seeking treatment. Questions like “Do you have an intolerance for cold weather, or get cold hands and feet”? “Do you get hot flashes, or sweating at night”? We ask these questions because every symptom in Chinese medicine is understood in a larger context. Your answers to these questions help us understand how to treat your back pain or your headaches. Chances are that your treatment will be very different from another person’s treatment even if they have very similar complaints.
We look at the environment in which you are growing and try to help you adjust your internal and external influences so that you can be stronger and more resistant to disease. Much like an organic gardener, we hope to support your own natural healing power by bringing all the elements into balance.
–Jesse Andreas, L.Ac.
The Value in Taking a Break…
More and more I see people who are overwhelmed, overworked, stressed out and exhausted. I know this feeling very well. In 2013, circumstances required me to work very, very hard. Even though these circumstances were temporary, and even though I was really having fun during the excitement of it all, by 2014 I was completely exhausted. The enthusiasm I carried for my work was gone. My curiosity was dulled. My thinking became unclear. That is when I knew I needed a break. Fortunately, I was in a position that allowed me to take six months off. During that time I slept (a lot!), read, meditated, played with my kids and studied. As a result, I came back to work invigorated and with a new sense of purpose. Because I had been able to take a step back, I now see things more clearly than before. I think more creatively, and work with more confidence.
Often, I see people in this same situation. Because our culture tends to view needing a break as weakness, they are looking for a treatment or a pill or a diet that will allow them to keep moving forward. It’s as if they are frantically trying to keep up with a speeding train, and there is no station in sight. Typically, these folks know exactly what they need. They might need some time away, help with a project, some quality time with a friend or a spouse–maybe even to find work more suited to their strengths and interests.
This is lesson number one: “You know what you need.”
If you stop long enough to look deeply, if you can cut through the social conditioning and work ethic and delve into your own mind-body wisdom, the solution is there.
Unfortunately, even once we recognize these solutions, we don’t often perceive them as available to us. I was in the same boat–since I was the only practitioner in one of my offices, I thought it would be impossible to take time off without closing that office completely. This thought–which I held to be ultimate truth–prevented me from looking for solutions. Then one day, it occurred to me that my health was at stake.
I remembered a story a friend had told me about the busiest period of her life. She had three young children, she worked as a nurse, she volunteered, she was busy all the time. She said, “I was just nonstop. Until one day I went nonstop through a stop sign and plowed into another car.” That accident landed her in the hospital for 5 months.
So as soon as I decided that time off wasn’t a choice, I opened my mind to possible solutions. I made a few phone calls, sent a few emails, and within 24 hrs had work coverage for the next 6 months.
Which leads me to lesson number two: taking a break makes you more productive.
One of the main excuses I hear from folks who are working too hard is “I just need to get through_____, and then I can slow down a little.” We know that the more likely scenario is that another more important or more compelling situation will present itself as soon as the current one is over. Or we know that even though we say we will take a break once this busy time is over, we probably won’t. And the myth is that if we stop to smell the roses, we will lose our momentum and therefore our productivity. This is simply untrue. I say, stop the train before the train stops you.
One of my teachers used to say, “Giving 100% is killing you.” Another famous acupuncturist who is known for getting pain relief immediately once needles are placed says, “when you get 80% improvement–STOP! Otherwise you’ll screw it all up.” His point is that after that 80% threshold, the amount of work we put in produces fewer and poorer quality results. Many productivity experts recommend working about 50 minutes of every hour, and then getting up to take a walk or otherwise get some distance from whatever you were working on. This applies to both mental and physical work. If you work at a computer, stop and walk around for a bit or maybe close your eyes and listen to music. If you are doing physical work, stop and rest or read some poetry. In other words, Let your brain re-fuel.
It is common practice in academia to take a sabbatical, and this concept is becoming more accepted across disciplines. Designer Stefan Sagmeister takes one year off every seven years in order to step back from his design work and reinvigorate his creativity. In his wonderful TED talk, he says something like “we in the West plan for about 40 years of work and 15 years of retirement, so I just decided to cut off 5 of those retirement years and intersperse them throughout my work years. This way the energy generated flows back into the business and to society at large. And at the same time, I have more fun.”
There was a great article in the Harvard Business Review back in 2007 which talked about increasing productivity, creativity and innovation by encouraging employees to take care of themselves. It’s called “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.” The article talks about top-down workplace change, but also points out that “individuals need to recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and then take responsibility for changing them, regardless of the circumstances they are facing.” In other words, whether you are the CEO or the line worker, there will be small and large things you can do to take a break and restore your energy.
For inspiration, look to nature. Waves surge and then withdraw. Storms rage and then the sun shines. Birds work hard to climb away from earth, and then glide on the wind. Bees have an incredible and difficult work schedule, but then spend the winter huddling together inside, resting and staying warm. Plants create beautiful flowers and berries and leaves at an incredible pace, but during winter they rest deeply. These are natural cycles of productivity and recuperation. When we ignore these cycles, not only does our health and vitality suffer–but our WORK and CREATIVITY suffer.
“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”
Don’t exhaust your caterpillar before the butterfly has a chance to emerge! Listen to the signals indicating a break is needed:
- becoming more easily distracted
- tasks take longer to do than they used to
- things that used to be fun aren’t anymore
- feeling fatigued
- re-reading the same sentence
- becoming easily irritable
- feeling something is missing in life
- feeling overwhelmed
- losing interest in things
- reaching for the coffee or energy drinks as a way to “get through”
- increased alcohol consumption
- memory problems
In order to begin to recover your energy, you could make drastic moves like quitting your job, but that may just add more stress in the long run. So you could start by trying out small changes. The possibilities are endless, and here are just a few suggestions:
Hourly (pick one or two)
- Set a timer for 50 min and spend the last 10 min of every hour taking a walk or even a nap.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply for 30 seconds.
- Go outside. It’s amazing how this can change your perspective.
- Chat with a friend or coworker and not about work.
- Write down the one most important thing to accomplish in the next hour.
- Read poetry.
- Listen to music.
- Stand up and stretch.
- Read an inspirational quote.
- Admire a piece of art.
- Stare into space or out the window.
Daily (do as many as you can)
- Spend a little time writing / meditating / or staring into space
- Exercise a little — enough to feel your heart pumping, but not so much that it’s like a second job.
- Eat meals without working at the same time.
- Answer emails only twice a day.
- Notice your propensity to complain about things and begin to change that. Complain only to people who have the power to change things or to people who can truly help you see a way to change things.
- Turn your phone off for at least one hour, or while you are working on a task that requires focus.
- Do your best to sleep well.
- Be diligent about negative self-talk. Change the story.
- Plan at least some time reserved for “whatever the heck I feel like doing.” Put in on your calendar. Make it mandatory.
- Spend time outdoors.
- Do something silly–dance in your pajamas.
- Do something that makes you feel connected to God, the universe, the world around you.
- Be completely present with your kids or a good friend.
- Plan at least one vacation…even if you just plan to stay at home but not work. If you can, plan some time off every quarter. Even if each break is shorter, they may prove more rejuvenating, and you’ll have more to look forward to.
- Spend a week tracking how you spend your time. How does this reflect what is important to you?
- Spend some time in self-examination. Take the strength-finders test or some other personality test. Quit trying to fix your perceived flaws and instead develop your innate talents.
- Spend a week or even a day “disconnected.” What is it like to not have your thoughts interrupted six times an hour?
- Better yet, turn off the power in your house for a day. Live by sunlight and candle-light. Enjoy the silence.
- Go for a hike, go camping, go sailing or fishing.
- Sleep for a whole day.
- Go on a retreat — this could be a formal structured retreat or just some time away by yourself.
- Review your accomplishments. For one moment, forget all that there is left to do. Forget all that didn’t go the way you had planned. Forget the failures. Make a list of everything you accomplished from work projects completed to an exercise program in place to overcoming some negative behavior or thought pattern. Then just be with the success of that.
- Take a scenic train ride…just for fun. Make sure it’s a leisurely one!
–Heather McIver, L.Ac.
Many people have grown up believing that making self-care a priority is selfish. But self-care may be the most generous, responsible and compassionate choice we can make. It allows us to not only take care of ourselves, but also ensures that we have the physical and emotional resources to share our talents and gifts with others. It allows us to be physically and emotionally present for the people in our lives.
Sometimes self-care involves saying “no” and making the choice to limit how much we extend ourselves. This can be extremely challenging at times. People may view it as self-centered or narcissistic. But living at the pace of a sprint on a daily basis can be exhausting – especially if we are already dealing with health concerns. It can lead to burn-out, increase feelings of stress and worsen physical pain or illness. This, in turn, can actually reduce our ability to be there for others in a meaningful way. In the long-run it serves nobody for us to overextend ourselves.
Putting self-care first is an act of healthy self-regard, but it’s also a choice that helps to produce greater balance in our lives. It demands that we do the powerful work of letting-go of any residual co-dependent attitudes and behaviors. It pushes us toward a healthier relationship with ourselves and with those in our lives.
Self-care in order to decompress from stressful emotions triggered by busy schedules, health challenges and feelings of stress from life’s challenges is vital in order to maintain balance and remain emotionally and physically healthy. It’s essential to acknowledge and honor any current physical limitations as we strive to heal. Not doing so will often lead to exacerbated symptoms.
Putting self-care first is no more selfish than putting on our oxygen mask first on an airplane in the event of an emergency. They tell us to put it on first so that, if necessary, we can assist others. If we didn’t put ours on first, we wouldn’t be able to help others because we would end up in distress ourselves.
Here are a few ways you might practice self-care:
- Get a massage
- Take time to meditate
- Stay hydrated
- Make getting to bed on time a priority
- Speak kindly to yourself
- Do something that brings you joy
- Love your body with healthy food
- Have lunch with friends
Diane Gross, L.Ac.
by: Austin Dixon
As we leave the Year of the Horse and move into the Year of the Sheep we can all take a breath of relief that things are about to slow down. Some of you may have felt the grace and beauty of the horse this year as well as its quick pace and fast changes. All aspects are good, but you may need to slow your roll and have a little more time to take it all in. Good thing the Year of Sheep will let you do that.
The Chinese New Year officially begins February 19, 2015 and lasts until February 7, 2016. The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning the calendar’s dates indicate both the moon and the time of the solar year. The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival as it marks the beginning of Spring. Technically, the Year of the Sheep begins on February 4, 2015 as it the official start of Spring (and to get really technical, that is our February 3, 2015). So if you have a baby February 3, 2015 or after, but before the 19th, it is still a Sheep according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
Ok, so now to what you really want to know. What to expect in the Year of the Sheep. First we have to think about the characteristics of a sheep. Sheep are calm, tranquil animals. They co-exist with other sheep, animals, and people. Given the chance, sheep are quick to learn and always work to maintain peace. They are soft and cozy and we use their fur to protect us from the cold. Sounds pretty good, right? Right.
The Year of the Sheep is going to be about peace, love, and compassion. We are living in crazy world where violence is sometimes chosen as an option to end conflict. The Year of the Sheep will show us that peace is more effective than violence and using mental force is better than brute force. Like the Sheep, when humans are given the chance to think, really think, they will make good decisions. Good decisions rarely, if ever, involve violence. This will not eliminate hate, anger, and ill intentions, but it will calm the storm for the time being.
The Year of the Sheep is a time for reflection, but not a time to get stuck in the past. It is a time to move forward. Slowly. Carefully. Compassionately. Notice what has not worked for you in the past, take the time to learn from it, and proceed forward. It is a time to get back to the basics and trust your intuition. Family and intimacy is of great value this year. Past relationships can heal if approached properly. It is also a great time to tap into your creative side. This will look different for everyone so have fun exploring what creativity looks like for you.
Now. Everyone can breath a little deeper. Proceed a little slower. And relax into the New Year. Let the chaos of the Year of the Horse settle and be grateful for the calm and warmth of the Sheep.
Tips on tapping into your inner Sheep:
- Try meditation. This does not mean sitting and not thinking about anything. That is impossible. It means sitting and being mindful of what you are thinking. You can use tricks like focusing on your breath. Or coming up with your own mantra (ie: “peace, calm, love”) and focusing on that. Start off with 3-5 minutes a day. If sitting and “not doing” is too daunting to start with try journaling. Just writing down every thought that passes through your mind for those few minutes a day will help you become more mindful.
- Build in moments of calm during your day. Enjoy a cup of tea everyday. Don’t do anything else at that time but enjoy that tea. Or take 5 minutes to read. Or watch a 5 minute Ted Talk on an interesting subject. Do whatever you like, the only requirement is to enjoy it and do it daily.
- Get Creative. Take a class. Bake/cook something new. Organize a photo album. Write. Draw. Doodle. Eat dessert before dinner. I don’t care what you do, just do something different. Step out of your routine. Creative does not mean art. Don’t get hung up on that.
- Be gentle. Be compassionate. Be mindful. When you are thinking those negative thoughts about yourself, change your dialogue. Those negative thoughts are violent acts to your spirit. You can not expect to treat others with the care and compassion they deserve if you can not do it yourself. It might feel like lying to yourself at first, but go for it. If you think you are a terrible cook, tell yourself you are a great cook and see what shifts. The worst that could happen is that your cooking stays the same, but at least you won’t feel bad about it. When we feel better about ourselves we feel better about others. Everyone will benefit from your self care.
- Think one nice thought about your worst enemy everyday. While this may be the least time consuming of all the tips, it is probably the hardest, but the most transformative. Remember we all make mistakes. We all do things daily that could be judged as negative. We all have different life experiences that shape us in different ways. Sending a mental note of compassion can help heal past relationships and strengthen present ones. And remember, some days we are our own worst enemy. Be kind folks. It is already a tough world out there.