Winter time in Chinese medicine is when yin is plentiful relative to yang. Yin is cool, dark, inward, still, as opposed to yang which is warm, light, outward, and active. Winter is about conserving and storing energy. After the harvest in the fall, perennial plants must rest and replenish over the winter, so that they will not become depleted and will be productive again in the spring.
This is also how we should regard our bodies and minds in the winter. The emphasis is on conserving, storing, and replenishing our energy for the upcoming year ahead. Some things we can do during winter to live according to the seasons are:
All of these things will help nourish the kidneys–the root of life–and allow you to live a long and healthy life, say the ancients. Living according to the seasons can help prevent health problems before they arise.
–Jesse Andreas, 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.
At the end of every year my family rents a mountain house with 2 other families to celebrate my husband’s birthday and the New Year. On New Year’s Eve, after we put the kids to bed and all the adults put on PJs, we get some refreshments and gather around the fire to discuss the highlights and low points of the previous year as well as our hopes for the coming year. This little exercise turns into hours of laughter, tears, and inspiration and we call it Rose, Thorn, Seed. It is also something we practice daily in our house and I want to share it with you.
The basic idea of daily Rose, Thorn, Seed is that we each share our Rose of the Day, the best part of the day, our Thorn of the Day, the part we did not like or enjoy, and our Seed for tomorrow, a thought or action we want to plant for the next day. Simple, right? Right. Very simple and very effective when you are looking for a way to get to know your partner better, get your kids to talk to you, or get to know yourself better. You can do Rose, Thorn, Seed by yourself with a pen and paper, mentally over a glass of wine, or with a partner, friend, or your whole family.
My husband and I started this when we lived in Brooklyn, before kids. We were both in school and working 2 jobs and never saw each other. We lead completely different lives. I was doing acupuncture, yoga, working as a nanny and dancing, while he was working with computers, making Facebook video games and working on an Off Broadway show. I had as little insight into his world as he did mine. By checking in each day with our Rose, Thorn, Seed it sparked dialogue about things we would otherwise fail to mention about our day. We had been together since college and I started learning new things about this man. This proved to be such a helpful tool for us that we started doing it with our friends on their birthday, New Years, and daily with our toddlers (sort of).
Rose, Thorn, Seed is also a great exercise when you are feel like you need a change but don’t know exactly what that change is. When you aren’t feeling fulfilled with life or your job but you can’t quite pinpoint what is disappointing you. For example, if you want to figure out what kind of job would be good for you, try writing down what made you feel good that day as it relates to your work. Write down what did not make you feel good and what you would like to see happen differently tomorrow. Over a few weeks you may see a pattern to everything listed under your Rose and notice what inspires you the most as well as a pattern to your Thorn. You can use your seed to help direct you to more fulfilling days at your current job or help guide you in a search for a new one.
I hope you find this little exercise as helpful as we do. My desire for you is that you start living a life filled with colorful roses, few thorns, and lots of seeds.
Austin Dixon, L.Ac.
by Austin Dixon, L.Ac.
By now we are several weeks into 2014 and those of us who set New Year Resolutions have a pretty good idea about what is working and not working when it comes to that long list of what we are going to do differently this year. Some of us may still feel inspired and invigorated by the New Year and our commitment to its changes, but others of us may already feel defeated. The good news is: each day is a new beginning and a chance to start over. So for all of us in the less inspired group, I have a little insight as to why we may feel this way. We are doing it wrong, plain and simple. We create grand goals and set ourselves up for failure. It’s not because they aren’t achievable, quite the opposite. They are very achievable, but only when we set small, I teeny tiny, baby step size goals that will lead us to our grand new self.
I am sure most of you can figure out how to do this on your own, but if you are anything like me, it helps to hear it from someone else before it sinks in. Here are some common resolutions: more exercise, more sleep, more quality time, less food, less drink, and less Facebook. These seem simple enough when you are writing down all your new 2014 goals, but when you put the pen down and actually have to live out this list the possibility of change seems to disappear. Then we feel defeated. Guilty. Stuck.
Here is the good news: We are all capable of change. All of us (no matter who you are, how much you eat, hate exercise or love Facebook stalking), are capable of change, we just have to start small. For example, if you want to exercise 5 days a week, start with exercising 5 minutes a day for 5 days. Once you have done that increase the time bit by bit until you are working out 5 days a week for an hour. You get it, right? In the beginning you may think exercising 5 minutes a day is not even worth the effort, but if you weren’t exercising at all in 2013 I would say you are doing better.
You can use the 5 minutes a day structure for other things as well. If your resolution was to eliminate your (let’s not call it an addiction) fascination with social networking, try to cut your time by 5 minutes. For goodness sake, don’t try to go cold turkey on picture posting, status reading, and tweets. That is not likely to be achievable in this day and age and you will end up defeated. In an act of rebellion, you may spend twice as much time clicking “like” on pictures of cats and memes of exhausted wine drinking moms! Instead, set a timer for yourself and love the time allotted to connecting to the world via the internet. Keep challenging yourself to cut the time until you are satisfied and feel good about your progress.
When changing your diet start with the same small goals. If you are trying to eliminate sugar, start by cutting the amount you eat. You may think no sugar is the goal, and that is a great goal, but that may be unrealistic depending on your 2013 diet. If you eat chocolate twice a day, try once a day and congratulate yourself when that happens. Eventually you will meet the no sugar goal. Don’t worry.
One more very important thing to remember is that there will be days you fail. Completely fail. You know the day where you stay in PJs, eat chocolate for breakfast and Facebook stalk through lunch? So what. Let it go. The people who are most successful at making changes and meeting goals are the ones who know there will be days they fail. Failing has to exist in order for success. The Yin and Yang. Balance. So get right with the days where the 2013 you shows up, say hello and be grateful for the opportunity to grow and change back into the 2014 you.