The Benefits of Flexibility: A Lesson from the Wood Element

by Clark Zimmerman

My daughter continues to be one of my greatest teachers. Though she can be impatient from time to time, I am amazed at her ability to be flexible with whatever life gives her in the moment. Like a young sapling, she bends with the changing winds of the moment. I recently had a chance to put some of her wisdom to good use. Last weekend I had one of those travel weekends. I went to a class in Oakland and experienced three flight delays on the way down, and three more delays on my return flight. When all was said and done I ended up spending nine hours waiting to go somewhere. In the past this would have created a lot of stress and irritation. This time was different though. Instead of reacting to a problem that I couldn’t change I decided to to remain flexible and try to relax into what the day would bring.

A healthy tree or plant must have a balanced combination of strength and flexibility. The archetypical example of healthy Wood in Taoist philosophy is bamboo: It is strong enough to build a thirty-story scaffolding, but it will bend over and touch the ground in a heavy snowfall. Taoist tradition says that when Wood embodies the right balance of strength and flexibility, it can manifest its virtue of benevolence. You can witness this virtue by watching a seed as it grows into a tree. The seed sprouts and regardless of the obstacles that it faces, it continues its relentless movement toward the light. If a sapling is bent by a falling branch of a larger tree, it will simply bend and continue its growth. Of course to do this a tree must be flexible. As a tree ages, it tends to become more rigid. It relies more on strength to resist or overcome its challenges, and less on an ability to bend. This is fine when the weight of a problem isn’t too much to bear, but the moment the load is greater than the strength of a limb…snap, the limb breaks off. We can see that no matter the insult that is suffered, a tree will always bend and seek the light. This is a example of the benevolence of the Wood element.

When I was stuck at the airport, I flashed to previous experiences of getting stranded in airports. I remembered the time I raised my voice at the ticket counter lady; I thought of several occasions of worry and anger that didn’t solve any problem, rather only made me more exhausted when I finally did arrive at my destination. So this time I thought of how my flexible 4-year-old daughter would handle the change of schedule. She wouldn’t know that it was an annoying inconvenience. She would simply do what she always does and be completely present in the moment and orient towards the light of curiosity and enjoyment . I made a conscious choice to bend with the weight of the situation and turn it into a positive, and the grandest thing happened: It actually turned into a great nine hours. I met a few wonderful people, I read half of a book that I had wanted to read for months, and I was reminded that the moment is where life is happening, whether I embrace it or not.

The ability to remain flexible remains one of the most helpful skills that one can develop. To be able to remain flexible while reaching toward the light can turn a difficult situation into a more positive experience.

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Stress Reduction

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

STRESS REDUCTION
Most of us can attest to the fact that stress is reaching epidemic proportions in modern society. Balancing work, family, health, money, etc. is a challenge that many of us feel ill equipped to face. Eighty percent of the doctor visits in our country are stress related. Our quality of life and health is largely determined by how we adapt and relate to daily stressors. Excessive stress not only takes its toll on our bodies, but strips the joy out of life and suppresses our creative instincts. Dissolving stress is certainly possible, but takes a commitment to making lifestyle choices that create balance throughout our lives. Here are a few ancient techniques for eliminating stress, increasing energy, and creating emotional balance. These are some of the most powerful tools we have for achieving optimal health and preventing future disease.

1) Meditation: Practiced for thousands of years in many Asian cultures, meditation has long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools we have for cultivating peace of mind and balance. Numerous studies have proven the incredibly positive effect that meditation has on stress reduction. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques taught around the world. For beginners, the most helpful approach is to start with basic mindfulness techniques that develop both relaxation and alertness. Once a basic ground of awareness has been stabilized, then more advanced meditation practices can be undertaken. Meditation is a practice that helps us identify with stillness and silence. It cultivates intuition and surrender. It can deeply help just about anybody, but is truly a miraculous practice for reducing stress and anxiety.

2) Yoga: This ancient practice has also been utilized by millions of people throughout history. Yoga is typically considered a form of meditation that involves putting the body into a variety of poses in combination with deep breathing to induce mental clarity, increased energy, and physical strength and flexibility. The healing benefits of yoga have been repeatedly documented by a variety of clinical studies. There are many forms of yoga and it is best to experiment to determine which form feels the most suited for your needs. 

3) Acupuncture: One of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been practiced for at least 2,500 years. Perhaps one of the last truly holistic forms of healthcare remaining on the planet, acupuncture works with the Qi (life force ) of the body in order to induce a variety of therapeutic effects. The safety and efficacy of this practice are well documented which accounts for its incredible surge in popularity in the Western world. Acupuncture is considered one of the most powerful treatment options for stress reduction. 

4) Herbal medicine: There are a variety of both Chinese and Western herbal formulas that have been clinically proven to reduce stress and create emotional balance. Herbs are much less concentrated than pharmaceuticals, which is why they have far less side effects (but can still be as effective). If you are interested in using herbal medicine we recommend consulting an herbalist.  It can be quite overwhelming trying to self diagnose accurately in the supplement aisle.

5) Nutrition: Eating a diet high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and low glycemic carbohydrates can go a long way toward healing stress. The standard American diet (high in processed foods, saturated fat, sugar, and trans-fats) has been linked to anxiety, depression, and increased stress in numerous studies. Change your diet to an organic, whole foods approach and both your body and mind will reward you beyond measure. Poor adaptability to stress is often a sign that our brains are starving for nutrients that we aren’t getting from our standard American diets.

Making these lifestyle changes may not be easy in the initial phases. It is often helpful to seek out the support of a health care practitioner to guide you through these transitions. Once you start feeling the enormous payoff of making such changes, there truly is no turning back. Your stress will dissolve, your weight will decrease, and your energy will skyrocket, not to mention the preventative measures you are taking for heart health. Isn’t that enough to warrant making a few changes?

 
 
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Recycling and Awareness

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

Like most people, I was surprised to hear that some big changes were coming to recycling in the Rogue valley.   After years of taking most of our recyclable materials, China has decided that it no longer can fill the role of Americas recycling center.  It appears that they are awash in tons of our old packaging and containers.  What was once a marginally profitable industry has now begun to steadily lose money.  I must admit that surprise is not the only thing I experienced:  I found myself annoyed, then saddened, then ashamed and ultimately hopeful.  I was annoyed that a convenience that I had taken for granted was being taken away. I was saddened to think of all the extra plastic and paper would be going to the landfill.  I was ashamed to think how I had become increasingly unconscious of all of the unnecessary packaging that I had accepted as part of life.  Finally, I became hopeful that this was the sort of event that bring more awareness to an issue that needs more action and less complacency.

We live in a world that is increasingly inundated by plastic and other waste.  I read an article about the “great pacific garbage patch” last week that said there is a collection of plastic in the pacific ocean that is twice the size of Texas…That’s really BIG.  Unfortunately the problem is getting worse.  We have become so accustomed to buying things that are made of, packaged in, or disposed of in plastic.  Many of the places that were pristine just a decade or two ago, are all showing signs of plastic pollution.  The stuff just doesn’t break down very quickly.  There are many negative consequences to this plastic problem.  They pollute the water we drink, leaching synthetic estrogens in the water that have been linked to many different types cancer. They collects in nooks and crannies everyone, making beautiful places ugly.  They ensnare animals of all types, killing or maiming birds, turtles and insects.  They are making us all sick in so many ways.  So, what to do about it?

I believe that the best medicine is consciousness.  If we cultivate awareness of a problem it is easier to begin exploring and implementing real solutions.  In the case of plastics or other waste, we can all ask ourselves what is the benefit of buying something that has a real and lasting negative impact on the world around us?  Is the benefit only that we save a little money or have a little more convenience?  If so what would it take to choose another option.  For instance the idea of using reusable bags to take our groceries or other items home.  So instead of relying on paper or plastic that then has to be thrown away or recycled, you can use a sturdier option.  All it takes is getting in the habit and remembering to bring the bag along.  My wife and I leave a few bags in the car just in case we need to stop and pick up a few groceries. We also recently looked at all of the packaged goods we buy at the store and are looking at ways that we can reduce the amount of things we purchase in packages.  For instance, we love to drink kombucha, but the bottles collect quickly, so we started brewing our own again.  It takes a little time in the beginning, but it saves us time and the hassle in disposing/recycling all of those bottles.  It also saves us money. Speaking of money, the way we spend our money is another way to help change the amount of waste we create.  

When I take the time to consider all of the things I consume, I am always a little shocked to notice all of the choices that I make with my money.  Though it seems that we are unable to control so many things in our lives, we have control over what we buy.  Companies make choices about what they produce, how they package, and how they market.  Consumers make their preferences know to the producers with their purchases.  You can see this when you go shopping.  Twenty years ago if you went into the supermarket, you would have found few “green” cleaning products or gluten free items.  This has changed now as the customer has changed the way they shop.  We can all buy things from companies that value the health of  the environment as much as profit.  

We are all living parts of the web of life on planet earth.  The more awareness we bring to the impact our decisions have on our lives, and the lives of those around us, the better health we all get to enjoy for the present day and tomorrow as well.

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