Middleway Medicine Blog

Expanding Your Comfort Zone

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

Years ago, my wife and I spent some of our honeymoon in Fiji.  Most of the time we stayed in a small village called Lavena that was on the edge of a large jungle forest preserve.  Though the village had no running water or electricity, the villagers were some of the most content people we have ever met.  In so many ways Lavena was the picture perfect paradise that you dream of when you think of a tropical honeymoon getaway.  The jungle was wild and alive, the ocean was an otherworldly aqua, and the water was so clean that you could drink it straight from the creek as you swam underneath the waterfalls near the village.  However, about a week into our three-week stay, we had a rude awakening: there was a massive hatch of a tropical fly.  Suddenly flies were everywhere.  It reminded us of videos we had seen of people in impoverished areas of Africa, where the flies would cover peoples faces, crawling in their ears, mouth and eyes. All of the sudden everything we did seemed like an invitation to be covered in flies.  It was nearly too much to bear.  The locals didn’t seem to even notice.  Since they had lived with this as a part of their reality, they had developed the ability to go about their life with minimal bother.  It got me and my wife thinking about how specific our comfort range had become.

Traveling to undeveloped countries makes you truly realize how spoiled most of us are in the United States.  We live in homes with running water and electricity; we heat and cool our rooms and our cars; we eat food that suits our particular tastes; we sleep in comfy beds; we bathe and wear scents to cover our odor; we wear headphones to hear what we want to hear and earplugs to block the things we don’t want to hear.  We control just about every aspect of our environment to make life as comfortable as possible.  Most of the time this makes life easier.  But what happens when we can’t control our surroundings?  For most of us, if something feels uncomfortable, we fixate on whatever isn’t just right.  A picnic becomes too hot to enjoy; a walk in the snow becomes too cold;  food is too spicy or unappetizingly bland; too much noise or silence can overwhelm us.  We have narrowed our range of comfort to a point where almost everything feels uncomfortable.  It makes me wonder sometimes if all of these comforts are more of a blessing or a curse.  I am not suggesting that you disconnect your air conditioning, but just as you stretch your muscles to keep them flexible, it is a helpful exercise to stretch your comfort zone from time to time.  Stretching your comfort zone can be helpful in a few important ways.  It can make you more appreciative of all the comfort you enjoy.  It is like when you go backpacking and sleep on the hard, cold ground and eat instant food.  When you get home your bed feels like heaven and a simple meal can taste like a gourmet feast.  It can also help you maintain resilience so you are better able to withstand times when things aren’t as comfortable. 

No matter how much you try to control your environment, things periodically will not go according to plan.  If you don’t occasionally practice being uncomfortable, the slightest deviation in your day can ruin an otherwise beautiful moment.  You can do this by letting yourself get a little hot or cold, fasting part of the day or getting up extra early and watching the sunrise.  Just ask yourself what discomfort you are the most adverse to and lean into it once in a while.  The benefits will most likely outweigh the cost.

It took a while, but my wife and I finally settled into the flies in Fiji.  Once we stopped complaining about them, we figured out times when we could go out when they weren’t as thick.  Then after a few days, they thinned out and became much less noticeable.  In the end, we thanked the flies as reminders to keep continuing to expand our comfort zones.

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What You Resist, Persists

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac.

Social awareness of depression is at an all-time high right now. I think the growing willingness of people to openly discuss their own struggles is a huge development in the emotional intelligence of our society.  As an acupuncturist, I look at depression through the lens of Chinese Five-Element philosophy. 

Of the Five-Element personality types, the Water type is the most likely to struggle with depression. Waters are deeply introspective and have an amazing capacity for finding meaning and wisdom in life. Waters like to take their time and go with the flow, prioritizing comfort over efficiency. Waters can talk eloquently for hours about philosophical and other topics of real substance, but might not be too interested in small talk. Many of our most beloved artists have been Water types: Kurt Cobain, Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, Peter Fonda, Robert De Niro, Ernest Hemingway.

While Waters are great at going deep and being introspective, that approach can get them stuck when it comes to painful memories. They can end up hiding and isolating themselves, overwhelmed with despair.  Fear is the emotion associated with the Water element. Waters are great at seeing everything that could possibly go wrong, but that fear of what might go wrong often paralyzes them and prevents them from moving forward. According to the Chinese Five-Element perspective, the Water personality needs to learn to have courage to overcome fear and move forward. That sort of approach is the strength of the Wood element.

The Wood personality is fearless—she picks a path and just goes for it. She’s not afraid of taking a misstep because she knows she can handle whatever arises. Woods can be great friends and coaches for Waters, giving them that inspiration to get out there and a plan of action for success. Many people who’ve lost a ton of weight with radical changes in their diet and exercise habits are Waters who have been coached up by Woods.

But very often there ends up being a difficult event that comes up—the loss of a loved one, a breakup, a stressful situation at work—that brings up those old feelings of fear, shame, and inadequacy. And then the Water spirals back into depression and their old coping mechanisms—food, alcohol, drugs, escapism, whatever.

So what’s the alternative if we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives running or numbing ourselves from our painful emotions? Are we just supposed to dwell on them and wallow in misery? Isn’t that what’s causing the problem?

I don’t think so—at least not anymore. When I first got into meditation and eventually Chinese medicine, I saw my spiritual practice as a way of conquering my emotions and finding peace through discipline. But in that struggle with my emotions, they just seemed to get bigger and bigger and harder to avoid.

I’m pretty stubborn, but it eventually started to dawn on me that maybe the way to true peace is through accepting my emotions rather than trying to push them away. And it turns out many spiritual teachers and psychologists (and my wife) have been saying this for a long time—I just wasn’t ready to hear it. Carl Jung maybe said it best when he said, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”

Water needs the support of Earth in order to find courage—and the biggest strength of the Earth element is compassion. Real transformation happens for Waters when they develop the ability to have compassion, understanding, and forgiveness for themselves. That way they can choose a path forward and not beat up on themselves too much when they take a wrong step.

Seeking help from some sort of therapist or counselor is so important for people suffering from depression. It’s easy for people suffering from depression (especially men) to think they understand their problem and what to do about it—they think just need to have the discipline to do the right things they need to do.

But the main reason why a therapist or counselor is so helpful isn’t because they’re going to tell you what to do—it’s because they’re going to show you compassion. Yes, they’re going to offer you compassion, but they’re also going to show you what compassion looks like. And ideally that compassion becomes infectious—you start to believe that not only are you deserving of compassion from others, you’re deserving of compassion from yourself. I’ve found it’s a lot easier to move forward when you’re not always cutting yourself down.

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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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