Harmonizing With Spring Energy

By Lauri McKean, LAc.

Spring! Spring has always been my favorite season.  It feels like a celebration of new life and new possibilities – especially given that I’ve lived much of my adult life in places where winter is colder and darker than the Rogue Valley.  Who doesn’t love the plant kingdom coming to life with flowers beginning to appear, trees budding out, and green spreading through the landscape?

However, I know that the season can also be a bit tricky.  For example, with the increase of Yang energy (active and outward) after the winter’s Yin energy (passive and inward) many of us have a tendency to get too busy and active too quickly.  Perhaps we’re working in our gardens and yards, starting projects, and/or doing more outdoor activities.  Sometimes our bodies aren’t ready for the sudden demands placed on them and it’s helpful if we remember to ease into those first sunny, warm days so as to avoid strain and injury.  

Within the framework of Chinese Medicine, we also recognize that Spring can be tricky in another key way.  This has to do with the fact that this season is associated with the energy of the liver.  Given our fast-paced culture and the high levels of stress that most of us experience, our liver energy tends to be chronically constrained.  

In the clinic, we commonly see liver constraint manifesting as a variety of symptoms including: headaches/migraines, insomnia (especially waking between 1-3am), PMS, menstrual pain, hot flashes, tight tendons and muscles, as well as an increase in feeling frustrated, irritable, stressed and/or angry.  Because the liver energy is so heightened in the spring, these symptoms often appear now or get exaggerated.  Additionally, it is a time when what Chinese Medicine refers to as issues with “wind” get exacerbated.  Seasonal allergies, dizziness and tremors and spasms are examples of “wind” problems.  

Luckily, there are many ways to smooth out the liver energy, calm wind and thus reduce any of the above issues.  Of course, acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbs can be incredibly helpful.  Some “liver-y” people may want to increase the frequency of treatment during this season and changes to herbal formulas might be necessary.  

Additionally, there are many lifestyle changes that can also help with this seasonal transition.  Here are a few that I often recommend.  

  • Exercise regularly.  Although this is important at any time of year, it is especially pertinent in the spring.  Be sure to increase the intensity and amount of time gradually.  
  • Adjust your diet.  Eat lighter amounts and foods than in the winter (ie more greens and sprouts than root vegetables) and be sure to get plenty of water between meals.  
  • Reduce any intake of alcohol.  Alcohol often increases problems with the liver energy.  Reduce or eliminate it – especially if you are waking up in the middle of the night.  
  • Create outlets for releasing frustration/anger.  Allowing frustration/anger to move through you and be expressed has immediate health benefits.  Involve your voice/sounds along with movements.  I recommend this as a practice without other people involved.  Movements might include stomping, pounding a pillow or bouncing/shaking your body.  Sounds might include shouting, moaning or even growling.  (I know this might sound strange but it really works!)

Want to know more?  Check out our Face Book page for upcoming posts about Spring

Beating Up on Yourself

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac.

 

I can be really harRyder Johanson, LAc., MSTOM, JDd on myself.  I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out the healthiest way to eat, the best supplements to take, the best ways to exercise, the best ways to meditate, etc. and I’ve felt great when I’ve met my high standards of what I should be doing on a daily basis. But when I’ve fallen off the wagon, I can work myself into a depression over my believed personal failings or—more often—maybe just a steady, low level of neurotic self-judgment.

Ironically, I can even spend days beating up on myself because I’ve been terrible at positive thinking.  

Self-analysis and criticism can be just what’s needed in many cases—sometimes I need a kick in the butt from a friend or myself to get myself to shift a pattern I’ve been stuck in for awhile. But too much of that can easily turn into a downward spiral of shame and guilt that stops being productive.

According to a whole slew of spiritual teachers and self-help gurus, the antidote to this problem is some variation on the idea of self-love.  The idea is that someone who really loves themself would effortlessly do and say and think all the right things in order to thrive physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Right away it made a lot of sense to me.

But then I ran into a couple problems.  First, it often felt inauthentic.  It felt like a part of me could tell I was just saying nice things to myself in order to trick myself into getting what I wanted.  Obviously, I didn’t really love myself—otherwise I wouldn’t be jumping through all these hoops to try to change myself and convince myself that I love myself.

Second, it didn’t seem like it was working well enough or quickly enough.  It’s great that I love myself now, but why can’t I love myself enough to stick to this way of eating or that meditation schedule.  Isn’t wallowing in self-pity the reason why I’m not good enough in the first place?

So after years of yo-yoing back and forth between periods of self-love and longer periods of oppressive self-judgment, I’ve come across a couple teachings that have helped me break the impasse.

The first is that it’s helpful to recognize that the self-critical part of myself is trying its hardest to help me.  It’s trying to whip myself into shape so that I can get to where I want to go. Moreover, it thinks that if I’m my own harshest critic, maybe I can avoid being criticized and ridiculed by other people.  

I discovered that when I had compassion and understanding for the self-critical part of myself—when I stopped invalidating it and threatening its survival—then it seemed to calm down a bit.  It’s not enough just to love the nice and idealized and “innocent” parts of myself—I also need to show compassion toward the mean and cranky and wounded parts of myself.

The other thing I realized was that I was trying to run a marathon without first training and building up to it.  I would come back from a week of holiday celebrating and indulging and then immediately try to “make up for it” by doing an extreme 30-day cleanse or a radically restrictive food list.  That way of doing things had felt good for me and worked for me in the past, but years of “falling off the wagon” and beating up on myself got me to a point where I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere and I needed a different approach.

What I’ve noticed is that the nicer and gentler and more understanding I am on a daily basis, the easier it is for me to make healthier decisions and establish healthier habits.  Healthy food and exercise and meditation can all be great for you—but not if you’re trying doing it in an almost punishing or abusive way.

As much as I always want to get to the root a of a problem or find that silver bullet solution, for most people being healthier and happier comes as a result of being nicer to yourself on a daily basis and doing little things that build yourself up.  

When you’ve been beating yourself up every day for years and years, it takes some time and practice to re-train your mind to say and believe nicer things.  Realizing that—that it’s a process—has made it much easier to cut myself some slack.

When the Storm Settles

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

My grandmother used to collect snow globes.  As part of her seasonal decorations, they made their appearance for the month of December and then found their way to a box once the new year rolled around.  As a child they always seemed so magical:  A microcosm of the chaos of the winter holidays.  They were mostly encountered in their resting state, their various scenes unperturbed by a storm that was always only a few shakes away.  But inevitably the storm would come and the flying flakes would transform the environment.  I sometimes wonder about the desire to take a serene moment and shake it up a bit.  

If you were to ask nature about the purpose of winter, I’m certain that she would tell you of the importance of dormancy.  Hibernation is an extreme sort of dormancy in which certain animals slow down their heart rate and metabolism, and lower their body temperature.  Though we don’t sleep away our winters as a bear might, as a part of nature we are subject to its same suggestions.  Winter is the opposite of the intense activity of the summer, but somehow we have become enamored with the promise of light.  We crave the warmth, the comfort and the pace.  Before the discovery and wide scale implementation of electric lights, night time was a non-negotiable invitation to rest; Winter with its longer and colder nights was a insistence that we find our own sort of dormancy.  For most of us however, we can’t resist the temptation to shake the snow globe…to stir up a little more chaos when the environment is asking us to slow down.  There is a part of us that seems to thrive on disarray.  We believe that if there is a lack of agitation things will wither and atrophy.  Or perhaps they will fall apart completely.  I have the sense that we subconsciously view our lives as Velcro.  We feel the need to encourage our rough edges so that things will remain fastened together and stable:  A sort of hyper vigilance.  While summer may call for more texture and more stimulation, winter actually asks us for the opposite.  Winter is a time for smoothness and calm; more the smooth surface of a frozen lake than the choppy cacophony of a summer barbecue.  We may have a suspicion that without the frequent agitation of intervention that things may fall apart.  If left unattended chaos will unravel all of our hard work. But winter has its own song.  It is more like a smooth set of magnets that work best with unperturbed surfaces. The smoothness helps them function properly.  This is winter’s  invitation.  

Most of us are still a little afraid of the dark, just as we are afraid of the quiet.  There are some demons that only tend to show up when the light wanes and there is less noise.  I think that the winter holidays, as they are commonly celebrated in the west, are as much a frightened refusal to dance with the darkness, as a jolly celebration.  We shake winter up to create enough a diversion that we don’t have to listen to the darkness as it shares its secrets.  Winter offers its gifts freely, we have but to accept the wisdom it offers.  We are meant to make the most of this time.  Eventually the sun will regain the reigns and the snow globes will go back into the box until next year.

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