Nature is my teacher- Evergreens in winter- Preserving essence and following our natural way, 11/ 22/ 10

As fall makes way for winter here in the NW (our first snow arrived yesterday), I was out walking and observed the various states of the plants, the trees in particular. In our region, we are blessed to be surrounded by so many beautiful evergreens, though we have many deciduous trees as well.
The natural way of life when the cold (yin) seasons begin to dominate is to recede into the interior. Vitality retreats into the roots so that it may survive the harshness of fall storms and winter cold. Then, as the yang begins to ascend in spring, vitality moves outward and new growth resumes.
The deciduous trees teach us a lesson about how to live in harmony with the natural changes in the rhythm of life. When the conditions are favorable, they burst forth with life and grow. As the conditions become unfavorable, they retreat into the roots and wait. For us as people to live in this manner, following the nature of the universe, is a deep thing, perhaps the deepest thing in the world.
Yet the evergreens teach us a different lesson. They are able to preserve their vitality in an expressed state even through the harshest of winters. We see this reflected in the foliage that remains through the yin seasons. They maintain their vibrant color all year long. How is it that they can achieve this? By preserving their essence and following their own nature. Even in the dead stillness and frozen grip of winter the evergreens shine forth like it was a summer day. If we as people can learn to preserve our essence and not let our quiet be disturbed by the noise that surrounds us, maintain our center amidst the constant transformations that surround us, discover our true nature and not stray from it, this is an even deeper thing, beyond this world.

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

Acupuncture as preventive/ long term medicine: How do I know when its time for an acupuncture treatment? 11/ 2/ 10

In this post, I would like to address an issue that I feel those of us who are recipients of acupuncture should investigate. When using acupuncture as a form of preventative medicine-or perhaps the phrase “for maintenance of wellness” is a better way of putting it- how do we know when to come in for a treatment?

One of the challenges that we face is that we have become out of touch with our body and with our self. We live in a fast paced, high stress society that is becoming more and more cerebral and increasingly wired to electronics. We must learn to reconnect to our body, re-learn how to listen to its messages. Regarding a few simple practices that may help us to this end, please see my post about quiet sitting and/ or write me an email and ask for a copy of my free article “10 Easy Ways to Improve your Health” where this is given more in depth attention. For now, I just want to share a few obvious indicators that we can watch for. So…

I know it is time for me to get an acupuncture treatment because: something has changed!

– I had several headaches in the last week or two (it wasn’t just a random headache), and that is not normal for me.

– I didn’t sleep well last night, and come to think of it, I haven’t been sleeping that well lately.

– My digestion/ elimination feels off, and it’s not because I ate something bad. If it was from something I ate, I would probably know right away, and it would have cleared up within a couple days.

– I’ve been feeling really tired lately for no apparent reason. Or, I’ve been feeling really wired and energetic lately: I can’t calm down.

– Come to think of it, I think I’ve been feeling stuck lately. This one particular emotion seems to keep coming up, even when there’s no real reason that it should.

– I’ve been getting angry easily lately. I’ve been feeling anxious lately. I’ve been feeling tense/ wound up for no reason lately. I feel like I can’t get over this emotion and it is starting to consume me.

– I keep getting sick lately. It’s like I can’t get over this bug or my immune system is down.

– I just feel a little off, I’m not sure exactly what it is. I just don’t feel like myself.

– Everything is great. I noticed that the season changed and figured it’s probably about time for my seasonal treatment.

When everything is going smoothly, I usually recommend people come in once every 1-3 months for a tune-up. This helps to ensure that things continue to flow smoothly, and when something comes up we may increase the frequency until it is cleared up. Often we will find that some seasons present us with no trouble, while others are more difficult.

Though we are accustomed to only seek medical care when something is wrong, we must learn to see and take note of the bigger picture of our lives when we make decisions that concern our health. We are used to taking in our cars for their tune-up and oil change every 3 months. How much more so should we care for our body, the one machine that we can’t do without- the one that is irreplaceable if we run it in to the ground.
If we come to our practitioner for treatment of a specific issue, we will most likely set up some sort of schedule such as weekly treatment for 4-6 weeks (or maybe 10 sessions) and then re-evaluate. Though we may come in for shoulder pain (or anything else) we often notice that there are many beneficial subtle effects from the acupuncture- we feel more at ease, things that used to stress us out no longer do, other aches and pains seem to clear up, our system begins to function better. We feel more like ourself… These are good things.
Don’t just live, live well

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

Quiet Sitting: Restoring our Center, Returning to our Root- Thoughts on Meditation and Self Expression, 10/ 26/ 10

I would like to share a few thoughts on quiet sitting. I usually try to keep these posts concise, but I’m going to let this one go, so please humor me. I am intentionally not using the word meditation because I think sometimes we put ourselves on the wrong track by deciding that “now we will meditate.” That being said, we can call it meditation, contemplation, relaxing, resting, kicking back, practicing awareness- the name or word that we use isn’t important.

The impetus for this post is an ongoing discussion that I have shared with many people in many forms over the years, and that I expect will continue as long as there is life. I think the essence of this discussion, the seed of all this commotion and despair is: How would I like to express my self in this life I’m living? and its shadow- how do I express myself in this life? (are they one and the same?)

It is a question of what we do with ourselves in our short time in this world- what do I do for fun, for work, for artistic expression, where do I shop, what clothes do I wear, which scenes do I fit into, who’s advice do I follow, what foods do I eat? which crowds do I run with…which all boil down to: WHO AM I?

I think its good to check in with ourselves every so often to evaluate: Does my life give me fulfillment or leave me feeling empty? Do I like what I do? Am I spending most of my time doing things that I don’t like to do so that I can have a few minutes of pleasure once or twice a week? If any of these questions bring up negative feelings, maybe we can put some creative energy into finding a more positive alternative. It may not be easy, but with hard work over time, we all have the capacity to build the life that we want to live, the life that expresses who we really are, not the compromised version that we settle for when we feel discouraged.

OK, enough rambling- let’s get back to sitting. What’s the connection here? If we want to build something, we need to know what we are building. Try sketching out a plan for building an ejkir. Hard to do, because ejkir is a random group of letters that doesn’t represent anything in reality (that I’m aware of). Without a clear vision of what we want to build we are in the dark. If we want to build a house, we at least have a picture in our mind of what a house is, and if we really want to make life easier, we can get hold of some blueprints with materials and measurements to guide our building process.

So quiet sitting- how do we know who we are, who we want to be? I think it is not by thinking, analyzing, nor by beating our head against the wall trying to decide. If we can restore our center, reconnect with our deeper being, tap into our root; then the branches- the things we do (for work, for exercise, for fun)- these are all expressions of our self- they will be grounded in our root, and will become more clear. We can decide from a place of peace, a place of strength, which branches to trim and which to cultivate. Sometimes there is no way to know until we put some time and energy into growing a branch. But come next fall the leaves drop and life recedes into the roots. And the following spring life’s energy will come back into some branches and others will fall dead- abandoned because they no longer serve the greater vision of the life-being that is this plant.

so take a little time every day (maybe 20 minutes?) to sit quietly, by yourself with no music, and feel your body. feel the breath coming in, listen to the sound of the air moving through your nostrils. feel all the parts that make up the whole. sit quietly, but you don’t have to be still. move if your legs need to stretch, sit in any position you like, on the ground, in a chair, on a couch- stand if you like. there’s no way to get it wrong- if you get distracted just return to listening to your breath. give yourself this quiet space every day for a week and see how it goes. maybe you’ll like it and continue doing it, maybe just sometimes, maybe you’ll think its a waste of time. but what’s 20 minutes- that’s all it is, just 20 minutes.

may we all find a way that brings us peace and fulfillment.

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

How to Make a Medicinal Herbal Tea- Tips to Making your Natural Home Remedies More Effective, 10/ 17/ 10

I’d like to share a few thoughts on making medicinal teas from various types of plants. These are a few simple tips to make your home remedies more effective.
We should keep in mind that when making a medicinal tea, this is not the same thing as making a beverage tea. A medicinal tea must be much stronger, and at times may taste bad (add a little honey to sweeten the taste if necessary). Use a larger portion of herbs, and give them more time to steep/ decoct. The liquid should have a strong color and taste when it is ready. Sometimes we need a little bitter medicine to help us feel better in the long run.

1) Leaves and flowers: Many herbs and plants have flowers and leaves with medicinal properties that can benefit us. When we make a tea or decoction from these parts of the plant, we must remember that there are beneficial essential oils that are lost when we boil them. For this reason it is better to use water that is 30 seconds off (below) boiling point. For a tea, take the water off of the heat and pour into your pot over the flowers and leaves, cover the lid, and let steep for 10 minutes. If you are adding leaves or flowers to a decoction, add them at the end for not more than a few minutes and keep the lid on.

2) Roots and bark: These parts of the plant should be boiled (decocted). Depending on if they are fresh or dried, you may want to decoct these medicinals anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. If they are dried herbs, a longer decoction time is appropriate. For example, when I make ginger tea from fresh ginger root, I will often boil the root for 15-20 minutes. If I am making a decoction of dried Chinese herbs, I usually cook them for 45-60 minutes.

3) Quantity- Not only should you make your herbal teas strong, you should ingest them frequently- 2-5 times a day depending on what the herbs are and what you are using them for. A single cup of weak tea is usually not enough to be effective. Have a strong cup at least 2 or 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, evening). Depending on the situation, some general guidelines are to take your herbs 5 days in a row and then take 2 days off. Or a week on, a week off. Or a month on, then 2 weeks off. These variations depend on which herbs you are taking, if it is for an acute or chronic condition, and how you respond to the specific herbs.

Consult an experienced herbal medicine practitioner before embarking on a self- prescribed herbal program.

There are many books and teachers out there that deal with plant/ food medicine. The two books that I find myself consulting the most right now are “The Way of Herbs” by Michael Tierra, and “Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford.

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

Nature is my Teacher- Mushrooms in the Fall; The Importance of Timing and the Environment in our Lives, 9/ 26/ 10

The rain is arriving to the nw, and the temperature is dropping. In these early days of fall, each rain brings a proliferation of mushrooms and fungi. We often walk right by these amazing organisms. Literally over night a bare field may awake to find itself covered in mushrooms, and a few days later they will disappear.
As I was foraging for wild edibles with some friends the other day, a lesson was brought to light that I think we all know, but too often forget.
We made several stops- First we found a patch of Birch boleets under some Birch trees. The next 2 sites didn’t yield much at all. One was a perfect spot, but we were perhaps a few days or a week too late. The next was not as appropriate of an ecosystem, and the timing was off- we found nothing.
Finally we came to our last spot, a north facing slope with mature forest, most covered earth etc. Prime conditions for mushrooms. And our timing was better in this location.
What can we learn from this? 2 important lessons:

1) The importance of putting ourselves in the proper environment so that we can flourish.

When the conditions are right, life flourishes of its own accord. Things happen easily, and we happily go about our business and everything is smooth. We are in harmony with the rhythm of life. A mushroom will never grow in the desert. If we are not living in an environment that supports who we are and nourishes the best parts of us, we will suffer, our growth will be stifled, and we won’t be able to find the nourishment that sustains us. When we live in the right environment, everything feeds us just what we need. Birch boleets grow under Birch trees, not Cedars. Its their nature.
If things are such a struggle and we feel like our growth is being stifled, sometimes one thing we can do is examine our environment- both the physical environment around us and even more so the community in which we live. Are we around people that share common goals with us? That support our growth in healthy ways? That give us the strength to be ourselves in the best ways? That give us encouragement to change our bad habits into good ones? That help us develop our weaknesses into strengths?

We should all give each other the strength to continue growing healthy and positive ways.

2) The importance of timing.

Even in the most perfect of conditions, if the timing is off life cannot grow. A flower that blooms too early will be killed by the frost. A fall mushroom will never sprout in summer. They wait and they wait, and then just when the stage is set perfectly- the temperature is not too hot or too cold, the moisture is just right- they come out and they flourish. It seems to come naturally to other organisms, but for us humans it can seem so difficult to get the timing right. Yet if we can settle ourselves down, if we can reconnect with the rhythm of life I think we will find that things will become much less of a struggle and we won’t feel so much like we are paddling upstream.

You’ll know when the time is right, trust yourself.

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

Seasonal Eating, Seasonal Living: A Good Way to Stay Healthy, 9/ 24/ 10

The other day a mycologist friend took me out mushroom picking. In a few hours we found a bag full of boleets and chantrels and cooked them up that same day and had a fresh, delicious feast. (note- don’t pick wild mushrooms unless you are an expert or your harvest has been supervised and approved by someone who knows what they are doing!).

This brings up a great point that I would like to share with you. The value of seasonal eating. As the year goes through its cycles, and the seasons rise and fall, we the living creatures of Earth also go through cycles. Our needs shift with the seasons, and it is healthy for us to be mindful of these changes and to adjust our behavior accordingly.
Generally speaking, the food that will give us the most nutritional value and the type of nutrients we need most at any given time, is what is in season locally. Nature knows how to provide for us, we just need to learn to listen.
In the summer, fruits are abundant. The vital energy is on the surface, in the fruits. Fruits generally speaking have a yin, cooling cleansing property. In the heat this is beneficial, but in winter we shouldn’t eat so much fruit.
In the fall, we need to start gathering in our vitality so it can be preserved through the winter. Just like the plants that shed their leaves and retreat into the depths of their roots, so for us it is a time to move inside and to consolidate and refine ourselves. Fall is a great time to eat squash and other vegetables that are in season, and in particular root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, beets, radishes. As the plants shift their vital energy into their roots in the fall, it is the roots that will provide the most nourishing sustenance. Of course the fall fruits such as apples and pears are great right now as well. (And I can’t forget the fresh mushrooms popping up all over the nw).
Fall/ late summer is also traditionally when the big salmon runs happen in the nw, as well as hunts to prepare for the winter. For those of us who eat fish or meat, the fall and winter are times when this diet is more appropriate. We don’t need to eat meat for every meal or every day, but a small portion a few times a week can be beneficial. For those of us who are vegetarian and don’t eat meat or fish, nuts and legumes (ex. almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, split peas, beans etc) and whole grains can provide us with that heartier sustenance that will help us build our reserves for the cold season.
In winter, life is still, resting. We should also rest, allowing ourselves to sleep more in order to recharge ourselves so we can be full of energy when the growing seasons return. Winter is a time when nature lives off of its stores. We can benefit from the yang warming and building type of hearty sustenance- whole grains, nuts, legumes, root vegetables, fish, meat, etc. Soups are great to keep us warm, as are stews. We can benefit from our evolution today because we can find fresh vegetables in our markets that in the past were not available. A guiding principle is to eat the more yang, warming and building foods, and not too much of the yin cooling dispersing foods such as fruits.
In spring the shoots come out. The vital energy is bursting forth from the depths. We can come out of our hibernation refreshed and hungry to take on the new growing season, ready for our new growth. Following what is in season, we can eat leafy greens, sprouts etc. It is a good time to lighten up our diet and clean out the residue built up from winter. We should be more active, and get outside.
More on this as the seasons progress.

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

Nature is my Teacher, 9/ 3/ 10

It is late summer, the fruits are full, the sun is still shining, there is dew on the grass in the morning, and the nights are getting chilly. We are reaching the end of the growing seasons (spring and summer), and entering the resting periods (fall and winter), times for growth of a different kind, the internal. Although the sun’s calendar begins on the winter solstice, one might say that we are at the end of the Earth’s year.

One lesson I see in this is that the plants drop their seeds now, but the seeds don’t sprout until next spring. This teaches us about the importance of being prepared, of thinking ahead, of having a vision or plan for the coming year. Of setting the stage and knowing our goal before we embark on our next journey or project or chapter.
Yet at the same time, we must have the patience to wait for the right timing, for the proper conditions in which our new seeds may flourish. The seeds that sprout too early will not survive the last frosts and the lack of appropriate conditions such as sunshine and warmth and not too much rain. The last several years we have seen this in February in the northwest, with brief warm spells that entice an early bloom, only for the young plants to die off when the march frosts returned. The perfect plan executed with poor timing will fail.

Reflecting nature, now is a good time to reflect on last year, and to think about our vision for the coming year… Where do we want to be? What will it take to get us there? What aspects of life to we want to keep from last year, what do we want to let go…

patience, one step at a time…

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

Health Advice for Transitioning into the Cold Seasons, 8/ 31/ 10

Today the clouds and rain are here, and it leads me to reflect…
As late summer is peaking and transitioning towards fall, it is important for us to observe the changes in nature and reflect them in our own lives and habits. Late summer is a time of fullness, of stillness, of the harvest. Life has been outside, but it is getting ready to move inwards for the cold seasons. Yet it is still full, the fruits are ripe and ready to eat. It is a good time to clean up the yard, to take care of those unfinished projects, to reflect on what we have done over the past year, to enjoy the fruits of those labors, and to begin thinking about how we will approach the coming year.
The cold seasons provide time for inner work, for creative activities like the arts, for learning about new things, for reading, for indoor activities. So especially in the NW where it is such a long cold season, I think it is important to get outside as much as we can in these last few weeks of nice weather. This will help carry us through the rainy season.
This is also a time when animals in nature put on that extra layer of fat for the winter. We may not like this idea so much ourselves, but it is a natural part of the season- fruits and vegetables are plentiful, it is a good time for sharing group meals etc. So don’t be too hard on yourself about it. Spring and summer are really the natural times to get active and try to lose weight, we are now getting into the seasons of more internal work.
So take those walks, try to get up into the mountains if you can, take time to reflect, to enjoy the stillness, enjoy and give thanks for the abundance of fruits and vegies, and take in those last rays of sunshine!

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0

Advice for Summer Colds, 8/ 16/ 10

A few people have recently asked me for advice on getting over a summer cold, so I wanted to share a quick and easy tea recipe to help you clear out your summer sniffles. This is for a mild cold that may include head or neck- aches, possibly mild fever or chills, and runny nose or congestion.
1) boil water
2) Once the water reaches boiling temperature, take it off the heat and let it cool for 30 seconds (this is the best way to prepare teas made from leaves or flowers).
3) Add mint leaves, ideally fresh, and cover. Use a loose handful (6-10 leaves). When we make medicinal teas, we make them stronger than a normal beverage.
4) Let the tea steep for 5-10 minutes, add a tablespoon of honey, stir, and drink.
You can drink this throughout the day, but I recommend at least 3 times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening).

If you are feeling strong, you can also try eating spicy foods (like chilies). Then cover yourself up in clothing or a blanket in order to sweat out the cold. This is generally only effective in the first day or two. If you do try to sweat it out, be sure not to expose yourself to the weather for a couple hours after the sweat (and no cold bathing). Also be sure to drink lots of water to replenish your fluids. If this doesn’t work the first time, don’t try it again. Try something different. Bitter foods like radishes are also a good way to clear out the stagnant energy in the resperatory system associated with colds.
If you are feeling weak, it is better not to use purging methods as these will only make you weaker. Rather make a tea with ginger, honey, mint, perhaps a little black pepper, and a touch of cinnamon.
And as always, remember to get plenty of rest and fluids.

Posted: January 19, 2016 By: Comment: 0