The Importance of Stretching in Maintaining Muscle Health and Balance.

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I usually talk about the importance of balancing the body’s energy to maintain optimal health and wellness but stretching is equally important to keep muscles elongated and firing correctly.

There seems to be a lot of people with tight IT bands and low back discomfort lately. This is not unusual since it is the season of gallbladder, and part of the gallbladder meridian follows the exact path of the IT band. During spring, the subtle energies of nature are most active in gallbladder and liver meridians, and any stagnation or blockage in these pathways can create pain and discomfort.

The beginning of the warm weather also brings out sandals and flip flops, which can create tight calf muscles and sore feet. When the legs are tight the vital energy becomes blocked and can’t rise up the back of the body. The blood flow follows energy, and it will also be stagnant; this creates discomfort and pain.

Bodywork therapy can balance the energy and unblock the energy flow but sometimes stretching can also alleviate some of the problem. If the imbalance is not too great stretching may solve the discomfort.

There are two books which I refer to for stretching exercises; they are: Comprehensive Myofascial Self Treatment by Joyce Karnis, and The Permanent Pain Cure by Ming Chew. They both offer a lot of stretching exercises for specific problem areas. These books are valuable not only for correcting muscle spasm but also for maintaining balance after bodywork sessions. Maintaining health and wellness is a personal journey. Having resources to help us makes the journey easier.

The End of Summer

This is the time of year that I see many people with tight calves and feet.Everyone is more physically active during the summer months and many times are spending most of their time in sandals or barefoot and may not be hydrating sufficiently.

Since everything is connected in our body-mind, when the energy flow in the lower body is stuck or blocked, you can experience back and hip pain or discomfort.  Blocked energy in the lower body can also create tight neck and shoulders. When the body’s energy is flowing freely, we experience a feeling of wellbeing, and our aches and pains diminish.  Having your energy balanced at the end of each season will boost your immune system and prepare you for the weather changes to come.

Health and the Free Flow of Emotions

I have been a bodyworker for more than 20 years, and I understand how important it is to have our electromagnetic energy balanced and flowing freely. When I talk about the body’s energy that is what I am referring to. This energy can easily be measured in allopathic medicine by an ECG (electrocardiogram) and EEG (electroencephalogram).

When we are scheduled for these tests, we usually have had an imbalance for an extended period. As a bodyworker, I am interested in maintaining health at an optimum level. This includes body, mind, and spirit. There are many facets to maintaining health: exercise, eating healthy (pesticide-free food), getting quality rest, engaging in activities that you love (whether work or play), and maintaining healthy relationships.

A large part of maintaining healthy relationships is having free flow of our emotions. As humans we experience a myriad of emotions every day, it is a normal and healthy occurrence. The difficulty comes when we get stuck in an emotion because we were not able to fully express our thoughts and feelings. The emotions which create this situation most of the time are anger, worry, and grief.

When we experience some type of trauma or loss, if we are unable to fully process it, the memory gets stored in our cells. This phenomenon is called cellular memory. The stress of the trauma can create blocks in our energy flow which may create both physical and psychological symptoms.

People who have suffered a loss may have trouble taking deep breaths, insomnia, fits of depression, and no desire to participate in any type of activity or to socialize. Those who are stuck in anger may develop resentment which may interfere with all their interactions with others and develop some physical symptoms as well.

The energy pathways correspond to different emotions:

  • Liver – anger
  • spleen – worry
  • lung – grief
  • kidney – fear
  • heart & pericardium – heartfelt issues.

When your energy is balanced during a session, different emotions and memories can rise to the surface. These emotions come up to be released. The body is wanting to heal itself and release the painful memories. When a person can breathe through the memory and express the emotion, they begin the healing process.

My experience has been, that pain which is caused by overworked muscles or pushing the body too hard will release easily. When there is an emotion attached to the physical pain, the pain will not subside until the person has some awareness of the stuck emotion and the event that created it. What I have learned is that everyone can heal if they are committed to their healing process.

Winter – the Time of Water Element

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The energy pathways most active this time of year are Bladder and Kidney. Winter is a time of quiet reflection and nurturing our bodies to ready them for the increased activity of spring. If we do not rest and renew our energy, we will be exhausted when the increased energy demands of spring are upon us.

The emotion associated with this season is fear. In this difficult time in our country, fear is quite palpable. People are afraid to leave their homes and meet with friends and family. They are confused and frightened about taking a vaccine and about their future freedoms.

Everyone must make their own decisions on these matters and do what they are comfortable with, but we must remember that nurturing ourselves is vitally important. When we live seasonally according to nature’s example our health improves.

During Winter it is important to:

  • Get plenty of rest (7-8 hours a night). This will support our adrenals and our immune system.
  • Not overdo activity, take time to rest during your day.
  • Eat warming, hearty foods such as soups and stews.
  • Dress for the weather, avoid overexposure to cold.
  • Include some type of exercise into your routine. Yoga and Tai Chi include movement with a meditative mindset.
  • Renew your faith, whatever it may be, and replace fear with hope.

Find ways to connect with family and friends, if not safely in person, then through facetime or zoom. Support your immune system with healthy supplements, such as vitamin C, D, and Zinc. Remember one thing to count on is that our situation will change. We must remain positive and not give into fear.

Supporting Our Immune System During Winter

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During winter, the energy in nature moves downward and inward. Trees and plants lose their leaves as their energy moves back into the earth to rest. They will conserve their energy waiting for the rebirth of spring.
We are also part of nature, and to maintain health during this season we need to pull back and conserve our energy. This is a time for rest, contemplation, and storage. It is a time for reflection, meditation, and gentle exercise, such as tai chi and yoga.

Our energy needs to be conserved because it can be easily depleted during winter. The energy pathways most active currently, are kidney and bladder and they are sensitive to damage by cold. It is important to dress for the weather and keep our bodies warm, especially the low back and core. If you are outside during a windy, cold day; protect your head, back of the neck, and shoulders.

It is also important to get more sleep. Days are shorter, and like nature, we should go to bed earlier.

Nourishing Foods for Winter

  • Root vegetables
  • Soups and stews
  • Legumes
  • Spices such as, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, and cloves will warm the body.
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Vitamin C, D and Zinc help support a healthy immune system
  • Limit sugar intake which is harmful to the immune.
  • Drink plenty of water

It also helps to exercise, reduce stress, and keep your body balanced with acupressure or acupuncture.

More Chinese Medicine Tips for Winter

The Bladder Meridian is the longest and most influential of all the energy pathways since it crosses all the other meridians. During winter the energies are most active in Bladder and Kidney Meridians; this is the time of the water element. When the Bladder Meridian is out of balance both physical and emotional symptoms can occur.

Some physical symptoms associated with an imbalance in the Bladder Meridian are: headaches, urinary problems (i.e. frequent urination, incontinence), back pain, eye pain, colds. Emotional symptoms of Bladder Imbalance include: being fearful and inflexible, low energy, resisting change and a persistent negative attitude.

The Bladder Meridian is closely aligned with the autonomic nervous system because it runs down the entire length of the spine with two branches on either side of the backbone. These four branches directly influence the sympathetic and parasympathetic trunks of the autonomic nervous system which regulate our flight or fight response and all the body’s basic functions.

In today’s stressful world many people have overly stimulated sympathetic nervous systems; creating a constant state of fear or anxiety. Over time this anxiety tightens the muscles of the spine creating pain. Back tension and pain can be relieved by stimulating the energy flow along the Bladder Meridian.

Opening the energy channels of the Bladder Meridian will create a state of total relaxation and switch the autonomic nervous system over to the restful parasympathetic mode. Having your energy balanced with acupressure or acupuncture will positively affect both body and mind.

Navigating the Holidays

Christmas displayThe holiday season can be joyous but also challenging. There is so much to do and so little time. Spending time with family and friends can bring up wonderful memories and memories that are not so wonderful. Keeping our emotional balance is most important. Try not to overdo, stay in the present moment, get plenty of rest and know your limits. At the end of another year, it is time for reflection. Not just on the past but also on how we want to live our lives going forward. It is time for letting go of that which no longer serves us. Old grievances or hurts only bring us down if we hang on to them. Forgiveness frees us.

In this world of multitasking, violence, and chaos we need to create a peaceful space; space where we can find clarity, creativity, and calm. Whether we find this space in meditation, bodywork, yoga or just long walks it will rejuvenate us and make our journey so much better.

Wishing Everyone a Wonderful Holiday Season!

Tips for Optimum Health during Summer

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The season of summer is one of maximum energy and heat. It is represented by the fire element. Nature is in full bloom as the energy moves outward. It is also a time for us to be more outgoing and enjoy being with friends and spending time outdoors.

The fire element rules the heart, mind, and spirit. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is associated with mental activity, memory, emotional well-being, and thought processes. The emotion associated with the fire element is joy. This is a time to relax and enjoy the warm weather.

Some symptoms of imbalance in the fire element are agitationheartburn, insomnia, and nervousness.

Tips for staying healthy in summer:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Awaken earlier in the morning
  • Go to bed later in the evening
  • Rest at midday
  • eat light, cooling foods

Some foods that help the body stay cool are

  • watermelon
  • apricot
  • lemon
  • asparagus
  • sprouts
  • cucumber
  • spinach
  • snow peas
  • mint

Take Time to Recharge

relaxationWe’ve spoken about the progression of the seasons with winter being the time to rest and conserve our energy and spring a time of activity and expanding our energy. If you are a person who was unable to rest and recharge during the winter months, you may be feeling worn thin by now. When our bodies are continually exhausted our immune system is weakened and we can easily get sick.

Our exhaustion is not just physical but many times physical, mental and emotional. This is a good description of modern-day stress.

Here are some tips to alleviate this cycle of exhaustion.

  • Try to get to bed around the same time every night. The routine will help the body to relax.
  • A few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow can promote relaxation.
  • Try to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night.
  • To calm your mind, write down any to do lists or things to remember before you go to bed. Get these thoughts out of your head and onto paper. You can also keep a pen and paper on your nightstand if your thoughts wake you up.
  • Develop the habit of deep breathing. Breathe from the bottom of your diaphragm. You can’t deep breathe and be stressed at the same time.
  • Do some type of exercise, yoga, walking, running, etc. at least 3 times a week.
  • Meditation is wonderful for self-realization. If you are stuck in your head, you may not be aware of exhaustion until it overcomes you.
  • Have your energy balanced or have some type of bodywork.
  • Take care of your body; it’s the only one you have.

Herbs that Support a Strong Immune System

Last week I spoke about the importance of a strong immune system to prevent illness and maintain good health. To continue with that theme, there are eight herbs that Chinese Medicine considers invaluable to bring balance and boost the immune system.
They are:

  • Echinacea- anti-viral and anti-bacterial
  • Astragalus- fights stress and can improve blood count
  • Honeysuckle Forsythia- good for lungs and stomach
  • Garlic- anti-oxidant
  • Elderberry-good anti-inflammatory
  • Andrographis-fights infection
  • Ginger- antihistamine, and decongestant
  • Medicinal Mushrooms- i.e. shitake, reishi, maitake

When taking any herbs, it’s always good to consult with an acupuncturist or herbalist to get the correct formulation.

You can read more here: herbs to boost immunity