New Year, New You?

With the start of every new year comes a renewed sense of hope, a chance to start afresh on a clean slate, or at least a reminder that time is passing and that this serious commitment to procrastination is not getting us where we want to go.

Thus begins the week of resolutions.

Gym memberships rise as people promise to workout more.  Diet and supplement companies increase their profits as we all pledge a new commitment to kale smoothies.  Everywhere we look, people are purchasing day planners and storage bins, closet dividers and label makers with hopes of finally obtaining that uncluttered, pristine organized life of their dreams.

Part of the problem is the expectation of going from couch potato to marathon runner overnight.  Maintaining drastic change is stressful.  It requires much bigger investments in time, finances and stamina to which we’re accustomed.  So, before we reap any of the successes, we’re taking on a lot more losses.

Although making a New Year’s Resolution work is not impossible, it can be unrealistic.  As our enthusiasm wanes, those added investments feel expensive, and soon we’re back to the comfort of procrastination mode.

Does this mean we shouldn’t even try?  Absolutely not.  We all have the capacity to change, to learn to grow and live happier, healthier lives.  We just need to change our thinking on how to approach these goals.

You have probably heard nutritionists talk about “lifestyle change” over dieting, but what does that mean?  Isn’t changing my ENTIRE lifestyle much like expecting to become a marathon runner overnight?

Yes.

That’s why most behavioral specialists will tell you that people have more long lasting success with baby steps.

So, this new year, instead of pledging to go full Paleo, instead make sure there’s a protein and a fruit or vegetable included in every meal.  If you’re a junk food junkie, even this may be too much.  Try cutting out fast food, or limiting it to one day a week.  If that’s too much, just cut out soda, french fries or whatever food is your particular trigger.  If that’s too difficult, don’t cut anything out.  Instead add healthy foods, like leafy green vegetables and water.

After a month, if that new gym membership hasn’t seen the light of day, consider canceling it and going for a daily walk instead.  The great thing about this is that it’s free and being outside is extremely beneficial to the psyche.  One can start by strolling short distances to slowly build stamina.  Each week, extend the length of the walk by a block or two and then try to improve on the time.  Once the body is not fatigued by an hour of movement each day, it may be time to reconsider that gym membership again… or not.

Whatever you decide, I wish you luck.

Happy New Year!

 

 

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LIVER CHANNEL, EYES & STRESS

I treat almost every patient for stress, whether they complain about it or not.  The way I see it, it’s difficult to be a human being in this modern world and not feel the effects of stress.

It’s interesting, though, how many of my patients claim that they don’t suffer from stress, even when symptom after symptom points to that direction.  Maybe it’s because we associate the word with emotional tensions and fighting or difficulty at work.  Sometimes, stress is just having a lot to do; it’s taxing the body, even in enjoyable ways.

I made it a long weekend and drove to the Bay Area to take a seminar in Classical Chinese Medical Philosophy and visit with a friend.  Just as I was about to leave on Sunday, my friend wanted another session of acupuncture.  How could I say no?  So, I ended up leaving for home a bit later than I’d originally anticipated… and thus drove six hours in the dark.  When I was nearly home, my eyes felt fairly fatigued.  So much so, I contemplated pulling over with just twenty minutes to go.

Yesterday, at work, I noticed my lower left eyelid had developed a twitch, and as the day went on, the pulsing became more regular.  I intended to treat it right away, but–as luck would have it– I was booked all day.  Coincidentally, so many patients came in with other signs of stress: frequent sighing, irritability, pain and/or tenderness just below the rib cage, menstrual issues…

“What is that?  What causes it?”  It’s Liver Qi stagnation, or a sort of energy / electrical slow down along the Liver meridian.  Think of it this way, your “fight or flight” response is activated, the initial adrenaline rush is over, but the mechanism isn’t fully turned off yet.  There’s a tightening of the tendons, maybe even a mild anxiety that accompanies it.  Acupuncture can switch off that response and allow the body to finally RELAX!

My eye-twitching is from a bit more than stress.  Twitching involves a component of something we call “Wind.”  (Haha, not to be confused with what others call “passing wind!”)  Wind can mean inflammation; it can mean an exterior pathogen (like a bacteria or a virus), and sometimes, it can literally mean “having been out in the wind.”  My weekend saw hot days and cool evenings.  Sometimes, we were caught outside in a post sunset chill without a sweater at the standby.

What’s great though is that acupuncture can usually resolve these sudden onset issues rather quickly.  Two points in the feet, two more in the neck and shoulder and three around the eye and… in the time it took me to write this blog post, the pulsing in my left eye has finally subsided.

After almost 36 hours of feeling this constant pulsing, I’m finally free of that annoyance!  I love acupuncture!!!

 

Keeping a Balanced Attitude

I’ve made the case for keeping a positive attitude.  “Where the mind goes, Qi follows.  It doesn’t benefit us to look pessimistically into the future and expect the worst.  Those who harbor old wounds may think they’re protecting themselves from further devastation by preparing for it.  If only it worked. When bad things happen, we can’t help but feel the sting, no matter if we saw it coming or no.

However, what I want to discuss in this post is the other side of the coin, the one that makes us feel like we’ve got to be calm and relaxed and happy all the time.

The best analogy I’ve heard for this was over twenty years ago from The Art of Living’s Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  Paraphrasing what I remember, he said, “Life is a river in which one bank is pure pleasure and one bank is pure pain.  We know that those that lose themselves on the side of pain and anguish are stuck, but so too are those that dock their boats on the other shore.  We want to be in bliss, and being in bliss for a time is wonderful, but stopping is stopping.  Life’s goal is to navigate the river, sometimes resting on this bank and sometimes resting on the other, but always moving forward.”

This had a profound effect on the young person I was, a Polyana, always needing to highlight the silver lining to every dark cloud, despite all the obvious pain.

One of the first things that struck me as I began to practice this medicine was all the apologizing.  “I’m so sorry that I’m not feeling well.”  “Forgive me for being a little grumpy.”  After telling me their symptoms, I’ve had patients say, “I’m sorry to burden you with that.”  I can’t seem to say this enough, “If you can’t tell your doctor that you’re not feeling great, exactly who can you tell?”

Perhaps the most heartbreaking example I’ve experienced was a few years back.  A young woman came to treat her back pain.  Her mother had died a year prior, and she was in obvious mourning.  “She wasn’t just my mother, but my best friend.  We did everything together, went everywhere together, and I don’t know how to live without her.”  Then she stopped herself and said, “But it’s been a year.  I should be over this.”

Why?  I’m not a grievance, but my own life observations have shown me that five years is a more realistic time frame for a loss such as this.

Going back to the analogy of the river, there are times when banking our little boats on the shores of despair is necessary.  Long stays may thin the skin and make the misery more absorbable, but short ones give us a place to purge.  Silt and sand belong on the shore.  In the river, it condenses and creates boulders which make the water more difficult to navigate.

Anger, when applied correctly, is cleansing.

This also holds true for smaller transitions.  Each new beginning means the end of a previous chapter.  It’s okay to mourn the loss while you celebrate the new adventure.  No boat sails a straight course on this river.

–Nisan

Spirals

In American vernacular, to say someone is spiraling assumes the negative.  They must be spiraling downward.  I’m going to make a case that it’s possible to spiral the other way.

I once had a dynamic female professor discuss Shakespeare’s Romances in terms of spirals.  It’s not difficult to argue that the characters of his tragedies spiraled downward: Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth… because the penalty for questioning one’s place is the world in these plays was always death, but she argued that in his pastoral plays, characters spiraled upward.

In his Romances, a character’s trouble often took them away from home, away from the city, into nature.  There they would learn a valuable lesson about life and then return home.  They would always return home.  “Not in a circle,” Dr. Howard would say, “but older, wiser, with an elevated perspective that allowed them to see the beginning in a whole new light, a spiral.”

What made me think of this today?  Sometimes patients complain to me about feeling stuck.  “I keep coming back to the beginning.”  “I’m not getting anywhere.”  ” I can’t believe I’m going through this again.”  Whatever it is: a new job, a new relationship, moving back to a place, realizing a newer relationship resembled and older relationship…

It’s a little different considering spirals in terms of physical ailments, like a reoccuring sinus infection or lower back pain.  I mean, Shakespeare’s characters in these plays are youngsters learning about the world, not middle aged people with bad knees.  But there are lessons here as well… the balance between inactivity and overworking, the value of rest, understanding the effects of diet and how it relates to inflammation, etc.  New problems give up the opportunity to exercise again what we’ve already learned and another chance at taking a different path out.

Thinking about it, it’s clear that life has so many upward spirals.  We may come back to the same place and feel stuck, but that’s only because we’re look at it in the old way.  We need to remember to account for the elevation.

–Nisan

NYC, Part 2

I’m not in New York City.  I’ve been back for almost a week now.

It was a great trip.  I went to the Met and saw the Book of Mormon on Broadway.  I sat in cafes and watched it snow.  I walked… a lot, and met some wonderful people.

Basically, I think that the whole goal of life is to learn to live in balance, and finding true balance takes the skill of an acrobat on a tightrope, but one that is always changing diameter.  It’s elusive because it’s always shifting.  We are not the same person second to second.  The world is not the same world.  We need the ability to ever adjust, to find our homeostasis in every atmosphere.

As much as I don’t like living in New York City, because it’s too yang, I don’t think I could ever go too long without visiting her either.  After all, every once in awhile, a person needs a good shock to the system.

–Nisan

NYC (Part 1)

I have a love hate relationship with New York City.

I love to visit.  As a city, she’s pure electricity, yang with almost no yin… bright, vibrant, loud, moving, excitement, which over time, is exhausting.

Maybe it’s because I’m slightly yin deficient that I had such a difficult time living in New York.  I used to feel that people who loved the city were people who wanted to rise up and meet all her challenges, “But,” I’d say, “I feel lost in her vastness.”  That’s not really true.  I feel bigger in New Yorker, stronger, faster, maybe even a grain meaner.  I’m more yang in New York, but being yang for a long stretch makes me tired.

Now that I’ve studied Chinese Medicine, I know that I could live in New York, but I wouldn’t live as long.  We all seek balance, and a person who is yin deficient doesn’t need to be in a city that is also yin deficient.

Anyway… that aside… I love to visit, and I’m here.  I’m staying a week, which is perfect.  I can love New York fully and wholeheartedly when it’s just for a week.  The air is brisk.  It’s been snowing, but not too much snow.  It’s perfect.  I went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on 5th Avenue and watched them deflate the big balloons at the end of the line.  There’s something really magical about this place.  Even the water tastes more crisp.  Maybe the water is more yang here too.

I had a chance to visit a former patient who tried to talk me into setting up a practice here in the city.  I smiled and told him I was flattered, but no.  I didn’t tell him that there wasn’t enough yin for me.  He invited me for Thanksgiving dinner.  Sipping wine after dinner with such intelligent people with such interesting jobs, discussing world events and politics, novels and art… I must admit, I wavered, but only for a second.

Not that anyone who reads this may care, but I would like to say for the record that I did not come to New York specifically to meet the ex.  I came, because I found a cheap flight, because I miss the city, because my former patient kindly invited me to dinner, but mostly, I came to see the Book of Mormon.  (I missed it in LA.)

Since I was here, I did meet the ex.  I was necessary and stupid, familiar and ridiculous.  I wish the man knew how to age, both in appearance and in maturity.  That’s all I’m going to say.

Anyway, I was upset immediately afterward, but I knew that all we had said was right.  I think the closet’s clean, or at least it’s cleaner than it was when I got here.

–Nisan

 

 

 

 

Cleaning Out the Past

 

I’ve always felt that just as I begin to shift into something new, something old pulls me back.

That is, just as I’m excited about a new exercise regiment, I’ll catch cold or an old dance injury will flair up.  When I started back to school, my business which had been slow and flailing for many months prior suddenly picked up pace, and I had to balance the needs of my clients with the long hours school required.

I’ve always seen it as God testing my commitment.  Are you sure you want to do this?  How sure?

So, as I am trying to focus on getting my little sappling of a business tied to a stake and stable… my ex-boyfriend’s begun calling me again.

I don’t want to go into the details of my personal life.  Let’s suffice it to say that I loved him very much.  We lived together and even planned to spend our lives together, but it didn’t work out.  It’s been nearly a decade since we split, and we’re over all the pains of separation and any need to second guess ourselves.

But… obviously… there’s something in myself that I need to address, because this sort of thing is a pattern in my life (not necessarily old boyfriends, but the push back with new beginnings).

There’s a concept in Chinese Medicine that I’m going to try to equate to this.  Hopefully it won’t sound too ludacris.

When a pathogen (be it bacterial or viral) enters the body, it generally enters from one of the organs that easily accesses the outside world.  We either breathe it in or digest it.  So, the most common ailments are a cold or a flu.  Emotionally, the lungs represent sadness, the digestive tract, worry.

We’re sad things didn’t go our way, and we worry they never will.

If we don’t resolve our issue, the pathogen moves in deeper.  Physically, this can mean a low grade fever, some slight inflammation (maybe muscle soreness or digestive trouble),or maybe something like allergies, reoccuring sinus issues or like.  Emotionally, these channels repreent anxiety or fear.

We begin to avoid the things we don’t like.

And if issue still remains unresolved, the pathogen moves even deeper.  Here’s where people develop serious ailments like heart disease or tremors, auto-immune disorders or psychological issues.  Emotionally, these channels represent anger, agitation, even feeling manic.

This is when we bitch like a crazy person about those things we don’t like.

And if the issue continues to remain unresolved–it becomes a part of our constitution.  We become a person who has this illness, or a person who has this personality.

I certainly ran the gammat back when this ex and I were breaking up.  I was furious with him for some time, but I thought I’d let it all go.

Apparently, for either or both of our sakes, we need to make sure all the closets are clean before we can move forward with any grace.  So, here’s to cleaning out the past!

–Nisan

one acupuncturist's world view