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Winter Wisdom

Though writing is one of my favorite pastimes, its been over a year since I've indulged in this blog. I have been busy with acupuncture treatments and cosmology readings, learning and teaching, travel, moving my practice downtown, friends and family visiting, and a newly ignited love of dance (after a 20 year hiatus!).

Also, the first half of this Wood Goat year brought significant challenges, in comparison to the previous Wood Horse year, which was a bit smoother for me (read here and watch here if you are curious about this cosmological perspective). I'm grateful to report that the end of this year is offering more ease and joy. This Wood Goat flavor is sublime: the sweet love of friendship, community, connection, and creativity. I am again reminded that this love is our fortitude. And at the end of the day, we have little control over many events, but we have each other, and we have resilience, and this makes or breaks the richness and contentment of our small human lives.

So just as I'm learning with dance, whatever muscles you haven't exercised are going to be a little weak until you are consistent again; this is true with writing too!  But as we enter winter, season of "water" in the Chinese medical system, I'm re-visting this writing muscle, as I'm called back to the invitation of reflection. Awkward, and necessary. This is how we transform the chaos and darkness of the winter/water element into the cultivation of wisdom. Water, like winter, the end of life, aging and death, has its own challenges and opportunities. It informs us of all that is available to our lives, bodies, and most importantly our perspective (which informs the rest first). What does it have to teach?

Since the current style of reading and writing demands a reasonable fit to our shortened attention spans, I will offer a list. My concern with such a list is that it's yet another attempt at "fixing" ourselves and our lives (when we aren't actually broken!). But I'm also committed to the digestibility of what I have to offer. It's like I tell patients when they wonder why I only put in a few needles, or why the nutrient-dense calorie content of diet matters; more isn't always better!

So here are 5 health opportunities offered, for your transformation, from winter and the water element. In the midst of holiday intensity, which leaves many of us feeling conflicted and lonely, I'm so grateful to remember the true grace and enormous support of this season. If we use it well, it can be like money in the "energy bank": nourished and met, we have so much more to offer ourselves and thus each other. Chinese Medicine is always looking at the long view, from the viewpoint of reciprocity. Our conduct and our world are meeting and making each other, nothing separate. A simpler way of saying this is if we listen to ourselves and meet those needs, we are nicer and life is easier!

5 Winter Health Tips from Chinese Medicine

1. Practice the "Yoga of No"
Leaving the Bay Area (CA) for Vermont, I hoped to find inherent simplicity; a slower, simpler life. Though this is truly more available in Vermont, I'm still amazed by the myriad of social and professional options and opportunities.  Constant choice is a dangerous modern gift; indeed we are incredibly lucky to have so much available to us. And there is a price; what we gain in options, we lose in simplicity, the contentment of just being, the nourishment of a nervous system at rest. As a remedy, my teacher suggested "practicing the yoga of no"; each time you say "no thank you" to an invitation for excess doing and going, you bring your energy back to yourself, and open up space for simplicity and ease.

2. Lead with Joy
I often recommend this powerful practice to my patients; use the first 5-10 minutes when you wake up in the morning to experience the simple and powerful joy of being embodied. Specifically, notice what you love, what feels good; the soft bed, cool sheets, light coming through the window, your quiet home, the excitement of tea or coffee coming, all the parts of your body that don't hurt, just as a few examples. At the end of the day (or the beginning, in this case!), wisdom is so simple we constantly miss it; like the opportunity to love the body and life we are in, from the minute we open our eyes!

3. Nourishing Food
Not smoothies and salad; in the winter, everything slows down, and the body asks for "pre-digestion"; this is what cooking, fermenting, stewing and slow-roasting provide. If food is broken down a bit before we ingest it, our body doesn't have to work as hard, then we can store that energy instead of using it (spring and summer is for planting and growing; fall and winter is for harvesting and storing). So focusing on soups and stews (my favorite health staple bone broth of course), cooked and nutrient-dense vegetables, grass-fed/pastured meat and eggs, soaked/sprouted grains, and warm beverages, with salads and fruit on the side, holding off on iced drinks and raw food until summer.

4. Creative Outlet
We are here to create. So much so, that we can't help but to do it; from the forming of a thought to a sentence, to making a meal, to imagining our lives whether for the next hour or decade. Capitalist culture fundamentally drives us toward production, sometimes sacrificing our basic need to be creative as regularly as we eat and sleep. So find your outlet; for some of us it's as vast as performance, and for others it's as simple as drawing a sweet picture on a note to someone you love. Water shows us how creativity takes a myriad of forms and has endless options; from ice to condensation, giant and loud ocean waves to a drop of dew on the tip of a blade of grass.

5. Power of Observation
The wisest thing we can do is watch. I often get this feeling looking at the lake and trees; they sit there so wisely, as we rush around like a bunch of ants, thinking the building of our particular hill is so very important. Meanwhile the seasons come and go, the lake hardens and then breaks, the trees bloom and shed, life itself doesn't care about our drama! So we can practice this too, and its a powerful form of love. I watch discomforts, anxieties, pains, and habits, arising and passing like a winter storm. I watch the thoughts, some embarrassingly judgmental, others tiringly mean to myself, those old patterns. The more I watch, the less I'm blown around, and they hold no more power over my sense of myself or my actions. This is love; we can't "try to love ourselves," but we can observe all that is not love, giving it less importance, moving on to loving all that is easy to love, all around us.

I wish for you the satisfying contentment that can come from practicing reflection, as we enter another dark winter. Know that as a practitioner and fellow stumbling human, I am here to support you with the potent medicine of wisdom, nature, and love. Please don't hesitate to contact me with comments, questions, and any health challenge you'd like help meeting. I'm here with you and for you!