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Winter Solstice

December 18, 2010

Around this time of the year our natural world experiences a cyclic energetic shift: the Winter Solstice: darkness giving way to light. During these days you may observe that Nature feels silent as if awaiting the shift….

Would you like to take a deep breath now?….How are you feeling today?

If we pay attention to life during Winter, we will observe that “all things in Nature wither, return home, hide and enter a resting period. This is a time when Yin dominates Yang. Therefore Chinese Medicine suggests that we be mindful on how we use our Yang ( or “go-go) energy” . To harmonize with the season we may want to emphasize the Yin aspects of our body and mind: we allow ourselves to be more receptive, introspective and storage oriented.
Warm, hearty soups, whole grains and roasted nuts sound good on cold days. Dried foods, small dark beans, seaweeds and steamed winter greens fortify the Kidneys (the organ that corresponds to winter time according to Chinese Medicine). You may want to cook foods longer, at lower temperatures and with less water. Thich Nhat Hanh’s wise teachings recommend us to eat mindfully. Here is one out of many of the beautiful verses that we can “digest” as we eat: “In this food I see clearly the presence of the entire Universe supporting my existence” .

During this shift in Nature’s metabolism, fresh energies are issued forth which we can use to help us prepare for the upcoming cycle and for physical and spiritual renewal. The Renewal Ceremony is a supportive practice to do at this time in front of your shrine or facing the early morning sun out in nature. It can help refresh and refocus your direction.
You can also use the ceremonial Yule Log as a metaphor for the new light coming forth into the next cycle. It’s always a very simple yet deep way to re connect with the light inside!

To your Wisdom!

~Yamin

 

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Healthy Summertime with Chinese Medicine

July 10, 2010

chinese medicine, pomegranate, summer diet, summer foods

Summer is here! Our garden is bursting out with chamomile flowers, baby pomegranates are proudly standing in the bushy green tree, baby guavas are blooming out of their flowers…
The “Morning Glory” found a crack through my herbal pharmacy window and is slithering along bottled herbal tinctures and essential oils…
Our wolfie-dogs choose to stay outside and sleep right on the dirt under the moonless sky… My patients celebrate this time of the year by wearing lighter clothes and brighter colors.

The scent of summer ascends from Mother Earth in its full potential EVEN when it is rather chilly in coastal LA…

No wonder the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine (1st century BCE) teaches us that “[In the three months of summer] Heavenly energy descends and the Earthly energy rises. When these two energies merge there is intercourse between Heaven and Earth. As a result plants mature and animals, flowers and fruit appear abundantly”(1).
No doubt, Summer is a period of luxurious growth!

When we practice Taoist and Chinese Medicine and Lifestyle, we pay attention to the seasonal cycles. We do this just because we are another expression of this marriage between Heaven and Earth and as such, we have the potential to mirror and manifest the cyclical changes that Mother Earth will consistently go through.

Movement Tips

Tip #1: To be in harmony with the atmosphere of summer you may want to awaken early in the morning and reach for the also awakening sun for nourishment.

~ Face the rising sun: if for some reason you cannot see the sun just face East and connect with its rising energy.

~Take a mindful breath: feel your chest and abdomen expanding as you breathe in and slightly contracting as you breathe out. You don’t need to force the air in or out, just breath normally and above all joyfully.

~Feel your feet: if you have a chance, stand barefoot on the grass (provided it is not too chilly or too wet). You can also do this simple exercise before starting the car engine or as you are waiting for the bus.

Bring your awareness to the ball of of your feet and feel “roots” growing out of that area. In Chinese medicine we call that area “Bubbling Spring”. Feel the Earth supporting you whether you are standing on the actual soil inside the car, your apartment or in the street.

Take a few moments to appreciate the miracle of your breath and the solid, nurturing motherly energy of the Earth.

~Invite the Sun in: now that you are rooted on Earth, invite the Sun to visit your shrine by breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth.
Feel the healing energy of this bright star flooding your lungs with millions of vibrating particles and activating your body as it runs through your veins, your organs, your bones, your flesh…Allow for the Heavenly energy of the Sun to bring inspiration and strength to your Body, Mind and Spirit.

If you would like to recite an invocation as you face the sun, you may want to explore the “Harmonization with the Sun” by Spiritual Teacher Hua-Ching Ni. It is short and very inspiring.

Tip#2: Brush your skin! Yes! create your own inexpensive spa at home. Skin brushing will enhance circulation and stimulate your immunity so you can enjoy the summer at your best potential!
Just get a loofah and enjoy these revitalizing and simple skin-dry-brushing tips.

Tip#4: Enjoy some outdoors life! Early morning and late afternoon Sun can be quite enjoyable! I am planning to walk with the wolves (it’s rather hot for running!) at least once a week. Swimming, cycling, walking are also excellent ways to get our summer CHI healthy and moving!
Remember to take electrolytes with you since dehydration is one of the main causes for ER visits!

Tip#3: What about my diet?
Mother Earth is bursting out in bright colors. I am sure that you are too getting the brightest colors out of your closet! It only makes sense to follow Paul Pitchford’s recommendations to “use plenty of brightly colored summer fruits and vegetables”(2). I truly enjoy his tips on “Summer Food and Preparation”, always handy when we run out of ideas!

My dear friend and colleague Kirsten Cowan L.Ac also has quite smart and simple tips in case a heat wave attempts to leave your body dehydrated and weak.

The Best of Tips: follow your intuition.
Our ancestors will speak through our genes and will let us know what is the most appropriate way to live a joyful and healthy Summer!!!

To your abundant Health!

Yamin Chehin, L.Ac.


References:
(1). “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine”, translated by Maoshing Ni, Ph.D.
(2) “Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford, page 331.

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Back Pain and the Psoas Muscle~The Flat-Stomach Myth

June 1, 2010

The “flat stomach” myth is the pseudo ticket to stereotyped beauty, especially but not only, among women. The obsession with the abdominal area can cause frustration, anxiety, and lead to poor posture and back pain. The Good News is that our abdominals are not designed to be flat but rounded!

What are the abdominal muscles?

The primary actions of the rectus abdominis (usually referred to as the “6 packs abs”) are to compress the abdominal contents or move the ribcage in relation to the pelvis.

Look at the picture in fig 1. See how the grey band attaches from the ribs to the pubic bone?.
Now, please close your eyes and contract your abs….feel how the upper torso gets closer to the pelvis. If you feel uncertain about how to contract your abs, you can use this shortcut: just cough a little and you will notice your ribs getting closer to your pubic bone.

Another function of the abdominal muscles is to help with the movement of our intestines, also known as peristalsis. Some “experts” think that several constipation cases may be entirely related to over-contracted rectus abdominis that interfere with intestinal peristalsis.

Place your hands on your tummy and try move your hands in circles just by contracting your abs. You will feel the connection between these muscles and your gut especially if your intestines speak to you right there and then!. By the way, this exercise may come handy when constipated too!.
For information about organ massage through abdominal muscle work, please follow this link. The pictures are impressive!

Words on abdominal exercises

It could be worth exploring a different purpose to abdominal exercises, other than the famous “Six Pack Abs”.

I invite you to consider abdominal exercises as a means to improve coordination of the abdominal muscles with the other muscles of the trunk and legs to improve alignment.

High abdominal muscle tone from too many isolated exercises (abdominal crunches, for example) may interfere with the ability to stand fully erect, as the contracted abdominal muscles drag the front of the ribs down.

“But abdominal work-out will free me from back pain!”…you may argue. And it’s true, our precious abs will help us with back pain if we allow them to work in concert with other muscles, among which the most important is the psoas.

Who is this “Psoas”?

Your psoas muscles are the main muscles that raise your leg towards your body. They are attached to the spine, they run right through your abdomen and insert to the upper portion of your legs.

What about my protruding belly?

We have learnt that a protruding belly either indicates weak abdominal muscles or lordosis. Let’s take a deeper look at this belief.
The lumbar curve of the spine is normal and beneficial. It helps the spine absorb shock from running and jumping, for example. Now, an exaggerated lumbar curve, known as lordosis, may bring imbalances in the area of the lower back and may require special attention.
The large psoas muscles originate from the lower back and run anterior to the pelvis to the legs. Because of their anterior location and because they send fibers to the lumbar vertebrae, good tone of the psoas tends to oppose lordosis and guess what? it also flattens the stomach. Tight psoas muscles pull the spine forward and push the abdominal contents forward, causing protrusion.

The Balancing Approach

When the psoas muscles achieve their proper length and responsiveness, they stabilize the lumbar spine, giving the feeling of better support and “strength,” and cause the spine and abdomen to fall back, giving the appearance of “strong” abdominal muscles and the feel of a strong core.
To improve psoas functioning, a different approach to abdominal exercises than the one commonly practiced is necessary. Instead of “strengthening,” the emphasis could be on awareness, control, balancing and coordination of the involved muscles.
That means that you become more connected to the ways you use your body and the exercises become a tool to exercise that connection. For videos, books, stretching and other articles on the Psoas connection please follow this link; i really enjoyed this website’s tips!

Other ways to connect to your body’s alignment

Acupuncture

Acupuncture treatments will help you get in touch with the kind of activity occurring along and throughout your meridian system.
For cases like pain coming from tight Psoas, sciatica and back pain in general, I like to use Dr Manaka’s Ion pumping cords in combination with Moxa therapy and stretching exercises. These three treatments together will unblock the channels and redirect the excess towards other places in your body that might need that “extra” energy.

Chi Kung

You can also choose to give yourself an acupuncture session every day by learning a series of movements coming from this ancient Chinese self healing system that integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention.
My patients really enjoy becoming experts on how their Chi flows in the body. At the same time, I find Chi Kung to be an excellent home therapy to enhance and potentate the treatments I provide in my office.
The only investment needed is willingness to practice during a half-hour to an hour each day; the dividends of better health, increased vitality, and peaceful alertness accrue daily and are cumulative.

In Summary…

The strategy of strengthening the abdominal muscles could be a misguided effort to correct problems that usually lie elsewhere – which explains why, even though abdominal strengthening exercises are so popular back pain is still so common.
The good news is that you may use your knowledge about abdominal work and expand it through Exercise, Acupuncture, Chi Kung or just by the sole and powerful action of bringing your awareness into that area of your body with the intention and curiosity to explore different ways to relate to the vast mystery that lies within yourself!

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Back Pain: the force of habit

May 18, 2010

How is habit related to back pain?

That’s the question my teacher asked over 10 years ago…and I still keep exploring. Would you like to join me in that exploration?

Let’s start by defining habit as Wikipedia does:

An acquired pattern of behavior that often occurs automatically”

How is habit related to back pain?

The word “automatically” called my attention then and still fascinates me…“You mean something happens by itself, with-OUT my control????”

Well, yes! At an early age we learned to move in a certain way; we created a picture that has a certain pattern that kept repeating over and over throughout the years.

Most of us mammals learn by imitation, and that’s what we did; we learnt how to move from our most immediate care givers and we sure did a good job: we ARE moving and it just seems to happen with no effort on our conscious mind! …UNTIL…pain becomes apparent. It’s then that we are forced to ask questions about how it is that we carry ourselves.

So first of all, if you are experiencing physical or emotional pain, you may start by following this tip:
Thank that body part or that emotion for waking you up, for showing you a piece of that so far unquestioned pattern of behavior.

I invite you to start the healing process by saying:

TIP # 1: Thank you pain for showing me that which I have not been aware of.

Yes, it may sound funny. Just amuse me and try that for a week….you’ve nothing to loose.

Your description of the lower back

Each one of us speaks, moves, thinks, and feels in a different way, each according to the image of him/herself that he/she has built up over the years. In order to change our mode of action (the one that most likely is causing us pain) we must first become aware of the image of ourselves that we carry within us.

TIP # 2: Lie down flat on a soft surface.
Feel your spine sinking into the floor. Bend your knees or rest your feet and legs up on a chair if your lower back is hurting.
Allow for words, images, scents, memories to come to you as you ask the question:

“What’s the image that I have of my lower back?”

Record those feelings, get to know them well and above all, accept them. You will sure have the opportunity to question that perception and if you want to, make small adjustments (that are actually huge ones) to create room for different views to shine through.

Making a Pause….

Australian-English actor F. Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) found a solution to his vocal problems by observing himself in the act of speaking.
In his book The Use of the Self, he describes how he gradually became more conscious of the abnormal positions and movements that were ruining his voice. This awareness allowed him to gradually change the false impression he had of his posture and he began to experience healthier positions that eventually resolved his problem.

Alexander, like most of us who have gone through the process of waking up, realized that it was really easy to fall back into the harmful but habitual movements that were giving rise to his problem. That’s the force of a habit, it just happens in an unconscious way. He also realized that those habits were not simply “physical”; they started with his intention to speak. As soon as he formulated the idea of speaking, he could observe himself tightening the neck, pulling his head back and down and initiating the rest of his pattern of excessive tension.

Alexander experimented with pausing before he spoke and instead of saying to himself:
“Do not stiffen the neck, do not pull back and down…”
he used what he called “directed intent” to create a new pathway for movement.
This “directed intent” materialized through certain “directions” or “orders” (I personally like the word reminder better) that allowed him to exercise thought and awareness as he was about to speaking.
This simple but powerful maneuver allowed him to make a pause and choose the way he will carry himself in that particular situation as opposed to letting the habit carry him.

TIP # 3: Sit on a chair. Look for your seat bones (the two bony structures right below your gluteus) and sit on them. Before standing up I want you to tell yourself:

Release the neck to let the head go forward and up, to let the torso lengthen and widen to let the legs release from the hip”.

Concentrate your attention on your thighs and initiate your movement from those powerful muscles to stand up. 
Allow your torso to “hinge forward” at the level of the hips.  You will notice that your spine will stretch out instead of collapsing onto itself.  We call that the “monkey position”. 

You will definitely feel pressure on your quads…don’t worry, they are designed to bear quite a bit of weight! 
As you stand up, you will notice that your back will not need to arch back, that in itself will give you a break from pain…just imagine the so many times that we repeat that same movement on a single day!

Use gentleness and not force to explore your back…. That in itself is the first step towards healing!!!

There are other techniques, other than the Alexander Technique and/or therapies that will help you make that necessary pause to create a new pathway for healthy movement. I recommend you explore: Feldenkrais, Chi Kung and Acupuncture.

Thank you for reading through this post! and stay tuned…more on back pain will be posted soon!


References

Back Pain Solutions. Bruce I Kodish, Ph. D, P.T

The use of the Self. F. Matthias Alexander

Awareness through movement. Moshe Feldenkrais

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habit

ii It is interesting to note that the Chinese Chi Kung classics advice: “Use Intent, not Force”.