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After dinner last night, my friend asked for some advice for her insomnia. She has the kind where it’s hard to get to sleep. (The other kind is where you wake up during the night, and have difficulty falling back asleep. And of course there’s the combination of those two.)

There can be any number of reasons for insomnia, so I did what I always do, which is to learn more about that sleeplessness.

  • Do you have physical discomfort in bed, that could affect your ability to fall asleep?
  • Is you mind busy? Are you thinking lots of thoughts?
  • Are you feeling stressed? Do you have deadlines or other worries?
  • Does this happen every night? When is it not such a problem? When it is worse?
  • What do you typically do before you go to sleep? Do you have a bedtime routine?

My friend said that she thinks her mind is busy with thoughts. So I suggested she try soaking in a bath before going to bed. When our energy is up in our head–with thoughts and worries–the body sometimes gets left out. A hot bath covers your skin all the way down to your toes, and reminds our heads that it’s not all about our minds. The toes want some attention, too. Some of that energy in the head can relax down into the body, helping in overall relaxation.

It turns out that my friend does take a bath. Every night!

She thought a little more, then asked, “What about reading before bed?”

It turns out that my friend reads a variety of material–magazines, novels, non-fiction–in the bathtub.

So her nightly bath ritual may relax her body, but the reading might be stimulating her mind. My suggestion to her was to leave the reading material outside. See what it’s like to let the bath be a blissful bath on its own. And to pay attention to her ability to sleep. I’ll check in with her later.

Bathtime Tools: Even though there’s a wonderul soaking tub in my home, it’s whoafully under-used. So I bought myself a jar of Ahhh…Bath Soak because I love how the aromatherapy helps to calm me, and also gives each bath a specialness boost. I’m not suggesting that you have to buy anything to make your baths more fragrant. But to pay attention to what makes it relaxing and appealing to you.

Running ragged from a long week? Feel your energy flagging?

Try the following self-acupressure energy boosters and see if any work for you.

Lower Back Rub

Place the back of your hands on your lower back—at waist-level—and rub vigorously for 15 seconds. Relax your arms, take a deep breath, and repeat two or three more times.

Stretch and Breathe

Take a deep long breath as you raise your arms up over your head and stretch. Bend your arms and point your thumbs into the “corner” below where your clavicle (collar bone) meets your shoulder bone. This helps open your lungs and chest; now take a few more deep breaths.

Three Mile Point

Sit comfortably. Make a light fist and rub vigorously along the outside of your shins, a couple of inches below your knee. It’s said that when soldiers in ancient China did this they could run three more miles; hence the name!

 

(For questions about a medical condition, please see a qualified health care professional.)

Raindrops. Snowflakes.

On this shortest day of the year, December 21, we officially enter Winter. It’s the season that (usually) brings us lots of water. Not surprisingly, in the tradition of Chinese Medicine, Water is the element associated with winter. The related meridians (energy channels) are Kidney and Bladder, which have to do with our core energy, and also our ability to adapt and go with the flow.

So, as we move into winter, it’s a great time to think about our energy and how to nurture it and keep our bodies fluid.

  • The Bladder meridian (energy channel) runs down the back, along both sides of the spine and the backs of your legs. Keep your back supple with some gentle twists and bends every morning.
  • It’s also a yin time, which invites introspection and quiet.

What will you do this Winter to help you “birth” what you want in the Spring?

Are you feeling stressed or overwhelmed with shopping or hosting/travel preparations? Or worried about finishing up a project at work? Or maybe you just want to take a break from the buy-buy-buy atmosphere.

Meditation can be a powerful source of health and wellness, for both body and spirit. Even when we don’t have the time or inclination for a full meditation “practice,” a few moments of deep breath and holding acupressure points can be calming and relaxing.

The Self-Acu Mini Meditation takes just a few minutes, and can be done anywhere. At your desk, sitting in your car, or at bed-time. It’s easy to do, and gives you a chance to hold two important acupressure points: the Third Eye (between your eyebrows) and the Hara (below your bellybutton.)

Give yourself this gift, now or anytime.

Self-Acu Mini Meditation

For a moment of relaxation during a busy day, try this mini-meditation.

Stand or sit comfortably and close your eyes.
Gently place a finger on your Third Eye-between your eyebrows-and place the palm of your other hand on your Hara-below your bellybutton.

Take five … deep … slow … breaths.

Smile. You’ve just given yourself a wonderful gift.

Get a printer-friendly version, or check out beautiful cards printed with this meditation.

We’re on the homestretch before Christmas. Even if you’re not actively participating in the shopping/party rush, as my friend told me today, “it’s in the air.”

So for the rest of the week, I want to share some natural wellness tips that are easy and simple, but also very effective.

We’ll start with yoga. I am not a yoga teacher, but I study Anusara Yoga and apply my learnings with my clients and students. I like the Yoga Journal for its articles and online resources. The following description of “legs-up-the-wall” pose and the photo are from The Yoga Journal. legsupthewall

Viparita Karani: Legs-up-the-wall pose (click for detailed directions)

This pose is very calming, and I recommend it to my wellness clients who are suffering from insomnia, often from a “busy mind” that has a difficult time slowing down. Even if you don’t have the props suggested in the Yoga Journal article, five minutes with your legs up as part of your nightly before-sleep ritual can help your sleep. (Please read contraindications below.)

A modification to the pose, if your hamstrings are tight or it’s uncomfortable to keep your legs up, is to bend your knees and put your rest lower legs on the seat of a chair, or on your bed. The goal is to relax and quiet the mind; not to stretch the hamstrings.

Contraindications for this pose from the Yoga Journal:

“Many teachers maintain that Viparita Karani is an inversion, and as such should be avoided during menstruation. Others though recommend the pose even during menstruation. Check with your teacher before performing this pose during menstruation. As with any inversion Viparita Karani should be avoided if you have serious eye problems, such as glaucoma. With serious neck or back problems only perform this pose with the supervision of an experienced teacher. If your feet begin to tingle during this pose, bend your knees, touch your soles together, and slide the outer edges of your feet down the wall, bringing your heels close to your pelvis”

I have been p a t i e n t l y waiting for my shipment of dried dates. I called The Date People in August, to get on their list. I called in September. In October. In November. And today, ahhh, sweet bliss.

halawi datesAnd the sweetness is key, because I’ve been craving something sweet during this sugar-saturated social season. I’ve been following my friend Mary’s holiday-sweets strategy of keeping a mental list of all the tempting holiday goodies I haven’t indulged in, in anticipation of these wonderful dates: sun-filled packages of natural sweetness and nutrition.

These particular dates that landed at my door today, are from The Date People, who grow 300 trees on six acres in southern California, not far from the Mexico border. Sustainably and veganically grown according to their informative newsletter, which you can see on their website: www.datepeople.net. (760)359-3211

By the way, my 15 lb box of halawi dates cost only $41.50, plus shipping! (Pricing info is in their newsletter; last page. ) I repackage the dates into ziplock baggies (about 1 lb each) and freeze them. Do you have recipes using dates to share?

I keep thinking about a story last week in the New York Times about women with shoulder and back problems because their bags are too heavy. Apparently, there’s a trend to oversized bags–in the world of fashion-conscious–where women are hauling around so much stuff on one shoulder that massage therapists and chiropractors are seeing an increase in women with shoulder and back issues!

I was surprised to read that the women, and even some of the therapists, thought the physical discomfort was merely an unfortunate consequence of adhering to a fashion trend. This line of thinking is so alien to me, that I was dumbfounded. But then I thought, perhaps there are places in my life that I am a slave to “fashion.”

My commitment to sustainable choices, for example, sometimes stymies my making really sensible choices. For example, I might go out of my way to buy a box of recycled tissues (for my wellness studio.) Was that really sensible when I consider that the extra energy (fossil fuel and my personal time/energy) needed to do that may have cost more than the savings of using recycled tissues. But it’s the thought that counts! Well yes, but also the point is in weighing individual choices within the context of the larger goal.

So, I throw out this question (as much to myself as to you):

  • Are you a “slave to fashion” in some way in your life?

Be it handbag fashion, stiletto-heel fashion, or stubbornly-eco fashion. How can you make sensible choices around those? Making a habit of decluttering your purse every Sunday night; stretching and massaging your feet and lower legs after a high-heel day; or remembering the big picture for sustainable choices.

Last night I was at the opening party for the newest Elephant Pharmacy, in Los Altos / Mountain View (on El Camino north of San Antonio.) There I gave free mini-acupressure sessions to people who attended. While I only spent 10-15 minutes with each person, I was reminded of how effective a few minutes of acupressure and holistic wellness coaching can be.

For example, I worked on a lot of tight shoulders and upper backs. A very common complaint. A few minutes of shiatsu-style acupressure gave immediate relief and brought smiles. In addition, I talked about the concept of yin/yang, front/back; how important opening and stretching the front of the shoulder area is to relieving the back. I taught this simple stretch; stand by a wall, or in a door opening.

shoulder stretch (click to see larger image)

Place your hand flat against the wall or side of the door opening, keep your arm straight, and turn your body until you feel a nice stretch in the front shoulder area. You may also feel a stretch along the inner side of your arm. Hold it there for about 15 seconds and take a few deep breaths. Switch and do it on the other side. If you’re in a door opening, you can stretch both arms at the same time.

With this easy stretch, some people walked away a new tool in their personal Healthy Intentions Toolkit. So can you!

stayinghealthy.jpgSince I’ve been writing about seasonality, and we’re heading into the deep-dark-madness of the (artificially-created) “holiday” season, let’s talk about Staying Healthy with the Seasons. This classic integrative medicine nutrition/wellness book by Dr. Elson Haas gives a wonderful introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and to related nutrition and mind/body-balancing concepts.

A chapter on each season describes the related TCM Element, meridians (energy channels,) organ function from allopathic as well as Chinese medicine perspective, nutrition information, recipes… For example, on December 21, the winter season begins. In TCM, it’s the season of the Water Element and its associated Kidney and Bladder organs and energy meridians. The life force is store in the Kidney’s according to Chinese medicine; the Bladder energy channel runs from the head down the middle of the back, on both sides of the spine, down the legs and out through the pinky toe.

In winter, it’s easier to be less active and quiet. And it’s easy to get run down with over-activity from the demands of the holidays. Try to work in some stretches to keep your back supple; the keep your Bladder energy channel flowing. Simple twists. Cat-stretches.

One caveat about this book is that Dr. Haas is a strong proponent of cleansing diets. I did the Master Cleanse that he recommends, in the Spring, which is also Nature’s time of cleansing. It was a great experience (I did it for 6 days,) but I think it’s important for each person to decide what works for her/him. Also, Dr. Haas recommends the Master Cleanse at other times of year, but I would caution against doing such a fast during a cold season. Your caloric intake is lower than normal and it can be difficult to stay warm. At least, this was my experience.

Otherwise, I recommend this as an excellent resource book. And an excellent holiday gift; one that will continue to give throughout the year and over the years! Staying Healthy with the Seasons, by Elson M. Haas, M.D. (1981, Celestial Arts)

sweet potatoesLast night I cooked up a deep orange and dark green dish–sweet potatoes and chard from the farmer’s market. Simple and fulfilling, the colors remind me of autumn. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seasons are as much about us and our bodies and hearts, as it is about the natural world. And so we can learn from Mother Nature, eating the bounty she gives us.
squashespersimmonsbrussel sprout stalkapplesAlemany Farmer’s Market, San Francisco

Apples, persimmons, potatoes, squash… brussel sprouts on the stalk… all from the Alemany Farmer’s Market in San Francisco. We’re lucky to have year-round access to local produce here in the Bay Area; it’s where I go to learn how to eat healthy with the seasons.

Here’s a separate post on a book recommendation about Staying Healthy with the Seasons.

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