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As some of you know, I spent the past year in braces.  And last week, they came off!  (If you want to read the chronicle of the year, read my What’s In A Smile blog.)

As most braces wearers will tell you–especially adults–much of the time in braces is spent fantasizing about the foods we’ll be able to eat post braces.

On the top of my list were dried dates, which I love love love.  But I abstained for the year of my braces treatment because those chewy gems would have gotten stuck all over my braces brackets and wire.  I guess I didn’t want to spoil a joyful eating experience.

A few days ago, I received the 15-pound box of dried dates from my date supplier in Southern California, the Date People.  (I freeze most of the dates, and also will share with friends.)  Rather than get just one variety, as I had in the past, I ordered the 4-variety pack.  I didn’t know what it would include.

I opened the box and immediately ate one each of the four types–deglet noor, zahari, halawi, bahri–which range from light, firm and not too sweet, to brown, round, plump and chewy sweetness.  Because I had ordered the chewy/sweet ones in the past, that’s what I thought dates were supposed to be.  So my immediate reaction to the firmer deglet noor was disappointment.

But you know what?  I have come to appreciate those more understated deglet noors.  I find them nutty and refreshing.  This reminds me that flexibility comes from being open to variations on a theme.  In this case, the theme was dates, and I got the benefit of “stretching” as part of a variety-pack.

There’s nothing as lovely and cozy as a well-known routine, and beloved treat.  And it can be difficult to let go of that security to try new things.  But by trying new things, we discover new possibilities. 

So consider how you could add the spice and potential new discovery by going for variety.

  • Next time you’re at your favorite restaurant, order one thing tried and true, and one new dish.  Or invite along some friends so you can try the dishes your friends like.  You may discover a new top favorite.  Or not.  In which case you still have one dish you can enjoy whole-heartedly.
  • Is there a neighborhood you like to walk around?  Or a park that you regularly visit?  Change it up by taking a different route to get there, or vary the path you take when you are there.  At the fork in the path, take the right instead of the left.

Here’s to celebrating the wonderful variety that is all around us, and within us.

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The thing I love about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it’s based on nature and the world, so just about anything in the world can relate back to its principles.

Last week, I went to see (again) my favorite parts of an exhibition by the Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, at the SFMOMA. (Exhibit info here.) I didn’t know of this artist before this exhibition. They are big pieces. Color. Angles. Curves. And all kinds of materials, including water.

In one installment, (called Beauty), you walk into a darkened room where you see light passing through a misty “curtain” of fine water droplets, cascading down from above, onto the absorbing floor. The water drops reflect the light, so it appears like a wall, but really, it’s an illusion. We can walk through that “curtain”.

In another room is Notion Motion.  When we walk on squeaky floor boards in front of a screen, the screen shimmers in different patterns. Depending on the location of the floor board; the amount of squeak. It turns out there’s a shallow water pool on the other side of the screen, and the shimmering is a reflection of the ripples on the water.

Another work which I only peeked into was an ice-sculpture. Actually an ice-covered car. Both times I passed by, my inner-cozy won out over my experience-adventurer.

Anyway, I’m writing about these water-related art objects, because they got me thinking about the Water Element. Since Winter is the season associated with the Water Element, how a propos, I thought, that I was drawn to water in different forms.

The cool thing about water, is its flexibility. It can take so many forms. From fluid liquid water to solid frozen blocks; from refreshing cooling mist to dangerously scalding vapors. In each form, it has a beauty and a power.

So, when our Water Element is in balance, or doing well, flowing, as it were, then our flexibility should be good. Physically, especially along the spine. Mentally and emotionally. Being able to flow with the ebbs and flows that are natural in our daily lives.

By the way, boundaries are also an important aspect of this. Think of it: A river that is healthy is full and flowing within its boundaries. But one that gets out of bounds can wreak all kinds of havoc, as has been experienced in many parts of the world.

To support the Water Element, here are a few wellness ideas:

  • Support your energy. We know how grouchy and inflexible we can be when we’re running on too little sleep. Get enough rest whenever you can.
  • Keep your spine supple. Do some simple stretches.
    • Sit on the edge of a chair, with feet flat on the ground. Stretch your arms up alongside your ears, high overhead, and take a deep breath in. As you exhale, stretch forward and down as low as you can go with a nice stretch along your back. (Only go as far as is comfortable. Don’t strain if you have lower-back pain.)
    • Do some simple twists. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, and swing your arms back and forth. Or, sit on the side of a straight-back chair (the back of the chair should be at our side), and raise your arms overhead, with a deep breath in. On the exhale, twist toward the back by placing one hand on either side of the chair back to help you get some leverage. Don’t yank into the twist!
  • Hydrate! Drink water. I hear/read so many conflicting reports/study findings about this. So I just tell people to pay attention. Most of us don’t drink enough. Are your lips dry? Do you get headaches? Is your mouth dry? Is your skin dry? Try increasing your water intake. Replace some other fluids, like coffee/tea/juice/cola, with water.

Tomorrow, I get braces on my teeth.  I’ve started a separate blog focused on that, but instead of making it a mere chronicle of braces, it focuses on “What’s in a Smile“.

Not that I want to jinx things with such gloomy titles as “anticipating pain”, but really, let’s face it, it will be painful.  I know.  I had braces as a teenager, many years ago.  This time, I  have more tools in my toolkit, including my acupressure and TCM training.  So, I’ll take the opportunity of this dental experience to explore more avenues to health and wellness.

So, the first thing I note is that the body part governed by the Water Element, which we’ve talked about this winter, is our bone structure.   And certaingly the teeth and jaw are the prime recipients of stress and movement for braces.  So, I guess you could say that I’m acting “in season” to start addressing my teeth.  After all, wintertime is a good season for soups and more “watery” culinary fare, so this is my chance to dig out those recipes and use the blender.

To be more specific about teeth and the meridians, it is said that there is a tooth-to-meridian association.  In other words, all the meridians are connected.  So one important intention for me to have it to pay attention to the pain, and understand that while I may feel most pain in my jaw and head, that since my body is an interconnected whole, it is possible that I may feel out of sorts in other areas of my body.

I went to my regular yoga class this morning, and their was a substitute teacher. His training and style is different from my teacher’s (which is Anusara), so we did a lot more vinyasa* flows than we do in my teacher’s classes. This means that we moved from asana (pose) to asana more quickly than I am used to.

Both my body and mind resisted, but somewhere between downward dog and cobra pose, I thought, “Hey, this is more of that go with the flow stuff.” So, while my teacher is away for a few weeks next month, I think I’ll seek out some more “flowy” classes, to give me some more chances to bring flow and flexibility into my life.

I was happy to see how this initially trying experienced turned out to be a gift for my yoga practice, and my life off the mat, too.

* Definition of vinyasa (source: About.com):

Breath-synchronized movement. When used to describe a style of yoga, Vinyasa means that poses will flow from one to another in conjunction with the breath. Vinyasa in also used as a noun to describe the series of poses that are done between Downward Facing Dogs as part of a Sun Salutation sequence.

The word “flow” keeps popping up for me. It is a propos the current season, winter, so in honor of all the water that’s been falling (and falling and falling in the form of snowflakes in some parts of the country), I want to share a relevant experience I had a couple of weeks ago when I was taking care of my toddler nephews while their parents are away.

My everyday life usually doesn’t include parenting, so that weeklong experience was quite a lesson in learning to go with the flow.

water flowingOverall, the experience was a delight–they are fun kids–but wow!, they take a lot of energy and patience. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Water Element reminds me to go with the flow, like water like a river, twisting and turning around rocks and boulders, making its way towards the sea. It doesn’t get hung up on those obstacles, spending energy on fighting what can’t be moved.

So, in those (many) moments when my patience was tested, I asked myself, “Why fight what I can’t control?”

So, take some deep breaths and let it flow.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, balanced daily routine is said to be a key to long healthy life. I think about my grandfather who was very organized; for example, he had his breakfast at 8:30am every morning. I could practically set my watch to it. And he lived fully to 92.

So let’s say you agree that routine is good. But can too much of a good thing become not so good? I’ll share my friend’s experience of getting herself out of a rut.

For five years, my friend started each day with a walk around her neighborhood. It energized her. Got her off to a good start to write. (She’s a poet.) Recently, however, she noticed her aversion to her walks. She just couldn’t get going in the morning. She had walked herself into a rut. (Imagine if she had walked on a dirt path–instead of concrete–for 1800 days; there might be an actual rut in the road.)

So one day, she decided to make just one change. Instead of turning left, when she stepped out, she turned right. That was it. She walked the exact same route, but in the opposite direction. And that one difference made all the difference she needed. She was more present on her walk, because she couldn’t go on automatic pilot. She noticed things anew. She’s now back to her healthful routine. With that one simple–but profoundly effective–change, she has gotten out of a rut.

What daily routine could you change by just one facet, to give you a fresh new experience?

Some ideas (inspired by a great little book on neurobics called Keep Your Brain Alive):

  • Use your non-dominant hand when doing everyday things. For example, if you’re right-handed, use your left hand to brush your teeth, button your shirt, open the door, stir your coffee or tea…
  • Stimulate your other senses. For example, use touch, rather than sight, to pick out your clothes. Smell your lunch before you start eating; can you pick out the ingredients?
  • Change your seat. Choose a new spot at the dinner table. Or try a new seat at your next meeting. You might get an entirely new view of things.

Please share rut-releasing tips that have worked for you!

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?