Saturday, September 26, 2015

Qigong For Autumn: Strengthening Lung Energy

Happy Autumn!
I've been wanting to do a simple series on seasonal qigong exercises for awhile and now seems like a good time.

Qigong (pronounced "chee-kung"), like Tai Chi, is a meditative movement and breathing practice that circulates energy through the meridians of the body. It loosely translates to "energy skill." Medical Qigong is a form that focuses on strengthening and balancing the energy of specific organs. You don't have to be flexible or strong to practice it. You don't need a mat or special clothing. In fact, many movements can even be done sitting in a chair if you're feeling especially weak or fatigued. It's something that nearly everyone can do safely and it's a very healing modality for people with chronic fatigue and adrenal fatigue. Ideally, you want to establish a consistent practice, even if it's only for a few minutes a day. Consistency is important.

Since it's Autumn, we'll start with the lungs. This is the perfect time of year to work on strengthening and balancing our lung qi, as well as to release negative emotions that are associated with the lungs which often tend to arise during Autumn.

As the weather gets cooler and the humidity of summer leaves, the seasonal energy shifts to the element of metal, which corresponds to the energy of the lungs. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs are impacted by the negative emotions of sadness and grief. They are the bellows which move qi throughout the body and they govern the energy of our protective energy field called the Wei Qi field, which corresponds to our innate immune system, and works to keep pathogens at bay. Each organ has both positive and negative traits and emotions associated with it and the positive traits of the lungs are courage and integrity. Qigong can help us to develop those positive traits over time. Each organ is also represented by a color and an animal. In the case of the lungs, the color is white and the animal is a white tiger. I like to imaging that the white tiger is the part of my immune system that prowls about, protecting me from pathogens. Good kitty.

Symptoms of lung energy imbalances include obvious lung issues like asthma, coughs, bronchial issues, sinus problems, and allergies, but also constipation (the lungs are partners with the large intestines), and skin problems like dry skin and eczema, since the lungs influence our skin's protective mechanisms.

Taking a few minutes every day to do a simple qigong exercise that strengthens and balances lung energy can help us to prepare for the immune challenges of winter, as well as to release sadness, grief, and any excessive pensiveness that may arise with the seasonal shift. If you'd like to focus on releasing emotions, you can add a "Sssssssss" sound on the exhale while you imagine grief and sadness exiting your body with your breath. This vibrates the lungs to help release the stuck energy of sadness and grief. This article explains more about how the lungs are impacted by grief and it contains helpful tips, including dietary tips, to cultivate healthy, balanced lung energy.

Below is a video with a simple exercise to balance and strengthen lung energy. Remember to keep your breathing relaxed and breathe into your belly, rather than into your chest and shoulders. I like to imagine my breath as if it's dropping down through one of those narrow-necked squashes and expanding once it reaches my belly. This video is great for learning qigong breathing. Another tip that increases the effectiveness of qigong breathing is to keep your perineum gently contracted to "seal" in all the energy that accumulates in your lower abdomen. This is a technique that is often not taught to qigong beginners, but it makes a difference.

If you'd like to incorporate some healing color imagery, you can imagine that you are inhaling white energy or white light, the color of the lung/metal element. I like to do a few repetitions of "channel dredging" before I begin any qigong movements. Channel dredging opens up the channels/meridians for better energy flow. It's also energizing and can feel great to do when you want to release the feeling of having negative or blocked energy or just need to blow off some steam.

If you are interested in learning a complete qigong routine that includes all of the organs, I highly recommend the dvd Chi Kung- The Healing Workout. It includes an extra section on proper form, which is helpful and makes a difference in how effective your practice is. This is the same routine I learned in Medical Qigong school.

Here's to happy, healthy lung energy and a wonderful Autumn!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Going Deeper On The Healing Path

I've been thinking a lot lately about the parts of healing that have nothing to do with diet, supplements, or even exercise. Things that connect us to the power of nature. Things that feed our souls. Things that heal our hearts. When we are disconnected from these things, wholeness and healing don't happen to their fullest capacity.

I mentioned in my last post that I was about to start participating in a small, online live chat group based around mind-body-emotional healing- specifically around using Love as a healing agent. I'm now two sessions into the group and it's been opening up a lot of insight for me. The other participants and I had a laugh relating over how we've all reached a level of burnout regarding reading health blogs/books, and attending online summits (doesn't it seem like there's one every week now?). Basically, information overload. It's being made clear to me that your brain will only get you so far when it comes to real healing. I'm finding some of the most powerful healing tools for me lately have me looking for and finding answers in my heart and soul.

This is kind of personal, but I'll share because I always appreciate when bloggers are willing to get personal and real. A few months ago, I had a session with a medical intuitive. I wanted an overview of how my body was doing, and I wanted to know what would help my insomnia and hormones. Like I talked about in my last blog, the answer to that bout of insomnia was getting better connected to the seasonal and circadian light cycles. Connected to nature.

The answer to the hormone question was an interesting one. The intuitive saw that I was a creative person, but was very disconnected from my creative energy, while my analytical side had become very dominant. Ultimately, what does the reproductive/hormonal system deal with? Creation. I had a huge ah-ha moment when I realized this! The creativity thing came up again in the online group. The facilitator, who is very intuitive, felt guided to ask me why I had shut down my creative side, which had very much flourished until sometime in my teens. At the time, I couldn't answer. She told me that creativity was my path to healing.

Since then, I've done a lot of soul/heart-searching and had some huge insights about issues relating to some stressful periods in my childhood and adolescence where I didn't have a sense of security in my life. It's hard to feel free to create when you don't feel secure. Dealing with these traumas, though they didn't feel like dramatic traumas at the time, has been important.

I also realized that I had become very ungenerous with myself, living from a perspective of lack and restraint, rather than from one of abundance and opportunity. It's amazing how it manifested in so many areas of my life, and all the little things I was denying myself because of it. Realizing how suppressed my creative energy had become and how ungenerous I was toward myself gave me the sense that my soul was starving for nourishment. When I explored why I had become so ungenerous with myself, I became aware of feeling guilty for being unwell, for not working full time like "normal" people, and for the burden it has placed on my husband (even though he's made it clear that I'm not a burden). So, basically, it was a way of punishing myself or paying a sort of penance. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case for a lot of people with chronic illness.

All of this has led me to do some serious re-evaluating about where I should be placing my focus and spending my energy. I started by making a big list of the traits of my "real" self- the self I knew myself to be as a child, and the self that lurks underneath all the baggage. It was really freeing to write all of that out and reconnect to the idea of that version of myself. I highly recommend it! Next, I wrote a list of things I could do to nourish and heal that "real" self. What kind of activities make her happy? What sort of things feed her soul? What gives her energy? That list was so much fun to make and made me feel hopeful.

So, here are some of the things so far that I'm finding healing and transformative. A lot of them happen in the morning because I find it helpful to start my day with a lot of intention and it keeps me more centered, focused, and energetic later in the day. That's a big deal for a non-morning person like me: no more stumbling out of bed and straight onto the internet!

-Spending time in the morning sun

I wake up in the morning, drink a big glass of chlorophyll water, make my tea, and head outside, first thing, to sit in the grass and sunshine for a little while. I find that grounding myself to the earth electrically and energetically, makes a big difference in my physical energy levels, as does getting morning sunshine. It syncs me up with the daily circadian rhythm. I've also learned that morning sunlight is a source of infrared light, which helps our cells to function properly. We also absorb units of light from the sun called biophotons. Chlorophyll happens to be fab for aiding biophoton absorption and increasing mitochondrial function.

-Reading, journaling, and setting intentions for the day
I love to read an excerpt from Wayne Dyer's book of daily essays on living the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching. I find it incredibly grounding and it reminds me of the person I want to become. I check my "real self" lists to remind myself of where my focus should be.

-Morning Qigong
The form of qigong I practice is similar to tai chi, but with more of an emphasis on directing energy flow through specific organs. Standing barefoot in the grass, breathing deeply, connecting to the earth, quieting my mind, and feeling energy in my hands is magical. I've had a consistent practice since January, but I've found that doing it in the morning is so much more beneficial and powerful.

-Purging belongings that don't suit or serve me

A few weeks ago, I listened to an audio download of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I LOVED it! It just really clicked with me and made so much sense. I've been purging categories of stuff and it feels very liberating and energizing to keep only that which either "sparks joy" or is necessary. Our stuff tells the story of who we are and who we've been. It's good to let go of that which no longer tells the story you want to be living.

-Being more generous to myself

Once I realized how I needed to be more generous with myself, the first thing I did was I bought a new (well, used, but new for me) purse to replace the old, tired one I'd had for years. My new purse is stylish, golden yellow, and cheerful, and I feel good every time I pick it up. It serves as a reminder to keep being generous and kind to myself. I bought myself some new makeup, instead of just making do with the old makeup that I wasn't really liking that much. I'm about to order some adult coloring books so I can indulge my creative side in a fun way. These are all little things, but they feel huge to me!

-Giving my brain time-outs
Sometimes I just sit outside and stare at the sky and trees. Or I lay on my bed and listen to soothing music. It feels wonderful when I force my always-going mind to settle down for a bit and stop analyzing. It's so easy to get stuck in constant information mode when you've been trying to heal and figure out an illness. But too much mental work is NOT healing (otherwise, I'd be the healthiest person ever!).

I'm still working on recovering my creative mojo, but I'm enjoying the reconnection that's happening. It brings me a deep sense of satisfaction- the kind you experience when you're being true to yourself, when your soul feels nourished. I feel hopeful about my future and I'm excited about the possibilities it holds.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Summer Catch-Up + News

Image from Still Blog

It's been such a long time. I haven't abandoned the blog, though. I'm still here. Summer is crawling by here in the South. We've had more rain than usual, so everything stayed greener for longer than it usually does. It's been nice to have slightly cooler spells after the rain to get lots of walking in. Now that the heat is back, it's hard for me to get a walk in unless I'm up super early or wait until sundown. I really do think there's something magical about walking that helps improve health on many levels.

I have to admit that I'm not a fan of heat and humidity, and my insomnia loves to kick into high gear every summer and I wake up with the sun, despite going to bed usually around midnight. I had great luck for awhile resolving it through addressing circadian issues. Making sure to get morning sun first thing, and making sure to wear my blue blockers from 9 pm on as well as turning off my computer and not watching TV past 10 made a huge difference. I now at least fall asleep much more quickly and I was able to stay asleep. For awhile... Now I'm waking up early again, but it's different this time. I seem to not be able to sleep through the night without waking up to pee. And lots of peeing all day (am I even absorbing any of the water I'm drinking?)! Super annoying.

You know I like to figure things out using Traditional Chinese Medicine, so judging by my symptom profile and the look of my tongue, I could use some Kidney Yang boosting. So, I ordered some Rehmannia Eight formula. This formula is also known to be good for hypothyroidism, the adrenals, and hormone balance. However, many Chinese herbal blends are specific to defined patterns of imbalance, so, unless you know what your pattern of energetic imbalance is, don't go taking a formula willy-nilly. The good folks at Eagle Herbs (in the link) do email consults and can help you to choose an appropriate formula.

Now on to some fun news~

I just finished testing a new interactive online brain health course! I'm really excited about it. I think it's going to be an amazing tool for people who want to take greater control of their brain health and correct issues they're having now, as well as prevent future neurodegeneration. It takes you through steps to determine your level of brain function/dysfunction, which areas you're having problems with, a self-neurological exam, and what steps to take to correct things. I can't emphasize how important this stuff is! Neurodegeneration starts decades before it's every diagnosed and early identification and treatment can make a world of difference down the road AND in the short term.

Another thing I'm excited about is that in the near future I'm going to be participating in a small, online group based around the mind-body/emotional aspects of healing autoimmunity and chronic illness. I really look forward to delving deeper into this area and sharing my journey.

I'm gearing up for my annual summer vacation to northern Michigan, which is very late this year due to being timed around a friend's wedding. I'm so looking forward to being at the beach, hiking through the woods, and taking advantage of all the lovely farm-to-table restaurants. It's such a rejuvenating and healing place for me.

I have more neat things to share in the near future and look forward to writing again.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Quick Apple Cinnamon Porridge (Autoimmune Paleo)

For breakfast I generally eat protein, fat, and veggies, with a little bit of fruit or maybe a bit of something starchy like fried plantain. Most mornings I like eating this sort of breakfast because it makes me feel good, but sometimes I miss hot cereal. I grew up eating a lot of hot cereal (Cream of Wheat, oatmeal, Ralston) and sometimes I miss the texture and comfort of it. In the olden days (pre-paleo, pre-AIP), I ate oatmeal for breakfast on a regular basis.

I'm really pleased with this AIP porridge because it has the look and texture of porridge, it's tasty and comforting, and, best of all, it only takes a few minutes to make and involves ingredients you probably have on hand. You don't have to have any squash or sweet potato already cooked for this. This recipe makes only one serving, mainly because my husband isn't into hot cereal, so I'm always making a single serving, but it can easily be multiplied.

Apple-Cinnamon Porridge

One serving

3/4 C. water
1/4 C. coconut milk
1/2 grated apple (I prefer Granny Smith)
2 TB coconut flour
2 TB arrowroot
2 TB gelatin or collagen hydrolysate
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
generous pinch of salt

Whisk dry ingredients into the water, stir in apple and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes until mixture thickens and apple softens. Add sweetener of your choice.

Happy breakfast!