A Master Key to Success

I’m fond of quoting one of my favorite martial arts instructors, who used to say – over and over again: “Repetition, repetition, repetition…repetition coupled with enthusiasm is the key to success in all your endeavors.”

When a much younger “me” first heard this, I found it to be a transforming message. I had experienced success in many areas of my life, including my studies, my athletic pursuits, my career, and so forth. Yet I sometimes baffled myself with how impulsive I could be.

If I were more into astrology, I might blame it on being a Pisces. Pisces, a water sign, is symbolized by two fish swimming in opposite directions. There’s a certain duality in the Pisces personality and we are known for our sometimes impulsive tendencies. Or perhaps it’s genetic. Or maybe it’s how I have always handled the stress of having many interests, many things to do, and sometimes feeling overwhelmed.

Whatever the root cause, I have found that impulsiveness can manifest in our lives in many different ways, such as procrastination, a lack of focus on the task at hand, or making a big decision solely based on intuition, without any sort of thought or rational analysis.

On the darker side, it can appear as addiction and compulsions that are extremely difficult to overcome. Like eating too much, drinking too much, drug abuse, etc.

The cure for impulsiveness – or, at least, one of the best ways to control it – is consistency. This brings us back to my instructor’s advice. Repetition means consistency. It means doing the things that are good for you every day, and making them a habit. For example, exercise must be consistent to be effective. This is the first and foremost precept of physical conditioning and health maintenance. Lack of consistency leads to the erosion of your health and fitness foundation. And without a solid foundation, no structure will stand.

Too many people who begin exercise, or healthy eating habits, or a qigong and breathwork practice, give up and quit too soon to realize their amazing benefits. Don’t be one of them!

If there is one overall secret to success, it’s consistency…consistency and enthusiasm. In other words, doing the right things, and having fun while you’re doing them.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

An Attitude of Gratitude

Well, this is Thanksgiving week here in the U.S. And before I dive into our family activities we have planned for the week, I wanted to write to you about the powerful impact that cultivating a spirit of gratitude can have in your life.

Think of this as a friendly little reminder of what you already know. Something that we often can easily forget when we are in the thick of “life”: work, family, community obligations…and now all of the extra activities and stress associated with the holidays.

Did you know that the feelings of gratitude and appreciation are probably the most profound you can have. Perhaps love is a higher value feeling or emotion. But let’s stick to gratitude for now.

When you are focused on gratitude, you vibrate at a higher level. You feel more in harmony with the world. You smile and laugh more easily because you are more relaxed. And you can feel the energy boost.

On Thanksgiving, a day meant for expressing thanks, take a minute or two to reflect. Take a “gratitude time out”.

Sit and reflect on the people, circumstances, and blessings in your life. We all have them. In tough times, you may have to search deeply to find them. But they are there.

I’ll leave you with a quote about the power of gratitude:

“The grateful mind is constantly fixed upon the best; therefore it tends to become the best; it takes the form of character of the best, and will receive the best.”
(Wallace D. Wattles)

I appreciate YOU, my friend. Thank you for reading. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Karen

Leverage Seasonality for More Robust Health – Part 2

Here continueth some old time wisdom on following the natural seasonality of our planet and our bodies to enhance your health and energy levels and improve your ability to fight off illness. Let’s talk about Spring for our brothers and sisters who reside in the Southern Hemisphere.

Spring – Exercise

In Classical Chinese Medicine, Spring is associated with the Liver. The Liver is one of the most important organs for detoxification. It also plays a starring role in converting the food you eat into usable energy.

If your health is compromised in any way, you eat an unhealthy diet, you drink too much, or your breathing is not up to snuff (pun intended), then you are placing a massive load on your liver. It’s important to take advantage of the spring to detox.

If you need to lose weight, spring is an excellent time to do so, because your body’s natural chemistry and metabolism will support your efforts. As the days get longer, your energy and metabolism increase. You should transition into more vigorous physical activity, and your Qigong and breathing exercises should include plenty of more robust movements – like the traditional Liver Daoyin exercise you can learn in the Wu Xing / Five Elements Daoyin program.

Spring – Nutrition

In traditional medical and health practices, early Spring is associated with a natural cleansing phase. As winter concludes, your body naturally wants to lose weight. It wants to detoxify and shed the old tissue, built up toxins, and excess fat stored over the winter.

Traditionally, this is a time of fasting and consuming lots of clean foods, such as fruits and vegetables, preferably raw or lightly steamed, as well as juices, which help detoxify the system.

Spring is the time to sweat and breathe hard, release toxins and air out the lungs, and eat “clean”. It’s also the time to celebrate your rebirth, and the rebirth of the earth.

Remember, synchronizing your physical activity and nutrition to the seasonal changes of body, mind, and earth is a powerful way to promote excellent health and help avoid illness and disease.

There’s one more area I’d like to cover, which we will get into in our next post.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Leverage Seasonality for More Robust Health

Here followeth some old time wisdom on following the natural seasonality of our planet and our bodies to enhance your health and energy levels and improve your ability to fight off illness. Since we have fellow readers in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, I will focus on the Fall and Spring seasons in these next couple posts.

I never ceased to be amazed at the tremendous healing powers that reside within our bodies and minds.

Before the advent of the modern pharmaceutical age, people in all societies, ancient and more modern, sought to promote and support these internal powers with natural methods: natural herbs, foods, exercise and – most of all – natural breathing.

We’ve become somewhat separated or disjointed from our own natural, inborn abilities to propagate robust health, as well as counter and eliminate illness. One of the easiest ways to begin to get in touch with your body is to recognize its rhythms.

We each have hourly, daily, monthly and yearly rhythms. But you may not actively leverage these rhythms in your own fitness and health program. In fact, you may often work against these rhythms, making you more susceptible to illnesses, injuries, weight gain, and so forth.

Ancient health practices from around the world, as well as existent traditional societies (which are becoming increasingly rare), apply seasonality to the treatment and prevention of disease, as well as the promotion of robust health.

Let’s discuss Autumn from the perspective of exercise and nutrition.

Autumn – Exercise

In ancient Chinese, Japanese and Korean medicine, Autumn (or Fall) is associated with the lungs. Although all of our internal organs and systems are interdependent, the lungs get the most attention at this time of year.

This makes a lot of sense from a pragmatic point of view. Think about it: in the Fall, the hot, stale, often polluted air of summer gives way to the refreshingly cool and clean air of Fall. In many areas, nature also provides us with a wonderful display of colors and scenery.

Fall is an excellent time to exercise and practice your qigong and breathing outdoors. Proper breathing in the fresh air has a cleansing effect on your lungs. Your Qigong can also prepare you for, and build your resilience and adaptability to, the changing energies associated with this season. For example, performing the Lung / Metal exercise from the Wu Xing / Five Elements Daoyin form, is especially important this time of year.

One potential problem to be aware of: in mid to late Fall, as temperatures become cooler and precipitation increases, there is the potential for dampness. The air is heavier and it can be more difficult to breathe. Dampness can invade your lungs and airways, and manifest in the body as excess mucus and phlegm.

In addition, the kids are back in school and many of us adults are spending more time in our closed, often polluted offices. The potential for catching a cold or flu is higher if you are not taking care of yourself. A proper regimen of exercise, as well as good healthy eating, can help you avoid this.

Autumn – Nutrition

Generally speaking, late Summer and early Fall are associated with a building phase. Late Summer is associated with the Spleen and Stomach / Earth element. Spleen is associated with building the blood and the muscles or flesh. And Spleen and Stomach are responsible for transforming the food we eat and liquids we drink as their initial part of the digestive process.

During this time, the body wants to build itself up and add muscle. It also wants to lay down some extra fat to prepare for the winter. It wants to extract more nutrition from food. You may find yourself craving more food, especially protein and the fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables that are readily available.

Here’s an interesting but little-known fact about our bodies. We often associate the winter months with weight gain, because we tend to be relatively less active. From an evolutionary standpoint, however, our bodies are programmed to eat more and lay on fat during the late summer and fall months – preparing our bodies for the lean winter months.

In fact, it is thought that, in earlier times, humans ate so many fruits and vegetables during this time that their blood sugar was at the diabetic or pre-diabetic level. Why is this important? Well, sugar in the blood acts as a sort of antifreeze for the body, and helps it better cope with colder temperatures. (I don’t recommend this, but if you were to taste the antifreeze in your car, it would taste a little sweet.)

At any rate, if you find yourself really craving a good steak, or you can’t get enough fruit or seasonal vegetables– don’t worry. Honor what your body is trying to tell you.

In the late Fall, it’s important to take nutritional measures that help prevent or mitigate dampness in the lungs and sinuses. Drinking warm liquids, such as green and herbal teas, and eating hot soups is an excellent way to keep your sinuses open and clear. Using spices in your cooking, such as cumin, turmeric, chiles, Tabasco and cinnamon, can also help keep your sinuses and airways clear and your body warm.

Synchronizing your physical activity and nutrition to the seasonal changes of body, mind and earth, is a powerful way to promote excellent health and help avoid illness and disease.

We’ll talk about Spring in the next post.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Living in Alignment With Nature – Part 1

Autumn has finally arrived here in Central Texas, with rain and temperatures more reflective of what Fall should feel like. We dropped from the 80s to the 50s in less than a day. With a cool North breeze to accentuate the shift.

Times like this, I am thankful for the wonderful Five Elements Daoyin (Wu Xing Jing) form I learned some years ago and include in my Qigong and Breathwork classes and private lessons. The Lung exercise, which is associated with the Metal element and the Fall season, is particularly important right now. Fall includes changing temperatures, changing wind directions, and changing energies, all of which can make you more susceptible to seasonal colds and flus, allergies, and even more serious illness. Unless, of course, you build RESILIENCE through healthy nutrition, good sleeping habits, and doing your Lung / Metal exercise on a regular basis.

(BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about this super effective, powerful, yet easy (and dare I say FUN) health practice, go here for more on the Five Elements / Wu Xing Daoyin form.)

With the cold comes more outside training. What? Outside? Don’t you mean more INSIDE training, Karen?

No I don’t. Our summers are so brutally and endlessly hot, and we typically have to time our outside exercise and other activities to the early mornings or late evenings. Now, with the onset of cooler / colder weather in the Fall and Winter, we can enjoy our activities outside at any time of the day.

And it’s important to align yourself with the changing weather by spending time outside. Walks, yard work, sitting out by the fire pit, practicing your Qigong or Tai Chi…it’s all good. We’ve become so insulated from the weather and the changing seasons in our air conditioned / heated buildings and houses. Get out there and get some wind on your face. Shiver a bit until you move and generate some heat.

In fact, I typically do even MORE Qigong sessions outside in the fall and winter than I do in the summer, when it’s easier. Years ago, one of my Qigong and Martial Arts instructors, Master Yoo, taught us to go outside in the early morning and practice our Qigong or martial arts. First thing in the morning, the air is fresher and cleaner. And you aren’t distracted by the tasks and cares of the day.

As he put it, even if the rest of your day “go to shit”, you still accomplished something very important to your health, productivity, and creativity. And you came through on a discipline and a commitment you made to yourself.

A key point Master Yoo hammered on was to do your Qigong outside, no matter the season or the temperature. That way, your body is exposed to the natural, seasonal cycles and becomes more quickly acclimated.

As an aside, Master Yoo was one of my favorite Ki Kung (Korean version of Qigong) and Hap Ki Do instructors. His dad was Korean and his mom was Chinese, as well as a highly respected master of Qigong and Kung Fu. While Master Yoo came up through the TaeKwonDo competitive ranks, his true loves were the exercises and forms his mom taught him. And he, in turn, taught us these ancient disciplines in the hopes we would benefit from them and carry them on to future generations.

Back to the weather…

Your ability to acclimate and adjust enhances your adaptability and therefore, your resilience. Modern science, especially in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, has “discovered” (in quotes because the Chinese beat them to this by about 5,000 years) that putting yourself through discrete bouts of stress – such as exercising in higher intensity bursts followed by rest intervals, or exposing yourself to cold for a period of time – actually trains your body and brain to adapt, so you get stronger and increase your capacity to handle even more stress the next time. These adaptations occur at all levels: physical, mental / emotional, even spiritual…and from the systemic (i.e., circulatory system, lymphatic system, digestive system, etc.) all the way down to the cellular level.

I’ll have more to say about living in alignment with nature in future posts. For now, be sure to get outside and get in sync with the current season, however it may be manifesting in your area of the world right now.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Stand Up and Move Forward

As I was walking the other day, I listened to the Audible version of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times”.

I highly recommend the book. It focuses on four of our finest presidents – Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson – and the “crucible” experience and hardship each went through to become an effective, even transformational, leader.

Goodwin’s description of Franklin Roosevelt’s being stricken with polio, and his long, difficult recovery and return to public political life, reminded me of the importance of our 8X meridians. Well, it reminded me of a lot more than that! But hey, I’m always mindful and making note of the energetic and qigong principles all around us.

Anyways, Franklin fought to develop his upper body and figure out how to leverage various tools, such as his heavy metal leg braces, so he could “walk” again. Of course, his walking involved the heavily demanding task of using crutches and his strengthened upper body to drag along his legs. Alternatively, he would walk arm in arm with one of his sons for support and drag those legs along.

His drive, determination, and innate optimism were incredible! Roosevelt was driven by his belief that he needed to be able to once again “stand upright” and “move forward” physically, to have any chance of acceptance and effectiveness as a political leader.

So, let’s discuss two sets of meridians that, along with our core 8X, enable us to physically and psychologically stand upright and move forward.

Our Beautiful Energetic Matrix

The “Between Heaven and Earth” form activates the Eight Extraordinary Meridians (the “8X”) which in turn strengthens our natural energy matrix and helps us stay healthy and resilient.

We build on our connection with Mother Earth and her life-giving yin energy. As we move through our day-to-day lives, we deal with the material, the substantial, the daily cares of living, and the to-do’s from our task list. However, every now and then, we should connect to Heaven to recharge and renew with that heavenly yang energy. This is where our inspiration and creativity come from.

The cycles of Earth and Heaven – yin and yang – work and recharge – activity and rest – doing and creating – mirror the universe around us. Through reflecting these cycles, the Between Heaven and Earth exercises provide a wonderful way to recharge.

As we wrap up our discussion of this form, I’d like to focus on two sets of the 8X meridians that don’t get as much attention: the Linking Vessels (Wei Mai) and the Heel Vessels (Qiao Mai). There is a Yin and Yang version of each of these, resulting in four meridians that combine to make a circuit that moves up the front of the body and down the back (or alternatively in the opposite direction).

Basically these meridians run from the end of the limbs (legs or arms) into the torso, and back to the limbs again. You can picture them as broad bands or thick hoses of energy that run along the center of your limbs and torso. Each of these connects with the core 8X meridians, including the Conception Vessel (Ren Mai) that runs along the front centerline; the Governing Vessel (Du Mai) that runs along the back centerline; and the Belt Vessel (Dai Mai) that connects like a wide belt or sash.

These core meridians form the beautiful energetic matrix or cage which embodies our constitutional energy. Our 8X are keys to our resilience, health, energy levels…as well as our ability to adapt, to overcome, to recover, and ultimately to come back stronger.

The Linking and Heel Vessels constitute what is called the “Macrocosmic Orbit” which is a circulation that moves energy from the limbs into the torso and then back out again to the limbs. This circulation promotes our ability to move and support our bodies. It also provides the means to move energy throughout our body, to help remove or reduce stagnation or blockages, repair or heal internally…and even project energy to help heal others.

“Endure Consistently and Confidently”

Beyond the physical and energetic constructs, our Linking and Heel Vessels also play crucial roles in our mental and emotional formation.

The Yin and Yang Wei Mai / Linking Vessels help to balance Yin and Yang and demarcate major transformations over time. The Wei Vessels provide the mechanism for significant change – for example, to reverse disease or pathology at any time; or to make significant changes to habits and lifestyle. This is your constitution, your innate ability, your “Optimistic Channel”.

Your Yin Wei Mai pertains to deep internal beliefs about your purpose and the meaning you ascribe to life. It provides drive and focus so you can get through almost any hardship.

Your Yang Wei Mai places you into the sea of possibilities. When you pair infinite possibilities with meaning, purpose, and validation, you generate a deep constitutional flow through which you give yourself permission to make your own choices in life. You can see the best possible outcome, and you free yourself to to do what you really want to do with your “one wild and precious life”, as Mary Oliver puts it.

The Yin and Yang Qiao Mai / Heel Vessels are how you stand up to the world. Do you have an internal locus of control? Can you set appropriate boundaries? What are you willing to grow into? They also reflect whether you are primarily an introvert (yin) or extrovert (yang). These vessels also affect your moral and ethical standards and form your internal compass.

Your Yin Qiao Mai is about understanding you are all potential and appreciating your light. It’s the depth of coming to realize and appreciate what you really offer to the world – AND your obligation to bring your gifts out into the world. Key point: Don’t underestimate or dismiss your light. Appreciate your unique gifts and abilities.

Your Yang Qiao Mai is about shining your light out into the world. It’s how you manifest in the world, how you show up. Are you overly worried or concerned about other peoples’ judgments or how you are being received? Or have you grown and matured enough to just say “NEXT!” at any rejection and keep on moving and showing up? Key point: Don’t hide your light! Let your gifts shine out in the world – we need them! We need that unique and wonderful YOU to show up!

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

“Endure consistently and confidently. Keep walking – keep moving toward ‘The Next One” [i.e., your next goal or important work or achievement]. Because walking means change is possible.

-Masaaki Hatsumi, Soke (Head Instructor) of the Bujinkan Dojo and 34th Soke of Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu

Heaven & Earth and Yin & Yang

The postures and simple movements of the Between Heaven and Earth form help condition us to the vital cycles and rhythms of life.

For example, in our Qigong practice, we devote a lot of time to centering and grounding. These two skills are so important in our Qigong – indeed, they are critical life skills. Life throws a lot at us. Centering and grounding can help you take the incoming fire or stress without overreacting, enabling you to deal with it more effectively. These two skills can also keep you younger.

As the saying goes, “A mind that can control its response to stress is the world’s most advanced anti-aging technology.”

When we ground, we focus primarily on our lower dan tien or energy center (lower abdomen) and on connecting through our feet to the Yin energy of Mother Earth.

However, when we ground, we also enhance our ability to take in Yang energy from Heaven.

Think about it: most buildings and homes have a lightning rod typically located on the roof of the building or in the area where the electrical and other wiring comes into the house. The wire of the rod connects to a metal base that is implanted or stuck into the ground. The rod serves to attract any lightning strike that might otherwise hit the building or house and carry the current into the ground.

Likewise, when we stand and ground, we are attracting heavenly energy or Qi into our bodies, without even having to think about it.

Which Connection is More Important?

With Between Heaven and Earth Qigong, we are more targeted and intentional on accessing energy from Heaven as well as Earth. The postures are representative of the ways we naturally connect to Heaven and Earth in our daily lives. At all times, we maintain a strong connection to Earth through the feet and Hui Yin (point on the perineum). We can also connect quite strongly through our hands.

On the other hand, the connection with Heaven through the Bai Hui (crown of head) typically is not as strong. You can really feel it when the Bai Hui opens – it’s a clear sensation. However, the feeling is like a funnel through which the energy pours, resulting in a smaller stream coming in and down through the point. Therefore, in certain postures we lift our hands and face toward Heaven to help strengthen the connection.

It would seem that our connection with the Earth is the most important. As we move through our day-to-day lives, we deal with the material, the substantial, the daily cares of living, and the to-do’s from our task list. However, every now and then, we should to connect to Heaven to recharge and renew with that heavenly yang energy. This is where our inspiration and creativity come from.

These cycles of Earth and Heaven – yin and yang – work and recharge – activity and rest – doing and creating – mirror the universe around us. Through reflecting these cycles, the Between Heaven and Earth exercises provide a wonderful way to recharge. They activate the Eight Extraordinary Meridians (the “8X”) which in turn strengthens our natural energy matrix and helps us stay healthy and resilient.

How Do I Get Started?

If you’re interested in learning more about Qigong, Breathwork, and related energy disciplines, a great way to get started is with the introductory course, Breathing & Qigong for Health and Energy. In just four weeks, this course provides you with a wonderful introduction to these ancient and vital practices. I bypass all the “woo woo” stuff and focus on the foundational elements of a successful practice, so you can reap the benefits from your first day of learning. It’s like taking private lessons with me (but at a much lower cost).

So, from now on, anytime you stand, breathe, and ground, place a little bit of your awareness on your Bai Hui point at the crown of your head. See yourself as a lightning rod, allowing Yang energy from Heaven to gently funnel into the top of your head and diffuse and settle down into your body, energizing you from head to toe. At the same time, maintain your connection to Mother Earth and enjoy the Yin energy coming up from the soles of your feet into your lower abdomen.

“Suspended Between Heaven and Earth”. There’s no better place to be.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Between Heaven and Earth

In my Qigong classes, I’ve been teaching a version of the “Between Heaven and Earth” form or set of exercises.

The movements are quite simple, and each set of movements builds logically on the previous set. It’s any easy form to learn and do at the physical level. However, the energetics of this form occur at a deeper level of the body, helping to promote the flow of energy of the Eight Extraordinary meridians – the “8X”, as we call them.

The key with this form is to use relaxed intention to become aware of the deeper energetic movements within the body. When performed properly, the movements of the form coupled with the proper intention help promote the flow of energy and gradually eliminate any blockages or stagnation along the meridians.

The 8X form the constitutional level of the energetic body. When they are strong and flowing, they provide the foundation for our physical, mental, and emotional energy and health. They also serve as backups for our Twelve Primary meridians, providing reserves of energy we can draw upon in times of sickness, severe disease, or severe stress.

The 8X and the 12 Primary form a virtuous cycle. Through our Qigong, healthy diet, exercise, getting enough sleep, and other positive lifestyle practices, we build up our 12 Primary meridians as well as the health of each meridian’s associated organ system. The overflow of energy or Qi from the 12 Primary can flow into the 8X, helping to build up our constitutional reserves and, therefore, our resilience. Likewise, building up our 8X meridians – our constitution – can also flow into the 12 Primary to help us improve or restore health, particularly after an illness or other severe stressor.

Our Constitution Impacts our Spiritual Life

I consider myself a Christian and have also studied Daoism for many years. My Medical Qigong training is from an ancient Daoist lineage, as are many of the Qigong forms and practices I have learned over the years. I am always struck by the commonalities between ancient Daoist teachings and practices that help cultivate robust health, mental and emotional harmony, and higher spiritual realization…and the teachings and actions of Jesus, as well as the earliest interpretations of his teachings and example in the Gospels.

The Daoist emphasis is on cultivating the body first so it can become the foundation for deeper mental and spiritual training. We lay the foundation by firmly rooting and connecting to the Earth. We learn to become aware, to listen, to enhance the flow of energy in the physical body. We connect with the energy from Heaven, which in turn helps to raise our awareness to an even higher level and helps us connect into the deeper dimensions of existence.

The Between Heaven and Earth form helps us embody as human our connection to Earth and to Heaven – to the physical as well as the metaphysical or spiritual. In so doing, we increase the dynamic power of our energetic body.

This is consistent with how Jesus is depicted, particularly in the Gospel of John. From the beautiful opening of this wonderful Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

(John 1: 1-5)

Jesus is represented as Logos – the Word. He is also represented as Light. Humans are said to share in this light because we each have the divine spark within us. Yet Jesus was also human. He had a human body and shared in all the very human aspects of existence – the joys, the laughter, the challenges, the rejections – indeed, up to and including an excruciatingly humiliating and painful death.

Daoist practices recognize this divine light. Their deeper meditations led early Daoists to perceive the Light – the biophotonic energy within the human body. Yes, we are biophotonic, electromagnetic entities. Modern science is now discovering this light within us and how our cells use it to communicate.

Yet Daoist practices also honor our physical selves and the importance of being healthy in body as a prerequisite for gaining mental and emotional health and, ultimately, enlightenment.

When we begin to listen, to sense inside ourselves – whether through Qigong, meditation, contemplative prayer…or simply relaxing and being while surrounded by nature…we tap into the Heaven and the Earth that are part of us.

The North Rose Window

So, now that I’ve gone all religious and metaphysical on ya…let’s consider a wonderful example of the Logos and the Light as manifested by Human hands on Earth: the North Rose Window of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

This “symphony in stained glass” exemplifies the two main concepts through which John explains Jesus:

-Jesus and Logos or The Word: the mind, pattern, and plan of God (or the Universal Consciousness) is made incarnate through the patterneed, organized, coherent design of the window. We see a profound harmony and unity of all its elements – glass, stone, colors, and shapes.

-Jesus as Light: “The entire North transept of the cathedral basks in the powerful glow of the Rose window…Like Jesus, the light captured by the windows of Notre Dame shines even into the depths of the darkest places…”

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

Digest the Gristle: The Earth / Spleen Element and Transformation

We’re moving more fully into Fall now, so let’s complete our discussion of the Late Summer / Earth Element by discussing aspects of Earth / Spleen energetics and the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of transformation.

Just as we digest, assimilate, and obtain nourishment through the Stomach and Spleen organ system for our physical bodies, so do we digest and assimilate our experiences, whether good, neutral, challenging, or even traumatic. When our Spleen / Stomach energies are balanced and regulated, we can “digest the gristle” – that is, take from the experience the lessons learned, the “nourishment” to help us grow and get better, the impetus towards the transformation that may be required based on our new knowledge. And we also eliminate that which does not serve or help us.

If we are out of balance – for example, if we are living in a stressed-out state of mind and being or suffering from a chronic health condition – we may have difficulty assimilating nourishment from our challenges. We may embrace lessons that contract or constrict our world view, rather than expand it. We may lack confidence to move forward in life. We may find ourselves unable to trust – we don’t trust other people, and we don’t trust our own gut or intuition. We lose faith in ourselves and our ability to move forward.

In Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the Spleen (Yin organ) and Stomach (its Yang organ pair) are intimately connected. The Stomach receives nourishment and begins the digestive process; the Spleen transforms this nourishment into Qi / energy and blood, and then transports the Qi and blood throughout the body. Stomach and Spleen create a dynamic balance between giving and receiving.

The key qualities of the Earth element are nourishment and stability. When our Earth element is balanced and stable, we easily transform food into nourishment and experiences into lessons-learned and growth. We feel well-nourished and grounded within our body. Our Earth energy provides the stable platform from which to trust ourselves, our gut, our intuition. And we can attend to others, giving support, encouragement, and nurturing.

When our Earth element is out of balance, we are unable to transform or assimilate food or experiences. We feel unstable and ungrounded. Our mind may go around and around in an endless cycle of excessive rumination. This can include rumination and overthinking about something that just happened, so we can’t digest and learn from it. This can also include obsessing or excessive worry about an event (either real or imagined) yet to come.

As a result, we never get off the dime. Our natural Yi or intention, also associated with the Spleen / Stomach, becomes weak. Our Yi influences our capacity for thinking, concentrating, and studying. It helps us think through our life experiences. If our Yi is weak or unbalanced, we won’t learn our lessons, and we may make the same mistakes, over and over again. We also lose motivation and become less resilient.

Earth’s Connection to Our North Star

Within Daoist teachings, the Earth element is associated with the North Star. How so? Well, first, visualize yourself standing on the stable, solid earth under your feet – this is the grounded state of trusting yourself. Then form a triangle with the thumb and forefinger of each hand and raise your arms straight up above you. Now look up through the triangle to the North Star. Set your ultimate goals, your intention (or Yi) square within your sights. Your “True North” helps guide you through life, through the challenges, the lessons learned, the detours. As long as you can stay grounded and have a place to stand, you can figure out a way through.

Or, as Casey Kasem used to say, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep looking at the stars”.

So, you see how important the Earth / Spleen element is to our growth and transformation. Its key virtue is Trust: trust in ourselves, as well as our ability to trust in others.

Trusting oneself to learn, to grow, to be able to handle new situations and challenges. Going deep inside and listening to what our gut is telling us (i.e., the enteric nervous system which has more neurons than the brain). Using this as the stable ground from which we set our intention and purpose and move forward in life. Good stuff!

How to Boost and Balance your Spleen / Earth Element

The Wu Xing / Five Elements exercise for Earth / Spleen is a simple yet powerful movement for building this energy within yourself.

Earth elemental energy rises from the level of the Spleen and Stomach and then divides as it reaches the top of the thrusting meridian (Chong Mai), which moves up through the center of the body. This yellow, dividing energy exists at the point of change or transformation of the other elements.

In the Earth / Spleen exercise, we use movement and intention to pull up energy from the ground / earth through our core, through the level of the Spleen and Stomach, up to the point at which the energy divides at the center point of change between the other elements. The nice stretch and twist of this exercise also directly activate the Spleen and Stomach meridians.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Five Elements exercises, visit the Wu Xing / Five Elements Course page.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen

What Should I Be Eating Right Now?

Nutrition, digestion, and nourishment are central foundations of life. Life is impossible without the Earth Element function to receive food (and drink), transform it into Qi and blood, and transport the Qi and blood throughout the body.

Even though winter seems far away right now, Late Summer is a crucial time of preparation for the colder weather. As we follow the seasonal cycle, we focus on the Spleen and Stomach organ system during this time because it’s important that we eat in order to prepare our bodies for winter and hibernation.

Of course, in modern times, as denizens of rich western societies, we no longer must prepare ourselves for lean times and curtailed food choices or availability in winter. In fact, many of us put on some pounds during winter because we aren’t as active and aren’t going outside as much.

However, you can still follow the natural cycles and phases of nature…and you will be all the healthier for it!

So, what do we eat to help regulate and balance our Earth element – our Spleen and Stomach? The Spleen and Stomach like “sweet” foods. Late summer is a time of harvesting and gathering, so we eat late summer corn, fruits, and grains. Sweet foods that strengthen the Earth element include whole grains like millet and rice, and root vegetables such as yams, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

“Sweet” in Classical Chinese Medicine also refers to certain meat dishes, such as rich beef stews with vegetables. Think of dishes that soothe and nourish, and you are on the right track.

Most of us are still active this time of year. Yes, the kids are back in school and many of us are back to a regular work schedule, so we may feel time starved. But it’s important to continue to get outside and get that natural Vitamin D – and equally important to maintain physical activity. Physical activity helps ensure regular peristaltic activity in the stomach, intestine, and colon supporting good digestion, assimilation, and elimination.

The mouth is the sensory organ related to the Spleen. Issues such as chronic bad breath or bleeding gums could be a sign of deficient Spleen / Stomach function.

The muscles are the tissue associated with the Spleen. Think about the healthy folks you know. They likely have a strong, balanced Spleen and Stomach. The ability to maintain or build muscle mass means your digestive function is working and you can process the protein you eat into amino acids that help build and repair body structures as well as important enzymes that support critical processes.

Now think about someone you know who has difficulty gaining or maintaining weight. This person could have digestive troubles and be weak or out of balance in their Spleen and Stomach organ system.

How to Boost and Balance your Spleen / Earth Element

In addition to “eating for your Spleen” (that sounds like a wonderful tagline for a promotional campaign), you can also practice the Wu Xing / Five Elements exercise for Earth / Spleen.

Earth elemental energy rises from the level of the Spleen and Stomach and then divides as it reaches the top of the thrusting meridian (Chong Mai), which moves up through the center of the body. This yellow, dividing energy exists at the point of change or transformation of the other elements.

In the Earth / Spleen exercise, we use movement and intention to pull up energy from the ground / earth through our core, through the level of the Spleen and Stomach, up to the point at which the energy divides at the center point of change between the other elements. The nice stretch and twist of this exercise also directly activate the Spleen and Stomach meridians.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Five Elements exercises, visit the Wu Xing / Five Elements Course page.

In our next post on the Earth Element, we will go deeper into the Earth / Spleen energetics and the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of transformation.