Contemplating the Cycles of Time

We’ve been on a long-planned vacation, including two weeks at Priscilla Beach which is south of Plymouth, Mass. We dropped off our son at Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) for his 11-day orientation, which is part orientation, part boot camp. If he successfully completes orientation, he will graduate along with his fellow cadet candidates and be officially appointed to the Academy.

During orientation, the cadet candidates turn in their phones and are not allowed to call their parents. It’s a full immersion, full team-building experience. For many of these young adults, including our son, this may well be the first time they have not had any interaction with their parents for such an extensive period of time.

I must admit: it’s been hard! It’s been so weird not to speak with my son, feel his energy, joke around with him, or do something together. It’s also been hard because this is the first step to letting go and allowing him to move forward into this next chapter of life. He doesn’t need Mom all the time anymore. He will have to figure things out on his own, or with the help of his fellow cadets, cadre, academic advisors, and professors. All we can do is make sure he knows he is loved and supported and we are all (by all I mean our entire family) rooting for him.

Now it’s up to him to grasp this opportunity and begin to fulfill his potential.

And it’s incumbent upon me – Mom – to relax and let go.

Thinking about how fast the years have passed has been especially poignant these past few weeks at the beach. During most years as my son grew up, we anchored each summer with our annual family beach trip. This is the first year we have been at the beach without him! (Although we will have him for five days around Labor Day weekend and he will get in some beach time then.) It’s made me think about the cyclicality of time. Each year cycles through the full set of seasons; the work, school, sports, and family obligations; the rhythms of family life; the amazing growth and development as our kids get older.

When you’re in the middle of it, you can easily lose perspective on just how much they are changing and developing.

And when you look back, you can only wonder, “Where did the time go? “.

Time Is Cyclical

If you can relate to the angst I have been feeling, here is a thought that may comfort you: Time does not run out. It doesn’t move from left to right.

As the round clock tells us, time keeps coming ’round. The seasons keep cycling ’round. Time enjoyed in the past is still there. Our achievements and our good deeds still exist. The present is real and precious, regardless of how short or long our future may be. So enjoy it!

If you can view time this way – appreciating that it cycles, it doesn’t just run out – you can live in a more relaxed, integrated, and connected way.

Relaxed because time gone is not time used up. More integrated with life and more connected with others because we can focus on the present. We appreciate the wonderful gift of life TODAY to be enjoyed and used as we choose.

Each moment of life has the quality of eternity. Our memories live on in our hearts and minds. The impact we have made on others – such as our kids – lives on in theirs.

My Medical Qigong lineage is a Taoist one, and we Taoists believe that we are each an integrated part of God’s creation. As such, we are happiest and healthiest when we follow and align with nature’s laws.

So, as we move from late summer (at least here in New England) to Fall, I will follow nature’s cycle, not fight it. I will allow this bittersweet feeling – a combination of pride in my son and readiness for him to take the next step, along with the sadness of letting him go off into the world – to wash over me, permeate me, and somehow comfort me. Which perfectly aligns with the five elements as we enter Fall and the Metal / Lung phase – a phase which includes inspiration and new hope…integrating what we have experienced and learned…and letting go of the past so we can move forward in our journey.

I will cherish the memories of the past, look forward to the new adventures that are coming, yet remain fully present in THIS moment and THIS time, so I can take it all in.

You Can Do It!

Dr. Karen


The Fire Within

Well, we are really into summer now, aren’t we?

Here in Central Texas, we have been experiencing our first set of continuous, 90-plus degree days along with humidity, pushing our heat index to 100-plus. Someone just told me it’s forecast to “feel like” 108 degrees this afternoon. Hot stuff!

This time of year, I do my Qigong and my walking or jogging first thing in the morning, to get ahead of the heat. I prefer to do my Qigong outside, in one of several special or “sacred” spots in my yard or in the woods behind us. The air is much fresher in the morning, in part due to the relative coolness, in part due to the respiration of the trees which is changing, so they are releasing more oxygen and thereby increasing the ionization in the air.

Anyways, back to summer. We started discussing the Five Elements (Wu Xing) a couple of months ago. We hit the highlights of the Spring element, Liver / Wood, and have been practicing our Liver / Wood exercise. It’s past time to dive into summer and begin practicing our Heart / Fire DaoYin. Here is some information on this element to help inform your practice.

Heart / Fire Element

According to Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the Heart is the Emperor of all the organs. All the other organs will sacrifice for the Heart, in other words they will give their energy to the Heart to help maintain its balance. The Heart’s associated yang organ is the Small Intestine.

The Heart is responsible for the circulation of blood as well as lymph. The Heart is also considered to be where the mind resides. So we refer to the “Heart-Mind” in this area, as it is a mental and emotional center. And when you think about it, this makes sense. We know that the Heart has its own nervous system which can function autonomously from the brain and provides information to the brain. We also know that the digestive system, particularly the small intestine, has its own brain, called the enteric nervous system.

Think about how you make decisions, either consciously or unconsciously – typically through a combination of analysis or rational thinking plus a gut feeling or impression. Hence the concept of the Heart – Mind working together.

Physical Aspects of the Heart

The Pericardium protects the Heart. In the Fire / Heart Wu Xing exercise, we work directly through the Pericardium meridian to pull healing energy into our Heart / Middle Dan Tien. We also explore an important healing point, the Laogong point (PC8), which is on our palms.

The tongue is the sensory organ related to the Heart. We use tongue diagnosis in Classical and Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture.

The blood vessels are the tissue associated with the Heart. Because the face has many blood vessels, the complexion can reveal the state of the Heart. A pale complexion can indicate insufficient blood flow, an overly red face can indicate excessive heat or inflammation. As we have learned more about a lot of the chronic diseases that afflict our Western society, we have increased our focus on inflammation (or “heat” in CCM) as a common causal actor, including in heart disease and related conditions. 

Psycho-Emotional Aspects of Heart / Fire

Excessive joy and excitement are the negative emotions associated with the Heart. It’s taking the positive emotion of happiness or joy too far, so it’s like a manic type of feeling or energy. For example, someone with ADD or ADHD who might be super high energy, but also has trouble winding down or calming themselves so they can focus or sleep.

Excessive stress can negatively impact the Heart. As can the lack of self-expression or not being able to share. The heart’s associated organ is the tongue, which is evidence of the its close connection to language, creativity, self-expression, and sharing love.

Positive emotions associated with the Heart are happiness, joy, and love. These emotions can inspire us. They can also lead to a state of peacefulness.

Why is Summer associated with the Heart and Small Intestine? Fire generates light energy, and light is love. Without love, we would wither away from the inside out. Without passion, life would be joyless. And without self-love, we could never blossom into the fullness of all we are meant to be. Love, passion, and enthusiasm inspire creativity and self-expression.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Wu Xing Jing / Five Elements Health Form, click here. Discover the master blueprint for a powerful health practice!

An Easy Way to Nourish the Qi and Blood

When first learning Qigong, you focus quite a bit on relaxing, breathing, and learning the movements of various exercises.

Your initial task is to learn the correct form of each movement while staying relaxed. Then you learn to match the correct breathing pattern (“inhale here, exhale there”) with the movement. Once the movement and breathing become more automatic or “dialed in”, kinda like muscle memory, you can relax more fully and use intention to help improve your awareness of your internal energy, or qi (“chi”).

While we keep in mind the general pattern of energy flow associated with the movements, we never force or guide the energy. The body, in its innate wisdom, knows what to do and how the energy should flow. Instead, as a newer practitioner, you want to open your awareness of the energy centers (the Dan Tien) and the energy flowing within you. It’s often a subtle thing: you slowly become aware of the flow, the feeling of tingling, or heat, or of a heavy, almost magnetic liquid. You may begin to feel a more powerful connection between your hands when you play with your energy ball (or energy pearl). And you begin to feel not only heat, but also movement in your lower dan tien during your standing practice.

These manifestations of Qi are welcome events. But don’t become stuck on them. Enjoy the sensation, be proud of your progress, but don’t dwell on the feeling. Keep practicing and learning, keep relaxing and opening, allow your focus and intention to grow. Be mindful during your practice; gently focus on what you are doing. Your ability to simultaneously relax and focus is one of your most powerful tools in Qigong – AND in life.

Activating Points

With our qigong, we seek to promote the flow of energy through the meridians, or energy pathways. Maintaining this free flow and eliminating any blockages is especially important. However, we sometimes focus on a specific point to help increase the results we can achieve from a particular movement. Or we press or tap on specific points to help balance or regulate their corresponding organ or energy center. Point manipulation should be an important part of your health and wellness practice. This is why we often end our Qigong classes or sessions with some seated work, during which we tap or rub along our meridians and rub specific points.

One of the best points to start out with is the Zusanli, or Stomach 36 (ST36), point. This point is below the knee along the Stomach meridian (see image below). The best way to locate it is to place your four fingers just below and to the outside of your knee cap. Just below your little finger will be the correct level of the point. Then move laterally so you are to the outside of the tibia (shinbone). You should find a small depression in the leg where the point is located (in between the crest of the tibia and the tibialis muscle). Feel around a little, pressing with your thumb or finger, until you get a sense of the point’s location.

ST 36 has a nourishing effect on the Qi and the blood. It’s a commonly used point and a great one to start out with, as it will not have a detrimental effect on any internal condition you may have. You can activate it by massaging or pressing on it with your thumb. Find and rub the point on one leg, then the other. Once you have the feel of the point on each leg, stand up and assume your Wu Ji posture, which we use for standing qigong and meditation.

Once in Wu Ji, bring your awareness down to the ST 36 point in each leg. Use your awareness to activate each point. Breathe into and out of the point. Specifically, focus on your exhale as you maintain intention on the point. After a few minutes, you should start to become aware of an increasing pressure in the area of your ST 36 point. The point may become warm, and you may start to feel energy or tingling. As you continue to keep your awareness at the point and lead your breath, you will move energy into the Stomach meridian.

If you continue, you may feel warmth and tingling move out along the meridian. This is a sign that the Qi and blood have been stimulated. Enjoy the feeling for a few more minutes. If you don’t feel anything, don’t worry about it. It may take a few attempts of finding and pressing or rubbing the point to get the feeling…focusing your awareness and breathing on it…then beginning to feel some pressure or warmth. As long as you are following these steps, you are engaging in a nourishing practice with wonderful benefits to your energy and wellbeing.

Why is the Zusanli point so powerful and nourishing? Why is it one of the key points that Medical Qigong / Classical Chinese Medical doctors have traditionally focused on and worked with, since ancient times? We’ll discuss this and more in our next post.

Resilient Edge Wellness Featured by the North Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce

I was delighted to be interviewed and featured in a recent BizBuzz video published by the North Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce. Our Chamber is based in Lago Vista and does excellent work within the communities of Lago Vista, Jonestown, and Point Venture. These towns are little gems located on Lake Travis in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, and just a short ride from Austin.

Local BizBuzz: Resilient Edge Wellness

The current episode of Biz Buzz takes the NLT President, Tim McClellan, to the office of Resilient Edge Wellness. Dr. Karen Van Ness (DMQ,DCEM,CPT, MS) specializes in Medical Qigong (pronounced chee-gong). Tim will take you on a quick visit with Dr. Van Ness to learn more about the traditional aspects of this ancient medical system now available on the North Shore. Used as both alternative and complementary to Western medicine, there is a lot to learn about this fascinating practice. (Click on the image to view the video.)

Visit us at our website to learn more, download our most popular special report, or schedule a free, 30 minute consultation.

Resilient Edge Wellness

7400 Lohman Ford Rd Suite E

Lago Vista, TX 78645

Ph. 512-267-3915

Two Sides of the Same Coin

As we discussed in our previous post, the Liver / Wood element is associated with compassion, patience, and kindness. These are the virtues we are born with. When our Liver is in balance, we manifest these virtues in the world. When our Liver is out of balance, we may experience anger or frustration, impatience, or rage.

In addition, the Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of blood (and therefore Qi). And it is said that the blood in turn influences our Shen or spirit. Whatever is going on in the Liver has a direct and significant impact on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I want to talk a little bit more about anger and its impact on us. When we purge and release stagnation, we not only enhance the patient’s physical health, but we also release excess anger that has built up. We can then regulate and balance the Liver’s energy.

But why is anger so bad for the Liver? Is anger always bad? Can’t it sometimes serve us?

Well, no emotion is completely “good” or “bad”, “positive” or “negative”. I try not to use those terms when explaining the Yin – Yang dynamics and inter-relationships between things, as it results in a value judgement that is not helpful. Rather, we should think in terms of continuums and whether being on the extreme range of a continuum is beneficial…or too much.

For example, the Heart is associated with joy and excitement. However, too much joy and excitement can manifest as manic behavior, anxiety, or ADD. As the saying goes, “It’s the dosage that makes the medicine or the poison”.

We observe the same continuum with anger. A certain amount of anger or frustration can serve to motivate us to make changes or work harder to overcome the obstacles in our way. However, the motivational power of anger usually does not last long. And excessive anger can become rage.

The most insidious aspect of anger – especially in terms of its effect on the Liver – is that it is usually directed inwardly at ourselves. This kind of sustained, self-directed anger and frustration is the root cause of many illnesses. It unbalances the Liver energy, resulting in either excess – and the Liver overpowering the Heart or Spleen – or in deficiency, with the Liver pulling more energy, more Jing, from the Kidneys.

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it stands than to anything on which it is poured

Mahatma gandhi

In their ancient wisdom, the early classical Chinese medical doctors paired anger and compassion as the acquired and congenital emotions or virtues associated with the Liver. They really are two sides of the same coin. Anger, whether directed inwardly or at others, is a destructive emotion. When we treat others – and ourselves – with compassion, we acknowledge the good, the divine spark, in each of us, and we propagate kindness, empathy, and grace into the world. We build up rather than tear down. We move forward with forgiveness and understanding, rather than allow ourselves to remain mired in the muck of anger and rage.

Anger may spark us to act – sometimes in a helpful way – but it can also be potentially destructive. On the other hand, compassion involves not only sympathy or empathy, but also a strong drive to alleviate the suffering of others.

One of the phrases I like to use – and often remind myself of – is by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who developed Psycho-Cybernetics back in the 1950s and 1960s. One of his simplest but most profound teachings is, “See yourself – and others – with kind eyes”.

An Important Storage Spot for Emotional Energy

In previous posts, we’ve discussed the Five Element Framework of Classical Chinese Medicine and applied it specifically to the current season, Spring, and its associated element and organ, Wood / Liver.

Let’s get into some of the emotional and energetic manifestations of the Liver.

The Wood element energy is defined as “New Yang”, manifesting through new beginnings and expansive and sprouting growth actions. It therefore represents a period of energetic growth and expansion. Hence, its association with Spring and the growth and expansive energies we see, feel, and hear all around us as plants and flowers sprout up from the ground, trees begin to leaf up, birds and critters begin to pair up and nest, and the daylight hours grow longer.

Liver energy is a rising energy. We can feel it thrust upwards in our body when we perform our Liver DaoYin exercise. In the exercise, we guide the energy up with our hands, then guide the energy back down so we stay grounded and rooted.

From an emotional aspect, the energy of the Wood element corresponds to what the Daoists call the Hun or Soul of each person. This theory holds that the Liver encodes all our memories and emotional content and, in a sense, writes or records this onto the “CD” or “tape” of each person’s life. This then becomes the record of our life that we take with us when we transition. In a sense, this corresponds with the concept of our subconscious which takes in everything that happens to us and serves as a repository of memories and emotional content. This is one reason we focus on the Liver as part of assessing and working with individuals who may have suffered from trauma.

Here’s the good news: we are not stuck with the initial recording that has been laid down in our Hun. As we mature, move away in time from the traumatic incident, learn, and grow, we can go back, either consciously or unconsciously, and process and modify the memories and emotional content. We can go back and change the story or reframe what happened to us. We take the lesson we can learn, the motivation to do or be different or better. We welcome the perspective and even wisdom we can derive from the experiences that come with living a full life.

The Liver / Wood element is associated with compassion, patience, and kindness. These are the virtues we are born with. When our Liver is in balance, we manifest these virtues in the world. When our Liver is out of balance, we may experience anger or frustration, impatience, or rage.

Therefore, treatment of the Liver often includes purging to help eliminate the toxicity that has built up. We can do this through energetic treatments; through specific types of qigong exercises; and even through simple things like drinking lemon water.

The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of blood (and therefore Qi). When we purge and release stagnation, we not only enhance the patient’s physical health, but we also release excess anger that has built up. We can then regulate and balance the Liver’s energy, allowing benevolence, compassion, and love for others to radiate from the Liver.

As we approach Easter, it seems appropriate to do our part to send out more benevolence, love, and compassion, doesn’t it?

Let That Shit Go (It’s Good for You)

Let’s apply the Five Element Framework specifically to the current season, Spring, and its associated element and organ, Wood / Liver. What are the physical and emotional health aspects of Liver? And how can you support your Liver and overall health, especially now that Spring Has Sprung?

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, the Liver is the organ responsible for the smooth flow of emotions as well as the smooth flow of Qi and blood in your body. It controls the volume and smooth flow of blood in your vessels and stores the blood. It’s the organ that is most affected by excess stress or emotions. The Liver’s partner organ is the Gallbladder.

The eyes are the sensory organ related to the Liver. If you have any eye issues, including blurry vision, red or dry eyes, itchy eyes, it may be a sign deep down that your Liver is not functioning smoothly. Also, we often consider the brightness in someone’s eyes as an indicator of their overall health and vitality.

The tendons are the tissue associated with the Liver. In Chinese martial arts, they say that strength comes from the tendons, not the muscles. We also focus on tendon and ligament strength and suppleness in our qigong practice.

Anger is the emotion associated with the Liver. If you are often irritable, get angry easily, have trouble unwinding from the day’s activities, have trouble reasoning or going with the flow and letting things go, you are experiencing a Liver function problem. Experiencing these emotions chronically or excessively, such as ongoing frustration, can seriously unbalance the function of your Liver.

Positive attributes associated with the Liver are drive and determination. Think about the “drive”, the “will to life” we see every spring as the tiniest shoots of plants or grass or trees push up through the soil, or even through rocks or cracks in the concrete. In human terms, this corresponds to the person who has will power to overcome challenges and even create new things.

Spring is the season associated with the Liver and Gallbladder. It’s the season of growth and renewed energy, so it’s a wonderful time to work on your Liver. Just don’t get too caught up in the spring’s intense energies. Taking walks in the park or the woods is a fantastic way to rejuvenate. As I said above, the Liver is the organ most affected by excess stress or emotions. So let go of the stress and any anger (see my Buddha T-shirt for one of my favorite phrases…). Also, purging exercises, such as the Five Elements Dao Yin Exercise you can learn here, are a fantastic way to detox your liver.

One thing to also be careful about is to watch the alcohol. If you drink, drink in moderation because alcohol has a direct impact on your liver. Being a beer and wine drinker myself, I hate to have to pass that along, but… a drink or two here or there is not a problem. But if you feel like your Liver may need some TLC, lay off for several weeks and see how you feel.

In my next post, I’ll explore more of the psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects associated with Liver and Gallbladder.