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Chinese Medicine Theory

Winter is coming…

By | Chinese Medicine Theory, Community Classes, Dao Yin, Evolve Health + Wellness, Exercise and Fitness, Preventation + Wellness, Qi Gong, Stress Reduction, Tui Na, Yang Shen | No Comments

Winter is coming… and Fall is the perfect time to engage in preventative health and wellness!

Here’s how you can use Chinese Medicine to prepare yourself for the turn of the seasons and enjoy a healthy and vital autumn and winter.

We all know that staying healthy during the change of seasons can be challenging. We know to wash our hands to protect ourselves from germs picked up from the subway, or our kids starting school, but what else can you do? You might not know that you can also protect yourself with daily practice of Qi Gong.

In Chinese medicine, our defense from pathogens (or germs, or viruses) is imaged as a kind of epic battle, in which we defend against external pathogenic influences using our Protective Qi, or Wei Qi. Of the six kinds of external pathogens, arguably the most dangerous to us is Cold. And we are quite susceptible to it as the seasons turn from summer to winter. The autumn is a time to protect and build our internal fire, or Yang energy, to help fuel the fight against pernicious Cold. The study of Cold attack is ancient, and complicated, but many illnesses can be traced to an invasion of this “pathogen.” This is why many natural medicines recommend eating warm, cooked foods, and warn against going out into the cold with wet clothes (after sweating through a vigorous gym workout or yoga class), and encourage wearing appropriate layers for the seasons. Just as your grandmother knew, poor protection against cold and wet can mean getting sick. But while she might admonish you to put on your coat, or an extra scarf, these Qi Gong practices can help you generate an energetic protection to fight off the colds and flus from the inside out.

Dao Yin, or guiding the Qi, is one of the main categories of Qi Gong (traditional health cultivating exercises). It is a practice that uses the pathways and acupoints of the body’s energetic systems to strengthen the immune system and ward off injury from attack. This very simple Dao Yin exercise, when done every day, can act to strengthen your Wei Qi. My students like to refer to this as the “Chinese Flu Shot”.

You’ll need to know a few basic principles of Chinese physiology in order to do this exercise:

1. The body is comprised of Yin and Yang aspects. Tender areas such as the belly, inside of the arms and legs are considered Yin. Strong muscular areas such as the back and outside of the limbs are Yang.

2. The arm-yin meridians flow from the torso along the inside of the arms to the fingers. The arm-yang meridians flow from the fingers along the outside of the arms to the head. The leg-yang meridians flow from the head down the torso and along the outer edge or back of the legs to the toes. The leg-yin meridians flow from the toes along the inner edge of the legs to the torso. In this way, the Qi makes a complete circuit of the body.

Next, you’ll need to know two basic hand techniques from Tui Na (a system of medicinal massage).

1. Patting: use a cupped palm to “pack” in energy along the Yin meridian pathways. The image we commonly use to teach this technique is like patting sand into a sand castle.

2. Slapping: use a flattened surface of the hand to strike the Yang surfaces forcefully, like getting rid of air bubbles underneath the surface of saran wrap.

Then, following the pattern of Yang to Yin and Yin to Yang on the body, apply Patting and Slapping to give yourself a vigorous Dao Yin massage. If you can’t remember the pathways of the meridians, just remember to use Patting on the tender spots, and Slapping on the more muscled areas. Do three circuits of the body, head to toe, and finish with Patting at the Dan Tian (the area of the abdomen below the umbilicus). Then, stand still for a few moments with both hands cupping the Dan Tian, to store the energy in your body. Most people will feel invigorated and peaceful at the same time, with a sensation of tingling or activation all along the body’s surface. This is your Wei Qi being strengthened and activated.

This simple exercise is best done in the morning, and also makes a great warm up prior to exercise.

Come by to learn this easy routine as we move into the crisp beauty of the autumn season. We will be offering a free Dao Yin class at Evolve this Fall to help you strengthen and store your qi reserves so you can benefit from and enjoy the rich and deep aspects of Winter stillness. And remember, don’t forget your scarf and hat!

Free and Easy Wandering

By | Chinese Medicine Theory, Exercise and Fitness, Meditation, Stress Reduction | No Comments
Central Park in Spring

Central Park in the Spring

“Heaven begins to generate warm energy and Earth begins to develop, so that everything flourishes… The spring possesses the will to grow, and after things have grown, do not destroy them.”

Spring is finally here! You can feel the transitioning of winter into spring as the temperature ping pongs up and down, keeping us on our thermostatic toes. But inevitably, inexorably, the buds pop out on the trees, the bulbs push up, and there’s a tantalizing scent in the air. Here at Evolve Health + Wellness, our wall-length “wave” windows shows the  community garden putting off its winter coat of snow and revealing delicate colors of silvery green leaves, pale white branches of blossoms, and the occasional splash of wild yellows and pinks of daffodils and tulips.

You can feel the sap rising, and it’s not just in the natural world around us (even in NYC) but it is within us as well! Our own “sap” is rising. Free and unfettered, it moves us into new projects and engaging with the world, and prepares us for stepping out into the bright light of summer.

An ancient Chinese medicine text called the Huang Di Nei Jing says: “Heaven begins to generate warm energy and Earth begins to develop, so that everything flourishes… The spring possesses the will to grow, and after things have grown, do not destroy them.”

So how to best take advantage of this time of blooming and growth? This is a time of year I get to give out one of my favorite prescriptions: FREE AND EASY WANDERING. This 2,000+ year old advice from the Huang Di Nei Jing teaches us the importance of adapting to the seasons for the benefit of our health.

The text tells us: “it is desirable to get up in the morning, take a walk in the yard, to loosen up the hair and relax the body.”

This advice was later associated with a phrase coined by Chuangzi, a famous Taoist philosopher, as free and easy wandering. It’s such a great prescription that it even has an herbal formula named after it!

To grow and flourish with the spring, we need to have the relaxation of body and spirit for the natural energy of the season to move through us. It we are tight and contracted, or too much turned inward, the flow that wants to rise up and out will be impeded. A blockage of this kind can manifest emotionally as irritation, frustration, and feeling on edge, or physically, with a myriad of symptoms such as headaches, gut disturbances, changes in menstruation, or even neck or back pain.

So to follow this ancient prescription:

GET UP IN THE MORNING: it’s not just daylight savings, we are returning to the long days of summer. It’s time to shake off the cocoon-like habits of winter and greet the day with awareness and by being awake. In the winter we sleep in, and store energy. Now is the time to rise and shine. Use those extra minutes to stretch or breathe, or simply gaze at the beautiful world around you with a cup of coffee or tea.

TAKE A WALK IN THE YARD: well, we might not have those here in NYC, but we’ve got wonderful parks, gardens, rivers and open space. Even just finding a quiet few blocks with some hardy city trees will do. Walk briskly, allowing your arms to swing and lungs to pump. Gaze far off into the distance, across the water, down the block, at the buildings around you. Wide open spaces lift our spirits through the eyes and their direct connection to our energy. Look far, and definitely not at your cell phone!

LOOSEN YOUR HAIR: this prescription dates to when people wore their hair only bound up in the social sphere. Unbinding your hair means letting go of the trappings of that world and returning to a natural state. As you walk, or wander freely, let your mind let go of worries, thoughts of work and relationships recede to a low buzz. Just take in what’s around you, see it, enjoy it, and let it go.

RELAX THE BODY: we store all kinds of tension in our physical structures. Shoulder tightness from desk work, restricted breathing from tension in the diaphragm. Let that go too. Be easy, be relaxed. As you walk, find areas of restriction and allow them to melt away. Use the flow of the walking to release.

Try this prescription every day, if you can, for 30-60 minutes during this season. Sub out the gym for some free and easy wandering. Enjoy this observance of the natural movement of energy all around us. Find a favorite city spot and go!