Spring is here and the time for new beginnings is upon us. From a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) perspective, living in harmony with nature is ideal for preventing disease and perpetuating optimum health. In this season, we move from a time of restoration and inactivity to one of rebirth and expansion—which is represented by the wood element. The key energetic organ systems for spring are the Liver and Gallbladder. These organs are essential for regulating numerous systems in the body, the smooth flow of Qi, as well as detoxifying the body. Due to the important role of storing and distributing the blood in TCM, the Liver and Gallbladder rule over the body’s tendons. The tendons get very little blood circulation— which means the slightest deviation in blood flow can affect them significantly.
Just as the leaves begin to grow and the trees sprout their buds, so, too, must we start to move our bodies. Not with a crazy push or bursts of energy, but with a gradual flow in order to activate, cleanse, and lubricate tissues as we revitalize them from the slumber of winter. Twists and binds can help massage the tissues to moisten and purge accumulated debris—similar to the way you would flush a dry rag with water and wring it out before using it.
As the body becomes more fluid and supple, the flow can increase and began to expand its boundaries. Just as rain showers flow through the trees and help form new growth, we can start moving the energy and shifting our bodies and minds to new heights. The color of spring is green—which keys you into the kinds of foods that can support your body in this season. Green foods such as broccoli, cabbage, wheat grass, kale and sprouts can help the liver function and support the smooth flow of Qi and blood. When the liver is not functioning properly and the flow of Qi is disrupted, we experience the rise of emotions such as anger, frustration and depression. The opposite is true as well; when these emotions are minimized, the liver again functions effectively. Movement is vital at this time to keep the mind relaxed and the Qi flowing.
Stoke your Inner Fire during the spring practice by bringing your body into balance through detox, fluidity and flow to maximize the potential for growth and expansion. Let this attention to your practice help active the energy of renewal, creativity and wellbeing during this season. If you’re recommitting to your practice, try 5 Days of Movement instead.
Bloom well Yogis!
Have you ever noticed how you feel in different seasons? Both mentally and physically, we tend to respond to the environment around us. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on this concept. It’s rooted in the observation of nature and the unique dynamics to which nature adheres. No season is a more perfect example than winter.
During winter, the temperature is colder and the days are shorter. In response, nature slows down. Animals hibernate, plants and trees grow more slowly, elements become more dense and damp. Every living thing turns within to nurture itself.
In the theory of Yin and Yang common to Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter reflects the utmost yin quality. In TCM, we’re taught to heed the environmental conditions in order to live in harmony with nature. Activity should slow, rests should be extended, and food should come from dense nutrients—perhaps stewed over extended periods of time.
The organ most correlated with this season is the kidney. The kidney houses the body’s original “Qi” (basis of energy). It also stores “essence,” which is the dense form that produces bone marrow and spinal fluid. This correlation makes it is easy to see why the kidney is so important to brain health and bone development in TCM. In addition to being the body’s primary source of yin, the kidneys serve as the “ming men fire” or “gate of vitality.” This gate lies deep between the two kidneys—opening their yang dimension. An equal representation of both yin and yang makes the kidneys truly unique.
The winter is a great time to support the kidney and its related functions. While good nutrition, hydration, and keeping the low back warm and protected during winter are all important, Yin Yoga is an excellent practice to support the kidneys physically.
Yin Yoga’s sustained holds stimulate tendon, ligament, and bone health. Its slow and prolonged movements are in harmony with winter’s yin character, while the active breath helps stoke the inner ming men fire to balance the kidney’s yang attributes.
In that light, Yoga for Relaxation would be the perfect addition to your winter regimen—and help keep you in harmony with life.
WHAT ARE YOU ENTERTAINING?
I’ve been observing myself and noticing what thoughts I allow into my mind. What mental images and stories that go along with my thoughts do I entertain? Do these thoughts line up with what I want to accomplish in 2019? Do my mental images line up with my bigger picture of staying in the flow of life and not getting stuck in bad patterns of behavior and emotions? Am I helping create my future or hindering my own process?
As I was sitting with these questions and observing myself, I noticed how ridiculous my thoughts can be. Just this morning, while playing fetch with Anjali in our backyard, I heard an airplane go by—is pretty normal where we live. For a moment, I decided that the next thing to annoy me will be airplanes. In the future, I will be annoyed by the noise of airplanes and therefore I will need to move from this little back house that I currently love so much. In the future, I have decided that I will be annoyed! I laughed at how ridiculous this declaration was on this beautiful morning and placed my attention back on the beauty surrounding me.
If you take my yoga class, you know I switch it up a lot—so it’s best if you remain present during the practice. This week I was observing new students take the typical plank-chaturanga-updog series before realizing that the rest of the class was doing something completely different. Physically they were in the class, but mentally they were entertaining something stronger than the desire to be present. In situations like this, I often want to ask them to share the thoughts they’re entertaining. What mental images are they creating? What seeds are being planted in that cranium?
There’s a story about a student asking Socrates how wisdom might be attained. Socrates took the student to a fountain and told him to submerge his head in water—whereby Socrates continued to hold the student’s head down until the poor guy was struggling for air. When the student finally managed to escape, Socrates told him that when his desire for wisdom is equaled his desire to breathe, wisdom would follow.
The gift and the curse of life is that you have the power to choose. The power to create. What are you entertaining in your mind? What seeds are you planting that will one day come to fruition? You must observe yourself and become the gatekeeper of your mind!
At first glance, 2018 seemed like a strange, frustrating year in many ways. A year I couldn’t quite put into words until I received my birthday poem in mid-November. This is a gift I look forward to each year and something that my adoptive father has been writing for me since I was 13. This year’s poem, which you can read below, described what I was feeling in a way that I was not yet able to fully express or understand.
Finding your voice
You think you are free, but there probably isn’t a gesture, a thought, an emotion, an attitude, a belief in you that isn’t coming from someone else. Isn’t that horrible? You feel pretty strongly about certain things, and you think it is you who are feeling strongly about them, but are you really? It’s going to take a lot of awareness for you to understand that perhaps this thing you call “I” is simply a conglomeration of your past experiences, of your conditioning and programming… Anthony de Mello, Awareness,
It’s a Herculean effort, to be sure—
not the finding of right words
(let alone right thoughts and actions),
but rather the separating
of those planted by others
from the ones that are unmistakably your own…
For a writer,
It is the most constant
and compelling challenge.
Getting beyond the conditioning
to the core—
and discovering the voice
that is uniquely yours—
is a lifelong journey.
What the great writers eventually discover
is that the secret comes
only to those who listen.
This has been a year
of clearing the way,
diving deep, with courage,
dissolving and re-membering.
You step forth now
in the space between
“no longer and not yet”—
perhaps less sure
but certainly more open.
Engage the Earth’s wisdom.
Allow its energy to lead you
into the stillness
that precedes thought,
and in that place,
free from ingrained attitudes, emotions, and habits,
let the words come
as they will.
And they will.
Upon reflection, I would take three key phrases from my birthday poem that helped define 2018.
- Clearing the way: I have changed my schedule so I can clear the way for my vision. I have cleared the mental thoughts and stories that are holding me back from this vision.
- The “space between no longer and not yet”: this has been a constant theme in my classes this year as I have fought with and finally accepted that I did not know the next steps in my life—and I had to be ok with that. For a Type-A controlling personality like me, acknowledging that a shift is taking place and not knowing what that means and where it will lead is pretty damn scary.
- Stillness: “sit with the question and the answer will come” is an approach I strongly believe in. This year, my soul was restless and I was often uncomfortable in my own skin; I was doing a poor job of honoring the space between no longer and not yet. After returning from a recent trip to Sayulita, I feel as if my heart found the stillness and understood the necessary steps and action needed to get there. Hello 2019!
So I ask you: What are your three power words or phrases for 2018? What did you learn that you would like to take into 2019? What past conditioning is holding you back from your vision? Has your vision for your life changed? What action plan will you create?
IS YOUR ENVIRONMENT FULFILLING YOUR NEEDS?
In the summer of 2011, with $187 to my name, I bought a one-way plane ticket from Portland to Los Angeles. I always dreamed of living in LA and waking up to sunshine every day!
Last week, I half-jokingly texted my family saying I’m ready to buy a one-way ticket back to Portland! This is not because I feel defeated by Los Angeles. It’s just realizing that the city no longer meets my needs.
I have never lived in one place as long as I have lived in Los Angeles. This “belly of the beast” as I call it, is a wonderful, tough, and unpredictable son-of-a-bitch that will eat you up, spit you out, and then ask: how badly do you want this? You would have to live here to understand this city: a weekend bus tour does not count! But I’m grateful for this beautiful beast because in many ways it has been very good to me and shown me how strong I truly am.
What has kept me here is my career and the wonderful community I’ve built the past 9 years teaching yoga. I would like you to think about your environment. Is it meeting your needs?