Category Archives: health

Duration & Frequency: G-Y-N Post #3


Apparently everyone does want to talk about periods. I am getting great feedback and lots of questions about what is healthy and what needs some work. I hope that you are feeling empowered either by knowing that you have a healthy cycle or that you too can improve your health.

 

Frequency

This is easy. The body loves to be between 28-30 days. But what is actually involved in that counting? Let’s do some math here. Say you begin bleeding on November 1st. That is day one. You experience a temperature rise on Day 14, ovulation day. And you bleed again on November 29th. That is a 28-day cycle. You don’t count the 29th for the month, because you will count it next month. You do count all days of bleeding.

Short Cycles

Anything below 26 days is too short and suggestive of too much heat in the system or an inability for the body to hold the period back at the end due to weakness. The first problem might be associated with heavy, fast bleeding that is bright red and maybe a little thick and smelly. The second might be associated with fatigue, pelvic floor prolapse, loose stools and a loss of appetite.

Long Cycles

Long cycles are anything over 35 days. From one month to the next you might have a stressful day on days 14 and 15 and the body doesn’t feel safe enough to ovulate. But when things settle down again it should get down to business. After 35 days we’ve got issues that need addressing. Long cycles range in the 35 days to months or years range. There can be numerous reasons for long cycles, but the big two are blood deficiency and stagnation. Blood deficiency is a common one and will show itself with very light periods, dizziness, fatigue, poor vision, feeling cold, and/or muscle cramps. Stagnation of blood and qi in the reproductive organs will usually have painful periods, big mood swings and dark, clotted periods, painful PMS.

Last week when we talked about Blood we discussed bleeding duration, so in this installment I want to talk about lifetime duration instead.

Numbers in Chinese Medicine

Average age of menarche (first period) 12-14

Average age of menopause (last period) 49-52

In Chinese Medicine women run on cycles of 7: at 7 you get adult teeth, at 14 you get your period, at 21 you become an adult, at 28 you have babies, at 35 you finish having babies, at 42 your career takes off (okay I made up that one), at 49 you start going through menopause.

Everything right close to that time frame is normal. What isn’t normal is peri-menopausal symptoms at 37 or 41 or 45. If they come on that early let’s get your body stronger and healthier and buy you a few more years.

Why postpone menopause if you can?

For everyone under the age of 20 the idea of early menopause sounds heavenly. To everyone over the age of 30 it sounds more daunting. What are the risks of going through menopause too early? Western Medicine will tell you early menopause increases your chances of heart disease and osteoporosis. Chinese Medicine will tell you that early menopause is proof enough that the body is already in distress and needs strengthening. You don’t have to deal with 15 years of hot flashes or night sweats and you don’t have to go on replacement hormones. There is another option.  Acupuncture and herbs are known for restarting periods after long spells, even after early menopause. The earlier you catch it the better. Bringing a period back 10 years after it disappeared is obviously harder than amenorrhea (no period) for 6 months.

Listening To What The Body Has To Say

I posted an article on WoH’s facebook page the other day about the difference between listening and hearing. It explored how hearing is a safety mechanism so we can decipher if something is about to fall on us or if a burglar walks in at night. Even in the deepest parts of sleep our body is censoring what it thinks we need to listen to and what we can ignore. Take for instance the end of my long savasana this morning when I realized that there were three enormous trucks digging a whole in the pavement right outside my window. Hmmm. Missed that.

But that isn’t the type of listening I was thinking about this morning when I decided to skip the early morning yoga class I like on Wednesdays and instead stayed home to practice. I was literally two minutes away from leaving when I heard this rather confident, strong voice inside of me call up, don’t go to class stay home. My inner monologue immediately called this voice lazy. To which the voice challenged do a more vigorous practice at home and do the postures you know your body needs.

There was no arguing with that. So as soon as my husband left I rolled out my mat gathered my props and sat down. Immediately the voice started throwing out pose names. It wanted to start in supported supta baddha konasana. It wanted to take a long headstand and shoulderstand. It wanted a significant amount of twisting and all the big hip openers. It turned out to be a glorious practice.  At the end I jumped up to shower and the voice swooped back in and insisted on a long savasana stating that I needed to rest for a full afternoon of patients and an evening workshop. So I did and felt more rested because of it.

I use the word “listen” when I teach my students how to check in with their bodies. Yet, this recent article on the difference between listening and hearing makes me wonder if I’ve been hearing what my body needs and fully ignoring what my body wants.

Be careful before you immediately censor the messages from your body, maybe they are healthier messages than you think they are. Maybe your body is actually desperate for something that would make your day easier and you miss out on that opportunity.

New Marketing Scheme: Look Healthy

Seeing Beauty

A few weeks ago my sister got married. Though I am obviously biased, I mean this quite seriously when I say she was the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen. She was radiant and graceful and rosy-checked and full of love. It was a sight to behold. But it wasn’t the makeup and the hairstyle, though wow, they did a very good job with both. When we met up in my parent’s kitchen the morning of the wedding and she was standing there with her hair dirty from sleep and her face unwashed she was equally as beautiful as ten hours later walking down the aisle.

Sitting there for a couple of hours in the beauty salon watching as the amazing stylist fluffed and powdered and prepped her hair for her updo I kept commenting that her face looked magnificent. In the three weeks before the wedding she went and received one facial a week in addition to working out and drinking lots of water. Without question I had never seen her glow with such health.

New Marketing Scheme

It got me thinking and its been on my mind ever since. I want to radiate that kind of health. At some point our society said it was okay for doctors to be overweight and for nurses to smoke. It was okay for therapists to be stressed out and massage therapists to go without bodywork.

Well this acupuncturist and yoga teacher is fed up with it. I want you to want my business because you think I am an excellent example of health. If I don’t look healthy enough yet don’t bring me your business.

Starting this week I am challenging myself to be as healthy as possible, to keep better boundaries around work time, to exercise more, to spend more time doing fun outdoor activities, to cook healthier foods and to nourish my soul amidst everything.

So in addition to postering, online advertising and increasing my SEO I’m going to woo new patients with my glowing complexion and boundless energy.

Demand More

If you don’t need acupuncture right now then I highly suggest you start demanding more of your care providers. Find someone who is fit, who has a good glow in their face, who knows more than you about health. I once had a substantially overweight doctor ask me in a very condescending tone if I exercised regularly. I almost punched him. Health providers shouldn’t ask questions unless they can back it up with their own personal experience.

Who is a Health Care Provider?

Yesterday I was talking about this with my husband and we talked about how unhealthy so many Western medical professionals look. He then joked that it is like going to see a skinny chef. I thought about it for a second and said that I want to go to restaurants where there are skinny chefs. It means they are remembering to eat healthy meals at reasonable hours and that the food they sell has healthy ingredients. When I challenged my husband with this comeback he laughed and said that is because I think chefs are health care providers as well. I agree completely. Everyone out there making food, discussing our health, leading us in exercise routines or talking about our mental health is a health care provider. Demand more of them all!

Taking Care of Yourself

Sunday morning I woke up with a sore throat. I had the little headache, the little cough, and the sneezes. My body was coming down with something. So I skipped biking to yoga class, which sounded like too much for my sinuses and my chills. I drank throat soothers tea with tons of honey and I sat on the couch all day.  I thought I was taking care of myself.

What was actually happening was what looked like taking care of myself. I did the things that came to mind if I was just going to skim the top of the list. I didn’t bother really questioning my body for what it needed. I did what I wanted to do. No, let me rephrase that. I did what I thought I deserved.

Yes, folks, here it is. So much of taking care of ourselves is the allotted amount, not the necessary amount. It is like buying organic. I’ll buy organic food as often as I can, but every once in a while I end up with something a tiny bit horrible in my cart because the organic costs $2 more, not just $1 more. Why am I drawing lines in some places and not others?

Right now I’m getting lots of bodywork for back pain, I get weekly or biweekly acupuncture and I’m on a slew of expensive vitamins to recover from grad school. Most people would say that is really taking care of myself. Today, with this fourth day of a sore throat, I’m less certain.

All of that would be enough if I hadn’t put myself through the ringer for the last three years. Truth has it grad school + commuting + planning a wedding = longer than two months of recovery.

Today this really dirty word came into my mind. Pampering. I was in the shower exfoliating months of dead skin off my body and hardened feet and feeling fabulous. That is when it happened, the thought slipped through my mind—you just needed a little pampering today.

It almost ruined my whole shower. For three years I occasionally showered, I occasionally washed my hair and the closest thing to pampering was cutting my fingernails, which is technically an obligation for someone who pushes on people’s abdomens for a living.  I did not pamper myself and I certainly didn’t allow my mind to dream up ways that would make my body feel less chaotic, more appreciated.

That’s what I’m getting at today. Appreciation. This word feels less dirty and a little more aggressive.

Are you appreciating yourself?  Really it is a challenge.

Think of the way we take care of plants. We water them when they start to droop. Think of the way we take care of our cars, we wait until a light comes on. What if we didn’t take care of our bodies, we instead appreciated our bodies every day.

What if we asked our bodies every morning what they wanted from the day and listened? How would that change our little worlds?

When asked, my sore throat wants to neti, it wants to rinse with salt water, it wants to stay better hydrated and eat salty foods. It wants a nap sometime this afternoon and a little fresh mint in my water. I haven’t tried any of those things all week because I didn’t ask. Now I’ve got a treatment plan.

Observation: Practice Lesson #4

As this is the last post in the Practice series I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes people stick to a routine. I’ve already talked about how I don’t think that discipline builds a practice or keeps it going, I’ve talked about lighting a spark to keep the fire alive in your practice and I’ve helped brainstorm ideas for the actually composition of a practice. Now what is going to keep you showing up every morning, every Thursday at 6:30 or Sundays at 3, whatever your chosen time slot.

This is what led me to the fundamental question: what do you gain from a practice?

I tried to think of the people in my life who have practices that don’t involve yoga, because I know all the benefits of doing yoga on a regular basis. I wanted to see the benefits of their non-exercise based practices. Two immediately came to mind. First would be my parents’ practice of drinking coffee together every morning in their living room. They don’t down their coffee over breakfast, they instead take about half an hour (sometimes more) and just drink their coffee and chat. They use it as a time to catch up, make plans for the day and to de-stress if the day is going to be hectic. I know it lowers both of their stress levels and I know it is the secret to their marriage. The other practice would be that of my father-in-law’s writing on Saturday mornings. In the midst of raising four boys and maintaining a very full career, he devoted each Saturday morning throughout his life to writing. It helped him keep the mindset of a writer, allowed for alone time in a busy household and energized him for the week.

These are two successful, long-term practices that are very simple, but additions to a busy lifestyle. So why when things get crazy did they keep them? Why is it worth showing up on your mat again and again?

Observation. Think of all the people in our lives we pay to observe us: doctors, therapists, supervisors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We want someone else to see the patterns, to notice the thing we’ve missed. And don’t get me wrong—that is a necessary skill set. Every time my acupuncturist treats me she sheds new light on this body of mine that I try to figure out 24 hours a day. We need that outside advice, but we also need to make sure that when we see these caregivers we know what is normal.

Even if normal isn’t healthy, it is worth knowing about. A practice lets you compare every single day to every other day that you do the same thing. Yoga students can attest to that first down dog in a practice when you first check in with the body. Think of the first down dog after vacation or after you’ve been for a long hike. The body is entirely different than the last time. We need to be able to compare.

You owe it to yourself to know what the body is capable of, what it is learning to do and when it has achieved something it didn’t expect. This isn’t just about injury and illness, though aren’t those two reasons enough? This is also about improving and the ability to be proud of yourself. With equal positive awareness it is also about aging and noticing what may be harder than it used to be.

The better we are able to say, hmmm, this is new, when something catches us off guard—the better equipped we are to walk into a doctor’s office and say this is new and I’m worried. Knowledge is power, but it requires regular observation.

When you show up to your next practice, be mindful. Do your day’s work. See what there is to see. Make a list of all the things you want to observe from this perspective. My parents are not just drinking coffee; they are monitoring their marriage, making sure it is healthy every morning. My father-in-law isn’t just writing, he is taking time to be an artist and see how his artist-self is after a week.

What observations are out there for the viewing in your practice?

Balance: Juggling Business, Life, and Sanity

Everyone knows the perks of owning your own business, but the downsides are less obvious. I love Window of Heaven Acupuncture & Yoga. It is the most exciting and wonderful job I could possibly imagine, but I think I need to remember it is a job from time to time.

When I am passionate about something my work ethic goes slightly haywire. The month of October has been a crash course in how much my mind can sustain.

Grad school is nothing compared to the hours I’ve been putting in behind my computer writing blog posts, planning marketing schemes, seeing patients, scheduling appointments and keeping up correspondence with long lost friends who have swept back into my life through the start of this business. Whew. It’s been great and it’s been full.

It isn’t sustainable, even if it is tons of fun. Bosses don’t require employees to show up for work before they shower or brush their teeth. I should be drawing the boundaries within the business in a more precise fashion.

I decided to make and publish new employment rules for Window of Heaven employees. Right now they only pertain to me, but I will respect them more if I contemplate having future employees.

  1. No work before 8am or after 9pm (small steps)
  2. Show up clean, fed and dressed to the office every morning
  3. Weekend work is capped at 5 hours per weekend
  4. Employees are required to attend one yoga class per week in addition to personal practice for inspiration purposes
  5. Lunch is to be eaten before 12:00pm every day
  6. Employees must drink 6+ glasses of water every day during work
  7. Vacations and days off are fully unplugged (no email, no facebook, no phone)

I am the owner of Window of Heaven Acupuncture & Yoga, but I’m also a yogini, teacher, fiction writer, poet, avid reader, wife, sister, daughter, friend, dancer, bread baker, church member, walker, biker, movie watcher, gardener, cleaner, organizer and napper.

Running a heart-centered business requires that I am in balance in my life. Balance, like chaos, is contagious. Which would I prefer my patients catch? The answer is obvious.

This post will go live, I hope at least, on Friday morning at 9am.  When it goes live I plan to be sitting having my hair done in a fancy salon in preparation for my sister’s wedding. Most of this week I won’t be working or thinking about work. I’ll be playing the role of sister (and Matron of Honor) full time. See you again Monday the 29th.

Composition: Practice Lesson #3

Now we get to the filler. You know what your practice is, you know how much time and energy you can devote to it, you know how to keep the passion alive, now we figure out the specifics.

Making an Outline

Every recipe has a list of ingredients and a set order of steps to best prepare a dish. Yoga doesn’t have to be any different.

  1. Centering
  2. Warm-ups
  3. Standing Postures
  4. Core work and/or backbending
  5. Twists
  6. Inversions and/or cooling postures
  7. Sivasana

That being said if you have five minutes to be on the mat you don’t need to do shoulderstand or sivasana. But you do need to break down all the goals you have for your practice and think about which aspects are most important to you. For instance, my back is my trouble area so my practice usually consists of breath work, core work, hamstring and quad stretches, back bends and twists. For quite a while now I’ve been skimping on standing postures because it isn’t in my practice. You have to know what you are capable of and get the results from the practice that you need.

Ideas

Some of you already have tons of materials. You know you love pigeon pose and hate wide forward folds but know you need to do them. You know how many sun salutations is a work out and how much is being lazy. Others of you don’t know postures or sequencing because you are new to yoga altogether or you’ve become so well trained at listening that you don’t really know how to do the postures alone. So here is a list of resources.

Pose Ideas

Dos and Don’ts

If you are getting bored with the same old

If you need a pranayama app

My list of great yoga books

Start thinking about the elements you want to be part of your practice and literally start practicing. See how long it takes to do a short centering, followed by 3 sun salutations, a couple hip openers and a 10 minute sivasana. Then switch it up the next day. Start practicing your practice to make it work for you.

Things to consider

  1. Your favorite pose: why do you love it?
  2. Your nemesis pose: why do you hate it?
  3. What physical ailments or health issues should be addressed with your practice? (ie low back pain, knee issues, depression, headaches, anxiety, etc.)
  4. Should your personal practice be supplemented by group classes once a week for inspiration and to check on proper alignment? Or is your practice going to three classes a week?
  5. Where in your home are you going to practice? Do you need anything in order to practice?

This week I encourage you to start the physical part of your practice. If it is a mental or emotional practice make sure you define clear parts and goals and aspects of your practice to help you stay to task. Best of luck to you! Happy practicing.

Fire: Practice Lesson #2

In Chinese Medicine the element Fire is related to the Heart. If there is too much heat in the body it eventually spreads to the Heart and causes agitation, sleeplessness and mania. If there isn’t enough heat in the body everything slows down and the mind gets foggy from the build up fluids.

Fire is crucial. Think of it physically. Agni or digestive fire according to Ayuverdic medicine and yogic philosophy is the fire of life. It is the 3rd chakra and the seat of the will. How you manifest or take action in your life.

This is how fire seems relevant in the discussion of starting or improving a practice. Don’t start a practice without fire. It would be like starting a romance without a spark. Opposites attract because of a chemical combustion of two parts uniting. I’m married to a perfect extravert who loves the outdoors and speaks in a very loud voice.

Maybe just maybe, there needs to be a little seduction in the start of a practice. You may think I’ve just got sensuality on the brain, but stick with me.

Disclaimer: I’m going to use the metaphor of yoga practice because a lot of you are yogis, but you all are smart enough to take this into your own life if you are non-yogis.

We are busy people. You have all had the moment at the end of a busy week when even the prospect of hanging out with friends sounds daunting. Or even the time it takes to cook your favorite meal isn’t worth it so you end up eating cereal for dinner. We’ve all been there. But what is it about the things that do keep us coming back, the friends we actually get excited about seeing, the meal that is quick and easy to prepare in addition to tasty. What are the characteristics of the things in our life we never actually dread doing?

There is another reason I want to talk about fire. One of the amazing things about the way I’ve been practicing on the mat lately is thinking about building fire. This time of year before the heat figures itself out inside the house, I walk arou  nd with a lot of layers and a lot of grumpiness. When I show up, really show up with all my layers on the mat and tell myself that I can take as long as I want and move as slowly as I need to in order to build heat it sounds like a lot more fun than holding plank for a minute and then doing 20 pushups and then going to do the dishes. If I start slowly and let the passion for the yoga and the internal heat build together an hour has gone by without my noticing.

There is a difference, thank heavens, between seduction and coercion. You are not tricking your body into a routine. You are not manipulating yourself into spending time on your health. You are instead enticing your body with things that feel good and sharpen the mind.

The 3rd chakra is related to fire and it is related to the muscles. When the muscles work in a way that builds fire the mind immediately goes clear. If you don’t believe me get on the ground and do 10 pushups.

The body is easy to convince, it loves to move and stretch. But the mind either wants to be productive or it wants to take a break. It can easily make a list of more important things to do. What if you could figure out a way for the brain to feel powerful, clear and certain? Wouldn’t that be worth a practice?

Thinking points for the week: What are your main passions right now and how are they related to your practice? What aspects of sensuality or pleasure could you bring to your practice to make it enjoyable, delicious and worth returning to day after day? How much fire is there in your life? What parts of your life need more fire?

Sensuality: Why It Isn’t Sex and Why We Desperately Need More Of It

In our society, even this word is loaded. This is one of the many fights of my life. I am a sensual person. If anyone has ever seen me sick or with an injury they know that I have a very low pain threshold. I experience all the sensations of the body in a rather heightened way. I’m talking about sensing. Noticing with the senses. Sensuality would be the enjoyment of this noticing. Sensuality is not by nature sexual. Sexuality isn’t always in practice sensual—though it should be, everything should be.

Society’s inability to separate sensuality from sexuality is where a lot of our problems begin. If people were comfortable finding pleasure with the senses (smell, taste, touch, sound, sight) they might not find the same drive towards an excessive sexual appetite or a food-based appetite.

I try to do a lot of partner work in my classes to encourage people to touch each other in a sensual, non-sexual way. Intimacy of touch is very reassuring to the nervous system and very satisfying for our need to connect with others, but it also is a skill set that some people don’t have. Whether it is touching the low back to feel your partner breathe into their kidneys in child pose or sitting back to back to experience the movements of the ribcage, it is obvious that these are not loaded postures. These are safe, easy postures that are very calming.

One of the ways I teach people how to stretch or strengthen is to encourage them to follow sensation. When my students actually follow sensation the atmosphere in the room changes and everyone’s postures are softer, easier and so much more beautiful. I know they’ve felt it because they walk out of class smiling.

I think it is important to have a list of favorite sensual experiences that can be turned to when you are feeling down or even stressed. So today I’m going to share my current favorite sensual experiences.

Recent Feasts for My Senses

  • Bright green ground cover on all the farms in Western Mass
  • Crunching of dry maple leaves on my walk to the office
  • My fully recovered sitz bones that now don’t mind my bike seat
  • New squishy handlebar covers that I can feel even through my mittens
  • Wearing a scarf all the time again
  • Pesto we made last week with all the basil before the frost hit Friday night
  • How much faster and brighter a child’s pulse is than an adult pulse
  • Twig tea with milk in the mornings
  • Mt. Tom almost fully yellow
  • Sleeping beneath my down comforter

If you need more inspiration check out this amazing article on why five senses is just not the whole truth.

Please share your recent favorite sensual experiences. It encourages people to go out and try them so the enjoyment spreads!

Discipline: Practice Lesson #1

Merriam Webster defines “discipline” in the following variety of ways: punishment, instruction, a field of study, training that corrects moral character, control gained by enforcing obedience or order, orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior, self-control. All that exhausts me.

Let’s talk about the difference between practice and discipline. Maybe there isn’t one in current rhetoric. Maybe the line is fuzzy, but I want them to be separate.

The aerobic instructors at the Y where I teach think it is incredibly funny that the yoga students are notoriously rude to them if the aerobic instructors run a minute or two over. I know it is true because I watch my own devoted students become fireballs of fury if a class before us is not orderly about exiting the studio.

So here is the truth. The more developed the yoga practice the more one knows how desperately the yoga is needed.  Beginner students may be grumpy and irritable people, but they don’t correlate their new exercise program to their emotions or stability. Intermediate students are usually diehards—they are the newest addicts, they see the difference and need their fix more often than any other group. Advanced students are so busy trying to incorporate their yoga into their driving patterns, their relationships and their workplace that they sometimes forget to show up on the mat. And teachers-yeah well, we are the craziest out there and we need to be surrounded by it at all times in order to stand a chance in this world. But all of that is practice, not discipline.

Practice is about development, change, evolution, betterment, discovery, enjoyment, fulfillment, struggle, challenge, fight, strength, devotion, the unknown and the known.

Discipline is about routine.  Do we learn much from routine, other than that it keeps us organized and sane? Not much. In order to learn from our routine, we have to make it a practice. We need to stay deliberate and mindful. To better explain I will share a current list of my personal practices and disciplines.

Practices

  • Recovering from Grad School
  • Resting
  • Morning Journaling
  • Lunch as a meditation not a multitasking session
  • Teaching yoga mindfully and safely
  • Starting a heart-centered business
  • Writing a wellness blog
  • Loving my husband
  • Staying in touch with friends and family

Disciplines

  • Drinking enough water
  • Showering more often
  • Eating at the table
  • Brushing my teeth 2x/day
  • Taking vitamins
  • Keeping a clean kitchen
  • 8-9 hours of sleep each night

 If we think of time on the mat as a discipline it becomes not just part of the routine, but part of the mindlessness of our day. There is enough mindlessness in our days. I want you to show up on your mat, or to any practice you have because you can’t wait to get there and do it again. It offers something so challenging you want another day of fight, or something so bewildering you want to figure it out, or something so delicious you can’t wait to slip back into it.

This week I invite you to make a list of all your practices and disciplines. Then start to think about how much time you could commit to a new daily practice to improve the overall quality of your health. Could you do five minutes a day and maybe 20 on Sundays? Could you do two hours on Sundays and 30 minutes on Friday night? Think it over, be creative and be very, very reasonable. Don’t forget about other time commitments. Don’t forget about fun time and times you are tired and without ambition. Make a list of times and write those down as well.

Important note: You don’t have to know what you are going to do with that time yet. Just think about how much time and energy you have available. Take one week to start to be more conscious of the current practices and disciplines in your life and how you maintain them. Pay close attention to the primary practice in your life and notice all the subtle practices within it that help keep it strong. They are helpful to remember and appreciate as well.