Lessons from Tigers and Bears: Activism Requires Self-Care

In times that necessitate activism, we must take extra steps to care well for ourselves. The more stress we face, and the more external our focus, the more energy we need to put into our self-care to maintain balance.

One of the qigong sets that I teach illustrates this well. In the five animal frolics, each animal is a short qigong form within the larger set. Sometimes we practice one or two, and sometimes we practice all of them. The animals teach wisdom lessons through the form.

The crane stands, gets ready, flies, draws in, then looks out at the world. This oscillation between stances and moves that focus inward and gather strength permits her to fly high once she’s ready to take off. Immediately after her flight, she withdraws into herself, and then she’s ready to look out at the world and prepare to take it on once more.

What a perfect model for the introvert activist! First practice stillness and strengthen your core. Then psych yourself to engage the world. Next fly high (“When they go low…” or otherwise). Now take the time to check back in with yourself, examine and address your own needs and gather your strength. Then look out and assess what you need to do next. Practice stillness again and repeat.

The tiger isn’t such an introvert. Our tiger begins by crouching, a more active inward motion. Then, she gets ready and then pounces. She doesn’t require as much stillness as the crane, but she still gives herself two steps to get herself ready before pouncing. She is cautious and builds her strength rather than squandering it. After pouncing, she draws back, much like the crane after flight. Finally, she looks over her environment to make sure there are no predators eager to steal her prey.

We, too, need to start by checking in with ourselves to assess and take care of our needs. Then, we need to prepare ourselves before acting, especially if we plan a powerful action. After our power move, we need to check in with ourselves again before shifting our gaze back outward.

The bear moves powerfully, walks, reaches, and acts with grace and an awareness that his every move influences the environment. The moves lack the inward and outward oscillation of the crane and tiger, but still, after a period of extended activity, the bear retreats for a period of hibernation. The more heavily we move about in the world, the more critical it is for us to take periods of retreat. Likewise, after a lengthy period of rest, we need to refocus outward.

Many of us are emulating the bear in making a shift now from focusing inward on our own lives and concerns to becoming activists in response to the challenges facing our country. We need to remember to continue alternating focus between activism and self-care.

To learn more about self-care, consider joining us for our upcoming Spa Day. Find out more on our event page, too. Herbs, shiatsu, and qigong can help you with your self-care, too!

To learn more about the conditions I have worked with, click here.

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Holistic Ways to Address the Stress of the Election Cycle

The presidential election is coming up soon, and many of us are stressing out about it. There’s a good reason for that, under the circumstances, but the consequences may interfere with our ability to sleep, make sound decisions, or feel comfortable in our bodies. We can address that with herbs, exercise, and lifestyle choices.image

Getting enough sleep helps us to take more in stride. Most people assume we need less sleep than we really need. If you wake up needing caffeine to get going, chances are that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Try going to bed half an hour earlier and see whether your morning gets better. Try using darker curtains over your windows to help yourself sleep late. Before going to bed, try bathing your feet in a footbath with half a cup of Epsom salts and half a cup of linden leaves and flowers before bed to help you fall asleep more easily. You can refrigerate the footbath when you’re done and reheat it again for a week.

If you still can’t fall asleep, try taking half a dropperful of valerian tincture before bed. If that doesn’t work for you, try taking some skullcap tincture instead; first try a few drops to make sure you don’t have a strange reaction, and then increase to a dropperful. You may need up to three droppersful, and you may even need to combine that with the valerian. If you find yourself waking up earlier than feels good for you, try using a dropperful of ashwaghanda tincture before bed, or try taping a lentil or a grain of rice to the center of your heel before you head for bed.

Exercise can help to release stress. When we feel anxious or worried, we go into the fight or flight mode and our bodies produce the adrenaline we would need to run from a hungry grizzly. When we flee, we use up the adrenaline, and then feel better. When we do relatively hard or fast forms of exercise, we release the adrenaline also. When we do more meditative forms of exercise, such as qigong, yoga, or tai chi, we reset the body from the sympathetic, adrenaline-producing mode to calmer parasympathetic mode. Both forms of exercise help us handle stress, as do meditation and shiatsu. While many advocate for a regular practice, which helps to build skills and endurance, it’s also fine to practice meditation one day, do yoga the next, have a shiatsu session the following day, and the day after that, go for a run the next. Qigong, of course, helps most when you do it daily, but once you know a few forms, you may rotate them on days when you  don’t have time to do them all. (Daily meditation and yoga help too,  of course.)

If you wind up missing a day, forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness also helps to reduce stress, and serves as an important model for our relationships with other people, too.

Adequate nutrition is also essential for handling stress well. Certain nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin D (which is rarely adequate among northerners), help us handle stress directly, while we need others to maintain wellness more generally. A deficiency that causes physical stress will also ultimately add to our emotional stress. Exactly how much we need of what and what diet works best is fairly personal, but we all need an abundance of vitamins and minerals, a significant amount of protein, and healthy fat. For most people, a plant-based diet with copious cooked vegetables will be the best way to achieve this.

While there may be many variations on a plant-based diet, some more suitable for any given person than others, nobody benefits from a diet featuring mostly fast foods, junk foods, or sugar, and very few people will benefit from a diet consisting primarily of grains. Most people will also benefit greatly from including seaweed and cooked mushrooms in the diet. (N.b. Always cook mushrooms before eating them.) More about nutrition, diet, seaweed, and mushrooms will have to await another post.

Most people enjoy warm tasty beverages, and herbal teas easily meet the bill. A strong cup of catnip tea with a little honey can work wonders for one’s state of mind. I have seen a toddler go from throwing sticks at his brother while screaming his little lungs out to cuddling with his mother on entering a kitchen where catnip was brewing; his drink helped preserve the calmer state. I have yet to see anyone dislike this delightful drink, and many of my students demand it whenever we meet.

Chamomile also helps, of course, and for people without hypothyroidism, lemon balm is another excellent choice, also improved by a little honey.

If your stress continues unabated even after a few cups of strong catnip or lemon balm, then you may want to try a stronger nervine herb, such as motherwort or skullcap, both of which I find easiest to take in tincture form.

Doses are highly individual; some people respond to only a few drops, while others may require a few droppersful. Both are safe herbs with a broad spectrum of use, but any time you try anything for the first time, it’s best to use only a minute amount and make sure that you don’t have any adverse reactions. People can be allergic to just about anything, so it’s always best to test first.

“It’s Gone!” she said.

“It’s gone,” she said.

We were nearing the middle of a session combining coaching with shiatsu, qigong, and herbal counseling. In this particular session, most of our work was shiatsu and coaching, and she had started giving me some more details about a problem she wanted to share when suddenly the rest flew out of her mind.

“Shall we just wait a minute?”

“No, I can tell by the way it happened that it’s gone for a while, like, maybe a few days.”

“Would you like me to help you with that? We can use a qi projection technique I’ve developed working with people after concussions.”

“Sure. Why not?” she replied, open but slightly skeptical. Skeptical but open is a good combination.

“Oh,  so here’s what I was going to say….” And there it was, seconds after I began the projection, in greater detail than originally.

“That was pretty cool,” she said.

Languages heal the brain

I was delighted to see this article confirming that bilingualism aids in recovery from stroke, because it corresponds to my experience working with people recovering from concussions. Granted, concussions differ greatly from stroke, but both affect memory.

When I work with people recovering from concussions, I use a complex approach including herbs; shiatsu; specific acupoints for headaches, nausea, and other symptoms; and outgoing qigong, also known as qi projection. I often combine mental challenges with qi projection.

The client and I choose the mental challenge together, but it often involves language. Sometimes it’s rapid-fire transitions among languages, or telling a story – usually one that teases the memory in its own right, such as a minor  conversation from three days ago; or a description of a scene from a five days back that includes details about smells, sounds, textures, and colors as well as conversation – and translating the story into at least one other language. The qi projection makes it easier for the client to remember both the details of the story and recalcitrant words.

Since I am a linguist and a philologist as well as an herbalist  and shiatsu and qigong therapist, I particularly relish the opportunity to bring languages into healing. Fortunately, it turns out to be a very effective combination. In the future I may even combine language instruction with healing work.

 

Should I share this??

At the beginning of a recent Skype-based coaching session, the person I was working with complained that his brain wasn’t ready for the task he wanted to do. He clarified that this was fatigue, not brain fog. I mumbled something incoherent about not believing in what I was about to do. “What?”

“Um, even after all these years of QiGong, I still have a strong inner skeptic, so to satisfy her,  I have to tell you that I don’t believe in distance healing, but, ummm…., I can use QiGong to help you with this.”

“Yowza!!! That’s a bit intense!”

I made some adjustments, and continued. Then he was ready to focus on the task, but there were some anxiety issues. So I focused on acupoints and sections of meridians that help with that, and he completed the tasks he had set for himself. It turned out to be a very productive  session.

While I, um, don’t really believe in distance healing (Satisfied now, O Inner Skeptic?), I have actually been doing it for almost as long as I’ve been doing shiatsu. Receiving it, too, although I really don’t believe in this stuff. (O Inner Skeptic, please just let me write.) It just works; that’s all.

You see, sometimes things come up while I’m driving. When my kid feels nauseated, I need to hold her Pericardium 6 point, and it’s sometimes helpful to hold Gall Bladder 21 and Kidney 1 as well. If I’m driving and she suddenly feels nauseated I can’t hold them with my fingers, so I hold them with my mind. If something comes up for my husband while I’m driving, I hold points with my mind to help him. So does my daughter. And if my foot cramps up when I’m driving, my husband and daughter hold points with their minds to help me. Most often, we focus on acupoints, sometimes on meridians or sections of meridians, sometimes on regions of the body.

I also often use it as a teaching tool, to help my clients and students learn to activate points inside themselves. We do it together first, and then they’re able to do it themselves. I’ve also used it in my work with musicians; outgoing qigong, whether via distance or more direct, can help a musician gain greater control over the color of the music, and also make the sounds brighter.

 

Allergic to Your Friend’s Cat??

Yesterday, someone said to me, “Be sure to include the way you help with allergies on your website. You know, lots of people want to go over to their friends’ house for dinner, and you can really help them not have an allergic reaction.”

It’s true. If you have a mild to moderate histamine reaction to your friend’s house, I may well be able to help. For some people, it’s simply a matter of taping a seed to a particular acupoint and voilá! You can be in your friend’s house for a couple of hours without the usual discomfort.

For others, there may be an herbal tincture that you can take in advance, and again if you feel a symptom coming on. You may have to try a few herbs to find the one you respond to best, and you may have to experiment a bit to find the right amount of tincture for you. I can offer you guidance through this process.

If your allergies are severe, the best policy may still be to avoid your friend’s home, or to confine the cat or dog to a separate room and ask your friend to vacuum and use an air filter.

I can provide herbal consultations, shiatsu and Qi Gong treatments, and Qi Gong lessons to help you deal with the more severe allergic reactions as well, but if your reactions are severe, prevention will remain the best policy.

My services complement but do not replace your doctor’s medical care.