I Know Kung Fu.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Ever since I can remember I have loved kung fu. It is hard to pinpoint where the love came from, but there are a couple of possibilities. I am a child of hippies, and grew up in a house filled with music, ethnic food and martial arts. My parents are martial artists - Aikidoists - and they tried, in vain, to get me into Aikido.

I remember going to class with them and watching the graceful interactions. Students running at each other and, being gracefully flung about and landing, silently rolling out to standing awaiting their next chance to politely attack. It was beautiful to watch, and it looked effortless. The thing that especially impressed me was that strength and size didn't seem to matter. This became even more impressive when I saw my mother, who is five foot four, throw my father who is more than six foot three over her head like he was made of cotton balls. This filled me with delight, and, I suspect, deeply frustrated my father.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba. It is translated as "the way of unifying with life energy" or "the way of the harmonious spirit". One of the interesting things about Aikido is that it is purely defensive. There is no way to "attack" someone using Aikido in its true form. It is purely used and was developed as a way to defend oneself, but also to do so while protecting your attacker from harm. What a lovely philosophy. Because there is no way to attack someone using Aikido, what began to happen around our house was that my father, desperate to show me his new moves and joint locks (which hurt like hell) would ask me, in desperation, to grab his wrist. Only then could he throw me around and bend my joints into pretzels. If I was feeling generous I would oblige, but if I was feeling sassy I would refuse and taunt him. Grab my wrist became the most uttered phrase in our house for years.

Morihei Ueshiba

The other wonderful thing about Aikido is that you are using your attackers energy and inertia to either direct them out of the way, or, throw them into the next room depending on how much of their energy you want to use. For this reason, the Aikidoist is using very little of their own energy. It is also incredibly graceful, and does not have any of the hard edged movements of many of the Korean and Chinese martial arts. It is one of the most beautiful martial arts to watch. Here is a video so you can see what I mean.

I have an enormous respect for all the martial arts, and Aikido in particular is so elegant, refined, efficient and beautiful, but it wasn't the one that resonated with me. What I wanted to learn was kung fu. Perhaps it was all those years of kung fu movies, but I decided that this was what I was going to learn. It was my dream to be a doctor of Chinese medicine and a master of kung fu - 2 very complimentary pursuits, I thought.

For years I had been obsessed with kung fu movies and every Friday had gone to Kung Fu Friday's at the Royal cinema where a group of enthusiasts would sit and bask in each others euphoria at watching these ancient movies with elaborate fight scenes and terrible dubbing. The nerd level was through the roof, but it was the best hour and a half of my week. Once I finished college, I was excited to seek out a kung fu school and start my training. I went all over, looking for the right school that was teaching a style that felt right for me. It was a long search, but I knew the right place as soon as I walked in the door. It was a very traditional Chinese kung fu school in Chinatown. On the outside it looked like a small storefront painted red and black with the windows covered. The writing was in Chinese but in English it said Kung Fu. I walked in and it was dark and smelled of sweat. There was a Chinese guy sitting at an old counter reading a Chinese newspaper. He looked up at me surprised.

*Perhaps now is the time to explain something. I, at least on the outside, am not Chinese, but am a tall blonde girl. I do not blend in most places, least of all a kung fu school in the heart of Chinatown. If I thought I had been an outsider before, I was about to receive a rude awakening...

The man looked up and thought I was lost. I said no, I was there to inquire about kung fu. His surprised look remained as he slowly explained what styles the school taught, when their classes were and how much a year membership cost. I nodded and asked if I could return to watch a class. He said sure, the surprised look never leaving his face. I had a good feeling I had found the place. This was the real thing. Old school. I returned to watch a class and fell in love. I bought my uniform and showed up for my first class and managed to hold my own. It was tense, as I was one of a few girls and the only white girl. I could see the smirks on the faces of some of the guys. I found out later that the guys had a running bet on my first day to see how long I would last. Most said I wouldn't last longer than one class. A few said I might make it a week. I stayed 8 years. They all lost that bet.

kung fu

The school taught two styles - Choi Lee Fut  - created by Chan Heung, a disciple of the famed Shaolin Temple, and Do Pi - a Southern style . There are many styles of kung fu, and I think finding the one you like is just like anything else, you have to find the one that resonates with you. These styles really spoke to me because they had large sweeping movements which suited by tall body and long limbs. I later tried Wing Chun - a style that focuses on close range combat. I found it cramped and awkward, like watching a spider monkey fight another spider monkey nose to nose. You have to find the style that is right for you. Classes were 2 nights a week and one Sunday afternoon and were about 4 hours each. They consisted of stances, punches, kicks, stretching, callisthenics and finally, forms - a series of movements that you move through beginning to end. They were the most hard core workouts I had ever had and I had been an athlete all my life. I pushed through. Thankfully, in this case, my stubborn nature probably exceeded my physical abilities, at least at first. No one spoke to me for about 6 months. I think they were all waiting for me to drop out and were confused as to why that hadn't yet happened.

After the six month mark I got the occasional smile. I couldn't believe it. Finally, they were accepting me as part of the group. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I was determined to follow my dream of learning kung fu, and I loved it. I am happy to say that after the guys decided I wasn't leaving they accepted my presence and we all became friends. We went to class together and the ritual became to go out to eat Vietnamese afterwards. It became like a family and we had dinners for Chinese New Years and participated in parades through Chinatown in our uniforms, holding banners and doing Lion Dance. It seemed every time a new restaurant opened, our kung fu school would be called upon to do a Lion Dance (a good luck omen for any new business) and I felt like I was always at the school for class or some function. Hanging out with my classmates socially became a window into this culture which had always fascinated me and I felt so comfortable in. We would have big dinners together and spent way too many evenings doing karaoke. I don't think I will ever be able to listen to Hotel California without fondly remembering my tone deaf classmates.

Studying kung fu was an amazing experience. It was not just learning a martial art, but becoming part of a living breathing organism. The school was an integral part of the Chinese community and it was fascinating and wonderful to feel like a part of something that perhaps few people had been able to experience before. I learned so many things. I learned that a martial art is not about just training your body, but training your mind, understanding the mind of your opponent and honing internal skills like Qi Gong to develop your internal power. I was privileged to become immersed in a culture that I have so much respect for, and I think it made me a better person and a better acupuncturist. I learned discipline, and that usually things that are worth learning, take a lifetime to master. I also learned that I love Vietnamese food. I later dabbled in a few more martial arts - Wing Chun, Jeet Kun Do, Muay Thai, Escrima, Kali and Savate (French kick boxing), and although I loved them for what they had to offer, my heart will always belong to kung fu. <3

 

Here are some clips you can watch which demonstrate the awesomeness of kung fu. Many of my favourite movies are too old to find now (I have them all on VHS!!) but these are some of the masters. Enjoy.

Shaolin Kung Fu

Here is a National Geographic Episode on Shaolin Kung Fu which gives some history and shows some of the monks incredible skills.

Bruce Lee - The Chinese Connection

Bruce is, and will always be, my hero. <3

Ip Man - Donny Yuen - Kung Fu Fight Scene

Jet Li - Fist of Legend

Jackie Chan - Drunken Style Kung Fu - Drunken Master

Master Killer / The 36 Chambers of Shaolin - Trailer

My favourite kung fu movie of all time. :)

A clip from Master Killer detailing Kung Fu training at Shaolin.


Can Too Much Sex be Bad for Your Health? Sex and Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

SEX.
There, I said it. It seems that sex is everywhere in Western culture, plastered on billboards, all over TV and in magazine ads - scantily clad beautiful people looking seductive and, well, sexy. So lets talk about sex and its role in our health.

Sex, or our drive to reproduce, is hard wired and a very primal physiological need. But sex has had a rough go throughout history, with many religions and groups trying to convince people that they should abstain, hide their desires and longings, or that sex itself is simply a sin.

Luckily, in Chinese medicine, sex and sexual activity is a healthy part of being human. It is perfectly natural, and we need it to be healthy, happy individuals.  I can hear the collective sigh of relief. But its true. The Chinese are realists. Pragmatists. Buddha bless them.

sex in Chinese medicine

Chinese medicine was developed out of prolonged observations of people, animals and their relationship to their environment, and the result was a deep understanding of what it is to be human - and sex is a fundamental part of the whole package.

Chinese medicine also views sex (either too much or too little) as a cause of disease. This may seem strange to us in the West, but allow me to explain how that is seen to happen. First, there are a couple of things to clarify when speaking about sex and its potential role in disease.

Men and Women Are Not the Same

The first is the difference between men and women. Men and women differ physiologically and this why too much sex is seen to affect men more than it affects women. To understand why we must look at how Chinese medicine views how boys and girls develop, the Tian Gui (heavenly water) and something called Jing.

In Chinese medicine growth and development is governed by the Kidneys and happens in cycles of 7 years for girls, and 8 years for boys. According to the ancient Chinese medical text called the Su Wen - at 14, girls "Tian Gui" arrives (menstruation), and she is able to reproduce." At 16, the Tian Gui is said to arrive for boys, meaning they are able to produce viable healthy sperm. Tian Gui is the essence that allows girls to conceive and become pregnant and boys to fertilize a girls egg, leading to conception. Tian Gui manifests as sperm in boys and eggs or ovum in girls.

Both girls and boys ability to successfully reproduce however, depends on the strength and vitality of Kidney Jing. We are all born with a finite amount of Kidney Jing, but it can be supplemented and supported by the food we eat. When Jing is abundant, one is fertile and can conceive easily. If Jing is deficient, conceiving becomes difficult, and one can develop symptoms like weak and brittle bones, problems with development both physically and mentally, prematurely greying hair, and loose teeth that are prone to cavities. In young people, a deficiency of Jing can lead to delayed menstruation in girls, and delayed arrival of sperm in boys as well as developmental problems.

Sex in Chinese Medicine

Too Much Sex

In Chinese medicine too much sex is seen to affect men more than women. The reason for this is because when a man reaches orgasm and ejaculates, he is losing some of his precious Jing. A man who engages in frequent sexual activity, or masturbation that results in ejaculation, can deplete his Jing and this can lead to a deficiency. Yes, that's right guys. Too much sex can be bad for your health. There are many ancient Taoism practices that teach ways for men to reach orgasm without ejaculation - a master of these techniques is Mantak Chia who has written many books that offer instruction on how to cultivate both male and female sexual energy, which are techniques that are useful not only for your sexual life, but have wide applications to your life in general.

For women, this is not an issue. Since the eggs or ovum are considered the direct manifestation of Jing, they are obviously not lost during sexual intercourse and orgasm, so they cannot become deficient in Jing by having too much sex. Good news, right ladies? There are things, however that can lead to a loss of Jing for women. Having too many pregnancies and births too close together can be depleting to a woman's Jing. Pregnancy and childbirth are extremely taxing to the body's resources, so it is important to give the body time to recover and rebuild in between pregnancies to keep your Jing strong and your overall health at optimum levels.

Under normal circumstances and in a healthy individual, the loss of Jing can be quickly made up so it never leads to a deficiency and potentially disease. It is only when sexual activity is in excess and/or engaged in by an unhealthy person that the body does not have the time or energy to recuperate and restore the Kidney essence. You may be wondering how you would know if you are engaging in too much sex. If you have weak kidney essence, then some symptoms you may experience after sex are:

  • marked fatigue
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • lower backache
  • weak knees
  • frequent urination

These are all symptoms of kidney deficiency. So if you are experiencing any of these you might want to cut back on the sexual activity and seek out an acupuncturist who, with acupuncture and Chinese herbs, can help strengthen your kidneys and get you back to your normal sexual activities. So, this may be one of the best motivations ever for staying healthy, right guys? For a quick list, you can read - 10 Easy Tips To Get Healthy Right Now - which will get you going in the right direction and help you stay in tip top shape. :)

Another factor is that the Chinese believe that sexual activity should be adjusted according to ones age. We can get an idea of what frequency might be appropriate from references from ancient Chinese classics. Here is a helpful chart...

AGE           IN GOOD HEALTH          AVERAGE HEALTH
15              2x day                               1x day
20              2x day                               1x day
30              1x day                               Every other day
40              Every 3 days                     Every 4 days
50              Every 5 days                     Every 10 days
60              Every 10 days                   Every 20 days
70              Every 30 days                   None

Of course, this information should only be used as a broad guideline. The great thing about Chinese medicine, and why it works so well, is that each individual is diagnosed and treated according to their specific issues and imbalances, so knowing how much sexual activity is good for you is about you knowing your body and perhaps, if you are having problems, getting a thorough diagnosis and working with an acupuncturist/herbalist to rebalance so you can get back to healthy sexual activities.

Not Enough Sex

One subject that is not frequently addressed in ancient Chinese texts is a lack of sex, but this can definitely affect us both physically and psychologically. There is a physical component to not having enough sex in our lives, especially if we have the desire, but I think what can be even more detrimental is the psychological impact this has on us. As human beings we are social animals and most of us need connections to other people to give us a sense of belonging and connectedness. These are also important for our health and survival. This is a difference I see between Chinese culture and our culture in the West. In China, it is common for many generations to live in the same household. In the West, it is common for the children to move out of the house as quickly as possible as things like independence and self sufficiency are seen as desirable and fostered traits in our culture. This leads to a society with many people living closely together, but being alone. Chinese medicine really teaches us balance, and to have healthy, meaningful connections in our lives is an important part of both physical and psychological health and wellbeing on every level.

Sex and Love in Chinese Medicine

Sex is Not The Same as Love

When speaking about sex and its potential role in disease, we are speaking at the level of physiology. We are discussing the level of the body and not about the psychological aspect that accompanies sex (although not always), affection, companionship and love. When assessing a patient the practitioner would ask about the persons sexual life from a physical level, but would also be careful to discern the emotional component as well in order to get a complete picture (read about the importance of the emotions in Chinese medicine here). Ailments of physiology, at least in Chinese medicine, do not exist in isolation. They are one part of a larger picture, and it is important to bring into focus the entirety of that picture in order to determine where the root of the imbalance lies, and how to correct it.

Because ideas about sex differ wildly from culture to culture, the sexual problems encountered within that culture will differ also. In the West, we are perhaps seen to have a quite relaxed attitude towards sex compared to much of Asia and the middle East, but we seem rather uptight in comparison to much of Europe and Central and South America. But the basics remain constant. Sex is natural. It is something most everybody does and having a healthy and satisfying sexual life in an important aspect of our health. As important is having love in our lives, as this is proven to release endorphins which make us happy, give us energy and increase immunity helping us to fight off disease. If you can have sex and love together, you are exponentially increasing the benefits of both.

Libido - Sex and Chinese Medicine

Problems with Sex

There are many issues both physical and psychological that can create complications when it comes to our sexual lives. In many ways we are fortunate to live in a time and place where talking about those issues has become more commonplace and a dialogue can begin to help heal whatever problems have arisen. Many people are still quite shy to talk about sex, but in the comfort of their doctor or acupuncturists office can open up and talk about the sexual issues they are struggling with. Acknowledging and talking about your concerns, fears and questions is the first step in the healing process.

There are many different issues that can hinder a healthy sex life. Erectile dysfunction (inability to get or maintain an erection), inability to reach orgasm, vaginal dryness, low libido, excessive libido, infections of the sexual organs, and pain during or after sex are just a few of the issues that we can experience. And most of us will experience them at some point in our lives. The wonderful thing about Chinese medicine, is that instead of prescribing medications (which only deals with symptoms and not the root problem) the reason for the problem is sought and using Chinese herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, Gus Sha, and the myriad other modalities that practitioners of Chinese medicine employ, a person can rebalance the system and enjoy a healthy and satisfying sexual life.

Chinese Herbs for Sexual Problems in Chinese Medicine

Chinese Herbs & Acupuncture

The good news is that acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been used to help sexual problems for thousands of years. There are myriad treatments for everything that could be hampering you in the bedroom. Sometimes, people find these types of problems difficult to talk about, but because sex is such an important part of our lives, health and wellbeing, it is worth it to sit down and discuss any problems or concerns with your acupuncturist as there are many things that they can do to help you sort out any problems you may be having. Like anything else, knowing your body and being able to tell when things are out of balance is important, and going and speaking to someone when you notice a problem is the first step to rebalancing the system and having a healthy and satisfying sex life.

 


Winter Melon Healing Properties and Recipe

Winter Melon for Summer Heat

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Winter Melon

Winter Melon/Wax Gourd/Tong Qwa

Winter melon is one of the most common, easy and fast growing fruit-vegetables in summer. Each plant can produce numerous large fruits on vines like watermelons up until late fall, and each melon can weigh up to 50 pounds. The reason why it is called winter melon is because it can be stored in a cool place without refrigeration and can last for months - even throughout the winter. But the best time to consume them is at harvest time. It is not just because of freshness, it is because this is when nature intended us to eat it; winter melon is for helping our body to counter summer heat and humidity. Also, people generally tend to consume a lot more cold fluid in summer and usually they are drinking much too fast for the body to process the water properly. Therefore water retention is common with people at the end of summer, especially those with slow metabolic function or people with weak kidney or digestive functions.

In Chinese medicine, winter melon is neutral and slightly cool in nature, sweet in taste and acts on our lungs, bladder, large intestine and small intestine. It helps to detoxify, clears out mucus and phlegm and promotes digestion. It is most suitable for people with kidney problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, over weight and with coronary heart disease. For people with weak and cold stomach/spleen constitution, weak with lack of yang energy or with loose stools, they should eat winter melon in moderation.

Winter Melon

Chinese cuisine uses winter melon in soup, stew, congee and stir-fry. Making winter melon tea in the summer and especially during the hottest days is the most common home remedy people make to combat heat waves and to prevent sun stroke. The tea is highly recommended for children and outdoor workers who often stay outdoors. Making winter melon tea is very simple. Just cut melon into large cubes (with or without skin), cook with a large pot of water for about 30 minutes and add cane sugar to taste at the end. It can be served warm or cold with melon and good for keep in the fridge for up to a week. It is a very healthy summer beverage for the whole family.

Winter Melon

Winter melon soups are most soothing and delicious. They are easy to make and can go with almost any combination of ingredients. You do not need to follow any specific recipe if it is not for specific treatment purposes. Winter melon goes well with most meat such as chicken, pork, duck or seafood such as crab meat or shrimps and vegetarian ingredients such as most beans, nuts, mushrooms and common food herbs such as lotus seeds, dried lily bulb and fox nuts, etc. You just need to cook up a soup base first and then add the melon to the cooking at the last 30 minutes. Here is one example recipe for your reference. You can also search our website for other therapeutic recipes using winter melon.

Winter Melon

Winter Melon, Job’s Tears and Dried Mussel Soup

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Cools internal heat, diuretic, lowers blood pressure, promotes yin and helps to lose weight.

INGREDIENTS (4 to 6 servings)

• Winter Melon 冬瓜 – 300gm
• Chicken breast – one piece
• Lean pork – one piece (optional)
• Job’s tears (yi yi ren) 薏以仁 – 30gm
• Dried scallop乾瑤柱 – 4
• Dried mussel 淡菜 – two spoonfuls
• Dried Shitake Mushroom 冬菇 - 6
• Dried longan fruit (long yan rou) 龍眼肉 – 8 to 10
• Ginger – 2 slices

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash chicken breast and pork, cut into a few pieces and put in boiling water to boil for a few minutes, remove and rinse.
  2. Soak dried mushroom until soft (about 30 minutes) and rinse. Soak other dried ingredients for a few minutes and rinse.
  3. Remove melon skin and seeds in the middle if any, wash melon and cut into large pieces and put aside.
  4. Put all ingredients (except melon) in a soup pot with about half pot of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to simmer for 1.5 hours.
  5. Add winter melon, bring heat up to medium and let it cook for another 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
  6. Add a little salt to serve. Eat melon with soup.

Winter Melon Soup Recipe

USAGE

No restrictions.

 


Curing Disease with Nutrition - Using Food as Medicine

Nutrition and dietary therapy is an essential aspect of Chinese medicine. The Chinese have known for thousands of years the direct correlation between what we eat and our health. Even before the development of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, foods were used by traditional peoples to heal diseases and build immunity.

The Chinese medicine model of nutritional therapy, or using foods as medicine, is sophisticated and there are many factors that contribute to determining what to eat when trying to heal from certain diseases or imbalances. Below, I will attempt to explain some of those factors and the way they can be used to not only heal us when we are sick but to keep up healthy so sickness never has a chance to develop.

Fighting Disease with Nutrition

Whole Foods

One of the things we’ve lost in our modern society is access to whole foods (not the grocery store) and an understanding of their value. We now live in a culture where refined foods such as white rice, white sugar, salts and processed oils (many extracted with chemical solvents) are ubiquitous and more desirable than their whole-grain counterparts. What’s worse is that stores make these processed foods readily available to meet demand and whole foods become harder and harder to find. In many larger cities, there may be access to health food stores, but even there, you’ll find scores of packaged foods with the same highly processed ingredients. Many people don’t realize that it is just as important to read labels in a health food store as it is anywhere else. Some of the worst offenders are foods sweetened with cane sugar. As an example, many products labelled organic use white sugar and various organic cane juices and cane juice powders – which are actually refined sugar. If you are striving for less processed foods in your diet, you should be looking for products that are specifically labelled unrefined. Alternatives to processed sugars include unrefined cane juice or powder, barley malt, rice syrup, date sugar or whole green stevia powder or green stevia extract.

Another unhealthy product which is difficult to metabolize and detrimental to our health is refined oils. Often these are labelled with words like “organic” or “expeller-pressed” which are both desirable, but again, unless they are specifically labelled unrefined they are refined and best avoided.  Refined oils and fats include canola oil, vegetable oils, margarine, shortening, virtually all oils used in restaurants, nearly all oils used in prepared foods in both supermarkets and health food stores and in things like bread, pastries, chips, and soups. The healthy alternative is unrefined cold-pressed flax oil, unrefined olive oil, unrefined sesame oil, and all other quality, unrefined and cold-pressed oils. Below is a chart of the refined foods found in supermarkets and some healthy alternatives.

refined sugar is bad for your health

Refined, Unhealthy Food

  • white sugar
  • cane juice
  • dried cane juice (often used in the health food industry)
  • cane sugar
  • *all above items should be labelled “unrefined” on labels or they are refined

Healthy Alternative

  • *unrefined cane juice or powder
  • barley malt
  • rice syrup
  • date sugar
  • whole green stevia powder
  • green stevia extract

unrefined oils are bad for your health

Refined Oils & Fats

  • canola oil
  • common vegetable oils
  • margarine
  • shortening
  • virtually all oils used in restaurants in fried and deep-fried foods
  • nearly all oils used in prepared foods sold in supermarkets and health food stores like pastries, cookies, chips, bread and soups

Healthy Alternative

  • unrefined and cold-pressed flax oil
  • unrefined olive oil
  • unrefined sesame oil

eating for health - Chinese medicine nutrition

The Thermal Nature of Foods and People

In Chinese medicine, all foods are seen to have a temperature, either hot or cold. Although this may seem overly simplistic, their actions on the body come from thousands of years of observation and empirical evidence and therefore have incredible diagnostic value in treating disease. What is also significant, however, is the thermal temperature of the person eating the foods as there is an important interaction which allows foods to be used to heal disease. There are some theories that help to explain the warming and cooling properties of foods.

  • Plants that take longer to grow, like cabbage, rutabaga, parsnip, carrot, and ginseng, are more warming than foods that grow more quickly like lettuce, cucumber, radish and summer squash.
  • Foods that are fertilized with chemicals, which causes them to grow more quickly are considered more cooling in nature. This includes most commercial fruits and vegetables
  • Raw food is more cooling than cooked food
  • Foods that are blue, green or purple in colour are often cooler than similar foods that are red, orange or yellow
  • Cooking foods at a lower heat for a longer time are considered more warming than foods that are cooked for a short time using high heat
  • Processes like fermenting and sprouting cause foods to be cooler in temperature

Of all the ways we manipulate foods, the most important is the method of cooking. This is why it is important to understand the ways in which different methods of cooking can change the thermal temperature of the foods we eat, especially when we are eating to help us fight disease. Cooking foods (as opposed to eating them raw) is a way for it to be more easily broken down and assimilated, and if the cooking time is short, few nutrients are lost and the ones that remain are more easily used by the body.

Heat Patterns

Imbalances in the body are what cause disease in Chinese medicine. Too much heat can be caused by too many heating foods or not enough cooling foods. It can also be caused by excessive physical activity, a high level of stress, long-standing or intense anger (the Liver is prone to heat and its emotion is anger), or being exposed to extreme temperatures. Below are some symptoms of heat in the body.

  • feeling of heat
  • dislikes heat
  • bright red tongue with a thick yellow coating
  • red face
  • red eyes
  • nosebleeds
  • canker sores
  • bad taste in the mouth
  • high blood pressure
  • haemorrhage
  • convulsions
  • delirium
  • very fast pulse
  • local inflammations, swellings, rashes, sores or skin eruptions
  • constipation (heat dries up fluids)
  • dry and smelly stools
  • dark yellow and scanty urine
  • blood in the stools or urine
  • desire to drink cold liquids
  • if stools or urine are excreted forcefully or urgently or have mucus that is yellow or green

watermelon is good in summer

Cooling Foods

One of the best things that we can do when we have excess heat in the body is to eat more cooling foods. Some other things that will help are to take it easy and slow down. Also, expressing emotions like anger and frustration as if these are continually unexpressed they cause heat to build up in the body which can lead to problems. Also, meat is considered very heating to the body, so if you are experiencing a lot of heat, you might try cutting back on meat and adding more cold foods to the diet to balance things out. Below is a list of cooling foods.

  • apples
  • bananas
  • pears
  • watermelon
  • all citrus fruits
  • lettuce
  • cucumber
  • celery
  • bok choy
  • broccoli
  • summer squash
  • spinach
  • eggplant
  • soy milk
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • alfalfa sprouts
  • barley
  • wheat
  • amaranth
  • kelp and all seaweeds
  • clams
  • crab
  • spirulina
  • peppermint
  • cilantro
  • lemon balm

Lemons Cooling Foods

Cold Patterns

Too much cold in the body can come from a lack of physical activity, exposure to a cold environment or eating too many cooling foods such as raw foods which are considered cold. Internal cold can also arise from not eating enough warming foods, especially in the colder months. Below are some signs and symptoms of cold in the body.

chilly sensations
dislike of cold
wanting to drink warm foods and liquids
copious, clear urine
stiffness
watery, loose diarrhoea
fearfulness (the Kidney is associated with fear and is particularly susceptible to cold)
pain that is fixed
white complexion
a runny nose

cold

Heating Foods

  • Mussels
  • Shrimps
  • Chicken
  • Chicken Livers
  • Lamb
  • Lamb Kidney
  • Beef
  • Quinoa
  • Spelt
  • Black Beans
  • Almonds
  • Coconut
  • Peanuts
  • Pine Nuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Cherry

heart fruits and vegetables

Food therapy in Chinese medicine is complex, but looking at how people and foods are seen to have a thermal nature is a simple way to begin to look at your body, its symptoms and the foods you eat so that you can begin to understand how you are reacting to certain foods, and potentially, how to add and subtract certain foods from your diet depending on the symptoms you are experiencing in an attempt to rebalance and stay healthy.

Food is something we eat every day and the Chinese knew this was (and still is) the best medicine we have at our disposal. Learning how foods can heal us and keep us in balance is the best and most efficient way that we can fight off disease and stay healthy for many years to come. And the Chinese weren’t the only ones who knew the value of eating well…

 

Hippocrates

If you are having health concerns and would like assistance, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP offers Skype consultations.
Please email info@chinesemedicineliving.com for more info.


Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Taking Care of Your Spleen Will Do Way More Than Improve Your Digestion

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the most common things I see in my practice is problems with digestion. Interestingly, this isn’t usually the reason that people come to see me, but when I am going through the medical history, it usually comes up. The sad thing is that most people live with digestive problems when in TCM they are relatively easy to fix with a little treatment ,nutritional counselling and some tips on how to help support and strengthen our digestions.

Now, a lot of people think of the spleen as in the western medicine spleen, part of the immune system and responsible for the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes) and removal of old red blood cells. It is not the same as it is in TCM. The spleen in Chinese medicine is paired with the Stomach, and both are the main organs of digestion for the body. The difference is that they not only digest food, but also stimulus and information - everything that comes into the body through our sense organs.

What you learn your first year in Acupuncture school when learning TCM theory, is that we live in a Spleen deficient culture. We are constantly taking in information, and that information has to be processed by, you guessed it, the Spleen. We eat in front of the TV (taking in food, and stimulus at the same time), we are constantly looking at our mobile devices on the road and wherever we go, and we are always multitasking. Never doing just one thing at a time. And thus, we are overloading our poor Spleens.

So, what can we do? There are lots of things that, once you are aware of them, can help take the burden off your Spleen.

Don’t Put Ice In Your Drinks.
Avoid Cold Foods.

The Spleen hates cold, so one easy way to help your Spleen is to avoid ice in your drinks. Because the Spleen is responsible for breaking down your food through the process of digestion, and this is powered by heat. Eating and drinking cold foods such as icy drinks, eating ice cream (a TCM nono!), or eating a lot of frozen or very cold foods (many foods in raw form are considered “cold”) taxes the Spleens energy, as it has to heat up again to be able to do the work necessary for digestion.

Be Mindful.

This is not just good advice for helping your Spleen, but a good life philosophy. One of the best things you can do for your Spleen is to do one thing at a time and be absolutely mindful when you do it. This means when you are eating, JUST EAT. Don’t sit in front of the TV, read, study or catch up on work. In such a fast-paced world where everyone is short on time, it is understandable that people are always doing many things at once, but this small thing will not only help your Spleen, it will relax your mind and body as well.

Chew Your Food.

We can all help our Spleens by making sure that we really chew our food well. We tend to all be in such a hurry that we do not chew our food nearly as well as we should. Chewing will help the breakdown of the foods before they get to the stomach, making the Spleens job a little easier.

Eat Soups.

Since most of us have at least some Spleen deficiency, one of the best things you can do to be kind to your Spleen is to eat soups. These are warming (the longer and slower they are cooked, the more warming they become) and they are very easy to digest which is why they are prescribed to you when you are sick - your body requires less energy to digest them, focussing its energies to fighting pathogens and getting you well. Soups do not take a lot of energy to digest, saving the Spleens energy for other things. There are many foods that are beneficial to the Spleen which I will list later in the article. I will also list foods that the Spleen is not so fond of so you can at least be aware of what they are and avoid them when you can.

Take A Break.

Because we live in a culture that is so bombarded by stimulus, most people have deficient Spleens. The Spleen must take in and process ALL that information, including the food we eat and liquids we drink, so you can imagine, it is a very hard working organ. Something that you can do to give your Spleen a break, is to literally, take a break. Go for a walk outside. Leave your phone at home. Sit somewhere quiet and meditate away from the TV, the phone and try to avoid interruptions. Doing this even once a day for a few minutes will really help the Spleen and you will notice a big difference in how you feel. You will notice that you are calmer, more aware and feel more at peace. And your Spleen will love you.

The Spleens Functions in TCM

The Spleen is responsible for many functions so that if you have symptoms in any of these areas, they point to a disharmony of the Spleen.

The Spleen Controls Blood

The Spleen is responsible for manufacturing the Blood and the Spleen Qi keeps it in the vessels. If Spleen-Qi is weak, a person will bruise easily, and/or will have problems with bleeding.

muscles

The Spleen Controls The Muscles And The Four Limbs

The Spleen is responsible for circulating nutrients to the muscles and tissues. If the Spleen is weak, then the muscles and limbs are not nourished and become weak and tired.

The Spleen Is Responsible For Transformation & Transportation

The Spleen is responsible for the intake, processing, and distribution of nutrients extracted from food and drink. The Spleen takes these nutrients and creates Qi and Blood, both vital substances for all the body’s functions and maintaining proper health. If transformation and transportation is functioning properly, the Qi is strong, digestion is smooth and the body is kept moist. When malfunctioning, the Qi is weak (lassitude and lethargy), the appetite is poor, digestion is sluggish and the stools are loose and watery.

The Spleen manifests on the lips

The Spleen Opens Into The Mouth & Manifests In The Lips

Chewing is necessary for the functioning of the Spleen and if the Spleen is deficient, the sense of taste may be dulled. Red, moist and vibrant lips indicate a healthy Spleen. If the Spleen is deficient, however, the lips will be pale from lack of nourishment.

Controls The Upright Qi

The Spleen is responsible for the body’s “holding” function. This is called the upright Qi. It is specifically the force that counteracts gravity when it comes to holding things, specifically the organs, in place. This is very important! Without healthy upright Qi, all of our organs would be at the bottom of our abdomen! When the Spleen is weak, we see prolapse of organs (uterus, bladder, stomach), prolapse of the vagina as well as things like hemorrhoids (prolapse of the anus, PLUS bleeding also attributed to the Spleen).

Houses Thought

Every organ in TCM is seen to have its own unique Spirit, and the Spirit of the Spleen is called the Yi. The Spleen is directly related to our capacity for thinking. How well we manage our thoughts, concentrate, exercise discernment, and form intentions are dependent on the strength of the Spleen.

Young Woman Biting Her Finger Nail

Worry - The Emotion of the Spleen

All organs in TCM also are associated with an emotion, and the emotion of the Spleen is worry. This works in two ways. Excessive worry will damage the Spleen Qi, and a deficient Spleen can weaken the mind and our capacity to think clearly and focus, leaving us susceptible to worry.

Colour food circle

Foods Beneficial For The Spleen

  • Organic lightly cooked vegetables, corn, celery, watercress, turnip, pumpkin, alfalfa sprouts, button mushrooms, radish, caper
  • Brown rice, barley, amaranth, rye, oats
  • Legumes, kidney beans, adzuki beans, lentils
  • A small amount of lean organic meat, poultry and fish, tuna
  • A small amount of whole fruits (as opposed to just the juice), lemon
  • Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Seaweed, kelp
  • Green tea, jasmine tea, raspberry leaf tea, chai tea
  • Raspberry, peach, strawberry, cherry
  • Walnut, chestnuts, pine nuts, pistachios
  • Lamb, venison
  • Lobster, mussels, prawns, shrimp, trout
  • Black pepper, cinnamon bark, clove, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, peppermint, rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, horseradish, cayenne, nutmeg

preparing food

Foods That Hurt The Spleen

  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Cold drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Processed foods
  • Refined flour, pastry, pasta, bread
  • Cold raw foods
  • Refined sugar and sugar substitutes
  • Coffee, alcohol
  • Deep fried foods
  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Bananas, avocado

When the Spleen is functioning well a person will feel energetic, their digestion will be smooth, their bowel movements will be regular and firm (not soft), thoughts will be clear and one will be able to concentrate.

When the Spleen is imbalanced there will be symptoms of digestive upset, loose stools, poor appetite, low energy, edema (water retention), nausea, vomiting, weakness in the four limbs, pale lips, organ prolapse, bruising and a feeling of cold.

Because most of us have some level of Spleen deficiency, we can all help our Spleens by being aware of simple things we can all do to take some of the pressure off this important organ. Your Spleen will love you for it. :)

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If you suspect you are having problems with your spleen and would like an expert opinion, Emma offers skype consultations. Please email emma@chinesemedicineliving.com for more information or to set up an appointment.

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Would you like to learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine? Check out these downloadable info sheets available on www.learnchinesemedicine.com -

The Spleen - Theory in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen - Nutrition in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen - Dampness in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen - Patterns in Chinese Medicine

The Spleen Associations in Chinese Medicine - Poster

Loving Your Spleen in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

 


Summer Foods & Preparation According to Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

To fully embody summer, Chinese medicine suggests that we embody yang - expansion, growth, light and outward expression, activity, brightness and creativity. Summer is a time of luxurious growth. To be in harmony with this season it is best to wake early and soak up the summer sun just as the plants do. Have your work, play and all the things you do be joyful and fill you with a sense of happiness and peace. This is a season to allow the bounty of the outside world feed and nourish us.


Photo by Stephanie Cook on Unsplash

One of the joys of summer is having an unlimited variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables so you can enjoy creating beautiful meals using many colours and textures, as well as creating gorgeous floral arrangements for your home and table which nourish the eyes as well as the body.

Cooking should be light, like steaming or sautéing to keep the vitality of the food while adding a bit of spicy or pungent flavour to nourish the heart, the organ representing summer. When sautéing, use high heat for a very short time, and when steaming or simmering do so quickly so food retains its nutrients. Use more water for cooking in summer and less salt.

Summer offers abundant variety and the diet should reflect this. Because there is excess sweating in summer, fluids, minerals and oils must be replaced or the body will become weak making us more susceptible to disease. A varied diet will give the body everything it needs to stay healthy, and the summer season is the best time to be able to offer the body variety.

Heart Bowl

Although it may seem contrary to what we have learned in the West, Chinese medicine tells us to drink hot liquids and take warm showers in summer to induce sweat and cool the body. Summer heat along with too much cold foods weakens the digestive system and injures the digestive organs of stomach and spleen. Many raw foods are considered cold in Chinese medicine as they take a lot of energy (digestive fire) for the body to break down. Eating raw foods, ice cream and iced drinks actually cause the stomach to contract and impede digestion and are best avoided.

On very hot days eat more cooling fresh foods such as salads, sprouts, fruit and tofu. Hydrating foods such as watermelon and cucumber will ensure that your body is hydrated in the hot summer sun. Another thing that cools summer heat are flower leaf teas such as chrysanthemum, chamomile and mint, and the best cooling fruits are lemons, limes, watermelon and apples. Surprisingly, hot spices are indicated for the hottest days of summer as they have a stimulating effect that initially heats up the body, but then brings it to the surface to be released. Black pepper, cayenne, fresh ginger, and red and green hot peppers are ideal for this. Moderation is important when using these hot spices however as dispersing too much heat will deplete the body’s yang (or fire energy) and the body’s balance will be disrupted which will make it more susceptible to contracting illness.

Heart Foods

Avoid heavy foods, especially on the hottest days as they make the body sluggish. These tend to be the foods many of us eat on a regular basis such as meat, eggs and an excess amount of grains, nuts and seeds. Eating less and light meals on hot days is a natural healthy practice and something that is easily forgotten as many of us have lost touch with our bodies and its rhythms as well as the changing of the seasons.

Eating whole foods is important for the entire body and especially the heart. Whole foods have a calming effect on the body so including them in the diet is important for good health. The bitter aspect of grains such as wheat and rice is in their germ and bran which are removed in processing refined wheat and white rice. Also the essential fatty acids in the grain germ and the B vitamins which are primarily in the germ and bran have a definite healing and sustaining effect on the nerves. Magnesium also, is important for proper functioning of the heart and nerves but it virtually lost in the milling of grains and refining of most foods. Green foods are high in magnesium and should be added to the diet especially in the summer season to help the heart function properly.

Chinese medicine teaches to live according to the seasons which means eating what grows in each season and changing the way we prepare our foods accordingly. The seasons tell us when we should wake in the morning, sleep, and how much activity we need. Because each season is associated with an organ and an emotion, we are taught to pay close attention to the seasons associated organ and emotion at this time to make sure it is healthy and all of our emotions are being expressed so that we can be happy and balanced.

Photo by Cynthia Frankvoort on Unsplash

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Featured image photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Summer season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Summer Season in Chinese Medicine.


Daikon - The Cancer Fighting Radish

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

The Oriental white radish is very common in most Asian cuisines because it is plentiful all year round and therefore very inexpensive. Besides price, daikon is known to many to be a healthy food choice. The Japanese, Korean and Chinese use daikon a lot in soups, stews and in pickles. It may be one of the reasons why Asian people, especially those eating their traditional diets are living healthier, longer lives than most others in the Western world.

Chinese medicine regards daikon or “lo-bak” as slightly cool in nature and sweet in taste. It acts on the lungs and spleen to clear phlegm, stop coughing, promote digestion, move stagnant qi or energy downwards, cool internal heat and prevent/stop the development of cancer cells. “Lo-bak” is commonly used in many home remedies.

One of the main reasons cancer is becoming more and more common nowadays is because our modern diet is creating the internal body environment to foster cancer growth. The over indulgence of food, especially meat, sugar and dairy products and the lack of high fibre vegetables, are making our gut too acidic. The over processed foods especially deep-fried and grilled foods are too hot in nature and are lacking the digestive enzymes necessary to break down food quickly therefore creating indigestion, heart burn, constipation and leaky gut syndrome. To correct all these internal problems and imbalances, daikon is most suitable and it is far more effective than any modern medicine can do without any side effects.

The best way to eat daikon on a regular basis is to make pickled daikon. It is most simple to make and can be kept in the fridge to last for months. It is best to eat it as a starter or eat with salad to promote appetite and to get the digestive juices flowing before eating the main meal. There are many other recipes on our website www.nourishu.com using daikon for curing cold/flu, for weight loss and for promoting qi.

pickled daikon

Pickled Daikon to Beat Cancer

There are numerous reports of how people have beaten cancer just by eating pickled daikon, even those with  cancer at an advanced stage. They did not only eradicate cancer, they regained good health as well.

This is really very good news. I believe we have nothing to lose by eating pickled daikon regularly. People who have cold and weak spleen/stomach conditions should not eat too much daikon because it will give them stomach pain.  Also, when people are taking potent herbs such as red ginseng, they should stay away from daikon for a few days because it will lessen the effectiveness of the herbs by passing it through too quickly.

cut daikon

INGREDIENTS

  • Daikon – one (large)
  • Salt – 2 spoonfuls
  • Rice vinegar – one bottle
  • Organic cane sugar – one cup or to taste

daikon radish

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Wash daikon (with skin) with a vegetable scrubber and rinse clean.
  • Cut out the top and bottom part, cut daikon into a few large sections and then cut each section diagonally into eight or ten pieces.
  • Put all in a stainless steel pot or container and add salt. Toss daikon to mix with salt for about 5 minutes.
  • Transfer all with juice to a glass container and add sugar and then vinegar to cover the daikon.
  • Shake well until all sugar is dissolved and put it in the fridge. The daikon is ready to eat in a week.

pickled daikon

USAGE

Use a clean fork to take out the required amount each time to prevent contamination. Use the vinegar separately for cooking or use it to cure mouth sores by drinking a small cup.


The Thyroid in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that wraps around the trachea (windpipe) in the throat. The thyroid’s function is to secrete hormones (thyroxine) that help regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and the rate at which food is converted into energy. Thyroid hormones are essential for the function of every cell in the body. They help regulate growth and the rate of chemical reactions as well as our body’s metabolism. Thyroid hormones also help children grow and develop.

thyroid

The thyroid uses iodine, a mineral found in some foods and in iodized salt, to make its hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by the pituitary gland, acts to stimulate hormone production by the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland also makes the hormone calcitonin, which is involved in calcium metabolism and stimulating bone cells to add calcium to bone.

Thyroid disorders fall into two categories, hypo - or under active thyroid, and hyper - or over active thyroid. Here is a description of both, with a list of their symptoms.

HYPERTHYROID (over active)

Hyperthyroid results from an overactive thyroid that produces too much thyroid hormone. Below are a list of hyperthyroid symptoms.

  • high blood pressure
  • rapid heartbeat
  • moist skin
  • increased sweating
  • tremor
  • nervousness
  • increased appetite with weight loss
  • diarrhea, and/or frequent bowel movements
  • weakness
  • eyes that seem to bulge out of their sockets
  • and sensitivity of the eyes to light

 

HYPOTHYROID (under active)

Hypothyroidism is characterized by an under active thyroid gland. Symptoms of hypothyroid are below.

  • hoarse voice
  • slowed speech
  • puffy face
  • drooping eyelids
  • sensitivity to cold
  • constipation
  • weight gain
  • dry hair and skin
  • depression

Traditional Chinese medicine regards both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism as imbalances of the Yin and Yang energy of the body. In Chinese medicine, Yin and Yang are considered the essential components of the material universe. Everything that exists has both Yin and Yang aspects. In the body, when Yin and Yang are in balance, we are healthy and able to ward off disease, but when Yin and Yang become imbalanced, illness develops.

When treating hypo or hyperthyroidism, a TCM practitioner will use acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary therapy and energy work like Tai Chi and Qi Gong to rebalance an individual's Yin and Yang. Chinese Medicine theory states that external factors (like diet, weather and physical injury or trauma) and internal factors (such as emotional states, mental stimulation and hereditary factors) are all contributors to changes in Yin and Yang.

acupuncture needles

Hyperthyroidism in Chinese medicine is considered a deficiency of the Yin energy of the body which is unable to control Yang and, because Yang is Fire, it flares upwards giving rise to hyperthyroid symptoms like anxiety, anger, dry mouth with a bitter taste - all symptoms of heat in the body.

Hypothyroidism is considered a deficiency of Yang causing excess Yin, which represents water or cold energy which causes symptoms like lassitude, poor memory, edema, being pale and feeling cold.

yin yang

There is some question as to why there seem to be so many cases of thyroid disorders in recent years, and why the numbers are increasing. Some theories suggest that we are getting better at diagnosing the disease, and others speculate that there is not enough iodine in the diet. I believe that in a world where we are constantly in a hurry, eating nutrient depleted foods covered in pesticides, and overloading our bodies with toxins like fluoride, that it is our lifestyles that have become toxic and are no longer as able to support health as they once were. If we were to look back even a generation ago, the food that was eaten was much closer to what grew out of the ground and people didn’t have to work 2 jobs to pay the mortgage. Other things that contribute are wearing tight, constrictive clothing that inhibits the movement of qi or energy throughout the body, energy that is important for all our physiological processes and psychological well being. We seem to have lost the balance in life and perhaps in some cases the meaning of life itself. In many traditions like those of the Native Indians, Ayurvedic medicine (the medicine of India) and Chinese medicine, there is a deep connection to nature and the world around us that is inseparable from the human being, and health on every level is an integral part of supporting us on the journey we are all on in this life and on this planet. In some ways, this seems to be getting lost.

girl

The good news is that these ancient systems like Chinese medicine are a treasure trove of wisdom that have thousands of years of practice and development. It would be overly simplistic to say that Chinese medicine is a medical system, it was designed as a way of life. Chinese medicine can teach us the art of living, and the goal is for every being to live harmoniously with themselves, the people and creatures around them and the natural world so that they can live long, happy and healthy lives.


Adventures at Meditation Camp

I wanted to share this with all of you as I had such an overwhelming response to the post about my Vipassana experience. I was very fortunate to, on the last day at the retreat, meet some wonderful ladies, one of whom went home and wrote about her experience as well. It is wonderfully refreshing and very funny.

She has very kindly given me permission to share it so that you can have a different persons take on the experience. It is a great piece and I have compiled her 3 entries into one post. Her original posts are on her blog - The Sparkler -  here - Adventures at Meditation Camp Part 1 - Expectations / Meditation Camp Part 2 - Monkey Mind / Meditation Camp Part 3 - Itching is Not Eternal. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

*I believe that she intends to add more posts so I will continue to add them to this post as she posts them...

Adventures at Meditation Camp
Part 1 - Expectations

I promised a full disclosure account of my 10 days spent in silent meditation at the Southeast Vipassana Center but I’ve been putting this off—trying to digest what I learned and put what I learned into practice but mostly trying figure out a way to summarize a VERY COMPLICATED experience.

A few days after my return, my dad (ever the pragmatist) asked, “So, what was the take-away?" My response to him was, “An ancient Buddhist meditation technique that (I hope) will help me maintain some sort of balance through the next round of challenges life throws at me." But my answer to him doesn’t really hint at the depth of what I experienced and learned, there and since.

Without a doubt, it has had a profound effect on me. Many who know me well have immediately recognized it in my face and demeanor (I call it the Vipassana facelift—I swear I have less wrinkles). But to tell the truth, it all seemed very ordinary at the start and quite a few days in I did not hold any hope of seeing any major changes. It was very peaceful there but it was almost over before I saw even the hint of the possibility of a change in consciousness, much less a drastic or revolutionary one.

There we were (me and about 60 strangers with whom I could not speak) in the middle of freaking nowhere in rural south Georgia (Jesup, GA, to be specific) on an enormous property accessed by dirt roads with no cell phone service within ten miles of the place.

The subtropical landscape felt like home, about an hour from the coast, lots of pines, magnolias and scrub oak, white sandy paths, cheerful waving palmettos and silvery Spanish moss in the trees (all very similar to coastal Alabama where I grew up).

I arrived just before one of the regular late afternoon thunderstorms. As we checked in everyone was supernice and calm, talking in low voices. Shoes are not worn in the buildings. There was a good vibe. Lots of cars in the parking lot had bumper stickers promoting peace and liberal political ideals. The folks checking in around me were diverse in age and ethnicity. The registration process included taking of all cellphones and other electronics and any belongings (car keys) that were not needed during your stay. All would be returned in eleven days as you departed. (This process was obviously scary for some participants. I watched as some students handed these items over with furrowed brows, many questions and nervous laughs.)

Eventually I walked into the freshly scrubbed and simply furnished dorm room I would share with three other women. I was immediately disheartened because they were all half my age and talking animatedly about things not remotely spiritual or enlightening. I was longing for a deeply spiritual, life-altering experience at this retreat and this was NOT AT ALL how I expected it to begin. I wanted to switch rooms, maybe join some of the older students, but I knew the dangers of holding on to expectations and made a conscious effort to just go with the flow.

Beyond this initial aversion to my dorm situation all was calm and generally blissful for the first few days. I enjoyed the quiet, the beautiful landscape around us, the food, even the meditation itself and the teachings of the guru, S. N. Goenka, whom we watched each evening by video.

Goenka is this adorable little man with a great sense of humor. I was often giggling to myself at his self-deprecating stories and his phrasing and pronunciation of certain words. Goenka would say slowly, “Alvays remain avare, remain avare," sounding more like Bela Lugosi than a Burmese-born meditation guru.

He repeated everything twice. And in teaching us Anapana breathing he would pronounce “nostrils" as “nose-trills." which actually makes more sense but still sounds amusing. “Focus all attention on the breath as it enters the nose-trills," he would repeat slowly like a hypnotist.

I felt that the breathing technique we were practicing was super easy, but little did I know this was just to sharpen our minds before we learned actual practice of Vipassana meditation. Once we began Vipassana practice, things began to shift for me. The process became more challenging, and things began to intensify on many levels.

More on that soon.

Meditation Camp Part 2 -
Monkey Mind

At orientation on the first evening of the retreat we all repeated a solemn vow to observe “noble silence" until the tenth day of our stay. We were even advised to pretend that we were alone on this retreat, to not even acknowledge one another or make eye contact as we passed in the hall. No need for social formalities here. Just stay within.

I was ready for this, ready and willing. This retreat was a last resort for me. I was in desperate need of profound, positive change and we all know the most profound changes come from within.

We woke at 4 am to start our first day of meditation, wandering by the light of the moon to the meditation hall. The Center is run very much like a monastery. Gongs were sounded for waking, breaks and meals. We ate full meals at 6 and 11 am and then had just fruit and tea at 5 pm. (I hear your question and no, I never felt hungry and the food was amazingly healthy and delicious.) Lights went out each night at 10 pm. Everything ran like clockwork so we had nothing to do but face the challenges of the silence and the meditation itself.

As I mentioned previously, I was finding the Anapana breathing technique easy, like child’s play, but maintaining my mental focus was a whole other story. It felt like an exercise in futility even though I was an eager student.

The mind has ways and wiles you will never know until you try to meditate regularly. In the world of meditation this is called “monkey mind," a mind that willfully refuses to be tamed (Very accessible discussion on this topic by Buddhist Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen herehttp://badlamaguide.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/enter-the-monkey/).

And oh, DID I EVER have a bad case of monkey mind. In those first days as I dutifully sat on my cushion for hours at a time, I wrote most of a comedic screenplay about a former job in my head. I designed dresses and came up with an entire business plan for the my company (which I decided to name Maude Designs after Harold and Maude). I had fantasies about Benedict Cumberbatch. I thought about baked brie and wedding cake and mojitos (not together). I also listened to long, grumbling south Georgia thunderstorms as if they were symphonies.

In other words, I found endless ways to distract myself and usually without even being aware that I was doing so until I had followed a random train of thought for a full half hour. But then, as the gentle Buddhists suggest, I did not berate myself for wandering. I recognized that I was following the monkeys, yet again, and came back to the breath. This is the process.

I did not have trouble staying awake as many others did (you would occasionally hear snores in the meditation hall) but instead my mind was in hyperdrive, perhaps from being denied the normal barrage of stimulation we encounter in everyday life.

But I also believe that a large part of the reason we cannot easily meditate (perhaps an even stronger reason than our limited attention spans) is fear. We are deeply afraid of what we are going to find when we really look within, and our mind does circus performances just to keep us from going there. This was definitely the case for me.

But by the third day things improved. I was able to sit for longer periods without shifting my position and I was much more focused. Goenka’s mind-sharpening technique seemed to be working. My mental focus increased and this happened just in time, because the next day we began our Vipassana training in earnest.

Will share the gory details about what happens next very soon. Peace out. ;)

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Meditation Camp Part 3 -
Itching Is Not Eternal

Many people have said to me that they absolutely could NOT spend ten days in silence, much less in silent meditation. I readily admit that it is no easy task but I do believe that if I could do it and if prisoners in state penitentiaries can do it (http://www.prison.dhamma.org/), then pretty much anyone could do it. Being WILLING to do it is a whole other subject.

I was certainly willing and my mental focus was much-improved as I sat on the third day of this retreat, but physically I was still struggling. My foot would fall asleep. My back would ache. Random parts of my body would itch. A hair would fall in my face. I was suddenly too hot or too cold. All of these annoying and uncomfortable physical sensations would arise as I sat. But the teachings tell us to retain our composure of mind and sit through all of these annoying sensations, completely still and in the present moment.

One of the most basic tenets of Buddhist thought (across all traditions) is to have neither aversion to the unpleasant nor cling to the pleasant. It is believed that clinging and aversion are the roots of all suffering. And, an important aspect of meditation is to practice this non-clinging and non-aversion on the mat in order that you may take this practice into your daily life.

But me and my ‘beginner’s mind, beginner’s body" could not sit still. I tried different positions. I shifted around on the cushion in reaction to aches and pains. I could not resist the need to lean forward and stretch to relieve tension in my neck. I scratched things that itched.

Goenka knows his students so well. It seems that each time an issue came up for me, it would be the topic of discussion during discourse that evening. That night Goenka talked about sitting on the cushion, wanting to move or react to every unpleasant sensation. He laughed and said, “itching is not eternal."  He explained that sensations arise and they pass away. We were advised to just sit and observe. Eventually each sensation, pleasant or unpleasant, will pass. Everything arises and passes in meditation and in life. Nothing is permanent.

And with this teaching I began to observe my need to “scratch each itch." And I was surprised by how quickly the sensation goes away when you just observe it, not reacting. I have also been surprised how much easier aches and pains are to deal with when you focus on them, bringing your full awareness to the site of pain and observing it as an outsider, studying the sensation, not identifying with it. Separating yourself from it makes it easier to bear.

These were the things I was working on as we began our fourth day. This was the day that the retreat got really intense for me.

More on this tomorrow.

Image below of S. N. Goenka, teacher of Vipassana meditation

Meditation Camp, Part 4,
Equanimous Mind

I’ve delayed publishing this installment because I felt a moral conflict. I was hesitant to say anything remotely negative about my roommates from the retreat. But I finally concluded that if they ever read this, I would hope that they would not be offended and would know that by the end of our time together, I had no hard feelings and loved them unconditionally. So here goes…

I was already aware that silent meditation retreats are deeply challenging and not at all appealing to everyone but I became painfully and personally aware of this fact when several of my roommates decided that it was not for them.

The first of them to balk broke her silence on day three to announce that “she already knew all this stuff" and wanted to leave. She even went so far as to pack her suitcase a few times. I cannot deny that I was hoping she would depart on each of those occasions and make our dorm room a more peaceful place.

This roommate’s overall mode of being was forceful and determined. She moved in sudden confident bursts and slammed doors at entrance and exit. She would come into the room like a tornado, unconcerned whether anyone was meditating or sleeping. She was so irritable about being there that, even when she wasn’t exhaling long drawn out sighs of angst and misery, she exuded negativity like an angry thundercloud.

She reached a point where she ignored most every rule they asked us to follow. She even wore her shoes indoors which is a sign of real disrespect in this tradition. If she had been rooming on her own it wouldn’t have mattered but we were all sharing this intimate space with two sets of bunk beds and a single bathroom. She made sure that we knew how miserable she was at all times.

Mind you, I had real compassion for her. I knew her ego had taken over out of complete fear of dealing with the things she might have to face in the silence. Our minds will do all sorts of desperate and surprising things (even beyond the circus antics of “monkey mind") to keep us from dealing with our own dark stuff.

But even though I recognized what she was doing and empathized, I was still feeling abused by her disruptive behavior and disrespect for others. It was as if she was not only going to reject the experience but to ruin it for those around her as well.

Frustration began to brew in me because I could not speak up to ask to her to consider the rest of us. I had made a solemn vow, and to speak up would mean breaking that vow. I decided to do my best to ignore her and to enjoy my time there, focusing on the work.

But on the fourth day we began practicing Vipassana meditation (more specifically the Vipassana meditation technique as taught by S. N. Goenka which is different from Vipassana as taught in the Theraveda Buddhist tradition). In the morning I felt very happy. I was now accustomed to the routine of waking at 4 a.m. and actually delighted in walking alone in the silence by the light of the moon to the meditation hall each day. Later in the morning it was sunny and clear, dragonflies flitted around and all seemed right in the world.

But after the morning sessions of Vipassana it seemed that all hell broke loose. A second roommate broke her silence (soon I was the only one in the room determined to honor our vow). This roommate was in her early 20’s, beautiful and full of energy. Meditating seemed antithetical to her nature. She could barely sit still. She brought her exercise mat and would exercise in the tiny dorm room (which was not allowed) even when others were trying to rest or meditate, huffing and puffing with her exertion. She found infinite ways to change her clothing and hairstyle each day, even shaving one side of her head about halfway through. Even though I did not know her, I could tell that she was a delightful person, but she was also absolutely miserable and complained in loud whispersabout wanting to leave.

My frustration continued to build. In meditation, I was struggling with the new meditation technique because suddenly my body was wracked with all sorts of random aches and pains each time I sat. I was extremely uncomfortable on the mat and I was unable to remain still for the full two-hour sessions. I went from “monkey mind" during the days of Anapana breathing to extreme levels of physical discomfort during Vipassana. I also found that the Vipassana body-scanning technique did not come easy to me. There was visualization required and a constant maintaining of focused awareness. Every session was like a mental wrestling match and it was really exhausting.

This struggle along with my whispering and restless roommates was making it incredibly difficult for me to maintain what our teacher, Goenka, calls “equanimous mind." I kept talking myself down from getting really upset with each additional incident.

Each day there were times when we were allowed to meditate in our rooms. I found it to be the most physically comfortable place to meditate and it was full of light—a nice break from the dark meditation hall. But my roommates would not keep quiet in the room.

That afternoon as I sat in my bed with my back to the wall immersed in meditation I was interrupted repeatedly and on the fourth or fifth time, I gave up, slumped down in my bed and began to cry with my head in my hands. I cried because my roommates were making me miserable. I cried because I had such high expectations for change and healing during this retreat and because I felt that circumstances outside my control were ruining all my efforts. I mostly cried because it all felt so unfair. I just broke down.

But it was not long before all my Buddhist teachings came flooding into my mind, reminding me that suffering is caused by clinging and aversion, both of which were playing major roles in this meltdown. I realized that I was clinging to expectations for the retreat when I know full well that this causes great suffering. If we do not want to suffer we must accept things as they are, as they unfold, rather than constantly wishing that they matched up to some self-created ideal.

And I was feeling strong aversion to the behavior of the people around me when acceptance would have kept me from feeling increasingly frustrated and reaching a state of emotional breakdown. Both clinging and aversion are barriers to maintaining a state of “equanimous mind," that the Buddha taught as the path to enlightenment. If we want to be free from suffering we must accept things as they are. Even if we do not like things, we do not have to react to them with aversion. Even if we really like something (or someone) we do not need to cling to it. It is all about balance.

We cannot control what other people do. We can only control our reactions. We do not have to suffer and, in this instance, I did not need to suffer. I realized in that moment that I would not be miserable if I simply accepted the situation and the people around me exactly as they are. I could not speak up because of my vow but I could choose to meditate elsewhere rather than spend time in the room, which was causing my greatest frustration. There are ways to make things better, to greatly decrease our suffering, even in difficult circumstances through acceptance and heartfelt compassion.

I am grateful to my roommates for pushing me to this epiphany. I experienced a “breakdown to breakthrough" and learned some things that I will be able to apply in daily life, but it was not easy. I came to a new and better understanding but that afternoon I thought to myself in a very non-Buddha-like way, “If I had a bottle of tequila, I’d be doing shots right now."

More soon.