Chinese Year of the Dog

By Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP

On Friday February 16, 2018, we celebrated Chinese New Year and brought in the year of the dog. The Chinese new year falls on a different day every year and this is because it is based on a lunar cycle, unlike our calendar, which is based on the movement of the sun. In the Chinese zodiac, each year is dedicated to an animal, and it runs in twelve year cycles in a specific order. Each year also corresponds to an element based on the Chinese five element system - Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. This year is the year of the earth dog.

Years of the Dog include 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, and 2030. The dog year occupies the eleventh position in the Chinese zodiac.

People who are born in a year associated with a specific animal are said to have certain traits. Those born in a dog year are said to have the personality traits below. There are also five elements which rotate throughout the zodiac, 2018 is an earth year, therefore, this is an earth dog year. These elements further distinguish personality traits among people born in dog years. The different characteristics are listed below.

Wood Dog - Years - 1934, 1994

• Sincere
• Reliable
• Considerate
• Patient
• Understanding

Fire Dog - 1946, 2006

• Sincere
• Hardworking
• Intelligent

Earth Dog - 1958, 2018

• Excellent Communicator
• Responsible
• Serious

Metal Dog - 1910, 1970

• Cautious
• Conservative
• Always helpful to others
• Desirable

Water Dog - 1922, 1982

• Excellent at managing financial affairs
• Self Reliant
• Brave
• Independent

Lucky Things for Dogs

If you were born in a dog year the following things are considered lucky...

Lucky Numbers - 3, 4, 9 (and any numbers containing them, ie: 34, 49)

Lucky Colours - Red, Green and Purple

Lucky Days - The 7th and 28th of every Chinese lunar month

Lucky Months - The 6th, 10th and 12th Chinese lunar months

Lucky Directions - East, South and NorthEast

Lucky Flowers - Rose, Orchids

The Dog Personality

Dogs are loyal, kind, honest and trustworthy and will do anything for the people in their lives that they feel are the most important. They are cautious however, and will only give their loyalty and affections to someone whom they feel truly deserves it. Dogs are always happy and in a good mood, and able to see the bright side of any situation. Most seek out a simple life spending their time and energy on good friends, family and things that make them happy. Because of their inherent goodness, they also do not tend to crime, violence or other negative activities, they are more interested in the positive things in life.

One thing that dogs struggle with is communication, and always seem to have difficulty expressing themselves to others. Often, things can be misunderstood or misinterpreted and this can lead to problems. This can make relationships difficult and people sometimes are left with the impression that dogs are difficult to get along with.

Dogs are always ready to help others and are very selfless and not interested in their own gains, especially for those in their inner circle. Conversely, if they are deceived by those they trust, they will be deeply hurt and the betrayal can send them into a deep depression.

Dogs are usually very healthy and love to be active. They tend to have strong immune systems which makes them resilient when illnesses like colds and flus are going around and everyone else is falling ill.

Famous People Born in Dog Years

WinstonChurchill (wood dog) / Madonna (earth dog) / Elvis Presley (wood dog) / Mother Teresa (metal dog) Michael Jackson (earth dog) / Steven Spielberg (fire dog) / George Bush Jr. (fire dog) / Bill Clinton (fire dog) / Donald Trump (fire dog)

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The featured image photo by Hyunwon Jang on Unsplash


My Struggles Have Made Me A Better, More Empathetic Doctor

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Some of the most useful things that I have been able to bring to my patients are things that I have learned through my own experiences with trauma, pain, emotional issues, illnesses - and how I was able to get through them. These experiences also allow me tremendous empathy for the people I see, both in clinic and in everyday life. My thinking is that the more I go through and GET through, the better I can serve my patients and ultimately, my fellow human being. No matter our financial status, where we are born, our religion, colour or beliefs, we will all experience difficulties, pain, fear, sorrow, and illness at some time in our lives. And it helps to know that you are not alone and that you will ultimately get through it, and be stronger for the experience.

An Unusual Life (Let me get philosophical for a moment)

I have had, well, an unusual life. This has been mostly of my own making, and even though there have been a lot of ups and downs (oh *so* many), I wouldn't change any of it. I have never believed in regret. I believe that every experience that we have in this life contributes to making us who we are - that we are an accumulation of those experiences. I also think that it is important that we are at peace with the person we have become, no matter what may be happening in our lives. This certainly is not always easy. Remembering to be kind with ourselves as we are a young species, and here to learn a great deal which includes things which we judge to be unpleasant like pain, grief, loss, fear, anger, and frustration are all important pieces of the whole. Like Chinese medicine, I believe in a holistic system, with every part synergistically connecting to every other. I can draw so many parallels back to Chinese medicine, which is why I connected to it so strongly and why I fell so deeply and passionately in love with it. It is an allegory for life, and perhaps, all things in the universe and beyond.

Ever since I can remember I have been hungry for so many of the experiences that life has to offer. I didn't have a choice in the matter, it was like there was a force driving me, and I could either allow it to push me in the direction of experience or be crushed and ultimately destroyed by it. I wanted to do everything, try everything. I was driven by a curiosity about the world and my existence that has lead me to live a very, uh, interesting life. I was fascinated with travel and wanted to see as many places and cultures as I could. I loved the way that each place had a unique smell, a look, a feel and each would arouse such emotion. I also loved the newness of a different country, a new city or tiny village. I thrived being immersed in a completely alien culture and absorbing as much of it as I could, being exposed to its magic, its customs, rituals, food, and music. There is such beauty, creativity, and wonder that permeates the cultures of the world, and that is what I was after. I loved seeing what each had to offer, and learning how its people communicated, loved, celebrated and mourned. I absolutely think that travel is the best education. I learned more in my travels than I ever could in a classroom or books.

I have also been living my life in, I suppose, a unique way. I knew from very early on that I would never live the life that most people end up living. Buying a one-way ticket to another country and not knowing where you were going to stay, not having a job and not knowing how long you would be there? This is insane! they would say. Going to China alone to work in a tiny city so small (6 million people) it wasn't even on the map, and just hoping it would be ok? Foolish! Moving to Central America with a tiny baby to make a better life with hopes to buy land, live off the grid and create a sustainable community and healing retreat without the resources (yet) with which to do it? Madness. And yet, I have done all of these things with varying degrees of success. With these experiences came a lot of worry, grief, loneliness, frustration, and despair, I am not going to lie to you. And yet, even though they involved a lot of pain and emotions which are hard to deal with, I am glad I did those things because I learned a lot about myself, and how to process all the crazy things that life can throw at you. And even when things are difficult and painful, you do come out the other side, and the feelings then, are often intensely joyful because you have passed through such darkness to get to them. And yet, these experiences are not for the faint of heart. And many would say choices made by someone who may be a few crayons short of a full box.

I was once sitting in a session with a therapist before my imminent departure to a foreign country and he said to me "you know, this thing you are doing, would scare the hell out of most people. Aren't you afraid?" And, this was the first moment that I really thought about fear in connection with the situation. After a minute I said, "no, I am not scared of this at all." And then he asked me the inevitable question. "Well then, what are you scared of?" And the answer came to me quickly. I said "I am scared of being married to someone I don't love, working a job I hate and feeling trapped in a life I don't want. I fear getting to the end of my life and feeling like I never really lived."

Pain & Growth

In my experience, it has been the darkest moments, the most difficult times and when I was deeply suffering that I learned the most. It took me a long time to admit because I didn't want it to be true. I wanted to be able to learn from happiness, joy, freedom, and love, and I have. But not like I evolve when I am facing darkness. But maybe it is just me...

Take Vipassana meditation for instance. This, by definition, is taking a stroll through the winding path of your consciousness, that inevitably leads to some of the darker places in your subconscious. Vipassana is defined as "seeing things as they really are", which, at least in my experiences, have meant the whole she-bang. The light bits and the darker ones as well. And it is the darker ones that we tend to hide from, the ones that hurt us, leave scars and can hinder us in the present until we are able to heal them (acknowledging them first which is usually not easy and can bring up a lot of difficult feelings) and finally let them go.

**if you would like to learn more about Vipassana Meditation you can read about my two Vipassana retreats here - My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation and Vipassana 2.0.

I have seen this for many years with patients. As a practitioner, I like to get deep into things. I want to understand why you are having those headaches, the insomnia, and the panic attacks, so I ask a lot of questions in an attempt to get to the root of things. And I have found that so much of what makes people sick are things that have hurt them in their past that they are dragging with them into their present. That may sound strange, but in my experience, it is absolutely true. As a culture, we are all striving for health, but most of the time that is limited to the physical realm. And yet, as well as physical bodies, we all have emotions, but few of us are taught or have the skills to deal with them in a healthy way. I think that because I was such a sensitive child, and constantly overwhelmed by not only my emotions, but by the emotions of others, that I have been working my whole life to find a balance and a way to deal with them effectively so that they do not become demons that haunt me in my present.

Chinese medicine is well aware of this phenomena and the emotions are considered to be one of the causes of disease. Now, to clarify, HAVING emotions is not a cause of disease, but emotions that are suppressed, unexpressed or expressed in an inappropriate manner are seen to contribute to disease. So basically, emotional health is just as important as physical health, and so it should be. Patients are often surprised at how much attention I give to their emotional state as we talk in each session. And I tell them that it is a hugely important factor and that I need to be aware of how they are feeling so that I can better help them to rebalance and gain the equilibrium that will bring them back to health - body, mind, and spirit.

A Better Healer

I hope that because of all the experiences that I have had, and all the pain that I have been through, that those experiences have made me a better version of myself. A wiser, more compassionate self. And I also think that my struggles with pain, grief, anger, loss and my journeys into the darkness have given me the ability to recognize those struggles in others. I know that darkness, I have spent a lot of time there. I know that place and I can empathize with you if you are there too.

It is rarely the thing that people say they are coming in to see me for that is the thing that needs the most attention. And, because I have been there, in that dark place where you feel like you are hurting and all alone, that I can see that person, take their hand, and hopefully, lead them back into the light. Which is, after all, where we all want to be.

This beautiful quote by Ram Dass is one that has always really hit home for me, in my life and in my work. <3


The Most Important Qigong II - (Standing Post - Zhan Zhuang)

by John Voigt

In silence there must be movement, and in motion, there must be silence.

A small movement is better than a large movement,

no movement is better than a small.

Silence is the mother of all movement..

In movement you should be like a dragon or a tiger.

In non-movement you should be like a Buddha.

--Wang Xiangzhai, the Father of Standing Post Qigong

This is a continuation of the article - The Most Important Qigong - that appeared in Chinese Medical Living, January 2018.

A Quick Summary.

Stand straight and relaxed with chin slightly tucked back. Raise your arms and pretend to hug an imaginary large tree (or large ball). Breathe slowly, deeply, and smoothly. Hold the pose as long as possible. Relax into any discomfort you experience. If you experience any pain then stop immediately. With an empty mind be aware (feel) your posture; and gently correct it if necessary.

How Long to Practice.

Even a few minutes of serious practice each day should bring about some positive results.  As long as there is no pain, slowly extend the length of the practice. With an accomplished teacher several hours—even more—are theoretically possible.  However, for those who need more specific instructions: “Start by doing the standing exercises  for five minutes a day.  After three weeks, increase this to ten minutes.  Three weeks later, aim for 15 minutes, and 20 minutes after a further three weeks.  You can stand longer if you wish, but 20 minutes will refresh your whole system.”  Master Lam Kam Chuen.  The Way of Energy, pg. 25.

The important thing is to practice as relaxed, as long, and as often as you can.

MANAGING THE DISCOMFORT:

Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/519532506985622303/

Discomfort is to be expected and dealt with by relaxing and breathing into the strained area.

Ignore any itches, tingling, even minor quick flashing pains which often are signs that energy blockages are being opened.  If it gets to be too much just stop doing the standing posture for a few seconds, then return to it with the arms not held so high, or the knees not bent so much. To alleviate some discomfort in the arms, imagine they are suspended up by strings from the elbows and wrists.  Or lower the hands down to in front of the belly.  Or imagine the arms are made of cotton.

Other ways to reduce discomfort are more fanciful, but perhaps more effective:  imagine you are floating in a pool of warm water; or you are a feather floating in the air.  For those that are more spiritually aggressive, imagine you are an angelic being of light floating in the heavens.

The simplest remedy is paradoxical: with the hint of a smile on your lips, just disregard the discomfort and sink into it as if it weren’t there—something like getting a “second wind” for a long distance runner.

However if sharp or intense pain occurs anywhere, especially in the knees or other joints, STOP!   If pain continues to occur during future practice, discontinue all practice until you receive professional advice from someone experienced in these matters.   

TECHNIQUES TO BETTER THE PRACTICE:

A Straight Back.

Be aware of the alignment and symmetry of your pose, and gently adjust and correct it as needed.

Although they may think that they are standing straight, most people lean slightly backwards or forwards when doing Standing Post. To experience what a straight back really feels like, lie on the floor in a supine position, or stand against a wall.  Or do it with a full length mirror to check your stance; or have someone look at you and tell you when are not straight.  Or imagine you are hanging from the limb of a tree by the hair on the top of your head.

Do not “tuck the tailbone under.”  Do not put that kind of force on your spine.  If you “sit back” on an imaginary high stool, the coccyx will properly straighten by itself.

Note:

Many people need to feel that they are leaning forward to get a correct straight posture.

Look at Grand Master Yu Yong-Nian with his students in the next picture.  For most (and especially with Master Yu) a theoretical plumb line could be dropped from the crown of the head through the center of the abdomen down to the perineum area.  Not only that: the Kidney-1 points (behind the balls of the feet) also line up, and all this is done so effortlessly!

Grand Master Yu Yong Nian with his students, Beijing, circa 1985.
Image source: http://www.yiquan78.org/postures.htm

MIND:

This is a mental as well as physical exercise, overcoming random thoughts is an important aspect …. Only [by] being completely relaxed and natural, not trying to control, just letting thoughts come and go Without  Attachment, can one really stabilize and liberate the consciousness. Wang Xiangzhai: Entering the Quiet State.

Other methods to clear the mind to gain that needed “quiescence”:  listen to the breath - make it silent - listen to the silence of the breath.  If that is too difficult, count each inhalation up to ten, then go back to one and repeat the counting.

Superstar martial artist Bruce Lee may have said it best in the movie, Enter The Dragon” with his “Don’t think, feel” … [that way you won’t miss ] … “All that heavenly glory.”

EYES:

Gaze in an absent minded way at the hands. As the Chinese say, “Look but don’t look.” This helps to more deeply relax into the static standing posture.

SHOULDERS:

If you have trouble keeping the shoulders loose, inhale and squeeze the shoulders up; then quickly exhale and drop the shoulders.

FINGERS-HANDS-ARMS: 

The fingers are slightly spread apart, and the thumbs are slightly bent—(imagine each hand is catching a ball).  Or, sometimes I tell my students, “think tiger claws.”  And keep the wrists loose.

Hands and arms are normally just below shoulder level, but they may be at the level of the lower abdomen (dantian), or the forehead, or the palms may face the ground;  there are many possible options.


The Eight Zhan Zhuang Posts of Yiquan
Image source: http://mitqigong.blogspot.com/2011/06/eight-zhan-zhuang-posts-of-yiquan.html

KNEES:

The knees should never go past the toes; doing that can harm the knees.

About Knee Bends. 

Many martial arts teachers say that with the legs wider apart than shoulder width, you can gain a lower crouching stance which will enable more vital energy (qi) to be packed into your body.  This certainly has validity.  However in the standard practice of Zhan Zhuang, it is only an advanced option, and is best done only under the supervision of an experienced master teacher.

Normally the knees are bent about an inch—but it is standard to bend them as

much as you can without experiencing pain.

The knees should slightly push outward. To accomplish this, imagine a large ball expanding against, but simultaneously being held in place (isometric-like) by your knees. Guide your body weight to—and slightly lift up—the yongquan (Kidney-1) acupuncture points directly behind the balls of the feet.  This lifts the arches and distributes the weight between the heels, toes, and sides of the feet.  This will help you feel lighter and more agile.  It also keeps the knees from pointing inward.

Be a TREE. 

Zhan Zhuang sometimes is translated as “Standing Like a Tree.”  It may be helpful to bring the concept of  Tree into the practice.  For example, do the exercise outdoors among large healthy trees—You can imagine that you too are a tree standing straight and powerful; drawing up earth-yin energy and drawing down sun-yang energy.

Or visualize you are squeezing a tree and making it smaller; not only with your hands and arms, but also with your knees and legs.  Or imagine that you are pulling it out by its roots. All of these are done without any external movement.

To Prevent Energy Leakage.

Very gently tighten the muscles in the anal and perineum area.

What Not To Do. 

Master Wang Xiangzhai taught that Conscious Awareness and Physical Form working together is the basis of this work: In his words, “Mind activity is born from the posture; posture follows mind activity.”  What this means is that although he did teach using certain visualizations, he rejected thought controlled qigong practices such as orbiting qi in the meridians, working with specific acupuncture points, or Daoist or Buddhist breathing techniques.  I think he wanted us to be without any words in a place of Oneness (the “Flow” or  what athletes call, “In the Zone”).

BENEFITS FROM DOING THE PRACTICE:

“I do Zhan Zhuang and I’m happy! I do Zhan Zhuang and I’m healthy! I do Zhan Zhuang and I have a long life!”  - Grand Master Yu Yong-Nian https://munndialarts.com/english/master-yu-yong-nian/  (he lived 93 years).

Standing Post strengthens the muscles, and increases qi (life energy) in the body. It grants an awareness of the self—which may lead to profound psychological and spiritual experiences. Relaxing and being able to ignore discomfort is a skill that may be used in dealing with many of the difficult situations we may face in life.

Health: 

A basic premise of traditional Chinese health practices is that illness is caused when qi (vital life energy) is deficient, stagnant, excessive or blocked.  Properly done, Standing Post helps correct these problems.

Psychological:

Standing Post trains the mind to be still and concentrated, thereby gaining alertness, self discipline and will power.  The mind does not lose itself so easily in the daily stresses of modern life which often trigger a variety of psychological problems.

Spiritual Growth:

“In Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung one learns to return to the source of all power, to enter back into the very womb of universal energy and to experience the truth of the power of the void, the still point, the wuji" [i.e., the empty potential for infinite creation], (from Internal Arts Journal. http://www.qigonghealer.com/zhan_zhuang.html . Standing Post, occasionally called “Standing Meditation,” can bring the Body, Life Energy, and the Mind into an experienced state of Unity.  A place of Oneness: first with the self, then with nature, then the world, then the universe.  And finally perhaps with what some might call the “Dao.”

WARNINGS: 

If you have substantial [qi-energy] blockage in your body, the accumulated energy derived from Zhan Zhuang would cause internal injuries.” Wong Kiew Kit.  The Shaolin Arts. p. 150.   Do not practice when sick, instead go see a doctor!  Some sources say do not practice if you have high blood pressure, or excessive blood flow during menstruation or menopause, or if pregnant or right after childbirth.  As always, consult with professional health providers before doing any exercise or qigong; especially if you have any medical problems or health issues. As mentioned throughout this article: if there is pain stop. If the pain continues consult with a professional healer.

Notes

(Zhan Zhuang is translated many ways: “Standing Post” is accurate but without meaning for most English speakers.  Other terms are “Standing Stake,” “Standing Meditation,” “Standing Pole,” “Standing Like a Tree,” or “Stance Training.” Even its most important teacher in the 20th century, Master Wang Xiangzhai, near the end of his life called it Health Nourishing Postures,” and “Postures of Primeval Unity.”

This article is a summation of  “The Ultimate Energy Exercise: Zhan Zhuang – Standing (Like A) Post. Qi Journal, vol. 23/n.2; Summer 2013.  https://www.qi-journal.com/store.asp?-token.S=qi&ID=3319

The next issue of Chinese Medicine Living for March, 2018 will have the concluding The Most Important Qigong – III:  (Standing Post - Zhan Zhuang). It  features

Dr. Yan Xin’s http://www.yanxinqigong.net/aboutdryan/index.htm version of Standing Post, as well as a list of books, online articles, and videos for further study.

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Featured image source: http://www.yiquan78.org/postures.htm


Winter Recipe - Astragalus Dangshen Mutton Soup

By NourishU

Seasonal Eating in Chinese Medicine - Winter Recipes

Winter with the drop of temperature is the time to slow down on physical activities because our body's metabolic rate will be slower. It is also the time to eat nourishing food to help the body to preserve energy. Animals follow the law of nature and hibernate throughout winter. Human should also preserve energy and build up strength, preparing the body for regeneration and new growth in spring.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, tonic-taking in winter has a great bearing upon the balancing of Yin and Yang elements, the unblocking of meridians, and the harmonizing of Qi and blood. In the five elements theory of TCM, winter is when the kidneys are highly active and they have astringent and active storage functions that help in preserving energy. People should eat food with less salty taste in order to reduce the burden on the kidneys. Uncooked and frozen foods can damage the spleen and stomach and should be taken in moderation.

Photo by Mike Kotsch on Unsplash

In winter when body's resistance is low, elderly people are especially advised to take food tonics which can improve their body constitution and promote better resistance to illness. Food tonics can have much better healthful effects than supplementation and drugs.

The tonics include superior warming herbs, fatty and meaty foods. Our body is designed to absorb the rich and nutritional foods better at this time of the year. For people who have cold constitution with cold hands and feet, weak kidney health with frequent urination, cold and stiff body and constant pain in their backs and ankles, winter is the best time for them to correct these health problems when the body is most responsive to nutritional treatment.

The warming winter foods include chive, chicken, mutton, shrimp, ginger, garlic, walnut, mushroom, chestnut, mustard, vinegar, wine, gingko, red pepper and spring onion. For people who are cold in nature, they should also use the warming herbs such as dangshen, ginseng, astragalus, reishi mushroom, longan fruit and deer horn, etc. to promote yang energy.

Astragalus Dangshen Mutton Soup

Therapeutic Effects

Nourishes qi and blood, clears toxicity and promotes regeneration of skin.

Ingredients 

  • Mutton – 360gm (cut into pieces)
  • Dried shiitake mushroom – 10
  • Astragalus (huang qi) 黃耆 – 30gm
  • Dangshen (dang shen) 黨參 – 30 gm
  1. Wash mutton and put in boiling water to cook for a few minutes, remove and rinse.
  2. Soak mushroom for about 30 minutes, remove stem and cut into halves.
  3. Rinse herbs and put all ingredients in a soup pot with about 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium heat and simmer for 3 hours.
  4. Add seasoning to serve. Drink soup and eat some meat.

Usage

Recommended for no more than twice per month in winter months for health promotion.

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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 Winter Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Winter Season in Chinese Medicine.

Featured image photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash


The Most Important Qigong

By John Voigt

The most important qigong gymnastic is standing and doing nothing. Many masters of traditional Chinese martial arts, spiritual sciences, and healing practices have stated that this is the basis, the foundation, of all Asian inner and outer life-energy work.

It is called Zhan Zhuang (站), and pronounced Jhan Jwong. It means “Standing [like a wooden] Post.

"If I had to choose one qigong technique to practice, it would undoubtedly be this one. Many Chinese call standing meditation "the million dollar secret of qigong." Whether you are practicing qigong for self healing, for building healing ch'i, for massage or healing work on others, standing is an essential practice ….  for ch'i  gathering and flow."  –  Kenneth S. Cohen.  The Way Of Qigong.

 “Zhan zhuang, or stance training, is the most important single category of exercise for developing internal force.  It can be safely said that all Taijiquan masters, all Xingyi masters, most Bagua masters, and many Shaolin masters obtained their internal force from zhan zhuang.”    –  Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit.  Stance Training And Becoming A Scholar-Warrior.

Although this practice can over time potentially open to those who do it a path to liberation, it may be summarized in only a few words:

Stand straight and relaxed. Raise your arms and hug an imaginary large tree (or large ball). Breathe slowly, deeply, and smoothly. Relax into any discomfort you experience. Hold the pose as long as possible. If there is any pain, or even a hint of pain, stop immediately.

A Short History Of The Practice

Standing without moving is an ancient meditation practice. Shamans in ecstatic rituals enacted wild animals stalking their prey—the consciousness focused on the kill;  the body virtually motionless, waiting to spring. Certain Hindu yoga asanas employ slightly similar standing poses, especially Tadasana, the “Mountain Pose.”

Over two thousand years old (and discovered in 1973 at the Mawangdui archaeological site in Changsha, China) are 44 drawings on silk, called the Daoyin tu, literally meaning “Leading and Guiding [QiDiagrams.” Many of the figures appear to be doing stationary standing forms. Here is a section of one of the scrolls. (In Standing Post the arms and hands may be at low, middle, high, or even raised positions.)

Nevertheless these Shaman, Hindu, or ancient Chinese practices are only precursors to Zhan Zhuang as we know and do it today.

The Practice

If possible, pick a regular time and place. Early morning in a pleasant outdoor setting is best. Fresh air is important: if indoors, and the weather permitting, open a window. 

Warm Up

Feel free to use your own regime of loosening and gently stretching the muscles and joints. (But it is best not to do any strenuous physical exercises before doing Standing Post.)

Here are some suggested limbering up qigong forms:  Rub the hands together and massage the face and head. Massage (or gently slap or tap) the torso, arms and legs, neck and head areas. Stretch the arm and leg muscles.

With hands on knees, look down at a 45-degree angle, and gently rotate the knees clockwise, then counterclockwise. Rotate the arms in front of the body, circling in, then out. Rotate the hips (as if doing hula hoops) clockwise, then counterclockwise. Do each five or more times each way.

Preparation

Stand with the feet approximately a fist’s width apart. Raise the arms straight up, palms facing, above your head. This keeps the head from sagging forward and straightens the back. Next bring the arms down by the sides of the body in sweeping semicircles. At the same time extend one foot (usually the left foot) out to the side to about shoulder’s width.

Preliminary Posture

Called “Wuji”  - “Empty” - or  “Basic”  Stance.

Note

This posture, also called by other names, is used to begin many qigong and taijiquan (tai chi) exercises.

From the Preparation stance, continue standing straight (do not lean back). Keep the chin tucked slightly in. Imagine a string at the crown of the head gently but firmly pulling you up—and feel the spine actually lengthen. The arms and hands rest lightly at the sides. Turn the elbows slightly forward to ensure a hollow space in the armpits—enough to hold a "swallow’s egg."  The knees are soft, slightly bent and not locked. The feet are straight. Breathe slowly, smoothly, fully into the lower abdomen. Lower the eyelids  and look slightly down with a soft gaze, as if daydreaming. Rest the tip of tongue on the hard palette behind the front top teeth.

Stand in this manner for a few minutes or longer.

HOLDING and EMBRACING the POST

Continuing directly from the Preliminary Posture:  inhale and curve the arms and hands and lift them to the front of the chest. Palms face the chest. Fingers are separated. The elbows are slightly lowered. The distance between the hands and chest is approximately one foot. Exhale, and keeping the shoulders loose and the back straight, sink down and sit back on an imaginary tall stool. The knees should not extend past the tips of the toes. Imagine that you are squeezing a large inflated beach ball—or a tree. The important thing is to be completely relaxed in body and mind. When the position is comfortably locked in—(this may take days or months to achieve)— pleasurable, even ecstatic, experiences may occur.

Grand Master Yu Yong Nian teaching Standing Post in Beijing, circa 1985

Note

Mentally holding on to the continual stress and irritation of modern life may make even a few minutes of standing and seemingly doing nothing seem like an eternity. If that happens, it is most likely an indication that your mental and physical energy flow patterns are in disarray. The more mentally torturous just standing and doing “nothing” is for you, the more  you need to do it.

To End the Practice

After completing Standing Post, return to standing in the opening Basic - Empty - Wuji stance, but with your palms over each other on the lower abdomen. Stand like this for several minutes to store the energy. Then do the warm up as a cool down. Then take a walk.

WARNINGS

If you have substantial [qi-energy] blockage in your body, the accumulated energy derived from Zhan Zhuang would cause internal injuries.” Wong Kiew Kit. The Shaolin Arts. p. 150. Do not practice when sick, instead see a doctor.  Some sources say do not practice if you have high blood pressure, or excessive blood flow during menstruation or menopause, or if pregnant or right after childbirth. As always, consult with a professional health provider before doing any exercise or qigong; especially if you have any medical problems or health issues. And as mentioned throughout this article: if there is pain stop and consult with a professional healer, or an experienced teacher of Standing Post - Zhan Zhuang.

In the Next issue of Chinese Medical Living this article will continue with: 1. additional techniques on how to practice Standing Post;  2. how to deal with its discomfort; 3. its benefits; and 4. sources for more information. And how Dr. Yan Xin, a famous, outstanding, and charismatic qigong master, taught Standing Post in Beijing.

This article is a summation of  “The Ultimate Energy Exercise: Zhan Zhuang – Standing (Like A) Post. Qi Journal, vol. 23/n.2; Summer 2013. https://www.qi-journal.com/store.asp?-token.S=qi&ID=3319

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Featured image from TaiChiBasics.com


The Yin & Yang Concept in Chinese Eating

By freelance writer Sally Perkins

The Yin And Yang Concept In Chinese Eating

Chinese food and Chinese medicine is based on the yin and yang concept of balance. It is never about specific foods, whether good or bad, but relationships created out of these foods and the health benefits acquired from them. The traditional concept of Chinese diets has always taken a holistic approach rather than individual foods. It is a relationship of cold, hot, and warm foods served together. The thermal nature of foods is not necessarily based on their preparation methods. Different seasons call for different foods. It is out of this combination that both delicious and highly nutritious foods are created.

Understanding Chinese Eating Concepts

Foods and Organs

According to Chinese medicine, every body organ is attached to a specific taste and a specific element. For instance, the heart is associated with bitterness and fire, lungs are associated with spicy foods and the metal element, the liver with soreness and wood, kidneys with the salty taste and water. This means that when preparing meals, they must always incorporate all the five tastes for the purpose of serving all the body organs. The composition of all these tastes ensures the body is well balanced and is protected from different kinds of diseases.

This delicious photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Foods and Seasons

Foods are seasonal according to Chinese Eating. Summer is a period associated with yang: growth, light and energy. The heart is the organ symbol for summer. During this period, people are advised to eat cooling and hydrating foods. The cooking methods are also light, with most people preferring to sauté or steam food. The meals are light and servings small. Cool foods include lemons, cucumbers, watermelons, tofu, mung beans, sprouts, limes, apples, pumpkins and raw foods.  Flower leaf teas, the likes of mint and chamomile are great for cooling the body. During Autumn, sour and neutral foods are popular. These include pineapples, sesame, white fungus and most fruits. The organ associated with winter mostly is the kidney. Foods taken during this season are warm, spicy, dark and less salty. They include red pepper, red meat, chive, shrimp, spring onions, black fungus, ginger, vinegar, mustard, wine, leeks and mushrooms. The spices and food tonics help to heal up the body. Raw or frozen foods are shunned as they require a lot of digestive energy to be broken down. Meals taken during winter are often heavy and cooked for long periods. During Spring, a season indicating new birth, people eat sweet and cold foods like dates, spinach and coriander.

Foods and Nutritional Composition

Chinese medicine continues to champion for a balanced diet. A balanced meal with both carbohydrates and proteins ensures utmost metabolism. This combination also works in balancing the body's blood sugar as well as the insulin level. The nature of protein food is illustrated as crispy and dry, which heat up the carbohydrates that are illustrated as wet and moist. The benefits of eating proteins are numerous making them an intricate part of the Chinese diet.

Photo by Elli O. on Unsplash

How To Make Your Chinese Diet Healthy and Balanced

It is of importance to rethink what you eat as your ideal main and side dish. In different parts of the world especially in America, we often eat so much meat that it becomes the main or go to dish.  To the contrary, every meal should consist of vegetables as the main course with proteins and carbohydrates as the side courses. Chinese medicine justifies the fact that having natural vegetables, spices and herbs can actually greatly minimize your visits to the doctor. A spice such as ginger is known to be a remedy for nausea. Chillies are also very effective in easing digestion and thus minimizing chances of constipation. One does not have to believe in the curing effect of Chinese foods to incorporate them in your diet but the general fact that natural foods translate to good health in plenty is more than enough reason. When shopping for food stuffs, try going for unrefined products. This will ensure that you get your food all natural. Soups should also be a mandatory part of your meals.

A Chinese diet does not necessarily have to be of Chinese food. They may be hard or even expensive to get. You can always use the readily available foods in your locality. What matters most is the concept of the Chinese diet. Always ensure the ingredients are natural and so more balanced.

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Featured image photo by Sharon Chen on Unsplash


Calming & Balancing Congee for Better Sleep

By NourishU

Insomnia in Chinese Medicine

There are many factors contributing to insomnia such as an unhealthy lifestyle, irregular sleeping habits, eating the wrong foods or eating too much, external disturbances, stress, psychological issues, illnesses or drug-related problems, etc. Western medicine uses vitamins, amino acids, and minerals such as magnesium and calcium for prevention. Sleeping pills, hormones and tranquilizers are commonly used to fight insomnia but they can be habit forming and are not addressing the root of the problem. They should only be used very briefly when absolutely necessary because prolonged usage can make the matter worse and create more health problems. The lack of genuine sleep can deprive the body of the critical body functions being performed at night and can lead to lower immunity, internal imbalances and organs malfunction.


Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

To treat insomnia, it is necessary to treat the root of the problem. Eating too full at dinner or eating too late or eating the wrong foods such as coffee, tea, alcohol, spicy food and hard to digest food can all affect sleep and can be easily avoided. If it is due to external disturbances such as light, noise or electrical smog, etc.; follow the rules to make your bedroom a sleeping sanctuary so that you have the perfect conditions to induce sleep. Don’t under estimate the power of ear-plugs which can numb your senses and lower your guard effectively. They do work for easing anxiety too. If it is due to other illness such as digestive problems; treat the illness and sleep will return. If it is due to psychological reasons; try to peace your mind by meditation, relaxation exercise, journaling, music, hypnotherapy, etc. Exercising outdoor, such as jogging, can force you to breathe more deeply and with more oxygen intake, it can help to relax your mind and body. Sweating helps the body to expel toxin and therefore helps to release tension. Also, you will get tired after exercising which makes falling asleep easier.

When insomnia persists for a long period of time, it is important to focus on repairing the damages done to the body especially to the liver, kidney and heart. If the damages remain in-repaired over time, they can become both the causes and effects of insomnia and treatment will be more difficult.

L-tryptophan

According to science, food rich in L-tryptophan such as red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans, soy products, tuna, shellfish, and turkey can promote sleep because L-tryptophan is the essential amino acid that helps the body to produce serotonin and melatonin, the hormones that regulate sleep. Serotonin can also impact our mood, psychological health and behaviour. Serotonin is found in greatest concentration in our gut so it makes perfect sense to nourish our gut flora for optimal serotonin level to promote better sleep.

Calcium and Magnesium

Deficiencies of calcium and magnesium may cause easy waking. Dietary sources of magnesium include dried beans, soybeans, pumpkins seeds, wheat germ, almonds and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard. Calcium can be found in many different foods, including dairy products, fish, broccoli, almonds, dried figs, kelp, prunes, rhubarb, seaweed, soybeans, sesame seeds, watercress, dandelion greens, amaranth and chickweed. Taking a combined calcium-magnesium tablet 30 minutes before going to bed is helpful. Kiwi fruit is extremely high in calcium, taking 2 everyday will find great improvement in sleep quality. The enzyme in kiwi can calm gut swelling, also helpful in promoting sleep.

Sleep on Time

If you are fighting insomnia, you must firstly observe the proper sleeping hours. It is vitally important to be in bed and in complete rest between 11 p.m. to  6 a.m. even if you cannot sleep. This will enable blood to return to the liver for the important detoxification and renewal process. Staying up at night will draw blood away from the liver. It is equally important to be up in the morning and during the day so that the other yang bodily functions can be performed properly. When necessary, napping for half an hour during noon time can support the heart and provide energy for the rest of the day. Sleeping any longer during the day can disrupt sleep at night.


Photo by petradr on Unsplash

Chinese medicine regards sleep as number one priority for health and insomnia is most detrimental. For people who are not sleeping between 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the gall bladder system is highly compromised. It can lead to gall bladder stones, weaker immune system, slower metabolic functions and general weakness. For people who are not sleeping between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., the important liver functions of detoxifying and replenishing blood are disrupted. Blood deficiency can lead to many illnesses such as premature aging, osteoporosis, blood related diseases and women diseases, etc. When the liver is weakened, it cannot support the other vital organs properly and can lead to stomach and spleen deficiencies, kidney deficiencies, heart deficiencies and lung deficiencies. There is also higher chance of getting liver related diseases such as hepatitis, high cholesterol and eyes diseases.

Chinese medicine treatments are to reinforce qi, replenish blood, nourish yin, clear liver fire, remove stagnant energy, harmonize stomach energy, and calm the nerve and mind. Chinese herbal remedies are necessary to control adverse symptoms and to rectify imbalances. Herbal medicines are non-hypnotic in nature and are not habit forming. Once adverse symptoms are under control, nutritional food therapy will be used to help the body to recover and regain its original functions.

Food Cures

Food cures such as dates, wheat, longan fruit, lily flower and egg yolk are commonly used for nourishing the heart, promoting yin and calming the mind. Seafood such as oysters, clams, fish, shrimp and eel, are high in zinc and copper and are good for calming the nerve and easing anxiety. Oatmeal, sweet potato, banana and tomato are good for promoting sleep. Cherries are naturally high in melatonin. Eating eight ounces of cherries in the morning and eight ounces at night consecutively for two weeks can help to restore sleep. Lemon-scented mint tea is sleep-inducing because it improve digestion and decreased agitation.

Calming the Gut

Our gut is like our second brain which can be easily affected by our mind and emotion. Calming the gut can help to quiet the mind. If a restless mind is keeping you awake, eat a light carbohydrate snack right before sleep such as whole grain cereals with organic milk, bread, biscuits or an organic yogurt with good bacteria can be helpful. The key is to combine carbs with a protein containing tryptophan to help your body better utilize the sleep inducer. If you need this remedy in the middle of the night, make sure you are not turning on any light which can affect your melatonin level.

Calming & Balancing Congee Recipe

Symptoms

Restless sleep due to anxiety and over worrying, pale looking, lack of energy, loose bowel or occasional palpitation of the heart.

Therapeutic Effects

Calms nerves, enriches blood, removes dampness and fire, improves spleen and kidney health, and promotes yang energy of the heart.

Ingredients (2 to 3 servings)

  • Job's Tears / Coix Lacryma-Jobi (yi yi ren) 薏米 – 30gm
  • Little red bean 赤小豆 – 30gm
  • Longan Fruit (long yan rou) 桂圆 /龍眼肉 – 30gm
  • Chinese Jujube / red dates (da zao) 大枣 – 4 to 6
  • Lotus Seeds (lien zi) 莲子 – 30gm
  • Dried lily bulb / Bulbus Lilii (bai he) 百合 – 30gm
  • Rice – half cup
  • Sugar - to taste

Directions

  1. Soak all herbal ingredients for about 15 minutes and rinse.
  2. Rinse rice and put all ingredients in a pot with about 6 to 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium to cook for about 45 minutes to about 3 cups of congee.
  3. Add some sugar if prefer. Eat as meal.

Usage

No restrictions. Most suitable for teens and seniors.


Happy New Year!!!

Wishing you and yours a 2018 filled with blessings, peace, love, health and happiness. <3


Eating Out the Chinese Way - The History of Chinese Medicine Nutrition

By John Voigt

One should be mindful of what one consumes to ensure proper growth, reproduction, and development of bones, tendons, ligaments and channels and collaterals [i.e., meridians] This will help generate the smooth flow of qi [life energy] and blood, enabling one to live to a ripe old age. 

From The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Medicine.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic On Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), circa second century BCE, is the most important ancient text on Chinese medicine. In it are the concepts of a balanced and complete diet, and probably the world's first dietary guidelines.

The Thermal Nature of Foods - Warming, Cooling & Neutral

Basic concerns are about Han (“cold”) and Re (“hot”) foods. Han foods such as kelp, wheat, vegetables, and pork possibly may cause diarrhea. Re foods such as ginger, pepper, mutton, and unripened guava possibly may cause heartburn or constipation. Wen (“neutral”) foods such as rice, beans, fish, and beef can help to repair the body’s tissues.  Bu (strengthening) foods such as ginseng, deer velvet, and dates may be healing.

Food Relationships in Chinese Medicine - A Holistic Approach

But this is not about one food by itself being good or bad, it’s about the relationships of food.  Chinese dietetics—as most past and present Chinese thought—is based on holistic concepts, not singularity concerns. For example, with the above foods, vegetables (a Han or so-called “cold” food) is usually cooked with some Re (a so-called “hot”) food such as ginger or pepper. That neutralizes or balances out the “cold” [yin] and “hot” [yang] aspects of each food, and helps create something good for you and delicious as well.

Along the same idea of a food gaining its meaning by its relationships to other foods, in classic Chinese cuisine we most often find the “neutral” food (the rice or noodles) along with the main meal (meat or fish), accompanied by various other dishes usually vegetables. For example, The yang of rare beef is balanced by yin of tofu or cool slices of fruit.

The Healing Nature of Foods

The foods need to be prepared in the proper way, vegetables not overcooked, but not raw either; small portions of meat or fish not fried. In The Yellow Emperor’s Classic we find, “Heavy and greasy food causes a change that may result in serious illness.”

Also from that book, from Chapter 81, section 22 we find: Five cereals (such as rice, sesame seeds, soya beans, wheat, millet) provide our basic nourishment. Five fruits (such as dates, plum, chestnut, apricot, peach) add what the cereals lack. Five animals (such as beef, dog meat, pork, mutton, chicken) give certain advantages that animals possess. Five vegetables (such as marrow, chive, bean sprouts, shallot, onion)  provide a wide range of needed substances. If the food tastes and smells good, then eat it to replenish the body’s needs.

These guidelines are approximately two thousand years old, yet amazingly from that time to today most Chinese people followed them whenever they were able to do so. This article will close on how the tradition is being automatically preserved today without the restaurant or their customers knowing what is happening.

Now to make all this simple for the health (and food loving) reader. After all, the many millions of Chinese who go to their favorite restaurants aren’t bring along any of the ancient treatises on dietetics. Nevertheless, the traditional way of ordering and serving food seems to be right on the mark on what the ancient seers taught about food and good health. All over the world you will see this standard pattern in middle and smaller sized Chinese restaurants—(the more larger ones are becoming more geared to tourists and the new Chinese upper classes who eat like their western counterparts).  Not surprisingly such non-traditional diets have been accompanied with an increase in western styled diseases.

Eating - The Chinese Way

Here’s how the “natives” eat, and how you can do the same.

Begin with those tiny bowls of free sweet and sour pickles, or pickled cabbage, or cooked peanuts, etc. that many restaurants just bring you without you asking for them. Something like an appetizer, but not quite; they prime the digestion. Then order several different vegetable dishes. And some rice. Then some fish (usually with the bones included—be careful don't swallow any); or some meat. And finish it all off with a soup. That will help your digestion. Traditionally the final close is making a big burp to show your appreciation to the cooks and servers, and remove any bad qi—but you might because of western propriety leave out that final gesture—(or is it better described as a bodily function noise?).

That’s it. Now go enjoy such a standard traditional and healthy meal.  Best done in a large group of friends and family with chopsticks.

Postscript: For more about the proper kinds of food for health from both an eastern and western point of view, see my “Color Dietetics – With a Poster to Hang on the Wall. https://www.chinesemedicineliving.com/blog/color-dietetics-poster-hang-wall/

Sources and Further Information

Ho Zhi-chien. “Principles of Diet Therapy in Ancient Chinese Medicine: ‘Huang Di Nei Jing.”  http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/apjcn/2/2/91.pdf

Sun Simiao on Dietetics in the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine Journal (Autumn 2013, vol. 10, no. 2). https://static1.squarespace.com/static/537fb379e4b0fe1778d0f178/t/5399d890e4b0bcfc5d028d47/1402591376077/Sunsimiao+on+dietetics.pdf

“Chinese food therapy.” Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_food_therapy

Some Other Interesting Info (Nerd Facts)...

Sun Simiao (581-682) who was known as “The King of Medicine” - (one of is greatest credentials is that he lived to be 101 years old) - taught that the prevention of disease should come before any medical treatment. However, if treatment was required, he believed that dietary concerns should never be neglected. He wrote, “Proper food is able to expel evil and secure the zang and fu organs [the viscera] to please the spirit and clear the will, by supplying blood and qi. If you are able to use food to stabilize chronic disease, release emotions, and chase away disease, you can call yourself an outstanding artisan. This is the special method of lengthening the years and “eating for old age,” and the utmost art of nurturing life. Sun Simiao,  known as the “King of Medicine,” (581-682). https://static1.squarespace.com/static/537fb379e4b0fe1778d0f178/t/5399d890e4b0bcfc5d028d47/1402591376077/Sunsimiao+on+dietetics.pdf

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Image Credits

The featured image photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Vegetable photo by David Vázquez on Unsplash

Bok Choy photo by Jodie Morgan on Unsplash

Soup photo by Elli O. on Unsplash