Breath Matters

If you are reading this you are likely breathing.
However how much of your lungs are you really using? Are you nourishing every cell with your inhalation and really expelling the old stale air with your exhalation? Or are you breathing shallowly, you diaphragm barely budging, your breath filling only a small portion of your lungs?

So many of us are starving. Our breath is shallow and our diet is suboptimal. It is a marvel we have energy to do anything, much less move beyond the basics.

I invite you this week to nourish yourself more completely. Through food, breath and movement.

If we want to move beyond survival we must hold fast to the basics:

Drink half your weight in ounces of purified water daily.

Aim for at least 80% of your food to be a close to nature as possible (the farmers markets are in full swing and a great resource for local food).

Breath deeply and completely, as if your life depended on it.(Since it does.)

Following is a breathing technique from a lovely birthing resource:

Though this book is geared toward a laboring mother. It is remarkable for anyone. This is from page 68-69 of Labyrinth of Birth by Pam England. I am modifying the language to make it more inclusive.:
Step One:
This works best with a straight spine, so sit up, stand or walk tall.
In breath: Imagine, as you breath in, you are pulling life giving energy from your root chakra downward and backward along (the inside) of your perineum, and up your spine to the crown of your head. It is important to imagine your breath moving upward following the curves inside your spine. Attention on upward-moving inhalation is uplifting and refreshing.

At the end of your inhalation, in the brief pause before exhalation begins, focus your attention on the crown of your head or on your forehead between your eyes.

Keep your eyes slightly open, gazing softly downward. Looking up distracts you from your inward journey. Closing your eyes completely would interfere with walking or allow you to fall asleep. A soft downward gaze allows you to “be here now.”
Practice this inhalation meditation for a few breaths.

Step Two:
Out Breath: Follow your outward breath, from beginning to end, downward through your body, from the top of your head to the bottom of your belly, just above your pubic bone. Imagine this life giving breath re-energizing every organ, every tiny cell, in your body. Practice this exhalation meditation for a few breaths.

Step Three:
Fill and spill the “cup of breath.” During this step you will begin to experience the circular pattern of breath: breathing up the inner curves of your spine, breathing down into your body, up and down. Feel the relaxing rhythm of circular breathing for several breaths.

Now notice the brief pauses between your in-breath and out-breath, and between your out-breath and in-breath. Bringing your attention to this still place between breath slows down the mind and deepens meditation. Pay attention to this in-between-breaths place for the next few breaths.

It may help to deepen your meditation to add the “cup of breath” imagery. Imagine a little “cup” sitting behind your pubic bone area. As you exhale, instead of letting the breath dissipate, imagine it is pouring into the cup. During the pause between outward and inward breath, imagine the full cup tips backwards and, as you breath in, you pull the life giving breath from the cup across your perineum and up your spine.

Step Four: Walking in Circular Breath Meditation. Now you are ready to combine circular breathing with walking. Focusing you attention on breath and walking together works like clockwork to deepen your peace of mind.

Shulamit Devorah’s Birth Story and more

I had expected her to come close to or after her due date  of December 26.

I had work left to do: I had clients to see, money to earn and save, more household order to create, baby clothes, diapers and blankets to find and clean, important discussions to have, fears to express and destroy, sleep to catch up with, big issues to resolve.

Early Labor:

I had two nights of just a twinge more than Braxton Hicks, a few hours of interrupted sleep. I was scheduled to work through the 23rd and should have planned to stop sooner, but I had patients’ needs to consider, and income to earn. I did not want to be waiting, watching my belly, waiting, waiting, and waiting.

I worked Thursday the 16th; thankfully it was a short day. I was contracting off and on, able to work but not always able talk through the contractions. Maybe I had just been too busy and not drinking enough water or eating enough protein. (Yes, I strive to do what I advise, and very humanly fall short.)

So after consulting with my midwife, Cathy Weston, I ate a good dinner and drank lots of water. I went home and directed my household to complete undone nesting in order to create the birth-space I needed. I took a bath to stop the contractions or relax into them; whichever needed to happen.

They let up a bit. We got the children to sleep. I rested and slept, awoke every twenty minutes with achy moany contractions. I got up and discovered that I had lost my mucus plug. Clear signs baby was coming sooner rather than later.

Active Labor

I filled the bath tub. I called Cathy, texted, and then called some of my birth support team. I still wasn’t completely convinced I was in labor and felt a bit guilty waking people in the middle of the night; especially if it wasn’t really happening…

But it was. While in the tub, I moaned through my surges and swayed my hips in a figure eight or spiral and invited my body to open. The surges rolled in, irregularly and intensely. I asked my friend Johanna to get the birth tub set up while I relaxed in the bath tub a bit more. The surges flowed on, I moaned and swayed, then got out to help facilitate the birth tub filling. I had never given birth on dry land and preferred the heavy labor in the water.

The tub was filling and too hot for me to get into. Cathy had arrived, she arranged her supplies strategically, checked the water, and checked my blood pressure.

I labored in the kitchen bracing myself between our island and counter, moaning, swaying, opening… praying. I labored draped over the couch holding my husband’s hand or chatting between contractions. I drank labour aid, I pottied as needed, I wanted the birth tub to be full I wanted the warmth, the buoyancy and comfort…the midwife’s epidural was calling to me… we filled it more it was at safe temperature. I immersed myself and surrendered to the surges that kept coming irregularly with immensity. As surges rolled in, my throat opened, a birth song bellowed out my hips swayed, my body opened and my baby continued her journey out.

I stuck in a few spirit calming needles, in myself and some of my birth team. Daniella used the OHM forks to soothe us and move us through the intensity and beauty of this time.

In my previous births, my water would break right before I began to push. Pushing was a primal urge that embraced my core as I provided passage for my baby out. This time was no different, after a longer lull in surges…I knew my water would break with the upcoming surge. I became a freight train, my horn rang out, my water broke, I pushed and the baby’s head soared down to my opening. I felt her head, a lot of it, I felt the burn that often summoned Johnny Cash and chugged through the end of the freight train surge.

Havivah woke with my sounds, just in time to assist Cathy with perineum support and new baby head guiding. Anthony held my hand; we declared that we can raise our family with the love and compassion that we aspire. We have room in our life for this new baby. We will do the work we need to be a strong family and a joyful couple.

The next surge was an avalanche, I roared and pushed and her head completely emerged with no time to sing a Burning Ring of Fire and no need. Her head was almost completely out. I guided my flesh around her head, to smooth out the last of our journey. In my third push, her head was fully delivered. With the next push, she rushed out into the water; I reached down to her and saw her hands, her head, her raven hair and blue green eyes. I kept her in the water for a bit to marvel at her beauty before her first breath.

Out of the water, her sweet pink tongue tasted her first breath. I held her in my arms and drank her in and fell in love again.

After the Birth

So often we mothers focus on the birth as being the feat to overcome. Forgetting that the minutes, hours, days, and weeks following birth are extreme.

There she was in my arms at 3:33 Friday morning, December 17th, 2010, our Shulamit Devorah, whom we had waited for so long.

Solomon woke up at some point and couldn’t take his eyes off his newly birthed sister. She gazed at me; she turned her head toward her dad and her siblings’ voices. She opened her mouth and nestled me, a baby bird needing to feed.

Many babies are ready to feed minutes after birth. Early feeding helps minimize uterine bleeding, can facilitate delivery of the placenta, and soothe and nourish the newly born. I put Miss Shulamit to my breast, her cord was short (12 inches) and still attached to the placenta and still attached to me. Her position on my nipple was not ideal and it hurt…but I was so euphoric and in love I let her plug through. (I would pay for this later with a very sore cracked nipple.)

The placenta finally released and I delivered it: Achy and oogy.

The cord no longer pulsating, Cathy clamped it and Havivah helped cut it.

We moved from the birth tub to the bath tub. Cathy had filled the tub with some soothing herbs. I rested in the tub for a bit while Anthony and Havivah and Solomon held Shulamit and bonded with her. When she came to me Cathy told me to support her by her jaw and let her float and unwind in the tub. She stretched out and moved and swayed. I could see the movements I had felt for months; they made so much more sense to see them on the outside. We looked at each other in awe.

From the tub there were more feedings, more sibling cuddling and finally sleep.

The first waking after birthing is surreal. What had been one are two. There is a baby bobbing on my chest looking for food. I feed her, it is tender: Her tiny mouth does not quite match my anatomy. Though I can’t see it, I trust she is getting colostrum and keep alert for her first eliminations.

We feed when she is awake or cueing in her sleep. When it hurts through the suckling, I readjust her to minimize nipple trauma. That first feeding injured my most challenging side.

After pains:

They say that every subsequent birth the after pains are worse. I vaguely remembered them with my three previous births. I think we are primed to forget them.

These after pains roar in with a vengeance. They are worse than the labor pains and I cannot stay in the water with them. They come on strongest with nursing and the nipple pain at initiation is toe curling, then the after pains surge in. I must stay in the moment and get through it. I know it won’t last forever. It may be days before this passes, so I get through each feeding, each after pain one at a time.

Cathy tells me to take one teaspoon of Calcium and Magnesium every two hours. Maybe it helps. The she brings me a Black Haw and Cramp Bark tincture to take every 5 minutes if needed. I take it before and during nursing and it helps some. I also take Motherwort tincture to help with the emotional challenges. I also take Rescue Remedy in my water and sprinkle it on my kids and husband.

After a day and a half of after pains, that continue to make me moan to get through, I remembered to use my OHM forks. Oh, bliss. The forks directly over my uterus mellowed the roar to a hum. I would also use them on other points and I was able to move through after pains with more grace and less distress. I also began taking a Postpartum Chinese formula to help with the after pains and rebuild my Qi and Blood. The heated health stone in a moxa-infused pouch helps comfort my belly and back, and helps rebuild my strength.

After three or four days the after pains are done. The nipples are healing.

Breastfeeding:

Baby is nursing beautifully every 2 hours or so, with some help. The initial nipple damage from her first nursing is still healing and historically it has been my hardest breast to feed on due to the flatness of the nipple.

Alecia Burgett, a local independent IBCLC, referred me to biologicalnurturing.com. Following the recommendations of reclining and nursing and resting made a world of difference. Also trusting that as my baby grows as long as I teach her how to latch on properly with a wide open mouth and lips flanged out we will get by and thrive. It takes at least six weeks to really get breastfeeding established and then it becomes second nature.

I am in baby bliss: Living in baby time. The demands of work and schedules are merely a whisper. I will stay here as long as I can.

Then I will create the balance of family and work.

It is hard, but it is worth it.

Knowledge, support and self care allow us to weather these storms and soar.

We are blessed and we keep breathing.

Sugar Woes-Agave not so great.

Ancient humans consumed an average about a a pound of concentrated sugar a year. Today the average is anywhere from 150 to 230 pounds of concentrated sugar. High Fructose corn syrup and soda plays a big role in this obscene increase.

If sugar were as good for the body as it tastes we would not be in the health predicaments that we, as a society, are in.

The rates of obesity,diabetes and cardiovascular disease are soaring.

I often counsel my clients to increase their intake of colorful vegetables and minimize their intake of white sugar, white flour and dairy. Beyond the white sugar, I often recommend curbing carbohydrate intake, especially if there are signs of blood sugar imbalances (which are present almost always.)

Many people embrace the woes of white sugars but still search for something sweet to eat to fill their days. In search for that something many have turned to agave nectar. Now their is ample evidence from many sources that agave nectar is not health supporting. In fact, it may be more harmful than high fructose corn syrup.

This article from Mercola.com expounds on the evidence.

Rather than searching for concentrated sweetness to consume, I invite you to delight in beets, and cabbage and fresh crisp apples.

I also invite you to live the sweetness of life, accept sweetness as a way of life. A way to walk and talk and be. We need not fill our mouths with sugar to live a sweet life.

In fact, the sugar is more likely to be preventing the sweet life.

Live well, eat well, be well.

Happy Meals!

I have spent much of my life determining the best foods to eat in order to support and sustain wellness, vitality and joy. Food should be a pleasure and nourishing. I aim to guide my clients in choosing an optimal diet to support their health and healing.

Simpler is better.

I recommend Simple Quad system of eating where you eat what can fit in your two open hands. Half of the food should be veggies, half of the veggies should be raw and the cooked veggies should still be full of vibrant color and flavor. A quarter of your plate should have high quality protein, and a quarter should be a whole source of carbohydrates- whole grains or starchy veggies.

To view what a balanced meal looks like and get some menu ideas, click here:Simple Quad Form

Food should be as close to nature as possible.

There is little room for processed foods in a vitality supporting lifestyle.

“Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” Michael Pollan

That is your way to happy meals and vibrant life. Bon apetit!

Treasure Mapping

bagua_map_575There is the idea that if you don’t know what you want, you won’t get it and that you must see it to believe it.

A Treasure map helps in both regards.
The treasure map is based on the Ba Gua. The Bagua originates from the I Ching, or “Book of Changes”, an ancient divination tool many thousands of years old. The I Ching has and is used as a tool for guidance to help people make important life decisions. Its wisdom states that when we are aligned with the balanced energy or Ch’i of the cosmos our lives flow more smoothly.

There are many ways to create your own treasure map.

We often potluck delicious foods and drinks and make an event of setting out our intentions for the coming year amidst the warmth and support of friends. If we did a treasure map for the previous year, we often reflect on how it manifested throughout that year.

We then look through old magazines and catalogues and cut out pictures and phrases that resonate with us. We divide a sizable poster board into the sections of the Ba Gua. Then the pictures and phrases  are glued onto the sections that correspond to the aspect of our life that they reflect. For example, I put a quote in the bottom center of my treasure map that says “If you get paid for doing what you love, then every paycheck is a bonus.”

The completed treasure map is placed in a prominent place to be a reminder of the intentions set forth.

I am living and breathing my treasure map. I know what I want and it is flowing my way, sometimes in ways I least expect and often not at all how I imagined.

Open yourself to your connection to the cosmos, invite the cosmos to serve you and serve it. Make your own treasure map and see what treasures come your way.

Four Generations

This New Year I made a Treasure Map to map out my aspirations for the coming year. One of the quotes I put into my career section was “If you get paid for doing something you love, then every paycheck is a bonus.” This past Sunday I felt especially blessed to be able to do the work I do.

Within a two hour time period I had four generations of one family flow through my office. Ninety year old great grandma came in for my community clinic, to receive support for a variety of health concerns and a stress reset since she is caring for her husband who I s receiving hospice support. Grandma came in for a maintenance treatment.

New-mom-to be, was in early labor and came in for her scheduled labor preparation treatment.She had been contracting off and on through the weekend. The last she knew she was 3 cm dilated and fully effaced. This was her first baby and she was in good spirits and well aware that she could meet her baby in many hours or many days. I administered acupuncture focusing on points that are known to promote and sustain labor. I gave her a postpartum folder that provided directions for stimulating the labor induction points, and tidbits of information about tools to move though labor and postpartum. I sang birth songs to her and reminded her that loose lips help open the pelvis and pelvic floor. Then I left her to rest with the needles.

She rested for about an hour. She said she flowed in and out of a sleep like state and when a contraction came she relaxed her jaw and blew through her lips. At the end of her treatment, she felt rested and ready for the birth journey ahead of her.

Her water broke about 12 hours after her treatment and she delivered her beautiful daughter less than 7 hours after her water broke. I get to meet the baby tomorrow, what a bonus!

What is Qi?

Qi is most often translated as vital energy- though it is much more than energy. Qi is the driving force behind everything.  Within the body it is responsible for all physiological processes and structures.  If Qi is moving smoothly and properly abundant- the body is healthy and supple and able to move through the myriad of life’s challenges without breaking. When Qi gets stuck, through physical or emotional trauma, toxins, improper food or activity; pathology arises, often in the form of pain or malfunctioning organs. There are many ways to tap into the body’s Qi. The tools I most often use are acupuncture, Acutonics® Sound healing, Gua Sha, Massage and Cupping, and Moxa  and Nutritional counseling and supplements. I also direct clients to other self care techniques like Qi Gong or Yoga, Emotional Freedom Technique (http://meridiantappingtechniques.com/basics.html, or http://www.mercola.com/forms/eftcourse1.htm ), self massage, moxa, and meditation.

Though the concept of Qi may sound etheric, however there are many metaphors that can help one realize how very real and palpable Qi is:

Qi is money, without enough of it you are unable to meet your basic financial needs. If it is not moving it is stagnating and not creating the change and growth it should. If it is spent frivolously it  dissipates leaving empty pockets and insufficient Qi to meet life’s needs.

Qi is electricity, if there is disconnect in any part of the electrical wiring, the energy will not get where it needs to go. If the powerhouse fails or the external wires are severed, the lights won’t go on, there is power failure.

Qi is traffic, with appropriate infrastructure to meet the needs of the population, traffic flows smoothly. If there is an accident and traffic flow stops or slows, Qi is obstructed. If a bridge is blocked or destroyed Qi stops flowing through that route, new routes may be used or if there are no other routes complete obstruction occurs.

Within the body Qi empowers each organ and aids in the flow of nerve impulses, blood and lymph. If injuries (physical or emotional) go unresolved, or inadequate nourishment (prenatal Qi, air Qi, or food Qi) is present, Qi will not flow smoothly and will not nourish and move smoothly through the body. There are many ways to shift your Qi, the first step is to realize you can manifest your destiny and nourish and move your Qi.

Help yourself and let me help you.

Fall Tips

Breathe

We get our energy from the air we breathe, the food we eat and the prenatal Qi (genetics) we come into this world with.  It is no wonder why many of us are tired and worn down in light of the state of nutrition (a topic for another posting) and our tendency to breathe shallowly. Often we barely fill or empty our lungs.

Regular cardiovascular activity and breathing exercises help keep your lungs venting old stale air and receiving oxygen rich nourishing air. One breathing exercise I integrate into my sleeping and waking routine is to lie in bed with a hand over my chest and a hand below my naval. I imagine I have three balloons in my chest, one where I know my lungs to be, one at the area of my diaphragm the area just at the bottom of the ribcage, and one in my belly. With each inhalation I try to fill each balloon from top to bottom (which can feel uncomfortable if I haven’t been breathing deeply for a while). After I fill each balloon, I consciously empty each balloon from bottom to top. After doing this for a few minutes I usually drift into restful sleep or feel ready to take on the day.

Our lungs are our first line of defense during this cold and flu season. Keep them clear and strong, and get some acupuncture, cupping or gua sha if they do get challenged.

Clothing

As the fall brings dry air and crisp winds, so does it bring pathogens. From an Asian medical perspective these pathogens ride on the wind and invade the body through the nose, mouth or back of the neck.

If you get a wind invasion you may experience stiffness in neck and shoulders, or a sore and scratchy throat. If at the onset of these symptoms proper self care is not taken the pathogen can go deeper into the body and become a cold or flu.

Keep your throat and back of your neck protected this fall. Scarves, turtlenecks, hooded or collared jackets are important pieces of the fall and winter wardrobe. Wear them in health.

Diet

The transition from the heat of summer to the dry coolness of fall requires a shift in diet to weather the change well. This is a time for more warming spices and foods.

Raw green salads supported your body’s health during the heat of summer, now it is time for lightly steamed or braised leafy greens (keep them bright green to avoid overcooking.)

My favorite recipe is a bunch of kale or chard, mixed with some sautéed onions and garlic, with a splash of tamari and balsamic vinegar. This is delicious with salmon and a bit of brown rice.

In the coolness of the fall and winter your body needs more Qi or energy to stay warm and functioning. Avoid cold food and drink and spice up your foods with warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, garlic, onion and cayenne pepper.

Emotions are a Key

There are a number of stresses that can impact our health. Some stresses are obvious: physical trauma from a car accident or injury, clearly affects the injured area. Incorrect or insufficient diet leaves one with food poisoning or malnourished, polluted air disrupts the lungs. These are all widely accepted and understood causes of illness.

Yet we are more than flesh and bone. We are a united mind, body and spirit. If the mind and or spirit are out of balance, the body’s integrity falters. If we have swallowed grievances and pain rather than experience them and move through and past them, they become lodged within us. They can and do become chronic digestive disturbances, shortness of breath, low back or foot pain etc.

One of the beauties of acupuncture and sound healing is that these tools tap into the mind-body-spirit and can create a shift without my understanding or counseling my client through their emotional blockages. The integrated body is wise and the tools I use help integrate the body so that the still small voice can be heard and heeded. Of course many people need more than just the time on my table to process through old emotional dams, and I wish to empower my clients to become their own healers.

There are two self-help tools that many have found very effective at processing emotional debris: Meridian tapping also known as EFT and another Emotional Clearing technique published by Dr. Devi Nambudripad is discussed in my previous blog.  There are a number of good resources on EFT including emofree.com and this link is an efficient training tool as well.

If the emotional traumas that you are working through are too much to work through on your own, seek out counsel with someone who is credentialed and trustworthy. Another powerful technique that many quality counselors are trained in is EMDR. Chronic illness that does not shift in spite of the best diet and holistic care often has an emotional component. Processing through emotional sticking points will change your life.

Energy Exercises

A core piece of healing through East Asian Medicine is appropriate activity. Most of us know that balanced activity in the form of cardio-workouts and strength training are very useful and essential for optimal vitality. However moving with intention and breath and tapping into core energy areas can provide tools for building your body’s good energy (Qi) and venting bad Qi in a very real way.

Winter is the perfect time to start an energy exercise routine.

There are a number of ways to practice moving with intention and breath. Yoga, Tai Qi and Qi Gong are three accessible and powerful forms of meditation in movement, and these practices can also provide a great cardio and strength training program. Spokane is blessed to have many yoga studios: Equal Standing Spokane is a great yoga resource and lists local studios. Tai Qi and Qi Gong classes are also available in Spokane through parks and recreation classes and local studios.

There are also many books available to help you shape and guide your energy exercise routine. Energy Medicine and Energy Medicine for Women by Donna Eden are full of different exercises to tap into and shift your body’s energy. 7 Minutes of Magic: Recharge Your Body Each Day with Qi Gong by Lee Holden is a great resource as well. It provides a seven minute routine for the morning and the evening to help move and strengthen your vital energy. I have enjoyed doing these routines with my daughter and have certainly felt a positive impact on my wellbeing as a result.