Thoughts From Our Practitioners

Yoga for Balancing with the Seasons

Acupuncturists and other practitioners often advise their clients on lifestyle interventions that can enhance the benefits of their sessions. Yoga is frequently one of those suggestions. In spite of the recent surge in popularity of yoga, myths persist about it and some people are reluctant to try it.

One common misperception is that yoga is just for young, flexible people. Another is that yoga is just a form of deep relaxation without any physical demand. There are many styles of yoga and teaching approaches to accommodate students of all ages and ability levels.

One style of yoga offered at Four Gates is Yin yoga, which complements the practice of acupuncture. According to Sarah Powers, author of Insight Yoga, "yin yoga is slow and steady, often stationary. with a component of surrender, while yang yoga activity is mobile, maintains a core strength that requires appropriate effort." She explains that a balance of the two is optimal.

Powers states, "as we age, our natural range of motion lessens, partially due to the decreased synovial fluid in the joint capsules... Yin yoga complements a more active practice helping to prevent joint rigidity and immobility, helping to enliven degenerative tissues while simultaneously nourishing the meridians."
She puts forth three main principles in Yin postures:

  • Come in to the shape of the pose to an appropriate edge. This means in a non-aggressive and sensitive manner.
  • Become still and soft in the muscles, releasing into gravity. This will nourish the joints.
  • Hold each pose for an appropriate length of time. This nourishes the meridians.
Whatever style of yoga we are practicing, it is imperative that we adhere to the practice of ahimsa, or non-harming. We need to listen to our bodies and our instincts so we do not force ourselves to attain a specific outer appearance and risk injury. This provides an additional benefit of helping us develop mindfulness and awareness of our prana, also known as chi, the precious life force energy. Powers reminds us that "where our awareness goes, our prana flows."

Our yoga practice, like our diet, changes throughout the year to help us balance with the seasons. While we may have an overall framework or structure to our yoga routine, it evolves becoming relatively more yin or yang. For example, in late summer, the spleen and stomach are the organ systems that correspond with the earth element and the principals of digestion. The emphasis is on nourishment on all levels. The featured poses stimulate the spleen meridian along the inner legs and the stomach channels down the front of the belly, according to Powers.

If you have a steady yoga practice and are curious about exploring yin poses, go to http://www.yogajournal.com/ and search yin yoga. Powers has a sequence that is a good introduction to yin yoga and the accompanying article explains the general priciples. For those who are new to yoga or have physical challenges, seek a yoga teacher who has experience with your condition as well as credentials and experience teaching yoga.

With a little investment of time and energy you can develop a personal yoga practice that will enhance the benefits of acupuncture and help you feel balanced and refreshed as the seasons change. Discover the reward of feeling nourished on all levels!

Lifestyle Choices and Our Health

Lifestyle choices are influential in achieving and maintaining optimal health.

According to acupuncture theory, we derive our basic life energy from two sources. The first is called "pre-natal qi." We are born with it. It is a gift, basically, from our parents. The second source is called post-natal qi and this is what we make for ourselves on a daily basis from our food, water and air. The choices we make in each of these areas contribute to our peace of mind and our good health.

Evidence from every direction suggests that a Low Glycemic Diet (a diet that encourages a slow release of insulin which keeps the blood sugar very stable) is a good choice for most people. This works out to be a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, protein, not too many fruits or sweets, and a minimum of processed sugary foods.

Interestingly, this pattern forms the basis of most traditional diets, which tend to revolve around a grain, such as couscous, rice, or wheat, accompanied by vegetables and small amounts of protein. This is also where most diet programs end up. It is nourishing, filling, promotes proper weight maintenance, a calm feeling, better sleep, and better elimination.

Water. Our bodies are made of mostly water (!) and good hydration contributes to maintaining a healthy weight, good digestion, nice skin, high energy level and clear thinking. A simple recommendation is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. Coffee and soda don't count.

Air. Good deep breaths of air fill up the chest where the lungs and heart live. These two organs have a great deal to do with our energy production. That's where the blood and breath come together, after all. Many people develop habits of shallow breathing or holding the breath when tense. We can consciously remember to enjoy big, slow breaths, bringing good oxygen into our whole being.

Other contributors to good health are sleep, some sort of mind-quieting practice, gentle exercise and nutritional supplements.

Sleep. It's important to get both enough sleep and enough sleep at the right times. The body, with its own innate intelligence, is orchestrating a staggering number of biological processes throughout the day, most of which proceed totally outside of our awareness. From the energetic standpoint, every two hours the complicated machinery of the body shifts a bit to perform a slightly different function. For example, the "stomach and spleen meridians" are in their prime between 7am and 11am. This is a great time to eat and nourish our selves for the day ahead. Twelve hours later the same meridians go into a resting phase. Eating late in the evening, after 7pm, can lead to stomach problems, weight gain and disturbed sleep. After 9pm and especially after 11pm, our bodies are designed to build up their reserves. This is done during sleep. Too many late nights can contribute to breathing and bowel problems, fatigue, irritability and more. Many people think that because they slept for 6-8 hours sometime in the day that they have rested. It's actually better, whenever possible, to be in bed before 10 or 11pm and get up early.

Quieting the mind. Our busy minds can distract us, confuse us, send us into emotional turmoil and keep us up at night. Learning to quiet the mind can lead to a calmer state of being, better learning and decision making, more relaxed emotional responses, and better sleep. There are many ways to do this, although it does take work!!! Disciplining the mind is no easy task! You might want to explore yoga and the breathing exercises called pranayama, tai chi or qi gong, breath awareness or mindfulness meditation, to find an approach that works for you.

Exercise. Some people love it and some people avoid it. If life gets too busy it's hard to fit it in, but exercise of some kind keeps our muscles limber, our blood flowing, encourages the release of hormones that make us feel good, and takes our mind off other things. It's great to have some sort of physical activity built into your life. Some people prefer good hard workouts at the gym, others favor a sport, walking the dog, dancing, working out at home with videotapes, hiking with friends, yoga, tai chi, swimming, climbing or riding a bike. Exercise doesn't have to take hours and doesn't have to be every day, but it's well worth building into your week.

And finally, nutritional supplements. In a perfect world where we all ate organic, freshly grown food in peaceful loving environments, we might get all the nutrients we need from our food. Most of us, however, don't have such a life, and supplements come in handy. There are many wonderful supplements on the market, offering us a way to support our health with little, if any unwanted "side effects."