Rosehips herbal tonic is an example of natural healing.
Lately, I’m getting better quality and more hours of sleep consecutively. Hardly any midday energy slumps anymore. In fact, last weekend I stood on a cold, hard cement floor for 6 hours taking people’s pulses and talking up herbal medicine. If anything exhausts me, it’s standing up all day long without a break. I was a little weary the next day, but I stayed up much later than usual, and still got my tree trimmed, went to the Hot Shops open house, walking around on MORE cement floors. Busy, busy, busy, and I feel darn good today.
I’m going on 2 1/2 months of my ‘tonic’ formula to recover from an exhausting Summer. That’s 10 weeks, and that’s about how long it can take to really notice change with herbal tonics. Change in energy, change in sleep, change in lots of unexpected ways. Slow change, but real change.
Of course, the daily meditation is helping. Whenever you combine two or more healing therapies or methods, there’s usually an effect that neither one alone can achieve. Cut out sweets AND start exercising. Meditate AND take an herbal tonic. Get massage AND apply a daily muscle liniment. That’s how this holistic thing works.
Whenever I see a patient who’s using more than one healing ‘modality’ (massage, accupuncture, yoga, diet, prayer, meditation, etc) at a time, I can usually expect a better result when herbs are added into the mix.
So the tonic herbs and the meditation (and a little less nite-time snacking) are working together to give me more energy. Energy for the stuff I love, like hanging out with my family this holiday, teaching and making herbal formulas, and…blogging, of course.
Today’s blog is written by someone special to me, but more importantly, the person who inspired me to begin my 100-day meditation countdown. I hope his story sparks an idea for change or growth in your life like it did in mine.
I am a philosopher by nature. And I have no explanation why.
Maybe it’s my astrological destiny (Sagittarian). Or possibly it’s some evolutionary bi-product of an innate coping mechanism. Or simply, it could be my own way of attempting to understand this sometimes complex, confusing and confounding journey called life. Crazy.
Qi Gong, an energy healing practice, combines three elements for success.
Whatever thereason, I’ve gathered a collection of axioms I believe to be true. I keep them stored tidily away in my philosophical travel bag that follows me every step of the way. And when the need arises, I open the bag, sort through this pile of philosophical meanderings and find the one that fits.
One such “truth” that has served me over the years is the realization that everyone has something. By something, I mean issues or problems or dilemmas. Whatever the name we wish to assign, it still comes down to the premise we all have something.
And if we’re fortunate to live long enough, sooner or later one or more of these “somethings” will cross our path. I’m no exception.
Four years ago one of the se somethings bared its teeth and proceeded to firmly sink them into my behind. For about three of these years it did not let go. It was an uphill battle on a downward slope to think, to function, to live.
Since then I’ve managed to regain much of what I feared gone thanks to the miraculous work of those at Four Winds and the amazing healing power of herbal medicine. While the worst (I hope) is behind me, I’m not so dumb to think the next something isn’t laying in the bushes in wait.
Enter Qi Gong (chee gung). One hundred and twenty-two days ago I added this daily practice of Chinese energy healing to my life.
The “why” is simple. I want to live. Healthy and strong. Happy and long. And in my heart of hearts I know it’s possible through obvious lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, etc…) integrated with my new BF – Qi Gong.
Funny name. Great results.
You might ask, “Where’s the evidence, Sherlock?” Elementary, dear Watson.
My vitals from a recent check-up looked like this: Heart rate 72, BP 128/82 and temperature 98.6. No big shake until I compare it with my norms: Heart rate 80, BP all over the map and temperature 96.8. For the record, I’ve never had a body temp spot on with the norm.
It doesn’t stop there. On a physiological level, I’ve noticed improved sleep patterns, a decrease in digestive dysfunction, less anxiety, better circulation, improved skin color, fewer allergy-related headaches and there’s talk of decreasing my daily dosage of a required medication.
Physical improvements have been evident as well, including better balance, fewer body aches and wonder of wonders, an increased appetite that’s allowed me to add six much-needed pounds to my six-foot, two-inch frame.
And it’s all been so simple. Not easy, but simple. Not easy, because there are days where my heart isn’t always in it. There are days where my knees creak and my mind is cranky.
Over four months straight of waking each day, and regardless of my being or circumstance or mood, I’ve dedicated 20 minutes each day to the practice.
Twenty minutes. That still leaves 1,420 minutes each day to do what needs to be done.
As I asked Mo, “If we can’t dedicate 20 minutes to our health every day, what does that say about us?”
Note: The writer, Ken Kreiker, started his Qi Gong practice with Master Chen’s Tai Chi Qi Gong 18 Movements DVD, available at Four Winds or www.wudangtao.com. Contact me at email@example.com or 402.933.6444 for more information about upcoming beginner Qi Gong classes.
Persistent, daily practice is the real key to change
Almost two months ago, I started taking a rich, syrupy, herbal concoction made from whole roots, barks, leaves, berries and various other plant parts known to enrich, soothe and strengthen the nervous system and combat fatigue. One tablespoon every morning and evening in a cup of tea. It keeps in the fridge and has the feel and taste of an earthy, creamy dark blend of coffee, only thicker and without the kick.
About a month ago, I spiced that up with a daily dose of meditation, determined to sit 30 minutes every day for 100 days until my birthday.
Altogether, they compete for 31 minutes of time I probably would have spent in a technology haze. The quiet time is kinda nice, and my family seems almost protective of it, apologizing for calling half way through or honoring my practice by not objecting to the time it takes out of our evenings together.
What am I getting out of all this sitting and sipping? Honestly, I’m not completely sure yet.
Well, there IS that one thing….my blood pressure is consistently down by 30 points. Oh, didn’t I tell you? Stress is a major component in high blood pressure for many people. This was a stressful summer and probably the reason I didn’t notice it creeping up on me. Then I got quiet, sat still and sure enough, I could feel that pounding sensation in my chest. There were other signs I ignored, but meditation made me mindful again, and has gradually brought my BP down to a healthy range.
I’m still not sure what I’m getting out of these practices. But something is happening in my closet. I mean, suddenly, I’m re-discovering clothes that had shifted to a dark corner, because they hadn’t fit for a few seasons. It took me a while to figure this one out, but its gotta be that my evening snack ritual has been interrupted by a time-out.
Oh, and my tummy feels better than it has in a while. Everything around my belly button is working like it’s supposed to. I hadn’t noticed it was a problem, until it wasn’t. Funny how that works.
I guess it’s like a friend said the other day about natural healing: it’s not a pill, it’s a practice. I must have needed some healthy, daily practices that remind me to nourish myself. A cup of tea, half an hour of nothing but pure, simple breathing, and a subtle shift of energy starts.
Check out the Nebraska Zen Center, where I spent three hours this weekend learning about Zen meditation practices. My meditation coach, Sarah, encouraged me to explore techniques to enrich my practice. I’m happy to share my experience – contact or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If I was a quitter, Day 18 would have been the last day of meditation for me. A tense, twisted knot in my upper back was nagging at me, my concentration was shot and my mind was all over the place. I was exhausted from a busy week of catch-up and it was the perfect excuse to say “I’m done. I gave it a good try.”
Then I remembered a phrase we use in herbal medicine to describe exactly what was happening to me: healing crisis. It’s the point where all your efforts to change and grow feel like they’ve come crashing down on you. Up close, it looks and feels like you’re having a personal crisis, in mind, body AND spirit. You tell yourself it’s getting worse, not better, this isn’t what you had in mind when you started. You wonder why you even tried and the effort seems like a waste.
Having made a public commitment to meditating EVERY DAY, for 100 days in a row, I had no choice but to push through, tolerate the discomfort, and give myself a pep talk. And then something unexpected happened.
Day 19 wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was a whole lot more relaxing than the day before. My back loosened up, my thoughts calmed down and 30 minutes flew by. Ok, not exactly flew by, but my impatience with sitting and ruminating was clearly letting up. Slowly, my healing crisis has eased up over the past couple of days.
Last night was Day 22, and those 30 minutes were sort of….nice. Yeah. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.
I figured 100 consecutive days of meditation would be pure torture, and for the first 7 days, I was one twitchy, cross-legged breath away from quitting. If only I hadn’t made my commitment so public, told all my Facebook friends, blabbed it on my blog and promised I would follow through to the bitter end.
But then it occurred to me. My public pronouncement is the very thing that’s been keeping me going. Pure and simple, it’s shame that’s made me stay seated when my legs have gone to sleep and my knees and hips are burning with impatience. I can’t quit now. I discovered that people are paying attention to this ‘quest’, some watching for me to fail, even more cheering me on so they’ll have inspiration for their own journey, the way my friend inspired me.
My coach says daily devotion leads to discipline and to choose an intention each time I sit in meditation. I confess, my intention has been not to disappoint anyone. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I begin to practice for a greater purpose.
So I sit, night after night, struggling to stay still and resist the temptation to stretch, yawn, check my text messages, scratch my knee. I believe what I’m doing will yield a profound lesson. Otherwise, why would so many yogis, the dalai lama, all those faithful devotees of meditation keep practicing day after day, year in and year out, without needing public humiliation as a motivator?
I don’t know yet, but I AM starting to feel a vague sense of…….serenity. Maybe this meditation stuff won’t be so hard after all.
I’m like a kid in the backseat of my parent’s station wagon. Fifteen minutes into my 30-minute meditation and there goes my head, wandering, and wondering ‘how’s that Ryan and Biden thing going?’, ‘I need a drink of water’, ‘my leg’s falling asleep’….
Sarah warned me about this, my coach said ‘let yourself squirm, and re-adjust…let the day’s worries and random thoughts come up and then let ’em go’. I can find out tomorrow who ‘won’ the debate and how the football games ended up (just kidding, not a fan). I’ll scratch my itchy nose and straighten my legs and just keep sitting. And breathing.
I guess it’s sort of like herbal healing. I’m always saying to my clients “healing with herbs requires patience, but the effects are profound – hang in there”.
So I will. 98 more days. Stay with me….
100 days of breath awareness
If you’re trying to email, text, call, stop by my house, or otherwise get hold of me for the next 100 days around 8:30 in the evening, sorry, but I’ll be sitting on a pillow, wrapped in a scarf, with my cat, Toulouse, curled up on my lap, eyes closed and just….breathing. One hundred days from today, I’m celebrating my half-century mark. When I was 25, turning 50 was an age where everything important in my life was already over and the awful slide into old age started.
At 40, I was bald from chemotherapy and couldn’t think beyond the next week, let alone 10 years ahead. So, this big birthday is coming around, and the idea of taking a cruise or throwing myself a party might celebrate the struggle to get here, but I want something to be proud of when I get to 75. I want to remember 50 as the start of the best part of my life. So, inspired by a close friend, I’m committing to 100 consecutive days of meditation.
I admit right now, this feels impossible to do. I’m the squirmy type, the kind of person who’s checking email during a phone call. Doing one thing at a time just isn’t my style. Paying attention to my breath…boring.
I’ve tried this before and quit when the going got tough. My lame excuses ranged from “I have a cough” to “It’s too cold in here”, and let’s not forget the overused “I’m too tired”. Not this time. This time is for REAL. I’m putting down my evening snackfest and picking up a new habit. My meditation coach, friend Sarah, is promising to keep me accountable and provide support. So, FIFTY – here I come.
P.S. Got any helpful suggestions? Wanna join me (virtually, I mean)? Email me to share your struggles or ideas. Or leave a comment on my blog.
Every Autumn, I get a little closer to nature by eating more of the foods that are abundant in the Fall, which happen to be nutrient-dense and easy to stretch over several meals. Take butternut squash for instance. Since I rarely use a whole squash for a single recipe, sometimes, a 3-pound squash will expand to several meals, with a portion going into a breakfast egg dish, a lunch side dish, a roasted vegetable mix and served with wild rice and turkey for dinner. Give me a crockpot and a good knife and in under 20 minutes, I’ll have a delicious, budget-stretching stew assembled in the morning. A little of everything from the week’s groceries goes into a dish like this. Just thinking about how delicious a home-cooked stew will taste makes my mouth water on the drive home later that day.
The money I save by eating with the season includes the dollars I won’t spend seeing a doctor for a cold-weather sinus infection, the sick days I won’t have to take from work, and the restaurant bill I won’t have because there’s nothing fresh at home to eat. That’s the beauty of Fall menus. The foods stay fresh for weeks, without the perishable quality of tender spring greens or summer berries. Try your farmer’s market for colorful squash, root vegetables and game meats this time of year.
As seasons go, Fall is my favorite, and not just because I get to gorge myself on acorn squash, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, daikon radish, apples, pears and wild game (duck, turkey, deer, quail). These colorful, vitamin-rich foods contain healing and fortifying vitamins and minerals that keep my body healthy, warm and strong as cold weather approaches. After a spicy bowl of buffalo stew or squash soup, I feel satisfied in a way that seems especially suited to a cool, blustery day.
Need help getting creative in the kitchen? Here’s a trick I’ve learned to make use of chunks of leftover vegetables and other foods: google your ingredients and see what recipes pop up. A favorite website of mine, with the tag line “every recipe in the world’, is yummly.com. It lets you search for recipes with almost any food and preference imaginable – gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, low-calorie, and just about any flavor combination you can think up. You’ve got a masterpiece waiting to prepare in the kitchen!
Still not confident you can cook your way through Fall? Schedule a visit with me to talk about healing recipes and how to include herbs that make your menu more interesting and healthy for you and your family. Call 402-933-6444.
Candleberry offers IBS sufferers relief
When I learned about bayberry bark, it was from the old Jethro Kloss herbal tome Back to Eden. J. Kloss put bayberry bark in his Composition Powder formula to help normalize the excess mucus that shows up with colds and flus and also to bring on a sweat to help cool fevers. So, it makes good sense to use it for other conditions where mucus abounds, especially where inflammation seems to be a reason and an astringent herb (one that dries, tightens or tones) might be in order. I’ve seen this in IBS sufferers. So, when a friend confirmed that it calmed the symptoms of IBS for him, it was a light bulb moment for us both.
Sure enough, I looked back through my school texts and other wise herbals and there it was. Dr. Christopher observed that bayberry was excellent at “thoroughly cleansing and restoring the mucous secretions to normal function.” [“Dr. John Christopher’s School of Natural Healing”, first printed in 1971]. Since then, I reserve this herb for people with ‘boggy’ membranes that overproduce mucus.
And where are the mucus membranes in your body? In the eyes, nose, mouth, lungs, and digestive tract, including the large intestine (bowel). People with IBS often complain of mucus discharge in their stools and alternating constipation and diarrhea, not to mention a good deal of pain. And, surprise, many of them have similar ‘gooey’ problems in their respiratory tracts and noses! Usually, the excess watery secretions are a response to some kind of stress, whether that’s a specific food or drink, emotional episode or even environmental change. In fact, it’s well-known, but not well-understood, that depression and anxiety often co-exist with irritable bowel symptoms, and that improving one condition improves the other.
Scientists don’t know why IBS symptoms exist, and medications merely control episodes. Stop the medicine and symptoms often return. Not so with herbal remedies. Used over a few months or longer, tonic herbs like bayberry can actually help tone up the overproducing mucus membranes, restoring strength and ‘collecting’ tissue together.
Bayberry bark (actually the root bark, to be specific) isn’t a remedy for everyone with a runny nose or extra phlegm. Those can be signs that call for different herbal properties with less astringing action or a gentler touch. Taking it as a ‘simple’ remedy, by itself, can be tricky business for the unschooled. Dosing is everything in herbal medicine. Herbalist Matthew Wood is well-known for his very effective use of 3 drops of herb several times a day. And that’s a good place to start with any unknown herb. Or better yet, see a qualified professional herbalist for a combination of plant medicines best suited for you.
Making a tonic syrup with an old favorite - blackstrap molasses
Lately, I’ve been putting in long hours growing my herb practice, taking an Anatomy and Physiology class and visiting my mom, who’s been in and out of so many nursing homes and hospitals over the past 10 weeks, I’ve lost count. I finally had to admit to a close friend that it’s been exhausting and I’m just plain tired. “Well, what would you tell a client who felt like you do?” she asked.
“Take tonic herbs!” The concept of tonic herbs is virtually unknown to Western herbalists, but it’s common in Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM]. The idea that the body recovers not only from rest, good food and good air, but also by taking in strengthening and nourishing herbs over an extended period of time, say 3-6 months or more, is central to TCM healing practices. I should know, since I’ve benefitted from tonics during other stressful, depleting times in my life. So, I spent practically the whole day making a wonderful tonic syrup out of Chinese herbs and one of my favorite old-fashioned syrup bases – blackstrap molasses.
I love the rich, earthy taste of blackstrap, but I learned to really appreciate it a few years ago when I discovered it has a significant iron content but doesn’t create the constipation that iron supplements can. It also has healthy levels of minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium and is known to help normalize blood sugar levels. Just what the doctor ordered for the marathon that is my life lately.
So, I cooked and cooked those Chinese roots and barks and healing herbs in a pot of water on the stovetop until the liquid was reduced by three-fourths, added the blackstrap in and cooked it down a bit further. I bottled the strained liquid and I’ll be adding a tablespoon to my morning and evening tea every day for the next few months. Just the process of slowly cooking this brew over several hours was a relaxing way to begin settling my life down a bit.
I’ll check back over the next few weeks, but what I’m prepared to feel is an energy lift, better focus and concentration at the office, and more sound, restful sleep. Stay tuned…