Winter Flows in the Water Element

The Transformative Nature of Water

The Transformative Nature of Water

The amazing properties of water are well understood in scientific research.  Its ability to change states from a liquid to a gas or a solid (depicted in the beautiful image of the lake with rising fog and clouds above), make it a unique constituent of all living systems. Water is also a solvent, capable of dissolving other substances in order to produce unique solutions vital to sustain our physiological processes and life on this planet.  Let’s see how the Water Element relates to our body’s health.

The Water Element

Winter is the season of the Water Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) Five Element Theory which depicts the generating cycle of life (Ko). The energetics of winter are yin which foster time for reflection, introspection, and quietude in order to to nurture one’s inner self.  My favorite author on this topic is Eldon Haas, author of Staying Healthy With the Seasons. He asserts that giving the appropriate attention and support to the meridian and organ systems assigned to the Water Element during its dominant season will help us to move into spring with renewed vitality and purpose.

The Kidney/Bladder Meridian and Organ Systems

In the Ko cycle, the Kidney/Bladder meridian and organ systems are represented by the Water Element.

The Ko Cycle

The Ko Cycle

The Kidneys represent the deepest energies of the body because they are involved in the generation of vitality, the self, the brain, bones, and marrow.  The Bladder meridian and organ system are responsible for separating the pure from the impure which aligns well with the western physiological model of filtering the blood, recycling substances, and eliminating waste.

Water is also associated with bodily fluids in TCM, such as blood, lymphatic fluid, saliva, urine, tears, cerebral spinal fluid, and perspiration.  These fluids help the body function optimally by delivering nourishment and moisture and by carrying away waste products.

Salt is the flavor associated with the Water Element. Have you ever found yourself craving salty foods? This may signal an imbalance in your Kidney/Bladder system.

Fear and terror are the emotions expressed by the Kidney organ in TCM.  If you find yourself feeling fearful, negative, anxious, or aching, think of an imbalance in this vital system. I’ve seen many patients who experience free-floating anxiety even when their life is going well. This is often due to the dominance of cold qi emanating from the Kidney which reduces the fire of the Kidney’s yang energies which must rise to the brain to support clear thinking.

Deficient Water energy can lead to hyperactivity, difficulty sleeping, and reduced understanding and compassion for others (an inability to listen) while an excess of Water can cause sluggishness, frustration, and a feeling of heaviness. The latter results from a breakdown in the body’s inability to transform water in the body.

When the organ and meridian systems assigned to the Water Element are functioning optimally, the skin is benefited through the release of toxins via perspiration. The color, tone, and clarity of your skin, the sparkle in your eyes or lack of it, and the texture and thickness of your hair also provide clues to a healthy or stressed Water Element.

Supporting The Water Element During Winter

Warm food, rest, warm clothing, and the warmth of friendship and companionship will help you to successfully navigate the winter season. Watch your calorie intake because we are usually less active during the winter. Cook with miso, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, onions, cayenne, and turmeric to warm you body and delight your senses!  Seaweeds eaten toasted, raw, or in soups can also replenish the Kidneys.  Elson Haas, recommends herbal teas concocted from the following western soft and hard roots, barks, seeds, leaves, and flowers: comfrey, burdock, fennel seed, ginger root, fenugreek, chamomile, and peppermint, to name just a few!

Stay healthy and well this season!

Light Therapy for Health

As a practitioner of holistic medicine, I really enjoy talking about non-invasive methods that support health and resolve illness.  One of the tools that I use is LED color-light therapy.  LED is the acronym for light-emitting diodes which act as semiconductors, releasing electrons in the form of photons or little packets of light.  I use LED color-light therapy (light projects through colored gels) with patients on a near-daily basis to ease pain, restore internal balance, and support vitality.

Were you aware that the use of light or phototherapy in medicine is well established? According to the Mayo Clinic, specific wavelengths of light evoke specific responses in the body.  Some of the common medical uses of light therapy include treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sleep/circadian rhythm issues, and even depression.  For example, full-spectrum light is thought to effectively address SAD because it appears that its wavelengths alter brain chemicals linked to moodUltraviolet light has been effectively used to treat skin disorders such as eczema, acne vulgaris, or psoriasis while a specific frequency of blue light successfully treats neonatal jaundice.   Light has even been found to accelerate the healing of wounds.

Even if we don’t completely understand the science behind light therapy, we all know how good it feels to step out into the sunshine and be warmed by its radiant heat. Ponder for a moment how sunlight travels through space at the speed of light to influence all life processes on this earth. It is no wonder that the properties of light have intrigued scientists throughout the ages as highlighted in this quote from the Photon Science Institute at the University of Manchester:

Photon science encompasses all aspects of creating, measuring and using light for science. Photon science allows us to discover new things about the properties of all kinds of physical and biological matter, enabling us to answer questions of what things are and how and why they work.

I suggest that understanding some of the basics of how and why the body responds to the therapeutic application of light is empowering since it offers us one more non-invasive tool to support our health or to treat illness.  The series will explore newer theories of biophysics such as the bio-electrical nature of body and the crystalline-like properties of body tissues which are thought to sustain a body-wide state of energy continuum.  I find this new line of research to be exciting and thought-provoking and I hope you will ‘catch the wave’ of excitement with me!

http://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f1/EM_spectrum.svg/500px-EM_spectrum.svg.png?resize=500%2C267

Electromagnetic Spectrum of Light

Question to ponder:  Do you think that understanding the marvels of the human body motivates people to take better care of themselves and their health?

Successful Aging Through Movement

Have you made healthy aging a priority?  We’re never too young or too old to begin.  That being the case, I thought you might enjoy going off the beaten path to consider a novel developmental perspective of successful aging discussed within the field of somatic psychology, a sub-discipline of psychology.

Researchers within this field recognize and explore the role of first-person experience in the development of a social, emotional, mental, and internalized sense of self.  Thomas Hanna, a pioneer in the field, advocated the inclusion of a somatic perspective in the human sciences in order to understand and circumvent the aging process.  He studied the link between habituated, contracted bodily movement patterns associated with decrepitude and formulated a method for restoring structure and function, Somatics.  In his book, Somatics: Reawakening the Mind’s Control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health, he proposed the following,

The reason that physiology and medicine have failed to perceive the myths behind aging is that they have failed to recognize the fundamental fact that all human beings are self-aware, self-sensing, and self-moving . . . By adding the somatic viewpoint to our human sciences, we not only become capable of overcoming many health problems mistakenly attributed to aging, but we are capable of overcoming many of the major health problems that plague all of mankind.

While most of us understand the concept of self-awareness and self-sensing, what is meant by the term self-moving and how does it relate to health?

Self-moving is the term Hanna used to describe the ability humans have to work consciously with  reflexive, unconscious, and involuntary muscular bodily movement patterns in order to restore structure and function.  He demonstrated how muscular patterns form in response to chronic experiences, like stress, which interfere with the ability to completely relax contracted muscles.  In time, this can lead to chronic stiffness, soreness, aches, and pain.  Internally sustained states of tension can lead to hypertension and cardiac disease.

Hanna also recognized the role of early social experience in the childhood development of habituated movement patterns which can impact a child’s health long-term.  This important topic has been widely studied in somatic psychology and will be discussed in future posts.

The good news is, no matter what the cause, chronic contracted muscular patterns can be released and reversed, leaving you feeling more alive and vital.  You don’t have to look and feel old in your senior years! To achieve lasting results will require time and effort, but aren’t you worth it?  Many people have had good results dealing with stress and undoing chronic muscular patterns by engaging in movement practices such as Feldenkreis, the Alexander Technique, Tai Chi, yoga, Somatics, and Qi Gong.  It’s never too early to start, so what are you waiting for?  Get moving!

Have you ever considered that optimal movement patterns could be the basis for long-term health? Have you engaged in a movement practice that had positive effects on your health?  

The Limitations of Body as Machine

Metaphor of Body as Machine

The long-established metaphor, body as a machine, a by-product of reductionism (the primary scientific method of inquiry used in the study of living systems) is losing its relevance in the face of advancing scientific knowledge.  Why should this matter to you and me?  It matters because according to medical anthropologists, Robbie Davis-Floyd and Gloria St. John, the cultural manner in which the body is defined determines how it is viewed and treated within the medical health care system.

Body as Machine or Information System?

 

Biomedicine and the Reductionist Method

Most of us were introduced to the reductionist method in our high school science classes.  In bio-medicine, this method involves the breaking down and dissecting of anatomical structures and physiological pathways into biochemical and structural components for analysis with the aim of developing more effective ways to intervene in the disease process.  While this approach has supported advancements in molecular biology, pharmacology, and surgical interventions, it is proving to be too limited in understanding and intervening in chronic illnesses as these tend to be whole-body-systems disorders.  More importantly, this perspective nearly discards what physiologist Dr. James Oschman calls “the single most important attribute” of every living organism:  it’s systemic interconnectedness.

Beyond the Metaphor

With chronic disease becoming epidemic and health care costs skyrocketing out of control, it behooves researcher and consumer alike to examine the  emerging evidence of contemporary models of the human body which have incorporated the principle of holism, the idea that the body must be studied as a whole interconnected system.  This series will explore the emerging idea of body as information system and discuss how this novel perspective can help you take charge of your health and wellness in order to avoid or reverse chronic disease.

How do you experience your body, as a machine that can have its parts reworked or replaced when needed or as a dynamic interconnected system? Do the two concepts mutually exclude each other?

Computers and Neck Pain or Why My Neck Hurts

Neck Pain and Computers

Almost all of the patients I treat work with computers and suffer from neck pain. An examination of their posture usually reveals that their head is no longer aligned with their shoulders.  Instead, it has moved into a forward position, creating changes in the neck and shoulders.  This is an example of how the body remodels or adapts itself structurally when we sit for hours at a time in the same posture.  Think of hour many hours we are on a computer or even driving in a car each day.  When these are our daily routines, we are creating repetitive postures and forcing the body to adapt.

So, how does the body adapt to working at a computer workstation for hours each day and how does this create chronic neck pain?

As we discussed previously, all experience is embedded in the body.  In time, repeated experiences create habituated patterns of response over time that can be observed in one’s posture, movement patterns, vocal tone, and facial expressions. Research has found that repetitive use injuries are the most difficult to resolve.  Dehydration of soft tissues due to altered blood flow may be the key reason.  

Another factor in play is the brain structure known as the cerebellum.  One of its jobs is to constantly tract where our body is in space so that and make adjustments for the protection of our brain and spinal cord as well as internal organs.  It also helps us to coordinate body movements, balance, and posture without having to think about it.  So, as we sit at the computer hour, after hour, our body tries to adjust our posture the best it can to adapt to this unnatural state of being. Eventually the body’s tracking device gets skewed and the body gets taxed from overcompensating.  This can lead to chronic neck and shoulder pain.  Try the following experiential exercise to get a sense of what is happening to our body when we sit for hours working on a computer:

computers and neck pain

Computers and Neck Pain

Experiential Exercise

Please take a moment to check in with your body.  Close your eyes, take a breath, exhale, and use your senses to track bodily sensations like pulsing, breath, tension, or relaxation.  Now, open your eyes, look at your computer screen. and continue reading this post.

Notice how your body begins to adapt, in the moment.  Can you sense your eyes reaching towards the screen, followed by your head and neck? Your posture has begun to shift and adapt. The longer you sit in this position, the more your body will adjust itself to accommodate your position.

The Forward Head Position or The 42-Pound Head

What are the consequences of prolonged computer use?  After awhile, your posture becomes habituated to this head forward position and you begin to experience chronic neck and shoulder pain because the natural interaction, function, and structure of your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs have changed. According to Erik Dalton, your head will eventually weigh 42lbs as it cantilevers forward. See the link to his article at the end of this post.

A forward head pattern also affects important body functions like lymphatic drainage, air and blood flow, and swallowing.  Eventually, eye strain, chronic muscle spasms, inflammation, and pain may result, leading to fatigue symptoms, degenerative disc disease, and even feelings of depression.

To undo this state will require a lot of work and perhaps some therapeutic assistance to realign posture and resolve any degenerative processes that may have begun.

Improvement won’t happen overnight.  Patience and persistence will help you reach your goal of improved health and well-being.

This example demonstrates how the body physically adapts to the cumulative experience of using a computer.  Stay tuned as we explore how stressful and overwhelming experience registers in the body to influence long-term health on a less observable level.

What steps have you taken to support your body while working at the computer?

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Additional reading: http://erikdalton.com/media/published-articles/forward-head-posture/

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