Sung Dynasty Painting

Sung Dynasty (960-1280)Magpie and hare
Every culture has periods of peace, for the Chinese the Sung Dynasty was a time of widespread peace and prosperity and produced its finest artists, poets and scholars during this period.  The emperors of this time were more dedicated to the arts of peace than the pursuit of war.

Calligraphy and Chinese Painting
Painting evolved from calligraphy.  The brushes, the ink, the ink wells… all were the same, including the techniques.   Looking at a painting, the resemblance between the brush strokes of the painter and calligrapher is clear.   Painting, like the calligraphy of the time was monochromatic.  It was said that a master had no need of colors because his brush contained all colors in one.

During the Sung Dynasty, calligraphy, painting and poetry were highly regarded in the culture and considered literate endeavors, in line with a scholar or philosopher.  Poetry and painting were combined, often by the same hand, a poem further illustrating a painting.

C5-1Heavy with rain the spring flood rushes
rapidly through the night;
Not a soul on the bank; a solitary ferry lies
aslant the water.
Wei Ting-wu

Painting and Nature
Painting originated in nature, and nature is what predominates in Chinese Painting of this time.  Unlike painting in the West, man was seldom givChing4en a privileged place.  In the West, man was seen as lord and master of nature.  The Chinese view of man was the opposite, man was seen as a minute part of nature, only to be represented as a tiny, insignificant figure.  One has to look hard to find man and his dwellings in a Chinese painting of the Sung Dynasty.

It is worth noting that to the Chinese of this time, nature must be alive to be painted.  It would have been inconceivable to cut flowers, place them in a vase and draw them.  This would have been severing the spirit from the object depicted.  The Chinese artist’s greatest strength lay in his power of observation, knowing nature’s subtleties through meditation.

Emotions and Painting
In the West, emotions have always been expressed with abandon, this can be seen in the depictions of martyred saints, and ecstatic lovers etc.  This was not the case in the East, where the Chinese artist looked to nature to express emotions.  The mountains should be tranquil and captivating in spring, fresh and green in summer, clear and neat in fall and melancholy and subdued in winter.  Nature was already speaking through the clouds, the mist, the water, the rocks, and trees.

Ming2

Excerpts from Art, the Soul of a People by Renée Thibault
Sources:
Bussagli M (1969). Chinese Painting. Hamlyn House, London.
Munsterberg H (1972). The Arts of China. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Vermont and Tokyo.
Rowley G (1974). Principle of Chinese Painting. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

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High Intensity Interval Training

How often does something come around that actually
requires less from us and gives us more?

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Fanny and Yogi doing their Interval Training

This is cardiovascular exercise at its best.  It is better for your body, it takes less time, it is more interesting, it works with any age and fitness level, and it strengthens your heart and lungs in a way that is not only safer but more effective.

The truth is, just try it for 3 months and you will feel better and healthier, regardless of your age and health.

In a Nutshell:
This works for any cardiovascular activity whether you are using equipment like a bike or treadmill or out-of-doors biking, jogging, or walking.   It works for any age and fitness level because the intensity is relative to your fitness level.  What makes my heart rate increase and body start to sweat will require a different level of intensity than one of my 80 year old clients, but the effect is the same.   (Use the “manual” setting when using a machine like a treadmill, that way you are in charge of changing the speed and incline).  You will utilize a commonly known scale of exertion called Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE).  On a scale of 1-10, 1 represents least exerted and 10 being all out exertion.

The frequency that is best is 2 times a week.  The entire session takes about 30 minutes.

I will use walking as the first example.

  • You set off from your house or perhaps you are in a park and you walk at a comfortable pace for 3-5 minutes, this is your warm-up.
  • You then increase your speed, you walk as fast as you can for 1 minute (level 6-8 on RPE scale).
  • You then slow your pace (level 4-5) back to a comfortable walk for 2 minutes, this is a period known as recovery (it is the most important part of the session).
  • You then repeat this ratio of 1 minute High Intensity to 2 minutes low intensity for 5-8 times.
  • End the session with 3-5 minutes of slow to moderate walking.
  • Remember to do some stretches at the end (ex. legs, calves, back , I will do a future posts on stretching).
stretching-cat

Remember to Stretch

This is easy easy easy and takes no time.

How high is High Enough? What RPE of 6-8 feels like.

  • You should be somewhat breathless and winded,
  • and still be able to talk.
  • You should begin to sweat by the 2nd or 3rd interval.
  • You should definitely experience an increased heart rate (as long as you adhere to the recovery time, your heart rate will be able to recover from the high intensity, ***this is very important*** because it is the heart’s ability to recover from exertion that makes it stronger and healthier, not simply elevating your heart rate.)  This is why the long/slow duration of cardiovascular exercise that so many people desperately cling to, is not as effective at strengthening the heart.
  • The heart needs variety.

Give Yourself Time
It is very important to get to know your own body, and to work within its limits.  Never push your body into places that truly feel wrong, only you can decide what that is.  The best advice is to start slow and give yourself time to learn about your own body.

This is a great workout for all ages.  And can be as challenging as you want to make it.

What Running might look like as High Intensity Interval Training

  • 3-5 minute walk or light jog
  • 1 minute sprint (use a hill, there is nothing better than going up hills for your heart)
  • 2 minute light jog (get creative and instead of jogging the whole time, throw a yoga posture into your recovery period, or pushups…before you know it, it will be time to sprint up the hill again)

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    Fanny During Rest and Recovery

  • 1 minute sprint etc. etc. etc.
  • 3-5 minute cool down

And when it is all done
The most important part of exercise is Rest and Recovery

This is Simple
What is astounding to me is the resistance I come up against when teaching this method of cardiovascular exercise to someone who is convinced that they must do an hour of cardio in order to see results.  Most people out there are not preparing for competition, they are just normal people, who need exercise to keep their body healthy.   This is important to keep in mind, because the fitness industry is way out of balance and it completely caters to a much younger population.   Keep exercise simple, by making it more a part of your life rather than something separate.  (I will do future posts on how to incorporate more movement and presence into your life.)

A Balanced fitness Routine is one that becomes a part of your life, you simply are more active and include periods like High Interval Training into your life along with strength exercises like squats and pushups and flexibility exercises.

Dry-Skin Brushing

A Simple Secret to beautiful skin and healthier body functioning.

Pay attention to your skin, it reveals the state of your health.  It is the largest organ system of the body and one of the most important organs of elimination.Diagram_doc

Dry Skin Brushing benefits:

  • Stimulates the lymphatic system
  • Helps move venous blood
  • Exfoliate and invigorate the skin
  • Improves surface circulation
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Skin will look and feel healthier

The Brush
The brush should be a long-handled, stiff, natural bristle brush.  It is essential that it be made of natural bristle like cactus.  Synthetic bristles will scratch the skin and are harsh and irritating.  Use the brush DRY and not with water. You may wash the brush periodically with a mild soap and air dry fully prior to use.  (Most of the brushes that I see in stores are way too soft, a good resource is the  Body Shop [http://www.thebodyshop-usa.com/whats-new/accessories/cactus-body-brush.aspx] it sells a genuine cactus body brush.

Method of Brushing
The best time to brush is prior to bathing or sauna and can be done daily.  The skin should be dry.  You will not get the same benefits if the skin or brush is wet.  Use long gentle firm strokes.  The idea is to stimulate, not to irritate the skin.

  • Cover all surfaces front and back, except the face.
  • Start at your feet and brush up towards your knees then groin, abdomen, chest.
  • Brush your hands down to your armpits
  • Brush from your buttocks up the back.
  • Brush down from the neck.

Emotions: health and disease

The emotions that you experience have nothing to do with who you really are. 

Most people are so attached to their emotions that if asked to simply drop their “frustration” or “anger” or “neediness” they find themselves unable to do it.  Emotions are at the root of most suffering and will eventually manifest physically in the body.   Emotions move on a continuum in the same way as the elements described in my post Five Elements: the Foundation of Chinese Medicine, and when emotions linger at the extremes of the continuum, the result is dis-ease, literally.

Acupuncture and Emotions
In my opinion, the most beneficial use of Traditional Acupuncture is in it’s ability to regulate emotions.  Treatments designed to even out emotional imbalances result in feelings of ease and well-being that can transform a person’s view of themselves and life.  This is a level of healing that cannot be bottled, will never be made into a pill and is priceless.

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Emotions as Five Element Correspondences

Take a moment to read through this chart, carefully, and be honest with yourself; what are the emotions that you get caught up in?  Do you think that being aware that these emotions will damage your body, changes the way you will associate with them?

Living the Middle Way
What is important is not to strive for perfection (I don’t know anyone personally who can live in the middle column all the time).  What is more important is to begin to recognize when you are experiencing an emotion that falls in the “deficient” or “excess” column.   Recognize it for what it is, suffering that you have the power to change.

The Answer is in One Breath
The best way to pull yourself out of these unhealthy emotional states is to take one deliberate, conscious breath, and at that momeDSC_0013nt, bring the attention to your body as you breath, and distance yourself from that feeling, observe it move out of you.  It is not you.  This takes no time, no time.  The more frequent you acknowledge the unhealthy state for what it is, the quicker you will be able to even know when you are in it.  Most of the time we are on automatic pilot and do not even know that we are in reaction.

Most people that I work with are completely unaware of the power that emotions have over our health.   It is not a stretch to see the extremes of deficiency and excess as they are playing out in our culture and the world we live in today.   Look around you, begin to observe people, see how quickly emotions take over situations and cause suffering.  Could life be different?

Checks and Balances in Nature and Medicine

Nature has come equipped with a beautiful system of checks and balances.  To make this simple… when it comes to the relationships of the five elements: earth, metal, water, wood, fire (however they show up in nature), we are basically looking at two relationships (it is helpful to read the previous post).  One is a creation/generating/nurturing cycle of relationships and the other is a control cycle of relationships.

It is these relationships that are at the root of Oriental Medicine.  The creation and control cycles that I will discuss inform diagnosis and treatment plans in acupuncture and shiatsu.  My intention is to introduce these natural laws in ways that the general public can understand.  It is a fascinating system of medicine that uses natural laws as guides.

Follow the Arrows
The Creation Cycle of relationships:

  • images_3Water generates Wood (Water is the element from which birth and growth are able to occur)
  • Wood in turn gives life to Fire (the fuel that Fire needs to burn)
  • Fire generates Earth (think of the volcanic forces within the Earth that create earth/soil)
  • Earth gives birth/generates Metal (it is in the Earth that minerals are formed/created)
  • Metal gives life to Water (it is the minerals in Water that enable it to give life to Wood)

The Control Cycle of relationships:

  • Water controls Fire (it is Water that is needed to control Fire)
  • Fire controls Metal (the warming of the soil makes minerals available for plant life)
  • Metal controls Wood (it is Metal/minerals that control the growth of Wood)
  • Wood controls Earth (it is the Wood that “holds” the earth together)
  • Earth controls Water (without the banks of river it would flow uncontrolled)

Each of these relationships exist on a continuum; dis-ease lies at the extremes on one end or the other (deficient or excess).  Health lies in the middle, the balance point.  There can be too much “creation/mothering” or not enough “mothering” and there can be too much control or not enough control.  This is the foundation of balance that must exist in nature for nature to exhibit health and vitality; just as it must exist in our body in order for us to experience health and vitality.

Basically health exists when all the systems that make up an organism, whether that organism is a human being, a plant, a bird, a pond or the earth itself, are in balance.  Disease and disharmony manifests when one or more of these elements is out of balance.

What Out of Balance can Look Like in Nature:
Wood and Earth
We don’t need to have an understanding of Chinese medicine to know that it is wood’s job to control earth.   We can see in nature that without the roots of trees, shrubs, and grasses the earth would wash away.  So in this way the earth needs the wood to give it it’s boundaries.  Too much control, too many roots ie. never breaking up perennials and the earth is suffocated and can not receive nourishment and it ends up killing the wood (the very thing that is the cause of it’s own destruction).   Too little control and the earth will literally wash away because there is no wood to hold it.

Metal and Wood
In a healthy state Metal/minerals provide enough control (a balance of minerals) so that Wood/plant life can flourish.  An unhealthy state of control might be too much control, the minerals in the soil are too concentrated and affect growth or too little control, the minerals in the soil are depleted and normal growth cannot occur, either way there is a state of imbalance or we could say dis-ease.

No Beginning and No End
It is a circle, there is no “first” element, and there is no one element that is more important than another.  They are interdependent, each one gives life to the next and in turn maintains balance within the natural order of relationships.  These are natural laws and when they are disrupted/interfered with, when they are off balance, the result is dis-ease.  Keep in mind that dis-ease in nature is the same as dis-ease in people, something is off balance.  And it can look similar, for example, an imbalance between the function of Earth in holding Water in nature could manifest as boggy, stagnant ground where the water in unable to drain and plant life cannot grow.  In a person that could look edema, it’s the same bog.  This is just to offer an insight into the parallels that exist between nature and us.  These are not easy concepts to get across to a culture that was not raised with the five elements.   And modern China has no concept of this either.

A Little Bit of History
Traditional Chinese medicine only survives because of practitioners who carried it out of China around the turn of the century (early 1900s).  With the advent of communism in China at that time, all traditional medicine ie. doctors, libraries, schools were eradicated (in every violent sense of the word) to make way for modern westernized medicine.  The acupuncture practiced in China today, and in most of the world including the U.S. is simply western medicine with needles.  What that means is, the medicine’s objective is to treat symptoms not the root cause of disease.  Traditional acupuncture, also called classical acupuncture which is primarily five element style, is a system of medicine based solely on treating root cause, not symptoms.  This means that a practitioner from this style of medicine will search for the cause of the disease or the condition and not just treat the symptoms that arise.

Five Elements: the Foundation of Traditional Medicine

The Five Elements: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, Fire
To understand Oriental Medicine and its diagnostic systems, requires an open mind and humility because it is full of paradoxes; it is at once cerebral and physical, then clear and perplexing.  I remember well, my first introduction to this system nearly 18 years ago, I was beginning my study of shiatsu at the Ohashi Institute, my teacher was explaining about the relationships between the organ systems of the body, for example: the stomach, the large intestine, the kidney and how each corresponded to one of the five elements, ie. the stomach with the earth, the large intestine with the metal and the kidney with the water.  I had no background from which to understand this.  At the time, it did not make any sense to me, in fact it seemed like the stuff that comes from a child’s story book, a fable. That nature is comprised of five primary elements (the earth, the metal, the water, the wood, and the fire) and that these also exist in us and function in the same way seemed contrived.  Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to hold the possibility that there might be truth in this and that I simply did not possess the frame of reference needed to understand it.

Be humble and patient with the process of learning something new.  We don’t know what we don’t know.

The Process of Understanding
As time passed, I began to understand the significance of these correspondences.  They were to become the absolute foundation in my ability to comprehend not only this system of medicine, but the system that is life and death itself.  Like learning a language, that uses a different alphabet, these correspondences are the new alphabet.  Every day, by being present to how life moves, over time the truth of how these correspondences relate to each of the elements is revealed.  This process of learning never reaches an end.  The understanding is at first in the mind (it is intellectual, we have to learn it, memorize it) and then it moves to the body, that is when real understanding happens.

The understanding becomes simply knowing without thought.

Preventative Medicine
This system of medicine works because it is truly preventative; within its construct it explains what disease looks like long before it becomes a disease as we know disease.  Traditional Chinese medicine offers a way of understanding the nature of disease and suffering and of course health and well-being, in a way that modern medicine is not able to do.  (I will go into more detail about these differences in a future post.)

It’s All About Relationships
Each element has corresponding relationships; and it is important to keep in mind that these correspondences are all in some way in a relationship with each other, and that it is the nature of these relationships that determine states of health and disease whether it is in our internal environment or external environment.   This is a partial list of correspondences that fall under each of the five elements.

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What is Prevention?

In considering what I focus on when I teach, and the variety of skills that I use in teaching, I am really honing one message …. health and healing can only be realized by building awareness.  Our bodies are speaking to us everyday, sometimes desperately trying to geIMG_1190t our attention.  Our bodies are trying to guide us, to redirect us from peril and move us toward balance. To build awareness we have to wake up and start listening.  And, we can not build awareness if we blindly shut down symptoms. Our symptoms become our guides, showing us how best to care for ourselves.

Prevention happens everyday.
It happens with how we move our bodies, with how we move through our emotions.  It happens with the food that we consume and how we consume it. It happens with with what we choose to put in our minds.  It happens with our relationships: the people we choose to make our friends, our relationships with animals, and our relationship with our environment.  It comes down to integrity, are you living in alignment with your beliefs. Prevention is about building awareness and educating ourselves about what this awareness reveals.  Every day.

Prevention is not about taking action after we are afflicted with some condition, disease, or misfortune, it is about preventing what has not yet formed.

Lao-tzu says it best in chapter 64 of The Tao de Ching:

“What is rooted, is easy to nourish.
What is small, is easy to scatter.
Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.”

This was written 2500 years ago.  Simple, and yet when truly understood and applied in life…profound.  And of course, you will only come to understand this when you have built it into a daily practice.

The daily practice starts with your breath.  Pause and take a breath, and focus only on the breath.  Your breath is all it takes to begin to move you into the present moment.