Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January Update on the Year of Sagely Living

The YSL is off to an ambitious start; which makes sense as everything in my life is ambitious to some degree: busy acupuncture practice, thriving family with three children; PhD program; etc.

So, what did I actually accomplish:
1. I have committed to watching a minimum of one hour of my PhD dvd lectures while taking detailed notes at least 2 nights per week after the kids go to sleep. I have been able to achieve this thus far and have been doing so 4 nights per week.
2. I have committed to a more diligent practice of Chen taijiquan. I have continued to take weekly classes, driving into NYC every Sunday morning. And each night (more like 5 nights per week) I spend approximately 1/2 hour practicing my forms after studying. It's been a great way to unwind from the less than perfect posture of watching dvds on a laptop computer.
3. More time with family: I have made a concerted effort to spend more uninterrupted time with my kids (without checking the phone, emails, etc.). I have spent Tues and Fri afternoons with the family as I finish with patients early on those days. I have taken the kids bowling, away for the weekend and have taken my son out of his kindergarten wrap around program to spend more time with him. (We are also in the process of organizing a plan to homeschool. Yes, more ambitious. I'm sure this will spur some more blogposts soon.) My lunch break has been more playtime than worktime.
4. While I have not been able to take any additional classes in Tibetan medicine as my translator is not available and Rinpoche is travelling, I have been continuing my Medicine Buddha practice.
5. As January deals with learning, I also read The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. An excellent book (which also ties in my tai ji practice). See it here.
6. Publishing articles and video lectures: No additional publishing this month, however, I am starting to work on the next article which has a mid Feb deadline. The video lecture will gain some momentum in mid March after my vacation to Costa Rica and trip to Gainesville.
7. In the midst of all this, January has been a month of tremendous reflection on how I want to live my life, how I want to raise my children, where I want to live, and how to propel myself in that direction. The discussions go on daily in my household as I try to practice more of what I preach. One of my biggest lessons this month is that change must come.

So, all in all, it's been a good month. A good start with a long road ahead.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sleep Your Way To Being Thin

A very interesting discussion by my teacher Jeffrey Yuen related decreased metabolism (and metabolic issues) and lack of sleep. The idea is that we are highly affected by seasonal/climactic factors and the amount of light that our eyes pick up (i.e., BL 1 and activation of wei qi). The more light our eyes pick up, the more our body thinks it's summer all the time (ie, lots of yang energy). Due to technology, we live with light most of the time, albeit artificial light in our homes, workplace, etc. The body' natural mechanism is that it wants to consume more carbs/sugar/fruits because the more the body can take in, it can store it as energy for the winter. However, winter never truly comes for us anymore because of artificial heating and lighting. So, we keep consuming sugar/carbs. The excess sugar stimulates fat and cholesterol accumulation, and leads to imbalances like diabetes and arteriosclerosis because our bodies are not following the cyclical nature of sunlight and seasonal influences. One major treatment is to increase sleeping. Without sleep, we lose/consume jing-essence faster. Taxation occurs. So, there is a cyclical relationship between our eyes (BL 1 and wei qi) and metabolism. The remedy is to synchronize our days with lighting, relaxing/resting once the sun goes down. Wei qi needs to go inwards to support the Kidneys at night. Sleep!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Everything Changes, Can You?

To be healthy requires that we experience a balance between yin and yang, and have a smooth flow of qi and blood throughout our bodies. This is best maintained by living a moderate lifestyle in accord with the energies of nature. As summer is not afraid to end and transmute into fall, so we too must be willing to let go and change where appropriate. Part of my path as a Buddhist and practitioner of Chinese medicine is to recognize when I fall prey to attachment towards particular behaviors, thoughts, emotions, etc. Likewise, I must point these issues out as they become relevant to my patients in the course of their healing.

While watching my dvd lectures from my teacher, Jeffrey Yuen, he discusses how so often patients come to see practitioners to rid themselves of their symptoms, but never see the connection to their lifestyles. Most look forward to getting back to their lives pain -free, cancer-free, or free of whatever ailments are plaguing them. But we must instruct our patients that their lifestyles are the problem. To do otherwise, we are simply treating the branch, the manifestation.

To heal, we need to change. We need to be brave enough to change our lives in a way that is conducive to health. On a spiritual level, this means non-attachment. It means cultivating a way of life that transmutes our physicality towards spirituality. The goal of qi gong, for example, is to alchemically transmute our jing (essence) to qi, then from qi to shen to expand our consciousness and experience emptiness, the non-duality of all things.

On a physical level, healing requires significant lifestyle modifications. Dietary changes (avoiding cold, damp, greasy, fried, preservatives, chemicals, refined sugars, etc. and eating for health, not pleasure, eating live whole foods, etc. (see the Resources page on my website for a really good introduction to Eastern nutrition), habitual patterns of movement (ie, sitting all day at a desk leaning over our keyboard which kills the qi in our chest), and perhaps most importantly our habituated emotional responses. If we are living lives of quiet desperation, unhappy in our marriage or work, unhappy with how we look or feel, we must make radical changes to secure our health. If we are having difficulty containing our anger, if we are experiencing depression, we must seek out their roots.

Dealing with roots of our habituated responses is incredibly powerful and the entire subject of humanistic psychology as detailed in Dr. Hammer's Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies is very well laid out. Learning how one's behaviors, rooted in early life, shape our health across the entire bodymind spectrum, and gaining the tools to make the appropriate changes can spark a profound healing.

So, as we have decided this is the 'year of sagely living' we must strive towards this ideal by rooting out our behaviors that are synonymous with imbalance, and replacing them with habits that foster health and well-being.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Year of Sagely Living"

The mark of the superior physician has traditionally been a high degree of cultivation. Eastern medicines have long held the scholar-warrior-physician as the benchmark for all doctors to aspire to. In this day and age, the scholar-physicians are few and far between. But there are a growing number of practitioners of Chinese medicine who seek to strive towards this ideal and see the importance of resurrecting this tradition.

The "Year of Sagely Living" is the brainchild of my good friend Brandt (Abdallah) Stickley (see Even Unto China) and Eric Grey (see Deepest Health) and I am fortunate to be involved in this at its inception. The idea is that over the course of the next year (beginning today) we make the commitment to cultivate the skills (academic, clinical, spiritual, etc.) of the superior physician. A syllabus of sorts has been created (see below) that will help guide the process. January 1st marks the beginning of scholarship and study. Each month will have a unique theme based on a synergy with the energies of each season and time of year. Excerpted below is the syllabus from Deepest Health.

January - Gall Bladder, Zi 子 (Rat): Scholarship/Study: This category will contain practices to develop us into true scholars in the Confucian/neo-Confucian tradition. Why this pairing? The seasonal energy is still in winter, a contemplative mood prevails, but the Yang is rising. Similar to this, we can see scholarly pursuits as ACTIVE passivity. One generally sits still, but one’s mind is hard at work.

February - Liver, Chou 丑 (Ox): Strategy/Business: This category will contain practices in the realm of business development and strategic planning in the professional world. Why this pairing? The Liver is the general of the body, so has a natural affinity for this kind of activity.

March - Lung, Yin 寅 (Tiger)- Activity/Rest: This category will contain practices having to do with appropriate cycles of rest and activity in daily life - for instance, appropriate waking times throughout the seasons. Why this pairing? This earthly branch and the essence of the Lung Zang is all about peaceful tension between opposites, like the time of the year associated with both. Further, being mindful of our need for balance between rest and activity is great preparation for the often overactive spring/summer energy.

- Large Intestine, Mao 卯 (Rabbit) - Care of the planet/consumption: This category will contain practices that develop us into compassionate and sane consumers, while helping to develop our deep relationship with the natural world. Why this pairing? April is a time when we can see the beauty of nature all around us, so is a great time to contemplate our dependence on it and responsibility towards it. Also, the negative side of LI/Rabbit is a tendency to run rough-shod over the needs and wants of others, these practices will seek to counterbalance this.

May - Stomach, Chen 晨 (Dragon): Physical cultivation: This category will contain practices that help us to shape our physical bodies into ideal vehicles for the transmission of healing energy. Why this pairing? The natural world has exploded into full splendor and the weather in the Northern hemisphere will be warm enough in most places to warrant moving around outside. The ST is an Earth organ and is related to the flesh of the body, which we will be building with these practices. Think also of the dragon and its association with martial arts and other physical cultivation practices.

June - Spleen, Si 巳 (Snake)- Food choices - This category works in tandem with the previous one to help maintain the physical form of the body in an optimal way. Why this pairing? June is actually a great time to do fasting or other food restriction activities because most of us don’t feel any great desire to eat excessively in the summer heat. Further, reducing the burden on digestion will help us to focus on absorbing the pure Yang energy so abundantly available in June.
July - Heart, Wu 午 (Horse) - Community building/charity - This category speaks to our need to be an integral and contributing member of a number of communities. It also involves the practice of compassion in a world where inequality is the norm. Why this pairing? The summer is a wonderful time to participate in community-oriented projects! Also, the Heart and Fire (the Heart’s element) are about intimacy, about connection to Spirit — both of which are well represented in the idea behind this category.

August - Small Intestine, Wei 未 (Sheep)- Ethical Behavior - This category will include practices not covered in other categories that have some ethical dimension. These practices are likely to be very individual and defined by a person’s background, spiritual/religious practice and culture. For example, practicing “Right Speech” through abstinence from cursing. Why this pairing? The Fu (hollow, Yang) organs are said to transmit the essence of their associated Zang (solid, Yin) organs. SI exemplifies this relationship in its devotion to sacrifice as a way to manifest the Heart’s mandate of connection to Spirit in the purest sense. Also because many of the “ethical behavior” practices we discussed are somewhat prohibitive, it resonates with the descent into metal energy that the earthly branch Wei represents.

September - Bladder, Shen 申 (Monkey)- Arts/Aesthetics: This category involves the use of our creative faculties - particularly as they pertain to the arts associated with Chinese medicine, such as calligraphy. Why this pairing? These activities are Yin within Yang - they are still, yet active - like scholarship. More importantly is the symbolism of 申. One of the meanings of this character is to stretch, and the oracle bones show it as two hands pulling something in opposite directions. We might think about this as the intercourse between Heaven and Earth, the Human Being in the middle being the substrate that is stretched between those two poles. I think Art facilitates this threefold communication.

October - Kidney, You 酉 (Rooster/owl): Chinese medicine specific skills: This category includes the refinement of Chinese medicine related skills, such as hand techniques in acupuncture. For those not in the field, you might look into developing skills that will help you in your work. Why this pairing? The Kidney is often said to be the root of all skill and expertise. Also, with the cool calm energy of autumn, one can become focused enough to substantially increase specific skills.

November - Pericardium, Xu 戌: Relationships: This category will involve practices that help us develop more mature and meaningful relationships with others. Why this pairing? Pericardium is frequently said to mediate intimate relationships. One interesting symbolic note is the association of the earthly branch Xu, which means - essentially - weapon. This speaks on many levels to me. For instance, we must be careful to avoid violence in relationships, on whatever level. Also, relationships are a bit like handling weapons — if you’re not careful and mindful, it can come back to bite you. Finally, the late fall and winter are good times for relationship oriented activity, given that most of us desire to stay at home with family and friends as the weather cools.

December - Triple Burner, Hai 亥: Spiritual cultivation: Although we will be looking at spiritual dimensions of all kinds of activity throughout the year, this month we will give it special attention. These practices will probably be quite individual, but there may be some shared goals - such as having a daily meditation practice. Why this pairing? I’ve always learned about TB as being the mysterious “in between,” the mover between worlds, the ultimate stillness. What a metaphor for spiritual practice!

While all these categories are areas that many of us are already cultivating to various degrees, the syllabus will allow a renewed commitment and strengthened focus on a monthly basis. Each of us involved will also share our experiences online on our respective blogs.

To assist in this endeavor, I will also institute some ground rules. As I have been ongoingly engaged in studying pulse diagnosis and writing about it, I am committed to publishing articles regularly on this topic and have an agreement to publish a series with the Chinese Medicine Times. (The first article can be found here.) I also have plans with others to publish a video lecture on the same topic.

As I have recently begun a PhD program in Classical Chinese medicine, I also commit to studying the video lectures at least twice weekly and integrating the information into my practice.

I have been involved in martial arts since the age of 8, however, the demands of raising a family and running a busy practice have sidelined that passion for approximately 5 years. In November I have once again begun the study and practice of tai ji quan and commit to regular practice and qi cultivation.

I also have the unique opportunity of a close personal relationship with Lama Doctor Tsewang Ngodrup Rinpoche (see Rangnang Ogminling Bendirya Kunphen Ling) a gifted spiritual teacher and traditional Tibetan doctor. I have begun private classes with Him in Tibetan medicine and will continue to pursue this avenue of cultivation. My Buddhist practice is tied in with this study, and my commitment to bring this spirituality into my practice and life in a more authentic way is strengthened.

I also dedicate uninterrupted time to spend with my wife and three children. So often the busy days pass with squeezing in work and family time, the two often commingled into the same block of time. I will make separate time for work and for family, the latter being more active and involved.

More to come....