Self care shiatsu style this winter!
As I write this we don't know if Christmas is on or off due to the latest Covid restrictions but one thing I do know is that as well as the season of all things festive it is also the season of being run down, catching colds and viruses, feeling stressed and not getting enough rest and relaxation.
In this blog I thought I would bring together a bundle of things you can do to help everything from boosting your immune system to relaxing your mind!
Let's talk about Qi, and why it's so important for your health in mind as well as body, and nourishment for your sould too.
Qi (pronounced Chi, and in my discipline Ki) is our life force, it's the energy that surges around your body and keeps you moving, and feeling great. The enemy of Qi is cold and damp, in other words a British winter, Qi slows down with the cold, and with lack of movement, and then we blockages (like tight muscles) it comes to a halt. Once it does this things don't work properly, think 'frozen shoulder', and our immunity plummets too, this is because Qi circulates around the body giving us a defense system known as Wei Ki and when it stops flowing, it stops being so effective, so we can get sick easier. A bunged up nose and respiratory infection is then a catch 22 as the infection has gotten in, and then whilst it's there is stops your Qi from doing it's job, it's why you feel sluggish and achy.
When Qi is happy, you feel happy too, when it's sluggish that's how you feel, muscles are achy, if you bash a joint it feels worse for cold, to feel better you apply heat and drink/eat warm things, this is all an indicator your Qi needs help.
Today I've put together some ideas on how to keep your Qi happy, after all it's the 'Qi to your health' :)
As well as keeping your Qi flowing, you also need to strengthen it as this is the time of year that it goes weak, ad depletes, so I've put in some ideas of how to replenish. Christmas coincides with the winter solstice, the actual start of winter for us, and winter is a time of hibernation for animals. We westeners though don't listen to this anymore, but we should to a degree, so there are some Hygge ideas in here too, making the effort to add in 'hibernation' time to your January diary!
Support and strengthen your Qi
Starting with the nuts and bolts of health, are you doing everything you can to ensure you have a good immune system, or maybe you don't know where to start?
I know a lot of people take Echinacea, but there is so much more you can do. The modern world means you're under stress for a majority of the time and this means your body doesn't get time to heal. It also means there is a lack of nutrients for Cortisol (your stress hormone) to get it's job done properly.
I'm sure you see a lot of posts that say 'reduce the amount of stress in your life', as part of feeling healthier or more energised, or not getting ill so much. Yes this is true, reduce stress, but where do you start? Most of the items in this blog are actually stress reducers, and then there are areas like work and family life that need more management; your perception is the key to reducing your stress in these areas.
While you're working on the major stress factors in your life, I want you to be helping the cortisol that's in your body, not to produce more of it, that's not good, that's why you have to reduce the stress factors. I'm talking about helping the cortisol do it's job, heal your nervous system. For this it requires a lot of good nutrition, and with the best will in the world you won't get this from food these days, so supplements are key, and especially getting the right ones.
Supplements that come from plants are the ones that we can absorb most effectively, so I recommend a good age/sex appropriate multvitamin, extra magnesium and vitamin C and D. That's the starter kit, and if you'd like handy links to getting started, email me for my guide.
Getting the right nutrients into you, getting your body healing is a very beneficial stepping stone to strengthening your immunity and ultimately strengthening your Qi. Your Qi is only as good as your health, they aren't interchangeable, both go hand in hand, and good immunity means less likelihood of getting ill, or if you do, it not being so bad, with a quicker recovery time.
Get more vitamin D
I put this one in specifically as most of us think we get enough from the sun, but evidence based research says you do not, and if you have an ethnic skin colour even less so. The palest people can just about survive, but the recommended daily dose of vitamin D is 400iu/ 10 mcg, this is just about enough to keep ricketts at bay!
Nowadays we need more like 4000iu , that's 10 times the amount. If you feel your mood descends as the nights darken you definitely should be thinking about this higher dose. As well as for your mental health, it's helping bone health, lung health and your immunity.
Even in the height of summer, only f you spent 15 minutes in full sunshine, no sunblock and allow at least half of your body to be exposed would you get enough for that day, so you're not going to get enough to get you through the rest of the year.
Warming your kidneys
This is the chinese medicine part, your Kidney Qi is the root of your constitution and so governs your internal temperature too. If you feel the cold you most likely have an energetic kidney deficiency, as I do, and if you're menopausal, stressed, post trauma, post viral fatigue, infact anything that takes its toll on your body, you will be in this state to some degree. Known as Adrenal Fatigue it can have various levels of debilitation, leading to bed ridden chronic fatigue and fibromylgia.
A simple trick to feeling warmer all the time is to keep your kidney warm! If you're out an about from dog walking to cleaning out the horses, wear an extra specific layer around your kidneys (situated under the lower back ribcage), either a cut off T shirt (worn as a band) or tying a blanket scarf around, no matter what you use your kidneys will replay you by helping you feel that much toastier.
When sat at a desk, invest in a heat pad (put it on a very gentle heat) and you will feel the benefits up into your shoulders and down to your toes. Infact if you place your feet on a heat pad and let the warmth radiate up through the soles of your feet that is another beneficial way. However it should be a very gentle heat, like the #1 setting as strong heat is dispersing, you'll feel the immediate effects but longer term you'll not get the benefit.
As well as your kidneys, keep your ankles, wrists and neck warm, as these are points of weakness, where the Qi is 'thin', To keep these strong, shaking to ensure blockages are released and Qi can flow freely, and you'll feel hands and feet are warmer if you do this regularly.
Even if you're a hot person, check your kidneys, you may not have registered that they are cold as you feel the heat in your chest and head. To check if your kidneys want warmth, check your hands are warm or neutral (i.e. not freezing cold) and place them over your kidneys, if they feel warm, your kidneys are cold!
Eating for the season
This is a biggie in Chinese medicine and also one that really helped me with how I feel in Autumn, and it's a very phsyical one, whether you feel nourished and warmed from the foods you eat? I come across so many people that are still eating salads in November and December, and yes you can, but it depends on your constitution and the content of the salad. If you don't feel the cold then you may crave cooling foods (that's an indication of quite an imbalance, book a shiatsu!) but if you have a salad out of convenience then you need to ensure it has warming qualities, like peppery leaves, roast the tomatoes and peppers, you can have a salad , just heat it up.
Don't eat food from the fridge, it's cold and damp, even cheese served correctly is brought up to room temperatue. If you want the cold, and especially with drinks then this isn't good for your body chemistry, so would need to be investigated. I even have my G n T at room temp, it tastes just as good. The fashion for having ice cold drinks has been brain washing you from a certain soft drink manufacturer in the States who realised the colder it is the less likely you are to taste the sugar. Warm something up and you get the full flavour, good and bad!
Thick soups, and stews, food that is hot, fills you up, is packed full of autumnal goodness, makes you feel like you've lit a fire in your belly, and it's a good feeling, and it is nourishing both physically and emotionally. Try not to pack out with the obvious carbohydrates as these do add to your belly fat, but swop in beans (high protein) to give you that filling feeling, and it lasts for longer.
How you cook does alter the energetics of what you eat, for example steaming is cooling and roasting is warming, and frying is very hot!
Adding spices, these are energetically warming, we all love a curry!
You may not realise it but spices and herbs can warm you up and cool you down, the obvious being peppermint which is cooling and ginger heating. You can use this to your advantage throughout the year, warming your food energetically if you feel the cold and or damp. However if you're a hot person and always thirsty no matter the time of year you're probably naturally eating cooler foods, and in this case most herbs are good as they are very balancing - like rosemary, thyme, oregano.
Don't go for sweaty curries though, warming flavoursome spices are good, but too hot and you're dispersing your heat, like if you sweat out a bug. Even adding spices to drinks, like a chai is beneficial, and the other day I tried a Turmeric latte, still not sure about that one, but it did warm me up whilst Leela was chasing squirrels in the park. It was the right drink for the right job at that time.
There's a reason why spices come into play at this time of year, from mulled wine to chutneys, and one of my regular go to's is chilli olive oil for roasting my veg with, a gentle warmth that makes them feel more nourishing in the colder months.
Replenish your Qi
Much of what I've already told you about also goes for replenishing Qi, the 2 things are not mutually exclusive, they go hand in hand for good Qi and good health. There are 3 things we say in Chinese medicine that you need - Good food, good air, good rest, it's a simple list, but not necessarily easy to do. I think it's great to be given ideas of what we can do but also reminded that it is good to say no to things, to give yourself space to relax, especially come January when the festivities are wrapped up, and to be reminded it's ok to have self-care, and that it is not selfish.
Winter is a time you can feel burnt out, I know I did last January, after a long 2020, so I made some changes and I was lucky enough to start feeling so much better in a matter of weeks, but if you don't recognise the signs and you push on , you'll feel it, you'll feel like everything is against you, that it's all an uphill battle, and also 'what is the point of it all?' These are burn out signs, especially when you feel a lack of motivation or enthusiasm for things you know you loved doing. So don't let this be you:
Recharge yourself like you would recharge your phone
Forest bathing has come out of Japan in recent years, but I prefer nature as you maybe a person that re-energises from going to the beach instead. The point is to get back to purely nature, and it's healing effects. We live in a world surrounded by toxins, chemicals and electro magnetic frequencies, even sat at a laptop with your phone next to you and everything attached to wifi means that radio frequencies that human beings weren't designed to be bombarded by are around us and through us 24/7. Some people are incredibly sensitive to this, and others may not realise that this is the cause of impaired immunity and continual health issues.
Ditch all electronics and spend a half day with nature. Last year I took mum to a friends farm for the afternoon, she stroked everything from sheep to geese and by the time we got home we felt we'd had a whole mini break, that was just 4 hours purely immersed in nature :)
Qi Gong for restorative exercise
Ideally you'd be doing this on a mountain top or by a lagoon, but as long as you're doing it in a peaceful environment that's best we can do in surburbia! You can still have a beautiful scented candle, a warm room, with pleasing asthetics and good energy (like the vibes of a treatment space) to fully immerse yourself in your Qi Gong session.
Qi Gong roughly translates as 'Breathe of life' and is the forerunner to Tai Chi, you can do 3 minute sessions to destress or 20 to 60 minute sessions to fully immerse yourself and feel like you've not only had a good work out but also replenished your energy and calmed your mind. I recommend Qi Gong to just about all my clients, to either help them warm and loosen up, or to calm down, but always to get the body working in a way that is beneficial, where as a lot of today's modern exercise regimes are quite punishing to your body, and you do it to the point of exhaustion. The point of Qi Gong is to help your Qi flow, strengthen you in mind and body and not exhaust you.
Check out Lee Holden Qi Gong on You Tube as a way to get started.
Dark evenings produce more melatonin, you should feel sleepier earlier because of it. However if you choose to keep a lot of bright lights on, or you choose daylight or cold white bulbs other warming then you're bypassing your body's natural ability to induce sleep; computer/phone screens do this too, also known as blue light.
Create an atmosphere that induces an earlier nights sleep, even if by 30 mins, your body will thank you for the downtime at a time of year when it wants to hibernate to rejuvenate!
Turning relaxation into restorative time
Relaxing on the sofa but watching a series or film that is adrenalin fuelled maybe relaxing for your body or so you may think but if it's giving you adrenalin rushes this is using up your valuable Qi in an unsatisfactory way. It maybe that you can't even watch certain things anymore because they make you too jumpy, this is your body telling you it's stressed enough and it really doesn't need this type of entertainment.
This is the difference between thinking your relaxing and having restorative relaxation.
Restorative time is when you specifically do something to nourish your mind, body and soul. This can be anything from having a hot soak, whilst listening to sounds of nature, running a guided meditation for 20 minutes, or listening to healing sounds, search 432hz meditation on you tube - this is a healing frequency of the body and I often have it running whilst I'm writing a blog as it takes me into 'the zone'. You can also look up more specific sound healing, and find a type that resonates with you.
You may not want sound, you could go for a sauna and just calm your mind, it's about finding that right thing for you that quietens you down, so that tension releases as your body switches into the parasympatheic state, this is the the state your body needs to be in to heal. We're supposed to be in this state around 99% of the day, but the average human is 99% in a heightened state, i.e. fight or flight and this weakens immunity and is the path to ill health.
Most of the ideas in this blog will fall into this category anyway, but if you're like me you even find Masterchef too stressful to watch sometimes!
Hibernation and Hygge
I loved it when I came across the word Hygge and what it stood for as it allowed me to embrace a time of year I don't really like. I like heat so as soon as Autumn descends and then turns into Winter I used to be quite miserable. Once I started eating for Autumn as I explained above that really did help as I started to feel more nourished in that respect, but what Hygge gave me was a way to nourish my soul at a dark time of year. I probably could have always done this, but sometimes you need to be shown the way :
verb To feel a sense of warmth, cosiness, comfort, snug; a sense of wellbeing, belonging, contentment, togetherness, happiness
What it made me do, and I hope inspires you to do is to think about yourself during the business of Christmas and then the perception that come January 1st you should be all guns blazing with New Year's energy (which in TCM doesn't come into play until Spring!). You shouldn't feel guilty about taking 'downtime' or 'me' time though I know leading up to the holidays is difficult; so once that is out of the way at least plan in some restorative time, relaxation under a duvet by the fire time, nature bathing, nourishing slow cooked, and slowly eaten dinners, time with friends that doesn't need alcohol, rushing around or deadlines. Just be, and enjoy the being.
And say no to things, or back out of things you'd said yes to, listen to what your body truly wants, and that may mean staying in , having a steamy bath and going to bed with a good book, there is nothing wrong with doing this for the entire length of January.... shame we have to go to work really!!
A simple question to ask...
About whether something you do is good for you, does it nourish you or does it leech you? Do you feel more energised and postive after you've done something that is either physical , emotional? If you do something spiritual then the answer should be yes :)