Nourishing The Heart

May this day support gentle self-reflection on our capacity for both giving and receiving love

The balance between giving and receiving is a very personal journey with the self and with others. On this mile marker towards the Spring Equinox, might we pause and give thanks inwardly or outwardly to those with whom we feel a sense of love, care and connection. What a beautiful gift it is to give and receive love. Bless your physical and energetic hearts forever and always. 

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The Heart in Chinese medicine

All of the organ pairs in Chinese medicine govern or are responsible for specific physiological, emotional and spiritual functions that curate and contribute to our overall experience of life. 

Physiologically, the Heart governs the blood and blood vessels. It is responsible for the circulation of blood throughout the cardiovascular system. Heart all aflutter?? We treat arrhythmias in Chinese medicine. 

Emotionally, the Heart governs our experience of and access to joy. It is half of the Fire element in Chinese medicine. All of the things you intuitively associate with Fire: passion, excitement, joy, anxiety, mania are clinically associated and acknowledged within the Chinese medicine framework as pertaining to the Heart. We support healthy Heart Fire, tempering the flames that can flare in the instance of anxiety or mania. Alternatively, we support the slow smoldering embers required to lift one out of a depressive state, when one experiences a lack of joy. Either state can be experienced when this organ system is imbalanced.

Spiritually speaking, the Heart relates to our consciousness. When our hearts are beating, we are able in a very literal sense to be awake - we are alive, we are conscious. This can be expanded upon in a spiritual context to communicate an aspect of our being that relates to our awareness. Awareness meaning our ability to sense and to feel moment to moment in our own bodies and as we relate to others and the environment around us. This aspect of the Heart is something I frequently discuss with patients in my clinic. So often there is a discrepancy between the amount of outward moving awareness versus our inward moving awareness. Bless you, you beautiful nurturers. Present in every treatment provided is tending to the nourishment of the Heart.

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Nourishing the Heart: Loving Connection

I took a functional nutrition seminar with Tom Malterre, MS, CN and he mentioned something quite remarkable to the class regarding heart health and disease. He stated that the current literature has identified that the number one determining factor in whether or not someone developed heart disease was not dietary choices nor deleterious lifestyle factors. He stated that the number one determining factor in regards to the development of heart disease was an individual's experience of loving connection

I mean, let's all just let that sink in for a second. 

That is so significant!? And I do not mean that to pressurize or add anxiety about one's heart health and their relationships but rather to bring awareness to the fact that the health of the physical heart is nourished and supported through our loving relationships (and it is validated by science).

So let's have a round of applause for the true-blue lovers, the steadfast partners, the loyal friends, the kind and generous family members and your sweet, sweet selves. Taking the time to be present and connect with other humans is good for our heart health. 

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Nourishing the Heart: Acupressure

As vital as connecting with others is to our heart health, it is also an absolutely worthwhile practice to connect with and show love to ourselves. To be capable of loving generously is supported by our ability to acknowledge, care for and tend to our own needs.

A simple practice of self-acupressure can supplement the Heart energy, promote a state of calm and reduce one's experience of anxiety. HE-7 aka Heart-7 aka Shen Men (pictured above) is a very important point to nourish and support all of the functions of the Heart. 

Apply gentle pressure in the area of Heart-7, notice for yourself if the application of pressure feels good or feels tender. Perhaps you feel the effect of the local acupressure somewhere farther up your arm or even in the center of your chest. Repeat for several minutes or as needed throughout the day. 

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Nourishing the Heart: The Breath

You're gonna be like "Fritz, enough with the breathing already!" but I can't because it's just so helpful!  

Either lay comfortably supported on your back if that feels like what would serve you or sit upright for a slightly more engaged posture.

Place one palm over your chest and place your other palm below or near your navel. Begin to draw your attention inward as you start to notice your breath. You might notice any number of sensations, restrictions, ease, fluidity as you focus on your inhalation and your exhalation. You might notice the sensation of your heart beating as you take the time to shift your focus to yourself. 

Over the course of a few breaths, see if you can coax or deepen your breath, widen the expansion throughout the sides of the ribcage. Breath more deeply into each of the areas underneath your palms. No need to be forceful, just see what is available to you in this moment of practice. 

Give yourself plenty of breath. Whether you breathe for 1 minute or 15 minutes is up to you. Notice how the simple act of focusing on the breath shifts your experience and allows you to engage with the present moment to moment experience (even if it's challenging at first). Repeat as needed throughout your day. 

The Radical Practice Of Rest

Rest is the pause required to integrate.

If you are a patient at my clinic, you know that I consistently encourage and praise rest.

Rest seems so taboo, such a foreign concept to many Western bodies and minds. It is generally not supported throughout our culture. In 2019, we are still inundated with the general expectation for linear productivity: it moves in one forward direction.

Our over exposure to technology (bless it for its values, that's how you're receiving this message) also inundates our bodies on a nervous system level. With our proclivity for screen time it can feel like we've been active even when we actually have done very little or nothing at all. 

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Reframing rest.

I am interested in changing the conversations within our current paradigm so that we might begin to experience the deep healing rest has to offer. Rest does not equal the absence of productivity. Rest is what prepares you, what fortifies you, what feeds you so that you may engage in activities - so that you can show up for your life. 

Another very common conversation we have in my clinic is: how does your experience feel in the context of a given season? Inevitably, patients come in after the Autumn Equinox and throughout the Winter and remark that they feel tired. And, in lieu of extreme exhaustion, I get all excited and say "Oh, hooray! You're listening to your body!" and we discuss how we have different seasonal requirements for rest.

The seasons arise and fall away in a cyclical, circular motion. From the depths of Winter, Spring rises up, Summer is fully expressed, we harvest in the Fall and things begin their slow but predictable return to the depths of the earth in Winter. This is our peak opportunity to welcome and embrace rest. 

But is that easy? No, not necessarily and often not at all! It's quite counter culture. Our Winter seasons are abuzz with spending resources (financial, emotional, temporal) and not replenishing our reserves. To reference the title of this email: it then becomes quite a radical practice of tuning in to the rhythms of the body, our needs and tending to them to the best of our ability in our moment to moment experience. 

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Restorative Activities (the invitation is to cultivate in all seasons):

1. Meditation
I mean, #duh. You've also likely heard me say this before, but I will say it again: meditation is not sexy. It is not necessarily nirvana, maybe some day we'll reach enlightenment. In the meantime, it gives us all great information on a body level. 

If you do not have a meditation practice, I suggest the following tips for beginning:
1. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
2. Sit upright in a chair (spine as comfortably upright as possible, begin to notice how you hold your body).
3. Close your eyes if you feel safe and comfortable enough to do so. A focal point is also great.
4. Give yourself lots of breath. Begin the process of simply starting to turn your attention to yourself. You will have thoughts. My suggestion to a thought is to say "hello" and turn your attention to the sensation of your feet on the ground. Get curious about what sensations you might be feeling in your body.

Meditation, to me, is merely the process of turning all of that care and attention that you give to your loved ones, your creative projects, your career, your responsibilities and giving it back to yourself. Often times when I go to sit (which I resist almost daily) I say "Fritz, this might be the only 5-30 minutes you spend focusing on yourself all day." And that usually works for me. More discussion on the challenges and fruitfulness of a meditation practice later!

2. Intentionally Carving Out Quiet Time
No screens. No music. No social interactions. It's a great self-experiment to see how alone time feels in your body. What's the general feedback you get in the absence of outside stimulation? Nothing is right, nothing is wrong. It will help empower you to understand your own personal baseline (aka the buzz of your nervous system). Do you crave movement? Or could you just fall asleep standing? This is all very good information for you! Also: this is an incredible lot to ask of any human. I don't make this recommendation flippantly. 

3. Sleep Hygiene
How do you prepare your body for rest? Related to numbers 1 and 2: creating a personal routine to discharge the stress and/or stimulation of a full day can be very helpful for cultivating a good night's sleep. A great many things can influence an individual's ability to sleep and to also feel rested from sleep. Low lights, turning off devices and screens, eating at a reasonable hour and even epsom salt baths may help aid in a better night's sleep.

4. Breathing
The breath is a big deal in essentially all of the ancient systems, yet it's something so automatic we often never think twice about it. When I encourage patients to make the shift from more rigorous movement routines in the Spring and Summer to more restorative practices in the Fall and Winter, breathing intentionally is always at the top of my list. To be given attention year round, the breath gives us a tremendous amount of feedback. Does your breath feel restricted? Is it difficult to take a deep breath in?  Does is feel easy and fluid? Again, nothing is right and nothing is wrong. This is just personal feedback for our self-awareness practice. Not unrelated to our budding meditation practice, taking nice deep breaths + consciously turning our awareness to our breath throughout the day ends up being a gift you give yourself. It is simultaneously relaxing and rejuvenating. Breath work can be used both to wind down and to energize the system. 

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Nothing like a -55 temperature day to encourage rest.

The windchill today is impressive. The clinic is closed for everyone's safety and to encourage that we engage in the practices that we recommend. Productivity is not separate from "self care" or healthy rest. The two are linked, they are relational. Yin and Yang. We rest so we can be active. We are active and then must rest. Stay warm and safe, dear ones! I look forward to seeing you in clinic soon!