2 words, 3 syllables. This is what came to me last night as I fell asleep. What could it mean?
As I sat drinking my tea this morning, these were my reflections on the message.
We need to be listened to; we need to be heard; we need to
be witnessed as human beings going through challenging times amidst multiple
changes in our world. We need a chance to voice our thoughts as a way to work
out our reactions to what is occurring around us. We might feel differently the
next day or week or month but, in this moment, it helps to be listened to.
I finally saw my granddaughters the day after Thanksgiving – outside, masked, and distanced. Their exuberance and energy were a balm for the difficult day before, when I saw no one in person. These young beautiful girls are filled with the wonder and joy of life but they too need to be listened to. Their world has changed enormously in terms of friends, school, and seeing loved ones. It took patience on my part for them to begin to open up. As a listener, I had to get beyond the ennui of the older granddaughter who cloaks herself with disinterest and boredom to protect herself from some of the fears and worries that surround her. Finally, a challenge to climb a large boulder on the path broke through her façade, just after her shout about how everyone is treating her like a baby! Her truth came out, she was heard, and a smile broke out on her face.
Others find it easy to talk. They spill out everything they are thinking and feeling in an uncontrolled rush of verbiage. As a listener, it can feel overwhelming and off putting. I usually find myself breathing deeply to resist the urge to stop the flow of words coming at me. This is how these people need to express what is happening to them. The rampage will eventually wind down and clearer thoughts will emerge once the flood has subsided. Am I capable of waiting?
Sometimes, the listener also needs to speak, needs to be heard. When a dear friend let me cry out my woes recently, I felt less alone. I felt acknowledged and valued. I felt cared for. We are, after all, social animals. Communicating our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, fears, and dreams are part of the common experience. It helps us make sense of our lives.
Occasionally, we are both the listener and the speaker. We receive an insight or perception that explains a situation or creates an unexpected solution. It is a message from ourselves to ourselves. Intuition can be difficult to pay attention to or even hear at times. We must be patient and give the understanding a chance to make itself known. We can breathe deeply and resist the temptation to ignore what is trying to emerge.
Listening is a gift. A gift for those around us and a gift for ourselves. In this season of giving, perhaps listening more is the gift that is most needed.
Peters helps clients and students regain their natural flow of energy and
increase wellness through techniques from Traditional Chinese Medicine,
shamanic practices, reiki, Jin Shin Jyutsu, intuition/channeling and movement. For more information, email Sheila at:
email@example.com, call 781-354-0725, or visit Sheila’s
website at: www.energymedicineanddance.com.
One of the ways that humans, as a species, have survived is
the ability to adapt. Humans have had to learn to adapt to different
temperatures, different topography, different availability of food sources, and
even different oxygen pressures. In our modern society, we have to also adapt
to rapidly changing conditions that are not necessarily environmental changes.
We are bombarded daily, hourly, and even minute to minute by new information,
news, events, and communications. For me, the last month in particular has felt
like we are living in a constant soap opera where “reality” shifts at
the speed of light.
It may be hard to assimilate these changes and we may find
ourselves resisting and becoming mired in challenging emotions, like anger,
sorrow, despair and a sense of being lost. Ultimately, though, humans’ innate
ability to adapt tends to come through. We make a shift and what has seemed
utterly alien begins to become more acceptable.
“When both good and bad things happen, at first you
feel intense emotions,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, distinguished professor of
psychology at the University of California, Riverside. “Then you adjust
and you go back to baseline. This is much more powerful with positive events.
People don’t adapt as completely to negative change in their lives.”
One of the ways that humans can integrate seemingly negative
changes more easily is to make new daily routines. By embedding new actions or
thoughts into previously established patterns, changes can seem more
acceptable. Hedonic adaptation is a more scientific name for this ability to
make rapid changes and it is hard-wired into our brains. It helps us to adapt
quickly and what may have seemed unimaginable a month ago is now possible.
Some of the changes we have been called upon to make may be positive despite the initial negative cause. Many people have been getting outdoors more than before; some people are changing their eating habits to more healthy patterns; and others are discovering that this period has allowed them to connect with people they had lost touch with. It has also been a time for people to remember or discern what is truly important to them. How can you use your innate ability to adapt to best serve you?
Sheila Peters is a certified Eden Energy Medicine Clinical
Practitioner, Reiki Practitioner, and shamanic practitioner. She also teaches
classes and workshops in Stretch/Body Awareness, Energy Body Tune-up, and Jazz
Dance. For more information, email Sheila at: firstname.lastname@example.org, call 781-354-0725, or visit Sheila’s
website at: www.energymedicineanddance.com.
How Can We Help? In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the world has been protesting the inequities that Black People now experience and have experienced for centuries. It’s time to change. Black Lives Matter!
You can help:
Support Protesters – march, feed, house, provide medical supplies
Speak out – with family, friends, your communities, whenever you see injustices
VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!
Peace and normalcy is not about the ending of protests and rallies. It’s about the ending of systemic racism.
Sheila Peters is a certified Eden Energy Medicine Clinical
Practitioner, Reiki Practitioner, and shamanic practitioner. She also teaches
classes and workshops in Stretch/Body Awareness, Energy Body Tune-up, and Jazz
Dance. For more information, email Sheila at: email@example.com, call 781-354-0725, or visit Sheila’s
website at: www.energymedicineanddance.com.
The other day in my
Stretch/Body Awareness class, we did a very interesting exercise. I had my
students follow each other around while walking in pairs with one person behind
the other. As the followers observed from behind, I asked them to look at the posture
and alignment of the person in front of them. I mentioned the strike of the
foot – whether the heel touched down first or the ball of the foot; whether
there was more weight on the outside or inside of the foot; did the feet wing
out, move forward, or wing in; did one foot swing differently than the other?
We moved up the body observing how much the knees bent, the hips and shoulders
moved, how deep the breath was, how the arms swung, and the angle of the head.
As the follower noticed how the person in front moved, I
asked the them to imitate the postural habits that were being observed. As they
became more adept at walking like their partner, I then asked them to attempt
to experience what it felt like to walk that way. What kind of emotions came up?
How might this posture translate into how they felt about themselves and what
it felt like interacting with the world this way? How much energy did they
feel? As I mentioned in a previous blog from 2010, habitual posture translates
into our attitude about life. I called that blog Posture as
When I wrote the previous blog, I was noticing the physical,
emotional, and mental patterns that developed according to the habitual
alignment that individuals maintained. Since then I have refined some of my
observations about a person’s posture and what it indicates about their outlook
For example, if a person regularly holds their weight
primarily on their heels, it could indicate that they are reluctant to move
forward. We can think of our legs and feet as a metaphor for moving forward
emotionally and mentally, as they certainly are in a physical sense. If so, by
maintaining a backward physical balance point perhaps we are indicating that we
are not ready or maybe afraid to move forward emotionally or mentally when
presented with a new opportunity. If this becomes our habitual stance might this
mean we are constantly unsure about the future? Afraid to try new things? Have
a mistrust about whatever might come our way? We may be in a real sense
dragging our heels!
Conversely if we stand with our weight balanced on both the
balls and heels of our feet, we may find that we can move forward more easily.
In fact, it is easier to move in any direction when we are coming from a point
of balance, so there is a greater sense of flexibility. Physically flexibility
parallels emotional and mental flexibility.
Furthermore, when we
stand by supporting ourselves on our heels we can quickly be overpowered by a
good shove from any direction. However, like a tree whose roots are spread out
all around the trunk, when our weight is evenly distributed on our feet, we can
withstand a sharp push from any direction much more easily. We are already
unbalanced when we rest on our heels so any small blow can topple us over.
All of these observations helped me to assist clients and
students in changing their postural alignment. They immediately grasped the
significance of what their posture was saying about their attitude about their
lives. Many worked to change any imbalances and found that as their physical
posture changed, their attitudes changed as well.
What I hadn’t understood at that point was that posture also
creates energetic patterns.
A couple of years
ago, in my energy medicine practice, I had the urge to check how energy was moving
through a client’s body as she stood in her usual hyperextended knee stance.
When the knees are locked back then the rest of the body will counteract the
imbalance in alignment that is created, usually by tilting the pelvis, making
the lower back arch, the stomach pooch out, the shoulders to push back, and the
head to move forward. For every zig in body alignment there will always be
While my client was in this zig-zag alignment, she tested
weak for connecting up with yin energies. This meant she was not receiving
about 50% of her available resources of energy. Just by standing in a
misaligned physical posture! As soon as I asked her to bend her knees softly
and bring her weight more over the balls of her feet, her pelvis came back into
line, her lower back lengthened out, her stomach stopped pooching out and her
shoulders and head came to rest in more anatomically correct positions. I
retested her connection to yin energies and she suddenly tested strong,
indicating that she now had use of all of the resources of energy available to
This was, for me, a striking insight! Although, as a former
dancer, I had certainly understood the need for correct postural alignment in
order to execute dance movements, I hadn’t fully understood that misaligned
joints would affect how energetic forces (yin and yang) could be absorbed and
utilized. Now it became even more apparent to me how important correct posture
was for everyone, even beyond the more obvious physical, emotional, and mental
I began to check this out with my other clients and found
that across the board how a person was routinely standing had a huge effect on
how they were able to absorb and utilize yin and yang energies. Nowadays, I am
always alert to how a new client stands and holds their body and am quick to
demonstrate that posture is one sure way that they can very effectively begin
to have more vitality on a physical level which translates into more vitality
on an emotional, mental, and energetic level.
What does your current posture say about how you feel,
think, and move forward, not only on a physical, emotional, and mental plane,
but also on an energetic level?
In 2005 I bought a Subaru outback. It took me 5 months to find the right one! Strangely enough, various friends came out of the woodwork and spontaneously loaned me their vehicles while I searched and searched and searched for the perfect car. When I saw the navy blue station wagon, I finally knew it was the right one! I had been tempted to settle many times in the 5 months preceding my final decision but I continued to search because I knew the perfect car was still out there. What made me wait so long?
After 14 years of trusted and valued service, I recently replaced that car and bought another one. This time it took me only one day to make the decision. How was I able to make such a quick decision this go-round?
When I decided to train as an Energy Medicine Practitioner, there were those that let me know that I was doing something crazy. Even some family members shook their heads at my “hare-brained” scheme. I was risking “financial stability at an age when I should be retiring” and shrinking into older age. No way! Somehow I knew that this was the path I needed to follow even if it led to failure. I would deeply regret it if I didn’t go for it. As it turns out, it has led to great personal fulfillment and growth and become a new career. Rather than shrinking, I have expanded. The naysayers have become some of my biggest fans. What made me take that leap of faith?
A good friend of mine, A, was a single mother raising 2 boys in her late 40’s while she worked full time. One of her boys had life threatening health issues. She had already been to graduate school. Nevertheless, A had a dream of doing something that would improve the quality of life for those living in poverty in her urban area. When a small newspaper notice caught her eye, she decided to investigate. Despite having no idea how she would manage the additional financial burden and the resultant work/life balance, my friend went for it. It took a total of 9 years, but A completed her Doctorate of Public Health. She told me the “minute I learned something new, I put it to use”. Her gamble paid off in a big way not only for her but for the many people who benefited from her newfound knowledge and expertise. With all that had been on her plate, how did A make the decision to undertake an almost impossible task?
Our leaps of faith are not only about beginning something new but can also take the form of leaving behind what is working extremely well in our lives. B had a hugely successful business that attracted many clients, employed skilled teachers and service providers, and garnered much praise in social media. Yet B felt like it was time to do something else; create a new model for her offerings. Jumping into a new proposition had no guarantees it would match her previous success. Moving to a new location with a different model while exploring unproven methods was a big risk. She could lose it all. Still B felt she wanted, in fact, needed to try a new path. Despite all of the potential setbacks, B chose to move forward and let go of her past.
These urges to do something are not found only in mature individuals. All ages experience a sudden and often urgent impulse to act. Consider C. He was out riding his bicycle with his childhood friends, none of whom were older than 10. Each was daring the others to more and more daring tricks on their bikes. Finally one of C’s chums suggested riding down a long unused road that ended in a bridge spanning a small river. The quest was to jump from the bridge into the water from the still moving bike and swim to the other side of the river and retrieve the bike before anyone else completed the task. The venture was enthusiastically received. But C suddenly had a wave of cold fear move through his body and he knew that he had to convince his friends to not accept this challenge. He had no idea why but it was of paramount importance that he stop his chums in their tracks.
The others called him a wimp and began laughing at him. C stuck to his guns and finally managed to convince his friends to turn around and go for ice cream instead. Later the boys learned that the bridge had collapsed into the river creating a mound of rumble. Had the boys continued on their mad venture, one or more would have had serious injuries as they went headlong towards the bridge and crashed into the river into the fragments of the bridge. Where did C’s premonition come from?
Intuition; the ability to sense something ahead of time; the sense of knowing what the next step is; a strong hunch – what are these signals that suddenly appear that we know we can totally trust? It is as if we understand something clearly and immediately without the need for conscious reasoning. We can call this knowing an instinct, a gut feeling, a sixth sense, or a message. Whatever we call it, we have all had instances of it. The phone rings and we know who it at the other end. We meet a friend and his new date and somehow we know they will end up married. We make plans and, at the last moment, decide we shouldn’t go, to later find out we just missed being in an accident. We turn right instead of our routine left and suddenly find ourselves passing the perfect house we’ve been looking for.
Many experts posit that our leaps of faith are really the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning, instantaneously bridging the gap between the conscious and nonconscious parts of our mind. We absorb clues to what might happen by processing tiny but telling facts through observation of non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. But this doesn’t completely explain all of what our “inner voice” tells us. There are those that believe we are receiving information from a source outside of our physical bodies and brains, perhaps from a higher self or the collective unconscious.
Regardless of our belief about where such messages come from, we may have discomfort with the idea of relying on our instincts. In our society, we have learned to believe that rationality prevails when making decisions. Yet most of us have, at some time or other, trusted an intuition and realized the benefit of having done so. Perhaps we need to revisit our belief around intuition. When that niggling in the back of your brain, funny feeling in the pit of your stomach, or sudden urge to change your plan next comes up, pay some attention to it and possibly act on it. It may be one of the best decisions of your life!
We get triggered by
people, situations, and events and find ourselves reacting in ways that, in the
aftermath, we are ashamed of, know consciously to be ineffective or
destructive, or that we thought we had outgrown. It can be disheartening,
depressing, and cause us to feel hopeless, unmotivated, and angry at ourselves
as well as others. At a very basic level, this is the basis of addiction. We
want to ease the pain or stress that we are feeling! We revert, often without
conscious thought, to old coping mechanisms. We just want to stop feeling the
uncomfortable vibes or jitters that we experience when we come up against
behavior, thoughts, or actions that trigger unconscious or subconscious
For example, why do some people overeat? Even when they know
consciously that they are not hungry? Beyond the taste buds that give the
message that whatever is being eaten is delicious, the unnecessary food is
providing a balm to an uncomfortable feeling. Perhaps eating has become a way
to stop feeling alone, worthless, and unloved for many of us. And it works, at
least temporarily! For those few minutes while we are eating the comfort food,
we feel soothed and less uncomfortable. The loneliness, the self-disparagement,
and the feelings of being unlovable diminish in volume.
This sets up a patterned way of dealing with uncomfortable
emotions. Does the food have anything really to do with the feelings? No, it’s
just a method of coping that seems to alleviate the pain of the emotions just
long enough time for us to begin to feel some relief from the uncomfortable
emotions. And that is one of the hallmarks of these coping mechanisms, they are
temporary, and thus must be constantly repeated to regain a sense of emotional
Eating is not the
only way to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Humans are inventive in their
coping mechanisms! Alcohol, drugs, sex, abusive relationships, thrill seeking,
self-abusive behaviors, angry outbursts, and inflicting physical, emotional,
and verbal pain on others are other ways that people have found that relieve
the stress of their emotional pain. But not all addictive behaviors are seen
from the outside as negative!
Another example can be seen in people who seem to thrive and
truly come alive only in times of crisis. They are there to help family,
friends, and the greater community survive a threat or difficult time. These
people become the saviors that others constantly call on for help. This rescue
pattern can become so embedded in the rescuer’s psyche that they look for
crisis situations to manage and, sometimes when it can’t be found, will create
situations where their invaluable help is called on. This is not necessarily
consciously recognized but when their assistance is not desperately needed,
these individuals do not feel happy, fulfilled, or even alive. Again this is an
addiction, albeit often seen in a positive way by the receivers of such
Being able to come to the rescue allows these people a way
to feel valuable and worthy. Taken to a bizarre extreme, we witness the
phenomena of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Although this syndrome is fairly
rare, less extreme examples are all around us. If an individual was praised as
a child only for their ability to maintain calm and offer assistance in an
emergency, this becomes a way for the child to continue to find value with
others and self. This is the way the child feels fully loved.
What do habitual
unconscious reactions, built-in automatic responses, and addictive patterns
have in common? Often they are the learned consequences to events that happened
in the past. When we find ourselves challenged in the present, our past
memories can cause us to react without even knowing we are being triggered. We
bypass the conscious thought process of what might be the best way to respond
to the challenge in the present by triggering an automatic resolution that has
worked for us in the past. Reactively responding to a present situation always
means we are functioning from our memories and past experiences. By clouding
the present with filters from the past, we lose objectivity and may not clearly
see the present situation. New ways of approaching any situation, whether
challenging or trouble-free, can be missed because we are entrenched in the old
pattern of thinking and cannot see the new solutions or opportunities.
There are currently a number of methodologies to help us rid
ourselves of no longer useful emotional and mental patterns. But before we can
avail ourselves of any method, we must be able to bring these unconscious and
subconscious patterns to the surface. It has been posited that conscious
thought is only about 10% of all the thinking and remembering we do. The vast
majority of memories and thoughts are below the conscious level. This can be a
major stumbling block. How can we become aware of what is not recognizable?
Generally, how we feel about ourselves and others will reflect any biases we may have embedded in our memories that cause a habitual emotional response. If we are unhappy with ourselves, attention needs to be paid to ferret out what circumstances seem to trigger negative self-talk. If we seem to have a “go-to” emotion such as anger towards others, what is the true source of the anger? What are our thought habits? Do we tend to catastrophize events and outcomes or do we anticipate positive results? Do we seem to repeat actions that do not give us our desired conclusions? What do we really believe about ourselves in terms of our potential, capability, worthiness, and loveability? All of the answers will be reflected in our lives on a physical, emotional, mental and energetic level.
If our existences are
in harmony with what we want out of our lives, then chances are that we are not
going to act from past experiences and will not respond reactively. On the
other hand, if we are not happy with how we interact with family and friends;
where we are in our careers; our health; our romantic partnerships then chances
are that we are holding onto and acting from outmoded or false preconceptions.
Some scientists posit that we hold memories and, therefore,
behavioral patterns in all of our cells not just in the brain. This is one
reason why there is such interest in energy medicine healing methods such as
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Acupuncture, Energy Medicine, and The
Healing Codes. By working with the body in ways that combine physical touch and
activation, these methodologies can help to remove old ways of thinking and
behaving by embedding new and more effective ways of functioning in the physical
body as well as in the thinking mind.
Many individuals have found that unearthing old patterns
through talk therapies alone have not done the job of removing the old habitual
patterns. It certainly can help to bring awareness of old emotional templates
but by going over old patterns repeatedly, sometimes individuals feel worse and
can become even more stuck in the old ways of behaving and responding.
Continually reliving past trauma can cause us to make the mental pathways in
our brain that contain the trauma to become more entrenched.
We want to discontinue to think in those ways – to abandon the dendrite pathways that cause us to function in the old way. By taking the acquired awareness of what is below the surface (unconscious and subconscious thinking) and applying energy medicine techniques to clear the body of the old patterns, people can make remarkable changes in how they experience formerly troubling challenges. How and when they respond to a situation can become more considered and thoughtful and not a knee jerk reaction. By functioning without the filters of the past, an individual can operate from a more authentic place; from the standpoint of who they are in the present instead of who they were in the past. We stop limiting who we think we can be and begin to expand who we are capable of being. We begin to live in the present without the holdovers from the past.
As a young dance
student, the ideal body image for dancers was to be rail thin with very few
curves. Yet Marilyn Monroe was the existing sex symbol of the day and was a
curvaceous blond bombshell. That didn’t quite jibe with what I envisioned for
my young developing body if I was to ever reach my goal of being a professional
dancer. It was hard to rectify the two different images – round, soft, and
blond with thin, muscled, and athletic. One image reflected the current
society’s ideal of womanhood and the other reflected my personal dream of being
Are we tall or short, thin or stocky, curvy or lean,
long-legged or big-busted, blue or brown eyed, blond with straight hair or
black with curled hair? As an adult, we sometimes can see the beauty in all the
many splendiferous variations in female appearance. But how many of us, deep
inside, still harbor the sense that whatever we look like is not the right
image? Did we grow up in an era when a beautiful woman was seen as tall, long-legged,
thin, with straight brown hair? Or did our society see curvaceous, short,
buxom, curly-haired red heads as the most desirable? Furthermore, what skin
tone was the most admired? How could we not measure our own bodies against the
picture of perfection that was held up to us in movies, magazines, by
celebrities, fashion, and artwork?
If we weren’t in the small percentage of females that looked
like whatever was the passing image of beauty at the age when we began to
notice society’s standards of attractiveness, what did that mean to our sense
of self-worth? Nowadays, girls as young as 3 years old are highly conscious of
how they look in relation to others. And if they are subjected to criticism, no
matter how oblique, it will begin to erode their sense of self-worth. One of my
granddaughters began to feel very unhappy with her naturally spiral-curled dark
hair when some of her pre-school mates talked about how different their hair
was from hers in a somewhat derogatory way.
When we are
subjected to comments like these, along with persistently seeing the current
admired models of feminine beauty (which may not match what we look like), we
begin to objectify ourselves. We start to see ourselves from the outside, the
surface, rather than view ourselves from the inside. We begin to separate who
we are internally from who we are externally. This disconnection of inner and
outer can cause us to feel inauthentic. If we strive for an external appearance
that is not in alignment with who we really are, then we can begin to believe we
are not good enough.
If we can separate or disconnect from ourselves, then it
becomes easier to disconnect from others. We may begin to believe that some
people are better than others which is the beginning of prejudice, us vs. them
thinking, which can eventually result in bullying, exclusion, and
Another result of this disconnection can be that we see
ourselves in pieces. My legs are good but my arms are saggy. I like the color
of my eyes but my nose is all wrong. Each of us can spout, ad infinitum, a list
of the “undesirable” parts of ourselves. When we deeply dislike a part of
ourselves, our negative thoughts, words, and actions can affect those areas of
our bodies. While we berate ourselves, the cells in that area hear the
judgement. Just as cells are capable of holding emotions surrounding events in
our lives, they will also internalize our feelings of dislike. That area may
become stiffer, less pliable, less willing to function with the rest of the
body. We may find ourselves injuring that area more often and we may gradually
feel a numbness there.
Try this experiment: lie down on your back, close your eyes,
and create an outline of your body in your mind’s eye as if you were drawing
with a pencil. Are there places that seem more difficult to trace around than
others? Could that be an area that you have disconnected from?
Our disdain for
ourselves seems to grow as we get older. We notice wrinkles, extra flesh, and,
horrors, grey hair!
Let’s ask ourselves what our preconceived notions are? Do we
honestly think that as we grow more mature that we will remain as we were when
we were 20 years old? How could that be possible? Is older automatically
uglier? Only younger prettier? Could the lines and changes in our faces
actually be visual reminders of the wisdom we have gained through the years
instead blotches and blemishes that we want to disown? Could we instead be
proud of the history that shows up on our faces?
Why aren’t we enough as we are? Others love us as we are,
why can’t we?
Augmentation to and decoration of the body has been found in
all cultures throughout time. It is not the same thing as thinking we aren’t
enough as we are, unless we are making modifications to distort ourselves or trying
make ourselves look like someone else. Enhancement by jewelry, hair color,
tattoos, and scarification can symbolize something deeply spiritual or
emotional about ourselves, bringing to the surface what is inside of us.
However if we feel compelled to do any of these things just to fit a
preconceived notion of what is acceptable by society then we are not reflecting
our own truth or our own authenticity. However, there can be a fine line in
making modifications. Changing ourselves because we feel healthier, like losing
weight, is vastly different than undergoing multiple plastic surgeries so we
can resemble a Barbie doll.
Let’s embrace the areas of our body that we have criticized
and learn to be grateful for the bodies that we have. Enjoy what they do for us.
Appreciate how they carry us through our days and nights, gifting us with the
unique perspective they give us. Whether we are able to look over the heads of
everyone else, bask in the sunshine without worry of sunburn, or have strong
thighs and calves that enable us to bicycle long distances.
We are uniquely ourselves and there is no one else exactly
like us. We have our individual issues and challenges but we gain so much from
our own way of being, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The
way that we view ourselves is how we present ourselves to others. If we believe
we are beautiful both inside and out, that is how we will display ourselves to
others. Let’s celebrate ourselves!
If we could embrace diversity in appearances and therefore embrace
our own individual differences, perhaps we could begin to become more tolerant
as a society. Perhaps our daughters would not feel so stigmatized if they
didn’t feel compelled to conform to a current and passing ideal of beauty.
Perhaps we would all become more comfortable in our skin.
According to Traditional Chinese
Medicine practice, moving from the winter season (yin energy) to
spring (yang energy), means we move from contraction to expansion. We can apply
this methodology as a metaphor for our physical bodies.
All winter we have been on an inward journey, staying inside
our homes to conserve heat and perhaps becoming reflective about what lies in
our future during the New Year celebrations. As spring arrives we ask ourselves
to change that behavior and begin to reach out and open up to enact any plans
or intentions for the new growing season. Somewhat like a seed that has
remained in hibernation during the cold months and then begins to sprout as the
air temperatures begin to warm. The contrast between contraction and expansion
is quite extreme and we often feel quite exhausted with the effort.
Think about when you were a child during periods of fast
growth. We called the aches and pains in our limbs “growing pains”. Our bones
were lengthening and expanding and our muscles, ligaments, tendons, and
connective tissues had to grow and accommodate this growth. This all took
energy! Like the childhood complaint of growing pains, when we move from the
contraction of winter into the expansion of spring, we are also using energy.
Hence our fatigue.
One of the ways that we can regain vitality and strength is to stretch. There are many ways to stretch our bodies but what they all have in common is the ability to unblock held pockets of energies. By releasing blocks and opening up tight areas we allow the flow of the primo vascular circulatory system to move more smoothly. The primo vascular circulatory system has more commonly been known for centuries as the Meridian system. When the body has more flow it can more easily heal itself and help body parts to rejuvenate.
The rejuvenation of
the body is particularly enhanced when we keep our spines lubricated and loose.
After all, our skeletal structure is what the rest of our physical body rests
upon. If there are compromised sections of the spine then the nerves that
attach to those sections will echo their distress into various related areas of
the body. That results in pain. When those nerves are allowed to function
freely the pain is alleviated.
As a young professional dancer, I was constantly taking
dance classes, rehearsing, choreographing, and performing. I certainly had sore
muscles but my spine was continually being activated with curving, arching,
twisting, contracting, and lengthening movements. I never imagined the day I
might feel restriction in my spinal motions. Nevertheless, in my 6th
decade there are days that I wake up with back pain. Usually it is because I
haven’t done enough flexibility exercises the day before. On those days, I am
reminded of one of my early mentors – Bella Lewitzky – who performed well into
her 60’s. I thought it a bit of an overkill back in my 20’s after I first met
Bella when I heard that she spent an hour each morning manipulating her spine
before she began her day in the dance studio. I no longer think it was
Most of us aren’t
prepared to spend an hour just working on spinal flexibility but it certainly
would behoove us to spend at least 15 minutes a day. We could accomplish that
by taking a dance, stretch, Pilates, or yoga class or by simply bending our
bodies forward in our chairs from time to time throughout the day rolling down
and back up through each of the vertebrae to improve articulation and then
twisting in our chairs from side to side. If we walk, jog, play sports, we want
to make sure that we stretch our spines as well as our arms and legs before and
after we have exerted ourselves. This helps us as we mature and move through
the various stages in life.
Our lower back is probably the most vulnerable spot in our
spines. It is the area that gets the most complaints, particularly in pregnant
women. As the baby grows, a pregnant woman’s center of gravity moves forward
and her posture changes, causing the spine to support the additional weight
exactly at this vulnerable low back area. Then after giving birth, the new
mother carries the baby and often doesn’t shift her posture back to her
pre-pregnancy alignment. Her muscles get used to this placement and she carries
this postural habit throughout the rest of her life.
The same result occurs when we allow ourselves to gain too
much belly weight. The abdominal muscles release and don’t act as the natural
“girdle” that they are meant to. As the abdominals stretch out, the low back
contracts into a perpetual arch and never gets a chance to lengthen out and
release the arched position. When we activate the spine we can reenergize the
abdominal muscles by contracting them which allows the spine to open up and
When I was a young child I never imagined the day would come
when I was taller than my 6 foot father. Being 5’ 4”, that seemed like an
impossible event. Yet, when he was in his 80s, that’s just what happened. It
was shocking to me although I’m not sure that my father recognized the change
as much as I did. So what had happened?
Some experts claim that height related shrinkage in older
age is partly due to genetics. However it is widely recognized that exercising
can help prevent exaggerated height loss as we get older. Weight bearing
exercises help to increase bone density; learning to sit, stand, and walk with
your spine in correct alignment reduces stress on the vertebral discs; and regularly
stretching in all directions – up, down, sideways, diagonally, and gentle
twisting actions helps to maintain flexibility.
Since the bony structures of our body are connected via
muscles, ligaments, and tendons, if one part of the spine gets compressed and
loses mobility, it causes other parts of the skeleton to have to bear the load
or compensate for lost agility. Hence we constantly hear of the danger of hip
fractures in those that have compromised spines. Rheumatologist Abby G.
Abelson, MD, FACR says “People are more likely to die in the year after a hip
fracture; people are more likely to die after a spine fracture as well.”
We have the power to counteract age related height shrinkage just as we have the power to release blocked areas of energy in our bodies. We can help ourselves move from a condition of contraction into expansion just as nature moves from the yin energies of winter into the yang energies of spring. By starting a bit at a time we can regain mobility and flexibility in our spines, increasing our chances to live full and healthy lives!
Yin and Yang energies are very different in aspect, outlook, and appearance. Yet they come from the same parentage, namely, Source. Although we often think they are separate and function in completely different ways, the truth is that there is some Yang in Yin and some Yin in Yang. Each of these opposing yet complementary energies needs the other to operate at their highest potential. Balancing the two energies is one of our important life quests in order to function at our highest and best health.
Balancing yin and yang isn’t the act of maintaining an equal and static position like measuring gold with weights to determine the exact value of the valuable metal. Yin/Yang balance is a constantly fluctuating equilibrium as we are faced with the challenges and joys of human life. In some life situations, we might wish to use more Yin energies to manage what is before us. Likewise, another situation might best be served by utilizing more Yang energies.
Yin and Yang have often been described through observations of polarities, e.g., night and day; cold and warm; wet and dry; inward and outward; soft and hard. In the traditional Chinese symbol, Yin is represented by the black side with the white dot in it, and Yang is represented by the white side with the black dot in it. The small dots of opposing color illustrate the concept that some Yang can be found in yin and vice versa.
The relationship between Yin and Yang has been described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin, or the shady space, is the dark area obscured by the mountain’s bulk, while Yang, or the sunny place, is the bright, easily seen portion. Interestingly, as the sun moves across the sky, Yin and Yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what had been obscured and masking what had previously been revealed. Thus Yin and Yang represent opposite, equal, and complementary qualities. Further, whenever one quality reaches its peak, it will naturally begin to transform into the opposite quality. Like an undertow in the ocean, Yin and Yang transform into each other like waves coming into the shore and then retreating, only to rise and fall over and over again.
What are the individual features of Yin and Yang? Below is a chart that illustrates some of the opposite/complementary characteristics of each of these energies.
Autumn and Winter
Spring and Summer
Flow up from the Earth
Flow down from the Heavens
Associated with “feminine” qualities
Associated with “masculine” qualities
Beware of thinking of the above features as absolutes. Nothing in the universe or in life is simply black or white. Each exists in the other and each needs the other in order to exist. Remember that both energies are transforming into each other as well, so while they appear to be polar opposites they cycle from one aspect of the duality to the other aspect constantly.
Historically there has been some use of the “feminine” and “masculine” aspects of Yin and Yang to justify a pecking order, namely that Yang energies trump Yin energies. Thus we have seen women considered inferior to men and barred from taking positions of leadership. Nothing could be farther than the truth. This is why the chart lists the associated gender qualities last. Although there is some relationship to gender, it is very subtle and not meant to be pejorative or restrictive. Jared Osborne, a Men’s Coach, QiGong Teacher, and Transformational Psychotherapist, has this to say:
… “Quite often men are described as Yang and women as Yin. This can be true when compared to each other. But it depends on what you’re comparing – and even when. For example, physical characteristics: height, strength, hardness, and an outwards focus are all things we can ascribe as Yang and (generally) ascribe to a man as compared to a woman. However, emotionally, who is more Yin and Yang? I’d contend a woman is more Yang emotionally than a man: stronger, seen, outwards. Man tends to be a more inwards, hidden, passive emotionally.”
It is interesting to look at the various facets of our lives in the context of Yin and Yang. When might a more Yin approach be more productive and where might a Yang approach be more useful? If we have a colleague, friend, or family member who is undergoing a difficult life transition, would it be most helpful to offer reflective, introspective comments or superficial, assertive declarations in our conversations? When a meeting is scheduled for a yearly performance review, would it be better to actively state our accomplishments or to quietly wait for the reviewer to notice what we have achieved? In our current political climate, we can see how Yin and Yang energies play out and can imagine how a different tack might change the dynamics.
The natural world around us also reflects the concepts of Yin and Yang. It makes sense that spring is a Yang season. It is a time of growth – seeds are beginning to burst from their opened husks, sending shoots from under the earth and up towards the sun. Leaves unfurl; birds lay eggs; animals wake from hibernation and breed and give birth; and the planet grows green with vibrancy and expansion – all qualities of Yang energy. The summer then celebrates the expansion of Yang energies into the most sumptuous and extravagant design! We humans feel alive and enlarged and we are motivated to move our bodies actively at the beach, in the mountains, at parties, in joyful groups mingling and socializing. We feel expansive and want to make the most of this very Yang period!
Suddenly summer ends and we find ourselves moving into the Yin season of autumn. This abrupt change into the energies of contracting and harvesting of what has grown during the spring and summer can feel harsh and restrictive by contrast. Although we are reaping the benefits of summer’s bounty, there is a melancholy that may overcome us when we realize that we are entering a colder, more introspective period of the year. And yet, there is now a chance for us to rest and review what we have learned through the riotous boom time of the past season. What worked and what needs to be changed? What no longer serves us and how can we shed inoperable ways of functioning?
Winter deepens our desire to go within and delve into the depths of ourselves. Because we have acclimated to the Yin forces throughout the autumn, we are able to turn ourselves to the creative side of Yin introspection. Thoughts swirl in our minds as the winds outside do likewise. Ideas begin to surface, new ways to approach old issues arise, and hope begins to sprout. We may begin planning our literal physical gardens for the coming Yang spring season as well as the metaphoric gardens of new careers, new adventures, or new relationships.
Knowing that the seasons blend from one to the other can help us to understand the partnership that Yin and Yang play in our lives. In a very real way it is hard to separate the two energies from one another because they are different sides of one whole. Each would not function well without the other, precisely because they are constantly transforming into the other. We need both to be fully functioning and healthy in the daily balancing of our bodies, emotions, thoughts, vitality, and relationships. Yin and Yang.
At some point each summer I start to feel a sense of melancholy. The summer scent of musty cut grass in the air makes me feel sad because I know that the long, warm, lazy days of ease will come to an end. Oh the summer is not over by a long shot! But I can hear and smell the passing of the season even as we are at the height of it.
Perhaps the melancholy is more acute as I grow older. I’ve had many cycles of seasons under my belt so perhaps I am more intensely aware of the passage of time. My beautiful and boisterous granddaughters bounce and jump around in the grass, ferreting out tiny pine cones in the trees, laughing at the bunnies who zigzag so as not to get caught, and plucking wild and domesticated flowers off willing branches to be presented as bouquets to their mom. They don’t notice the passage of time. They are in the thick of the moment. I watch their strong tanned limbs move with abandon and I remember how I felt when I was their age. I join my granddaughters in running across the field with arms out spread as if they are the soaring wings of angels.
I think of the plans I had for this season earlier in the year – what have I achieved and what still remains to be done? A sense of urgency emerges but it feels almost absurd. Why hurry, why worry, why fret? Summer is still here with its boundless possibilities and hopes! The sun is shining and there is still time, still opportunity, still serendipitous chance. And so I drink in the intoxicating nectar of the light, the animals and the birds, the smells, and the sounds. I feel the love emanating from people I care about and from the very earth itself.
The melancholy begins to lift.
It’s a bit like the ancient fable about the grasshopper and the ant. If we spend all our time worrying about the future, do we enjoy the present? If we spend all our time being in the moment, do we quickly become part of the past? Past, Present, Future. In a more modern context, if you are so busy taking that perfect snapshot with your cell phone, are you a participant or merely a record keeper? If you don’t take the photo, can you be sure that you will remember the moment?
Of course the key is balance – balance between work and play, enjoying the moment and planning for the future, between action and relaxation. But that balance can sometimes be elusive. If we get stuck believing that where we are is not where we are supposed to be, then we can’t be fully present. We may begin to feel frustrated or impatient or that we are losing out. We may even feel melancholy.
How do we balance it all while being fully present to each side of the equation?
I’ve learned that trusting in myself is a large part of the answer. Having faith that my inner voice will give me a sign or nudge when it’s time to transfer to the other side of the equation. I haven’t always believed that I would have that inner understanding available when I needed it. However, as I get older, I see that my intuition is usually reliable.
I’ve also learned that the more I listen and follow my inner voice, the more the rest of the world seems to echo that understanding. Opportunities arise that resonate with what my intuition is saying to me, making it easy to choose the path ahead. So while I can sense the passing of the summer even as I enjoy the delights of the season, I understand that this is the balance that occurs in all aspects of life.