Category Archives: Anatomy and Physiology

SPRING DETOX AND NEW OPPORTUNITIES…

It’s already Spring time, and we love it… because the grass is green again, the sun is shining, the days grow longer and it feels like a fresh start ahead…

IMG_1674At this time of the year, I feel an urge to clear my cupboard of any unused items or clothes,  and I usually realise, with a lot of shame, how much unnecessary stuff I have accumulated. Once I have gone through the process, it always feels better, clearer. I clean every corner of my home and I might even ‘smudge’(1) the place to remove old stagnant energy. Spring is a time of renewal, an opportunity to start again and give birth to our true nature. By letting go of old stuff, we can bring new energy into the light. Still, there is a feeling that the job is not quite yet done and that I need to go deeper… much deeper. I had no idea until a little while back that I had to pay closer attention to what the Taoists call the ‘General of the army’ , or  the liver (the leading organ excelling in strategy planning in the Body)…

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each season corresponds to different organs and meridians (subtle energy channels) through which Chi (vital force, also referred to as Prana in the Yoga and Ayurveda traditions) flows. The liver and gall bladder are connected to the season of spring.
The liver is the primary chemical factory of the body, the main organ for detoxification. It takes care of any substance which cannot be broken down and used for energy. Any wastes the liver cannot use are converted and either carried out by bile (produced by the liver, stored by the gallbladder, it helps us digest food, especially fats) into your small intestine or carried by the blood to the kidneys. The liver was considered by the ancients in Chinese medicine as the seat of life, hence naming it “the liver”. It is the largest gland in the body. It stores vitamins A, D, K, and B12, minerals and glycogen which is converted in glucose as needed to provide energy. Keeping the liver healthy, strong and stress free is very important in our overall health, longevity and fitness. The liver is also responsible for the overall metabolism of the body, controls muscular strength, movements and coordination, strength of vision, clarity of thinking, helps to detoxify and re-energize the blood during sleep and creates important cholesterol. It also controls sexual energy and vitality, and is associated with the opposite emotions of anger and kindness.

According to the Taoist tradition, each season corresponds to an element(2). Wood is the one associated to Spring, ruling liver and gallbladder chi. The wood energy of the liver helps to feed, control and energize the heart. Just as wood keeps a fire going, the wood energy keeps the heart going. When we get angry, the amount of “wood” energy sent to the heart increase considerably. This is why the heart rate speeds up when we experience strong anger.

The main role of the liver meridian is to regulate the energy in the body, and to create a harmonious internal atmosphere. When out of balance, we may physically experience fatigue, migraines, vertigo, dizziness, tight hips and back pain, general stiffness. Emotionally, we may experience a fluctuation of emotions such as irritability, anger, frustration and impulsivity. When liver and gallbladder meridians are balanced, it brings a sense of relief and fulfilment, we feel more compassionate, more adaptable to change. We feel more connected and harmonious inside. The liver has a huge impact on the overall health of the body, but also on the mind and emotional state. A healthy liver and gallbladder Chi allows us to see more clearly. Our ability to devise plans and implement them smoothly increases. Just like water, we can flow around obstacles, bouncing off from what is in our way, to move towards fresher goals. We become more adaptable to changes and more open to opportunities coming our way.

Simple steps to look after the liver and empower the changes within our body and mind in Spring:

  • Become more mindful of what we eat, perhaps do a gentle detox by favouring lighter, drier and less oily food.
  • Eat your greens, especially green leafy vegetables, which are full of anti-oxidant.
  • Reduce heavy dairy products, like cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
  • Eating warm food.
  • Drink herbal teas such as artichoke, milk thistle, sage etc. which support liver detox.
  •   Mix a few drops of liquid chlorophyll to your bottle of water. It tastes so good and refreshing. I find it boost my energy levels too.
  • Ayurveda suggests to eat more food with pungent (cayenne pepper, onions and garlic, ginger,etc.), bitter (like endive, chicory, romaine lettuce, spinach, turmeric, fenugreek, etc.) and astringent (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc. ) tastes. Eat fewer sweet, sour and salty tastes.
  • Seize this time to spring clean and declutter your living and working space, as they are an extension of your energy field. Be ruthless, and let go of any unused or unwanted stuff. You may observe the difference straight away and feel great about the space you have created!
  • Another great way to embrace the Spring energy is to adapt our yoga practice accordingly:CB_4405-Edita (640x427) alternating Yang dynamic practices which are more stimulating, energising, increasing circulation in the Body, and Yin restorative practices with supported postures, held longer, which help to reach deeper layers of the body, releasing tensions, knots and old energy, to create spaciousness in the bodymind (3).CB_4425-Edita

Once our sacred space has been cleared inside and out, inspiration will arise and we are ready to embrace new fresh energy. We have a fresh canvas and can allow ourselves to play with the colours of creativity, while considering what truly makes us happy and fulfilled, and welcome fresh opportunities in our lives… Most importantly, don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself and see how it feels.

spring energy

(1)    Smudge : Smudging is an ancient ceremony in which you burn sacred plants, such as sage, to allow the smoke to clear and bless a space. It helps clear the energy at home,  and to start anew. 
(2)    The five element theory : the ancient Taoists studied Nature to observe and determine how it relates to our health and well-being. The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element is associated to a season : Wood to Spring, Fire to Summer, Earth to Indian summer, Metal to Autumn, and Water to Winter. 
(3)     Bodymind : is an approach to understanding the relationship between the human body and mind in which they are seen as a single integrated unit. In the fields of psychology, therapy and alternative medicine bodymind implies that the body, mind, emotions, and spirit are dynamically interrelated. Experience, including physical stress, emotional injury, and pleasures are stored in the body’s cells which in turn affects one’s reactions to stimuli.

FREEING THE NECK AND BODYMIND WISDOM

Growing up with a scoliosis and carrying a heavy school bag full of books for many years did not help…Then a couple of whiplash injuries left me with chronic pain in the cervical spine and shoulders area. I got so used to it that I did not complain anymore nor seek to alleviate it, until I developed more body awareness through my yoga practice and meditation…
How many of us suffer in silence with a sore neck, shoulders or stabbing pain in between the shoulder blades, just accepting and putting up with it ? Many people have just resigned themselves to pain as they feel it is a normal condition…. As I check in with students at the beginning of my classes, there is always at least one person in class, who suffers from chronic pain, tension in the neck and shoulders area.
In the United States, it appears that 80% of the active population report at some point a neck and shoulder problem. I did not find any statistics for the UK population but it would not surprise me if it was pretty close. There seems to be an increasing amount of people who loose the natural curvature of the neck and develop a military neck (flat neck) or hyper extended neck (head forward or reverse cervical curve). The most common causes are poor posture, walking in high heels, sitting at a desk all day, spending long hours in front of a computer and/or on electronic devices. Whiplash injuries, carrying weights, doing lots of arms forward movements, occupations which require repetitive neck movements, regularly sleeping on piles of pillows, can also ultimately compromise the shape and structure of vertebrae and muscle of neck and shoulders.
When the natural lordosis of the cervical disappears, it can result in chronic pain, numbness in the arms and hands and sometimes even pinched nerves. It also affects the way we breathe and the quality of our sleep. Inspirational Yoga therapist Doug Keller, explained in a training I attended a couple of years back, that during sleep, the cerebrospinal fluid moves up to the head and washes the “waste-pipes” going to the brain. And if our sleep gets interrupted every so often, this important process cannot run smoothly. In the long run, it affects the nervous system and leads to all kind of medical conditions linked to the nervous system. This was a revelation for me. As far as I can remember, I had been part of the “happy many fluffy pillows club”, sometimes sleeping with up to two big pillows and a bolster… As I started to look after my neck and sleep with a single good quality pillow gently supporting the back of my neck, not only did my sleep improve greatly but also I felt more rested in the morning and less prone to tension during the day.
Beyond the physiological and anatomical aspects, taking care of the neck is just as important from an energetic perspective: The neck is the location of Vishuddhi (the throat chakra – the fifth energy centre*) which represents our ‘Voice’ , our self-expression/ communication (with ourselves and with others). On a psychological level, neck issues can be related to a feeling that we are unable to express ourselves as we would like or that we feel not heard when we speak. As a result, the throat chakra starts to close down, the energy there stops expanding, unable to flow properly. When the neck and shoulder area clammed up, the shoulders tend to round and the chest caves in. It affects the way we breathe but also the way we feel. When this happens, the communication between the head, the rest of the body,and our energetic heart centre (Anahata chakra*) is affected. It becomes more difficult to hear our “inner voice”, also known as the “inner teacher”, the voice of the heart. This is the amazing body wisdom which tells us when there is an energetic disconnection we need to address. Most of the time, we are far too busy to listen, as we get caught up in all kind of external distractions.
The modern society we live in encourages us to look outward constantly , live in our head more than our body. Just consider for a moment how long most of us spend on computers, electronic devices or watching TV, bombarded by social media, and all kind of advertising, ‘gloom and doom’ news etc … As a result, and with years of conditioning, the voice of the mind becomes much louder than the voice of the heart.
Ultimately, it is our choice and responsibility to become more aware of unhealthy postures and the tendencies which do not serve us. This is the first step to transformation to get more attuned to the bodymind**, access our quiet centre and become more empowered individuals in the mist of the eternal battle between the voice of the heart and the voice of the mind…

Simple steps to take care of your neck and shoulders:

1/ Take regular breaks from your desk, move and stretch yourself.

2/ Give yourselves a hug by placing your hands around the shoulders. hugAs you breathe in, feel the area around and in between the shoulder blades expand, as you breathe out, feel the neck soften, and the shoulders relax down. Repeat a few times then change the crossing of the arms and repeat the process again.

 

3/ A simple reclined posture: Lay on the back, with knees bent and resting towards each other, feet wide. rolled blanket under shoulder bladesPlace a rolled blanket in the area just below the shoulder blades. Rest there for 5 minutes with the arms in “cactus position”. After a while, when the body has softened, you can try extending the arms in a wide V shape.

4/ If you spend long hours sitting in front of a computer, there might be a few simple adjustments you can do to improve your posture at your desk :posture at the desk

*Chakras (Sanskrit cakra, “wheel”): according to Tantric philosophy, and the Yoga and Ayurvedic traditions, there are seven main chakras, thought as a spinning vortex of energy. These are Muladhara (located mainly in the pelvic floor), Svadhisthana (located in the pelvic basin/ lower abdomen), Manipura (at the navel centre), Anahata (energetic heart centre,in the sternum area), Vishuddhi (throat energetic centre), Ajna (third eye) and Sahasrara (at the crown of the head).

**Bodymind : is an approach to understanding the relationship between the human body and mind in which they are seen as a single integrated unit. In the fields of psychology, therapy and alternative medicine bodymind implies that the body, mind, emotions, and spirit are dynamically interrelated. Experience, including physical stress, emotional injury, and pleasures are stored in the body’s cells which in turn affects one’s reactions to stimuli.