Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Accumulations and Dispersals

Accumulations and dispersals are seasonal in the natural world.

In bodywork as well as other healing modalities, we work with accumulations and dispersals. Accumulations might refer to muscular adhesions or a headache brought on by an accumulation of too much work, sleep, food or alcohol. Dispersals refer to the release of pent up energies in the body, leading to a more relaxed state of being. When clients take a deep breath, when I feel the tissues under my hands palpably soften, I know they have successfully dispersed an unhealthy accumulation.

Anorexia is a condition in which the person suffering can not or will not accumulate nutrition. People with "restless leg syndrome" have accumulated way too much tension. Their nervous system gets caught in a loop from which it's hard to disengage.

Sometimes I see people who can't stop talking, such as at a restaurant I'll see a group of people together in which one person is dominating the conversation. The captive audience, I mean the other people at the table, look glazed, bored, annoyed. They fidget so much you would think the talker would notice. The non-talkers at the table begin at some point to wave at the waiters, desperate as they are to bolt out the door as soon as they receive the check. Meanwhile the talker drones on and on, oblivious, or incapable of stopping. In Chinese medicine that's a quality of the element of wood. I see it as an accumulation of internal energy that seriously needs expression. Non-stop talkers need more physical exercise, at least that's my opinion.

When I see small children in the midst of meltdowns, I wonder if they're dispersing an accumulation of emotion or are pushing hard against exhaustion or if somehow they're stuck, like the endlessly chattering person in the restaurant, like the person with "restless leg syndrome," in a hellish loop from which there seems to be no escape.

At times it's important to accumulate, like right now I'm on my fourth day of taking Claritin for springtime allergies. It takes about a week to ten days for the medicine to reach a critical mass in my body chemistry. Until then I continue to sneeze as if I weren't addressing the symptoms. Ah-choo! Sleep deprivation will not be "cured" by one night of good sleep. The benefits of sleep are cumulative as are the benefits of exercise, meditation, and prayer. In bodywork and psychotherapy (at least), the accumulation of regularly scheduled sessions will exponentially increase the benefits.

Sometimes dispersals are hard on people. Losing a lot of weight quickly (for instance) puts a terrible strain on the heart especially but also the liver and kidneys. At times, accumulated emotions burst out of the person who has been trying to restrain herself at which point she will inevitably blow her stack, sometimes ruining relationships or damaging her chances of being promoted, that sort of thing. Sometimes a sudden dispersal is life-saving. If you've ever had food poisoning, you know what I'm talking about!

Try as we might to be perfectly balanced beings, somehow we seem only capable of grazing the moment of balance before tipping over into another imbalance. One thing I'll say about we wildly diverse human beings - we are never boring! Well, hardly ever.

May your day feel balanced today! Shalom.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Health care for our animals

Do you have a pet? I had a dog for many years. He died two and a half years ago. Since then, I've been conflicted about whether or not to take on another for many reasons. One of the major reasons I have hesitated is because the world of veterinary science has become as over medicalized and expensive as human health monitoring. In some ways it's even worse, as most vets insist that we coat our animals with poison on the outside to protect against fleas and ticks, and on the inside, to prevent heart worm. This well accepted practice of routinely poisoning our animals goes against everything I believe about good health, and yet I was shamed by a number of vets when I admitted that I didn't give my dog the heart worm medicine in the winter when there are no mosquitoes.

Likewise I think we over-immunize our animals. Even when my dog was an old, feeble dude, they wanted to pump him full of rabies vaccine. There was no way, at that point, that Jake could ever have behaved in such a way as to develop rabies. It's very extreme and to my mind, cruel. And we wonder why so many animals become cancerous! Good lord.

I'm thinking about it today because friends mentioned that their dog has been throwing up every day for a month. After $500 worth of tests, the vet says the dog is fine, but of course he's NOT fine. Even though his blood tests and x-rays are clear, something is very wrong. My friends are bewildered, wondering if they should continue with the testing (because of course there are further tests that can be done, to "rule out" a number of problems.) They could rack up a bill of several thousand dollars if they pursue the diagnostics. While they wonder how to proceed, their dog suffers. This makes me crazy.

There are a number of "alternative" vets in the DC area who use herbs, acupuncture and homeopathics to treat animals, but most of them insist that people go the medical testing route before coming to see them. The field of "alternative" veterinary science is small and is still in its infancy since, fifty years ago, when your dog got sick, you simply had him put down.

One thing I can say for vets is that they do get to know their patients, so that helps. However when push comes to shove, when no one can figure out what's wrong with the animal, or when it becomes old and feeble, the decision about when to euthanize falls squarely on the beleaguered shoulders of the pet's owner. In France it's customary to allow the vet to decide when to euthanize. Someone who studied this approach reported that pet owners were free to grieve the loss of their pets and were less likely to blame themselves for deciding "too soon" or "too late" to have their animals euthanized.

I highly recommend to all pet owners the book "Four Paws, Five Directions" by Cheryl Schwartz, a vet in the San Francisco Bay area. Here is a link to the book. I used the book almost constantly throughout my dog's lifetime, often with success especially when Jake was a young dog with a very dodgy stomach.

Dogs and cats are good for us. In study after study it has been shown that people who have pets are the better for it on many levels including physically. Ah but when the pet becomes ill, how does a person such as myself proceed, because I wouldn't pursue the western options for my own ailments except as a last resort. I depend on my doctor of Chinese medicine, my osteopath and the massage therapists I see to keep me well and happy. That route isn't possible with animals at this moment in time. Hence, I remain petless.

Do you have a pet? How do you deal with the inevitable ills and injuries your animal sustains? Will you give your dog or cat a scratch behind the ears for me? Thanks and Shalom.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Proactive Health

Most doctors will ask when you first noticed the symptoms of whatever ailment you're trying to heal, but very few of them ask what was going on before you noticed symptoms. There is always an element of unpredictability in illness, almost always for injuries/accidents, but nevertheless these situations did not come out of the nowhere into our reality. They developed because of some imbalance or disharmony ongoing prior to the symptoms or from an environment in which you were inadvertently exposed to the infecting bug.

Unlike many doctors, I have lots of clients who do look backwards, try to trace the sequence that lead to the malady. They'll say, "I stayed with friends in NYC who have small children. Both kids were sick. No wonder I have this cold!" Or they'll say, "This swollen knee makes sense, actually. I shouldn't have tried to play volleyball straightaway after getting off a 6 hour plane ride. Should have stretched first."

Sometimes there's no way to determine from where an ailment or injury came, but it's well worth looking for a initiating cause anyway, whenever you can.

In addition to the reality of living in a body made of flesh and blood, hence perishable and rather fragile in certain ways, there are also psychic and spiritual patterns that precede illness, even injury. Feelings of sadness, depression, a lack of inspiration, insomnia or stress arising from conflicts at work or home, often lay the foundation for illness. The way people newly in love are giddy can make them so dizzy they behave erratically, I mean jaywalk and such.

These conditions reduce immune response, hence any wandering virus has a better chance of taking hold. Sleep deprivation and stress damages the ability to make sane decisions and judgments. On your bike, you may run that red light because you're too tired to stop, then get going again. Or you might run it because you're blissed out, or worrying about a problem, distracted.

I could go on, but you get the idea, I'm sure.

How about today? How are you feeling? How did you sleep last night? Do you plan to eat delicious and nutritious meals today, drink plenty of water? Are you breathing? C'mon.

What will you do to inspire your mind/heart? If you live in Washington DC, today is a great day to take a walk. Blow off work early and wander, look at the sky and the trees that are vibrating with life force. You didn't get any snow days over the winter, might as well take a sun day today. Let the rays of the sun bathe your face and arms for a few minutes, get some Vitamin D. Smile, sing out loud. In springtime, no one cares.

Set in motion patterns that will create the foundation for good health and well being, yes? I say yes.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Everybody has secrets, small and large. Secrets are challenging. It's an interesting ethical question whether or not to tell secrets, your own or others'. But it is also an energetic challenge. Keeping secrets requires a lot of physical strength because even a little secret is like a wriggling baby or animal at times, struggling to get free.

When someone says, "I'm going to tell you something someone else told me, but you must promise not to share this with anyone else," that means this person does not have the fortitude required to hold the wriggling baby and is asking you to assume responsibility for holding the energy. It took me most of my life to realize that the correct response to such statements is, "Please don't tell me. I can't promise to hold this secret for you." Many people are very disappointed when I say that - they don't want to have to hold the secret all alone.

The man behind the web site Postsecret created an ingenious way in which people are able to share their secrets anonymously. I've seen exhibits of thousands of postcards he has received over the years. What a public service! He's a genius! Wow.

Of course not all secrets should be kept. Some secrets must be told. I'm thinking of the secrets people hold because they are ashamed or fearful to say them aloud. Secrets that result from a sense of shame are unhealthy for body, mind and spirit. Many times, not always, these secrets are best shared with someone who is professionally required to keep them. Telling these secrets to a healer gives the therapist (or whomever) context with which to work more effectively. When the secret has been named, there's a burst of energy that always accompanies the telling. It's very powerful! Once out in the open, the healer and client/patient can then begin the work of healing the shame.

We who promise to keep secrets for our clients have an interesting time managing the energy of all the secrets. Some of us gather with peer groups where we can tell the secrets without identifying who these secrets belong to. That really helps! Sometimes I think one day I will write a tell-all book of the secrets I've heard in my professional life. But of course I never will. Those secrets will go with me to the grave. Gossip involves the telling of secrets that should be kept safe and sound. I am against gossip, even more so because I have experienced the sting of a story coming all the way back around to me, distorted and hurtful. Ouch!

I think about priests and psychotherapists who must listen to, and keep forever, thousands of secrets. I wonder why they don't spontaneously combust after taking in so many thousands of secrets. They are made of less flammable stuff than I!

Keeping secrets that should not be told as well as telling secrets that are a source of shame builds character as well as physical fortitude. Deciding what to hold in your heart, what to tell, builds core strength. I'm sure there is a physical aspect to this as well, though no one has yet studied its effects.

May you keep secret all that should not be shared, and tell all that should not be hidden. May it be so! Shalom!

Friday, February 17, 2012


How do you choose your health care practitioners? Many people here in Washington DC want "the best." They read the Washingtonian Magazine's list of 100 best internists (for instance), choose from that list. Others are restricted by their insurance companies and must choose from a list of those affiliated with the insurance company. Even if they don't like any of those doctors, they must choose one from the list. What a scam!

Accolades are great, but if you ask me, rapport is far more important in terms of creating a productive relationship. People say, "My orthopedist is a jerk, but he's the best." Then they shrug their shoulders. I'm talking about people who are coming to see me because they're in pain either prior to or following orthopedic surgery. I know that expertise is crucial, but it shouldn't be the bottom line. I wish it wasn't the bottom line.

The best health care practitioner is the one who honestly cares about your health, no matter his or her credentials. Of course in order for your doctor to care, they have to actually know who you are, be in relationship with you. That situation is very rare. I know that the era of the doctor who paid families visits at home, who was the family doctor from childhood to adulthood, who delivered all the children, that era is done now. How sad. Those guys had context to work with when diagnosing a problem. Relationships maintained over a long period of time deepen, including those with health care practitioners.

One of the millions of problems with the health care industry in the U.S. (and it IS an industry) is that when you go see the doctor, there are many ways in which both of you must start from scratch, a process that takes time and costs a bundle. No matter what anyone says, a list of conditions you've suffered in the past is no more than an arrow pointing in the direction of your history, temperament, habit and lifestyle, all of which have a profound impact on health and how best to treat illness. The doctor has to mostly guess what's wrong, and will have no idea what kind of treatment would work best for you. It's no wonder so many people suffer through a million heinous medical tests, to "rule out" various possibilities. What that means is the doctor can't be sure of anything since he or she doesn't know jack about you. Maybe they know your name, that's about it.

Even if I don't truly love every one of my health care practitioners, I have tremendous respect for them. They are curious about my condition. When I describe my symptoms, you can see little lightbulbs flashing above their heads. They are engaged and invested in the best possible course of action. None of my doctors are glazed over automatons who see a patient every seven minutes. No thank you! That is not a healer, that is no better than Web M.D. Stay away from both, please!

Honestly I didn't mean for this to be a rant, but it turned into one. Oops. Be well, no matter how you choose your doctors. You know best, you're in charge! Shalom.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wisdom from unexpected sources

If oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment, first put on your own, then assist others.

Way back in time at the end of the 20th century, when self-help books were everywhere, I thought I might write one based on the wisdom of airline jargon. Of course I didn't write it - how ridiculous. The urge to do so was based on one thing they always say, paraphrased above. If you aren't receiving enough oxygen, you won't be of much help to others since you'll probably pass out before you can do anything. First put on your own, THEN assist others.

Being selfless isn't always a bad thing. In my practice, I often work with mothers of young children. They run themselves ragged trying to be as nurturing, mindful, fair and loving to their kids as anyone could ever be. I'm in awe of their devotion and commitment to being great parents. By the time they come for healing, they are always a little bit amazed by how exhausted they really are. It's one of the great benefits of receiving massage - it's a self-diagnostic experience in which people discover areas of tension they weren't aware of before the session. Therapeutic massage brings heightened consciousness as well as relief. This is why I do it!

After a certain point, though, the well runs dry, as it were. If these beneficent moms don't stop when exhausted to tend to their own needs, they are no longer able to function, they're no longer capable of being the kind of parent they want so much to be. That's when people get brittle, moody and unnecessarily harsh with their kids.

It's ironic that people who work in - for instance - environmental not-for-profits wear themselves out as well, to the point where they can't put two and two together, let alone save the planet. I love to remind these folks that they, too, are part of the landscape, and to overwork themselves is the same thing (on a smaller scale) as strip mining or clear cutting. This comes as a revelation to these people though they rarely slow down.

Once I had a client who was a labor lawyer. He regularly worked 90 to 100 hour weeks. If you do the math, you'll figure out he worked all night at least one day every week. He didn't think it was funny when I mentioned that people fought and died for the 40 hour week once upon a time. But he took it in, quit that job and started working for the Peace Corps. The 50-60 hour work weeks at his new job felt like slacking (to him).


I haven't posted here in a few days because I've been overwhelmed by my workload, not only with clients on the table, but internally as I've processed the goings on of late. People all around me have suffered strokes, heart attacks, the deaths of their near and dear ones. It has been a challenge keeping up with all of it, hence I haven't had the juice to write here.

I'm breathing, taking in beauty, sleeping a lot, laughing out loud whenever possible, stretching, walking and doing all the things that help me get from one day to the next. In this way I put on my oxygen mask, so I am able to assist others.

I hope and expect that the onslaught of intensity shall pass, as all things do. Until then, I might not be writing a lot here. OK? Thanks for understanding. Shalom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spiritual Health

This is a big topic, and in fact it's ridiculous to try to address it in a blog post. Good lord!

I won't pretend this is going to be complete in any way, just a few words about the value of spiritual health. Maybe the first thing I should do is define what I mean by the phrase. People I perceive to be spiritually healthy have taken time to consider the big questions of life, i.e. why are we here? what happens before and after this lifetime? what is the point of it all? and so forth. They engage with these questions willingly. They read, have conversations, sit in stillness and gather with others to explore their relationship to the mysteries. The particulars of what spiritually healthy people believe, whether they are rule-bound and church centered or more free-form, are not the foundation of spiritual health. It's the relationship each individual has with their belief system that matters. There are spiritually healthy atheists out there. I know several.

Those who never wonder what they're doing here, who never question the mystery of birth and death in any way are not, in my opinion, spiritually healthy. Engaging with the big questions cultivates depth, courage, wisdom and an ability to look at the big picture. Without these qualities, life can be rather two dimensional. Those who don't wonder are often fearful and depressed or conversely, stressed out. When something difficult happens in their lives, it's much harder for them to manage these situations. It's not good.

Of course asking the big questions, allowing oneself to wonder about the great mysteries, studying any spiritual path is not exactly a smooth ride for anyone. The life of the spirit is tumultuous, crazy making, also sometimes ecstatic. In order to cultivate depth, courage, wisdom and perspective, we must grapple. We must. Crises of faith are part of the process, experiences that force us to re-examine our values and perspective. It's not easy, but well worth the effort.

Some folks get lost in their beliefs. These are the people who become fanatics. Fundamentalists of all kinds, because of the rigidity of their paths, tend to develop an overly judgmental opinion of anyone who is not exactly in alignment with their beliefs. These people can become isolated, paranoid or angry. None of that is healthy.

There is no recipe for spiritual health, other than the Tao of Goldilocks, i.e. balance. Too much divine energy makes people crazy, but not enough makes us drab and lifeless. It's tricky, but we're clever beings, capable of so much. Choosing to engage with faith strengthens the heart, mind, and gut.

We are a curious species. How noble that we try so hard to understand the invisible realities of this existence! We are truly adorable. Shalom.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Health Care

Health care : the maintaining and restoration of health by the treatment and prevention of disease especially by trained and licensed professionals (as in medicine, dentistry, clinical psychology, and public health)

The above is from the online Merriam Webster dictionary. Hmm. Trained and licensed, eh? That's interesting.

How do you define health care?

Some people use the term to describe the details of health insurance coverage. It's from the legislative definition that terms such as as "Obamacare" originated. (You know there is no such thing as Obamacare, right? That "word" was created in order to discredit the president. It means nothing.)

Others think of health care in terms of medical testing, i.e. having blood drawn and tested for various conditions, pap smears, biopsies of funky looking moles, etc. I think these activities should be called health monitoring. Medical tests are not preventative. Keeping track of what's going on is definitely not a bad thing, but tests in and of themselves don't improve, restore or maintain health even when administered by trained and licensed professionals.

I think health care should always refer to the things a person does to care for her health, such as eating well, stretching and exercise, fresh air, sufficient sleep. Self care is the most significant aspect of health care, at least according to me. My dentist says they can clean the heck out of my teeth every six months, but unless I rigorously floss and brush between cleanings, it's not really going to help.

You can go to the doctor when you have a cold, though a day in bed watching stupid movies or reading magazines, drinking many warm liquids, is a much more practical way to care for your health in that situation. Health care is also about seeking professional medical assistance when needed. If your fever climbs too high, then you MUST see the doctor. Health care requires each individual to think very clearly and carefully about what's going on, so as to respond appropriately.

The next tier of health care includes actual maintenance of the body/mind with the help of practitioners. I'm talking about things such as getting your teeth cleaned, receiving massage and acupuncture regularly, scheduling some talk-therapy time when needed, that sort of thing.

Health care is not primarily up to legally licensed doctors, nor does it have anything to do with health insurance. Health care begins and ends with how much we care about and for ourselves. The trained and licensed practitioners are facilitators, nothing more - nothing less either. We can't do it all ourselves, but if we don't pay attention to symptoms and signals, if we don't care for ourselves, even the finest doctors on earth can not help us.

If you've entertained the idea that the state of your health is up to someone else, maybe today would be a good day to take the reins, take it on. How are you feeling today? Tired? Perhaps there are a few items on your list you could put off until tomorrow after a better night of sleep. Hungry? Eat well, don't starve yourself. Jittery? Skip the second cup of coffee. Schedule a massage, go see the acupuncturist, take a nice walk, meditate. How about that cough left over from a cold a month ago - perhaps you should go seek the opinion of a medical practitioner, just to make sure, yes? I say yes.

Check in with yourself today, assess what's happening. Make decisions based on your assessment. You are in charge! A votre santé!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mind over and under Matter

I feel sad anytime I hear people say their bodies are just packing material for their souls. I even say it sometimes, but it's quite unfair. Of course I see why, in our minds, body is separate from soul. If you've ever watched someone pass away, it's clear that something leaves the body. Also the soul is eternal while life in a body is alarmingly short. However, in the same way that when the rider mounts the horse they become more than a sum of their parts, so too is the body a living, corporeal soul that shifts, changes, grows, gives birth, settles, and wrinkles before all is said and done. The body is no less valid than the part of us that's ethereal, yes? I say yes.

In many spiritual traditions there are practices in which the body is defied, at least for a little while. I'm thinking about wearing sack cloths and ashes, hair shirts, walking barefoot on white-hot coals, lying down on beds of nails, that sort of thing. These practices are meant to strengthen the supremacy of soul over body. Less dramatic practices include fasting, sitting zazen all day long, celebacy. Even yoga, which was originally practiced so that the people could sit for long periods of time in meditation without the distraction of pain, is a way of defying the the needs of our miraculous bodies.

In secular American culture, the practice of fleshy mortification is ongoing in many ways. There can be no doubt anorexia is a contemporary form. Super extreme diets, in particular veganism, mirror the medieval value that the body is loathesome, that our basic needs as a species should be ignored for some higher purpose. Veganism is a diet that no indigenous culture has ever practiced unless there was nothing else to eat. Our nervous systems need B12 to thrive. Before supplements, there was no other way to get this vitamin except by eating animal based foods such as butter, yogurt, eggs and meat. Veganism is an elitist diet of entitlement. I am so against it!

Less extreme examples include the common practice of carrying on as if nothing is wrong while suffering from small ailments like colds and the flu. When we ignore symptoms and thereby refuse to provide our miracle bodies with the warmth and rest that they clearly need, we're saying in effect that our bodies don't deserve to be cared for. Even the fact that there is such a thing as size zero reflects a yearning to identify with the quicksilver nature of the soul over the reality of bones, blood and flesh.

Eating junk food, drinking too much, sitting around on the couch all day is another version of the mortification of the flesh. It's through the looking glass compared to the practices of denial, but is just as disrespectful.

Look at any physically healthy person, someone whose hair and eyes shine, whose skin glows, who moves gracefully through the world, and tell me that the body doesn't matter. It really does matter! Good health exalts the embodied soul. I wish we could let go of the old medieval values so as to celebrate and honor our bodies. I really do.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Burn-out is a big problem in every one of the helping professions. For many of us, it's because we love what we do, so we don't know when or how to draw a boundary when our work becomes overwhelming. Our jobs are physically exhausting, yes, because most helping professions involve being on our feet. Being a healer is physically demanding.

Psychic and mental burn-out are also inevitable when we overwork. Mental burn-out is simply annoying; the symptoms are clear. We just can't focus on the task at hand whether it's a session of massage or making a cup of coffee. Being a healer requires intense focus while we're working. Too much work, too much intense concentration, fries the synapses (not literally). Mental burn-out turns us into zombies. It does.

Psychic burn-out manifests either as a kind of spiritual denseness in which we discover an inability to feel compassion for client/patients, even when we really TRY, or emotional numbness in which we find we really don't care about our clients/patients - or anyone else for that matter!

Why am I writing about this today? Probably because there's a lot going on all around me with clients, friends and neighbors. I want to be there for everyone, even though of course that is not possible. Because I don't want to get sucked into the black hole of helping profession burn-out, I pledge I will carefully monitor my mind, heart and body. I will not take on more than I can handle in a healthy way. When I'm exhausted on one level or another, I will draw a line, rest, recover. Walk my talk, in other words. Yes? I say yes. Shalom.

I find this nervewracking. Do you? Also funny to realize this was acceptable TV entertainment in 1969!