by Emma Grace Brown (thank you!!)
The concept of self-care is thrown around a lot these days, but when you stop and think about it, what is self-care? If you think of self-care as pampering or indulgences, it probably feels like something you don’t have the time or money to do very often. Occasional indulgences are nice, but true self-care is much more than that. Instead, consider this alternative approach to self-care that’s all about discovering the everyday choices that you truly need.
Ages and Stages in Life
To find the self-care practices that work for you, it’s important to recognize that our needs tend to change over time. We all have the same basic health needs, such as eating a balanced diet and being active, but you may need more or less of some things at different points in life. For example, seniors have specific exercise needs, like maintaining balance for fall prevention and strength training to prevent loss of muscle mass.
Anyone can exercise at home, but joining a group exercise program is a great way to make sure you’re targeting specific needs. Many people who have a Medicare Advantage plan have coverage for SilverSneakers, which gives you access to 13,000 fitness centers that participate in the program nationwide. Along with targeting your fitness needs, joining a program like SilverSneakers is a great way for retirees to get out of the house and meet other seniors who also care about healthy living.
Besides fitness habits, we all have routines that feel comfortable, and sometimes we don’t even think about how small changes could help us live better — whether that’s improved physical health or increased happiness. For example, Health.com points out that many women in middle age get in a rut with their wardrobe, continuing to wear clothes that don’t fit well or that just don’t make them feel great. For young professionals, a common example is how busy you may get while focusing on your career. When this happens you may forget about your adventurous side or to set aside a little time for relaxation.
These are just a few examples of how we unintentionally ignore small changes that could help us feel better. In this case, self-care is a simple examination of whatever is keeping you stuck. Do this self-examination periodically so you can find easy solutions for getting unstuck.
Beyond the Necessities
To help identify what may be holding you back, break down the basics you know you need (exercise, a balanced diet, sleep) and see if there’s something missing. Along with addressing those specific exercise needs, nutrition is another area where many of us can do a little more.
Your body may be telling you you’re deficient of some nutrients, but you just don’t know the signs. Mind Body Green explains how these signs can be emotional symptoms like anxiety or physical symptoms such as exhaustion, digestive problems, or lack of sleep. A simple solution is to try these tips from The Kitchn for eating more fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
Make It Fit Your Lifestyle
Focusing on easy changes that fit your lifestyle is what this holistic concept of self-care is all about. Take a tip from Inc., which boils it down to four key factors that self-care should meet: simple, quick, repeatable, and affordable. So, if what you need is more targeted exercise, start by adding one new workout to your routine, and set a goal for completing it that works for you. Or, with the example of finding your adventurous side, instead of waiting for your next vacation, find more adventure through a hobby you can do on a regular basis, like rock climbing or hiking.
Rock climbing probably doesn’t sound like the idea of self-care that you’re used to, but that’s the point! What everyone needs from self-care is different, but it all comes down to simply caring for ourselves on a daily basis. Whether that’s rock climbing or finding the right exercise program, the goal is to create new habits that make the right self-care goals fit into your everyday life.
Photo via Pexels
No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, setting goals is one way to help you get there. Often, when people have no goals, they lack motivation, focus and direction. Setting goals also provides a benchmark to determine whether or not you are succeeding.
But how do you set goals if you’ve never done so before? Or what if you have set goals in the past, but you didn’t achieve them? Do you just give up and tell yourself that goal setting doesn’t work? That’s one option, but let’s put things into perspective.
1. Set goals that motivate you. The goals you set for yourself should be important to you, making you feel there is value in achieving them. Make sure you’re able to identify why each goal matters to you, otherwise it will be hard to take action.
2. Break the larger goals down into smaller, more specific goals. For instance, if your goal is to lose 60 pounds over the next year, break that down into smaller more achievable goals. For example, set a goal of losing five pounds per month for the next 12 months. This makes the larger goal more feasible and accessible.
3. Write down your goals. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it tangible and real and adds a sense of accountability to the goals. Pay attention t the wording you use. In place of “I would like to” use “I will” to give your goals more power.
4. Make an action plan to achieve your goals. In other words, don’t just focus on the end result. Spend time working on the steps it will take to get you to your ultimate goal.
5. Adjust your goals periodically. Goals may change as you age or as you start to change. Your goals should be adjusted accordingly, allowing for flexibility and growth.
6. Tell someone close to you what your goal is. Like writing your goals down, saying them outloud to someone makes them feel more real and helps to hold you accountable for achieving them.
7. Don’t give up. Many times, when we are faced with failure, we tend to give up on our goals. Some of the most successful people in history failed numerous times before they got it right. And they all had to stop, adjust and reevaluate their goals as they went along, but they ultimately succeeded because they stayed the course.
Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM is all about balance. In this ancient system, the key to health is to move through the world in such a way that our bodies can remain in homeostasis, in balance. This idea connects to sleep patterns, what we eat and ultimately the flow of Qi, or energy, throughout the body. For that reason, healthy eating in summertime, according to TCM, is all about using cooling foods to balance out how hot it is outside. In other words, we can find homeostasis from the inside out.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for healthy foods to keep you cool and active all summer long.
Fresh fruits like watermelons, strawberries, tomatoes and pear are cooling and have strong yin energy. Summer meals should be predominately fresh fruits or vegetables, according to TCM. These food groups have the strongest yin energy, balancing out the fierce yang and fire energies of summer.
Fresh vegetables that are in season in your region are also a great choice, especially cooling vegetables like cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, peppers, celery, raddish, carrots and cauliflower. Vegetables have the second highest yin energy, according to TCM.
Summer herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley and mint are a great, healthy addition to most recipes. These herbs are also natural diuretics and heavy-metal detoxifiers, which flush excess waste from the body.
The best foods to eat vary with geography. If you live in a place where summer days are long, but not very hot and the nights get really cool, incorporate more neutral or even warming fruits and vegetables into your summer smorgasbord. These fruits and vegetables can include most varieties of squash, especially pumpkin, butternut and acorn squash, lentils and legumes, whole grains like brown rice and root vegetables like beets, potatoes and parsnips.
In places with cooler summers, or during late summer, the fifth season according to TCM, diet is about prioritizing self-nourishment so it can be utilized as energy. Late summer is the time to choose smart sugars that won’t clog up the spleen pathway, including apples, carrots, dates, figs, grapes, peaches, pears, sweet potatoes and squash. These smart sugars also regulate the body’s blood sugar, which decreases the strain on the pancreas.
For those whose summer climate is hot, here is a recipe for a cooling, detoxifying water you can drink all summer long to keep yourself in balance.
Cooling detox water:
One of the most wonderful things about being an acupuncturist is the ability to stimulate points on my own body when I need to. If I get a headache, or feel a cold coming on, I can always hop up on my table for a quick tune-up with some needles. Even when I’m not at the office, the magic of acupuncture can still work for me – as long as I know where the points are and what they do, I can press on them and get results.
So, what points do acupuncturists use when they need to chill out? There are so many points on the body that help to calm the mind and bring us down from our stresses and anxieties. My top three, however, are pericardium 6, liver 3, and stomach 6.
Liver 3 is a point located between the first and second toes. If you slide your finger between the toes up until you hit the junction of the two bones, you will find a very tender spot. This is a great point for so many things: irritability, headaches, TMJ, anxiety...the list goes on. If you think about these four issues, they all have one thing in common: they result from the energy in the body rising upward. Liver 3 is a very grounding point. It channels the energy downward. When we are in a state of anxiety, it’s so hard to get out of our heads, but this point will help.
Pericardium 6 is a point that is commonly used for stress and nausea. You have probably seen the bands some pregnant women use around their wrist for morning sickness. These are designed to put pressure on this point, quelling the queasiness. The point is located between the two tendons on your wrist, two fingers up from the wrist crease. Pressing on it is immediately calming. It helps to open the chest, as well, so if your anxiety comes with a side of chest tightness or shallow breathing, this is your point.
Stomach 6 isn’t typically on the top 10 list of acupuncture points for stress, but it is my favorite. If you clench your teeth, you can find it by going one finger width anterior and superior to the angle of the mandible at the belly of the masseter (jaw) muscle. Like many people, I hold a lot of tension in my face and jaw. Massaging this point creates an instant release for me. Once I feel the muscles in my face release, it brings a sense of relaxation into my entire body. Try it for yourself, it feels great!
A study published in the British Medical Journal examined how acupuncture can be beneficial for low back pain. The researchers split 241 people into two groups. One group received acupuncture treatments and the other group only received conventional treatments for pain. Over the course of the two-year study, researchers found that those participants receiving acupuncture reported their pain levels were less and that they needed less medication. While the differences in pain scores were not astronomical, this study does demonstrate that the addition of acupuncture to conventional treatments for low back pain can be helpful.
Statistics show that almost eight out of ten people will experience low back pain at some point during their life. Seeking medical treatment for back pain is very common. Typically back pain is fleeting and can be easily resolved with rest, heat and an occasional anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen. However, once the damage is done, the recurrence of back pain can be as high as 50 percent. Part of this is because as we age, things like muscles and tendons become less flexible and pliable. It is also very well known that in the United States people are too sedentary, and this leads to excess weight gain that can create added pressure on the body, especially the low back.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a medical system that dates back nearly 3,000 years. Despite its age, TCM has a lot of validity to offer in the age of modern medicine. Thousands of studies have proven that acupuncture, just one of the modalities used in TCM, can be very beneficial in the treatment of low back pain.
Acupuncture uses hair-thin needles to stimulate specific pressure points on the body. By invigorating these points, the brain is triggered to release endorphins, which are natural painkillers. The energy within the body is also moved and adjusted. According to TCM medical theory, when the energy is blocked or weak, then pain and illness can attack the body.
One of the advantages of utilizing acupuncture to treat low back pain is that the acupuncturist doesn’t need to diagnose the cause of the pain before treating it. Since acupuncture has no real adverse side effects when performed by a qualified and professionally licensed practitioner, pain relief can begin the very first time a patient is treated.
The treatments are very customizable because this medicine is not a “one size fits all” type of solution. This means that as the pain shifts and changes, the patient will receive customized treatments that not only address the pain and inflammation, but they also work on resolving the root of the problem. Most patients who are dealing with pain also have added stress, insomnia and depression or anxiety. Acupuncture is great at treating all of these conditions. So the patient gets more than just pain relief.
Acupuncture is so effective at treating and relieving pain that it is now showing up in hospitals and emergency rooms. In fact, Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota is now successfully using acupuncture in its emergency room to treat conditions ranging from low back pain to car accident injuries to kidney stones. Their initial results show that pain scores are just as low with acupuncture as they are with analgesic painkillers. Another positive action regarding the utilization of acupuncture came just recently. The Food and Drug Administration released proposed changes that plan to educate health care providers about treating pain. The new guidelines recommend that doctors get information about acupuncture and suggest it to their patients before prescribing opioids.
With these kinds of recommendations and testimonials, it is hard to believe that only about ten percent of Americans have ever tried acupuncture. But that statistic is slowly changing as more and more people are seeking natural and alternative methods of dealing with low back pain. Why not check it out for yourself? Contact a licensed acupuncturist in your area and see how they can help you.
In addition to the 12 main acupuncture meridians that flow along the surface of the body, there are also deeper channels of energy in the body called the Extraordinary Vessels. You can understand the relationship between the primary acupuncture channels and the Extraordinary Vessels by thinking about what happens when it rains: first, small ditches become full – these are the collateral vessels that break off of the 12 main channels. Next, the reservoirs become full, which are the 12 primary channels. When they are full, they overflow into the Extraordinary Vessels, which are deep and vast lakes of energy within the body.
The Dai Mai, or Girdle Vessel, is one such Extraordinary Vessel. It is unique because it is the only channel - primary or extraordinary - that flows horizontally. The Dai Mai originates at a liver meridian point on the lateral ribs, descends to the waist line and then encircles the waist like a belt. In the back, it connects with a side branch of the kidney meridian.
The Dai Mai divides the body into two halves, and it has the essential function of keeping energy flowing effectively between those two halves. If the Du Mai is too tight, then energy can’t flow properly, causing pain, sluggishness or a feeling of heaviness through the whole body. It can also cut off energy circulation to the legs, causing pain, cold legs and tense outer leg muscles.
If the Dai Mai is slack or weak, then energy can’t rise properly, which can cause many different health problems. When the Dai Mai is too weak or loose, fluids and dampness can pool in the Lower Burner, causing symptoms such as difficult urination, cloudy urine and excessive vaginal discharge. A weak Dai Mai also means energy can’t flow properly into the channels of the legs, leading to muscle weakness and atrophy. When the Dai Mai is weak, it can’t adequately hold the kidney’s essence, which depletes many other Extraordinary Vessels. When the Dai Mai is slack, energy cannot rise through the body, leading to such problems as hernias, organ prolapse and recurrent miscarriages.
The Dai Mai is closely related to the liver and gallbladder energy systems, based on its trajectory and what points it overlaps with. It helps to regulate excessive energy in those systems. This makes it useful for treating symptoms such as temporal headaches, migraines, anger, gallbladder pain and chronic neck and shoulder tension.
Based on its pathway, the Dai Mai can also be used to effectively treat abdominal pain, low back pain and hip pain. It can be treated with acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, tai chi, qi gong and many other forms of exercise.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.