Ritual in the New Year.

Another year has rolled around and, like many, I’m thinking of what is to come and the word “ritual” keeps coming to mind.  Not just in light of the New Year, but often I am contemplating how I can shape things differently in my life to allow for more growth and positive change.  Daily rituals are one way that I have found helpful to do that.  A lot of you may wake up every morning, make coffee, and dredge around the house waiting for the caffeine surge to pry your eyes open.  Come on, I’m from Seattle, I also love coffee!  But living in Asia for years also made me acquire a taste for tea.

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In Chinese, gong fu cha, literally “kung fu tea”, is a term used to describe a way of making tea in ceremony, with “great skill” as some would call it.  It’s kind of like wine tasting – you may sit down at someone’s house, or their tea shop, and they will bring out a nice oolong or pu-erh, and begin the ritual of rinsing the tea, pouring it into your cup and then pouring theirs.  Your cup is tiny, smaller than a shot glass, and you drink the tea in this way – one tiny cup at a time, enjoying conversation with your host as they keep refilling your cup, possibly trying out different teas over the course of an hour or so.  This type of ritual tea drinking, to me at least, is about sitting, being present, sharing stories, and enjoying small pleasures in life.  Sometimes in the morning, I’ll swap out my coffee and sit and make some tea in this way to enjoy the morning by listening to the quiet and enjoying the flavors of the tea (Rich, earthy pu-erhs are my favorite, and then roasted teas like Dong Ding oolong.  I really also love a simple Tie Guan Yin or Bao Zhong.  High Mountain (or Gao Shan) oolongs are also amazing and clean.)

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On the topic of health, tea has a lot of great health benefits (antioxidant-rich, may aid in lowering cholesterol, weight loss – the list is long!), and I believe pure teas like greens, oolongs and pu-erh, have a way of cleansing the palate and digestive system in a way that other beverages do not.  You’ll feel a tea “high” sometimes while you’re drinking these types of teas, because your body has been hydrated and nourished.

What I’m suggesting to you in this new year, that you look at one thing that you can sit and enjoy and be present in.  As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”  What can you do to start off your year that might be a new ritual?  Something nourishing, and soul-enriching, that doesn’t make you feel rushed, but grounds you and makes you feel good.  Maybe instead of rushing into this year and thinking of all the things to take away, think about what is already there or something you can add to enrich it further.  More good stuff, less bad stuff (as my yoga teacher used to say)!

If you have interest in learning more about tea, or doing some tastings in Seattle, you could try Teahouse Kuanyin in Wallingford – they have every kind of tea you can think of and often have tastings.  Floating Leaves in Ballard also does tastings of Taiwanese oolongs, and Miro tea in Ballard has a great selection as well.

To health in 2016!  xo, WD Renzetti

Decluttering and the Ripple Effect

The holidays are upon us and I have been thinking a lot about CLUTTER.  Right before Thanksgiving, I was thinking of a game plan and rereading some old notes when I was last working with a nutritionist.  She said, “Think about removing the clutter foods.”  What did that even mean?  For me at the time, it meant coffee without an accompanying cookie, less post-dinner chip & salsa binges, a few tablespoons less dressing on my salad – things like that.  It wasn’t a lot, actually it just helped me realize that I didn’t need a lot of these extra things I was eating that were upsetting my digestion.  I was just eating to eat – out of boredom, sadness, or whatever it was at the time.

This became a good life mantra – being mindful to keep the clutter down.  A few years ago, my family decided to stop buying each other gifts for Christmas.  Part of it was a financial decision, but mostly it was because we all started realizing that our “It’s-the-thought-that-counts!” gifts were piling up in our closets.  In fact, these “thoughtful” gifts were mostly our own shopping & consuming addictions – we would find something cute, buy it, and save it for someone, maybe without them really in mind at the time.  A couple of years ago, I realized how stuffed my closets (yep, plural) and storages (yep, again!) had become.  That nutritionist friend told me to check out this blog, Live Simply by Annie – a Seattle-based organizer, designer & decluttering specialist.  I started reading the blog and was hooked!  She made everything seem so easy and streamlined to start getting rid of things and organizing, and I had never been good at that.  That Christmas, instead of giving gifts, I gave things to Goodwill – I started getting rid of things, and started to stop feeling anxious about receiving gifts from others that were causing me guilt and anxiety because I didn’t want or need them.

Other things in my life started changing once I started simplifying.  I didn’t need two curling irons, eight wine openers, four extra pillows when I only slept on one, and so on.  I piled bags and bags of crap out.  I started feeling lighter, sleeping better, and no joke – I lost weight.  Once the burden of clutter started leaving my life, my spirit became lighter, my room more spacious, and there was a lot more room for other good things.  It really has a ripple effect in your whole life – to live more simply, needing less “things” and replacing that with more self-care, time with family and friends, exercise, and nature.

Maybe you’ve heard of this idea, and maybe you haven’t.  If you haven’t, check out this book.  It’s a really simple, beautiful way to teach you to let go of things in a step-by-step way.

You could also try this article on shopping alternatives – for those of you that just love to shop (like me!) you might find this interesting.   Browse around Annie’s website too and see if any other articles sprout interest.

Think about what’s important to you this month.  Prioritize those things and spend time with those people.  If you happen to find something you know they’ll love, maybe gift them that, but be mindful of where you’re putting that energy.

xo WD Renzetti

When to see an acupuncturist.

I hear this all the time – “What do I even go see an acupuncturist for?”  Acupuncture can help with a long list of things that ail you – as you probably noticed if you’ve gone to an acupuncturist’s website (like my friend Ryan) and they’ll tell you they can treat anything from:

  • Acne
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Musculoskeletal pain, such as hip, low-back, or ankle pain
  • Traumatic injuries or post-surgery healing
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual issues and PMS

And this is just a fraction of them!  How is this possible?  Do you feel overwhelmed and confused yet?

I like what Michael Max said in one of his Everyday Acupuncture podcasts, “You can’t touch one thing without touching everything.”  What does that mean in terms of acupuncture and herbal medicine?   Craig Mitchell, the Dean of the Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine (also an acupuncturist & herbalist) gave a great example in this podcast of a patient he was seeing who was coming in for chronic headaches.  The patient says to him after a couple visits, “Well you didn’t help my headaches, but I didn’t realize I was having frequent abdominal pain and now that’s gone.”

It’s like peeling an onion (excuse my poor metaphor!) for your body on its healing journey – you peel off one layer and another appears, and you just keep peeling!  This doesn’t mean it’s endless, it just means we might hit a few layers before we get to the good stuff.

Let me get real with you here for a minute and tell you a story:

This year I was having a really odd stabbing pain on my left side.  It would come on at the weirdest times: when I was lying flat on my stomach, if I was sitting in a chair for too long, and it eventually got so bad that when I was walking, with each step I took, it was another stab into the front of my abdominal wall.  If you looked real close, a rib seemed like it was poking forward a bit… did I break it during a massage training class??  Was I really pushed so hard in the mosh pit the week before and didn’t notice it (this actually happened)?!  Injuries like this can sometimes actually be very subtlety acquired.

I didn’t know what to do, so I saw a Naturopath, a massage therapist, and talked with various people about it.  The consensus was that I either had a rib or vertebrae out of place, that I had a hairline fracture on my rib, that my spleen was enlarged somehow, maybe it was the Copper IUD… the list was too long and I had no idea who to see!  So?  I turned to acupuncture, because that’s what I do!

Without going into too much detail, my acupuncturist narrowed it down to a few things – I likely didn’t have a fracture, but my vertebrae and rib were out of place, but we couldn’t adjust them because there was too much pain.  She noticed my belly was very tight and she started working there.  After a couple of sessions and some herbs, she was able to ease up the tension in my abdomen so that I could finally lay on my stomach, and then she kindly put everything all the bones back in place using a cupping method.  CUPS!!  (I will write more on this later, because cupping is REALLY cool).  Suffering over!!

Acupuncturists will get a ‘full picture’ on your first visit, asking all kinds of questions that seem unrelated to what you’re experiencing like your menstrual cycle, what your bowel movements are like, how you sleep, if you’re sensitive to hot or cold and more.  You’ll think it’s irrelevant, oh but it’s not!  In fact, we are like Sherlock Holmes – the tiniest detail could help us solve the puzzle of your case!  It’s fascinating (and really fun for us too!)

Craig, in that particular podcast also asks about how many treatments are appropriate for a person.  Are 1 or 2 treatments enough?  “It’s a conversation you have to have with the practitioner,” he says.  Example could be chronic low back pain you’ve had for 20 years.  Craig says 4-6 treatments within a month, the back pain might not be resolved, but by that point both of you should get a sense of whether it will be able to help or not.  If you come in with a respiratory infection (something acute), it should clear up sooner.  “Healing from a longer term illness is a process.”

Lastly, TALK TO YOUR ACUPUNCTURIST.  Come on folks, if you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m ALL about communication!  TELL them if you liked it or didn’t and what your hopes and fears are.  Are you feeling skeptical that it’s not working?  It doesn’t really help us as healers much if you bail after a couple sessions and we have no idea why.  We usually guess that everything cleared up, or that you didn’t like it, but if we have a conversation about it, maybe we can adjust things for you.

Check out the Everyday Acupuncture podcast here for more topics related to acupuncture.  Also, comment below if you have any thoughts or additions to this post!

The “Danger” of Herb Misuse

I saw this article about the Pros and Cons of Turmeric and immediately knew I needed to address the topic of herb misuse.  My dad and I were having a conversation a while ago, and he always gets really excited whenever he discovers some new herb or supplement that he can tell me about – and he most recently had started taking Turmeric.  He’d been taking it for a while (a couple months) and said he had been feeling great, but something wasn’t quite right.  He lives in Arizona and it’s incredibly dry and hot, and my dad runs hot generally.  I asked him if he was noticing any dryness in his body – did his mouth feel dry, was he hotter than usual, were his eyes dry?  He said yes, and hadn’t really noticed it before I asked.

All herbs have their own “personality” I say.  They all have certain properties like temperature properties and direction of movement – one example is an herb like Senna that causes peristalsis in the colon (makes you poop!), so in that way it would have a downward moving action.  For temperature, you can think how peppermint cools you down, thus it’s more of a cooling herb.  Turmeric is hot and drying, and most recently it has become very popular as an anti-inflammatory.  Naturally, people are flocking to use this herb, but taking it like a drug, because well, we all basically live in a state of chronic inflammation with the diets that we eat and environments we live in so often we try to tone the inflammation down with drugs  (like constantly popping ibuprofen…).

In the article, I LOVE how Lesley Tierra quotes that Turmeric is “quite powerful and can strongly imbalance the body if over-used or misused,” and I could say this about a good handful of herbs.  Don’t get me started on Oregon Grape or Goldenseal (or maybe I will later!)– but these are also other herbs that are frequently misused.  An example might be for you to think of someone who is cold all the time – hands and feet, maybe their stomach feels cold, and you ask them what they’re eating and they’re constantly drinking ice water, eating salads, lots of raw food – no wonder they’re freezing!  Herbs can cause a similar effect like this over time with improper use.

HOWEVER, what I want to empower you with is that herbs are relatively safe (they are medicine AND food), and a lot of “damage” or “danger” can be counterbalanced with other herbs and treatments.  What I ask of you, dear reader, is to please consider what you are taking before you just pop herbal pills of the latest trend, or after you read someone’s blog who is stoked about all the new super-food herbs and tells you to take all of them – they are not all for you!  As an herbalist, I not only want to consider the well-being of your body, so that you are not throwing it into imbalance, but also that you consider that whatever herbs you put into your mouth are things that were harvested and along with your usage comes a demand that will need to be filled.  Many plants are over-harvested and some close to extinction (or already extinct!).

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Here are some steps you could take when you feel like you would like to take an herb, or you’re interested in getting some treatment:

Do some research before you take something.  Check the internet if you want, but find an herbalist in your community or a Naturopathic doctor that knows herbs.  There is SO much misinformation about herbs on the internet, BUT there are some good things too (like Michael & Leslie Tierra’s blogs, Rosalee’s blog– I love the intro here on her herb page, please read it!).  Come into a shop like Rainbow Natural Remedies, where I work, and have conversations with people about it.

It’s also empowering gathering knowledge from people who know their stuff, and books!  It’s empowering to have conversations with people, and not just take everything you read on the internet as “the gospel” so-to-speak – even this entry! 🙂  Now go forth my little herbie minions.

Photo credit (a handful of some of my favorite herbs and my altar items): Meghann Wiedl 

When life throws one at you – Going back to Wellness principles.

You know the saying, “When life throws you lemons…” and your clever friends answer, “Screw the lemons and bail!” or “Add some vodka and let’s party!”  Well, I got some lemons this month, and it snowballed.  I had some pretty low days and couldn’t even call my friends to talk about it.  Let’s be real: relationship issues, family, body pains – and acupuncture school is no joke.  When I get home from a 9-hour day of dealing with patients, sitting on my butt listening to lectures for hours, I have to come home and take care of myself and do more work.  My wrists were jammed for the last month while I was doing massage and teaching yoga – I was advised to stop practicing and teaching.  I sunk – I need yoga to function.  It reminded me of years ago when I was unable to sit or walk because I had so much back pain, or a decade ago when I could barely walk after the arches in my feet collapsed.  I became pretty depressed at that point because my body couldn’t do what I needed it to do.

I couldn’t admit all of the things piled in my life were causing all of this.  Stress on stress on stress, regardless if you’re recognizing how much weight you’ve piled on, will catch up with you quickly.  So what do I do?  It used to take me a long time to get out of these funks, and it’s still not easy, but it happens a lot faster now and I bounce back much more quickly: I go back to my wellness principles.  I think about the most BASIC things I can do in my life to bring about better balance, and I focus on those things.

Now I’m not talking about going on a juice-fast, or leaving for a 10-day meditation retreat, signing myself for a 30-day yoga practice at a studio, not drinking ‘til New Years – I’m talking about EASY.  I’m talking like, go drink a glass of water.  Go to sleep an extra hour early.  Take a bath instead of going out to a bar for a drink.  Watching a movie and crying and making myself a well-balanced meal.  When things get bad, I do basic things, and I do them one at a time so that it’s doable.  ‘Cause you’re bound to fail if you set this thing up for yourself that is unreachable.

My wellness principles came about as a post-New Years practice that I wanted to engage in for 100 days.  Did I do all of them for the full time?  Nope!  And that’s okay.  I just kept going back to the basics each day and starting over.

Ask yourself some questions to get your own list:

  • What can I do to support myself daily? What are my wellness principles?Think about when you start to feel low – what do you do?  Go dancing, run, scream into a pillow, eat a pint of ice cream, listen to really loud music… Write them down.
  • Of those things, what SUPPORT you and bring you closer to your goals and make you feel good.  Like when I drink a little less caffeine, my hands don’t shake as much when I am in clinic touching and needling patients.  My brain doesn’t feel as scattered – I am more centered.

My basic wellness principles are these:

  • Chew my food. When I sit down to eat, I try to focus on what I’m eating, breathe, chew.  Not a lot of extra noise, t.v., radio.
  • Drink water and tea all day long. When I start to feel out of balance and tired, I drink less coffee and hydrate myself.  Wake up and have a glass, drink in between meals.  (I’m a huge tea nerd, I’ll post on that later.)21
  • Sleep by 10 or so. I try to wind down a bit earlier, turn off all devices and allow my body to be in darkness and rest.  This was a hard one – I was always a night owl, but I feel so
    much better when I get in bed before 10 now.
  • Eat whole foods. Nothing processed.  Grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, sea vegetables, meat, broth.  Things that nurture my body and have no extra junk.
  • Do the opposite of what I’m craving to do – if I’m exhausted, sometimes I’ll make myself go for a walk or exercise, because I know I’ll feel better afterwards.  Instead of eating that ice cream bar, I’ll make a bowl of miso soup.  It’s oddly satisfying!

And the last important bit: Why??  Why do this in the first place?  Because I feel more clarity throughout my day.  There is more room in my life for the good stuff.  When I see patients, they know that I am doing my best to live healthy and happy and that makes me feel good – that is my goal.  I feel like I’m on a path that serves something larger than myself.  Winning.

(Photo credit: Meghann Wiedl.  Me pouring some delicious Baozhong oolong from Taiwan)

On listening (part I).

I want to show you what yoga is to me and teach you something simple.

I remember my first yoga class back in like 2006 – my back was in bad shape after I jumped off a cliff (yea, that actually happened).  I was at my school gym doing a “Yoga for 50+” class, and the grandmas and grandpas in front of me were all touching their toes, back bending, jumping, smiling.  I leaned against the wall and bent my knees to get to the floor, wincing in pain.  I tightened up my shoulders, my stomach, my feet even cramped up.  I’d been dealing with some injuries for a couple of years at that point.  When the teacher asked us to breathe, I was gasping and trying not to let anyone see that I was panicking (oh, this still happens, don’t get me wrong!).

Baby steps.  Let me TELL you how many baby steps it took to touch those toes.  Years of them.  It was a process, but processes are good.  They keep you going and give you something to do.  If everything was a quick fix, life would be boring.  So, you like a quick fix?  Well, then what?

A while back I was sitting on a bus, my stop was coming up and I quickly grabbed all of my things and held on for dear life as we halted to a stop.  I looked over and another passenger looked me in the eyes and smiled at me.  I paused to smile back; it was long enough to relax my shoulders.  I looked out the window and closed my eyes for a moment and realized I felt my heart beating.  I breathed into my belly, paused to notice this beat, and felt it pulsing in my chest, in my diaphragm and out to my limbs.  My feet opened up to the floor of the bus; I smiled.  From 2006 to now, this is how I have learned to listen to my body.  What’s the difference?  The difference is that I CAN do this now.  I choose to do it.  I choose to pause and notice, and that control makes all the difference.  That’s my yoga.

Here’s your homework for the day, to keep that process going:

  1. Notice your breath. Stop somewhere today, whether it be at work in your desk, on the bus, or before you sleep and relax your shoulders.  Is your stomach tight?  Breathe into it.  Notice when you breathe, where it starts and stops.  Do you get stuck in your ribs, diaphragm (do you know where that is?!)?  Can you breathe all the way out to your hands and feet?

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Practice makes perfect?  No.  Practice is practice, and that’s wonderful.  That is enough.

Photo credit: Corinne Thrash

“The Danger of the Single Story”

SO INSPIRED today.  It was my first day back to school.  My second year of acupuncture school!  And now, onward to bigger and better things, like MORE CLINIC SHIFTS!  Days like today, after I saw my patient this morning and she seemed so much more comfortable and at ease after our treatment, that I am reminded why I am doing what I am doing.  That everything in my life has led up to this and if I can put someone just an inch more at ease than they were when they walked into the room, I feel like I have done something right.  I feel so grateful.

Today one of my teachers showed us a Ted Talk called, “The Danger of the Single Story”.  The whole time I’m thinking WOW, this woman is on fire!  She so eloquently states this idea of how we lessen our possibilities of greater happiness and understanding of the world because our thinking can be so narrow.  I often hear from family, friends, clients something that resembles this ‘single story’ idea – we get caught up in our stories of what we believe is Truth, sometimes they are about physical or emotional pain, maybe stereotypes we have of others, or insecurities we have about ourselves.  For example, if you struggle with feelings of sadness or unworthiness and you keep telling yourself, “I cannot overcome this.  This is who I am; what I am.”  The truth is, this is only a piece of you, not ALL of you.

Another example could be a physical ailment that is very consuming in your life.  Your doctor has prescribed you with “X” and so you get prescription “Y” to cure it.  Everything you do revolves around this disease – how you relate to people and how you function in the world.  How you eat and sleep.  But this doesn’t have to be all to it.

The danger of this “single story” idea is that we tell ourselves that this idea is the way that it is, nothing will change, we will not move forward or heal.  But what if you expanded your way of thinking?  Chimamanda says that these single stories are just part of the story, and that there is often so much more that we are refusing to see.  When this single story becomes your ONLY story, then you are missing out on the greatness that can be.

Please watch and I give you permission to stand up and applaud afterward.  I pretty much did.