She was my first acupuncturist and she met me at the physically and emotionally lowest point in my life with nurturing care. She helped me turn the tide of pain and sadness into healing transformation. It was Gail who said, "I think you should go to acupuncture school." It was Gail who taught me the importance of self-care when one's work is caring for others. It was Gail whose quiet dedication showed me that tending the spirit, stewarding the earth, and holding others' pain in loving presence is the highest calling. Her sudden passing leaves a hole in so many people's hearts, especially those of her loving husband and son. I hope to honor her spirit with every needle, with every step.
Gail wrote a wonderful book that is a perfect introduction to Chinese medicine, called "Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life". My copy has almost every sentence highlighted, as it was the first book about Chinese medicine that I ever read. If you want to know more about the art and beauty of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, this book is what you need.
Recently an old friend checked out my website and asked, "Hey, how is the meat-eating going?" Those of you who come in for treatment have asked the same since I began my meat-eating experiment in the winter of last year, but now it is time to fess up to the rest of you.
I tried. I really did. For several months I ate animal protein regularly despite the protestations of my steadfastly vegetarian daughters. While some aspects of meat preparation got easier, others never did. Making two separate meals to accommodate the dietary and ethical convictions of my kids certainly increased the culinary challenges of daily life, and I never really felt like the new diet "fit" me.
I did start to feel stronger and more resilient, but I attribute that to my commitment to a regular exercise, qi gong and stretching program, to changes in my herbal regimen, and more than anything, to the inner work I've been doing on an ongoing basis. As my meditation practice deepens my health improves, further emphasizing the body-mind connection and its powerful effect on our daily well-being.
Oh, and SLEEP. I got strict about sleep, hitting the hay around 10 pm, even when I had loads of things left undone, and rising at 6 am to meditate and do some qigong to start my day in the right frame of mind. As the nights grow longer and winter's cold is upon us, we need to embrace the yin and rejoice in Mother Nature's permission to rest more. Being well-rested makes a profound difference in your day, and I feel comfortable saying that I don't think sustainably good health is possible without it.
What does this all mean? It doesn't mean that I think meat is bad; in fact, I regularly recommend increasing meat intake to patients if I think it might help. I think humanely-raised clean meat can be a valuable addition to one's plant-based diet. But it also confirmed to me that no one diet can be right for everyone. Paleo, vegan, gluten-free, GAPs, blood-type diets - with so many choices, each of which has improved many people's lives, how can we think there's one correct answer? My dietary advice comes in two parts. The first is Michael Pollan's beautifully simple advice, which should be the foundation of every person's dietary approach: Eat REAL food. Mostly plants. Not too much. The second part is this: If you seek to improve your health by changing your diet, allow yourself 20 minutes online to scan a few dietary options. See what resonates with you most strongly, then commit to trying it for three months and see how you feel. Rinse and repeat if necessary. Your answer lies within.
PS - I'd like to give a huge shout-out to the local producers and purveyors of humanely-raised, grass-fed, free-range meat and dairy products, like Apple Ridge Farm, Josie Porter Farm, and other producers at the Monroe Farmers Market, which just kicked off its Winter Farmers Market yesterday at the Sherman Theater. Along with nourishing organic fruits and veggies, these hard-working folks make eating clean, local and humane so much more do-able. They also gave me a lot of moral support during my Great Meat Experiment, and I'm grateful.
Any of you who have known me for a while know me as a vegetarian. I went veg at the age of 20 and I've spent the ensuing 20 years happily eating vegetables, whole grains, legumes, eggs and some cheese. I've never felt deprived. I married a man who was already vegetarian, and we've been raising two happy, healthy girls as vegetarians. We never made meat-eating out to be a bad thing, it just wasn't something we do.
This winter, I found myself feeling very tired and sluggish, more likely to get sick, and less quick to recover after illness than I like to be. When I'm honest with myself, I've felt that way for a while, but have been chalking it up to being a working mother with two young children. Of course that has something to do with it, but recently I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, and decided to do something about it.
Chinese medicine and dietary recommendations do not encourage vegetarianism. During acupuncture school, my diet was challenged by teachers and colleagues on a daily basis. I tried meat for a few months at that time, but didn't commit fully to it and was a sporadic meat-eater at best, and so I shrugged my shoulders and declared the experiment a failure.
Now, with the support of a friend and colleague (my meat guru, I guess you could say), I'm changing my diet. 4 ounces of red meat every other day, and animal protein at least 2 (but preferably 3) meals a day. I'm tentative to say the least, but I'm told I need to give it 6 months before assessing whether it is helping. My husband is on board with me but the girls are not, although they accepted our decision when we explained that we are experimenting with our diet to improve our health.
This is a steep learning curve. I've been an avid cook all these years, but have no idea how to cook meat properly. Finding organic grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chickens and sustainably-caught seafood is do-able but not easy. And I haven't graduated to touching meat comfortably - I would love if someone could put a properly-cooked meat-based meal in front of me 2-3 times a day!
But now I have to walk the walk. Every day, I ask all of you to change your diet, your lifestyle, your exercise, your perspective. I ask you to stretch and take epsom salt baths and breathe and move. I ask you to quit long-standing habits (physical an emotional) because they endanger your health. And I tell you that things you thought were healthy for you (raw foods, fresh juice, yogurt) might not be the best things for you.
So now it is time for me take my own medicine and make tough choices and give it a concerted effort before reverting to more comfortable patterns. It is uncomfortable, believe me, but I'm committed to trying. When I doubt, I think of all of you working assiduously to be healthier and stronger, and it inspires me to keep it up. So for now, if any of you have a great recipe for non-threatening meat dishes, I'm all ears....
With seasonal affective disorder, one may crave carbohydrates in the form of starches and sweets. If needed, consume breads, pastas and pastries made of whole grains instead of white flour. Add more protein to the diet such as nuts, lean meat, fish and small amounts of fat from cheeses or other sources; some fresh fruit (it is even better to cook the fruit during the colder months); and plenty of cooked leafy vegetables, whole grains and baked vegetables such as yams or baked potatoes.
Exercise regularly by walking vigorously 20 minutes, 5-7 days per week, in the morning or when there is the most sunlight.
Work with lots of light by the windows to allow exposure to natural light.
Avoid overeating, as it will make you more tired, sensitive and depressed.
Try to go to bed earlier and get up earlier when there are more daylight hours. Avoid naps during the day, which can interfere with sleep in the evening.
Think positive, happy thoughts. Try not to worry or be fearful. Enjoy the warmth of family, friends or any activity that brings "fire" to your life. Cultivate joy, in the form of a hot cup of tea, a warm epsom salt bath, a brisk snowy walk, or some stretching in front of the fireplace.
Soon enough the crocuses will make their appearance, so rest up and gather your energy so you, too, can burst forth with the exuberance of spring!