My Top 3 SIMPLE Self Care Tips

Earlier this week I talked about the true meaning of self care (love and kindness toward yourself).

I also discussed the BIG things that change when you treat yourself with love. You naturally shift toward healthier choices. You set healthy boundaries. And you become CONSISTENT with actions that bring you more happiness.

So what are the best ways to make self care into action, not theory?

When I struggle, I think of myself as a plant. If a plant is wilting, we water it. We might feed it. We make sure it’s getting the right amount of light. If we do that regularly, the plant will grow and thrive.

Humans aren’t so different. We just THINK we are because our big brains like to make things complicated.

But when in doubt, always start simple.

So here are my TOP 3 recommendations for simple self-care steps. They may sound basic. But I know from talking to hundreds of people in clinic that MOST of us AREN’T doing these three things regularly.

If we do, our lives change for the better.

#1: Rest on a CONSISTENT schedule: go to bed at the same time every night, preferably no later than 11 pm. Get up at the same time every morning. Sleep for 8 hours if you can.

There are times this isn’t possible (nursing babies, night jobs, etc.) But for most of us, we just don’t always choose to do it.

Sleep is when we heal. Our cells repair themselves, our brain processes emotions and experiences, our nervous system shifts out of stress/activation mode.

To allow ourselves this healing time is a huge act of loving kindness.

(If you have trouble sleeping, remember rest is also beneficial. Relax your muscles, take deep slow breaths, and know that you’re still treating yourself with care by taking time to rest.)

#2: Drink water. Think back to the plant. Just like a plant, we’re mostly water. And just like a plant, we wilt when dehydrated – even if we can’t always see it.

Without adequate water, our digestion and nutrient absorption is compromised, our thinking gets cloudy, our muscles get tight, our joints lack proper lubrication…the list goes on.

If you begin drinking enough water regularly, you WILL feel more awake, alert, and energized. And that makes it easier to do all the other things that improve your life.

#3: Take time EVERY DAY to sit quietly and breathe. You might think “I don’t have time for that.” Or “I tried meditating and it didn’t work for me.”

But you only need a few minutes, and you don’t have to think of this as meditating. It’s just sitting quietly, breathing, wherever you’re comfortable.

When you take 5-10 minutes a day to do this, you send a signal to your nervous system that all is well. It’s a POWERFUL reset button for our busy, stressful lives.

Please know this: your mind WILL wander. You’ll have thoughts. That’s okay, the goal isn’t to stop thinking.

Every time you gently shift your attention back to your breathing, you’re loving yourself. You’re gaining a moment to treat yourself with kindness instead of thinking “Stupid brain, shut up!”

When you make this a daily practice, your self-directed kindness muscles grow stronger. You’ll notice that you’re nicer to yourself at other times too. Your entire relationship with yourself begins to shift in profound, lovely ways.

And that’s it. Do these 3 simple things and notice what changes. You are 100% worth it.

 

P.S. Don’t forget your initial consultation is free. Come into the office to talk about your health goals and see if acupuncture and Chinese medicine is a good fit. Click the schedule button in the upper righthand corner of this page to request a consultation time.

 

What Shifts When You Practice True Self Care

In my last post, I talked about the meaning of true self care – that it isn’t just about fun indulgences, but about loving ourselves.

When we’re able to make this shift towards self-directed loving kindness, BIG changes take place.

Think about it in another context – what happens when children receive harsh words, judgement, or indifference? They often act out, shut down, or both.

Do you speak to yourself with the same kindness you’d offer a child? Or are you habitually hard on yourself? Do you respect or ignore your own emotional needs?

(If you’re someone who tends to beat yourself up, you’re not alone. Just acknowledge that tendency gently. No beating yourself up about beating yourself up!)

So what ARE the changes that happen when you begin to truly practice self care, no matter what?

  1. You choose healthier habits out of genuine self-respect, not external or guilt-driven motivation.
  2. You get much better at saying NO. When you’re not always putting your own needs last, you recognize when something or someone doesn’t serve you. This includes taking time to rest when you need it – something many of the women I see in my practice struggle with.
  3. You gain CONSISTENCY of action, which can change your entire life.

Consistency goes back to the New Year’s resolutions I mentioned in my last post. Take exercise as an example.

When you say “I’m going to start working out” because you feel guilty or hate the way your body looks, you’re more likely to choose physical activities that don’t work for you. Or to overdo it, injure yourself, or just quit because it feels bad.

But when you say “I’m going to start working out” because you want to be loving toward yourself, you choose physical activities that truly makes you feel good (even if they won’t result in 6-pack abs).

You also stick with it more consistently because you recognize that when you do, you feel happier, sleep better, and enjoy life more. And you KNOW you’re worth that happiness.

If truly caring for yourself is something you struggle with, you’re might think “Great, but HOW do I do this?” I’m going to talk about that in the next post – there are simple, quick steps to begin shifting how you relate to yourself. I promise they really are simple and quick, and anyone can do them.

In the meantime, give yourself a mental hug, no matter how you’re feeling today. Talk to you soon.

P.S. Don’t forget your initial consultation is free. Come into the office to talk about your health goals and see if acupuncture and Chinese medicine is a good fit. Click the schedule button in the upper righthand corner of this page to request a consultation time.

The True Meaning of Self Care

I’m guessing you see the phrase self care everywhere these days. It’s become a trendy thing to talk about.

Lots of us – especially women and mothers – put ourselves last, and that can hurt not just us but everyone around us. So I’m happy we’re talking about self care more!

But . . . here’s the catch. What does self care actually MEAN?

If you hang out on Instagram or Pinterest, it might look like massages, bubble baths, and chocolate. Or maybe binge watching Netflix during a hard week. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. (I love all those things!)

But I think we miss something important when we only focus on those “treat yourself” moments. True self care is something else, something extremely powerful. When I talk about this in clinic, I’ve had people later tell me it was life-changing.

(It’s something you already know. But sometimes you need to hear it again.)

TRUE self care is first and foremost about being loving and kind toward yourself. In other words, CARING about yourself.

I can’t tell you how many years in the past I’ve made these classic New Year’s resolutions:

1. Work out more
2. Eat better

Some years I was pretty good, and of course I felt better with exercise and healthy food. But did I always stick with it? Nope. And did those things give me consistent energy, improved mood, and focus? Nope.

Why? Because they didn’t take away anxiety, constant mental chatter, or loneliness. They didn’t actually fill what needed filling.

That’s because self care isn’t just about taking care of our physical bodies, or indulging our wants. It’s about about taking care of ALL of ourselves – body, mind, and spirit.

And that starts with being truly loving and kind with ourselves, so that all our actions follow from that motivation. Here’s the amazing thing: when we begin THIS kind of self care? Everything changes.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk more about why this is so important. And I’ll discuss some of the powerful shifts that occur when you operate from this place of self-kindness. Talk to you soon!

Springtime Love for your Liver

Hello and happy spring! Any of this ring a bell for you?

You feel irritable or frustrated

You’re sluggish and tired

Your digestion seems off

You’re having headaches

You find yourself sighing a whole lot (maybe in irritation…)

Your periods have been hellish recently

If any of those have popped up for you and you’re wondering why, here’s why: it’s springtime!

I can hear you thinking, “But spring is great! The mountain laurels and red buds are blooming! I can wear sandals again!” All of that is true! But spring is also liver season, and the transition from winter to spring can be tricky, especially in our hyper-productive society that doesn’t allow much time for winter hibernation.

Spring is associated with the liver in Chinese medicine. It’s a time of growth and expansion, but it’s easy for things to get stuck, and our livers are made to process things, not be stuck. Suppressing emotions, not getting enough water or physical activity, heavy foods, and lack of sleep can all make it difficult to grow your (metaphorical) tiny green leaves and flowers.

Human beings contain huge amounts of potential energy at all times, but we have to keep that energy flowing. When flow is restricted, it’s like a kink in your garden hose. The water won’t come out, and over time that hose is going to crack from too much pressure. The result? Frustration, irritation, fatigue.

So how do you move into spring full of flow, growth, and joy? Add some (or all) of these simple solutions into your life:

Drink plenty of water with a squeeze of lemon or lime (the liver loves sour things).

Move your body in whatever way feels good – don’t overdo it if your winter has been sedentary. Walking, yoga, qigong, and stretching are all perfect if you haven’t been moving a lot lately.

Eat springtime green veggies.

Let yourself feel anger, sadness, and fear – and then let them go with kindness. The best way to move through being stuck is deep love and compassion for yourself.

Breathe deeply.

Get outside: take a hike, look at the sky, get your hands in the dirt, take your shoes off in the grass.

Take time to think about what you want to see MORE of in your life. Think of ways to make that growth happen.

Need some extra help? Acupuncture is a great tool for seasonal transitions and the discomfort that can come with them. Schedule a free 15 minute consultation or (for existing patients) schedule a followup appointment.

Five Reasons to Eat a Pumpkin!

It’s peak pumpkin season, folks. This month many of you will carve faces into them, decorate your home with them, put your babies into pumpkin costumes (so cute!), and eat pumpkin spice everything. (Although I saw a picture of pumpkin spice hummus the other day and that’s going TOO FAR.)

But how often do you think to eat a pumpkin? You should, because they’re full of amazing benefits!

  1. Pumpkins (nan gua in Chinese) correspond to the Earth element in Chinese medicine, which represents the digestive system. They’re the perfect thing to eat as the weather changes and cold/flu season begins. Pumpkin is considered warming and deeply nourishing to the body.
  2. When pumpkin is cooked into soups or stews with warming spices like ginger, garlic, cinnamon, or cloves, the effect is even stronger.
  3. Because it strengthens our digestive system, pumpkin also has a beneficial effect on the lungs and can offer an immunity boost.
  4. Pumpkin is high in antioxidants, vitamin A, and fiber and low in calories.
  5. Let’s not forget pumpkin seeds! In Chinese medicine, the seeds (nan gua zi) are a traditional remedy for parasites and low milk supply. But even if those issues don’t apply to you, they can also lower cholesterol and help you sleep better. In my house, we always roast the seeds from our jack o’lanterns with a bit of olive oil or butter, some salt, and whatever spices sound delicious.

Note from the cook:

  • Smaller pie pumpkins will often taste sweeter and more tender than large carving pumpkins.
  • If you do try one of the big ones, buy one just for eating. Once they’ve been carved, unsafe bacteria and molds can grow.
  • The same health benefits apply to all yellow/orange fall squashes.

Happy Halloween and happy pumpkin eating!

Acupuncture as a Catalyst for Labor

It’s a common story: a woman reaches 40 weeks of pregnancy and finds herself facing a deadline to go into spontaneous labor. If she’d like to avoid a medical induction, there’s often a mountain of advice telling her what to do to kickstart the process. It can feel overwhelming, especially at a time that’s already tiring and full of heightened emotions.

Fortunately, there are safe, effective options available. Routine acupuncture treatments in the last weeks of pregnancy are often extremely helpful in encouraging a productive, timely labor and delivery…(click here to read the rest of this blog post!)

 

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck

image_6483441So, it’s January 11. How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Your answer is probably one of these three:

  1. Great!
  2. Um, well…
  3. I didn’t make any because I never accomplish them anyway, so whatever.

If you answered #1, rock on and have fun. How about the other two? If you’re struggling, or if you don’t bother with our culture’s January ritual, I have one thing to say: New Year’s resolutions suck.

That’s right, I said they suck. But why? Isn’t it good to have a fresh start, to look at your life and decide how you can live it better?

YES! I love fresh starts. I love taking a step back and seeing what might need changing. We all fall into patterns of thinking, behaving, and choosing. Over time those patterns can get stagnant, or maybe they never served us in the first place. Stagnation causes pain, both physical and emotional, so shaking things up is often energizing and inspiring.

Why do resolutions suck, then? Because they’re so rarely about how we want to feel. Instead, we choose them based on the messages we receive about who we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be people who eat vegetables at every meal. We’re supposed to exercise daily. We’re supposed to be organized and productive. We’re supposed to be kind and loving.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with those messages. But if you’re someone who’s ever made a resolution that sounds like the above, did you do it because eating vegetables at every meal is something that will align your life with how you want to feel? Or did you do it because you absorbed a finger-wagging message that not eating vegetables makes you, somehow, a slightly lesser person?

One of those motivations is way more likely to lead to success than the other. Change is hard, and it’s normal to have an adjustment period when we shift our habits. However, if we try to shift because we think we’re supposed to, we set ourselves up for shame and failure. I made lists of resolutions for many years. I’d do fine for a week, maybe a month. By February the “new me” was always starting to fall apart, and by springtime I’d forgotten about her completely.

So I don’t make resolutions anymore. I make intentions, and these days that usually looks like a single word. It starts with several words, but over time one yells at me louder than any of the others. That’s the one I choose, because it’s the one my intuition knows I need the most.

What’s my word for 2017? Selfishness.

Yeah, I said selfishness. I know. I resisted it for weeks, and even looked in the thesaurus for a more palatable synonym (there isn’t one).

In reality, my inner vision of selfishness looks a lot like self-care. I don’t have a grand 2017 plan to be a total jerk. But it’s easy to put off self-care. We all think “I’ll do that nice thing for myself later, when I’ve ‘earned’ it by being productive enough, when I’m not in the middle of doing this other thing, when I’m not in such a rush to get out the door, when I’ve had more sleep, when I’m in a better mood…”

What does this pattern look like? It looks like skipping that nice thing way too often, which is one way we wordlessly tell ourselves our needs aren’t actually all that important.

Hence: selfishness. The word shocks me. It makes me laugh. Because it’s a word nobody is EVER supposed to apply to themselves, I don’t tune it out easily. Instead I wonder what selfish means in any given moment, and if that thing really will make me a jerk or will instead nourish me.

Every time I remind myself that selfishness is my chosen intention for the year, it acts as a reminder of how I actually want to feel: genuinely respectful of myself. And that’s what I think helps achieve other goals, things that might be New Year’s resolutions if I made them. If I live each day respecting my own needs, kindness follows. Healthy productivity follows. Vegetables follow. Love follows.

Happy 2017 to you all.

Yoga and Chinese Medicine, Plus My Favorite Yoga Resource

Sixteen years ago I bought a set of beginner yoga classes (on VHS!) out of curiosity. I was recently unemployed, battling stress-related digestive issues, and needing some new resources in life.

So I popped tape #1 in the VCR. An hour later, I felt calm but energized, my back didn’t hurt anymore, and I even felt taller. (Feeling taller is a big deal when you’re 5’2”.) I was hooked.

This cat loves to hang on my yoga mat. She's super enlightened, I guess.

This cat loves to hang on my yoga mat. She’s super enlightened, I guess. 

Finding the right exercise is challenging. Running is fun, but it’s 90 degrees and humid half the year in central Texas. Gyms and high-impact movements are not my jam. I often return to walking, with or without my dog, but a walk doesn’t always get at everything that needs stretching, strengthening, or calming.

Yoga has been my constant, even when I abandon my mat for months. This morning I woke up tired, after a long day and a night of restless sleep. I didn’t want to skip yoga, but I also wanted to respect being tired. I’ve learned that really energetic yoga sometimes has the paradoxical effect of making me even more tired.

Why is this? Chinese medicine explains it well, through the simple concept of yin and yang. When we feel still or tired, that’s yin. If your tiredness is just a temporary slump, sometimes adding a burst of active, warming yang activity works well to balance you out.

But what happens if you’ve been tired for a long time? This happens to many of us: people with stressful jobs, mothers juggling too many balls, Type A personalities who find it hard to slow down. In those circumstances, we get tired at a deeper level, and pushing ourselves to be very yang might not be what we need. Instead, we need to nourish our yin, to grant ourselves the gift of true rest.

This is what I love about yoga: it offers yin and yang. This morning I chose a simple yin practice: seated postures held for a longer time. It’s been a leap to keep my practice slow most of the time, because I live in this active, fast culture. Exercise is supposed to make you sweat, right?

But since I’ve made that leap, I enjoy yoga more. Despite taking it slow, I get off my mat with more energy, not less. And on days when I wake up ready to move more, I choose an active practice, one that really does get my heart rate up, and that feels good too.

This is the most fundamental concept in Chinese medicine. Yin and yang exist in everything and are constantly shifting to achieve the most balance possible. When we honor that, we honor what our bodies deeply need. You don’t have to do yoga: just move through whatever activities you choose with the recognition that yang requires yin to exist, and yin requires yang. We can’t exist with only one side of the coin. Namaste and shalom, y’all.

(Bonus! My favorite yoga resource: if it’s hard to get to a local studio, I love the classes at doyogawithme.com, a donation-based online resource. They offer short classes, long classes, classes for beginners or more advanced practitioners, and a nice mix of yin vs. yang options. Plus, all the teachers have lovely Canadian accents. I have no affiliation with them and get nothing from recommending the site: it just makes me happy.)

October News: Expanded Hours and Services

Happy October! If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you got the latest Songbird news a couple of days ago. But if you’re not, I want to include all those goodies here too! (Want to subscribe? Just go to my home page and add your email address at the bottom of the page.)

Expanded hours…

First of all, beginning this month, I’ll be available for appointments during evening and weekend hours. I know it’s hard to prioritize self-care when we lead busy lives, and I hope these expanded hours add a little bit of ease for you. Effective October 10, my new office hours are as follows:

Mondays: 1:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Wednesdays: 10:00 am – 7:30 pm
Fridays: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Saturdays: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm (1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month)

Housecalls (for 37+ weeks of pregnancy and first three months postpartum only): please contact me to schedule a treatment in your home.

As always, you can schedule your appointment online anytime. If you don’t see a time that works for you, please call 512.782.4880 or email arden@songbirdacupuncture.com.

Expanded pregnancy and labor services…

Ever since the first day of my master’s program in Chinese medicine, I’ve known I wanted to help women thrive during pregnancy and after giving birth. It’s been a delight to attend occasional births as well, and I’m SO excited to announce that I’m formally expanding my services to offer labor acupuncture for out-of-hospital births.

Acupuncture during labor can help contractions progress productively, help ease labor pain, and calm any stress or anxiety. If you’re planning to birth at your home or in one of Austin’s birth centers, I’d be honored to join your support team!

Please note: labor services are subject to availability during any given month. Whenever possible, I require at least one in-office intake and treatment prior to your birth so that we can get to know each other and I have your full medical history prior to your birth. Contact me to find out more!

p.s. I love feedback…

Your positive reviews are the highest compliment I can receive. They’re also the best way for me to help more people feel better! If you’ve received benefit from your treatments at Songbird Acupuncture, please consider writing me a brief review on YelpGoogle+, or Facebook. Thank you so much!

September Self-Care Challenge: Week 1

self-careOkay, time to get real about my September self-care challenge. Despite my simple “just two acupuncture points daily” plan, I only managed to give myself a mini treatment 4 days out of 7.

It’s interesting how I reacted once I realized I’d missed a few days in a row. Despite knowing that would probably happen, my ego went straight to failure. I thought “Maybe I should pretend I never committed to doing this. Nobody will remember!”

But that’s silly. The point of any challenge is to push yourself, and when we push ourselves we usually fall short of perfection. In Chinese medicine, yin and yang are seen as always shifting, always working toward balance dynamically, because there is no such thing as static perfection. The benefit comes from learning how we fall short, how we react to that, and how we choose to continue.

With that in mind, here’s what I experienced this week:

  • For my first treatment, I chose two points known for powerfully relaxing the nervous system. I was at my clinic, and afterward I drove home in heavy rush hour traffic feeling peaceful and entirely unruffled by the slow trip home and the, ah, challenging drivers around me. I hate driving and get impatient in traffic. This shift was welcome!
  • The third treatment was on a day I’d been wheezing and coughing quite a bit. I have asthma, and our recent beautiful summer rain has created not-so-beautiful mold levels. I chose points to relieve acute lung symptoms as well as to support the respiratory system. After the treatment, my breathing was improved, and continued to be better for four days afterward.
  • Most interesting is how a focus on self-care is seeping into my consciousness. In the past week I’ve done more yoga than I usually do (even if just a few poses), written in my journal, started re-reading a nourishing book, and found the beginnings of a shift perspective on some thorny life issues.

So I only did 57% of what I planned, but that’s 57% more than I might have done otherwise. I think instead of failure, this is actually success. Onward to week 2…