10 Basic Needs in Nurturing Ourselves at the Deepest Level
Ancient whole medicine systems had their unique way of marking the years, often broken down in seasons or directions. Each has it’s way of correlating mind, body, and spirit characteristics to exemplify a holistic approach. This is the first of this series Bringing Ancient Traditions of Healing into Everyday Life with a focus on integrating the various rhythms of our life with the natural cycles of the seasons.
“10 Basic Needs in Nurturing Ourselves at the Deepest Level” outlines what we need not only to survive but to thrive. First and foremost, we want to modify those lifestyle factors so that we not only create a path to wellbeing but also maintain it.
The Winter Solstice is the darkest time of the year, but it is also the return of the light: the days start to get longer and the nights shorter. In Chinese Medicine the Yin/Yang symbol has the dark color representing Yin at this time of the year with a little light circle inside representing the return of the light. Yin represents substance and Yang energy. So Winter Solstice is the time to be with the substance of our being. Yin is still; Yang is movement. So this is a time for stillness, for being at home in our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts, our soul.
In five element Chinese Medicine there are five seasons with the 12 Chinese organs and meridians associated with their corresponding seasonal elements.
Winter is Water, the most Yin time of year: the Chinese kidney, which includes the adrenals is here and the bladder which is connected to the brain in the Chinese system. This is where trust, faith and wisdom reside and when adversely effected paranoia, fear, authoritarianism or the opposite- lack of will power and ambition, or on a physical level arthritis, spine problems, kidney/bladder/adrenal problems, hearing problems, sleep issues, melancholic depression. The five elements are part of the yearly energy cycle: we all have our constitutional temperaments and are more one or two than the other three or four and that often changes through our life. In optimal health we are in tune with the rhythmic flow of the five element cycle through the year and are in harmony with the sense of the seasons’ energies.
10 Basic Needs in Nurturing Ourselves at the Deepest Level
- We need adequate water, half our body weight in pounds is the number of ounces of water for a 24 hour day. Our body is electrical and depends on adequate hydration for healthy cellular function and communication between cellular networks.
- Then we need at least 7-8 hours of sleep to rejuvenate, and keep in mind that with 6 or less, the body is under stress forcing the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands to elevate. This is our “battery pack” so we don’t want to drain our adrenal reserve as it will lead to all sorts of health problems.
- We need adequate nutrition that does not create oxidative stress and lead to inflammation, the 21st century functional medicine paradigm for the root of chronic disease, so it should be a diet low in processed carbohydrates, sugar, caffeine and alcohol, but good lean protein, lots of fruits and vegetables for their powerful antioxidants and with healthy fats: short chain fatty acids like butter and ghee, medium chain ones like coconut oil, and long chain ones such as anti-inflammatory omega 3 fish, krill or flax oils, the one anti-inflammatory omega 6, borage oil and omega 9 olive and avocado oil. The brain is mostly fat and needs cholesterol: eggs are good if you don’t have a food sensitivity. The cell membranes throughout the body and the healthy bacteria in our gut need these fats too.
- We need to make sure we have adequate vitamins and minerals as they are cofactors for a myriad of enzymatic reactions in the body, and of particular concern is production and metabolism of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that are responsible for neurotransmission in our nerve cells. We particularly need to have adequate amounts of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, not just for healthy bones, immune function but also good brain function. Now there is an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency, and it’s unclear why but possible reasons are: living in a cold climate with limited skin exposure to the sun, using sun blocks to avoid skin cancer, and living a digitalized lifestyle with little time outdoors, plus many of us have genetic mutations in our vitamin D receptor gene that impair our ability to achieve adequate, cellular levels.
- We need healthy relationships including one with ourselves and if alone in life to feel comfortable alone and one’s best friend to oneself.
- We need adequate social supports, meaningful play and work, community networks, spiritual practices, exercise and movement activities, and good stress management skills: meditation, yoga, tai qi, dance, music, meditation, laughter and perspective taking, relaxation, sports, learning, creative pursuits.
- We need to have fun and above all else to have the right attitude about our life and our relationship to the world and when threatened by societal/world issues, it is important to join with others in pro-action versus remaining in passive fear and in isolation. It takes courage to be a spiritual warrior in our daily life: responding honestly and directly and not clouded by misperceptions and misjudgments leading to emotional reactivity.
- We need to be at home with ourselves, to feel connected to our soul, to sense our deeper purpose in life, to appreciate that life is a precious gift, to sense the deep peace that is always already present for us however eclipsed by the darkness of everyday stresses or traumas or adversities, to have compassion for others and also ourselves, to liberate ourselves so that we may experience the joy that is immediately present when we are free of emotional suffering, and to respect our intuition, particularly callings to wellness.
- We need to allow ourselves to trust our inner nature, to see the beauty that is in us and to allow it to flourish and come forth, to recognize an inner truth beyond any localized fear or mistrust, to commune with our inner nature and see it as a reflection of the beauty in the natural world and to feel nourished by that connection, to eliminate doubt, shame, guilt and anger that cloud our inner vision and so often cause us to lose hope and keep us from being fully committed to ourselves and our world in a consistently, positive and loving way.
- We need to germinate seeds of growth planted in our inner garden and foster their fruition at this longest night of the year, for it is also the beginning of the return of the light. Allow the mind’s eye to sense our inner light, located in the eye chakra in the yoga system, between the brow deep in the brain where the pineal gland is located and what is also referred to as the Crystal Palace in Qi Gong, which includes the hypothalamus and pituitary gland as well as the pineal: our command center for neuroendocrine functioning and also for signaling to deeper limbic structures and cortical structures in the brain.
Wallace Stevens’ poem The Snow Man invites us to a transcendent state as we imagine being one with winter:
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
So this is a time for stillness and deep meditations: allowing the breath to carry the light into us as we gaze at a light source and up the spine to the 3rd eye on the inhale and down the front of the chest through the abdomen on the exhale allowing the adrenals to grasp this vital energy force, referred to as prana in yoga and Qi in Chinese Medicine/Qi Gong/Tai Qi.
This is a time for being at home in our souls, also enjoying the comfort of our home, the light and warmth of the hearth, a time for nourishing our adrenal glands with adequate sleep and meditations like the ancient yogis who internalized the fire ritual practices of their ancient Indian, Vedic communities who sat in a circle and prayed to the fire in the center as for them, it was a God-Surya: certainly before fire, civilization was a cold place full of hardship, illness, and short life spans.
For the yogis this vision of a fire burning in front of them was internalized in their solar plexus, the solar chakra just below the diaphragm, a place of strength that is supportive of digestion, our inner furnace burning bright and warmly, nurturing us. There is a bija mantra for each chakra: for the solar plexus it is RAM. There are some devotional or Bhakti yogis in India that have been chanting RAM continuously for generations keeping the thread unbroken.
B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light on Yoga and the practice of Iyengar style yoga transformed my yoga practice 18 years ago, for in Iyengar yoga classes, with the use of props and exquisite attention to anatomy, positioning and proper alignment during asanas or poses and pranayama or breathing practices, I was able to achieve a level of practice that I hadn’t for all the years previous. And in traditional yoga there are eight limbs of which the asanas is just one so it is a complete system for living. Yoga means to yoke: to discipline not only the body but also the mind, emotions, and will to achieve an ease in the soul so as to look at all aspects of life evenly. Iyengar was the inspiration for Light on Mental Health.
Let this roadmap of Inner Wisdom be a channel: a source to support cultivating your Inner Light. Allow your imagination to work in a way that you visualize this happening, for we know positive, conscious imagery practices change cellular, messenger RNA biochemically with a direct positive effect on DNA transcription in the nucleus of cells: your pathway to transformational healing. If you can’t do this for yourself, then imagine a benefactor doing it-someone loved or admired by you that you know or know about, and then see if you can imagine yourself doing it as if you were them.
May the long time sun shine upon you.
All love surround you.
And the pure light within you guide your way on.
An old Irish/Celtic blessing;
for a recording by Snatam Kaur: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gexkiDmQa9I