June 11, 2020
by Gareth Ellis

Now is the Time to be More Flexible!

Fall has arrived and life may have 'amped' up a bit for you. Busy with work, school, activities and a return to routine. Routine is a beautiful thing. As I see in myself and in observing my children, we are creatures of habit and thrive on routine. The downside that I also observe is that with routine, can come rigidity, stiffness and the tension that being on a schedule can bring. This stiffness, especially in the fall, can also translate as stiffness in the physical body.

In Chinese medicine, the fall marks the transition to the metal element. Metal is the strongest of the 5 elements, but also the least flexible. Cool mornings and the dramatic fluctuations in weather throughout the day can lead the body to feeling stiff and stuck. Pair that with busy days and emotional 'stiffness' can also be right behind. The physical and emotional are intimately paired in this medicine and we are always addressing both.

Here are a few tips on staying flexible this fall:

1. Breathe with Awareness: The metal element is strongly influenced by the LUNGS. Many who become aware of their breathing patterns realize that they are breathing very shallow, or using their neck muscles to breathe instead of their belly and diaphragm. This ends up causing more tightness to the neck and upper body. The main way to improve breathing patterns is to simply become conscious of it flowing in and out, and try to make sure there is no forcing. Flexibility means ease in the body, and even a deep breath can be tense and forced.

2. Stretch Often for Small Amounts of Time: As you may remember, one of our favorite books here at Acupuncture Connections is The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. This inspiring book on how to make transformative change tells us, "What you do everyday, matters more than what you do every once in a while." Stretching for an hour, once a week, is not going to contain the powerful transformation that stretching for 15 minutes, twice a day is going to have. Learning how to release your tension is empowering, and will forever change how it feels to be in your body!

3. Don't Over-Book Your Life: Allowing some breathing room between activities can give some ease to your day. Try to make some week nights time to stay at home and some weekend days to be completely open. Time can seem to fly by very fast when we are booked solid. Just because an hour is free, does not mean it needs to be filled!

4. Try a Body Scan: I know this one sounds a little strange, but a body scan is simply the mindfulness practice of paying attention to where tightness and stress may be holding and storing itself in your body. During my acupuncture sessions, I always do a body scan to see where in myself I can let go and relax more deeply. If you want to use technology to benefit you in this regard, download a free app called CALM. This app has free guided meditations and body scans for various lengths of time. Even a three minute body scan can work wonders, and kids love it too!

5. Drink Plenty of Water: The metal element ushers in the dry season, so it's an important time to stay hydrated. The link between hydration and flexibility is well known. The fascia and muscles become stiff, and since most of our culture is chronically dehydrated, this may be a big reason why people are so stiff and inflexible. Try increasing your water intake to see if this helps your stretching routine.

6. Protect Your Neck from the Elements: Cold in the morning, hot and sweaty in the afternoon, then the cold wind returns at night and goes right to your neck causing it to stiffen up. This is a common story in the early fall. In acupuncture school the teachers scared us so much about 'wind-cold' invasions, that we all spent our time bundled up in scarves year round!! I'm not suggesting this, but carrying an extra layer to cover up if the weather shifts is not a bad idea!

The transition from summer to fall is the perfect time to focus on your flexibility and doing so will surely serve your body and mind until spring:)

Happy Stretching!