The Too Small Pot: Expand your Roots

 

I have a plant that sits next to my computer. It is in dire need of a larger pot.

In fact, it is so big it is growing up and out of the pot that it is in, yet the leaves are starting to wither.  The plant is starving and dying to grow – it cannot expand its roots thanks to the too small pot.

I cannot help but think of this plant, its too small pot, and the energy that all of us expend to stay rooted in the same ways of doing things.

What holds people (including me) back from taking on more of the life we individually dream?  We all wonder, worry, and fear if this new pot that we want to move to is not going to be right, a good fit, too big, make us suffer or feel uncomfortable. When we stay rooted in our current situation, we expend an immense amount of energy and complexity involved in maintaining the status quo.

We expend tremendous resources to reroute the energy that should be expanding outside of the status quo, growing into something new, and end up expressing this energy in unconstructive ways that ultimately hold us back.  In doing so, we resist the deep inner call to step outside of our self-limited spaces.

We get angry, irritable, depressed, anxious, downtrodden, and listless. We can develop strange symptoms that are seemingly unrelated, and can make ourselves crazy with chasing one thing after the next after the next. Have periods that are painful, outbursts of anger, or mood swings with insomnia? Hot-tempered or easily angered in situations that are not going according to plan, or running smoothly in general? Have bowel movements that alternate from diarrhea or loose stools to constipation, or belching, abdominal distention, or gurgling in the abdomen? Or, do you feel plain old stuck in life – like there are too many obstacles in your path that you cannot see or work around?

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Are you plain old stuck in a pattern that is no longer working for you?

When was the last time you looked at your roots?

Just like a potted plant or tree that has outgrown its home and is no longer thriving, if you have been in your modus operandi for too long, you may start to feel stifled, frustrated, angry, and have mood swings. If you have been forcing yourself to tap into your reserves of energy (i.e. pushing yourself to keep going even though what you are currently experiencing is no longer nourishing you), it is time for you to consider what sort of pot, soil, land, you are living in and how you are taking care of yourself, is your life taking care of you.

Is your modus operandi too small for the life you want, the life you are living?

Is it time to break out of your too small pot, to expand your roots?

In Chinese medicine, the creative – or Hun- spirit rests in the Liver. Much like life, the Hun and Liver operate on a cycle: sleep-wake, birth-growth-maturity-death; spring-summer-fall-winter; day-night; creation-destruction-creation from the destruction; menstrual cycles; and so on. We, as humans, go through creation cycles just as much as the world around us. The Liver energy is in charge of ensuring that these cycles run smoothly – that no step is missed or out of sync.

If we get out of sync (i.e. stuck in production day-time mode all the time), everything else suffers. We cannot function the way we were intended to, we cannot grow -nor rest- the way we need. We get stuck in a dysfunctional modus operandi.

This energy gets very frustrated when it cannot grow and move the way it needs to – sound familiar to you?

We all have a seed of potential within us that can be nourished and cultivated to manifest fully in our lives. It doesn’t matter if you live in a concrete jungle, or in wild unspoiled terrain – life finds a way to manifest in the smallest cracks, on rock cliffs, even deep in the arctic and the depths of the sea. It is all there, waiting to be nourished and to grow. As one season follows the next, our creative energy (Hun) follows our soul’s spirit (Heart, the Shen) throughout the cycle of life, in a dance between sleep and activity, creation and contemplation.

If we listen to, and follow, our Heart to manifest the potential in our life the Hun will ensure that we have creative solutions and plans to manifest those dreams. I think this is why, when we follow our Heart’s inner call, things seem to fall into place for us. Solutions which once seemed impossible spontaneously manifest, plans come together, teachers appear at the right time, help shows up, we flow and get what we need – all so we can follow our inner call.

Listen deeply, carefully, and sincerely; then make the choice to start, take the first step, the next, and another, and another, ad infinitum. If we are moving forward, toward the dream, the goal, nourishing our inner call and potential, we are unable to stagnate and become root-bound in our too-small pots and lives. The world opens up for us, our roots can grow where they need and we can rise to the occasion free of the exhaustion and frustration of another dead-end or block, free of the feeling that we are stuck in the same patterns of living. You become free, your body and soul open up, take it all in, and uses that energy to catapult you forward.

What is stopping you?

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Internal Remedies for Menstrual Cramps (Part 7 of the PMS and Menstrual Irregularities Series)

I hope that you’ve been able to see that PMS and menstrual cramps, along with any other menstrual irregularity that may be bothering you, are all tied together.  Symptoms do not exist in a vacuum, by figuring out which pattern most resembles our current state of being, we are able to address the whole body more effectively than one symptom at a time.  Sure, there are times when no matter what we do those individual symptoms are a huge nuisance (like menstrual cramps)!  That’s why I offer long term options like diet and lifestyle factors, as well as long-term herbal options, and short term options for when you need help the most.

To review, we have four patterns that we’re discussing in relation to menstrual cramps:

Qi Stagnation is kind of like “roaaaaarrrrrr, I am stuck, get me out now or get outta my way!!!!” – it is frustrating, lumpy, and irregular.

Blood Stagnation is more akin to “you ain’t moving me, don’t you even think about it, oh heck no. You will be keeled over in pain before you think about moving me” – it is very painful, lumpy and fixed.

Cold Stagnation is “I’m going to freeze you out, you aren’t going to be able to do anything about this because I’m frozen inside of you, I’m so cold, I’ve turned part of you into an iceberg. Warming me up isn’t going to do jack” – it requires heat, but heat isn’t always enough, because it is so cold, it is sore, scanty and bright.

Blood Deficiency is “maybe, I don’t know, I don’t think I have it in me to do this. No, no, I’m too tired, I’m dizzy, I’m spent, I’m all wrung out, I just don’t have it in me” – it is dull, needs pressure to be relieved, and is a huge drain on the body.

Yarrow

Whether you suffer from Blood Deficiency, Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation or Cold Stagnation type cramps, what you eat is a major impact in how you feel from month to month. Refer back to the PMS post on diet for the foods to eat and foods to avoid for optimal Qi and Blood flow. In short: eat whole foods, lots of leafy greens, eat lentils, beans, whole grains, fish, grass-fed humanely raised organic meats, cooked vegetables; avoid nuts, nut butters, dairy, turkey, fried foods, alcohol, caffeine (especially coffee and sodas), sugar/sugary foods, processed/refined foods. Why no nuts, nut butters or dairy? Well, because the Liver needs to work harder to process these foods, and when our Liver function is imbalanced (resulting in Qi and Blood Stagnation) we are unable to properly assimilate these foods – they lead to further congestion and stagnation. I recommend avoiding juicing or eating raw foods as well – they are a drain on the body’s digestive capacity when most of the time we are trying to ramp up the digestive capacity (aka metabolism) through eating these foods.

Here are my favorite Internal Remedies for Menstrual Cramps!

If you have cramps, and are unable to eat anything at all, I recommend miso broth with vegetables.  Here is a recipe that I use often:

1TB miso paste (I like mellow white miso paste, try a bunch of different ones to find your favorite)
2TB cold water
1 scallion, sliced into 1/4″ rounds (optional)
2c boiling water
1/2c frozen peas – thawed
1 strip of nori seaweed – cut into fine shreds

  1. Put the miso paste into a bowl, whisk the water into the paste until it is smooth
  2. Put the peas, scallions, and nori into the bowl of miso paste
  3. Pour the boiling water over the miso and vegetables
  4. Stir until all are incorporated evenly
  5. The boiling water cooks the peas through without overcooking and ruining the miso

 

Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation:

Cramp bark tincture

Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus???) is a premier antispasmodic – it is ideal for when you feel like your body is trying to squeeze your insides out of you, or like you have a pulled muscle. It is warming and circulating in addition to its antispasmodic properties – if you tend to run hot (meaning: heat tends to worsen your symptoms, or make you feel not optimal in general), carefully monitor your response to cramp bark. As always the best option is to work with an herbalist one-on-one who can give you recommendations suited exactly to your needs.

Take 30-60 drops 3x/day starting 1 week before menses are due to begin.

Cold Stagnation Tea*:

Whether you suffer from Cold Stagnation or lack of heat, including a cold, sore lower back, watery loose diarrhea before menses with heat improving menstrual cramps and a cold lower abdomen; this tea is sure to warm you up.

Ingredients:
1 cinnamon stick
4 slices fresh ginger (or 1/2tsp dried powdered ginger)
1/2tsp fenugreek seeds (fry them in a frying pan with a little salted water until the saltwater is evaporated first, may be left out if unable to find)
1tsp fennel seeds
1 green cardamom pod, crushed
1TB goji berries

  1. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil with the fenugreek, fennel seeds and goji berries to the pot
  2. Let cook for 15 mins
  3. Add the ginger, cinnamon stick, cardamom pod to the pot
  4. Cover
  5. Turn off the pot
  6. Let infuse for at least 20 mins.
  7. Strain then drink

An “all-purpose” menstrual cramps tea for Qi, Blood, and/or Cold Stagnation patterns:

Chamomile/Ginger Tea *

  1. Place 1oz chamomile and 4 slices of fresh ginger (about 2mm thick) into a jar, pot, or other container with a lid (1oz of chamomile is about 2 large handfuls)
  2. Pour 1pt/250mL of boiling water over the herbs
  3. Cover and steep for 20 mins.
  4. Strain, then drink while hot.
  5. You can re-steep the tea up to two times, with weaker effects each consecutive time.

Note: you can eat the chamomile and ginger slices – I like the strained flowers and ginger slices on top of poached pears. Try it! It satisfied the desire for sweet we often have during our periods, the chamomile provides the soothing minerals we need, while the ginger provides the heat to keep everything moving, warm and easy to digest.

If you have Blood Deficiency:

Add 1TB each of goji berries and raisins, and then molasses to taste and steep with the chamomile and ginger tea from above, for the full 20 minutes. The goji berries and raisins are great eating after the 20 minute steep period – they get nice and soft, and are easier to digest than in their dried state.

 

*All of these teas may be drunk twice daily (1 cup per “dosage” – so 2 cups/1 pint per day) in the week prior to your period starting, then as needed while you have pain.*

 

The above suggestions are based on easy-to-find herbs and spices in your local health food or herbal shop for menstrual cramps based on particular patterns, or combinations of patterns. If you try these options for three months and see no results, please contact me to determine whether or not working together is a good match for us.

 

 

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Menstrual Cramp Home Remedies – External (PMS and Menstrual Irregularities Pt. 6)

Let’s tackle some of my favorite menstrual cramp home remedies for external use.  These remedies are simple and effective for menstrual cramps, and are done in the comfort of your own home.

Previously, I discussed some of the causes of menstrual cramps. You may fit into one, or more, of the most common categories: Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation, Cold Stagnation, Blood Deficiency.  Each of the methods below has overlapping patterns, this allows you to fine tune what works best for you.  Meaning: you may end up using two methods from below, or just one!

In the next post, I’ll share internal remedies for each of the patterns (don’t forget, you can get a head start by following the diet and lifestyle information, with your corresponding pattern and herbal suggestions, as outlined in the PMS posts: Two, Three, and Four.)

What’s a gal to do for menstrual cramps at home?

1. Castor Oil Packs

Patterns most affected with Castor Oil Packs: Liver Qi Stagnation/Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation, Cold Stagnation, Blood Deficiency

What do you do if you have Qi or Blood Stagnation signs such as clots in menses, cramps that are stabbing and intense, cysts and fibroids?  What if you have Cold trapped in your body, or not enough Blood? Castor oil packs!

Castor oil packs have been used to help the body break down scar and tough tissues, as well as to help detoxify the Liver.  Castor oil itself is a moistening herb and can help relieve the sensation of dryness and tightness associated with not enough Blood or lubrication.

Here is my cheat method for easy castor oil “packs”. I prefer this method because it allows you to gently massage the area with a loving touch before applying heat:

  1. Lay on your back, comfortably, on top of a towel (in bed, the couch, on the floor, wherever you can most relax.)
  2. Pour a generous amount of castor oil onto the skin, rub in, let sit a minute then pour more oil so it pools on skin, then cover with an old thin towel
  3. Cover the towel with a piece of parchment paper or another old thin towel
  4. Lay a heating pad over the towel, turn the heating pad on medium (or higher as tolerated, don’t burn yourself)
  5. Check skin after 10 mins, if there is no more oil, apply more – if there is oil, check again in 10 mins.
  6. Apply oil two to three times during the “cheat” method – sitting with the pack on for 30mins.
  7. Store the two towels in a bag, follow with the cycle of three days on, four days off, for at least four weeks. Ensure you are eating whole foods, and drinking enough water to support your body’s processes.
  8. Within your first menstrual flow, you should notice a difference with your period and cramps.
  9. Continue the cycle for three months, if needed. If you do not notice relief by the end of the three months (or see absolutely no improvement after the first cycle), consult with a qualified herbalist for additional support.

I like the “cheat” method because when the towels get stale smelling, or discolored, you can wash them or throw them out.  I’ve used a standard castor oil pack in the past, and much prefer this method because of the self-massage that is involved.

Bonus tip: Castor oil packs are also great applied to sore and tender breasts – you will fell a pulsing sensation, almost like your muscles are twitching.

 

2. Ginger Fomentation

Patterns most affected with Ginger Fomentations: Qi Stagnation, Cold Stagnation

I really love ginger fomentations for Cold Stagnation patterns, and also for Qi Stagnation.  Ginger is warming, stimulating, promotes circulation, and relieves pain! It is perfect for cramps where the application of heat improves the pain.  If you also have Blood Stagnation – give it a whirl, and let me know what your results were!

  1. Grate, finely chop, or thinly slice a two inch piece of fresh ginger root (you can leave the skin on)
  2. Place the ginger into a pot or glass jar, cover with hot (just off the boil) water, cover the container and let infuse until the water turns yellow.
  3. Strain the tea – squeeze out as much liquid as possible by straining through cheesecloth (tip: use enough ginger so you can use a French press coffee maker instead of cheesecloth!)
  4. Soak a cloth or towel in the tea, and wring the cloth out (be careful not to burn yourself)
  5. Apply to the abdomen (I prefer applying the compress to cover not just the lower abdomen, but also over the hips as well)
  6. Cover the cloth/towel with another cloth or towel, and then apply a heating pad or a hot water bottle
  7. You can re-soak the towel/cloth as often as needed, and you can remake the tea with fresh ginger root to apply 3-4 times during the day.
  8. Use during menstrual cramps to alleviate pain.  This is also great for lower backache associated with menstrual cramps.

Tips and tricks: strain the tea into a wide bowl, place the bowl next to your bed or couch where you are going to be relaxing while you are sitting with the compress on you. Whenever you stop feeling the warmth from the ginger (there will be a warm tingling sensation), you can re-soak and wring out the towel with minimal movement.

If you do not have fresh ginger, or need to have the fomentation right away, you can use dried powdered ginger.  Use 1TB, stir it in the water, and soak/compress away!

Mugwort

3. Mugwort Baths!

Patterns most affected by Mugwort baths: Blood Stagnation, Qi Stagnation, and Cold Stagnation

Mugwort is an amazing herb; I have been told that Mugwort is used in Korean bathhouses for much the same purposes that I am suggesting its use here – promoting relaxation and pain relief. Mugwort is spicy, bitter, neutral (meaning it neither warms nor cools the body), antispasmodic, and mild narcotic.  Thus, you will feel sleepy after a while in a Mugwort bath – once you get sleepy, get out of the tub and head to bed for a nap or a full night’s sleep.  You can start taking Mugwort Baths 24 hours before cramps usually set it, and cease the bath after your cramps have subsided.  Mugwort is an emmenagogue (meaning it will bring menses on) thus, play it safe and do not use if you are pregnant.

A note on mugwort: it is a common “weed” growing throughout the US, so is harvest-able from July through September, depending on where you live. Its Latin name is Artemisia vulgaris, though Artemisia argyi is used in Chinese medicine.  If you cannot find it, or do not know how to correctly identify it, then purchase it in bulk from your local herbalist, or from an online shop such as Mountain Rose Herbs or Pacific Botanicals.

Strong Stove-top Mugwort Bath:

  1. Take 2 cups of dried mugwort (or 4 cups fresh), put in a large pot on the stove
  2. Cover with 4 quarts of water then simmer covered for 30 mins.
  3. Strain through a strainer or cheesecloth directly into a bathtub that’s filling with water.

What makes this work even better, is if you add a cup of Epsom salts to the water.

You might be thinking, “Pamela, I am NOT going to get up, make a 30 min tea, strain it into the tub, and then get in the bath when my cramps are horrible!”  My response is, “I agree with you! I don’t do that either!” (Well, sometimes I do – but I coerce my husband into making the tea/bath for me!) If you are inclined, you can make a “near-instant” bath to have on hand, well before your cramps set in.

Near-instant Mugwort Bath:

  1. Take 4 cups of mugwort (fresh or dried), put in a large pot on the stove, cover with 4 quarts of water.
  2. Simmer over a very low flame, covered, for 2 hours.
  3. Then, strain out the herb material, pressing out as much liquid as you can from it (you’d be surprised how much liquid comes out!)
  4. Measure how much liquid you have.
  5. Say you have 3.5 quarts left – you’re going to make what is called a preserved decoction that has at least 25% alcohol in it. If you have 50% alcohol by volume (aka 100 proof), you would need to add an equal amount of alcohol to preserve the decoction at 25% alcohol by volume (aka 50 proof.)
  6. Combine the alcohol and cooled decoction together, and then into some sort of sealed jar or bottle. I reuse alcohol bottles for convenience, and also use mason jars, or whatever else is handy!
  7. When you are in need of a mugwort bath, all you have to do is pour about 1 cup into the bath water, get in and relax!

 

Tub-infused Mugwort Bath

Another option is to put the dry herbs in a muslin bag (or an old ziptop pillowcase), place in the bottom of the tub, turn the water on hot to get the herb infusing, then reduce the water temperature to the desired temperature. This results in a weaker bath.

Whichever of the three mugwort bath methods makes the most sense for you is the best one to use! Remember, this is about making you more comfortable, not creating more frustration for you!

 

Additional notes on baths

Bath temperatures

  • Cold Stagnation = a warmer bath
  • Blood Stagnation = the temperature feels the best for you
  • Qi Stagnation = the temperature feels the best for you
  • Blood Deficiency = a warmer bath

Sitz baths

If you have a bathtub, fill the tub up, then lay so your back is up against the shirt width of the bath, and your knees and legs are hanging over the opposite ledge. If you do this, your abdomen and back will be submerged and the rest of your body will be out of the water. If you do not have a bathtub you can mimic this method by filling up a large bucket-type container and sitting in a similar manner.

 

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap with the patterns affected by external remedies, that’s what makes them so wonderful.

Castor oil packs, ginger fomentations and mugwort baths are all valuable tools for the home herbal toolkit.

Remember to be consistent with these methods and regimens – infrequency, or utilizing the method for too short a time, will not yield the best results with your menstrual cramps!

The keys to ensuring that herbs work for you are: 1. choosing the right herbs for your pattern of imbalance and 2. compliance (regularity of use) – if you don’t take the herbs, how will the herbs be able to do their job?!

Choose one of the three menstrual cramp home remedies listed above, give it a go, and let me know how you do!

In the next post, I will be discussing the internal remedies that can help with easing menstrual cramps.

 

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Types and Causes of Menstrual Cramps – Part Five of PMS and Menstrual Irregularities

Menstrual cramps range in severity from an inconvenient ache to a nauseating pain.  I used to suffer from debilitating cramps, to put it mildly: it was the pits.  If you are in the menstrual cramp boat, you know how they put a damper on your whole day and limit what you are able to do.  In this post, I will review the common types and causes of menstrual cramps so that you can identify which cause (pattern) is most suited to your unique situation – if you aren’t sure, wait until your next cycle and write down how you feel. In the next post, I’ll share techniques and ideas to help get you started on a path to a more comfortable menstrual cycle.

Northern Spicebush

 

Here is a brief list of the most common types and causes of menstrual cramps, and their signature signs and symptoms.

In Part Three, I discussed some signs and symptoms in relation to PMS; these signs and symptoms are just as applicable to the causes of menstrual cramps as they are to PMS.

Stagnant Liver Qi (or Stagnant Qi)

While I discussed Stagnant Liver Qi in a previous post, Stagnant Liver Qi is so very common in modern society and is relevant to both PMS and menstrual cramps. Remember that the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi (vital energy) and if that is interrupted, then things are bumpy and uneven.

Signs of Stagnant Liver Qi:

  • Menstrual pain feels better after movement
  • Menstrual pain is over the lower abdomen and occurs during the period and up to two days before menses begins
  • Menstrual blood is dark, and the flow starts “hesitantly”
  • Menstruation is irregular
  • Bloating/distention associated with menstruation

 

Blood Stagnation

In the same way the Qi/energetic flow of the body can be stagnated or clogged in the Liver’s filtration system, our Blood can also be stagnated. When this happens, the stagnated area tends to have stabbing, throbbing or boring type pain that does not move from one menstrual cycle to the next. Fixed pain that does not move means that you may always have cramps that are worse on the right or left side, but the cramps don’t move to the other side the next month or within menstruation that month.

Signs of Blood Stagnation:

  • Pain that is fixed in location
  • Pain that is intense and stabbing, throbbing, or boring (like a needle)
  • Pain occurs before or during menses
  • Pain that is not relieved by movement, but is relieved when menstrual clots are passed
  • Menstrual blood has clots

Cold Stagnation

When there is Cold that has stagnated, the only thing that seems to relieve that Cold is a lot of heat – that part of the body might also feel cold when you press into the body a bit (not so much that it hurts, but just enough so you are feeling at a layer of the body that is deeper than the surface skin.) Where does Cold Stagnation come from? Swimming in a cold pool or the ocean while menstruating, standing on cold/damp surfaces for extended periods of time, and even getting the abdomen wet repeatedly during the day (think: leaning against the sink while doing dishes, then walking around with a wet shirt instead of changing.)

Signs of Cold Stagnation:

  • You feel cold! Cold over your belly and cold over your lower back, especially.
  • Pain is relieved with heat – hot baths, hot pads, hot water bottles
  • Menstrual pain occurs before or after menstruation
  • Your back is sore during menstruation
    Menstrual blood is bright red, can be scanty, and has small dark clots

 

Blood Deficiency

General Blood Deficiency manifests with the following signs: dizziness, blurry vision, numbness (in fingers, toes, etc), dry skin/hair/nails, to name a few. Blood Deficiency is fairly common in women as we lose blood every month and need to ensure that we rebuild our Blood every month.

Signs of Blood Deficiency:

  • Scanty menses/amenorrhea
  • Dull pain after menstruation
  • Pain that improves with pressure

 

To review: write down how you physically feel during your menses, and see which pattern (or patterns) most apply to you.  Refer back to the PMS posts (particularly Part Four) to confirm which pattern most describes you.  Everyone is different, and your particular presentation may not mesh with the patterns listed above – that is okay!  You can still make positive changes if you are not yet working with a herbalist.

Up Next: Remedies for Menstrual Cramps!

 

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