How Going on Retreat Benefits Your Health: A Five Element Perspective

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

From a Chinese medical point of view, the balance of Yin and Yang is the foundation for achieving health and harmony in your life.

Generally, Yin relates to quietude, receiving and being, whereas Yang relates to activity and doing.

If like most, you live in a primarily Yang society where you’re constantly stimulated through work, emailing, texting, listening to music, browsing the internet, and interacting with others, your need for more Yin, or quiet time, is essential.

And there’s no faster and easier way to bring balance back into your life than to unplug and reset by going on retreat.

Removed from your daily distractions, retreat allows you to rejuvenate so you can become more Yin, or receptive, to what you truly want and need in your life.

There’s a multitude of health benefits that come from retreat. Below is a Five Element perspective on the impact of retreat on your health and life.

garden-550991_1920.jpg

HOW RETREAT BENEFITS THE FIVE ELEMENTS IN YOUR LIFE

1. Wood Element & Liver/Gallbladder: Retreat Allows for Rebirth & Renewal

In the Five Element system of Chinese Medicine, Wood represents rebirth and growth, and is related to the ambition required to live out your highest purpose.

Wood energy gives you drive, focus and the fearlessness to accomplish your goals.

Wood is related to the Liver, which stores blood, and the Gallbladder, which utilizes this blood to make things happen in your life. In the Five Element cycle, Wood is nourished by Water, which represents the deepest part of yourself; the aspect that helps you go within to understand your purpose and develop greater self awareness.

As part of the Water element, your willpower, or Zhi, which is housed in the Kidneys, encourages the ambition of the Liver and Gallbladder to manifest your dreams.

Water energy is nurtured through contemplation and rest. Water is associated with the Kidneys, which also house your essence, or Jing, and provide an essential source of energy to live out your life curriculum. Weak Kidney Qi is related to adrenal fatigue - the feeling of being exhausted and wired simultaneously. When Kidney Qi is weak, you feel like you’re running on fumes.

When your Kidney Qi is replenished and strong, you’ll feel a natural energy that’ll drive you to get things done more effortlessly.

2. Water Element & the Kidneys: Retreat Deepens Your Self-Awareness

Life is formed and develops in the water that holds the essence of the body, called Jing. The Kidneys comprise the organ system that stores this Essence and are the primary organs that provide the Yang metabolic energy which drives the entire function of the body. In this way, your Kidney Jing is the foundation for all Yin and Yang energies of the body. 

Water fuels the introspective aspect of self and in balance gives you the ability to be an observer of life, letting go of judgement while at the same time providing you with your fundamental drive to live and the willpower, or Zhi, to fulfill your goals and dreams.

When your Water element is in balance, you’re able to spend time alone comfortably and look at life from a bird’s eye view, learning the lessons that are transmitted through your experiences.

Retreat provides space and time to create the opportunity for your body to draw energy back into the Kidneys to strengthen your Water energy and willpower so a newfound courage can sprout forth through Wood energy, which initiates growth and new beginnings. 

3. Earth Element & the Spleen/Stomach: Retreat Improves Your Relationship with Yourself and Others

Earth energy is about transformation; transformation of food into energy and raw material to rebuild the body, and transformation of your thoughts so you’re obsessing about negative things and can have clarity of mind. 

Earth energy is also associated with your relationship with yourself and others, which begins with your relationship to your family, especially the unconditional love of your mother. As the archetype for the Earth type personality, the Mother represents unconditional love and the nourishing qualities that exist within each of us.

Nourishment begins in the gut first with your mother through breastfeeding and evolves into self-care, or how you nourish yourself.

Thus the connection of the Earth element to your digestive function determines your ability to have healthy, harmonious relationships as well as strong immunity, or Spleen Qi.

Retreat may be the highest form of self-care. Eating a more simple diet and taking time to eat mindfully while on retreat further strengthens your Earth energy.

4. Metal Element & the Lungs/Large Intestine: Retreat Helps You Organize Your Thoughts and Cultivate a Greater Sense of Clarity

The Metal element relates to order, discipline, organization, and clarity both in your internal and external world.

The Metal element relates to the Lungs and Large Intestine organs. Weak Lung Qi can result from a weakened immune system, inadequate exercise or grief.

To strengthen the Lung Qi, it’s important to take deep breaths and also do practices that connect the body, mind and breath, including Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi.

Many retreats encompass these practices, along with Meditation, which cultivates the Kidney Qi and also helps develop your self awareness.

The quietude of retreat also creates space to process your grief, and any other emotions that are being neglected during the busyness of your daily life.

When you allow emotions such as grief to transport you to the depths of your heart, you can hear the lessons of your past, let go, and regain the strength and clarity to more fully experience your authentic self.

5. Fire Element & the Heart: Retreat Deepens Your Sense of Wonder, Creativity and Self-Love

In Chinese Medicine, the Heart not only circulates the blood, but it also houses the spirit, known as the Shen. A nourished, settled Heart manifests as a calm spirit and mind. A strong Heart-Kidney, or Water-Fire, connection helps you stay on purpose with your life (learn more here).

When there’s sufficient Kidney (Water) energy, it cools the Heart (Fire) making you feel calm and able to sleep more restfully.

Sufficient Kidney Qi, which is cultivated through proper rest, anchors the Heart Qi and helps you cultivate a feeling of self-love.

Practices such as Meditation and self-reflection amplify self-love and creativity, and therefore nourish the Heart.

Heart energy drives our passion and the pure, present sense of wonder that we can associate with a young child. As you get older, it’s just as important to create space so that this creativity and spontaneity can flourish in your life.

By creating space while on retreat, you’re able to cultivate creativity and self-love, which help you develop compassion and a deeper connection to the highest form of love from Source.

When you're connected in this way, there’s no limit to the love that you’ll return home with to share with others.

Interested to join us on retreat? Click here to learn more and sign up for one of the last spots on our Journey to Wellness in Bali January 13-20, 2019.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

How World Events Can Impact Your Health: A Chinese Medicine Perspective

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

A few nights before the full moon, I woke up at 1:30 am and after tossing and turning for a while, I simply couldn’t get back to sleep. I finally got up and went to our guest room to do a meditation. At first this settled me quite a bit but within several minutes I felt stricken with a tightness in my chest, difficulty breathing and tension throughout my body.

The anxiety I felt was something I’d never experienced before, and it literally took every tool in my toolbox to get my heart to settle so I could finally go back to sleep.

I woke up exhausted early Monday morning and walked into the kitchen as Salvador read an article aloud about the massacre in Las Vegas. Like most people, I was initially just shocked. But as the reality set in and I read—and bawled over—story after story about the victims, the heroes and their families, a deep sense of grief took over.

Salvador pointed out later that day that there may be a connection between the way I’d been feeling the prior night and the incident. I felt the truth in this right away. 

Even though I didn't personally know anyone involved in the Las Vegas shootings, I felt a deep sense of compassion and empathy for all involved.

The human interconnection is something we all participate in and yet we seem to have lost sight of it lately trying to fit into a race, a gender, a religion, a political party, a certain way of thinking. 

These classifications create a broken nation, a divided world in which brothers and sisters turn against each other and we forget how deeply connected we all are.

But in moments like this, when fear strikes and lives are lost, we realize when other humans suffer, each of us suffer on some level.

Now more than ever, our greatest task is to preserve our health so that we can ultimately begin the healing that the world so desperately needs.

 

How Trauma Impacts Our Health from a Chinese Medical Point of View

All of us feel the same emotions. These emotions are one of our many common threads as human beings, though we may each process what we feel differently.

Li Dong-yuan, founder of the Earth School in Chinese Medicine, focused on what he referred to as the “five thieves,” or the emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, pensiveness, and fright, any of which in excess become pathological. 

All of the emotions that Li Dong-yuan mentioned are excessive emotions that can cause pathology to develop in the body. For example, the Earth attribute of yi, or the mind, which is associated with the Spleen and Stomach, has a tendency to worry or become pensive. Nei Jing Su Wen, an important classical Chinese medical text, stated: “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207). If pensiveness is not properly transformed, it leads to obsession. The attribute of the Heart is known as the spirit, or shen. Over-joy, which includes excessive desires and passions, can overwhelm the Heart and disrupt the shen, since the Heart is the organ that manages joy. Over-joy can transform into anxiety and eventually mania.

According to Chinese Medicine, emotions are merely the movement of qi, or energy, directed by a certain organ, but excessive or repressed emotions have pathological consequences. 

Trauma shocks the entire system, and eventually sets into the internal organ system.

Trauma initially strikes our Kidneys with fear and fright, affecting our adrenal glands, our willpower, and even our faith.

Our Hearts are also affected and since the spirit resides in the Heart from a Chinese Medicine perspective, the spirit suffers as well. We may lose sleep, becoming restless and anxious.

Grief impacts our Lungs and the resulting weakness can cause shortness of breath, coughing, depression and even infections such as pneumonia. Weak Lungs also affect our ability to let go, which is a virtue of the Lungs.

Anger fires up our Liver causing irritability and even affecting the body’s detoxification and digestive processes, which then impacts our ability to assimilate both our food and thoughts.

Trauma can also stir up Wind as a form of resistance to change. (See more about Wind as a challenge to healing in this article)

 

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

Stress impacts the body and mind on so many levels and tragic events activate our stress response - whether we watch the news, read the paper or hear about it from a friend or family member.

This does not mean you should tune out entirely to protect your health, but it's important not to lose yourself in world events. When it feels like too much, do something nourishing. Cook a warm meal, call up a good friend, or go out and spend time in nature. It's crucial that you learn to consistently take care of yourself.

Self-cultivation and self-care are the only things we can control and the most important way to make a difference in what seems like a wounded, frightening world. 

To do this, we have to take more time alone. Take time to sit quietly, to feel the anger, sadness, fear, hopelessness. As the feelings move through you, you can let them go.

Retreating also allows us to nourish the blood to help open the orifices and eventually make changes in our perception.

Solitude provides space and time to fully process our emotions so we can start to see things more clearly with a greater sense of compassion and less fear. Time alone is important to help the energy of the Heart move back down into the Kidneys so that we feel purposeful and clear. This then calms and pacifies the Wind that stirs us up internally with the changes so that we no longer have the nervousness that prevents us from facing the world and the issues. 

Wearing stones such as Amethyst, Moonstone and Amber help calm the Shen, or spirit, to calm the mind and Heart. Herbs such as biota seeds and jujube seeds help to nourish the Heart. Nourishing the heart means being good to yourself, being kind to yourself and also being kind to the world so that you can develop a greater sense of compassion. 

When we’re healthy and compassionate, we act from a place of love, which allows us to be more available to support others who aren’t as strong or who are going through a difficult time.

Once you calm your Shen and nourish your Heart, you begin to open the orifices to change your perception of the world. 

As we change inside our bodies, the Yang of the Kidneys will support us to move through the difficult changes in our lives. Pacifying Wind through calming practices helps settle the Yang to have the courage to make change.

Only when we’re healthy and empowered can we truly make a difference. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The more love we cultivate within ourselves, the more this love ripples into the world.

Our fundamental emotions, arguably the only emotions, are fear and love. The opposite of love is fear, not hate. The only way back to love is through a change in the perception of the world and the eradication of all other emotions that represent fear.

The first step to make this change is to recognize what we actually feel. Only then can we move through these feelings and channel their energy toward making positive changes in the world.

Our teacher, 88th generation Daoist Master Jeffrey Yuen has said many times: "The consciousness that brought on the disease cannot be the same consciousness that brings about healing." This goes for our individual healing and for the healing of the world as a whole.

 

A Meditation to Support You

Many years ago, I developed the BEME Meditation, which stands for Body, Emotions, Mind and Environment. Becoming aware of each of these aspects builds a deeper consciousness that connects us to how we truly feel. 

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to help us be more present, and can be profound to help settle the mind during difficult times. A calm mind becomes a clear mind and eventually provides the foundation for guiding the change that brings about healing.

You can practice this 10-minute meditation daily from the comfort of your home.

 

What You Can Do To Help Others

There are so many people who need our help right now. Here are a few ideas on what you can do for the victims and families affected by the recent tragedies:

Las Vegas

Puerto Rico

California


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com