Are You A Wood Person? What That Means and Why You Should Know

The world is regenerating itself before our very eyes. Tender, green leaves are sprouting from branches, birds are singing, and cherry blossoms are showering us with their beauty.

A revitalizing force is springing up from the ground, spreading in all directions, and gaining energy.

Spring is the time when potential, possibility and transformation become more accessible. Not just to the trees, grasses and flowers, but to ourselves as well. We are part of this world, and the invigorating nature of spring affects us the same way.

Nevertheless, there are some people who more naturally exude the energy of spring during all seasons of the year. In Chinese medicine, these people are considered “Wood” people, and this nature corresponds most closely with the health of the liver.

Are you a Wood person? People who identify most strongly with the Wood element are like plants, and have a strong need for expansiveness and growth. They are motivated to plan and start big projects. They dare to create new things.

The key characteristics of a Wood person are the ability to plan, control and organize. A balanced wood type is creative, expressive, and highly motivated with an entrepreneurial temperament. The are not daunted by opposition, but actually thrive on it as they pursue their goals and ambitions.

This type of person may sound very invigorating and exciting. However, when a Wood person is excessive or stagnant, their personality can become difficult.

If their liver energy becomes blocked and excessive, a Wood type can become overly aggressive and dominating. They may want to be at the head of any project they are involved in and can become angry and frustrated when things don’t go their way. Liver/Wood people have a lot of excess energy built up, so when they become frustrated, they will raise their voices and shout.

On the other hand, if a Wood person is weak rather than a stagnated and congested, they will have a tendency towards depression rather than anger, as depression is anger turned inwards. Weak Wood types may be overly sensitive, with frequent dips into sadness and depression. They don’t have the energy to utilize their creativity and self-expression, so they will tend towards stagnation instead.

Having a regular creative outlet is important for everyone, but particularly for Wood people. Wood energy needs to find a way to spread outwards in order to prevent it from becoming stagnant. A creative outlet can be anything, from drawing, painting, model-building, writing, colouring, or journaling.

The organ of the liver a perfect match for the energy of spring, or of Wood. As a filtration organ, its energy is one of constant movement. It filters, detoxifies, metabolizes, nourishes, and stores blood. Good liver energy flows easily and expands outwards, just like Wood. It eliminates toxins from the body through flow of bile, and is also responsible for the removal of broken down red blood cells at the end of their life span, clearing space by removing toxic by-products from the system.

When liver energy is blocked, toxins are no longer be eliminated quickly and easily. Instead, they will tend to become stuck in the liver, or stored in various cells throughout the body, awaiting a time when the liver is no longer as bogged down with other activities that it can metabolize and excrete them properly. These stored toxins can eventually harden into cysts and tumours if kept around for too long. This is why cysts and tumours are common signs of blocked liver energy.

Common health complaints of the liver are all related to its ability to break down and remove wastes from the body. The accumulation of toxins can create inflammation, causing problems like hepatitis, and cirrhosis. If bile becomes stuck in its ducts and cannot flow well, gallstones will result. This congestion of bile will also prevent hormones from being broken down and removed from the body as efficiently, resulting in menstrual issues like painful menstruation, endometriosis, PCOS, PMS, and problems associated with menopause or infertility.

Because bile is responsible for both good digestion and elimination, a congested liver can cause abdominal bloating, gas, constipation, or IBS. A liver that fails to store sugars properly can contribute to diabetes or hypoglycemia. A liver that can no longer metabolize cholesterol as efficiently will lead to cardiovascular problems and chest tightness. Finally, a blocked liver can cause problems such as hypertension and depression.

The liver performs its housekeeping duties during the middle of the night, between the hours of 1 – 3 am. Therefore, frequent insomnia is another sign of liver dysfunction. Because the liver stores the blood which nourishes the nerves, muscles and ligaments, if the liver struggles there can be nervous twitching and spasms, or contracted muscles and tight ligaments.

Conventional medical treatment for most of these health problems typically involves the dispensation of medications, which is far from ideal. Pharmaceutical medications will themselves need to be broken down and metabolized by the liver, so they can only increase the stress placed on this vital organ.

If you know someone who is a Wood type, it is important that they ensure their liver is flowing well to keep their energy from becoming excessive and angry. Since the liver is a filtration and detoxification organ, a period of cleansing will usually set the liver right again. And spring, being the time of Wood energy, is the best time to do this.

In next week’s blog post, I will go over several different ways you can improve the health of your liver in a natural way, and keep it functioning optimally.

3 Key Ways You Benefit When You Show Compassion To Others

I can think of few things more beautiful than compassion.

Compassion heals us when we suffer and hurt. It is the balm that steadies us when we are lonely. It soothes us when we are angry.

Compassion is the remedy we need in these unstable and uncertain times.

So, how can we encourage ourselves to generate more of it? It might help to remember these 3 key benefits.

  1. Compassion energizes you. It makes you feel good.

You might have heard of compassion fatigue. It can happen to anyone in a helping profession, and is a common cause of burnout and early retirement.

But here’s the thing: there is no such thing as compassion fatigue.

This is empathy fatigue. Empathy is tiring. It requires you to put yourself in the shoes of others and to take up their feelings as you own. It has a searching and reaching quality to it. It requires effort. Others’ feelings can stay with you and drag you down. This can definitely create exhaustion.

But compassion is different than empathy. While the two feelings often occur together, empathy is tiring, while compassion is not.

Compassion doesn’t sit and marinate in feelings, as empathy does. It has an active quality to it. When we feel compassion, we take the difficult feelings of others and pour sunshine on them. We wish them well. We pray with sincerity. We hope for the best. Compassion is active. This sets it apart from empathy.

Research done in 2013 found that when meditators practiced feeling empathy for others, the brain’s areas for negative feelings were turned on. Empathizing for long periods of time was a struggle. By contrast, when the same meditators were told to practice compassion, it caused the areas of their brains that make dopamine and oxytocin to become more active. There was a positive emotional response that uplifted and energized. Practicing compassion was much easier.

Bottom line: empathy tires. Compassion uplifts.

2. You have an endless supply of compassion. You can’t run out of it.

Many people think that generating compassion is difficult. We fear we won’t have enough of it, so we become stingy, and reserve it only for those closest to us.

But the truth is, you have an endless supply of compassion. It’s an essential part of your being. You can’t run out of it.

You can see this natural capacity for compassion most easily in toddlers. They share easily. They give to others who are sad. They have open and generous hearts.

This is because of the mirror neurons in their brains – in our brains. Humans are profoundly social creatures and we learn by watching and imitating others. It is through these mirror neurons that we see and react to other’s emotions. It is how empathy evolved.

If we want to be happy, we soon learn that the other members of our tribe need to be happy too. So, if someone we know is in pain, we feel a natural compassion for them. We want them to feel better so we can feel better too.

Jack Kornfield is an author and meditation teacher. He describes compassion as a channel within us. Fear, anger, depression, and worthlessness can cover over this channel. They can cloud our ability to show compassion.

But our natural ability for compassion is always there. It sometimes becomes blocked, like the clouds covering a blue sky. But if we can work to keep our hearts open, by caring for others and noticing the beauty of the world around us, then our natural compassion will flow through.

So, please don’t worry about portioning out your compassion. Your heart is rich with it, as long as it remains soft and open.

3. Compassion occurs when love meets pain.

By definition, compassion arises in response to the difficulties of others. This means that, without pain, there can be no compassion. I find this incredibly moving.

Luckily, life has no shortage of pain and difficulty. No one, neither rich nor poor, is exempt from it. This means you can spread your compassion widely to everyone you pass by on the street. You always know it is going to a deserving place because we are all struggling with something.

But this is also why compassion must start with you. Too often, we compare our hurts, thinking that some people deserve more care than others. But there is no ranking system with pain. It just is. A sore heart is a sore heart, no matter the size of the hole within it. This means there is no greater recipient of compassion than you, yourself.

So, be sure to show yourself as much compassion as you can. And know that when you show yourself more compassion, it’s easier to spread it to others.

As you move forward in your life today, please remember these 3 things about compassion:

  1. It can’t tire you.
  2. It’s impossible to run out of it because it is intrinsic to your being, and,
  3. The person most deserving of compassion is yourself. You can travel the whole world and experience pain from all corners. But in the end you will find there is no one more in need of your own compassionate heart than yourself.

Now, go out and be compassionate! Shower compassion on others, but especially on your own tender being. Wish others well. Pray to ease their suffering. Hope that all will understand their own worth. And then, notice how much better you feel.

The world is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Compassion makes it softer. For both yourself and the other hurting souls within your midst.

Book of the Month – 29 Gifts by Cami Walker

Life sure is good at throwing you curve balls!

Cami Walker surely must have thought so when, just one month after marrying the love of her life, she was diagnosed with MS. She went from feeling on top of the world, to wondering “what the hell happened”?

Suddenly, she became a frequent visitor of the emergency room as she struggled with pain, numbness, and paralysis. Her new marriage experienced financial and emotional strain as she and her husband struggled to pay hospital bills and manage her condition. She wondered if it would be possible for her to ever walk again, or to find gainful employment.

It was during this time of upheaval that her friend and neighbour, an African healer named Mbali Creazzo, suggested that she try the 29 Day Giving Challenge. A healing ritual from Africa, the 29 Day Giving Challenge requires that you give away one gift every day for 29 days. If you miss a day, you have to start all over again at Day 1.

A key component: the gifts have to be given whole-heartedly. You must look your recipient in the eye, and be fully present as you give your gift. You also can’t expect anything in return.

You may wonder how a system of daily giving could possibly be a good prescription for someone whose life has just been taken away from them. Wasn’t Cami Walker already going through enough? How could she possibly give to others when she was already feeling so empty and useless?

But Mbali Creazzo explained that giving to others enlarges your view of yourself. Instead of living from a place of scarcity, you begin to see your intrinsic value, regardless of the amount of money in your bank account. You also begin to feel greater dignity. You realize that, no matter what your troubles may be, you still have something special to offer the world: yourself, your creativity, and your beautiful heart.

Keep in mind, the gifts in the 29 Day Giving Challenge do not have to be large. They can be something as little as spare change to a homeless person, or a free back rub to your spouse. You can give a card to your neighbour, or help a friend move. Your gift can even be something as simple as a smile and a kind word.

At first, Cami Walker was skeptical. She felt so empty, she didn’t think she had anything left to give. But she was willing to try anything to start feeling better, so she gave it a shot.

As she explains in her book, at first she struggled to give her daily gifts. She felt they were worthless, and the whole exercise was pointless. But despite her doubts, she persevered. By the end of the first week, she was already beginning to feel a little lighter and more open.

As her mood improved, so did her health. She began to feel a greater capacity to heal and to endure. Surprisingly, she began to walk more easily, and her energy level rose. As her mood lifted, so did her confidence. Then, almost magically, her personal business began to attract more clients. And it all started by giving away some simple gifts.

The 29 Day Giving Challenge did not heal Cami Walker of her MS. But it did make her feel more whole. It restored to her a greater sense of self, and reminded her of the riches she already had.

The experience was so transformational, that Walker not only wrote the book 29 Gifts, she also created the website where she explains the 29 Day Giving Challenge, and invites others to join her. Visit, and become inspired.

Full disclosure: I have not yet tried the 29 Day Giving Challenge myself, but I really love the idea.

Are you curious? Do you have questions? Grab a copy of Cami Walker’s book 29 Gifts, or go to her website. There, you’ll find all the information you need. And if you decide to try the challenge yourself, let me know how it goes. Inspire me with your stories.

The world only changes when we change ourselves. By giving to others whole-heartedly, maybe we can shift the energy around us and make it less angry and confrontational. Your gift can be as little as your smile. What do you think?

A Rare Bird

My family, circa 1976

I rounded the corner of the games area, just looking for somewhere to sit. My right hip was bothering me and I wanted to do some quick stretches to open it up and relieve some tension.

The cafeteria offered many empty chairs but was also noisy and crowded, so as I wound myself through the full tables, brimming with customers, I was looking for a place of relative quiet. A place where I could take my ease, yet also watch people as they were coming and going.

And as I looked ahead of me, towards the reserved area where we were to have our party later, I saw my father.

He was looking right at me.

My dad hadn’t smiled much in recent years and he wasn’t smiling now. This unnerved me a little. To know that he might have been watching me this entire time, quietly assessing me as I wended my way towards him.

My father and I aren’t exactly close. This is not because there’s any animosity between us. It’s more because of who he is. Born in the 1930’s, he’s very much a man of his era – more of a silent provider and protector for his family, and not so much a friend.

I express surprise at seeing him there so early, and as I speak, he continues to watch me steadily with his calm blue eyes. His face is expressionless, so I have no idea what he’s thinking. But then he greets me readily enough and dives right into his recent health challenges.

“You are a rare bird,” his doctor told him at his last visit.

The description immediately captures my imagination. A rare bird.

My father is that.

Described as “backward” by his mother when he was young, he’s a little socially awkward. A quiet and thoughtful type, he didn’t show any signs of marrying and settling down until he was almost thirty – late for the time. But my mother liked him. She was drawn by his courteousness, his intelligence, their shared love of choral music. He seemed like a bird in need of caring, so she took him under her wing and nurtured him.

She died a little over a year ago.

During the difficult last days and weeks of her life, my father had a silent heart attack. We only found that out months afterwards. Further diagnostic imaging has determined that the problem is due to amyloid plaques in his heart. The same plaques that tangle the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s syndrome are suddenly interfering with the activity of his heart. His doctors are trying to keep him alive.

I watch my father as he speaks, taking note of the dry patches of skin around his cheekbones, and the gauntness of his face. He’s alive at 90, but not exactly doing well. I guess that’s the best you can say of anyone who has had the good fortune to reach the age of 90.

In the past, I’ve often felt uncomfortable around my father. I find him too silent, too acquiescing, too passive. I’ve wanted more action from him. More vigour.

The funny thing is, I guess you could say the same thing of me. My discomfort around him likely stems from the discomfort of being myself. I am very much like him.

But there’s something about that phrase he used today – “a rare bird” – that softens me towards him. And then softens me towards myself. Maybe we truly are both ‘rare birds’. And if so, shouldn’t I appreciate all those things that make us different, rather than resent them? Shouldn’t I be proud of all the things that make us ‘rare’?

Neither of us are the life of the party. We’re both easily overlooked. We’re both a little too still, too passive.

But that quietness, that stillness, can also be a strength. Today, I notice how welcomed I feel within his attentive gaze. How reassured I feel by the thoughtfulness of his words. My father has never been someone who speaks in order to get attention. He speaks when he has something to say. And in a world where everyone is constantly talking over one another, all at the same time, this is refreshing. This is rare.

I once read an interview with the Canadian singer K. D. Lang. Praised for her unique voice, she was asked when she became aware of her talent. Incredibly, she said she doesn’t believe she’s unusual. In her opinion, everyone has a world-class talent. Maybe it’s not singing or dancing or acting, but each of us has something we do exceptionally well, better than anyone else on the planet.

At the time, I had scoffed at her words. I’ve never thought I had any particular skill or talent. But now, with that new sense of openness inspired by the phrase “a rare bird”, I give it some thought.

I know I like to listen. I like to hold space for people, and help them feel seen and heard. I like to reassure them that they’re essentially OK, that they can feel safe in my presence.

As I sit next to my father and we quietly discuss the events of the day, I find I am better able to appreciate the gift of a quiet presence. The gift of attentiveness. Of thoughtfulness.

And as I accept the quietness of my father, I find I am also able to accept the quietness of myself. I am finally able to accept us both as the rare birds we are.

How to Navigate the Space Between

I’ve long been fascinated by lonely, empty, forgotten spaces.

Like the dark, little cubbyhole underneath the stairs, the mysterious attic, or the quiet hush of the bedroom that hasn’t been entered in years.

I think it’s the stillness. The natural pause you find in such places.

I suspect this is because I’m an introvert. Crowds overwhelm me, but give me a quiet place, with nothing but the sound of faint birdsong and the wind in the trees, and I’m immediately at home. I can actually feel my nervous system down-regulating.

In art, this place of emptiness is called negative space. It’s that white, empty area in between objects that seems meaningless, but is actually what gives art its form and style.

In yoga, it’s the space between poses. We think that nothing is happening during this time, but in actuality, everything is happening. We are shifting, we are moving. We are attempting to shape ourselves into a new pose, and in doing so, we are falling into old patterns of perfectionism, or inattention. We begin to lose focus.

This is the part of yoga practice, and of life, that we tend to disregard. But maintaining our presence and our focus in this empty, negative space is really the goal.

I’ve found myself stuck in just such a place over these last few weeks. A small muscle injury that I paid little attention to gradually became bigger more involved the longer I ignored it. Now I’m paying dearly for my lack of focus.

I had intended to enter the year 2024 full of energy and activity. Instead, I’ve found myself unexpectedly shelved.

In the beginning, I railed against my new confines. Frustrated and frightened, I contracted into a small ball of irritability. I couldn’t see my way through. Everything became tight and tense. But then things started to change.

I was able to enter the space between.

Although it may seem like nothing, this place of in-between holds great meaning. How we choose to navigate it can determine the quality and course of our lives.

In literature, this space is often referred to as the liminal space. It’s a place of transition. It’s the doorway that leads we know not where.

It’s Frodo walking the lonely, treacherous path towards Mount Doom. It’s Luke Skywalker flying to the empty, swamp-covered planet of Dagobah. In entering these liminal spaces, characters leave their old selves behind and begin their walk towards something new.

The liminal space is frightening. First of all, it is usually entered after a period of loss, or of death. It’s Frodo realizing that the entire world is threatened by the wrath of Sauron. It’s Luke Skywalker, driven away from Tattoine by the murder of his aunt and uncle.

Secondly, the liminal space is confusing. You feel lost. You will fail here. It’s an area of cognitive dissonance. The rules that you once lived by no longer apply. You have become a stranger in a strange land. Essentially, you are a caterpillar entering a cocoon. Yes, a butterfly will eventually emerge, but we sometimes forget that the process starts with the death of a caterpillar.

It’s a beautiful process. Or it can be. But in order to succeed, in order to come out on the other side in one beautiful piece, you will need a compass.

And that compass is yourself.

I think it’s easy to enter one of these empty, liminal spaces and just shut down. The emotions are too high. The fear is too intense. Nothing makes sense anymore. In order to cope, you can start to numb yourself with food, or TV, alcohol, or drugs. But the longer you distract yourself, the more extended and painful the process of transformation will be.

That’s why it’s very important to pay attention. To check in with yourself often and take note of how you’re feeling. What delights you here? What doesn’t? What can you do to make your heart soar? What causes your gut to tighten? Allow yourself to feel everything. As frightening and discouraging and bewildering as it may be, find a way to stay present.

When I unexpectedly found myself in the space between, I became contorted and depressed. Unable to follow my usual yoga practice, I felt adrift, uncertain, and without anchor. It took me awhile to find a new rhythm. But eventually, I was led back into a regular meditation practice, and re-learned, once again, how to stay present with my strong and difficult emotions.

In the process, I wouldn’t say I’ve become a butterfly. But I have become more comfortable in this new and unfamiliar land. I’ve rediscovered my strengths. I’ve relearned humility and patience.

Once again, I’ve discovered the serenity of the space between. And although it’s a place I’d rather not be, I’ve managed to find joy in the stillness and quiet here. I’ve leaned in strongly towards my fear and discomfort, and managed to make it my home.

Free Parking and a Piriformis Injury

The man in front of me stiffened, squinted, and drew himself closer to the ticket machine. He pressed a button, but nothing happened.

Confused, he turned to look at us, the half dozen people waiting behind him. Our faces were probably blank, bored, or irritated, and offered no help.

Saying nothing, he turned back to the machine and rubbed his forehead with the fingers of one hand in a gesture of frustration.

“Oh, no,” I thought to myself, “Something’s wrong”. And that was when my heart dropped into my stomach. A sense of dread began to build within me. I really didn’t need this right now. I could feel that hot, searing pain in my right leg start to build, and I shifted my weight away from it. It didn’t help.

Suddenly, an older gentleman stepped up from behind me, walked up to the machine, and took charge.

“Try taking your card out,” he suggested. The man took his credit card out, and there was a slight pause as we waited for a reaction.

Nothing changed.

The machine still wasn’t printing out his receipt, and without a receipt, the man couldn’t leave the parking lot. And if he couldn’t leave, then none of the rest of us could leave either!

I shifted my weight again and winced as the now-familiar pain shot through my leg. I felt hot and desperately uncomfortable.

Now the older gentleman became frustrated too. He pushed the “call” button at the front of the ticket machine, and suddenly, we could all hear a distant phone ringing.

No one answered.

Undaunted, the older gentleman pressed the “call” button again.

Still no answer.

So, he pushed the button again, and again, and again, in a never-ending series.

I could hear the people behind me began to shift, sigh, and grumble. A few more people entered the tiny vestibule and joined the growing line in front of the ticket machine, their faces clouding with confusion. What was going on here? Why was the room so crowded?

The room began to feel tight, airless, claustrophobic. My leg throbbed. I felt anxious and trapped.

Suddenly, a man in uniform appeared to my right. “You can all go,” he said, tiredly. “I propped open the exit gate, so you can leave without paying”.

I didn’t take longer than a second or two for his comment to register. People immediately began to rush for the exit. The older gentleman was almost running, pushing past others to get out the door as fast as possible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a room empty so quickly in my life.

But I couldn’t run. I couldn’t even move quickly. In fact, I could barely walk! While the others flew around me, I hobbled out the door. Step after aching step. All around me, car doors were slamming and engines were revving. As I passed through the parking lot, a car drove in front of me, driving a little too quickly towards the exit gate.

Suddenly, the situation started to feel just a little ridiculous, and laughter began to bubble up within me. Laughter at the way we all dashed to our cars. Laughter at the way the cars rushed toward the temporarily free exit. Laughter at my ridiculous hobbling. And all to avoid paying a $4 parking fee!

In case you’re wondering, I injured my leg a couple of weeks ago while doing Locust Pose. It’s a pose I’ve done hundreds of times before without harm. I chalk up the injury to me pushing myself too hard, and not respecting the stiffness and reduced elasticity of a post-menopausal body.

Technically, it’s not even my leg that’s injured, but the piriformis muscle in the centre of my right butt cheek. A muscle I never even knew existed a couple of weeks ago, but has now begun to dominate my life.

I’ve been seeing a chiropractor twice weekly to help heal my injury, and in just a short period of time, there’s already been big improvement. Or so my chiropractor says. When I seem down, he talks to me about lowered expectations. “At this point in our treatment, if the pain is reducing, we’re doing well!” he says, cheerily. “If your walk has become straighter and more even, then we’re doing well!” And I feel reassured.

The last time I saw him, my chiropractor and I discussed all the little humiliations that come with lower back, and/or sciatic injuries like mine. Humiliations like the sudden inability to walk normally, or the difficulty getting into and out of bed, the struggle to get up off the toilet, and even the strain of putting on your socks and shoes each morning. Such simple things, and yet they’ve all begun to seem like a climb up Mount Everest every day. It’s been incredibly humbling.

Recognizing my frustration, my chiropractor tries to put things into perspective for me. He reminds me to take real pleasure in all my little gains. If I’m already experiencing a considerable reduction in pain, that’s something to celebrate! If I can now walk in strides instead of hobbling, that’s tremendous! He trains me to focus on all the real progress I’ve made, however small, rather than obsess on what I can’t yet do.

So, when I’m finally able to put my socks on without wincing, he says to me, “Hey! Great putting-your-socks-on this morning!” and he gives me a high five.

Which brings me back to that incident at the parking lot and the mad scramble to leave before the exit gate was lowered. I must have been the last one to reach my car, because by the time I finally arrived at the exit gate, no one else was waiting.

And despite my anxiety that I might be too late – that my slow hobble might have caused me to miss the opportunity for free parking, that I might yet have to turn myself around, and limp back into the building to find some way to pay – when I finally arrived at the gate, I found it still raised, and was able to pass through it without incident.

A big smile came to my face as I re-entered street traffic. I felt slightly silly, but why shouldn’t I smile? Why shouldn’t I celebrate this random piece of luck? It may be a small thing, but isn’t life really about the small things?

What small challenge have you overcome recently? Have you, perhaps, finally mastered a new skill at work, after weeks of frustration? Have you finally been able to lift more weight at the gym? Has your baby finally been able to sleep through the night?

Even if there have been no recent changes, can you find simple gratitude in the fact that the sun is shining, or that you are still able to do something as simple as put your socks and shoes on without pain?

Whatever your small gain is, make sure the pleasure counts. Turn up the volume on it. Soak it in. Marinate yourself in positive feelings. Let yourself grin.

Or, do as my chiropractor would, and say, “Great putting-your-socks-on this morning!” And then he’d smile and give you a high-five.

Book of the Month – Molecules of Emotion, by Candace Pert, Ph.D.

Back in high school, one of my favourite classes was “Anatomy and Physiology”. I think this was partly because our teacher clearly loved his subject. At every class, he would present the day’s material with energy and enthusiasm. He even loved the questions we asked, always finding a way to infuse them with wonder.

It must have been in this class that I first learned about neurotransmitters. In case you have forgotten, these are the chemical messengers within our brains that transmit information between neurons, or from neurons to muscles. They include substances like serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine, and they help regulate our appetite, sleep-wake cycle, and moods, among other things.

This system, as it was taught to us, was very brain focused. We were told that neurotransmitters were manufactured in our brains, and once excited, they started a process of change within our bodies. This change could be conscious or unconscious, but could only be stopped, or remedied, within the brain itself. Along with this thinking came a boom in the pharmacological industry, whereby drugs were used to either excite or inhibit naturally occurring neurotransmitters in our brains to better balance our moods.

What we students didn’t realize at the time, was that this framework was far too simplistic and was about to be turned on its head. The author of my book pick this month, Candace Pert, was one of the people who solidified this change in thought, when she discovered the opiate receptor for her Ph. D. thesis in 1973.

Finding the opiate receptor was just the beginning. For, once the opiate receptor was found, Pert and other scientists then began to map all the places in the body where opiate receptors were located. And to their surprise, they weren’t found only in the brain. They were also clustered, in large concentrations, in the immune system, the endocrine system, and the digestive system too.

What this means, is that the feelings of pleasure we get when we take opiate drugs, like heroin, don’t necessarily come from our brains. Cells all over our body can also activate the pleasure response. The top-down, brain-focused model of emotional regulation that I had learned in high school, and which had been taught to doctors throughout the world, turned out to be wrong, or at very least, incomplete.

After the opiate receptor was found, the race was on to find the natural substance within our bodies that attached to it. Because we always knew that opium was just a hack. There had to be something within our bodies that used the opium receptor and could also trigger those feelings of euphoria. And this magic substance turned out to be a simple chain of amino acids called peptides, which Pert began to call “molecules of emotion”. Molecules of Emotion also is the title of her book.

Personally, I found Molecules of Emotion to be a riveting read. And considering the number of weeks I had to wait to receive my copy from the local library, I’m not the only one. Pert is a great writer. Interspersed with her scientific findings, she tells us the story of her own life, relaying her struggle for recognition as one of the few women practising science in the 1970’s and 1980’s, her years as a young wife and mother, and the stress of staying relevant in a competitve, male-dominated world.

With humour, she also describes her reluctant evolution from strident research-based scientist into someone who could see the science within alternative medicine, and explain it to us without using all the “woo-woo” terms that can be a turn-off for many. By the time of her death in 2013, she was a regular and valued speaker at MindBody conferences around the world, and is still considered one of the founding leaders of MindBody medicine.

Fundamentally, what Candace Pert’s research taught us is that, yes, our brain does control our body, but our body also influences our brain. Those gut feelings, the tightness in your heart, those panic attacks – these are all signals your body is using to alert your brain that something is wrong. Using a top-down approach to the problem, by taking mood-altering drugs, may help. But you should also consider the environment in which your body is currently living. It may hold a greater key to your return to health than you previously thought.

The Core Wound

After days and days of greyness, the sun finally came out this week, glinting over everything, revealing the deep, perfect blue of the sky. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew through my back yard, causing the branches of the old, hickory tree outside my window to wave up and down, back and forth. It seemed as if the tree was waving at me, and smiling.

Unexpectedly moved, I began to cry.

This is not the first time I’ve cried on my yoga mat. But the sudden surge of tears still took me by surprise. What was that all about?

In the past, I would’ve just brushed away my tears impatiently and got on with my practice. But recently, I’ve been delving a little deeper, and done a lot more inner probing. Now, instead of turning my attention elsewhere, I zoom in. Where did those tears come from? What do they signify? Why is there that sore spot in my heart, and what is it trying to tell me?

I’ve long heard of the idea of a core wound, or a sacred wound. This wound is said to be a place of deep hurt that guides our actions, and is the reason behind many of our life choices.

Usually inflicted upon us at some point in our childhood, we arm ourselves against it, and this armour can be very difficult to pierce. Survival within our family or community usually requires us to remain dutiful and smiling, so instead of probing our pain or questioning it, we stuff it down deep inside. As children, we also lack the maturity required to heal it, so it can fester within us for years.

But as we age, and gather more financial and emotional security, we can start to feel safe. This is when life circumstances may allow our core wound to be uncovered, finally calling it up from our subconscious mind to be healed.

This core wound doesn’t necessarily have to be something major, like emotional or physical trauma, although something like that would certainly qualify. It could also be something like parental neglect, or the death of a parent at a young age. Perhaps we were betrayed by a sibling, or felt guilt for being unharmed in an accident while a friend or relative was badly injured. Maybe there remains a deep feeling of deficiency after a major illness.

I’ve heard of the idea of a core wound before, but never really knew what mine was. While I’ve certainly carried plenty of baggage from my past, I could never discern that one wound, the one that encompassed all the others. The one that all the other wounds folded into.

Somehow, while lying on my yoga mat this week, that core wound finally crept up into my consciousness. I think it arose because I’ve been practising a lot of openness and acceptance of myself during my daily yoga practice. And what it said was: “I am a bad person. A person who is wrong in some fundamental way. I’m not just a person broken by circumstance, but someone who doesn’t even know the right thing to do. A person whose very instincts are incorrect, and not to be trusted”.

As these feelings and thoughts arose within me, I found I was able to hold them tenderly, something I don’t think I’ve had the capacity to do before. I recognized them, and understood where they came from. And though they did sadden me, a flood of compassion quickly filled my heart and I was able to accept my pain with care.

Bill Plotkin, psychologist, author, and wilderness guide, says our core wounds do not necessarily need to be healed. In fact, it may not be possible to heal them. This is a relief to me, as I don’t even begin to know how to fix mine. But Plotkin goes even further, saying our core wounds may even be necessary. Without them, without the need forge ahead into something better, away from the pain of our past, we may fail to move forward in life.

There’s also something much deeper going on here, though. Our core wounds are not just a heavy weight for us to carry. They also hold the potential for profound healing. As the poet Rumi famously said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

This is where our life purpose can be found. Just as an irritating piece of sand at the centre of a clam shell can eventually turn into a pearl, so our core wound is the sore spot, that, with careful tending, can bring a startling beauty, not just to ourselves, but to our entire community. If we are brave enough to delve deeply into it, to fix our gaze directly at it, and hold its pain with gentleness and compassion, there is treasure to be found.

That day on my yoga mat, as the tears rolled down my face, I finally began to understand my own core wound. And as I did, a wave of empathy hit me. I finally began to understand why I’ve fallen into so many black holes throughout my life. Why I’ve struggled so much to listen to my own heart.

With gentleness, I allowed myself to feel its heaviness, and the sadness within it. So far, it has given me no answers. If there is a treasure to be found within this pain, I don’t yet know what it is, but at the very least I’m no longer running away from it. I’m still and I’m listening.

Where Is Your Pain?

TCM Gallbladder Meridian

Have you ever taken a good look at the gallbladder meridian? Like, really closely? It’s crazy!

It’s the third longest meridian in the human body, with 44 different acupuncture points. Only the stomach meridian and urinary bladder meridian are longer, with 45 and 67 points, respectively . But the stomach and urinary bladder meridians, though longer, are easier to learn because their points mostly line up. The gallbladder meridian zigs and zags all over the place. As TCM students back in the day, it made us all sigh in frustration.

It starts at the outer part of the eye, then abruptly moves to the corner of the jaw, rising quietly along the hairline at the side of the head, before winding itself around the ear, then escaping back up to the top of the head, jumping down to the side of the neck, and then winding jerkily down the entire side of the body, ending at the outer side of the 4th toe.

I used to wonder how TCM doctors even figured this stuff out. How did they know the energy of the gallbladder mapped itself onto this weird line of energy that made such startling leaps and jumps? Why were they so sure that these precise points were important, and not some other adjacent spots?

We’re told that it was a long process of trial and error, combined with acute observation, over a period of thousands of years. As a student, you try not to question it too much, and just accept it all as fact. It’s only when you see a patient with pain running along that exact line, in that weird, zig-zagging fashion, that you begin to see the genius of it all.

I had a client like that this week. She had this weird pain starting in the soft tissue of her butt, and then radiating down the entire outside of her leg, all the way down to her little toe. It was so exactly the bottom part of the gallbladder meridian, it may as well have been lit up like a string of Christmas lights. It was fascinating, really.

In treating people with gallbladder problems, I often hear complaints of pain in the right side, just under the rib cage. That is typical. Sometimes, the pain can radiate up to the base of the shoulder blade and then up the side of the neck. I see that a lot too. But leg pain is more unusual.

Luckily, this client had several of our liver/gallbladder tinctures in her cupboard and took them as advised. An hour later she called me back, relieved, to say that her searing pain had gone. Like magic!

When I first met my mother-in-law, Julia, I had never even heard of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I might have heard of acupuncture before, but back then, it still had that woo-woo, foreign, wackiness factor attached to it. If you had told me that one day I’d be treating people with Chinese herbs, tracing their lines of pain along acupuncture meridians, I would never have believed you. I wouldn’t have even known what you were talking about.

And yet, here I am. Thoroughly immersed in the stuff. I feel fortunate that I’m able to help people with this knowledge, although I often feel pretty wacky myself. When I listen to myself trying to explain certain TCM concepts to people, I know I sound ridiculous. Sometimes, I feel ridiculous! And yet, it works.

So, if you ever find yourself in pain, take a look at the gallbladder meridian and see if there’s a match. There are a lot of common pain points along its path. Shoulder, neck, or leg pain may not seem related to your gallbladder, but they often are. Then, ask yourself if you’ve you been eating a lot of fatty foods lately. How about spicy foods? Spicy foods will aggravate your liver and gallbladder too.

If you see a connection, give me a call, and I’ll set you up with some products that’ll help. It may not make sense that your neck or leg pain is somehow related to your gallbladder, but try not to think about it too much. Just know that thousands of years of trial and error have shown that there’s a connection. And specific herbs are known to work.

3 Crucial Steps to Recover from Burnout

Confession: I used to dread getting out of bed.

My mother-in-law had dementia, and I lived in the same house with her. This meant that I was regularly confronted by her as soon as I left my bedroom.

Sometimes, she would ask me a question over and over again. I would lose my patience as I answered her multiple times, with increasing irritation. I often lost my cool well before I left the house for the day.

Sometimes, she would be accusatory. Why did this happen? Why did I do this? Who was responsible? Whatever it was, it was surely someone else’s fault, even if it was obvious that she was the culprit. If you dared to suggest that it was actually her who did this thing, she would be indignant and scoff vehemently. In these cases, it was usually best to just drop the subject and quietly clean up the mess. You quickly learn that you can’t win arguments with people who have dementia.

Sometimes, I would arrive downstairs to find some disaster in progress. She couldn’t remember how to turn the stove on, and so was eating her eggs raw. Or there was a puddle of pee on the floor in the middle of the room. She had lost control of her bladder without even noticing. Again, no comment required. Just remedy the situation as best you can.

One day, she found some expired food in the refrigerator and was eating it, along with the blue-green mould on top of it. She thought it was healthy because it was green! A battle then ensued as I tried to take the mouldy food away from her, while she chased me through the house in an attempt to retrieve it. Sometimes, the absurdity of the situation made me laugh. Sometimes, it made me cry.

But I think you get my point. My bed was my safe place. Leaving it meant being confronted by some form of headache-inducing chaos. Naturally, I preferred to put that off as long as possible.

The thing is, for months and even years after we finally got my mother-in-law into a nursing home, I continued to have difficulty getting out of bed. It was like my heart had become wounded somehow. Or my faith in life. Probably both.

I tried reprimanding myself. Why was I so lazy? I never used to have such difficulty getting up in the morning! I worried about my work ethic. What had happened to it? It seemed to be permanently disabled.

When reprimands didn’t work, I tried thinking of rewards instead, like the grilled cheese sandwich I would prepare for myself later for lunch. Or the walk I would have with my dog after work. I relished being under the gracefully arching branches of the trees, with the sun warming my face. This helped somewhat. But though this got me out of bed, it didn’t restore my enthusiasm for life.

The fact was, I simply didn’t want to get out of bed anymore, and I didn’t know how to fix the problem.

It took me awhile to realize that I was suffering from a classic case of burnout. Well, maybe not classic. In classic burnout, you feel numbed by your life and uninspired by your daily activities. By the time you reach the stage of being unable to get out of bed in the morning, your burnout has reached epic proportions.

So, what did work? What finally helped me get out of bed?

Number One: Remember the things you loved to do as a child.

In my case, it was drawing. I used to love drawing when I was young. Art was always my favourite class in school. Although it took some coaxing from my mother and my older brother, I eventually signed up for an evening drawing class at the local art centre. And every time I went to that class, it was like life was breathing itself back into me.

Number Two: Treat yourself with exquisite kindness.

Beating myself up for my lack of initiative was not making me feel better. In fact, it was making me feel like even more of a failure. Although it seemed counter-intuitive, offering myself boatloads of compassion and kindness made me feel less tight and defensive. It allowed my heart some space to open. It gave me some room to heal. While kindness didn’t get me out of bed right away, it did loosen my huddle and paved the way for later expansion.

Number Three: Find a way to express your feelings.

One definition of burnout I’ve heard is “repressed emotions”. And I certainly had plenty of those. All the frustration, anger, fear, anxiety, dread, and sadness that my mother-in-law’s condition had inspired in me needed to be felt. I couldn’t keep pushing it down and pretending it didn’t exist. It was killing me. Or rather, it was keeping me in a deadened state.

This final point turned out to be a big insight. My body was so stuffed full of unfelt feelings that it had actually become numb. I never knew what I was feeling about anything anymore. Mostly, I just didn’t care. Allowing myself to feel all those difficult, challenging feelings – hard as it was – was life changing.

Every morning, I would settle onto my yoga mat, and essentially do nothing. I would lie in various restorative yoga poses, using props to support me, and gently check in with myself. Then, keeping my breath steady, I would allow myself to feel whatever feelings were there. Nothing was off limits. Anger, sadness, dread. All were welcome.

It took awhile to get this process started, but once my body began to feel safe, I was surprised at the different emotions that came up each day, usually with a boatload of tears. Gradually, the contours of physical body began to take shape again. I could feel the heaviness of my limbs on the ground, the tingling of the muscles along my spine as they began to soften and relax, the gentle opening of my hips. And then, finally, as my physical body began to relax, my mood became lighter. One day, I felt the gentle rise of energy within me, and cried with relief. I was finally returning to myself.

I still don’t know if I’m fully recovered from that awful case of burnout, but I do know that I feel much better. I don’t have any problems getting out of bed anymore. I look forward to my daily plans. I’m still not always as inspired as I’d like to be, but I feel confident this will come in time.

For now, I’m just enjoying becoming better acquainted with myself, feeling what I feel, doing the hobbies I like, and resting when I need to, without guilt or self-reproach. It’s a new way of life for me, and one I plan to continue.

If you are interested in doing some gentle, restorative yoga classes, consider stopping by my website at You can attend a class live, or sign up for a monthly membership, where you’ll have access to dozens of already recorded classes, all taught by me – a person very familiar with burnout and all the emotions that come along with it. Please know that you’re not alone. Together, we can heal from the pain of burnout.