On Competitiveness

We all know competitive people. They’re frankly annoying. Whatever you do, they will try to one-up you. They will interrupt you, or block you as a way to get ahead. They can often be found grandstanding in front of a crowd, laughing at themselves in a self-deprecating way so as to appear charming.

They certainly don’t care about you – unless they think they can ride on your coattails. In that case, they will shower you with compliments, sticking as close to you as possible to catch any benefits that may trickle down. But they’ll throw you under the bus as soon as your talents are no longer needed, and without a hint of remorse. Because in the end, they really only care about winning.

Those are the really competitive people. But then, we all compete to a certain extent, don’t we? We are all trying to appear better than we are. We are all trying to impress.

I recall being in yoga classes and trying to do all the poses perfectly. I swear, the bend in my front leg in Warrior II pose was completely horizontal! My lunges were deep. My Triangle pose was a model of symmetry. In short, I was using yoga (of all things) as a way to compete. I was trying to impress. What I failed to notice was that no one really cared, except for me.

The real question is: why did I feel the need to do this? Looking back, it was because I felt inadequate in so many ways. Suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I felt weak and sick and useless most of the time. But if I could do a perfect Extended Side-Angle pose, it meant I still had some value. In the yoga studio, I was faultless – or, at least, I tried to be.

I’m reflecting on this now because of a discussion I had with a customer this week. When I mentioned the yoga classes I teach, she immediately felt the need to tell me that she did yoga for years and can still do a perfect Headstand, as well as a Handstand. She wanted me to know she was no slouch, and didn’t need any help.

In that moment, I saw myself. And I felt so much compassion for her. I can still remember that old ‘me’. The ‘me’ that used to try so hard to be perfect. The ‘me’ that tried a restorative yoga class just once and declared it pointless. As far as I could tell, everyone was just lying around. Where was the benefit in that?

At the time, my idea of exercise was that you needed to strain and sweat. If you weren’t pushing yourself in some way, you weren’t getting any stronger. You weren’t getting any better. And I was in the habit of pushing myself – hard – in all areas of my life. If I wasn’t putting in 110% effort, I thought I was slacking. When I look back, it’s no wonder I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In fact, it’s a wonder I didn’t get it sooner!

Which brings me to my point. In Western culture, we are taught that we don’t have value unless we have achieved something important. Unless we have produced something of value. We work all day in offices, in workplaces, and even in our own homes, trying to prove to ourselves and to others that we have worth. That we matter. That we are deserving of love.

I’m here to tell you that you are already deserving of love. You already matter. You don’t have to do anything. The people who truly love you already love you, without condition. You don’t need to prove yourself to them. That was a lesson it took me a long time to learn. Ironically, it’s a lesson you start to learn when you do restorative yoga – precisely the type of yoga class I regularly steered myself away from.

In restorative yoga, you learn that there are supports beneath you that you can rely on. You don’t need to do it all yourself. You can rest. You learn that you have value even when you are still. Even when you are doing nothing.

It’s a very important lesson for all people who suffer from fatigue, burnout, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which I see as an extreme version burnout. Really, it’s an important lesson for everyone who lives in our culture.

If you can see yourself in anything I’ve said here, know that you don’t have to try so hard. Know that you are valued just as you are. Understand that anything you do or create will be of better qualify if it comes from a place of peace, rather than desperation.

And then come visit me at www.rebeccasrestfulyoga.com. Together, we’ll restore your nervous system and help you remember what you were like before competitiveness got hold of you. Before you felt you needed to prove yourself in order to be loved.

Chinese Wild Yam

When I was growing up, I never ate yams or sweet potatoes. Nor had I even heard of them! As a Mennonite girl of European descent, such vegetables were completely unfamiliar to me. The only potatoes I knew about were plain, white ones, usually boiled, sometimes mashed, occasionally fried for breakfast.

The white potatoes we ate were also always peeled. Then, butter or cream would be added to mash them, or they would be fried in vegetable oil. If boiled, they were always smothered in gravy.

All no-no’s, according to Julia, the undisputed authority on all dietary questions in my new, Asian family.

In Julia’s home, potatoes were never peeled, as most of the vitamins and minerals are to be found in the peels. “By peeling them, you lose most of their nutritional content!” she would scoff.

Julia also taught me to eschew white potatoes for more colourful varieties, like yellow potatoes or sweet potatoes. The more colourful the vegetable, the higher the number of nutrients available, she would always say. It’s a general rule that I still follow whenever I’m in the vegetable section of our grocery store, always seeking out those with the brightest colours.

I can still remember Julia’s derisive laughter at wealthy Chinese landowners who thought the bland taste and consistency of white potatoes and white rice was superior to the nuttier and sweeter taste of sweet potatoes and whole grain rice – just because white people ate them! They left the sweet potatoes and whole grain rice for the poor, and then ended up nutritionally stunted themselves. “They were so stupid!” Julia would crow. “Greater flavour and texture means they have more nutrients, not less!”

And so began my nutritional education under her tutelage.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, potatoes in all their variety are known to be beneficial to the spleen/pancreas. The same can be said for starchy foods in general, as they provide plenty of natural sugar and energy to the body. Beets and carrots, as well as brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley – all are foods that strengthen the spleen in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I suppose that’s why they are considered staple foods. Even herbal tonics like ginseng root, or codonopsis root – grown deep in the earth – naturally benefit the spleen. The spleen is, after all, the representative organ of the Earth element, so it makes sense that foods grown in the earth would benefit it.

Chinese wild yam is different than most other potatoes. Not a sweet potato, nor brilliantly coloured, it is nevertheless lauded in traditional Chinese medicine for its nutritive properties, and is often added into soups and stews to increase their nutrient content. Said to deeply nourish the spleen/pancreas and stomach, it is also used to improve appetite and lessen fatigue [1].

Recent scientific studies have found Chinese wild yam to be particularly useful for those with high blood glucose levels, lowering it by 10-30 mg/dL within just 10 days of use [2]. This blood sugar-regulating effect was not lost on ancient Chinese herbalists. They used it to treat “Xiao Ke” type diabetes, otherwise known as “Wasting and Thirsting Syndrome”, where patients were thin and consumptive, with difficulty retaining their weight.

Chinese wild yam doesn’t just nourish the spleen/pancreas and stomach, though. It is also moistening and tonifying to the lungs and kidneys, treating dry cough, wheezing, shallow breathing [3], as well as soreness of the knees and lower back, dizziness, light-headedness, and night sweats [4].

It can also regulate bowel movements and balance their activity, stimulating the intestines and increasing peristalsis when needed [5], while also stopping diarrhea for those whose intestines need calming [6]. It is adaptogenic that way.

The one thing Chinese wild yam does not do, however, is stimulate progesterone production. Popularized for their treatment of hot flashes in the 1990’s, wild yam creams can still be found in many health food stores. However, they are not effective as progesterone supplements because the wild yam molecule is too large to pass through the skin. When applied, wild yam creams will just stay on your skin and soften it, so they would be beneficial that way. Just don’t expect any hormone balancing activity.

If you are looking for a progesterone stimulant, we have found vitex berries to do a better job than wild yam creams. I would suggest trying our Fem-Mate tincture, which contains vitex. It has helped many women transition through menopause more comfortably by stopping hot flashes, and also improving sleep. Meanwhile, if you want to try the nourishing effects of Chinese wild yam, you can find it in our Shou Wu Plus tincture.

  • 1. John K. Chen and Tina T. Chen, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, 2004; 860.
  • 2. Zhong Guo Yao Ke Da Xue Xue Bao (Journal of University of Chinese Herbology), 1991; 22(3):158
  • 3. John K. Chen and Tina T. Chen, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, 2004; 860.
  • 4. Ibid, p. 861
  • 5. Zhi Wu Zi Yuan Yu Huan Jing (Source and Environment of Plants), 1992; 1(2):10
  • 6. Hu Bei Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Hubei Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1985; 5:35

On Endings and Beginnings – Part 2

The soon-to-be demolished go-cart track at Centennial Park.

Last night, my husband and my eldest son went to Centennial Park to ride the go-carts one last time.

These go-carts, once a cherished part of my children’s memories, will soon be no more. The City of Toronto has plans to demolish this part of the park. No doubt, something new will be installed there, and perhaps it will be something we enjoy even more than the go-carts, but right now, it just feels very sad. It’s the end of an era. Like so many things in my life of late, the go-carts will soon be part of my past.

There was a large crowd of people there, my husband said. Everyone wanted to ride the go-carts one last time before they shut them down. While they were there, my son shared his first memories of the place, riding in the passenger seat with his too-large helmet on, my husband at the wheel, driving for the both of them. I was surprised and pleased that he remembered this. My husband was too. And joy was mixed up with the sadness.

I suppose that’s the way life always is. We never experience just one emotion at a time, but a mix of all of them at once. It part of what makes life so heartbreakingly beautiful – that we can see the beauty mixed in with the sadness, and the laughter mixed in with the pain.

The most important thing, as I’ve been realizing of late, is to recognize and feel all of it. The whole mixed bag. In the past, I think I’ve tried to protect myself from all the harder emotions – the sadness and the hurt and the anger and the jealousy. I’ve pushed them all away, thinking it would keep me more optimistic, that it would prevent me from falling into a depression. It never really worked.

Ironically, what seems to help is not running away, but actually leaning in to all those difficult emotions. And so, I’ve allowed myself to feel every nuance of the shock and bewilderment of my father-in-law’s recent, sudden death. I’ve been feeling into all the love and care that my mother showed me before she died, that in fact, she showed me throughout her entire life. Feelings that I’ve tried to hold at a distance from myself, to protect myself from hurt, I’m finally, unapologetically, allowing inside.

My life has recently encompassed a lot of endings. The go-carts in Centennial Park are just a small reminder of that. But when I reflect on things, it has been filled with a lot of tender, life-giving moments as well. Like when my husband told me how proud he was of my courage, or my brother-in-law showed empathy for my tears, or my kids helped out with chores without being asked.

Just before my father-in-law died, my youngest son visited him in the hospital. My son was trying to be cheerful, expressing optimism about my father-in-law’s condition, telling him that things could still get better. But my father-in-law would have none of it. I think he already knew the score. Instead of humouring my son, he said, bluntly, “Try not to be sad about my death. It’s OK. Just go and live your life!”

And so, that is what we shall do. Without avoiding the sadness of the ending, we will grasp hold of the memories that lift us and sustain us, and we shall move on towards a new beginning. The beginning of Rebecca’s Restful Yoga. The possibility of new adventures and new challenges. And perhaps, just perhaps, those go-carts at Centennial Park will be replaced with something even more beautiful and meaningful than what was there before. A place where even more memories can be made, both happy and sad.