Be Your Own Valentine: Three Self-Love Rituals Guided By Chinese Medicine

Photo by Noemi Jimenez

Photo by Noemi Jimenez

Head on over to the resplendent Beyond Yoga Blog for Botanarchy’s seasonal alchemical alembics to awaken the heart on Valentine’s Day.

The soul of ancient Chinese medicine is the concept that the entirety of the cosmos is contained within us, and that we each have our own divine rhythm that is an emanation of the heart of the universe. The seat of this magic is our heart, and the motive force of the heart is what we call the shen spirit, the cosmic light of the universe that brings inspiration, awareness, and compassion to everything we grace.

Our hearts are on a mission to connect us with our divine path, and our self-love nourishes this mission, giving it purpose and movement through a constant barrage of trauma and disappointment. If Valentine’s Day is good at anything, it’s amplifying this disappointment, bringing the familiar pangs of loneliness, longing, and lack, reminding us of all the types of love we could be experiencing and why we aren’t. I’ve often felt that Valentine’s Day should be re-imagined as a holiday of self-love, where we direct the light of the heart inwards to reconnect to our divine path and recognize that we are already whole.

One of the gifts of this medicine is the remembrance that love needs no vessel other than the self, for we are in ecstatic communion with the universe. The infamous ‘yin yang’ symbol – also known as the taijitu or ‘supreme polarity’ – is not just the darling of mall jewelry, but also a symbolic reminder that we don’t need to be in partnership to be whole, that the self is both already complete and ever-evolving. In the yin yang symbol, opposites exist in complete harmony, two swirling teardrop shapes that fit within each other to form a perfect circle that is one, containing all the polarities of the universe- male//female, yin//yang, light//dark, sun//moon, heaven//earth, it’s all there.

Let this be a guiding light for you this Valentine’s Day, along with this smattering of practices guided by the wisdom of Chinese medicine that access the light and wisdom of the heart, and find that center of wholeness + perfection in our untarnished core. We don’t need to be in love, we already ARE love. Take that, Tinder!

Below are 3 Self-Love Rituals guided by Chinese Medicine for you to try this Valentine’s Day.

1. SHEN-GAZING
The shen, our heart spirit, is the light that illuminates the heart, bubbling over from its cauldron to shine out from our eyes. Shen-Gazing is a simple practice you can do anytime you need to connect with your inner luminescence, or meld with the transcendent values of the heart. It cultivates self-love, reminds us of our innate divinity, and helps bridge the connection between the heart and the world at large. There is no proper way to do this, and no correct amount of time to devote; simply allow yourself to witness and explore. This is the perfect opening practice for the two other rituals listed below, and also my favorite way to prepare for a date when the butterflies are abounding and the inner critic is a’yelping.

How to Perform this Ritual:

Light a candle, and sit comfortably in front of a mirror.

Gaze into your own eyes, making contact with the spark that animates you from within, the true self that lies in the depths of your being untouched by the world.

Stay gazing, greeting this spark as if it were divine, feeling the light within your eyes grow as bold as the light of the heavenly cosmos. Don’t break your own gaze – breathe, soften, stay present to the light of the shen. Merge and meld, and merge and meld, until you feel the subtle glow permeate your whole being.

2. INNER SMILE MEDITATION
This is a practice culled from the Taoist tantric arts. It melts the contraction of negative emotional energy, and helps in accepting oneself unconditionally. It is a supreme reminder that happiness and love are a choice, and that we can drop into their slipstream whenever we chose. Hello, freedom.

How to Perform this Ritual:

Sit comfortably with your spine straight, such that you are a poised conduit of energy from the earth below to the heavens above.

Take a few deep, cleansing breaths to release any judgment, stories, or stickiness that may have taken root in the body.

Close your eyes and rest your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth, so that your throat stays relaxed and your breath can flow freely.

Smile gently and honestly, deliciously yet genuinely, beginning with a sly turn-up of the lips and allowing it to blossom as it will. If you are vexed and jaded like the best of us, this may not come easy to you. Fret not! Pluck some grinning memories from the vaults until you have coaxed a suitably sublime smile onto your face.

Allow the smiling energy to spread multi-directionally, bringing the energy to the spot between your eyebrows – the third eye – the energetic locus that allows us to cut through illusion, access deeper truths, and see beyond the limitations of ego and language. Let your forehead relax, and allow the smiling energy to accumulate at the third eye point, bubbling over like an over-poured glass of champagne.

Allow the smiling energy to overflow down your face, relaxing the cheeks, nose, mouth, and all the facial muscles. Let it flow downwards through your neck, into the chambers of your heart.

Smile into your heart, filling it with compassion and joy, its cosmic companions and original bedfellows. From here, you can direct the smiling energy to each of your internal organs, or any crawl space or crevasse in your body that has wilted or waned. Allow the glowing tumescence of the smile to dissolve all stagnation and constraint, giving special attention to any spot in your body in need of healing.

Finally, direct your smiling energy to the point about 2 inches below your navel; This is your life gate, the internal alchemical furnace where we store and churn our energy and magic.

In closing, you can open your eyes, release your smile, keep it, give it away… whatever feels juicy and good. You’re on a date with yourself, after all.

3. SELF-LOVE ACUPRESSURE
Acupressure is needle-less acupuncture by the mojo and moxie of one’s own hands, a simple yet comprehensive self-care system for radiant health, balance, and well-being. Through the practice of stimulating acupuncture points on specific organ meridians, we can cultivate and harness life force energy, revitalizing the internal organs, glands, nervous system, and the bones. This foundational practice of gentle self-massage increases our capacity to skillfully cultivate, circulate, and sublimate energy throughout the body.

One can access the boundless love contained within the heart by activating points on the body that awaken and enliven the heart spirit, or shen. I will walk you through how to locate these points below. Finding an acupuncture points is a lot like finding the reflex point on your knee that gives that quintessential kick. You want to sink your fingers into the skin until you find that sweet spot, sliding your finger over that valley or mountain peak until it elicits an emotional or physical AHA! If the point you discover feels at all tender and stagnant, you will massage the point in a counter-clockwise direction, breaking up the stasis and freeing up the qi. If the acupuncture point feels lithe and empty, draw energy into the body by massaging in a clockwise motion.

Your hands are instruments of magic- put some devotion potion in there. I like to use a dab of Rose Geranium essential oil in tandem with these points, as it is a heart-opening ally with a sexy Venusian flair that brings luminous awareness of our spiritual gifts. Floracopeia is my most cherished purveyor of high vibration, high integrity oils.

How to Access 3 Heart-Activating Points:

Ren 17 “Center of Chest” 膻中

Location: Midway between the nipples in the center of the breastbone. Locate the point by drawing a straight line between the two nipples, stopping at the cleft in the center of the breastbone, massaging and stimulating the area in 4-5 second intervals.

Ren 17 rests on the body’s central axis right in the center of our being, and as such, it opens the chest helping us to love and breathe deeply. As yogis, we are well aware that breath is life, and this point helps reinforce the connection between our Lungs and our Heart. When palpated, Ren 17 can provide a deep emotional release, and if you feel frantic and scattered like a box of lightning and chaos, this point helps resolve anxiety and panic attacks, quell heart palpitations, and regulate erratic breathing.

Heart 7 “Spirit Gate” 神門

Location: On the wrist wrinkle of the inner crease of the wrist, just below the palm, at on the pinky-finger end beside the ropey tendon. Locate the point by turning your hand over so the palm is facing up, then apply downward pressure to the spot at the pinky corner of the wrist, just next to the tendon, massaging and stimulating the area in 4-5 second intervals.

Heart 7 can help merge the divide between the heart and the mind, center us in our heart, and access the wisdom of the shen. I love using this point when I need to think and act with my heart, come home to roost in the infinite wisdom inside me, and tap into freedom of expression as governed by my true purpose. This point is also great for nourishing a weary heart in those of us suffering from burn-out.

Pericardium 6 “Inner Barrier” 內關

Location: Three finger breaths above the wrist on the inner forearm in the space between the two tendons. Locate the point by turning your hand over so the palm is facing up, then apply downward pressure between the two tendons, massaging and stimulating the area in 4-5 second intervals.

The Pericardium is the ‘Heart Protector’ meridian, and as such, is likened to the keeper of the castle gate who discerns who orwhat is allowed to enter or leave the inner domain of the heart. Acupressure on Pericardium 6 helps inspire healthy boundaries in relationships and beyond, and like a spry acupuncture adaptogen, it can be used to open our hearts when they have closed in reaction to past pains, and to shore up our heart’s castle walls when we are the walking wounded. It is an excellent point to calm a restless heart and quiet the mind.
— Beyond Yoga

Chinese Herbal Bone Broth

Bone Broth

Never does a week go by in our household where the scraps of our epicurean labors aren’t heaped in a giant enamelware pot and stewed for hours while we mill about the homestead. We’re fanatical about our bone-collecting, surreptitiously slipping chicken carcasses into napkins under the table, asking waiters to box up our goat bones after indulging in a hearty pot of Birria De Chivo Goat Stew. The result of our rampant scrap-mongering is a rich, profoundly nourishing bone broth, imbued with golden melted life-force, exceedingly nourishing to the illustrious Three Treasures of Chinese Medicine:

Jing, our Essence, the source of life, the basis for all growth, development, and sexuality.

Qi, our energy, giving us the ability to activate and move our bodies, whilst protecting us against external and internal pathogenic factors.

Shen, our inner light, the vitality behind Jing and Qi, the mental and spiritual force that shapes our personality and spirit.

Bone Broth- or ‘stock’, depending our your particular cultural milieu- is a pan-cultural old world panacea, utilitarian kitchen alchemy transforming vegetable scraps and bones into pure nutritional gold. Heaps of vegetables, herbs, and leftover bones are pragmatically piled in a pot, and left to simmer slowly for long periods of time, extracting every morsel of function and flavor. The resulting infusion is a gently potent brew, teeming with trenchant, bio-available nutrition, easy to digest and suitable for all matter of medicine, both preventative AND curative. A complex, rich mosaic of variegated flavors, it is also an opulent addition to stews, soups, sauces, poaching liquid, grains, beans, and porridge, transforming blasé cooking water into a savory swill. It nourishes our tendons, ligaments, skin, bones, and blood, keeping us limber and spry, with an assassin-worthy immune system. As a grounding force in our otherwise hypersonic, twenty-first century lives, it forces us to spend a few hours a week at home, tending to our hearth fire. If I seem a little in love with it, it’s because I am. I get to melt bones in a giant pot, like a surly wizard necromancer.

Many moons ago, before I was religious about my bone broth, I was stricken by a persnickety set of symptoms that left me vacillating between a sprightly 20-something yoga warrior and a knobby, decrepit old crone. One day, I would be handstanding in yoga class like nobody’s business, and the next day, I could barely touch my toes, plagued with spells of tightness, pain, and numbness, accompanied by bouts of sleep seizures that made me feel ancient, neurotic, and utterly powerless. After getting diagnosed with a vague autoimmune disease, delivered with a despondent, helpless send-off from the Western Medical Hegemony, my homegrown recovery was rooted in cutting out all inflammatory foods (gluten, sugar, ungainly processed rubbish), and going the way of old man Hippocrates by using food as my medicine. Through Traditional Chinese Medicine and the wisdom of thee Weston A. Price Foundation, I discovered the ancient magic of bone broth, and have never looked back. Years later, I am symptom free (though on occasion, I go to town on Chocolate Stout and homemade bread), and enjoying all sorts of bendy melee on the regular. And really, despite seeing tons of under-the-weather patients daily, have developed a super-human resistance to colds and flu. I make my cauldron of bone broth weekly, and drink a cup a day, increasing in times of debauchery, disorder, or debilitation. I suggest this to everyone that walks through my door, as I’ve seen countless miracles in managing all matter of disease (you can check out the foxy graphic below from Vanessa Romero at Healthy Living How To for a list of its wiles and wonders).

If broth seems too good to be true, it’s because it is. Our leery, infirmed culture has taught us to be inherently disdainful of anything that seems ‘too good to be true’, a silly idiom I’ve always despised for shading the world in a Saturnine hue, thwarting the everyday magic of simple things, and propagating the ‘snake-oil’ mythos that impedes the advancement of traditional medicines. I much prefer the wisdom of wise old Yeats, who knew that “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

Why is bone broth so beautiful? The venerable Dr. Mercola at The Mercola Institute drops some science on this egregious elixir below, adding some credence to my highfalutin claims:

BENEFITS OF BONE BROTH

Helps heal and seal your gut, and promotes healthy digestion: The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid. It attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting proper digestion.

Inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses: A study published over a decade ago found that chicken soup indeed has medicinal qualities, significantly mitigating infection.

Reduces joint pain and inflammation, courtesy of chondroitin sulphates, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage. (Aside: glucosamine and chondroitin are usually sold over the counter as fancy supplements for arthritis).

Fights inflammation: Amino acids such as glycine, proline, and arginine all have anti-inflammatory effects. Arginine, for example, has been found to be particularly beneficial for the treatment of sepsis (whole-body inflammation).Glycine also has calming effects, which may help you sleep better.

Promotes strong, healthy bones: As mentioned above, bone broth contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that play an important role in healthy bone formation.

Promotes healthy hair and nail growth, thanks to the ample gelatin in the broth.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Large Stainless Steel Stock Pot or Crock Pot

Roughly two pounds of organic chicken, beef, lamb, or fish bones, procured from a local butcher, or culled from recent feastings and stored in the freezer until needed. We’re talkin’ carcasses, knuckles, and hooves, oh my! If you plan on making a habit out of your stock making shenanigans (which you should!), I suggest finding a sympathetic meat peddler to bro-down with in your hood. In Los Angeles, I’m sweet on J&J Grassfed Beef. You can peruse sustainably raised local livestock on LocalHarvest.org, or check out the CrossFit gyms in your area, as many CSA’s are starting to offer gym delivery.   

¼ cup vinegar: Of paramount importance, for extracting the minerals from the bones into your broth.

A Mirepoix, consisting of 1 coarsely chopped onion, 2 carrots, and 2 sticks of celery.

Other coarsely chopped vegetables and assorted kitchen detritus: Perhaps the most admiral facet of broth is its commonsensical use of otherwise discarded cooking debris, with a peasant zeal otherwise reserved for Bruce Springsteen. Yellowing parsley, disfigured carrots, celery tops, blood-red chard stalks, onion skins, the graveyard of your heroic juicing efforts, haunted specters from the crisper… they all get their day in the sun. Your ingredients will be subject to the capricious nature of your weekly eating habits, producing a protean olio that is romantically un-reproducible from one week to the next. We keep a jar in the freezer that we fill with our forsaken vegetable fragments just for this purpose. My mainstays for flavor are 1 bunch of parsley, 2 quartered potatoes, a few hearty sprigs of rosemary and thyme from the garden, and a few cloves of garlic.

1 tsp black peppercorns

Fresh, cold water

I love to add a smidgen of Chinese herbs to my brew, to enhance and direct the healing vectors of my broth. 2-3 ounces of each herb should do the trick, always being intuitive with your needs and working with what you have on hand, like the cunning egalitarian Kitchen Witch that you are. These folks are mainstays in my cabinet, and on any given Sunday, I may sprinkle a smattering of the following into my cauldron:

A handful of Dang Shen/Codonopsis Root: To help strengthen the qi, counter mental and physical fatigue, build blood, and nourish body fluids.

Perhaps 5-10 slices of Huang Qi/Astragalus Root: To boost the immune system and strengthen qi, ensconcing one in protective energy that helps prevent illness due to external influences.

Certainly always a knuckle or so of Sheng Jiang/Fresh Ginger Root: To stoke the digestive fires and stimulate the circulatory system.

A pinch of Xi Yang Shen/American Ginseng Root: Boosting gentler Ginseng tendrils than the Chinese or Korean varietals, an admirable addition to combat fatigue and stress, whilst improving athletic and mental performance,

Dong Quai/Chinese Angelica Root: The ultimate femme tonic, invaluable for strengthening the blood, nourishing the reproductive organs, regulating menstruation, and alleviating period pain.

Shan Yao/Chinese Wild Yam: A lovely anti-inflammatory that tonifies qi, nourishes yin, and strengthens the spleen, lungs, and kidneys, particularly puissant after a long-term illness.

A sprinkling of Shan Zhu Yu/Dogwood Fruit: An excellent astringent herb and reproductive tonic that strengthens the liver and kidneys, while securing leakage of vital essence.

6 or so strands of dried Dong Chong Xia Cao/Cordyceps Mushroom: My most favorite herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia, Cordyceps is hailed on the street as the Himalayan Viagra for its revered ability to increase stamina, sex drive, virility, strength, brainpower, athletic prowess & focus. It’s a favorite of Chinese Olympians, so you know it’s gooch.

HOW TO

1. Break your precious bones up into smaller pieces (ideally about 3 inches long), with kitchen scissors or a fun weapon (living with a ninja has infinite perks). This will increase the surface area of bone exposed to the water, giving you a higher nutrient yield.

2. If using beef bones, you’ll want to roast your bones until browned at 400 degrees F for roughly 60-90 minutes to add richness.

3. Place the bones in your stockpot or crockpot, along with your vegetables, scraps, peppercorns, and Chinese herbs. Cover with cold water, adding a few fingers for good measure. Add your splash of vinegar and cover with a lid.

4. Slowly bring your stock to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer gently for 6-48 hours (yes, I know 48 hours is a very daunting commitment in our breakneck world). I love to use a crockpot, because you can just pile all your business in, turn on high until boiling, reduce to low, and then promptly forget about it whilst retiring to your bedchamber for the evening. It’s so egalitarian, I can hardly stand it. If using a stockpot, you can use the following guidelines (and your own pending commitments) to gauge cooking time: 6-48 hours for chicken bones, and 12-72 hours for beef and other meats.

5. Give your bone broth the occasional shout-out during simmering, checking to see that there is always a fair amount of water covering your accoutrements.

6. At some point, you will inevitably notice a thick, insalubrious scum rising to the top of your broth. Many folks will trick you into thinking you MUST skim this off routinely, to clarify the product and make a finer tasting brew. To this I say, “ain’t nobody got time for that!” The whole skimming off the top thing is sadly overrated, as testing has shown that this “scum”, while unsightly, contains nothing harmful. If you wanna be fancy, go right ahead. Otherwise, fret not!

7. When you’re ready to call it quits, remove your bones with a slotted spoon, discard, and strain the rest through a colander into a large bowl. If you’re feeling spry, you can strain again through a sieve or cheesecloth to achieve an extra-fancy, clear broth. Chill your luscious potion of collagen and gelatin in the fridge, until the fat congeals and rises to the top. If you want a liquid broth for cooking purposes, you can skim the fat off and store the remaining liquid in the fridge for roundabout a week’s time. However, if you want your broth to drink like a rich toddy of hot buttered rum, I say leave the fat on (we do), and enjoy your broth like molten velvet bone mojo. Enjoy in radiant heath, golden ones!

Reishi Bears

Botanarchy Test Kitchen

Botanarchy Test Kitchen

Lion’s Mane, Reishi and Bears, oh my!

These lil’ grizzlies are choc full o’ qi-tonifying, jing-boosting goodness. Handmade with love and chocolate-stained fingers in the Botanarchy kitchen with raw cacao, coconut palm sugar, Balinese vanilla beans, sea salt and a smattering of potent tonic mushrooms- Reishi, Shitake, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, Maitake and Fu Ling. Hubba hubba! This is my secret formula based on sacred longevity tonics of yore.

Medicinal mushrooms have a bona fide arsenal of legend and lore surrounding them, inspiring tales of immortality, thousand-year-old Taoist sages, ancient Emperors combing remote forests and spiritual seekers attaining enlightenment at their behest. Referred to as ‘the food of the Gods’ by the Romans, 'a gift from Osiris’ by the ancient Egyptians, and 'the elixir of life’ by the Chinese, they are a pan-cultural panacea of epic proportions. The ravishing red Reishi mushroom in all its waxy crimson glory has the esteemed honor of being the most researched herb in history (!!!), and has been one of the most sought-after substances known to man. She’s a rare and elusive bird that grows on hardwood trunks & roots in wily remote forests (a true mountain hermit if there ever was one), inspiring clandestine mushroom-foraging expeditions the world over. 

Without waxing poetic on these waxy bulbs for pages, I will simply say that these adaptogenic fungi possess an innate intelligence that re-calibrates the body, bringing balance and urging forth our latent potentials. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, tonic mushrooms have the unique ability to preserve the body’s three treasures: Jing, Qi and Shen. Jing stokes your primal power, and replenishes energy spent handling stressful situations & livin’ La Vida Loca. Qi improves your resistance to disease, and recent studies have proven that tonic mushrooms are nature’s most powerful known anti-oxidant, packing major blood-cleansing, anti-aging, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer heat. Shen is the energy of the heart, and on the allopathic plane these fastidious fungi function as a cardiac and brain tonic, sharpening concentration & focus, helping calm the mind, taming anxiety, strengthening the nerves and improving memory. On a more profound plane, Shen tonics are the elixirs of Spirit, uplifting and unearthing the heart’s true potential, asking what the seeds of your soul wish to manifest, feeding them with their rich & ruddy sod, and spreading the seeds of your consciousness in all directions. As my main squeeze Terence McKenna would say, the mushroom wants you to evolve!