Building a Fire

This is a re-post of an article I wrote last year. If you are interested in learning more, please join me for a free workshop on overcoming chronic stress with natural medicine. 

Running out of Fuel?

When I was twenty one I moved into an old and rather ramshackle farmhouse.  The house was heated with a wood stove, and on cold nights I would find myself in states of near panic as the fire would go out again and again.

The problem was that I didn’t really know how to get a fire going, and I was constantly putting kindling and newspaper into the stove without ever getting a strong blaze going.

I often think about this experience at times in my life when I am “running on empty.”  You know the feeling- you are so exhausted that it feels like if you stop you might collapse.

IMG_0367So you keep going.  You fuel yourself with caffein and/or sugar. You have no choice – how else will you be able to take care of everything that needs to get done for your job and your family?

Finally, after all your responsibilities for the day have been attended to, you get to go to bed.  Unfortunately, you can’t sleep.  And so, the next morning your are still exhausted.

It’s a viscous cycle.

A Well Built Fire

One evening my uncle came over to visit me in my farm house.  When he arrived he found me frantically tending my small, smokey fire.  “Don’t you want to really get that fire going?” he asked me.
He then squatted down by the wood stove, and showed me how to arrange the newspaper, kindling and wood so that we could get some really big logs burning.

After that, I was able to light fires that kept me warm all night.

The systems in your body that create and maintain energy are like that wood stove.  You want to have a strong and steady fire that doesn’t go out when it is not supposed to, and doesn’t need constant tending.  When this is in place, you have a sense of vitality and calm energy.

To do this you need rest. I know, easier said than done.

Your body may have forgotten what it feels like to rest.  You can, however, help it to re-learn.

The Art of Rest

When your body is resting, there are particular chemical messengers that are released.  These chemical messengers (neurotransmitters and hormones) let your organs know that you are not in immediate danger, and allow your body to relax.

While it is possible to directly stimulate these chemical messengers through drugs and herbal supplements, it is also important (and often all you need) to learn how to consciously put your body into a state of resting.

The following is a five minute exercise that can help you train your body to rest.

Step 1: The 400 lb Human

Feel the weight of your body in your chair (or couch or bed or whatever you are sitting on).  Allow yourself to really sink in.  Imagine that you are very heavy; that you weighed 400 lbs.  Allow all of that weight to sink into the chair.


Step 2: Support

Do you feel that the chair is supporting you? Are you trusting that the chair will hold your weight, or are you sitting as if the chair could disappear at any moment and you would be fine?  See if you can trust the chair to hold your weight.  Can you trust it even more?

The first time I tried this exercise, I had no idea what my teacher, Thea Elijah, was talking about. I thought “of course I’m trusting the chair! What a silly question.”

As I went deeper into the practice, I realized how much tension I was carrying in my body.  It was so difficult to let even a little of it go, no matter how hard I tried!

What I learned is that in this exercise, it is actually important to NOT try hard. It’s kind of the opposite of trying hard. Just create an invitation for your body.

Very slowly, I was able to allow the tension to dissolve as I sunk into the chair.

Trusting anything, even a chair, can be a tall order.  For me it takes a lot of practice.  I come back to this exercise again and again, with the simple question “am I trusting my chair? Can I trust it even more?”

Step 3: Feeling Sleepy

Giving your body the chance to taste what rest is may make you realize just how much of it you need.  This is not a bad thing, but it may mean that doing this exercise makes you feel tired.

Try the exercise again before you go to sleep, when it is really the time for you to rest.
Practice feeling your weight sinking into the bed and trusting the bed to support you.

We all want to have a sustained source of energy throughout the day.  The key to having that energy, and not feeling exhausted and depleted, is rest.  Rest is a skill and an art.  Like anything, it can be learned.

I hope that this article has been helpful for you.  Please email me with any questions.

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