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Do You Ever Describe Yourself As Stiff as a Board?

By Kimberly Burnham, PhD, Guest Contributor and Author of the upcoming book, "Bicycling for Food"

Alive a tree is full of growth and vitality. Dead it is stiff as a board. The same is true of your cells. What brings life, growth and vitality into your cells?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the wood elements are the liver and the gallbladder. A healthy liver and gallbladder contribute to adaptability, flexibility and speedy cellular repair.

The wood elements are also associated with the brain chemical dopamine, which when imbalanced contributes to conditions like Parkinson's disease (stiffness and loss of muscle control) and schizophrenia (loss of connection to reality, the ability to imagine and to be able to tell the difference).

Liver and Gallbladder

As you are cycling, pay attention to your liver and gallbladder. The liver is located on your right side behind the lower rib cage. If you place your right hand so that your little finger is along the lower right border of your rib cage, the rest of your hand will be over the area of your liver. The gallbladder sits behind the liver, along the lower edge in the center. Notice as you rest your hand over the liver area, does it feel the same as the opposite side. Behind the lower rib cage on the left is the spleen and tail of the pancreas.

Do you ever get a "stitch" in these areas as you ride? Flexing your back and stretching can help.

Flexible Back

As you ride notice how your back feels. As you push on the right peddle, is some of the force coming from your low back area? Is there vitality in the area around T9 to T10? T stands for the Thoracic spine. There are 12 thoracic vertebra, each with a rib attached. T9 is the lower end and associated with liver health. T10, just below it is associated with the gallbladder in the acupuncture meridian system.

Move your back a little as you peddle. Do you have the flexibility you want?

Muscle Function

Two muscles are associated with the acupuncture's wood elements (liver and gallbladder) and therefore with the brain chemical dopamine. The anterior deltoid muscle at the shoulder and popliteus at the back of the knee are associated with the gallbladder , while the pectoralis major sternal segment of the chest muscles and rhomboids at the back of the shoulders are associated with the liver.

Stretching should always be pain-free. Do not stretch through the pain. Stretch to a comfortable range and then imagine yourself stretching to the end range. Little by little you may find yourself stretching comfortably farther and farther.

For the deltoid muscle: Stand at edge of a wall or in doorway facing wall. Position palm of your right hand on surface of wall slightly lower than shoulder. Bend elbow slightly. Turn your body away from the wall and the positioned arm. Hold stretch for 30 seconds or so. Repeat with opposite arm.

The popliteus can be stretched along with the hamstrings but sitting with your legs out in front of you and reaching for your toes. You may feel a stretching sensation in the back of the knee.

What if you just started by imagining yourself doing these stretches first thing in the morning or in the evening before you fall asleep. Imagine how your back and shoulders would feel. What changes would there be in the circulation to the big muscles of your arms and legs and to your brain just by imagining yourself doing these stretches?

Here is what researchers say about the use of imagery or meditation and dopamine in the brain. "In meditation both the quality and the contents of consciousness may be voluntarily changed, making it an obvious target in the quest for the neural correlate of consciousness. Meditation is accompanied by a relatively increased perfusion [blood flow] in the sensory imagery system [where you imagine sensations]. Our subsequent finding of increased striatal [part of the brain] dopamine binding to D2 receptors during meditation suggested dopaminergic regulation of this [sensory imagery and consciousness] circuit." -Lou, H. C., M. Nowak, et al. (2005). "The mental self." Prog Brain Res 150: 197-204.

Imagine what can change and how rewarding just imagining yourself doing these stretch and exercises would be.

Anger vs Compassion

The emotions associated with the gallbladder and the liver are anger and compassion. What is good is for the cyclist is to notice how these emotions affect their body and ride accordingly. Imagine yourself physically expressing your anger in a constructive way. Imagine yourself in an act of compassion. What is your body posture of compassion? As you ride, imagine yourself as an actor in an improvisation group where you have to act out or express anger or compassion? How would you ride differently if you were angry compared to feeling compassion? Does anger ever get in the way of your exercise schedule? Use visualization to help you express and harness rather than suppress these two emotions.

See The Wood Elements Around You

Another way to support your liver and gallbladder is to see the wood elements in your environment whether you are riding outside or training indoors with a virtual reality ride video playing, like the ones available from Ride Fit™.

Look around yourself. Notice the variety of green, the Traditional Chinese Medicine color of the wood elements. Notice the shades of green. How would you describe the difference between the green of freshly mowed grass, the leaves on a springtime maple tree, or the pine needles juxtaposed against the reddish bark of a pine tree? How much detail can you see in rough tree bark? Imagine the texture of one tree trunk compared to another. Notice the repeating branching pattern in the trees around you. This is known as a fractal pattern where the big thing is like the small thing only bigger. Even the leaves have a tiny branching central vein similar to the trunk with branches.

And Finally

Bile, produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder helps digest fats in your diet - fats that are needed for the membranes around your muscles, the building of nerves and brain function, and the creation of hormonal balance. Do you have enough "good fats" in your diet? Cashews and walnuts can be a good snack while you are bicycling.

Ways to harness the sensational medicine of the wood elements: notice the wood and trees around you, the color green, how your body feels in the area of the liver and gallbladder, a flexibility in your lower mid-back, and a sense of balance between anger and compassion. It is the act of paying attention that is important and healing.

About Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)

Known as The Nerve Whisperer, Kimberly Burnham is the developer of Sensational Medicine (www.KimberlyBurnhamPhD.com). Author of Our Fractal Nature, a Journey of Self-Discovery and Connection, Kim believes that we enjoy, preserve and protect that which we see as beautiful. She enjoys riding in the tree lined hills of the Berkshires near from her home in West Hartford, CT. Summer 2013, she will bicycle 3300 miles across the US with Hazon, a sustainable food non-profit. Follow her at http://hazon.kintera.org/2013usa/kimberlyburnham. Please donate.

Tags: Trees, Wood elements, Liver health, Gallbladder, Sensational Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Visualization, Bicyclist, Indoor Cycling, Virtual Reality Ride.