Every Tuesday, when my work day is finished, I head to our local town hall where a group of people gather to dance. With an eclectic play list of music, we dance barefoot, free form, following our own rhythms and allowing our bodies to move however they feel. We dance like no one is watching and it is immensely freeing. It feels like one of the healthiest things I do for myself on a regular basis, and I’m continually grateful for the opportunity, week after week. Recently, on one of these Tuesdays, as my body was letting itself go into movement, my mind reflected on the idea of movement and rhythm and the role it plays in our lives. There is an ebb and flow, an inward and outward, expansive and contractive movement that creates and maintains life. Rhythm, I understood, is a basic underlying element of life. Rhythm is life force.
We find this ebb and flow in the microcosms and macrocosms of everything we know. From the rhythm of our breath, our heartbeat, the flapping of wings in flight, the ocean tides, the waxing and waning of the moon to the expansive wave and contracted particle formations of energy frequencies, the inward/outward flow prevails.
We see it also in the growth patterns of plants. The contracted seed, closed to protect itself and store its nourishment eventually softens and expands, becoming a cotyledon. As the cotyledon develops, consuming the seed’s stored nourishment, it soon gathers energy back inward, concentrating in the stem where it forms leaf axils. Once there is enough “fuel” in the leaf axils, new leaves expand outwards from the stem. Then the plant contracts to nourish the growth of future leaves. As new leaves and stems keep growing, the plant prepares itself for flowering. Eventually flower buds will emerge in tight contracted bundles. Then later they’ll expand outward into flowers. The pollinated flowers then eventually contract again, forming denser seeds. These later fly off or fall off the plant in a final outward expression. The fallen seeds remain in their contracted seed state until conditions allow expanion outwards again into new cotyledons.
And so we see how the inward/outward rhythms guide and carry life along its course.
Our bodies and minds move through these same rhythms, along with the seasons of the earth. Now we are in spring, and we emerge from the contracted, inward focused days of winter. We leave our dwellings, spending more time outdoors rather than staying in, safe from the weather.
Seedlings and leaves begin to sprout, exposing themselves to the elements and using whatever stores of energy they have to withstand the forces of nature and to grow stronger. There is a sense of motivation here, and of expending of energy towards the goal of new life.
As our systems adjust to the various inward and outward rhythms of life, we can sometimes rely on the support of plant medicines and foods to help us find balance.
When we remain too long in an inward, contracted state, our systems become more sluggish and we tend get a buildup of un-metabolized food and other substances in the body. This buildup can lead to toxicity, weight gain, blood sugar imbalances, hormone imbalances and a whole host of other ailments. You can read more ideas on this state of buildup in my former post Clearing the Pipes.
Too much time spent in an outward, expansive state can use up our energy stores, depleting us of nutrients and leading to an overburdened nervous system, adrenal fatigue, high or low blood pressure and an eventual run-down condition.
To nourish the inward, contracted rhythm, we could consider the use of seeds and roots–both being denser in nature, and serving the purpose of storing food for growth. Oat seeds come to mind here. Green (not fully developed) oat seeds, known as “milky oat seeds” act as a food for the nervous system, helping to restore the effects of over-stimulation which can come from too much exposure to the outside world and not enough “down time”. Mature oat seeds (what we know of as oat groats or oatmeal) serve this purpose as well, when used as a daily food. Green nettle (Urtica dioica) seeds also fit this role, helping to nourish the kidneys and adrenal glands in cases of adrenal fatigue. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds help to calm spasms and cramping in the digestive tract, relaxing the gut and helping to restore the body’s proper reception of nourishment from food. Roots can be appropriate cool weather herbs or foods that provide deep nourishment. Burdock root (Artcium lappa), dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) and jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosis) are mineral rich herbs that serve this purpose. In the fall, these root develop the starch, inulin–a bitter substance that when consumed, contributes to efficient and effective digestion balancing proper nutrient absorption with detoxification.
Herbs that nourish the expansive rhythm are often flowers and leaves. They can work well to quickly fight infections, reduce inflammations and stimulate various organs into proper functioning. Some good examples of early spring herbs that fit this rhythm are nettle leaf, dandelion leaf and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). These greens help to stimulate the liver, allowing any stored or stagnant material remaining from the slower winter months to be sloughed off and released from the system. By doing this, they give the body more energy and motivation, and often a more positive outlook. Ideas we may have had over the winter can now manifest into reality, as we “come out of our shells”. I’ve written more about the qualities of dandelion leaf as an aid towards motivation and mobilization in my post Dandelion, Clarity & Direction.
The more we look into these patterns of rhythm the more we find them on every level of existence. The wisdom found in this perception helps us gain insight into our own state of health at any given moment.
An inspiring way to tune into this wisdom each day is by watching the plants in their continual dance as they grow through the changing rhythms of life.