My Top 7 Tips for Better Health (& Happiness)

Some people make resolutions to improve their health on New Year’s Day. We all know that by January 3, most of those pledges go out the window. In my opinion, the dark, colder days of winter are not very inspiring. I encourage you to take advantage of the energy of summer to put some new habits into place; the longer days, warmer weather, and increased social interaction just make it easier.

june-solstice-ten-things.jpg

Here are my top seven suggestions for the most important behaviors that can lead to a healthier, happier you:

d03aec3ccd0688d225f828aa5aa8cb5d.jpg

1. Increase your pure water intake. A lot of people complain they don’t like water, or they don’t feel thirsty. Your desire for water will increase once you increase your water intake. That means it’s hard at first, but will get easier. And please don’t drink ice water! Room temperature or warm water is easier on your digestion. Ice water and cold water will eventually weaken your digestion.  Every system in your body needs a lot of water. If you’re not drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, please increase your water intake. And, yes, you’ll be using the bathroom more often. But the benefits are worth it (benefits of drinking water).

stressed-stress-relax.jpg

2.  Manage your stress. Life is not perfect and will never be perfect. So the best thing to do is be prepared to deal with stressful situations. Because they happen. There are many practices that can help to ease our stress response. Chocolate, Facebook, and wine are some go-tos, but in the long run they make things worse. Better choices? First, giving yourself permission to take care of yourself. I think this is one of the biggest obstacles. It’s almost as though because the world is so full of suffering, and we all can be so hard on ourselves, we think something is wrong if we’re not suffering all the time, too. It’s the oxygen mask on the airplane thing – you’re no good to anyone else unless you’ve taken care of yourself first.

So, pick something that you feel good about doing. Don’t be afraid to try something new. In the Bay Area we have a lot of great options— classes for yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong; places to go swimming; good weather to walk, run, and bike in.  Many beaches and parks–nature is a great healer. And of course we have the internet with a lot of how-to videos that can help with any of these things. But please don’t get lost in your computer. If you’re curious about meditation, but it sounds scary, here is a good guide to demystify it and make it more approachable by explaining the different types: meditation types.

 

Healthiest-Vegetables-Healthiest-Fruits-Pie-Chart.png

3. Eat more vegetables. Preferably vegetables that are in season (it’s the Chinese Medicine way, and makes sense no matter how you look at it), and organic (who needs pesticides? not me.). Like cold water, raw vegetables are harder to digest. Some raw vegetables are fine, especially in the summertime, but the majority of your vegetables should be at least slightly cooked so your body doesn’t have to work so hard. The vegetables with the most benefit are greens. Rule of thumb: half your dinner plate is vegetable matter, and you eat a variety of colors – green, red, orange, yellow. The contents of your dinner plate can be beautiful. I don’t recommend juicing – it removes all of the fiber and leaves you with a whole lot of sugar.

4. Move your body more. In Chinese Medicine there is a tenet that stagnation equals pain. So, your body needs to move to keep its tissues, tendons, muscles, and bones healthy. At the very least, rotate your joints. Shoulder rolls, hip circles—slowly go through the range of motion for each of your joints. And walk. How about dancing? A sedentary lifestyle causes a host of problems. That said, I don’t recommend extreme sports. And I’m not talking about being Iron Man. I’m talking about taking the stairs, walking the dog, and not sitting at the computer for a full hour without getting up. If you’re allergic to exercise, sign up for a class at your level that might make it fun. Or find a friend who wants to exercise with you. And watch this video. It’s the most important health video I have ever found:

most important health video ever

 

Rest.jpg

5. Make sleep a priority. If you’re sleeping less than six or seven hours per night, get more sleep. If possible, go to bed earlier or wake up later. The recommendation in Chinese Medicine is to be asleep by 11 pm so your body can restore itself. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, there are things you can do. First, practice good sleep hygiene. (Here are a few recommendations for good sleep hygiene: sleep hygiene.) Second, herbs and acupuncture will probably help. Third, good dietary habits, exercise, and stress management will help too!

Gabby Smiling.jpg

6. Remember to laugh. Funny movies, funny friends, puppies, children….remember the things that make you smile and laugh and seek them out. Forcing yourself to smile actually helps sometimes too. When my husband and I were dealing with a particularly stressful situation a few years ago, I heard that forcing yourself to smile can actually work. So I made him force smile with me. It’s such a ridiculous thing to do with someone, that despite the hard situation we were in, it actually worked to get us to laugh and to ease the tension. (The force yourself to smile study is here) And by all means, remember to balance your intake of bad news with good news, music, cat videos, stand up comedy, and simple silence.

sefsrtgtsr.jpg

7. Tell Frances this list is way too long and then choose just one thing from it. Choose the thing that sounds the easiest, or the most fun, or maybe is the change you most need to make, and commit to it. Remember, “Better is the enemy of good.” You do not need to be perfect! Trying to be perfect can ruin everything. Doing something good is good enough!

Much love, and thanks for reading.

Raising a glass of water to your health,

Frances

crow_heart_final

 

 

Advertisements

Healing During Stressful Times: 13 Tips

I love being an acupuncturist and herbalist. I have a genuine and deep affection for the people who come to see me. Frankly, I love them all. A common theme, no matter who I am treating, is dealing with, and recovering from, stressful situations. There is a lot of suffering we human beings bear. I am writing this post for the many people who have shared their stories of heartbreak, fear, worry, and stress with me. I hope it helps.

220px-Love_heart.jpg

“Take Care of Yourself”

I have a patient who was born outside of the United States. She recently told me that the phrase “Take care of yourself,” which we often say to each other when someone is going through a hard time, doesn’t exist in her culture of origin. She has asked around and her friends from outside the US agree — they don’t have a similar phrase either. The awakening I had upon hearing that this phrase is uniquely American revealed a lot of hard truths about our culture and what we expect of ourselves and each other. “Take care of yourself” has an unspoken message — take care of yourself, because no one else will be there for you.

Here in the states we value our independent nature; we pride ourselves on leaving home, “standing on our own two feet,” picking ourselves up by our bootstraps, being self made, going it alone, doing it all by ourselves, being a pillar of strength, coming into your own…the list of idioms is a long one. The implied message is if you are not strong enough to do it all by yourself, something is wrong with you. And god forbid you ask for help.

Some of us are fortunate to have family and friends we can rely on to help us through the rough patches, but asking for help does not come easily for many of us, and often comes with a heavy dose of guilt and shame, either from ourselves or others, when we ask for help. Such a strange value for a profoundly social species. The truth is we need each other, and rely on each other in all sorts of ways–it is nothing to be ashamed of! It’s beautiful, actually.

help-friend.jpg

Part of this blog post is intended to question the cultural value that we should be able to do everything all by ourselves–to rid ourselves of the shame and guilt of needing, wanting, or asking for help. Given that this cultural value is deeply rooted and change doesn’t come easy, the other goal of this post is to provide some tips for steps we can take to do exactly that — how do we take care of ourselves when life presents us with overwhelming challenge?

Whether it’s a chronic, debilitating, life threatening illness we are struck with, or one of those life events that requires more emotional resources than we might have (births, deaths, divorces, job loss, financial stress, or simple overwhelm, etc.) here is a list of things that may help get you through with more ease.

First, some things to keep in mind:

  1. As the buddhists say, life is suffering. No matter what you see on Facebook, everyone has problems. It’s the nature of being alive. No one makes it through without receiving their share of challenges. You are not alone.
  2. Like the tides, life’s challenges ebb and flow. There will be easier times and harder times. Nothing — good or bad — lasts forever.
  3. We all have differing abilities to handle stressors. Some of us have a healthier stress response than others. When dealing with multiple stressors, our threshold for what we can handle tends to diminish, so the smallest thing might “set us off.”
  4. The stress response, biologically, is intended to be helpful. It is damaging to us only when it is prolonged. If you can learn to stop it in its tracks, you will benefit greatly.

Ways to improve your stress response:

SELF TALK

1. Cut the negative, berating self talk. It is not helpful. One trick I came up with years ago I call “Pretend You are Your Own Best Friend.” Our inner voices can be very harsh, judgmental, and downright mean spirited. Would you ever speak like this to someone you truly cared about? I’m guessing not. If you were your own best friend, what would you say to yourself? What advice would you give? What messages would you send? Listen to that voice, and follow its advice instead.

l-57424.jpg

2. Along those same lines, re-evaluate the story you are telling yourself and get some perspective. For example, I know someone who from an outside perspective “has it all” yet still feels like a failure because he has not yet accomplished everything he thinks he should have in life. Pay attention to the positive stuff. We all are exactly where we are and where we need to be. No amount of putting ourselves down is going to change the past, and no matter of blaming anyone will improve the past. Congratulate yourself for surviving your hardships, for what you have learned, for the love you have given and received. You are not a failure. You are a precious human soul.

3. For perspective, look up at the stars. We are each a very small piece of the larger universe. At the end of the day, does the problem you are beating yourself up about really matter? Forgive. Make amends. Do your best. And let it go.

KKSGGBW.jpg

TAKING ACTION

One common response to stressors is stress — the sympathetic nervous system kicks on the fight or flight response. Long term, stress can create a very hostile environment in our bodies, and I believe is at the root of most dis-ease. The opposite of the fight or flight response is “rest and digest.” When we are in rest and digest mode, the parasympathetic nervous system has turned on. This is why your stomach often starts to grumble on the acupuncture table. It’s a good thing! Besides acupuncture, how do you activate rest and digest? Here are some tools:

1. BELLY BREATHE. Take a few deep breaths at a comfortable pace. Allow your belly to push out with each breath. This sends your body the signal that everything is okay, and can kick on the “rest and digest” response. I think it’s a good idea to set a tone to go off every hour,  no matter what you are doing, so you can stop and take three deep breaths.

2. EAR MASSAGE. Give yourself an ear massage. The ear contains acupuncture points for the entire body. Gently pulling on the outer part of your ears from the top to the lobe is quite relaxing. You will probably feel a warming sensation, and will likely take a deep breath, kicking on the parasympathetic nervous system. If you suffer from insomnia, doing this at night, and using sesame oil on your ears, is an old Chinese Medicine trick to induce rest.

3. MEDITATE. Pray. Chant. In the Bay Area there are plenty of places to learn to do these things with support. Meditation cuts into worry time for one, and prayer or chanting can give your mind a rest from negative self talk and worry for awhile. One simple meditation is simply to close your eyes and focus on the breath coming out of your nose for five minutes. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but gets easier with practice. For added benefit, say a prayer of good wishes for someone else–it will get you out of your own problems and help you to feel open hearted.

0ef899ade1ef640f68818ce81b650434.jpg

4.  EXERCISE. You don’t have to run a marathon to get benefits from movement. If you are physically debilitated, you can even just imagine doing the exercise — research shows your body still gets some benefits just from imagining! The exercise you choose doesn’t have to turn you into iron man or a supermodel. It can be a slow walk around the block, or tai chi in the park, or a walk with the dog.

Here is an extremely inspirational video about an obese man with diabetes and low self esteem who changed his life completely through love and exercise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm0qYRWQpZI

5. GO OUTSIDE. If possible, it does help to exercise outdoors, or spend some time in nature. This could be as simple as growing a houseplant, or looking out your window at the sky, rain, birds, or trees, catching the sunrise/sunset, or taking a hike in the woods, or going on a camping trip. Nature offers some of the best medicine.

Wren-sunrise.jpg

6. SELF CARE. If you can afford to, invest in some self care every week or every month — as often as you can or need. Acupuncture treatments, massage, energy work, etc., all can help get you out of the stress response.

7. HERBAL MEDICINE. Take herbs and supplements. They can be very very helpful to rebuild your energy reserves and get you back in balance so you can handle life’s stressors better. But please, do not self prescribe!!! We tend to think of herbs as harmless, like eating a sprig of parsley. But the wrong herbs in the wrong dosage can cause very big problems. (A recent herb that is in fashion is turmeric. There are cure all claims for it, and since it’s a cooking spice, we think of it as harmless. But people are taking massive daily doses of the stuff. I know two people who self prescribed turmeric and it caused huge problems with their gallbladders. One person had to have her gallbladder removed because of it. In Chinese herbal medicine, herbs are usually prescribed as part of a balancing formula of several herbs, and taken at a specific dose for a certain length of time, and are specific to your particular pattern. Even cooking spices taken without respect for their power can cause huge problems!)

8. EAT MINDFULLY.  When stressed out, we tend to consume too much sugar, alcohol, fast foods, and comfort foods. In the short term it seems to help, but in the long term causes big problems. Keep the sugary snacks out of the house. Good digestion is imperative for healing. Stress is harmful for digestion. Stress when you are eating is even worse, so:

  • eat at regular times
  • eat slowly.
  • chew.
  • enjoy your food.
  • eat organic when possible.
  • eat seasonally when possible.
  • eat easy to digest and appetizing foods.
  • set the table nicely. put some flowers on the table.
  • use your crock pot.
  • try to include diversity in your diet.
  • eat a lot of vegetables. slightly cook them.
  • if you do indulge in something that’s “bad for you” eat it with pleasure and lose the guilt. It just makes it worse.

eating-turtle.jpg

9. BE GRATEFUL. Keep a gratitude journal where you keep track of people, places, things, you appreciate. Say thank you. Out loud. To someone.

10. REST. Take naps. Have downtime. Say no to stuff you don’t have the energy for. If you have trouble sleeping, get acupuncture, take herbs, do the ear massage described above. Avoid caffeine. Focus on your breathing. Give 100 strokes to the bottom of each foot with the knuckles of your hands. Go to sleep thinking about what you are grateful for.

11. PROTECT YOUR MIND. Avoid toxic news and poisonous people. We can’t live in a bubble, but when you are in a particularly stressful time, being around someone who is complaining all the time is like poison. Watching the news is like poison. Sign up for a daily email from the Good News Network, or the Center for Greater Good at UC Berkeley, or a daily meditation or prayer from the spiritual source of your choice. Look at pictures of baby animals — as dorky as this sounds, there is actually research that found that looking at puppies and kittens improved mood, concentration and focus. They help you to smile.

cute-baby-animals.jpg

12. GROUND YOURSELF. I often do energetic qi gong assessments before inserting needles into someone for acupuncture. Very often I find that people hold their energy in and above their heads, instead of below the navel. Taking deep breaths, and imagining glowing light below the navel can help bring that energy down, so you can re-enter your body, and get out of the worried mind. Likewise, you can imagine roots, like tree roots, or roots made of light, growing down from tailbone and deep into the earth. Walking barefoot and putting “your mind in your feet” can also help to ground you in your body, on this earth in the present moment. Be careful with energy work, and any energy practices that are intended to bring your energy “up.” As the Tibetans say, we humans have a very easy time bringing the energy up, so we don’t have to work at that. Work at pulling your energy down into your core, into your feet. If you have trouble sleeping, another trick is to imagine you are breathing through a point on the bottom of your feet.

Kidney-1.jpg

As someone who is just learning that asking for, and receiving, help is okay, many of these techniques have gotten me through some of the roughest patches of my life. I have seen many of them help a number of patients as well. We all struggle and suffer. But the suffering and struggling can be eased through taking care of one another, thinking with our hearts, being kind, helping each other out. And when you are feeling alone, and afraid to ask for help, this list provides some ideas to try so you can take care of yourself like your own best friend.

13. ASK FOR HELP! Much love and healing to you. I am here to help. Don’t be afraid to ask! You can set up an appointment with me at my clinic on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland, or in Albany, just off of Solano Avenue, by emailing Frances Wocicki at crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com, or by calling 510-919-5689. Visit me on the web at http://www.crowheartacupuncture.com.CROW Heart horizontal.pdf-page-001

Moving Into Yourself in the Fall (Your body is talking to you…are you paying attention?)

The older I get the faster it seems time flies. It’s hard to believe the summer is coming to a close and it’s already September. Hopefully summer has been a time for you to be outdoors more, spend more time with your family and friends, enjoy all the fresh summer produce — especially the delicious watermelons this year! — and get back in touch with your body.

FullSizeRender

For some people, though, summer gets very busy with kids, parties, travel…filling the long days with a whole lot of action and little self care.

During fall it’s time to wind down and to begin turning your attention inward a bit. If the heat and activities of the summer were too much, it’s can also be time to do some repair. I hate to mention it, but cold and flu season are just around the corner and will go a lot better if you put the right building blocks in place to prevent getting sick. That makes September and October prime time to put yourself in the best health possible…before flu season hits, and before the temptations and busyness of the holidays.

egon-schiele-autumn-trees-13127

That makes this the perfect time to share a string of five odd words that changed my life, and the way I look at prevention of disease. I stumbled on these words while helping my mentor to organize his computer files a few years ago. The document contained only these words, with arrows between them, and no explanation. It said, simply:

“Disattention=> Disconnection=> Disregulation=> Disorder=> Disease”

After reflecting on those five words, it was like finding the rosetta stone to the true origination of most diseases. It begins with “disattention” — being too busy to check in and take note of how you’re feeling and responding appropriately.

intuition 1

As an acupuncturist I see a lot of conditions that are preventable, but which have become chronic or severe. Prevention is a lot easier, and more pleasant, than living with chronic or serious conditions. At the first signs of something being “off” — whether it’s your mood, energy, appetite, digestion, or a new ache or pain — is the very best time to get treatment. But noticing these first signs involves taking time to connect with yourself and checking in to see how you are feeling. I recommend even just one minute each day to close your eyes and turn inward and scan your body, check in with your thoughts and feelings, and see how you are doing.

Listen_to_your_body_it_s_smarter_than_you_-_LoveSurf

You could do that right now.  Close your eyes and slowly move your attention through your body from head, neck, shoulders, abdomen to your legs and feet. That’s a physical check. How do you feel? Is anything bothering you? What is it? Where is it? What do the areas of discomfort need in order to feel greater ease and health? It’s important to ask what you need to feel healthier, instead of just to feel “better”….because sometimes what might make us feel “better” (in the short term) is a tub of chocolate ice cream. There is definitely a place for chocolate ice cream, but the goal here is discovering what health promoting behavior is needed. Your body is smart. It will know, or at least know what is making it feel so lousy.

You can also tune in to your heart, emotionally, get quiet, and see how you are feeling. This can be easy for some, who have strong body or emotional awareness, and will take more practice for others. Treat what you find with respect, as you would a friend. Just notice your emotional state.

This “check in” can be very brief. But learning to pay attention is the first step on the path of well being.

IMG_0984

“Disconnection”

“Disattention”, or ignoring, your body/mind/emotions can lead to a “Disconnection” from yourself — when you ignore your needs you are likely to stop addressing them in a positive way, and are more likely to take on behaviors that aren’t necessarily in your best interest — eating too much, sitting too much, not getting enough quiet time, not laughing enough, etc. Being disconnected allows the unhealthy behaviors to take root.

“Disregulation”

After ignoring your needs for awhile, your system goes into a state of “Disregulation.” Disregulation can be thought of as mildly to moderately noticeable symptoms, like a slower metabolism, feeling too hot or too cold, a change in appetite, lower energy, and a range of “weird” symptoms that a doctor might disregard (like a lump in your throat, or feeling crabby more frequently, for example). It’s really nothing serious, but you find yourself thinking that maybe you should improve your diet, or exercise more, or get more sleep. THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME to increase your self care and prioritize healthier habits. Changes in habits require support and commitment.

“Disorder”

After some time of disregulation, “Disorder” ensues. Disorder can be thought of as a problem. You have pain quite regularly now in some area of your body, or you’ve gained too much weight, or your blood sugar is pre-diabetic, or you have insomnia regularly, high blood pressure, depression, etc. These are physical, mental, and emotional disorders that are now regularly interfering with your sense of well being or impacting what you are able to do.

THIS IS AN ESSENTIAL TIME to address your health with regular self care and support. This is also the point where herbs and nutritional supplements can make a huge difference in turning things around to prevent more serious chronic diseases.

“Disease”

When your mind/body is disordered for long enough, you may develop a serious disease. For example, a sensitive stomach and long term stress can turn into acid reflux, which can turn into Barrett’s Esophagus, which can turn into cancer over the long haul. Or years of ignoring mild back pain turns into degenerative disc disease which may result in surgery and long term physical limitations. Years of eating too much sugar and not getting enough exercise can result in diabetes and kidney disease.

All disease starts somewhere. Because our bodies are quite resiliant and the changes over time are subtle we gradually grow used to feeling bad and don’t really notice what is happening. What is happening is that disease is being born. 

“In short”

In short, not paying attention to yourself can lead to disease — whether it’s just a cold, or something more serious like stomach ulcers, infertility, diabetes, arthritis, panic attacks, cancer.

Pay close enough attention to your body/mind everyday that you build good habits and get the care you need when something seems off.  Rest when your body asks for it, eat when you’re hungry, and stretch when you’re feeling tight. Prioritize your wellbeing.

yoga-pic

There are signals our bodies give before reaching significant illness and chronic disease. Our bodies communicate with us (or at least try to). The primary key to staying well is listening to what our bodies are telling us, and CARING about what they have to say.

Once you begin regularly paying attention, the pathway to good health looks like this:

“Attention=> Connection => Regulation => Order => Ease”

Paying ATTENTION to how you feel will lead to CONNECTION (to your mind/body) so you begin to give your body what it really needs (sleep, good food, exercise, laughter, etc.). When your body has what it needs, there will be REGULATION of your systems and symptoms (making necessary changes and gettiing care) and this leads to ORDER, or everything running pretty smoothly. When your mind/ body has order, the result is EASE!

We don’t just wake up one day with Type II diabetes. Hypertension does not usually occur overnight. Ulcers don’t come from only one day of worrying and eating poorly. These, and other diseases, are the result of long term imbalances that once began as minor discomforts that went unnoticed and unaddressed.

This fall, I can help you to work on rebalancing that which is already off-kilter, and helping to prevent disorder by reducing stress, strengthening your immune system, and keeping things flowing smoothly. 

There’s no time like the present, eh?

timeflies

May you find true wellbeing. 

Crow Heart Acupuncture and Herbs has two locations in the East Bay: the Rockridge neighborhood of North Oakland, and on the Albany / Berkeley border just off of Solano Avenue.

IMG_2376 IMG_2375

Make an appointment:

Website: https://www.crowheartacupuncture.com

Email: crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

Phone: 510-919-5689

Here is a Mindfulness Quiz from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. It’s a good start on the path to paying attention–and look around on their website for other tips on how you can be more mindful of yourself!

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/4

crow_heart_final

“Our body is precious. It is the vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” — The Buddha