Late Summer: Nourish & Transform

Late Summer is upon us. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is considered the “Fifth Season.” 

In TCM, each season has its own associations and qualities (color, taste, sounds, emotions, etc.). Late Summer is about proper nourishment leading to transformation. It is a time to center oneself and build strength through digestion, which in turn boosts the immune system as we move into shorter, colder, darker days of fall and winter. The other side effect of well functioning digestion, is a clarity of thought and the strength to follow through on your goals. On the flip side, if digestion is off and nourishment poor, we tend toward fatigue, weight gain, catching colds, and worry.

Now is a great time to refocus on your health, and clean up the diet after summertime fun.

The qualities associated with Late Summer provide hints for how to get there:

Color: Yellow and Orange

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Element: Earth (central to all other elements, it is literally the ground beneath our feet, and grows all that nourishes us…this is a good time to reconnect to the earth with hiking and walking.)

Direction: Center (when we are in balance, we say we are “centered”, and also, not coincidentally, where our digestive organs are located)

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Taste: Sweet (like carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes)

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Organs: the Stomach and Spleen (Now is the best time to strengthen them.)

Time: 9-11 a.m. (This is considered “spleen” time on the Chinese clock. According to the clock, the stomach is strongest between 7-9 am–a good time for breakfast–and the spleen helps to digest between 9-11 a.m. During Late Summer, digestive strength is given a boost during spleen time.)

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Sound: Singing (Someone with an out of balance spleen, tends to have a sing-songy voice.)

Odor: Sweet, Fragrant

Body Tissue: Muscles and Flesh (Strong spleen function means strong muscles. Weak spleen function / digestion means weak muscles, cellulite, and being overweight.)

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Sense Organ: Mouth, Lips (Those who are constitutionally “spleen” people tend to have full lips. Pale, dry lips are a sign of weak spleen function.)

Climate: Damp (An out of balance spleen will manifest dampness. Signs of dampness include being overweight, having muscle aches, sinus trouble, a runny nose, foggy thinking, etc.)

Spirit: Thought (or “Yi” in TCM terms) (The health of the spleen is manifested in the intellect. Weak spleen can mean foggy thoughts. Strong spleen tends to bring clarity. Note that too much studying / computer work can actually damage digestion.)

Virtue: Clarity, Integrity, Manifesting Intentions (can occur more easily when digestion is healthy) 

Emotion: Worry, Pensiveness (can occur when there is a spleen / stomach imbalance)

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Since now is the time to work on good digestion, here are some general guidelines for how to do so….

Nutrition and Digestion, Chinese Medicine Style:

The right diet is arguably the strongest preventive medicine there is. Proper nutritional therapy is also a good way to treat any of the body’s ailments.

A Chinese Medical book from 1601 states:

 “The spleen/stomach network is the main source of life-sustaining postnatal energy.” 

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In other words, your genetics, plus diet and digestion, make up the state of your health.

So what is healthy eating, and what foods are recommended? 

BASIC NUTRITIONAL GUIDELINES, TCM STYLE:

GUIDELINES FOR “HOW” TO EAT:

  • Eat in moderation — don’t consistently overeat, or under eat. Surviving on a banana and coffee until dinner time is not a great idea. Eating until your stomach hurts in not a good idea either. Some say it is best to stop eating when you are “two-thirds full.” Wait twenty minutes after you finish eating and check to see if you are still hungry. 
  • Sit down to eat — Mealtimes that promote proper digestion are calm and relaxed, with your focus on your food . Eating while driving, reading, texting, arguing, watching tv, working, etc., is harmful to your digestion. The more often you can sit down at the table and eat calmly, the better.
  • Chew your food. Thoroughly. — The digestion process actually begins in your mouth. If you gulp food, you are skipping that step and forcing your stomach to work harder. Gulping food also leads to a tendency to overeat.
  • Have dinner before 7 pm—or at least three hours before you go to sleep. A full belly at bedtime is a leading cause of insomnia and digestion is not optimal at night.

If you tend toward emotional eating, eating on the run, or making poor food choices, I highly recommend this book.

GUIDELINES FOR FOOD AND DRINK to AVOID (on a Regular Basis):

  • Limit raw, cold, and iced food and beverages — They are very hard to digest and over time weaken your digestive system. Room temperature and warm food and drink are easier to digest. However, raw and cold foods can be digested with a little more ease in the summertime. If you pay attention to eating seasonal foods, this is an easy guideline to follow (salads are fine in summer as long as they don’t upset your stomach, and you’re not eating them all the time). Late summer is a good time to switch from salads to steamed vegetables.

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  • Limit dairy, as well as greasy, fried, and oily foods. The best dairy to choose is FULL fat and grass-fed. (Low fat dairy is highly processed and often sugar is added to make it taste better. We need to readjust our thinking that low fat means healthy. It doesn’t!)
  • Avoid refined sugar and flour as much as possible— this Includes fruit juices, dried fruits, and those awful “protein bars”. If you are attached to your protein bars, here’s a good link to help you choose the best ones.
  • Limit fruit in general. It has a lot of sugar. Here is a list of fruits lowest in sugar.
  • Limit alcohol. (To see the benefits and risks of alcohol click here.)
  • Limit meat. (Some people need more meat than others….meat provides warmth and nourishes our blood….but meat at every meal is not necessary. Generally, eat twice as many vegetables as meats. All meat is not created equal—organic meat, grass-fed red meat, and wild fish really are much healthier!)
  •  Limit / Avoid processed food. A great list of 20 foods to definitely avoid as much as possible is available here.

SOME FOODS THAT MAKE YOUR SPLEEN / STOMACH Healthy and Happy:

  • Cooked (or lightly cooked) vegetables — and lots of them!
  • Fresh seasonal foods–the food you find at the Farmer’s Market.
  • Soups and Stews
  • Winter squash
  • Sweet potatoes / yams / carrots
  • Eggs
  • Meat in moderation, especially if slowly cooked (beef, chicken, duck, lamb, fish)
  • Brown rice, sweet rice (also called “sticky rice” or glutinous rice — rest assured, it IS gluten free)
  • Digestive spices like cumin, coriander, ginger

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For a more detailed nutritional guide according to the principles of TCM, check out this link (it’s especially useful if you know your Chinese Medicine diagnosis).

The list above is not exhaustive. If you have the time to cook at home, there is a recipe service that provides daily menus for eating seasonally with Chinese Medicine principles here.

There are loads of other recipes and menus for healthy eating with the seasons. This is a wonderful website where you can view foods currently in season with many recipes linked to each food. Explore and have fun!

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR “SPLEEN” is OUT OF BALANCE:

Many people in contemporary society sit too much, eat too much, and worry too much. It’s a perfect triad to generate what is called “Spleen Qi Deficiency”. Here are common symptoms:

  • Weakness of the body and muscles
  • Chronic Tiredness / Fatigue, especially after eating
  • Tendency toward loose stool with undigested food
  • Diarrhea when eating cold or raw food
  • Pale tongue with thin or thick white coat
  • Weak pulse
  • Low appetite
  • Weight gain / Trouble losing weight
  • Tendency to worry / overthink
  • Physical and mental stagnation, feeling “stuck”
  • Abdominal bloating and other digestive complaints
  • Crave sugar

Long term, Spleen Qi Deficiency can develop into a more serious imbalance that can include:

  • Feeling cold all over, or cold hands and feet
  • Edema / water retention
  • Desire for warm food / drink
  • Diarrhea 
  • Prolapse of organs including some cases of hemorrhoids
  • Frequent miscarriages
  • Feeling of heaviness in the body
  • Lack of thirst
  • Sticky / sweet taste in the mouth
  • Thick, white, greasy coat on the tongue
  • Lots of phlegm 
  • Brain fog
  • Obesity

To sum this all up, healthy digestion and proper nutrition are key to overall well being and disease prevention.  This transitional time between summer and fall is an ideal time to commit to a cleaner diet made up of seasonal and fresh foods. If your digestion is already suffering, or if you recognize yourself in the “Spleen Qi Deficiency” symptoms above, now might be a good time to get some extra help with acupuncture and herbs.

Bye bye summertime!

Gabby late August Bulb

 

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crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

510-919-5689

 

 

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Build Your Own Chinese Medicine Cabinet

One of the many benefits of being a health care provider in Oriental Medicine is the resources and knowledge I have on hand when I, or someone in my family, gets sick. I feel really grateful for access to this medicine, and I’d like to pass some of these tips on to you. Please note this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination–and I encourage you to recommend your own tried and true home remedies and herbal formulas in the comments below…

First, three good supplements for overall health and prevention of disease:

There are so many supplements on the market and not a lot of straightforward information, free of marketing, behind them. I take supplements daily, but not many. Here is my short list that I would recommend to *almost* everyone (all supplements should be stopped 5-7 days before surgery; some people have allergies or other medical conditions that may make certain supplements inappropriate):

1. Take a high quality Omega 3 (with Vitamin D3) supplement. (I like Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3, but there are many, many brands on the market). For the most part, I recommend staying away from Fish Oil supplements that contain Omega 6s and 9s–our diets already have too many 6s and 9s. (Click HERE to understand why.) Even if you eat fish, I still recommend taking an Omega 3 supplement to ensure you are getting enough. This one supplement can make a huge difference in how you feel. (Omega 3 health benefits.)

2. Take Probiotics. They help with sleep, immunity, skin, digestion, mental wellbeing, cholesterol levels, allergies…the list goes on.

HOW TO TAKE PROBIOTICS: Pick a brand of probiotics that has as many strains as you can find (I like MegaFood’s MegaFlora). Start the probiotics slowly. Take less than the recommended dose, or take one probiotic pill every few days. On occasion, probiotics can cause a die off of unhealthy gut bacteria and result in gas, bloating, and diarrhea (as well as acne and rashes). It’s not a “bad” reaction–your body is detoxing–but an uncomfortable one that will be diminished if you start slowly. Increase your daily water intake to help with any possible detox side effects. Once you are taking probiotics without a bad reaction, take the normal dose and finish the bottle. After a few weeks, purchase a different brand of probiotics with different strains. Finish that bottle and take another break. In addition to taking probiotics out of a bottle, live probiotic cultures are often found in fermented dairy products such as yogurts and milk drinks. Fermented foods like pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and soy products may also contain some lactic acid bacteria so these foods will also help to balance your gut.

3. If you feel the need to take vitamins, make sure they are Plant-Based Vitamins and not synthetic. Most vitamins on the market are synthetically produced in a lab. These are hard for your body to assimilate. Plant-based (sometimes called food-based or whole food vitamins) are made from food. Your body knows what to do with them! You can find plant-based vitamins in good grocery stores and natural pharmacies, or I can order them for you from my favorite company Standard Process. A word of warning–some of these vitamin companies like to add a variety of herbs into their mix that can interfere with other herbs or medications you are taking, so I don’t recommend these unless you do your research and make sure these herbs are right for you.

By the way, Standard Process has vitamin and supplement support for most health conditions (from infertility and high blood pressure to diabetes, depression, and memory loss). I have found, in some cases, the addition of these food-based supplements to have quite extraordinary results. I can help you to decide if adding these supplements would be right for you– just ask!

Second, common Chinese Formulas to have in your medicine cabinet:

1. Yin Qiao San for colds: Yin Qiao is well known and popular. To take it correctly, take it on first signs of a cold. Increase the first one or two doses by about half (sometimes you can stop the cold in its tracks when you do this). Yin Qiao can be found in good grocery stores or natural pharmacies, or can be ordered online. A common, good brand is “Plum Flower” by Oakland-based Mayway Company. However, my favorite brand is Kan Herbal (which can’t be found in stores); I find it to be most effective. Let me know if you want me to order the Kan Herbal Yin Qiao for you to have on hand.

2. Lonicera Complex by Evergreen Herbs for the flu. The flu is harder to treat than colds without help. Cupping and acupuncture and herbs make a huge difference. My new favorite flu formula is Lonicera Complex from Evergreen Herbs. It has strong anti-viral herbs and anti-bacterial herbs. I helped a number of patients this year recover from flu with this formula. I was also exposed repeatedly to the flu this year, and found myself coming down with flu symptoms. I heavily dosed with this formula the first day of my symptoms and the next day was symptom free. I am happy to order it for you if you want it in your first aid kit. You can also find Gan Mao Ling, another herbal formula for the flu, in most good grocery stores / natural pharmacies.

3. Supplements for Cold sores: There is a lot of help for cold sores beyond the Abreva type topicals that tend to come with awful side effects. Here are my favorite proven supplements and topicals: Calcium Lactate by Standard Process, Watermelon Frost (a topical formula that’s not pretty, but it works), and Lysine (an amino acid that can be found most places that sell vitamins). Note that the HSV1 virus that is responsible for cold sores can be ‘awakened’ by stress and by consuming a diet that has a high ratio of Arginine to Lysine. Eating lots of foods high in Arginine like chocolate, peanuts and almonds, and not enough foods high in Lysine, like red meat, dairy and eggs can promote the recurrence of HSV1 symptoms, especially during times of stress or illness. You can avoid high Arginine foods and supplement with Lysine routinely or specifically during times of high stress or low immunity.

4. Herbs for Headaches: Occasional headaches can sometimes be remedied simply with hydration and rest. Chronic headaches, sinus headaches, stress headaches or hormonal headaches can be more of a challenge. Cupping to the upper back and shoulder area can often help to relieve stress headaches. With acupuncture we often use points on the feet to treat the head (to bring the energy down). Sinus headaches are often related to digestion, and a need to recondition the gut (with probiotics and dietary changes and herbs). Other stubborn headaches require commitment to treatment with acupuncture and herbs. I have had a lot of success with patients using two Chinese Herbal formulas— Corydalin (AC) for acute headaches and Corydalin (CR) for chronic headaches. These are both purchased through Evergreen Herbs and typically cannot be purchased online without a license. Hormonal headaches require acupuncture and herbs to regulate the hormones.

5. Bao He Wan or “Curing Pills” for stomach aches due to overeating. These can be found in most natural pharmacies, or I can order them for you from my favorite herb suppliers.

6. There are also good formulas to have on hand for other common complaints, such as occasional hemorrhoids and heartburn. I am happy to talk with you about herbal formulas or teas to have on hand for these and other common ailments.

 

 

 

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.

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

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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).

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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.

 

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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

 

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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!

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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.

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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

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6 Tips for Staying Healthy During “Sugar Season”: Preventing Colds and Flus

It’s early October and a great time to prepare yourself for cold and flu season, or what some have renamed the “sugar season” which officially begins the day after Halloween. The average person tends to get three colds per year–usually in the wintertime. Do you know that Western scientists don’t actually know for sure why we get more colds and flus in the winter? In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), they have known for thousands of years that being exposed to the wind and the cold, along with a weakened “wei qi” (immune system) can bring on a cold or flu. But it’s just within the last few years that western scientists are beginning to understand this is true!

Scientists have recently discovered that being exposed to and breathing in cold air reduces our immunity. They have also agreed that what we eat directly impacts our immune system. A lowered immunity combined with more time spent swapping germs indoors seems to be one clue to why we get more colds and flus in the fall and winter.

So, in addition to washing our hands and staying warm, here are some good tips for preventing colds and flus by way of boosting your immune system:

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  1. Stop the sugar

High sugar intake decreases immune system cells that attack bacteria for at least a few hours after eating a sugary food or drink. Americans in general consume too much sugar, especially since “low fat diets” came into fashion. All of us tend to eat more sugar than we realize. Between Halloween and New Year’s there are many occasions to indulge–coincidentally during the “flu season.” Is it that more viruses are circulating or that we are weakening our immune systems with sugar? If you’re wondering how much sugar is too much sugar, take a look at this good articleAnd remember there is also a lot of sugar in that after work glass of wine!

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2. Eat Seasonally

Pay attention to the foods coming in to season at the Farmer’s Market–and eat plenty of them! They happen to be high in the vitamins and minerals necessary to boost the immune system and prevent colds and flus. They are also whole foods, which will encourage cooking at home, and avoiding processed foods that are often loaded with bad stuff for your body.

Two good lists of seasonal foods, and other seasonal advice:

Fall foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

Winter foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

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3. Get Enough Sleep

Being well rested gives your immune system a boost. It may or not be possible or realistic for you to “get enough sleep.” You may be living with babies, pets, your partner’s snoring, etc., and other outside circumstances that interrupt your sleep — I know some of those things can’t be changed. But if they can actually be changed (sleeping in a different room, for example), please take the leap and do it! The world is a different place when you get more sleep.

You may also be someone who wakes up at 3 a.m. worrying, or has trouble falling asleep, or have aches and pains at night– with some help and effort (herbs, acupuncture, meditation, etc.) these problems may have some solutions.

In any case, according to ancient Chinese wisdom, living with the seasons is one of the keys to staying healthy. The fall and winter are times to be a little less social, to slow your activities down, get more sleep, and to cozy up.

Be honest with yourself about how you can get more sleep– turning the TV or your phone off earlier, installing light blocking curtains in your bedroom, or allowing yourself to take naps (or learn how to nap), and saying no to social obligations when you really are too tired. Many of us also avoid realizing how tired we actually are by using caffeine to “get us through the day.” I suggest gradually cutting down on caffeine to allow yourself to be tired, and then to sleep when you feel tired. This might mean taking a little break from your “normal” life. Eventually, you won’t be so tired!

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4. Exercise, and move around during the day.

Exercise boosts the immune the system by decreasing the body’s stress chemicals (which compromise the immune system) and increaseing feel good chemicals that encourage a good night’s sleep. Generally, thirty to sixty minutes per day of moderate exercise (walking, for example) is all it takes, in addition to moving around a bit throughout the day–that is, not spending extended periods of time sitting.  Even if you exercise 30 to 60 minutes each day, it may not be beneficial unless you are making a point to stand up and do some light activity for a few minutes every hour. For those with desk jobs, please check out this article on “Sitting Disease”.

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5. Address Your Stress

Although our lives occasionally give us a break from our troubles, generally we all have stress. In a world where change is the only constant, stressful situations will always arise (or as the Buddhists say “life is suffering”). There is nothing we can do about that. We can, however, learn to respond better to stress. Responding “better” to stress takes commitment to change our habitual responses and get a new perspective.

I strongly encourage learning to meditate, if even for ten minutes a day. One study showed that people who meditated over an 8 week period had improved immune response up to four months later.

There are many good books, websites, and local groups that can help to support a meditation practice. The benefits are countless. I recently discovered some wonderful online resources put out by the sweet and funny Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Here is a link if you are interested in trying out a meditation that is shorter than fifteen minutes: short meditation

If you don’t like that style, look around and ask around to find a style that works for you. If meditation is a turn off, you can try yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. If practiced regularly, they are also great stress relievers.  Spending time with loving friends and family also can help relieve stress, or watching funny movies, laughing more, dancing, listening to or playing music, getting a massage, acupuncture, taking a bath, exercising….there are many ways to de-stress, you just have to discover (or remember) what your way is, and commit to it before things get out of control. Lowering your stress levels boosts your immune system, not only preventing colds and flus, but other more serious diseases, too.

Here’s a link to some really corny jokes that you can tell to all your friends to boost everyone’s immune system. Ha ha!

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6. Use Herbs and Acupuncture

Of course herbs and acupuncture help to boost the immune system and lower stress as well. If you are someone who gets frequent colds during the year, you may be a good candidate for one of several immune boosting herbal formulas. Please ask me!  Getting regular acupuncture treatments helps to turn off the stress response as well as boosts the immune cells that kill infection. 

IF You Do Get a Cold….

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And finally, please remember that if you do catch a cold or a flu, stop taking any herbs you may be on for other conditions. Often those herbal formulas include tonic herbs which will make a cold worse!!! Instead, rely on the age old advice of resting, hydration, and actually yes, chicken soup. Herbs specific to your symptoms (designed for colds) can help a lot, and get an acupuncture treatment to help reduce the duration of the ailment.

There are Chinese Herbal formulas that you can buy at certain grocery stores like Berkeley Bowl or Whole Foods, but they should be specific to your kind of cold. In TCM diagnosis, there are different kinds of colds (mainly two, “Wind Heat” and “Wind Cold”) so you want the formula that’s right for your cold symptoms.

Here is a link to a graphic that can help you decide what kind of cold you have: wind heat vs wind cold

Please Share! If you have tried and true remedies, homemade teas, etc., that work for either prevention or resolving cold symptoms, please share them here so others may benefit from your wisdom and experience.

I am hoping you stay healthy during the coming months, and enjoy the cooler weather!

Much Love,

Frances Wocicki, LAc, MSOM, MA

www.crowheartacupuncture.com

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Summertime Self Care: Chinese Wisdom Made Local

sc0015db4e_2Chinese Medicine philosophy considers the summer the most active (yang) time of the year. You get up early, go to sleep late, and generally feel pretty good with all that sunshine. Summer is associated with joy, the heart, fire, outward expression of energy,  movement and activity. It is the manifestation of all we have cultivated in the spring time — the tomato plant that I planted in early spring is already bearing fruit, because it has had sunshine and I have watered it.

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Many of us play hard and work hard in the summer, precisely because there is more daylight and we have more energy. However, there is one thing acupuncturists, body workers, and massage therapists are painfully aware of…not many people are invested in self care in these months. They are busy flying off to all corners of the earth, attending parties, playing outside, and celebrating.

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All of which is great. But the mind-body is not really getting a similar vacation. In fact, we are expecting more of it. So, when colder winds begin to blow in the fall, our clinics are filled to the brim with coughing, sneezing, exhausted people! This summer hangover can be prevented!

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Simply put, taking care of yourself in the summer leads to a healthier you in the fall.

A 2,000 year old Chinese medicine classic, the Huang di Nei Jing, shares words of ancient wisdom about healthy living in summertime, still applicable today:

“One may retire somewhat later at this time of year, while still arising early. One should refrain from anger and stay physically active, to keep the skin breathing and to prevent the qi from stagnating. One can indulge a bit more than in other seasons, but should not overindulge. Emotionally, it is important to be happy and easygoing and not hold grudges, so that the energy can flow freely and communicate between the external and internal. In this way, illness may be averted in the Fall… Problems in the Summer will cause injury to the heart and will manifest in the Fall.”

Here is a list of some easy, health promoting things to do for yourself while you are enjoying the longer, sunny summer days:

  • Be active and get some exercise. Twenty minutes a day of walking, yoga, tai chi, meditation, or similar low impact activities are wonderful to add in to your daily routine.

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  • Have fun, but stay balanced (don’t overindulge in drinking, exercising, sunshine, parties, travel…etc. Moderation, as always, is the key!)
  • Forgive, lighten up, let some things go.
  • Eat seasonally. There is a lot of fresh produce at this time of year to enjoy!
  • Hydrate often (lemon, mint, and cucumber infused water is a great choice to cool you down)

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  • Include lighter, less greasy foods in your diet
  • Foods to keep you cool and balanced:

Cilantro, mint, dill, cucumbers, watermelon, peaches, apricots, cantaloupe, spinach, watercress, seaweed, bok choy, broccoli, sprouts, chinese cabbage, snow peas, mung beans

Stock up on seasonal, local foods at your Local Farmer’s Market, or grow your own!

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Here is a list of Farmer’s Markets in the East Bayhttp://edibleeastbay.com/farmers-markets/

Growing a garden in Alameda county, month by month:  http://acmg.ucanr.edu/Your_Garden,_Month-by-Month/

Vegetable Gardening for Dummies: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/vegetable-gardening-for-dummies/Content?oid=3198410

Create a Greywater system for your garden: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=45756

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Local (East Bay) yoga studios, tai chi, qi gong, and meditation classes:

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Namaste yoga studios: http://ilovenamaste.com/

Yoga Tree: http://www.yogatreesf.com/locations/telegraph.html

Adeline Yoga Studio: http://www.adelineyoga.com/

Square One Yoga: http://www.squareoneyoga.com/

Tai Chi Chuan Berkeley: http://taichichuanberkeley.com/

Meditation, Qi Gong, Classes, and More: http://berkeley.shambhala.org/programs/

East Bay Biking, Walking, Hiking:

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Bicycling and Walking maps in Berkeley: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Public_Works/Transportation/Bicycling_and_Walking-Maps_and_Guides.aspx

East Bay Regional Parks: http://www.ebparks.org/parks

Best Botanical Gardens in the East Bay: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/top-lists/best-botanical-gardens-in-the-bay-area/

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In between all that good local food, yoga, hiking, biking, traveling, and celebration, make time to get some acupuncture to help you chill out, cool down, refresh, and revive. Sometimes taking a break means you will have more energy to actually enjoy yourself.

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http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

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