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

 

 

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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

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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The Medicine is You: How Chinese Medicine Aids in Self Healing

Medicine on the needles?

I had a first time acupuncture patient once ask me if there was medicine on the needles. The question surprised me, but when I thought about it, the question makes sense. We are taught, in a round about way, that healing must come from an outside source. Have a headache? Take a pill. Does your body hurt? Take a pill. Are you depressed? Take a pill. When you go to the doctor they give you a few choices — take a pill, have surgery, or if they can’t see anything wrong in your blood work, there is nothing wrong with you, so take a pill.

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So when my patient asked if there is medicine on the needles — even though I found it a little funny — it is a sensible question to ask, because we are taught that we can’t get better just on our own.

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Pharmaceutical “Healing”

Yes, taking a pill IS a quick way to get rid of your symptoms — at least temporarily — and sometimes we need to do this to “get through the day” comfortably, or because the illness we have is much stronger than our body’s ability to fight it.

We all know that pills have other effects, though. Many effects of Western pharmaceuticals are merely undesirable in the short term (like nausea or diarrhea) but can be downright harmful in the long term. Long term pain medication is dangerous for the liver; chronic corticosteroid use has multiple systemic effects (“Cushing’s Syndrome”); anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications can lead to insomnia, weight gain, low libido, fatigue, constipation, blurry vision…yeesh! Antibiotics– often a very necessary drug– also kill off healthy gut flora and thereby significantly reduce your natural immune system response; long term use can cause very serious side effects like kidney failure, vision problems, etc (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/popular-antibiotics-may-carry-serious-side-effects/?_r=0).

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A really good question to ask yourself if you are taking medications to alleviate a symptom, is why did the symptoms appear in the first place, and what are you doing to address it? Simply masking a symptom by taking a pill does not mean the problem is gone. You are just turning off your body’s signal that something is off balance, and letting that something spin out of control. Ever wonder why some older people are commonly taking ten or twelve medications at once? Often these other medications are prescribed to alleviate effects of the medications. Meanwhile, the original cause of disease goes completely untreated.

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All of this “healing” is done to us, given to us by an outside source, without much mention of lifestyle and dietary changes that might help to promote the body’s ability to heal itself. In fact, if someone gets better without the use of drugs or surgery, doctor’s often chalk the healing up to “the placebo effect” and dismiss it.

Natural healing abilities

But what about our own natural healing abilities? For they certainly do exist. Just imagine what we would look like if we didn’t have the ability to heal from cuts, broken bones, and bruises. Kind of a horrifying idea. Or what would happen if we couldn’t bounce back from colds, flus, food poisoning, headaches, menstrual cramps, and the like. We’d be a mess. This self-healing, however, is dependent upon the strength and reserves of our minds and bodies. Children and younger people, with deeper reserves, often heal quickly, while older people and those chronically depleted by unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, may need some support.

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Chinese medicine lends a healing hand in a very different way than Western biomedicine; where Western medicine masks the symptoms, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), works to strengthen the body’s natural abilities to bring itself back into balance. Ultimately, it is your body that heals itself. It knows how. Really!

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When acupuncture and herbs are necessary

If there is not medicine “on the needles,” then what are those needles doing? And if our bodies can heal themselves, then why are we sick in the first place, and why bother with any kind of medicine? Because sometimes we swing so far out of balance that the body has trouble maintaining homeostasis. It needs a little help to get back enough strength to begin the healing process, or to take it to the next level.

Yin-Yang

To assist the body back into a state of self healing, acupuncture needles are placed strategically along the energy pathways of the body, targeting places where excess energy is stuck, and places where energy is lacking, in an attempt to balance the yin and the yang of the body. The process of a good acupuncture treatment works to rebalance de-regulated energy flow. The treatment will allow you access to additional energy in your body that has been trapped, or is not flowing smoothly, and to increase energy in places that have been blocked, or starved out, by the imbalance. Most of us have some imbalance or disharmony that if sorted out would free up some resources to aid in our greater well being.

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An example of an angry liver

For example, a patient came to see me who had been struggling with fatigue, some depression, and irritable bowel syndrome for a few years. Otherwise, this person was a relatively healthy, well functioning woman in her early forties. Upon diagnosis (made via pulse taking, viewing the tongue, and scanning her energetically using medical qi gong techniques) I could see and feel that this person had, from a Chinese medicine perspective, a great deal of heat and trapped energy in her liver.

The liver is the organ responsible for the smooth flow of energy in the body. Stress, frustrations, unexpressed emotions, can get stuck in us, like an energy build up that becomes imprisoned and sets us off balance. We can feel this build up of pathological liver energy when we get angry and want to “blow our stacks” or scream or have the urge to punch something.

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In our daily lives, we can address this stuck-ness in healthy or unhealthy ways to provide some relief, or we can do nothing and let the annoyances build, and end up being a snappy, irritable, exhausted human being living in misery and making ourselves sick.

For example, a healthy way to deal with an angry build up of energy is to exercise; an unhealthy way to deal with it is alcohol (alcohol is said to “scatter the qi”). Very spicy food is also another way to move stuck energy. However, too much of any of these things (including exercise) can lead to problems.

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I mentioned to my patient that despite feeling exhausted, she actually had a great deal of energy available to her, it was just stuck. I asked if there was some unresolved problem in her life causing anger and frustration. Indeed, there had been a significant traumatic event that had occurred just before her symptoms appeared. This issue was unresolved, creating a good deal of emotional suffering. According to TCM theory, emotions are made to be felt, but not held on to. Holding an emotion can cause the body to go out of balance and the longer the emotion is held, the more significant the symptoms. Negative emotions held over a long period of time can lead to significant disease.

When anger is stored in the liver, a variety of dysfunction can happen, and the liver can “attack” other organs. One common organ for it to attack is the stomach and digestive system as a whole. This is why it is hard to eat when you are angry, and why you may actually can get an upset stomach when you are angry. In my patient’s case, the anger contributed to the development of irritable bowel syndrome. Because her digestion was weakened, the food she was eating was not being optimally absorbed by her body, consequently creating fatigue because she wasn’t being adequately nourished. Therefore, she had both digestive upset as well as exhaustion, all resulting from trapped energy / emotion.

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The treatment for this patient offered several avenues to healing. First, the diagnostic process brought into her awareness the destructive nature of holding on to her anger. She had every right to be angry about what had happened, but she needed to take some steps toward resolving it, so she could move on. The awareness alone was huge. Sometimes that’s all it takes for someone to begin to heal. Sometimes the patient decides psychotherapy is an appropriate next step if they feel truly stuck and unable to move through emotional issues on their own.

Second, I addressed the energetic disharmony between her liver and digestive system using acupuncture. Each acupuncture treatment produced significant relief of symptoms, and helped with flare ups. The acupuncture channels or meridians run the length of our body, moving through the organs, so I selected points to smooth and soothe the liver, releasing that stuck energy and heat accumulated there, making the energy available to other parts of her body, and also giving her digestive system a break from the attack so it could heal. I also selected points to strengthen her digestion so she could begin to absorb more of the nutrients in her food, and subsequently have more energy.

Third, because this patient had suffered from the emotional impact of the past event for several years, her body needed additional help to get back into balance, and to have continued support as she dealt with her anger. This is where herbs come in handy. The effects of acupuncture alone can be miraculous and often resolve an acute problem in one to six treatments. Something that is chronic and long term may have depleted the body to such an extent that outside nourishment is needed in order to speed up the healing process.

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Chinese herbal medicine does not work like a pill that masks symptoms; herbal medicine works to address both the root of the problem as well as the symptoms — in her case, rebuilding the strength of her weakened digestive system and soothing the liver so that things flowed smoothly, leading to her body’s ability to truly heal.

This whole process is chalked up by the western medical system very often as a “placebo” effect. By which they mean, the patient is imagining both the symptoms and the cure. Apparently the body’s ability to heal itself is disregarded and ideas of energy, emotions, balance, meridians, and herbs, are all thought to be a bunch of hocus pocus.

In actuality, our bodies are amazing! Like a starfish that can regrow its own legs (or are they arms?), we do have the ability to rejuvenate and regenerate ourselves. The medicine is not on the needles. The medicine is in you! But sometimes we just need a little help to call it forth.

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I can help.

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http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

Re-energizing New Year’s Resolutions: inspirational videos, blogs, and websites to keep you on track!

“And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been.”
— Rainer Marie Rilke

If you made any New Year resolutions, this is the week that things can begin to break down. It’s normal to waiver on new habits. Start fresh and recommit. YOU ARE WORTH IT!

If you are someone who doesn’t make New Year resolutions, now’s a great time to set a new health habit into motion anyway. Spring is just around the corner (which will give your body more energy to make change) plus the Chinese New Year on February 19 gives you another chance to make a New Year Resolution.

Not ready to jump into a new habit? Here is an easy way to start thinking about improvements you might want to make in your life…some of my favorite videos, blogs, and links that provide inspiration for better living.

Don’t watch them all at once – this is a blog post to keep returning to whenever you need some inspiration or a lift in spirits, or a new healthy recipe for dinner.

Getting onto a healthier and happier path can be as simple as starting with these links. Happy web surfing!

WALKING and EXERCISING:

Doctor Mike Evans on “Sitting Disease”:

Doctor Mike Evans on Taking a Walk:

STRESS– (We all have it. It’s how you deal with it that counts.)

Improving Your Response to Stress — an AWESOME video!:

Kelly McGonigal on how to make stress your friend:

Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, discusses what she discovered about peace as she was having a stroke. One of the best TED Talks ever!:

The benefits of smiling – an informative, funny, and helpful TED Talk by health researcher and entrepreneur Ron Gutman:

EATING!:

World’s Healthiest foods — look up all the great benefits of the most nutritious foods you can eat:

http://whfoods.org/

The Amazing Benefits of Bone Broth Soup:

http://nourishedkitchen.com/bone-broths-adrenals-bones-teeth/

Easy Bone Broth Soup recipe:

http://nourishedkitchen.com/perpetual-soup-the-easiest-bone-broth-youll-make/

A blog by one of my former teachers, Nishanga Bliss, with recipes. Includes a lot of great information about fermentation, and dietary recommendations from a Chinese Medicine point of view:

http://gastronicity.blogspot.com/

The world’s most irreverent blog about healthy eating (warning, this guy swears A LOT but has some great recipes!):

http://www.thugkitchen.com/archive

Huffington Post list of ten best healthy eating blogs:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/09/healthy-food-blogs_n_5460940.html

Chinese Medicine Dietary Tips:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mika-ono/5-healthy-eating-tips-fro_b_632977.html

Chinese Medicine Recipes:

http://ancientwisdommodernkitchen.blogspot.com/

EMOTIONAL WELL BEING:

The benefits of being vulnerable, a humorous and helpful talk by Brene Brown:

The Habits of Happiness, advice from a French Buddhist monk:

Happiness and Its Surprises — a summary of research about what it takes to be happy:

UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center – wonderful research on happiness, health, gratitude, compassion, empathy, altruism, forgiveness and mindfulness:

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/

On Happiness and Gratitude, talks and videos by Catholic Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast:

MORE INSPIRATION:

A second list of inspirational TED talks to have during times when you need a boost:

http://greatist.com/health/TED-talks-inspiration

List of top Diet, Exercise and Healthy Living Blogs to keep you on the right track:

http://greatist.com/health/must-read-health-fitness-blogs

For more support with your health goals, make an appointment at Crow Heart Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs:

crow_heart_finalhttp://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

Call to schedule 510-919-5689, or email for more information crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
— Lao Tzu

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

Ready to form a new habit? For an easy plan, take a look at my most recent blog post:

https://crowheartacupuncture.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/66-days-goals-into-habits/

66 days : Goals Into Habits

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I used to hate running (and most other physical activity); I couldn’t tolerate the burn in my muscles, shortness of breath, and drudgery. In my early twenties I had a boyfriend who pointed out that my physical activity level was basically zero. I didn’t really care that I was so inactive. Being young, it didn’t seem to impact my waistline, so why bother? However, my moods were a bit unreliable–I was pretty grumpy. And who likes to be grumpy? I witnessed the joy on people’s faces following physical activity and, whether I liked it or not, the need to start moving more began to creep into my consciousness.

It’s shocking to think a couch potato like I was can now say that I’ve been a runner for two decades. I’ve had highs and lows, and lazy times and obsessive times, but it’s a habit I formed and I have stuck with it. Running strengthens my body, clears my mind, and balances my emotions. It takes me outside, and affords the opportunity to spend time with friends. It has shown me how much I am capable of. And, except for the cost of the shoes, it’s free! I am so grateful for its benefits.

How did I go from someone who was allergic to physical activity to being a lifelong runner? I can blame it on a group of seven-year-olds.

At the time, I was a second grade school teacher. One of the daily tasks we did was to each come up with a goal for the day — student’s choice — and then assess how they did at the end of each day. The kids selected their individual goals, and were free to judge their own success. The only rules were that the goals had to be specific and realistic, and they also had to include an action plan. For example, a goal might be “I will learn how to draw a dog, by working on it for 20 minutes today during free time.” This kind of goal is easy to assess at the end of the day. Was it possible? Yes. Did it happen? Yes or no.

In order to support the kids by being a good role model, I created daily measurable goals and shared them with the class. One of my first goals–actually the first conscious goal I can remember setting as an adult– was to learn to play the harmonica. My plan was broken into itty bitty steps. First, I would get a “Teach Yourself to Play the Harmonica” book and then had a plan to practice for twenty minutes a day until I could play the songs in the book. I shared this goal with my students and they frequently inquired about my progress. Of course when you have a group of seven-year olds holding you accountable, you’ve got to follow through!

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After a couple of weeks, the students asked for me to play for them. I was just learning, so I was quite terrible at it still, and it took a great deal of courage to get up and play “Oh Susanna” for them as I missed many notes and made my way miserably through the song. At the end of my performance (if you can call it that) they burst into applause and gave me a standing ovation. What an amazing feeling it was to see their faces beaming up at me, huge smiles and cheering wildly. It was probably the first time in history that “Oh Susanna” played badly on harmonica got such an enthusiastic response.

It wasn’t that the kids actually thought my harmonica playing was any good – I think they really just understood the effort and courage, and were thrilled to see an adult take such a big risk. You see, kids have to do something everyday that we forget about as adults. They are constantly asked to learn new things and to display their uneven progress in front of other people. We ask them to do it all the time (they are new at everything!) and forget how much effort and courage this takes. Doing something new is hard, and requires stepping out of our comfort zones. And therefore, because we can get away with it, we tend to stick with what we know–for better or for worse– and try new things less and less as adults. But what cost will our old habits inflict upon us?

Back to the running. As I began to see how effective (and easy and rewarding) setting daily goals was, I began to use this technique even in my “off” time. Setting simple goals had become a very effective tool for making wanted changes in my life. At the start of one summer, I decided my goal would be to be able to run two miles by the end of the summer. As I said, I hated running. It was hard. Two miles was a long distance for me at the time. So, treating myself gently, in the way I’d encouraged the kids, my plan was to begin by running 75 feet — basically from my driveway to the neighbor’s driveway. The next day I would increase by 75 more feet, etc., until I reached my goal of two miles at the end of the summer. The only thing this really required on my part was a short commitment.

I remember the first day I began running. Reaching my goal was so easy it was almost laughable. All I had to do was put on my shoes and run to the neighbor’s driveway. I did it, and was able to check off my success for the day. Even with such a small goal, there was a big sense of accomplishment. Increasing the distance each day by such a small amount made the whole thing easy, manageable, and gradually increased my physical endurance. The positive feedback of accomplishing my goal day by day was enough motivation to keep myself going. Plus, I shared my progress with a few encouraging friends.

By the end of the summer, I had easily reached my goal. I couldn’t believe it! It worked. I — the lazy bones who was allergic to exercise– could run two miles with ease! And by the end of the next summer? I had run a marathon! A byproduct of this feat was that my moods became much more cheerful, and for the first time in my life I actually had good lung capacity and began to develop noticeable strength, endurance, and muscles!

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In the intervening years I have read some research about goal setting and discovered that my running goal met many of the “research proven” requirements for setting a good goal – it was…

measurable
specific
broken down into very small increments
rewarding
positively framed (instead of saying what I wasn’t going to do (“I will stop being so lazy”) I said and envisioned what I was going to do (run everyday))

Perhaps most important, my overall goal required approximately two months to achieve it. After much research, behavioral scientists have determined that new habits form after practicing them for approximately 66 days.

Twenty years later I am still a runner. It is just a part of my life. There are highs and lows– I’ve gone through dry spells– but I always return to it. And it all started with just 75 feet.

It’s the beginning of the New Year. 2015 lies ahead ripe with possibilities. Dream a little. Decide what you’d like to cultivate. Break that goal down into small, easy steps. Commit to it. Have patience and fortitude. If you can “stick to it” for 66 days (and if I could do it, you certainly can!) you will build yourself a new healthy habit — or at the very least become a mediocre harmonica player!

Need help? Need a fan club? I am happy to help you develop and assess your health goals. Acupuncture and herbs can do a great deal to pave the way to make it easier to achieve your goals through support of mind-body-emotional balance and vitality, as well as help to curb cravings, boost metabolism, assist digestion, and relieve aches and pains. Regular appointments serve as signs of your commitment to yourself and to your health.

Making positive change doesn’t have to be hard!

For a free ten minute phone consultation to discuss your health goals, or to make an appointment to get started, give me a call – 510-919-5689 – or send an email inquiry to crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com.

Wishing you the best of health and happiness in the New Year!

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http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

510.919.5689
crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

A Case of the Presidential Inauguration and Terrible Diarrhea (or “The Concept of Energy in Chinese Medicine”)

I’ve heard many testimonials from friends, patients, and colleagues about their profound healing experiences with Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The stories usually go like this:  A debilitating pain or condition was taking over their lives (often physical pain or mysterious symptoms that western medicine had no explanation for); they had run out of options with western medicine–nothing was working to relieve them; and out of desperation they visited an acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine did the trick — it helped them.

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Many acupuncturists often tell of their own life-changing experiences on their websites as a testimonial to the power of the medicine. I have resisted telling my story because it’s sort of embarrassing.

I too had a transformative and amazing experience that left me in total awe and wonder at the effects of the medicine. I wish my experience was something a little less embarrassing than a case of intractable diarrhea. But here’s my story — and yes it’s a poop story but it is also the experience that proved to me that “energy” medicine is real and that Chinese Medicine practitioners are excellent diagnosticians!

In 2009 my husband and I were chaperones on a high school trip to the Presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. We spent several days outside in the freezing cold going to museums, the inauguration, and landmarks around D.C., etc., with hot packs in our shoes and gloves, trying to keep ourselves warm by the glow of the excitement of millions of people.

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After a wonderful — but very cold — trip, I returned home and got sick. Basically, to be blunt, I had the worst diarrhea of my life for days. Anything I ate — even a teaspoon of apple sauce — immediately went right through me. By day four, in the middle of the night, I collapsed on the floor shivering, exhausted, dehydrated, and with a body temperature of 95.7. My husband picked me up and took me to the emergency room.

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In the emergency room I was given a bag of IV fluids which is one of the miracles of modern medicine. The fluids helped me to feel immediately better. But the diarrhea did not stop. The doctor ran a number of tests trying to find an answer, but found nothing abnormal in the stool samples except blood. He told me the diarrhea was so bad, and I had nothing left inside, that the trauma to my intestines was causing bleeding. He wanted to give me antibiotics just to be safe  — even though there was no sign of infection — and he wanted to do a complete scope of my digestive tract, which didn’t sound fun at all. Feeling much better with the fluids in me, I convinced my husband to take me home.

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The following day the diarrhea got worse and I was alarmed to find there was now blood in my urine. I called my primary care doctor and left a message about my new symptom. She returned my call and insisted I return to the emergency room, said something was truly wrong, and with panic in her voice admitted she had no idea what it could be.

By the time of my illness I had been in Chinese Medicine school for less than a year. It occurred to me that if I was studying this medicine, perhaps I should see if it could help me. The idea of going back to the hospital did not excite me (they wanted to admit me), and the $4,000 ER visit had been kind of a set back. I was desperate and figured I had nothing to lose.

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I went to the student clinic at my school that afternoon. Sitting in the waiting area one of my teachers walked through and stopped to ask how I was feeling. I burst into tears and told her it had been nearly a week having diarrhea and now there was also blood in my urine. The doctors could find nothing and I was frightened. She calmly took my hand and said, “Don’t worry. I know what’s wrong with you.”

She took me back into the clinic and used two needles on my lower legs. She lit a moxibustion stick and spent about fifteen minutes holding it over my abdomen. She explained that from a Chinese Medicine perspective I had started with a weakened digestive system, and damaged it further being in the extreme cold while in Washington D.C. A lack of internal digestive fires can lead to diarrhea as well as bleeding. This is why the Emergency Room could find no evidence of a pathogen — there was none, except for the cold.

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I went home after the treatment to find the diarrhea was gone. The blood in my urine was also gone. Immediately. The diarrhea I had had for seven days stopped just like that. I followed my teacher’s advice and began taking an herbal formula for digestion and was able to keep in the foods she recommended.

I sat with my dog on my front porch in the Bay Area sunshine that day and I wondered, “How in the heck did that work? All she did was wave a hot herbal stick over my belly and put two needles in my legs…and it cost me about $30.”

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The emergency room and my primary care doctor had no idea what was wrong with me, since nothing was found on my tests. My teacher, within five minutes of talking to me, learning I had been in the extreme cold and knowing my symptoms, knew exactly what was wrong. And her treatment worked instantly. Sitting there smiling in the sunshine, no longer running to the bathroom, it struck me — this “energy” thing they keep talking about at school is real. This medicine works! What an amazing revelation to have at the beginning of my studies.

Not every single experience with Chinese Medicine is so profound, but there are plenty of these stories out there. There are also some scientific “explanations” from western medicine about how / why acupuncture works.

The Concept  of Energy

People who grew up in a culture where acupuncture was not commonly practiced sometimes find the idea of “energy channels” running through the body hard to swallow. We tend to believe only in what we can see. And if you can’t see it, it surely doesn’t exist! 

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It’s strange that the idea of energy channels is so hard to swallow – we power our homes with “invisible” energy that comes through wires into our walls, the signals we receive on our radios are not visible, we can connect to the internet “wirelessly” capturing a signal. 

As far as the body is concerned, biomedicine has tests that measure electrical conductivity in our hearts and brains (EKGs and EEGs) – so why so difficult to believe we have energy channels running through our bodies, conducting “qi” that connects our organs to points all over our bodies? 

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Some Scientific Experiments on the Effect and Nature of Acupuncture Points

In the demand for “evidence” for how acupuncture works, scientific trials have been conducted using modern imaging equipment such as “functional magnetic resonance imaging” (fMRIs) and “high temporal-resolution magnetoencephalography” (MEGs). 

Following needling of different acupuncture points, it has been seen that these acupuncture points activate relevant areas in the brain, which in turn initiate a cascade of chemical signals that regulate various systems in the body. 

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For example, a point located on the lower leg “Gallbladder 34,” has been proven to light up beneficial regions in the brains of Parkinson’s patients; the much used point “Stomach 36,” has been shown activate “the multiple brain regions of the ‘splanchnic brain’ (neurons in the organs) and thus relieve pain.” 

Furthermore, studies also compared the effects of identified acupuncture points with random “sham” points using high-resolution MEG imaging technology. These studies have revealed that while the real acupuncture points displayed marked effects in the brain, the sham points did not. 

These experiments make sense from an anatomical point of view as well. Acupuncture points have been found to be “neurovascular nodes.” These nodes contain a concentrated group of blood vessels, sensory nerves and fibers, lymphatic vessels, and mast cells and ensure proper flow of blood, glucose, and oxygen through the vascular system.

The whole body is an interconnected system. Whether you consider it a “neurovascular node” or an acupuncture point, it makes sense that needling a point on the leg can effect a chemical in the brain which in turn can stimulate the body to rebalance itself. And to get rid of a case of intractable diarrhea!

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Please visit our website for more information

http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

Reach us by email or phone to schedule an appointment or receive a free 15 minute phone consultation.

crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

510.919.5689

Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs – Do They Really Work? Part I: Chinese Medicine, Stress, and Self-Healing

 

Chinese Medicine claims it can treat most any health problem from insomnia, depression and sprained ankles to boils, constipation and infertility. How is it possible that sticking hair-thin needles into seemingly random points on the body and prescribing  something as safe and natural as an “herb” can help propel an individual toward health?

 

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This blog post is the first in a series that provides one view on how Chinese Medicine works, and why it is so effective. I refer to some western biomedical explanations and research studies as guide posts.

I begin with the topic of stress–one of the most all pervasive maladies of our time and something that Chinese Medicine is so helpful at alleviating.

First, Why Lowering Stress is So Important & The Effect of Acupuncture:

The consequences of chronic stress are serious. Chronically stressed individuals can develop high blood pressure, cardiac disease, poor immune system functioning, digestive issues, poor sleep, reduced fertility, anxiety, muscle pain, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationship troubles…the list goes on and on. In fact, some research attributes chronic stress as the cause of nearly seventy percent of all diseases. (Check out this article for a more comprehensive list of stress-related conditions.)

During an acupuncture treatment, most people fall into a state of deep relaxation. A patient might fall asleep, and some joke that they come to acupuncture just for a nap. But, while naps are great — especially in our sleep deprived society — so much more is happening at the prompting of a few needles.

A study at Georgetown University, published in the Journal of Endocrinology, measured stress hormones following acupuncture. They found that acupuncture blocks the hormones associated with chronic and acute stress.

A growing body of evidence also supports the notion that acupuncture has a protective effect against the stress response following treatment — it will help you to manage day to day stressors less in that “fight or flight” state and more in a space of calm, grounded wellbeing that helps to keep your body healthy. Without so much stress, your immune system works better!

 

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That said, if all acupuncture did was reduce the stress response — which it has been proven to do — the treatment would be worth it for that alone!

But that is not all that acupuncture does.

 

No Medicine on the Needles — The “Placebo Effect” and “Self Healing”

I recently read that some patients may think there is medicine on the needles and that is their explanation for how acupuncture works — an outside substance is introduced into the body to cure it. I had never considered that possibility before — that a patient might think we are injecting them with something — until the very next day, after I’d read that, a patient new to acupuncture asked me the very same question! “Is there medicine on the needles?” he wanted to know when his chronic knee pain disappeared after one treatment.

No, there is not medicine on the needles; the medicine is in your body. 

The concept of self-healing seems to cause some discomfort in the biomedical community. They have a term for self-healing — they call it “the placebo effect.” But I call the “placebo effect” something different – self-healing.

Why should self-healing such a revolutionary concept? The body is so amazing! We are equipped to self heal in many commonly accepted instances. Can you imagine what we would look like if we didn’t have the power to heal ourselves from cuts, scraps, bruises, and broken bones!? How would we feel if we couldn’t fight off all the colds and flus we’ve ever had? What would happen if we could not get over food poisoning or a hangover? We wouldn’t last very long and we certainly would not look very good! Sure, there are medicines (and foods!) that can help us to heal from these ailments more quickly, but it is the body that ultimately brings us back to a state of health. One big aspect of this self-healing “magic” is the immune system.

 

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(Click here to read a review of seven clinical trials that show the positive impact of acupuncture on the immune system of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.)

Chinese Medicine acknowledges the self healing mechanisms of the body and promotes those mechanisms. Any honest practitioner will tell you that they are not actually healing you — we are simply nudging your body’s natural abilities to heal itself. In cases where the body is too weakened, or where there is a deeply rooted long-term illness, beyond our body’s natural capacity to heal, we often introduce herbal remedies to give the patient extra resources to bring itself back to homeostasis.

So how are the needles actually working? And what’s all this talk about “energy”? The next entry of the Crow Heart Acupuncture blog will address the topic of “energy” — an essential concept in Chinese Medicine. Is “energy” 
real, or just new age garbage?

 

Still Not Convinced? Don’t Knock it Til You Try It!

There are many choices of acupuncturists available, from community acupuncture to the spa-like treatments at what some call “boutique” acupuncture clinics. Crow Heart Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs is a General Practice that provides in-depth, individualized treatments at a reasonable price. We believe health is everyone’s right and provide treatments at a reduced rate for certain populations who serve the public and are under an inordinate amount of stress: fire fighters, police officers, paramedics, and public school teachers. 

 

Please visit our website for more information

http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

 

Reach us by email or phone to schedule an appointment or receive a free 15 minute phone consultation.

crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

510.919.5689

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