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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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

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.

xiao yao san raw herbs tea

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

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

The Case of the Angry Shoulder: The Emotional Root of Disease

At the risk of sounding completely insane, I am going to tell you the story of how I discovered the immense power of medical qi gong, that pain and disease can have an emotional root, and what I learned about being a woman. All come to you courtesy of a mysterious shoulder pain.

Taking our health for granted, and the cause of disease

When we are feeling great, we tend to take our health for granted. But break a toe, twist an ankle, or have your back go out, and suddenly it becomes apparent how wonderful it is when every body part is functioning well, and what a huge impact something seemingly so small can have on our overall wellbeing. Pain makes people grumpy! It makes the most simple task suddenly very difficult. The pain is often there for a reason. And the lessons can be life changing if we take time to listen to what it is telling us.

Aches, pains, and more serious ailments, unfortunately tend to strike when we are most stressed. Who has time to be sick? Especially when things — life — already seems overwhelming? We often have little energy to spare to take care of our own well being. But getting sick — from spraining an ankle to getting a cold —  is often the body’s way of saying “slow down and pay attention!” It can be difficult to listen to these messages when life is pressing in on us. Our habit here in the Western world is to take a pill and cover up the symptoms so we can keep going, never resolving the message that lies below the illness. Sometimes the little pills stop working and we can find no relief. It is here when many people get desperate for relief, and begin trying things they would have never considered before. Like I did when my shoulder was hurting for weeks and nothing was helping.  

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Telling you my story may not convince you of anything. Sometimes it takes firsthand experience to discover the truth. It’s kind of like when my mom would say “Don’t make that face, it will stick!” I didn’t believe her and now I have wrinkles! Stressed out by life and working an unsatisfying desk job, I didn’t make much time for self care. But my body had lessons to teach me, and I wasn’t listening. I ended up with a mysterious shoulder pain that ultimately revealed some of the most important lessons I have ever learned.

The Mystery Pain

I don’t even know how I got the injury. I just woke up one morning with the feeling that I had a tight rubber band strangling the muscles and nerves in my left shoulder. The pain restricted my neck movements and caused my fingers to go numb. It was difficult to hold my head upright. Riding my bike — my main mode of transportation — became unbearable; sleeping was unbearable; and holding myself upright was exhausting. The pain wasn’t horrible, it was just very uncomfortable. And it stuck around. For weeks. And weeks. Any pain begins to wear on you, and it is a rare person who can continue to be cheerful while dealing with chronic pain. I was getting pretty grumpy and began to worry it would never go away. I started trying everything to get rid of it:

Ibuprofen didn’t work. A series of acupuncture treatments didn’t work. Chiropractic made it worse. Medical massage was excruciatingly painful, but helped for about a day. Saying it was a muscular problem, my primary care doctor said there was nothing she could do and referred me to acupuncture. And so the circle went. No one could help and I was getting grumpier.

It Was All Carol’s Idea

When you’ve tried every medical route you can think of, or can afford, and someone suggests something that sounds crazy, you are more likely to try it. 

Carol was a woman in my physics class. She was one of those older and wiser ladies who always smiled. My physics class was taught by a very unconventional teacher. This is Berkeley after all. He arranged a field trip for us to get pictures taken of our auras. 

psychic reality storefront Psychic Reality in downtown Oakland

The aura photographer claims that by resting your hands on plates which measure your electromagnetic energy, he can capture your aura with instamatic film. Whatever. It was a field trip.

aura camera thing

The place you put your hand to get your aura captured – or a prop from Lost in Space?

I brought two problems with me on that field trip. One was my shoulder pain. The other was a deeper question, a personal question I’d been mulling around, about what being a “real woman” really meant. I didn’t know it at the time, but these two problems were actually tangled up together. I have always been someone who considered herself a “human” more than a “woman.” I never put much effort into curling my hair, shopping at the mall, and painting my fingernails, and always felt a little worried that I was missing something. Approaching forty, I began to wonder if I shouldn’t maybe put some effort into this girly stuff; maybe I was missing some boat to somewhere fantastic. If I did those things, would I feel more womanly? Did I need to do those things to have a sense of personal power? What was power anyway?

tomboyA wee bit of a tomboy

Anyway, those questions had been swimming around for some time and had popped into the forefront lately. I was in fact thinking of them as I waited on the bench with the other ladies in my class. 

I was the last one in the class to get the picture of my aura taken. All my other classmates were coming out from their picture-taking session with their aura photo in hand. Their pictures were beautiful: lovely, balanced, floaty puffs of violets and yellows and oranges framing the outline of their smiling faces. There was lots of “oohing and ahhing.” There was also a lot of explaining about what the guy who took the picture said about their lovely colors. It was all good.

 Finally it was my turn and I went back into the photo area and sat down. It kind of reminded me of the DMV. Just a chair and a backdrop and a camera and a guy. I placed my palms on the electromagnetic thing and the guy looked at me through his special camera. He immediately said, “Ooooh. You’re a hider.” I thought he said that too loud. “Shhh,” I said. I am a private person and he took one look at my aura and busted out with my secret. He snapped the picture and handed it over to me. It was a mess. The even fluffy cloud of color that had surrounded everyone else’s head wasn’t there. It was blobby and misshapen with a big blur of red by my right armpit. I was so embarrassed. He looked at it and said, “You’re having trouble balancing the masculine and feminine.” I told him, yes, that was true, that I didn’t really know what it meant to be a “woman.” He told me to go home and paint my fingernails, take a bubble bath, wear a fluffy pink robe, and I would find out. Huh. I thought as I clutched my shoulder in my ratty old sweat jacket. So that is what it means to be feminine?

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According to him, real women take bubble baths.

I came out of the back room and didn’t want to show my aura photo to anyone. But I trusted Carol and talked to her about what he said. I also told her I had been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman, and had been exploring the idea of power in relation to being a woman. I also said I did not feel totally comfortable with the photographer’s idea of femininity — nail polish, bubble baths, fluffy robes, pink. All that stuff was very foreign to me. I also told her that my shoulder hurt.

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Me and my messy aura.

Carol told me to stop trying to answer this question; she said just ask the question and wait for the answers to come.That felt relieving to hear, but unlikely to produce results, I told her. She said, “It doesn’t hurt to try.” So I decided to try to follow her advice.

Carol also suggested that I try a session of Medical Qi Gong for my shoulder. I had barely heard of Medical Qi Gong and had no idea what it really was. But they taught it at my acupuncture school and they had a student clinic where you could get a treatment for twenty bucks. Carol seemed to be full of good and strange ideas, so I went home and set up an appointment to get “medical qi-gonged.”

Meanwhile my shoulder still hurt. Plus I didn’t know how to be a real woman. And my aura picture sucked.

She Flapped Her Arms Around

About a week later I showed up at my Medical Qi Gong appointment. I don’t remember the woman’s name who treated me. She was older and very motherly looking with a big skirt on. It seemed like she should be knitting. I briefly explained my issues to her and was hoping she could help — I wanted to integrate the masculine and feminine sides of myself and my shoulder hurt. It was refreshing to be able to make such a strange request to someone and be taken seriously. It was definitely something I could not have said at the doctor’s office. The older lady in the big skirt didn’t bat an eye at my request. 

I still had no idea what to expect from this treatment and was curious about what would happen. Desperate for some relief from my shoulder pain, I lay back on the treatment table. I watched as she began waving her hands around over my body. She wasn’t even touching me. How was this supposed to work? A voice inside me said, “This is completely ridiculous. What am I doing here? This is stupid.” I had to close my eyes because I wanted to burst out laughing. Having grown up in Cleveland, this was the epitome of weird Berkeley new age crap, I thought. 

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Her flapping hands created an uncomfortable breeze.

To keep myself from laughing, I closed my eyes. All I could feel was that her flapping hands were creating a breeze on my body. Later, when I enrolled in the program to learn Medical Qi Gong, I would come to understand what she was doing. But for now it just seemed ridiculous.

After some time of waving her hands all over, she took a seat near my head and placed her hands on my left shoulder. I could feel her rocking back and forth, kind of like you would rock a baby. This, too, was a little uncomfortable. A little too intimate for my introverted self. I didn’t even know this woman. And she was touching me like I was her little baby. She rocked there, with her hands on my shoulder, for what seemed a very very long time.

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I felt like a baby.

And then things started happening while she rocked and rocked my cupped shoulder.

First came the tears. Buckets and buckets of tears. A huge release of stress and sadness tied up in that shoulder had broken loose. I was shocked at how much emotion flowed out of my tear ducts. The tears didn’t stop her or change what she doing; she just kept on rocking, and I was glad of that. It was pretty embarrassing to be reduced to a blubbering idiot in front of this stranger. Why was I crying?

And then came the realization of what was behind those tears.

The Horrifying Stories

It was the newspaper. During the weeks before my shoulder went bad there were three awful stories in the news that had caught my attention. They all had a similar theme. And one by one, as the lady in the skirt rocked my shoulder, the stories came up in my mind. The first was a particularly awful story of a gang rape of a local high school student at her prom. I felt anger begin to mix in with my tears. The second was the story of an Austrian man who had locked his daughter up in a secret basement chamber for over a decade and fathered seven children with her — children who had never seen the light of day until their dungeon was discovered. I felt my anger increase as I recalled this horrifying story.

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He did horrible things.

And the third was a story about a gunman who came into a church in Tennessee during a performance given by the children of the congregation. The gunman had aimed to kill those children, but a brave parishioner leapt up to protect those kids with his own body and was shot dead instead, preventing the gunman from killing those kids. The lady in the skirt continued to rock me, and my shoulder pain increased as I recalled these stories. I felt anger’s tight grip in my heart. It started to become clear to me why my shoulder had been hurting. I was mad. I didn’t know what to do those feelings. They found a place in my shoulder, and were waiting there for me to address them.

The woman stopped rocking my shoulder. I still had my eyes closed but it felt like she had positioned herself at the other end of the table. I somehow felt her palms near the bottom of my feet. She wasn’t touching me but I could sense her there.

soles of feet

An Experience That is Hard to Describe

Next was an experience that words simply cannot describe, but words are all I have to explain it. 

The anger began to melt away. At first it was just like a warm glow surrounding the entire surface of my body — a very pleasant, comforting feeling. Soon, it was as though my body was made of a bright white light and I had been plugged into a power strip that connected me to the universe. It was a power so strong that I couldn’t have imagined it; a power so strong I cannot do it justice in words. It was simply amazing. Imagine your body being made of nothing but the most benevolent ray of light. All kindness and love, but with a strength that can move mountains. I wanted to ask what was happening; it was a feeling that I imagine people have during near death experiences when they go toward the light and don’t want to return.

energy body bright

It really did feel like this.

The plugged in feeling shifted and I saw a large cave; it was dark and cold and wet. Inside the cave arose a huge snake. A cobra. It took my breath away. It was a very powerful force. An answer appeared: “This is the Divine Feminine.” She was powerful and righteous. She was not wearing a pink robe. She was not in a bubble bath. She did not have her fingernails polished. She was pure power and righteousness — willing to do whatever was needed to protect others. I wondered: “Why is the divine feminine a snake?” It surprised me, as I always had thought of snakes as a phallic symbol representing men. It didn’t make any sense to me. But there she was. And I finally understood the *real* power of the feminine. It is awesome. A strength and compassion beyond which I could ever had imagined. I had no idea. 

dark cave

(When I got home I looked up snake symbolism and read that “practically every culture has a snake in its mythology, and most often it is seen as a symbol of wisdom, healing, initiation, and secret knowledge, or it is associated with eternal life and ongoing renewal. Snake is the archetypal symbol of the Great Mother Goddess, incarnate in one of her most universal forms…a symbol of the Kundalini Shakti energy, the cosmic feminine energy that ignites and fuels our spiritual awakening process…in which positive and negative, male and female, consciousness and unconsciousness are intermingled…”) Oh. 

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Many cultures have stories about a powerful serpent Goddess. I had no idea.

The rocking had stopped. The hand waving was over. My time was up. I opened my eyes. The woman who treated me looked kind of blank and innocent. She asked quietly, “Would you like to give any feedback?”

Holy shit. Feedback! I had just experienced the most intense half hour of my life. I understood where my shoulder pain originated. I understood how power and femininity belonged together. I understood how anger can get stuck in my body and make me sick. Still sobbing, I blurted out the whole experience to her, kind of surprised she didn’t already know what had happened as she had been there with me the whole time, rocking me like a baby. She seemed a bit startled by all this information, but pleased to have helped. I was floored by the whole experience. I walked out of there prouder than ever to be a woman, now that I understood what a gift it is. Women are strong. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It is our place to help stop all this violence. We need to speak up. And we don’t need painted nails and bubble baths to do (though this last year, I have discovered the power of a bubble bath).

All that had happened, but my shoulder still hurt. However, within a week the problem dissolved. I hardly noticed. It just went away.

It Gets Weirder

This story gets weirder, if that’s possible. The day after the Medical Qi Gong experience I went to work at my desk job. A co-worker came into my office in the morning with a card. She was asking all of us to sign this card for Brian’s dad. Brian was a new guy at work. I asked, “What happened to Brian’s dad?” Well, she explained, he was at church in Tennessee when a gunman burst in to kill the children on stage. Brian’s dad leapt from the audience to protect those children on stage and was shot to death.

Unfortunately, all I could think to say was “Holy crap.” I was stunned. 

The next semester at school I decided to enroll in the Medical Qi Gong program. 

qi gong cert

Absolutely impressed by my experience, I completed the Medical Qi Gong training.

In the six years that I have been practicing Medical Qi Gong I have had some extraordinary experiences and have seen time and again the emotional root of patients’ diseases. Sometimes the realization comes from something they experience while on the table, and sometimes it comes from something I “see” in them (while waving my hands around and touching them on the shoulder!). I tend to reserve this method of treatment for cases when nothing else seems to help and the acupuncture treatments aren’t getting their usual effect. Once the root of the disease is revealed, the problem often resolves itself quickly.

The Seven Emotions in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine there is a list of the causes of disease that we are taught over and over again. Prominently featured in this list are the “seven emotions.”  The Eastern medical system has understood this for a long time — stuck emotions can cause disease and disease can lead to stuck emotions. In a Chinese medical text written over 2,000 years ago, it is said that there are seven emotions that can impair organ systems in the body (the emotions are: anger, worry, grief, fear, anxiety, fright, and joy/mania). We are trained in detecting how these emotions affect the organ systems, and how rebalancing energy through acupuncture, herbal medicine, and qi gong can help release or resolve these emotions. It is also written by the sages that emotions are to be felt, but then let go of. It is the holding of the emotion that can make someone sick.

chinese-emotions-elk

The yin organs have both positive and negative emotions associated with them, depending on their state of health.

Western Biomedical Research on Emotions as a Cause of Disease

In the West, scientists have recently been exploring this idea as well – the impact of emotions on health – and certain pockets of the medical community are beginning to “prove” this ancient Eastern idea to be true.

emotions

Even in the West, we admit emotions can cause disease!

Harvard School of Public Health has published several studies on this topic. They note:

A vast scientific literature has detailed how negative emotions harm the body. Serious, sustained stress or fear can alter biological systems in a way that, over time, adds up to ‘wear and tear’ and, eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt cardiac function by changing the heart’s electrical stability, hastening atherosclerosis, and increasing systemic inflammation.”

Harvard researcher Jack Shonkoff explains that “early childhood ‘toxic stress’ —the sustained activation of the body’s stress response system resulting from such early life experiences as chronic neglect, exposure to violence, or living alone with a parent suffering severe mental illness—has harmful effects on the brain and other organ systems. Among these effects is a hair-trigger physiological response to stress, which can lead to a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, and a jump in stress hormones.”

Another Harvard researcher, Laura Kubzansky, has been studying the impact of emotions on health. She states that, “It looks like there is a benefit of positive mental health that goes beyond the fact that you’re not depressed. What that is is still a mystery. But when we understand the set of processes involved, we will have much more insight into how health works.” Some results from her studies conclude that:

  • Optimism cuts the risk of coronary heart disease by half.
  • Children who are able to stay focused on a task and have a more positive outlook at age 7 report better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.
  • Participants who reported fewer social ties at the beginning of the survey were more than twice as likely to die over the nine-year follow-up period, an effect unrelated to behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and physical activity. Social ties included marriage, contact with friends and relatives, organizational and church membership.
  • Kubzansky concedes that psychological states such as anxiety or depression—or happiness and optimism—are forged by both nature and nurture. “They are 40–50 percent heritable, which means you may be born with the genetic predisposition. But this also suggests there is a lot of room to maneuver.”
  • Kubzansky states, “My guess is that many of the people who are chronically distressed never figured out how to come back from a bad experience, focus on something different, or change their perspective.” And, “Everyone needs to find a way to be in the moment,” she says, “to find a restorative state that allows them to put down their burdens.”

In the 1990s the Federal Center for Disease Control studied over 17,000 patients of a large health plan to assess the link between emotional experience and adult health. Some of their findings:

  • Those who had experienced an adverse childhood experience [abuse or neglect] were between 4 and 50 times more likely to have an adverse health condition or disease as an adult. The adverse health outcomes covered a surprisingly wide range, including heart disease, fractures, diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, and more.
  • Emotional vitality and emotional balance appear to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. The protective effect was distinct and measurable, even when taking into account such wholesome behaviors as not smoking and regular exercise.
  • A summary of the research goes so far as to say “State of Mind = State of Body.”
  • “The truth is that all emotional experience affects our health, whether positive or negative, and whether it occurs in the past or the present. But negative experiences appear to have more lasting health effects, perhaps because we don’t deal with them.”
  • The Center for Disease Control estimates that 90% of all visits to the doctor are stress-related, and there are hundreds of medical studies linking stress to a host of diseases. 

Managing Emotions

Traditional Chinese Medicine — acupuncture, herbs, medical qi gong, etc. — is just one treatment modality that can help someone to transform unhealthy emotional states and rebalance the body. Combined with good lifestyle habits, regular exercise, connections to your community, family, friends, as well as healthy eating, and therapy from a licensed psychotherapist, you may find well being like you’ve never known it before.

Links to Learn More

Western research into the Biology of Emotions:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/

http://psychcentral.com/lib/unraveling-the-biology-of-emotions/000728

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/emotions/frontiers.html

http://www.enlightenedfeelings.com/body.html

http://www.womentowomen.com/emotions-anxiety-mood/how-emotional-experience-determines-your-health/

Chinese Medicine and Emotions:

http://www.sacredlotus.com/theory/illness/seven_emotions.cfm

http://www.chinesemedicineliving.com/blog/philosophy/the-emotions/

Medical Qi Gong:

http://www.scn.org/acu/medical_qi_gong.html

http://www.qigongmedicine.com/

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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