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

 

 

Build Your Own Chinese Medicine Cabinet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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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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

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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