Summertime Self Care: Chinese Wisdom Made Local

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Bay Biking, Walking, Hiking:

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

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

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

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

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http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

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

Medicine on the needles?

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

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

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Pharmaceutical “Healing”

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

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

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

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

Natural healing abilities

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

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

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When acupuncture and herbs are necessary

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

Yin-Yang

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

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An example of an angry liver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I can help.

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http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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(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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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