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

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

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

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

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  1. Stop the sugar

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

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2. Eat Seasonally

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

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

Fall foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

Winter foods from a Chinese Medicine perspective

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3. Get Enough Sleep

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

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

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

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

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4. Exercise, and move around during the day.

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

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5. Address Your Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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6. Use Herbs and Acupuncture

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

IF You Do Get a Cold….

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

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

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

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

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

Much Love,

Frances Wocicki, LAc, MSOM, MA

www.crowheartacupuncture.com

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Healing During Stressful Times: 13 Tips

I love being an acupuncturist and herbalist. I have a genuine and deep affection for the people who come to see me. Frankly, I love them all. A common theme, no matter who I am treating, is dealing with, and recovering from, stressful situations. There is a lot of suffering we human beings bear. I am writing this post for the many people who have shared their stories of heartbreak, fear, worry, and stress with me. I hope it helps.

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“Take Care of Yourself”

I have a patient who was born outside of the United States. She recently told me that the phrase “Take care of yourself,” which we often say to each other when someone is going through a hard time, doesn’t exist in her culture of origin. She has asked around and her friends from outside the US agree — they don’t have a similar phrase either. The awakening I had upon hearing that this phrase is uniquely American revealed a lot of hard truths about our culture and what we expect of ourselves and each other. “Take care of yourself” has an unspoken message — take care of yourself, because no one else will be there for you.

Here in the states we value our independent nature; we pride ourselves on leaving home, “standing on our own two feet,” picking ourselves up by our bootstraps, being self made, going it alone, doing it all by ourselves, being a pillar of strength, coming into your own…the list of idioms is a long one. The implied message is if you are not strong enough to do it all by yourself, something is wrong with you. And god forbid you ask for help.

Some of us are fortunate to have family and friends we can rely on to help us through the rough patches, but asking for help does not come easily for many of us, and often comes with a heavy dose of guilt and shame, either from ourselves or others, when we ask for help. Such a strange value for a profoundly social species. The truth is we need each other, and rely on each other in all sorts of ways–it is nothing to be ashamed of! It’s beautiful, actually.

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Part of this blog post is intended to question the cultural value that we should be able to do everything all by ourselves–to rid ourselves of the shame and guilt of needing, wanting, or asking for help. Given that this cultural value is deeply rooted and change doesn’t come easy, the other goal of this post is to provide some tips for steps we can take to do exactly that — how do we take care of ourselves when life presents us with overwhelming challenge?

Whether it’s a chronic, debilitating, life threatening illness we are struck with, or one of those life events that requires more emotional resources than we might have (births, deaths, divorces, job loss, financial stress, or simple overwhelm, etc.) here is a list of things that may help get you through with more ease.

First, some things to keep in mind:

  1. As the buddhists say, life is suffering. No matter what you see on Facebook, everyone has problems. It’s the nature of being alive. No one makes it through without receiving their share of challenges. You are not alone.
  2. Like the tides, life’s challenges ebb and flow. There will be easier times and harder times. Nothing — good or bad — lasts forever.
  3. We all have differing abilities to handle stressors. Some of us have a healthier stress response than others. When dealing with multiple stressors, our threshold for what we can handle tends to diminish, so the smallest thing might “set us off.”
  4. The stress response, biologically, is intended to be helpful. It is damaging to us only when it is prolonged. If you can learn to stop it in its tracks, you will benefit greatly.

Ways to improve your stress response:

SELF TALK

1. Cut the negative, berating self talk. It is not helpful. One trick I came up with years ago I call “Pretend You are Your Own Best Friend.” Our inner voices can be very harsh, judgmental, and downright mean spirited. Would you ever speak like this to someone you truly cared about? I’m guessing not. If you were your own best friend, what would you say to yourself? What advice would you give? What messages would you send? Listen to that voice, and follow its advice instead.

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2. Along those same lines, re-evaluate the story you are telling yourself and get some perspective. For example, I know someone who from an outside perspective “has it all” yet still feels like a failure because he has not yet accomplished everything he thinks he should have in life. Pay attention to the positive stuff. We all are exactly where we are and where we need to be. No amount of putting ourselves down is going to change the past, and no matter of blaming anyone will improve the past. Congratulate yourself for surviving your hardships, for what you have learned, for the love you have given and received. You are not a failure. You are a precious human soul.

3. For perspective, look up at the stars. We are each a very small piece of the larger universe. At the end of the day, does the problem you are beating yourself up about really matter? Forgive. Make amends. Do your best. And let it go.

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TAKING ACTION

One common response to stressors is stress — the sympathetic nervous system kicks on the fight or flight response. Long term, stress can create a very hostile environment in our bodies, and I believe is at the root of most dis-ease. The opposite of the fight or flight response is “rest and digest.” When we are in rest and digest mode, the parasympathetic nervous system has turned on. This is why your stomach often starts to grumble on the acupuncture table. It’s a good thing! Besides acupuncture, how do you activate rest and digest? Here are some tools:

1. BELLY BREATHE. Take a few deep breaths at a comfortable pace. Allow your belly to push out with each breath. This sends your body the signal that everything is okay, and can kick on the “rest and digest” response. I think it’s a good idea to set a tone to go off every hour,  no matter what you are doing, so you can stop and take three deep breaths.

2. EAR MASSAGE. Give yourself an ear massage. The ear contains acupuncture points for the entire body. Gently pulling on the outer part of your ears from the top to the lobe is quite relaxing. You will probably feel a warming sensation, and will likely take a deep breath, kicking on the parasympathetic nervous system. If you suffer from insomnia, doing this at night, and using sesame oil on your ears, is an old Chinese Medicine trick to induce rest.

3. MEDITATE. Pray. Chant. In the Bay Area there are plenty of places to learn to do these things with support. Meditation cuts into worry time for one, and prayer or chanting can give your mind a rest from negative self talk and worry for awhile. One simple meditation is simply to close your eyes and focus on the breath coming out of your nose for five minutes. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but gets easier with practice. For added benefit, say a prayer of good wishes for someone else–it will get you out of your own problems and help you to feel open hearted.

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4.  EXERCISE. You don’t have to run a marathon to get benefits from movement. If you are physically debilitated, you can even just imagine doing the exercise — research shows your body still gets some benefits just from imagining! The exercise you choose doesn’t have to turn you into iron man or a supermodel. It can be a slow walk around the block, or tai chi in the park, or a walk with the dog.

Here is an extremely inspirational video about an obese man with diabetes and low self esteem who changed his life completely through love and exercise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm0qYRWQpZI

5. GO OUTSIDE. If possible, it does help to exercise outdoors, or spend some time in nature. This could be as simple as growing a houseplant, or looking out your window at the sky, rain, birds, or trees, catching the sunrise/sunset, or taking a hike in the woods, or going on a camping trip. Nature offers some of the best medicine.

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6. SELF CARE. If you can afford to, invest in some self care every week or every month — as often as you can or need. Acupuncture treatments, massage, energy work, etc., all can help get you out of the stress response.

7. HERBAL MEDICINE. Take herbs and supplements. They can be very very helpful to rebuild your energy reserves and get you back in balance so you can handle life’s stressors better. But please, do not self prescribe!!! We tend to think of herbs as harmless, like eating a sprig of parsley. But the wrong herbs in the wrong dosage can cause very big problems. (A recent herb that is in fashion is turmeric. There are cure all claims for it, and since it’s a cooking spice, we think of it as harmless. But people are taking massive daily doses of the stuff. I know two people who self prescribed turmeric and it caused huge problems with their gallbladders. One person had to have her gallbladder removed because of it. In Chinese herbal medicine, herbs are usually prescribed as part of a balancing formula of several herbs, and taken at a specific dose for a certain length of time, and are specific to your particular pattern. Even cooking spices taken without respect for their power can cause huge problems!)

8. EAT MINDFULLY.  When stressed out, we tend to consume too much sugar, alcohol, fast foods, and comfort foods. In the short term it seems to help, but in the long term causes big problems. Keep the sugary snacks out of the house. Good digestion is imperative for healing. Stress is harmful for digestion. Stress when you are eating is even worse, so:

  • eat at regular times
  • eat slowly.
  • chew.
  • enjoy your food.
  • eat organic when possible.
  • eat seasonally when possible.
  • eat easy to digest and appetizing foods.
  • set the table nicely. put some flowers on the table.
  • use your crock pot.
  • try to include diversity in your diet.
  • eat a lot of vegetables. slightly cook them.
  • if you do indulge in something that’s “bad for you” eat it with pleasure and lose the guilt. It just makes it worse.

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9. BE GRATEFUL. Keep a gratitude journal where you keep track of people, places, things, you appreciate. Say thank you. Out loud. To someone.

10. REST. Take naps. Have downtime. Say no to stuff you don’t have the energy for. If you have trouble sleeping, get acupuncture, take herbs, do the ear massage described above. Avoid caffeine. Focus on your breathing. Give 100 strokes to the bottom of each foot with the knuckles of your hands. Go to sleep thinking about what you are grateful for.

11. PROTECT YOUR MIND. Avoid toxic news and poisonous people. We can’t live in a bubble, but when you are in a particularly stressful time, being around someone who is complaining all the time is like poison. Watching the news is like poison. Sign up for a daily email from the Good News Network, or the Center for Greater Good at UC Berkeley, or a daily meditation or prayer from the spiritual source of your choice. Look at pictures of baby animals — as dorky as this sounds, there is actually research that found that looking at puppies and kittens improved mood, concentration and focus. They help you to smile.

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12. GROUND YOURSELF. I often do energetic qi gong assessments before inserting needles into someone for acupuncture. Very often I find that people hold their energy in and above their heads, instead of below the navel. Taking deep breaths, and imagining glowing light below the navel can help bring that energy down, so you can re-enter your body, and get out of the worried mind. Likewise, you can imagine roots, like tree roots, or roots made of light, growing down from tailbone and deep into the earth. Walking barefoot and putting “your mind in your feet” can also help to ground you in your body, on this earth in the present moment. Be careful with energy work, and any energy practices that are intended to bring your energy “up.” As the Tibetans say, we humans have a very easy time bringing the energy up, so we don’t have to work at that. Work at pulling your energy down into your core, into your feet. If you have trouble sleeping, another trick is to imagine you are breathing through a point on the bottom of your feet.

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As someone who is just learning that asking for, and receiving, help is okay, many of these techniques have gotten me through some of the roughest patches of my life. I have seen many of them help a number of patients as well. We all struggle and suffer. But the suffering and struggling can be eased through taking care of one another, thinking with our hearts, being kind, helping each other out. And when you are feeling alone, and afraid to ask for help, this list provides some ideas to try so you can take care of yourself like your own best friend.

13. ASK FOR HELP! Much love and healing to you. I am here to help. Don’t be afraid to ask! You can set up an appointment with me at my clinic on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland, or in Albany, just off of Solano Avenue, by emailing Frances Wocicki at crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com, or by calling 510-919-5689. Visit me on the web at http://www.crowheartacupuncture.com.CROW Heart horizontal.pdf-page-001

Moving Into Yourself in the Fall (Your body is talking to you…are you paying attention?)

The older I get the faster it seems time flies. It’s hard to believe the summer is coming to a close and it’s already September. Hopefully summer has been a time for you to be outdoors more, spend more time with your family and friends, enjoy all the fresh summer produce — especially the delicious watermelons this year! — and get back in touch with your body.

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For some people, though, summer gets very busy with kids, parties, travel…filling the long days with a whole lot of action and little self care.

During fall it’s time to wind down and to begin turning your attention inward a bit. If the heat and activities of the summer were too much, it’s can also be time to do some repair. I hate to mention it, but cold and flu season are just around the corner and will go a lot better if you put the right building blocks in place to prevent getting sick. That makes September and October prime time to put yourself in the best health possible…before flu season hits, and before the temptations and busyness of the holidays.

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That makes this the perfect time to share a string of five odd words that changed my life, and the way I look at prevention of disease. I stumbled on these words while helping my mentor to organize his computer files a few years ago. The document contained only these words, with arrows between them, and no explanation. It said, simply:

“Disattention=> Disconnection=> Disregulation=> Disorder=> Disease”

After reflecting on those five words, it was like finding the rosetta stone to the true origination of most diseases. It begins with “disattention” — being too busy to check in and take note of how you’re feeling and responding appropriately.

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As an acupuncturist I see a lot of conditions that are preventable, but which have become chronic or severe. Prevention is a lot easier, and more pleasant, than living with chronic or serious conditions. At the first signs of something being “off” — whether it’s your mood, energy, appetite, digestion, or a new ache or pain — is the very best time to get treatment. But noticing these first signs involves taking time to connect with yourself and checking in to see how you are feeling. I recommend even just one minute each day to close your eyes and turn inward and scan your body, check in with your thoughts and feelings, and see how you are doing.

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You could do that right now.  Close your eyes and slowly move your attention through your body from head, neck, shoulders, abdomen to your legs and feet. That’s a physical check. How do you feel? Is anything bothering you? What is it? Where is it? What do the areas of discomfort need in order to feel greater ease and health? It’s important to ask what you need to feel healthier, instead of just to feel “better”….because sometimes what might make us feel “better” (in the short term) is a tub of chocolate ice cream. There is definitely a place for chocolate ice cream, but the goal here is discovering what health promoting behavior is needed. Your body is smart. It will know, or at least know what is making it feel so lousy.

You can also tune in to your heart, emotionally, get quiet, and see how you are feeling. This can be easy for some, who have strong body or emotional awareness, and will take more practice for others. Treat what you find with respect, as you would a friend. Just notice your emotional state.

This “check in” can be very brief. But learning to pay attention is the first step on the path of well being.

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“Disconnection”

“Disattention”, or ignoring, your body/mind/emotions can lead to a “Disconnection” from yourself — when you ignore your needs you are likely to stop addressing them in a positive way, and are more likely to take on behaviors that aren’t necessarily in your best interest — eating too much, sitting too much, not getting enough quiet time, not laughing enough, etc. Being disconnected allows the unhealthy behaviors to take root.

“Disregulation”

After ignoring your needs for awhile, your system goes into a state of “Disregulation.” Disregulation can be thought of as mildly to moderately noticeable symptoms, like a slower metabolism, feeling too hot or too cold, a change in appetite, lower energy, and a range of “weird” symptoms that a doctor might disregard (like a lump in your throat, or feeling crabby more frequently, for example). It’s really nothing serious, but you find yourself thinking that maybe you should improve your diet, or exercise more, or get more sleep. THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME to increase your self care and prioritize healthier habits. Changes in habits require support and commitment.

“Disorder”

After some time of disregulation, “Disorder” ensues. Disorder can be thought of as a problem. You have pain quite regularly now in some area of your body, or you’ve gained too much weight, or your blood sugar is pre-diabetic, or you have insomnia regularly, high blood pressure, depression, etc. These are physical, mental, and emotional disorders that are now regularly interfering with your sense of well being or impacting what you are able to do.

THIS IS AN ESSENTIAL TIME to address your health with regular self care and support. This is also the point where herbs and nutritional supplements can make a huge difference in turning things around to prevent more serious chronic diseases.

“Disease”

When your mind/body is disordered for long enough, you may develop a serious disease. For example, a sensitive stomach and long term stress can turn into acid reflux, which can turn into Barrett’s Esophagus, which can turn into cancer over the long haul. Or years of ignoring mild back pain turns into degenerative disc disease which may result in surgery and long term physical limitations. Years of eating too much sugar and not getting enough exercise can result in diabetes and kidney disease.

All disease starts somewhere. Because our bodies are quite resiliant and the changes over time are subtle we gradually grow used to feeling bad and don’t really notice what is happening. What is happening is that disease is being born. 

“In short”

In short, not paying attention to yourself can lead to disease — whether it’s just a cold, or something more serious like stomach ulcers, infertility, diabetes, arthritis, panic attacks, cancer.

Pay close enough attention to your body/mind everyday that you build good habits and get the care you need when something seems off.  Rest when your body asks for it, eat when you’re hungry, and stretch when you’re feeling tight. Prioritize your wellbeing.

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There are signals our bodies give before reaching significant illness and chronic disease. Our bodies communicate with us (or at least try to). The primary key to staying well is listening to what our bodies are telling us, and CARING about what they have to say.

Once you begin regularly paying attention, the pathway to good health looks like this:

“Attention=> Connection => Regulation => Order => Ease”

Paying ATTENTION to how you feel will lead to CONNECTION (to your mind/body) so you begin to give your body what it really needs (sleep, good food, exercise, laughter, etc.). When your body has what it needs, there will be REGULATION of your systems and symptoms (making necessary changes and gettiing care) and this leads to ORDER, or everything running pretty smoothly. When your mind/ body has order, the result is EASE!

We don’t just wake up one day with Type II diabetes. Hypertension does not usually occur overnight. Ulcers don’t come from only one day of worrying and eating poorly. These, and other diseases, are the result of long term imbalances that once began as minor discomforts that went unnoticed and unaddressed.

This fall, I can help you to work on rebalancing that which is already off-kilter, and helping to prevent disorder by reducing stress, strengthening your immune system, and keeping things flowing smoothly. 

There’s no time like the present, eh?

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May you find true wellbeing. 

Crow Heart Acupuncture and Herbs has two locations in the East Bay: the Rockridge neighborhood of North Oakland, and on the Albany / Berkeley border just off of Solano Avenue.

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Make an appointment:

Website: https://www.crowheartacupuncture.com

Email: crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

Phone: 510-919-5689

Here is a Mindfulness Quiz from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. It’s a good start on the path to paying attention–and look around on their website for other tips on how you can be more mindful of yourself!

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/4

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

Summertime Self Care: Chinese Wisdom Made Local

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Bay Biking, Walking, Hiking:

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

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

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

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

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http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart

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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 Acupuncture Experience

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It had been many moons since I received an acupuncture treatment — until last week. It was much overdue! Unfortunately, it is fairly typical for most acupuncturists I know to scrimp on their own self care. Every time I decide to make time to get acupuncture I think, “Why am I not doing this more often?” 

While the experience of getting an acupuncture treatment can be different for everyone, I want to describe my latest experience here for two reasons. First, to dispel some of the mystery and fear for those who have never had acupuncture before, and second to encourage self care for those who have been putting it off for too long. It really is worth it.

How Acupuncturists Treat Other Acupuncturists

Acupuncturists tend to trade treatments with each other. What this means is that the treatments often lack the “bells and whistles” you are likely to get as a real paying patient. There is a quick check to see what’s going on and then you get some needles without a whole lot of fanfare.  But while we might get the short end of stick in the TLC and pampering department, what this quick and bare bones kind of treatment does reveal is the actual effect of just the needles. 

The Importance of Self Awareness

Even though this was a bare bones treatment, the acupuncturist still asked how I was doing, took my pulse and looked at my tongue. This was helpful not only as a way to inform her of what points to use, but it also served as a check in for myself. Even though I had been feeling particularly stressed out, the simple questions she asked “How are you doing?” and “Do you have any aches or pains?” brought my attention into my body and made me realize that physically I actually felt quite good (something to be thankful for), and that emotionally, despite the stress I was under, I still felt whole and stable. 

That simple pointed question of “How are you doing?” can bring a lot of self awareness into play. Taking a moment to assess how you are doing — finding that true awareness — is one of the biggest contributors to better choices and better health. Never underestimate the power of paying attention to your own state of well being.

The Gift of Being Seen

When she took my pulse she quickly made the comment, “You are not really in your body.” This observation was a surprise to me, but I realized she was right. I was so concerned with pushing through a stressful time, and trying to take care of others, that I had kind of vacated myself. A dangerous habit to get into. I felt thankful to her for noticing something I had no awareness of. It feels good to be seen — for someone else to provide their undivided attention even for just a brief moment and to join with you on a path dedicated to better health. 

Fear of Needles

I must also say that even though I have no problem performing acupuncture on others —  and actually the majority of people have no problem at all being needled — I myself am a needle ninny and a sensitive scaredy cat. I forget how afraid I actually am of being needled until I’m lying there on the table, feeling vulnerable waiting for the needles to be inserted. It’s a good reminder of how vulnerable my patients can feel. Trust is of the utmost importance — I need to know that I am in good hands. I carefully choose who I will allow to needle me. And I bring this understanding into my own practice.

So, as usual, the needles were quick and painless. Despite the noisy construction that was clearly audible in the street outside, a deep quiet came over me. Sweet stillness. Deep relaxation. It’s kind of like sleep but different. The body feels heavy, the eyes close, and time seems to both speed up and slow down at the same time.

As a practitioner, I feel I can clearly explain what’s happening during an acupuncture treatment. But as a patient, the experience is strange, powerful, and mysterious, and I am left in awe of the medicine, wondering “how in the world does this work?”

All the stress I had been feeling was replaced by a sense of wellbeing. Success. Thank you Chinese Medicine!

After Effects

The time on the table was up quicker than I hoped. I felt like I wanted to stay on that table for six months. On the drive home I had the same sensation I get when I return from a real vacation. My mind was quiet, my body relaxed, and the feeling that whatever the stressors in my life they were now approachable and in the background — of course the stressors still existed, but my ability to put them into perspective and not make myself crazy worrying about things improved a great deal. I also noticed I had that sense of feeling that I had just done something good for myself. And that inspires me to continue to make good choices, keep the stress in check, and to take the time for regular self care so that I can continue caring for others!

Continued Support

As an acupuncturist, I know that one treatment is a good start, but to continue keeping myself healthy requires commitment. Regular treatments, regular exercise (see my post on exercise tips here), lots of fresh vegetables, and when needed, herbal medicine.

Commit yourself to better health. Make an acupuncture appointment today! Crow Heart Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs is gentle, affordable, and effective!

Share Your Acupuncture Experiences – Leave a Comment!

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Email: crowheartacupuncture@gmail.com

Phone: 510-919-5689

Website: http://crowheartacupuncture.wix.com/crowheart