My Top 7 Tips for Better Health (& Happiness)

Some people make resolutions to improve their health on New Year’s Day. We all know that by January 3, most of those pledges go out the window. In my opinion, the dark, colder days of winter are not very inspiring. I encourage you to take advantage of the energy of summer to put some new habits into place; the longer days, warmer weather, and increased social interaction just make it easier.

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Here are my top seven suggestions for the most important behaviors that can lead to a healthier, happier you:

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1. Increase your pure water intake. A lot of people complain they don’t like water, or they don’t feel thirsty. Your desire for water will increase once you increase your water intake. That means it’s hard at first, but will get easier. And please don’t drink ice water! Room temperature or warm water is easier on your digestion. Ice water and cold water will eventually weaken your digestion.  Every system in your body needs a lot of water. If you’re not drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, please increase your water intake. And, yes, you’ll be using the bathroom more often. But the benefits are worth it (benefits of drinking water).

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2.  Manage your stress. Life is not perfect and will never be perfect. So the best thing to do is be prepared to deal with stressful situations. Because they happen. There are many practices that can help to ease our stress response. Chocolate, Facebook, and wine are some go-tos, but in the long run they make things worse. Better choices? First, giving yourself permission to take care of yourself. I think this is one of the biggest obstacles. It’s almost as though because the world is so full of suffering, and we all can be so hard on ourselves, we think something is wrong if we’re not suffering all the time, too. It’s the oxygen mask on the airplane thing – you’re no good to anyone else unless you’ve taken care of yourself first.

So, pick something that you feel good about doing. Don’t be afraid to try something new. In the Bay Area we have a lot of great options— classes for yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong; places to go swimming; good weather to walk, run, and bike in.  Many beaches and parks–nature is a great healer. And of course we have the internet with a lot of how-to videos that can help with any of these things. But please don’t get lost in your computer. If you’re curious about meditation, but it sounds scary, here is a good guide to demystify it and make it more approachable by explaining the different types: meditation types.

 

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3. Eat more vegetables. Preferably vegetables that are in season (it’s the Chinese Medicine way, and makes sense no matter how you look at it), and organic (who needs pesticides? not me.). Like cold water, raw vegetables are harder to digest. Some raw vegetables are fine, especially in the summertime, but the majority of your vegetables should be at least slightly cooked so your body doesn’t have to work so hard. The vegetables with the most benefit are greens. Rule of thumb: half your dinner plate is vegetable matter, and you eat a variety of colors – green, red, orange, yellow. The contents of your dinner plate can be beautiful. I don’t recommend juicing – it removes all of the fiber and leaves you with a whole lot of sugar.

4. Move your body more. In Chinese Medicine there is a tenet that stagnation equals pain. So, your body needs to move to keep its tissues, tendons, muscles, and bones healthy. At the very least, rotate your joints. Shoulder rolls, hip circles—slowly go through the range of motion for each of your joints. And walk. How about dancing? A sedentary lifestyle causes a host of problems. That said, I don’t recommend extreme sports. And I’m not talking about being Iron Man. I’m talking about taking the stairs, walking the dog, and not sitting at the computer for a full hour without getting up. If you’re allergic to exercise, sign up for a class at your level that might make it fun. Or find a friend who wants to exercise with you. And watch this video. It’s the most important health video I have ever found:

most important health video ever

 

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5. Make sleep a priority. If you’re sleeping less than six or seven hours per night, get more sleep. If possible, go to bed earlier or wake up later. The recommendation in Chinese Medicine is to be asleep by 11 pm so your body can restore itself. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, there are things you can do. First, practice good sleep hygiene. (Here are a few recommendations for good sleep hygiene: sleep hygiene.) Second, herbs and acupuncture will probably help. Third, good dietary habits, exercise, and stress management will help too!

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6. Remember to laugh. Funny movies, funny friends, puppies, children….remember the things that make you smile and laugh and seek them out. Forcing yourself to smile actually helps sometimes too. When my husband and I were dealing with a particularly stressful situation a few years ago, I heard that forcing yourself to smile can actually work. So I made him force smile with me. It’s such a ridiculous thing to do with someone, that despite the hard situation we were in, it actually worked to get us to laugh and to ease the tension. (The force yourself to smile study is here) And by all means, remember to balance your intake of bad news with good news, music, cat videos, stand up comedy, and simple silence.

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7. Tell Frances this list is way too long and then choose just one thing from it. Choose the thing that sounds the easiest, or the most fun, or maybe is the change you most need to make, and commit to it. Remember, “Better is the enemy of good.” You do not need to be perfect! Trying to be perfect can ruin everything. Doing something good is good enough!

Much love, and thanks for reading.

Raising a glass of water to your health,

Frances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WALKING and EXERCISING:

Doctor Mike Evans on “Sitting Disease”:

Doctor Mike Evans on Taking a Walk:

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

Improving Your Response to Stress — an AWESOME video!:

Kelly McGonigal on how to make stress your friend:

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

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

EATING!:

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

http://whfoods.org/

The Amazing Benefits of Bone Broth Soup:

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

Easy Bone Broth Soup recipe:

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

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

http://gastronicity.blogspot.com/

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

http://www.thugkitchen.com/archive

Huffington Post list of ten best healthy eating blogs:

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

Chinese Medicine Dietary Tips:

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

Chinese Medicine Recipes:

http://ancientwisdommodernkitchen.blogspot.com/

EMOTIONAL WELL BEING:

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

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

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

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

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/

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

MORE INSPIRATION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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