Monday, November 15, 2010

Acupuncture for Stress

Everyone has stress. It is almost inevitable in this day and age. What matters is what happens to stress when it hits your body--do you roll with it or does it roll you?

From an evolutionary perspective, our physiological response to stress was for survival: adrenaline helped us escape from the attacking saber-toothed tiger. It was a short lived surge during the time of danger; when the danger passed, the body went back to baseline. These days, however, stress tends not to be a temporary thing, but a chronic condition. Many of us have periods of really high stress followed by periods of only moderately high stress. This constant flow of adrenaline and cortisol in the body can lead to chronically tight muscles, headaches, migraines, depression or anxiety, high blood pressure, menstrual irregularities and pain, insomnia, fatigue or exhaustion, digestive upset and so much more. Then when we feed the stress with caffeine and sugar or sugar substitutes things only get worse. But what is happening in the body and why does stress cause all of this discomfort?

First a Western view.

The release of adrenaline and cortisol increases the heart rate and breathing. Blood is sent into the muscles and they tighten. Digestion and immunity are not necessary in times of danger so these functions are suppressed. The mind is awake and alert. Short term, all of this is fine, but long term, not so much. Long term your alert mind keeps you from sleeping, your impaired immunity allows you to get sick, your tight muscles hurt. This doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Now an Eastern view.

According to Chinese medicine, the Liver has many functions. The function we will discuss here is its ability to move the Qi. There is a famous saying in Chinese medicine: "When there is free flow, there is no pain; when there pain there is no free flow." The free flow of Qi leads to a happily balanced and symptom-free body and mind. Stress (as well as anger, frustration and unfulfilled desires) constricts the Liver . When the Liver is constricted it cannot function properly and therefore can't move the Qi freely through all of the energy channels. When the energy is blocked, or "stagnated," you see symptoms like the ones listed above. Stress therefore blocks the free flow of Qi in the body, and leads to all sorts of physical, mental and emotional discomfort.

Here is where you say "but I can't change the stress in my life!" Stressors in your life might not change, but how you handle them can. Take back your control, don't allow stress to control you.

One method of controlling stress is acupuncture. Acupuncture uses tiny hair-fine needles to unblock the flow of Qi and improve circulation in your body. Acupuncture calms the nervous system, improves blood flow, reduces inflammation, improves digestion and strengthens your immune system--all functions that are impaired by stress. By strengthening the Liver (as well as the Kidneys-- they support the Liver) and releasing its constriction, stress no longer has a hold on you; your symptoms improve or go away completely and you feel better. When you support that with healthy eating, exercise and rest you will be on your way to chronic health!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Acupuncture for Upper Respiratory Problems

Welcome to the first entry of Acupuncture Wisdom. I hope you find these posts useful in understanding how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine might be useful with improving your health.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, respiratory problems, such as sinus congestion, cough, bronchitis, the flu and even colds, are the realm of the Lungs. The "Lung area" includes the nose, sinuses, throat and actual lungs. When TCM was originally developed thousands of years ago, the doctors weren't aware of viruses and bacteria causing illness, they just saw how different types of illness affected the body. Because of this, acupuncture doesn't treat the illness, like an antibiotic does, it treats the body to help it fight off the illness. By working on the immune system, acupuncture strengthens the body and over time leaves you better able to fend off future illnesses. 

A little about the immune system. 

The TCM concept of the immune system is called Wei Qi (pronounced "Way Chee") which is seen as the most superficial layer of Qi, or energy in the body. It acts like a force field to prevent illness from invading the body. When you take care of yourself (eat well, rest, exercise) your Wei Qi is strong and you don't get sick very often. When you are stressed, don't sleep well and survive on sugar and caffeine, your Wei Qi is weak and you get run down and sick far more often. The stronger your Wei Qi, the better able you are to fend off any invading pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungii).

Now about illness.

Different illnesses affect the body in different ways: some cause sinus congestion with a lot of phlegm; some cause high fever with cough, sore throat and body aches; some cause coughing that is worse at night. TCM views each of these types of conditions as "the elements" (wind, cold, heat, dampness) invading the body. Wind typically brings other elements into the body. Pure wind conditions are the most benign, usually symptoms like move like wind: aches that move around, scratchy throat, clear runny nose, headache that comes and goes. If wind brings in cold, you might also see: chills, craving warm foods and beverages, more fixed painful headaches. With heat you'll also see: sweats, fever, thirst, sore throat, maybe a rash. With dampness you see phlegm: sinus/nasal congestion, coughing up phlegm, foggy head; the phlegm will be clear, white or yellow/green depending on whether the dampness is accompanied by just wind, or also cold or heat. Any of these elements can be seen alone or in combination. These elements are the body's reaction to whatever pathogen has invaded the body.

Now about acupuncture.

Acupuncture doesn't specify whether you've contracted the common cold, the flu, a sinus infection or bronchitis, it treats you according to your symptoms and whether they point to wind, wind-cold, wind-heat, wind-damp, etc. By treating the area of the body affected (the nose and sinuses for congestion, the chest for cough, etc.) plus the Pathogenic influence (wind-cold, wind-heat...), your body can better mount a defense against the illness and you will feel better faster. Rather than suppressing symptoms, like most over-the-counter cold medicines do, you are helping the body get rid the illness so the duration of your illness is shorter. Feeling better faster is the point after all.