Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Best Diet For Optimum Health (It's Not What You Think)

This is time of year when many people take stock of their lives and resolve to do better in the new year (to read why this is the wrong time of year for major life changes, click here). Common resolutions are to quit smoking, to lose weight, to go to the gym more, to eat better, etc. This is the time of year when "diets" reign supreme: Paleo, Vegan, Zone, High Carbs, Low Carbs, the list goes on and on. But how do you know which diet is the best one?

The short answer is no "diet" is good; what matters is how you eat all the time.

The biggest problem with the idea of "going on a diet" is that it is temporary. You eat in a particular way for a period of time to lose weight, which sometimes works, but then you return to your normal eating habits and you gain everything back. Instead, you want to think about every day eating. Eating food is not something for the short term, it is something you will do for the rest of your life, every day, multiple times per day. Eating should not be about restrictions or deprivation, but about making smart choices that will fuel your body. Start seeing your Food as Medicine.

The best way to eat is to start with eating real food, as opposed to "food-like" substances. If it was naturally grown (not genetically modified) or raised on a farm or caught in the wild, it is food. If it was created in a laboratory, it is not food. One of my favorite podcasters is Sean Croxton, creator of Underground Wellness (of which he is in the process of rebranding). He uses the term "JERF," which means Just Eat Real Food. 90% of the battle is to focus on eating foods that you can recognize. What does xanthan gum or polysorbate 80 look like? I don't know, it is not real food. Food should be one ingredient, unless you've taken many real foods and put them together, like stew or homemade bread. If purchasing foods with a label, there should ideally be 5 or fewer real food ingredients listed.

No real foods are inherently good or bad, however they might be good or bad for you. For example, some people can't eat dairy, while others can. Dairy (from a farm that has pasture raised cows) is not bad for all people, but people who tend to have a lot of phlegm or inflammation shouldn't eat dairy. People who tend toward dryness and heat, like many perimenopausal and menopausal women, can benefit from dairy because it is cooling and moistening.

So what is the right way for you to eat? The way that makes you feel the best. Have you ever noticed that after lunch slump? That usually happens when your lunch contains foods that weren't right for your body in some way. Maybe there were too many carbs and not enough protein and fat. Maybe you ate too little or too much. Maybe you ate foods that you are unknowingly sensitive to. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, feeling tired after eating means that your Spleen is too weak to properly digest the food that you just ate and it is taking more energy than should be required to deal with the food. Keeping a food log is a great way to find out which foods make you feel good, and which don't. Record what you ate and how you felt throughout the day (sluggish, tired, anxious, excellent energy, etc), logging the times of the meals and when you noticed feeling any particular way. Your body knows what is best, you just need to learn to decipher what it is telling you. Not feeling good on a regular basis can often be tied to what you are eating.

Finally, follow the 80/20 rule: If you eat for health 80% of the time, then 20% of the time you can have some birthday cake, or chili fries, or whatever your particular "poison" might be (mine is Ben & Jerry's ice cream--pretty much any flavor). You won't feel good for a short period of time, but you will bounce back very quickly because you have a solid nutritional foundation. 100% deprivation eventually (and inevitably) leads to 100% binge eating, so allowing yourself a small treat 20% of the time gives you the pleasure of decadent food without it completely derailing your health.

To receive monthly emails about my new posts, click here. You may unsubscribe at any time.

To learn more about me and what I do, go to www.acuyogamama.com.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Natural Solutions for Manging Anxiety

In my many years as an acupuncturist and yoga instructor I have come to realize this truth:

Anxiety is created by spending your mental and emotional energy on things you have no control over, typically things that may or may not happen, sometime in the future.

It is a simple concept, but for people who suffer from anxiety it doesn't feel simple, it can be debilitating and overwhelming. When you are caught in the clutches of anxiety, even accomplishing the smallest tasks can feel daunting and impossible.

Many people experience anxiety as a disconnect between their head and the rest of their body; they are so caught up in their thoughts they may be unaware that they even have a body (unless they feel pain in it). In Chinese medicine, this is often an issue of the Heart and Kidneys not communicating. One of the roles of the Kidneys (the Water element) is to control the Heart (the Fire element). When the Kidneys are weak (due to chronic stress, improper diet, insufficient sleep, too much sex or exercise, etc.), they are unable to control the Heart and the Qi moves upward; it is no longer tethered or rooted by the Kidneys. You can think about it as Water unable to control Fire, where the Fire burns out of control, the heat from the Fire rises and disturbs the Spirit (linked to our emotions, our ability to think clearly and our ability to sleep). The result of this is that disconnected, ungrounded, untethered, agitated feeling that anxiety brings.

Step one to conquering anxiety is to reconnect to your physical body and to the ground beneath you.

The simplest way to do this is through your breath, something over which you do have control. Sit or lie down and close your eyes. Feel the chair or floor or bed beneath you (whatever is supporting you). Feel the parts of your body contacting that surface, and notice the parts that aren't. If you are sitting, feel your feet dropping onto the floor. Start to notice your breath moving in and out through your nose. You don't need to breathe in any particular way, just notice what is already happening. Can you feel the air moving through your nostrils? Are you breathing into your chest or your abdomen? Begin exhaling back out through your nose for a count of 4 (or even longer). Feel the abdomen expand like a balloon, filling as you inhale, and feel it gently contract as you exhale. The exhale is what connects you to the part of the nervous system (parasympathetic) that encourages relaxation, so try to exhale slowly. Continue to breathe like this for 3-5 minutes.

Practices like meditation, yoga and Tai Chi are all great ways to help you manage anxiety, and to help you understand what feeds it. For a simple yoga pose to help you reconnect to your body, click here.

Useful Supplements:

  • Lavender is a very calming herb, especially when you inhale the scent. You can spray lavender on your pillow at night, place 4-5 drops of Lavender essential oil in a bath, or have dried Lavender in a sachet that you keep near you.
  • Rescue Remedy, by Bach Flower Essences, is a great tincture that I often recommend to my patients and have used myself for many years. You can place 4 drops under the tongue a few times a day as needed to relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Chamomile tea is also calming. There is no caffeine and you can drink it all day long.

Finally, acupuncture is a great way to reset the nervous system and help you feel more grounded and back in your body. There is a great protocol created by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) which uses 5 needles in each ear to profoundly relax the body, getting you out of fight or flight and back to feeling grounded and reconnected. Working with an acupuncturist, you can get to the root of the imbalance that is causing your anxiety and learn to manage it, or even overcome it.

If you would like to receive monthly emails about my new posts, please click here.

For more information about who I am and what I do, visit www.acuyogamama.com.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) with Acupuncture and Natural Medicine

For many people, Fall is a season of change: the weather is cooling, kids go back to school, the leaves are changing color. For some people, it is also a time for a shift in mood. Around October or November, especially in Northern locations, many people experience a rise in depression, irritability or feelings of being stuck. The term for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or (appropriately named) S.A.D.

Because we typically have less sun exposure in the Fall and Winter than in the Spring and Summer, our ability to make Vitamin D also declines and we get depressed. This is why I first recommend supplementing with Vitamin D3 (D2 is significantly less bio-available). I recommend supplementing from October until about April when the sun starts to be more prevalent again. You need more Vitamin D if you live in darker climates and less if you live in sunnier ones. Speak to your doctor about getting the correct dosage for you. For most adults in the Winter, 3000-5000 IU daily is common, especially if you tend toward seasonal depression.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, Fall and Winter are Yin seasons: cooler and darker, when the energy is gathering and moving inward. Fall is associated with the Lung, whose associated emotion is Grief/Sadness. The combination of Sadness being the ruling emotion and the cooler weather causing a slowing of Qi, or energy, flow (which can stagnate causing irritability), many people experience a lower mood during this time. To read more about the energy shift in Fall, click on one of my earlier posts, Fall Thoughts.

The key is to keep your Qi flowing, while simultaneously acknowledging the season's natural movement.

Exercise is important but it needs to be appropriate. Moderate exercise that makes you feel energized is what you are looking for. If you feel depleted after exercise it typically means you need to do less, sleep more, and/or eat better foods. You may also need to choose an easier, gentler form of exercise. However, if you tend to feel sluggish during the winter time (which is common with S.A.D.), you may need a more vigorous form of exercise. There is not one type of exercise that will be right for all people this time of year, so you need to experiment with what makes you feel best.

During colder months it is also important to eat foods that will warm the body, avoiding cold, raw or frozen foods and beverages. During the Fall, you should be eating fewer salads and more sauteed, steamed or stir fried foods. Lighter, broth based soups like miso or bone broths, or light pureed soups, like butternut squash or pumpkin are great to add to your diet this time of year. They start to build warmth while still honoring the fact that we are not in hibernation yet. You will want to save the heavier soups and stews (lentil soup, chili, beef stew) for Winter when we need the deeper warming of a slow cooked meal to battle the cold and snow of outside.

Acupuncture can be a great support during this time of year. It helps keep your Qi moving and supports your overall health. Regular acupuncture can help improve your mood and keep you physically and emotionally healthy through the Fall and Winter seasons.

If you would like to receive emails announcing my new posts, please click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like more information about who I am and what I do, please visit www.acuyogamama.com.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Using Acupuncture for Arthritis Pain Relief

Acupuncture is known for its pain relieving benefits, but many people don't think of it for use with managing the chronic pain of osteoarthritis (OA). In 2004 a landmark study was done that showed the efficacy of using acupuncture to relieve pain of OA of the knee, but acupuncture can be used to relieve osteoarthritis pain in any part of the body. Unlike pharmaceutical options, which can have side effects like liver or kidney toxicity or stomach damage, acupuncture is a safe, non-toxic option. The most common side effect with acupuncture is relaxation.

Chinese Medicine considers OA in the family of conditions call Bi Syndromes, or Painful Obstruction Syndromes. All pain is seen as a stagnation of energy, or Qi (pronounced "chee"). It is this obstruction in the flow of Qi that causes the joint and referred muscle pain of arthritis. There are many types of Bi Syndrome: Heat Bi, Cold Bi, Damp Bi, Wind Bi and then combinations, like Wind Cold Damp Bi or Damp Heat Bi. Each type of Bi presents with different symptoms, so each person with arthritis is treated differently according to their specific Bi condition. This is also why not all Western arthritis treatments work the same for all people. Unless you do what is right for your type of arthritis (Bi) pain, you are not going to find significant relief.

  • Wind Bi: Pain that moves around to different joints and is worse with exposure to wind. The joint(s) can feel stiff, achy and vague. This type of Bi is not usually seen by itself, but is often combined with other forms.
  • Damp Bi: Joint is often swollen or edematous. Pain is usually achy and stiff and worse when it rains or in periods of high humidity. Your body telling you when it is going to rain is common with this condition. Damp Bi often responds well to heat treatments like Moxa. This type of Bi often combines with Wind Bi, Cold Bi and/or Heat Bi.
  • Cold Bi: Fixed pain that is better with heat and worse during the winter or in cold climates. Ice will make this pain feel worse. Many times this type of Bi Syndrome is combined with Wind and/or Damp Bi.
  • Heat Bi: Joint feels hot, either to the touch or internally. Joint feels inflamed and often responds positively to ice and feels worse in the warm climates or during the summer. Acupuncturists don't typically use ice for treatments since it brings cold into the body which causes stagnation (since cold contracts), but diagnostically, the response to ice can help determine this condition. Heat Bi is often combined with Wind and/or Damp Bi.

 Acupuncture approaches each type of Bi Syndrome differently according to the dominant presentation. The needles help move the Qi so it is no longer obstructed and will get rid of the Wind, Cold, Heat and/or Damp by using various acupuncture points in the body. Moxa is also used to help get rid of Damp swelling, to warm and expel the Cold and to release the Wind. 

There is one more type of Bi is called Boney Bi and that is where you see changes to the bone structure in the joint. The bone itself becomes swollen and misshapen, often causing significant limitations in range of motion in the joint. Osteoarthritis responds best in its earlier stages when bony changes are at a minimum. Once there are significant changes and visual deformations to the bones it is much harder to treat; this takes more frequent treatments, and often the use of Chinese herbal medicine, to see any positive results. The treatments won't undo the bony changes, but can relieve and help you manage the pain.

If you would like to receive monthly emails announcing my new posts, please click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

For more information about who I am and what I do, go to www.acuyogamama.com

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tech Neck: Natural Solutions to Neck Pain Caused by Use of Electronic Devices

There are many comical memes floating around the internet (see right) about the fact that we have become zombies, with our faces constantly  in our smart phones and other electronic devices. While there are many issues that can be discussed regarding this phenomenon, this post will be focused on what happens in your body when your head is directed down for long periods of time. Many healthcare professionals have coined the terms "Tech Neck" or "Text Neck" to describe this condition, which occurs when the head is forward for long periods of time. What happens, in a word: Pain.

Having your head tilted forward, even just 15 degrees, can cause a huge strain on the very small, very delicate muscles and vertebrae in the neck and upper back. Over time, these muscles actually weaken and can cause problems not only in the neck, but problems that can travel down the arms as far as the hands and fingers. Most instances of numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers is due to dysfunction in the neck.

The simplest solution is to prevent the problem in the first place by using good posture and not dropping your head forward. Practices like ballet, yoga and tai chi are great ways to practice proper posture and encourage the body to be in healthy alignment. If you can keep your head over your shoulders (and your shoulders over your hips, and your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles) it can take the strain off of the neck muscles. For many, however, the damage is already done and they are looking for relief.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion can offer relief from Tech Neck by releasing the tension in the neck and upper back. "When there is pain there is no free flow; when there is free flow there is no pain." This Chinese Medicine statement refers to the flow of Qi, or energy, in the body. If your alignment is good, Qi flows as it should. When muscles are straining, that can cause stagnation of energy, so the free flow gets stuck. That "traffic jam" of energy is experienced as pain; the more severe  the pain, the more significant the stagnation. Acupuncture and Moxibustion free the flow of Qi, and open up the circulation in the muscles so that they function properly.

Once you are out of pain, you need to work to keep yourself aligned. Instead of holding your device low in front of your waist or even your chest, try holding it level with your eyes; if you need to hold it low, do it for very short periods of time, taking breaks to look up and relax your neck muscles.

At the end of the day before bed, lie on the edge of your bed facing upward with the base of your skull (not the base of your neck) at the edge of your mattress. Relax in this position for a few minutes to stretch out the muscles in the front of your neck, which often get tight as the posterior (rear)muscles strain and lengthen. You can adjust how much of your head leans over the side of your bed by how it feels. As long as it feels good and you aren't straining, you should be fine. Remember to inhale deeply into your abdomen and exhale slowly to experience the full benefits as you relax your neck.

For other great tips on how to keep your head where it belongs, read my previous post on Upper Back and Neck Pain. 

To receive monthly email notifications about my new posts, please click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

To learn more about me and what I do, please go to www.acuyogamama.com.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Natural Solutions for Acne

There is an old wives tale that says chocolate and fried foods give you pimples. However, that may not be too far off the mark. What you eat plays a big part in how your skin looks.Your skin is the largest organ of detoxification in your body and if you are constantly putting bad things into your body (artificial sweeteners, "food" chemicals, processed foods, sugar), you will see the effects on your skin.

There are many types of acne that appear in different ways in different places on your body. Some pimples are big, hot, red and painful, some are small with white or black "heads;" they can occur on the face, neck, back or chest and can appear at any time. Some acne is worse before or during menstruation. Acne typically has an inflammatory or "Heat" aspect, where the skin is inflamed and hot to the touch. Learning to tame this inflammation is the challenge. Western medicine offers antibiotics, birth control pills and topical aspirin (salicylic acid) as possible solutions to get rid of acne, but each has problematic side effects, ranging from upsetting the immune system/destroying gut flora to risk of blood clots or bleeding, sun sensitivity and redness of the skin, just to name a few.

Like with many diseases, it is always good to start with diet.  Eating real, whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables is a great place to start. The fewer chemicals that go into the body, the less the skin needs to detox. Raw fruits and veggies are cooling in nature, especially foods like cucumbers and other types of melons, and can be good if your acne is due to excessive heat (red, hot, boil-like pimples). Cooling foods are good for many heat conditions, provided that your digestion is strong. If you have symptoms such as fatigue, poor appetite, gas, bloating, loose stools or constipation/incomplete bowel movements, you might want to ease into the raw foods and focus more on foods that strengthen the Spleen.

Foods that commonly cause inflammation are sugar, dairy and wheat are since they can strain the Spleen, making it difficult for it to do its job properly. A weak Spleen can cause an accumulation of Dampness and Phlegm (in this case think white heads, pus and discharge from the skin); when fluids don't move they can cause stagnation which can build up as Heat (like heat from friction in an car when you simultaneously press the gas and brake). The redness and swelling of certain types of acne are from this dual issue of Heat and Dampness. By eliminating dietary causes of Heat and Dampness, it can significantly reduce the incidence of acne.

Inconsistent bowel movements (see link above), especially constipation, can also cause acne, as toxins are being held in the body for longer, rather than being properly eliminated. Consistent, regular bowel movements can reduce the occurrence of acne, especially around the mouth and chin. Drinking lots of water (half your body weight in ounces daily), eating plenty of fiber, and eating good fats can help keep things "moving through the pipes."

These are all preventative. If you would like treatment options, taking (internally) Turmeric and/or Vitamin C can do wonders to reduce swelling and redness, plus Vitamin C is needed to make collagen so will help bring suppleness back to your skin. For dosages, see a qualified natural health professional. Also, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are great ways to support health and reduce skin blemishes. They can support the Spleen, remove Dampness and Heat and encourage proper bowel movements. When your body is balanced, your skin will be balanced too.

If you would like to receive monthly emails about new blog posts, please click here to sign up. You can unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to learn more about me and my services, go to www.acuyogamama.com.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Improving Your Golf Game with Acupuncture

You may be saying, "Really? Acupuncture can improve my golf game?" While acupuncture won't improve your skill level, per se, you can see positive changes to your game by:

  • Increasing your range of motion
  • Assisting your body's ability to heal from injury
  • Improving your energy and sleep quality
  • Improving your mental focus

Acupuncture affects the musculo-skeletal system by releasing muscle tension and improving blood flow to the muscles so they function more efficiently. Many golfers suffer from lower back, hip, shoulder and/or elbow tightness, pain or strain. Acupuncture can address these issues so that you can have a more fluid swing, one with less the restriction. If you are injured or have chronic pain (in these or other areas of your body), acupuncture can help the body heal itself, reduce pain and inflammation and get you back into your game feeling more physically comfortable.

Many studies that show that the worse you sleep, the worse your physical and mental performance. Since golf is both a physical and mental game, getting proper sleep is crucial for you to play at your best. There are many causes of poor sleep, including (but not limited to) stress, diet, caffeine and hormone imbalances. While it is up to you to eat properly, limit sugar and curb your caffeine intake (especially in the afternoon), acupuncture can help you manage your stress levels and balance your hormones. While acupuncture can't make stressful situations won't go away, it can improve your ability to cope with stress so that it doesn't interfere with your sleep; it is much easier to fall asleep and stay asleep when your mind stops racing.

Stress, ADD/ADHD and brain fog can interfere with your mental focus.  In addition to eating foods containing omega 3 fatty acids and avoiding processed foods and chemicals in your diet, acupuncture can help clear the fog and settle the hyperactivity making it easier to focus on your game. I once had a teenage male patient diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder who said that after the acupuncture treatments his handwriting improved because he was able to focus more clearly on the task at hand, rather than feeling distracted by the other 50 or so thoughts running through his mind. In terms of brain fog, many patients feel clearer after acupuncture treatments, feeling like the fog has lifted and they can think more clearly.

While acupuncture won't make you the next Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, it can help you feel better on the golf course, giving you the ideal opportunity to play at your best.

If you would like to receive monthly emails announcing my new posts, please click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

For more information about who I am and what I do, please visit www.acuyogamama.com.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Non-"puncture" Acupuncture for Children: Treating Kids with Magnets

Kids respond really well to acupuncture, but don't always like the idea of being stuck with needles (many adults feel this way too!). Plus kids are not known for their ability to lie still for long periods of time, while awake. There are a number of non-insertive techniques for children, but I have had great success with improving children's health using magnets.

During the mid-20th century, a Japanese acupuncturist, named Yoshio Manaka, began experimenting with magnets. The idea was to affect the ions, or charged particles, in the body's electrical system to affect a change in someone's health or pain level. He found that areas of higher pain had a higher concentration of negative ions and that by dispersing the ions, the pain level dropped. This idea expanded to weaker areas, points on the body with less Qi, had a lower concentration of negative ions, so by attracting the ions to the weak area, it got stronger.

Chinese medicine is about balancing the amount of energy in the body, bringing more energy/Qi to weaker areas, dispersing energy/Qi from areas of excess and moving energy/Qi in areas where it is stuck. Acupuncture uses needles to create this effect, but magnets can also do the job nicely, especially in children.

If you think back to high school physics, each magnet has a North pole and a South pole. When used with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the North pole is used to Disperse and the South pole is used to Supplement. By placing a magnet with the North pole facing the skin at an acupoint, you will Disperse any accumulation found at that point. By placing the South pole facing the skin at an acupoint, you will Supplement, or build the Qi in that area.

Children tend to be more Yang by nature, which means they tend to run warmer, move faster and have energy that is moving outward. If you've ever observed a 4 year old playing, you know what I mean. Because their nature is more Yang, it tends to be easier to access, and easier to adjust their Qi with less intervention. They have also had less time on the planet to accumulate imbalances so their treatment is usually more straight forward and shorter in duration. Magnets are powerful but gentle and don't pierce the skin. They are taped to acupuncture points so that during the treatment children are free to sit up and color, do puzzles or read a book. I try to dissuade the use of "screens" during the treatment, but that is also a possibility. Because the magnets are taped on, there is less of a possibility that they will get knocked off when the child moves around.

I've used magnets with children as young as 3, up through teens who are sometimes a bit squeamish about the needles. With many pre-teens and teenagers I'll use a combination of needles in the less sensitive points (like the abdomen, back and legs) and magnets on the more sensitive points (like the face, wrists and ankles) which works very well. That being said, I've treated 7 year olds with all needles and I've treated 18 year olds with all magnets; it is really up to the child and what he or she feels comfortable with. In the end the treatment will be more effective if the child can feel calm and relaxed.

If you would like to receive monthly emails announcing my new posts, please click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to learn more about me and what I do, please visit www.acuyogamama.com.

Monday, April 6, 2015

4 Ways that Acupuncture can Improve Productivity

Spring is here and with Spring typically comes an energetic surge of movement. After going inside and "hibernating" during Winter, Spring is all about moving outward, back into the world. That being said, we are not always tuned into the season; our schedules don't really change when the season changes, the change just happens around us. When you move against the natural flow of the season, you get Qi Stagnation, with an increase of symptoms like: PMS, migraines/headaches, depression, irritability, short-temper, muscle tightness, and higher feelings of stress. When it comes to being productive at work and in general, these types of symptoms can often get in the way. Other symptoms that can impede productivity are fatigue, brain fog, poor sleep and anxiety. Here's how acupuncture can remedy how you feel.

Acupuncture can improve productivity by:

1. Reducing stress and anxiety. While acupuncture can't control how many deadlines you have, it can help you respond better to those deadlines. When you feel stressed, it is often difficult to concentrate on your assignment. When feeling anxious and overwhelmed, many people procrastinate, which only increases the feelings of stress exponentially. Acupuncture calms the nervous system, getting us away from stress and overwhelm and back to feeling more centered, grounded and in control. Calming the body's experience of stress allows you to better see the task at hand and handle it more effectively.

2. Sharpening focus. Reducing stress will allow you to think more clearly, but there are also many acupuncture points that directly affect the brain and allow it to function more efficiently. Will acupuncture make you smarter? Probably not, but it can clear away the fog that is getting in the way of lucid, focused thinking.

3. Improving immunity. One powerful negative result of acute or chronic stress is the suppression of the immune system. Immunity, like fertility and digestion, is a "non-essential" function when it comes to survival; your body is not worrying about germs when you are in a life or death situation, like trying to avoid being trampled by a woolly mammoth (from an evolutionary perspective). When it is a matter of immediate survival, the body's resources get channeled away from non-essential functions and toward processes that will encourage survival, like muscle strength and blood pressure/heart rate. When stress is chronic instead of acute those non-essential functions are chronically suppressed. This is why it is so common to get sick after long periods of stress, and why it is so hard to recover. A simple cold may last weeks with a suppressed immune system. This is not good for productivity at work. In addition to reducing stress, acupuncture can help strengthen the immune system; it can help you get over any illness you are currently trying to fight off as well as help you to avoid getting sick in the future.

4. Enhancing sleep quality and quantity, while increasing energy. For many people, getting a good night's sleep is as common as a $2 bill; it's out there, but you don't see it very often. Nothing improves productivity more than sleep: you can think more clearly, respond more quickly, be more creative, plus being in a better mood can do wonders for your interpersonal skills. Acupuncture can help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep and keep you from tossing and turning all night. With more good quality sleep your energy increases as well.

Proper sleep, stress management, good diet and exercise all play a part in ensuring that you are the healthiest you can be, so that you can feel good about the work you do. Productivity at work and in life is highest when you are functioning at your best. Acupuncture can help.

If you would like to receive monthly email notifications about my new posts, click here to subscribe. You can unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to learn more about me and what I do, please visit www.acuyogamama.com.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Drug-free help for Shoveling Injuries and other Repetitive Strain Conditions

The Northeast United States has seen record amounts of snowfall this year in a relatively short period of time. With snow fall, comes snow removal, usually in the form of shoveling, snow blowing and roof raking. With so much snow falling so quickly, I'm seeing a lot of shoveling related injuries walking through my doors. The repetitive movements combined with very little rest between storms is the perfect way for Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) to set in. Shoulder and neck pain from roof raking, as well as elbow and lower back pain from shoveling have been the most common. Here comes acupuncture to the rescue!

RSI usually occurs from doing inefficient movements over and over with poor or imbalanced alignment--overworking some muscles while under utilizing others. Movements like shoveling, using a computer mouse, the twisting movements that a mechanic uses would be fine in small doses, but when you are shoveling 3 feet of snow or fixing cars for a living, the repetitive movements can add up to significant irritation in the tendons and joints. There might also be contributing dietary factors, like eating a lot of sugar, artificial sweeteners, wheat/gluten or unknown food allergens that are contributing to inflammation in the body, leaving you susceptible to repetitive strain injuries.

In Chinese medicine, pain is seen as stagnation, where the energy (Qi) stops flowing the way that it should. Imagine a clog in a drain: when the water tries to push through the clog and it can't, pressure builds up (pain). Acupuncture essentially removes the clog (stagnation) and allows the water (Qi) to flow freely once again. When the pressure is released and free flow is once again restored, the pain goes away. Often times with RSI there is the added element of heat, where the joint or muscles feel hot and irritated, almost "angry." That is akin to heat building up from friction. If you press the gas pedal in a car while the emergency brake is on, it creates friction (heat). When you release the brake and the car can move forward, the heat dissipates. In the body, when the free flow is restored, the heat dissipates. Even though common sense would say to treat heat with cold, I advise against using ice with these injuries as there are many studies and articles recently that show how ice slows the healing process by impeding blood flow (which will cause more stagnation and pain), and preventing the healing nutrients from the blood to get to the injured area. Chinese medicine always avoids ice (even in food and drink) since cold contracts and causes stagnation.

Another related concept in Chinese medicine is that of the Root and Branch: the Branch is the symptom(s) you are feeling (in this case the localized pain) and the Root is the actual source of the pain. While the repetitive movement brought on the pain in the location that you feel it, the Root of the pain might actually be found in a different part of the body. The pain is usually located in the "weak link" or the joint that is least stable, whereas the problem might be coming from a lack of movement higher up in the chain, typically closer to the torso. Meridians, or channels through which the Qi flows, can have blockages anywhere, so elbow pain might be coming from stagnation that starts in the shoulder or neck along the Large Intestine meridian (for example). Treating the source of the pain rather than just the "branch" can make a huge difference in pain resolution. This is the beauty of holistic medicine.

Through stimulation from acupuncture needles and/or moxa, blood and Qi flow is restored, tight muscles loosen and pain and inflammation resolve. Acute pain heals much faster than chronic pain, so the sooner you get in for treatment, the more quickly your condition will heal.

If you would like to receive monthly email notifications about my new posts, please click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to learn more about me and what I do, please visit www.acuyogamama.com.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chinese Medicine in Your Kitchen!

When many people think about Chinese herbal medicine, they may think about odd looking roots, barks, seeds and plants, or jars full of odd embalmed animals and animal parts. Maybe you envision a scene from the movie Gremlins or an old martial arts film. In reality, many Chinese medicinals in the Pharmacopeia come right from your kitchen!

As I stated in last month's post, Food as Medicine, what you eat can either improve your health or increase and exacerbate various imbalances in your body. Different foods will affect the body in different ways, with each food having its own energetics. Some foods are more warming, like ginger and cinnamon, while others are more cooling, like mint and cucumbers. Some build Blood, like beef and beets, some help get rid of Phlegm, like radish and mustard leaf. Some are more moistening, like figs and barley, while others are more drying (water removing), like artichoke and alfalfa.

Here is a short list of Chinese medicinals that you can find in your own kitchen and what effect they have:

Ginger: Raw ginger (Sheng Jiang) is warming, especially for the Stomach and Spleen, and helps with nausea and vomiting. Raw ginger is often used when treating colds as it encourages sweating. Dried ginger (Gan Jiang) is hot and is a better option if you are cold all of the time. It also helps nausea and vomiting but if you tend to run warm, stick to the raw variety.

Mint: Mint (Bo He) is cooling, even when consumed as warm tea. It helps with red eyes, headache and sore throat due to illness. It can also help move your Liver Qi, so if you are feeling emotionally stuck, mint may help.

Turmeric: Turmeric (Yu Jin) has been touted in recent years for its anti-inflammatory properties, but has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to invigorate the blood and break up blood stasis, as well as move Liver Qi. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) "when there is pain there is no free flow and when there is free flow there is no pain." Using Turmeric for pain makes sense, no matter who you ask.

Watermelon: Watermelon (Xi Gua) is cooling and great for generating fluids for rehydration due to over heating in the summer. It also promotes urination (which will help get rid of heat).

Goji Berries: Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi) are a superfood that is high in anti-oxidants. In Chinese medicine, they are used to supplement Liver Blood to benefit the eyes and vision, as well as support Kidney Yin, for symptoms such as sore lower back and legs or low-grade abdominal pain.

Asparagus: Asparagus (Tian Men Dong) is another Yin supplement that benefits the Kidneys, but is also targeted to upper body Yin, for dry mouth, since it helps generate fluids.

This is just a small sample of the many different types of foods and spices that can benefit your health. To truly make a significant difference and to target your particular health challenges it is best to see a licensed practitioner who can prescribe the best diet and herbal formula for you. Not all symptoms are caused by the same imbalance, so it is important to get the proper diagnosis before proceeding with using food as medicine. Food is powerful!

To receive monthly email notifications of my new posts, click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

To learn more about me and what I do, go to www.acuyogamama.com.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Food As Medicine

One of my favorite topics is food as medicine. The idea is simple and powerful and unfortunately very underutilized, especially in the United States. This time of year, many of us have indulged over the holidays and are looking to "be better" about the food that we're eating now that life is getting back to normal. You might have set some New Year's Resolutions, and are looking to alter your eating habits on a more global level.

I'd like to start by saying this is the worst time of year to do a "detox," for many reasons, the biggest of which is that "cleanses" don't actually exist.  Your body is detoxing you every day no matter what you eat. That being said, the worse you eat, the more work there is to be done, and the more time and effort is spent getting rid of the bad stuff. Rather than having energy available to use in your daily life, your energy will be spent healing and repairing yourself from the damage caused by consuming chemicals and "food-like" substances. That is why eating processed, high sugar or high chemical "foods"  leaves you feeling tired, sluggish and bloated. Eating well will inevitably make you feel better in the long run because it gives you usable energy for living your life. The food that you eat can either move you toward health or away from it. Choose wisely!

Animals use food for nourishment and fuel. As humans, we often look to food for other reasons as well: comfort, replacement for something else we're seeking, pacification, satisfaction for an addiction, and others. Ideally food should be used only as fuel for your body. If food is only something to stop your hunger, you will make different choices than if you see food as nourishment. If you are hungry, you'll grab anything to stop the discomfort, but if you are looking for sustenance, you'll be more choosy.

When you are sick or symptomatic, you should always start by looking at what you are eating and notice whether it is right for your body. No food that is found, grown or caught in nature is inherently good or bad, but it may be good or bad for you, depending on your particular health challenges, the climate in which you live, food allergies and the season. The only exception to this is Genetically Modified foods (GMOs) since they are created first in a laboratory and then grown--these are always harmful and should be avoided.

Start by seeing if you can recognize the food that you are eating as food; when you read the label, is it full of chemicals or items that you can't picture in your mind? If so, chances are you are eating food-like substances made in a laboratory and your body is going to spend a lot of energy working to filter that out. If your body can't remove the chemicals, they get stored in your body and can  eventually become inflammation and/or cancer. "Diet" foods are usually laden with chemicals and actually contribute more to weight gain than weight loss. You are also typically left feeling tired, sluggish, bloated, phlegmy and craving more. The cravings come from failing to supply your body with the nutrients that it is actually looking for. For example, when you have chocolate cravings, you are actually craving magnesium, so you should eat more nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables instead of the chocolate chip cookies (although a little dark chocolate is okay). When you supply your body with actual food, you don't typically have cravings since you are supplying your body with the nourishment it requires. If your food doesn't have labels (because it is produce, lean meat or fish) then you are probably headed in the right direction.

First food, then medicine.

If after adjusting your eating habits toward a more whole food diet you are still feeling sick or symptomatic, then that is when you seek out medical intervention. Even then, the medical professional should begin by looking at your diet and seeing if there is anything else that seems out of balance for you. An acupuncturist will look at your diet in relation to the seasons and what your particular symptoms are in order to tailor your diet to what will make you feel better. You might need to eat more meat, you might need to eat less. You might need more root vegetables, you might need less. You might need to eat more grains, no grains, more dairy, no dairy. There is no one-size-fits-all way to eat. Each person has their own requirements based on their internal body chemistry and set of symptoms. Food can be really good medicine when you understand its purpose and use it accordingly.

A great, easy to read book on whole food eating is called Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It is one of my favorites and very helpful for learning the benefits of eating real food.  If you are interested in looking at food from a Chinese Medicine perspective to help understand and balance your symptoms, Paul Pitchford's book Healing with Whole Foods is a must.

If you'd like to receive monthly email notifications of my new posts, click here. You can unsubscribe at any time.

If you'd like to learn more about me and how I help people feel better with acupuncture, click here.