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In traditional Chinese medical theory, one of the best ways to stay healthy is to live in balance with the seasons. Balance, in this context, means mindfully crafting your diet and certain aspects of your lifestyle based on what season it is.
An easy way to think about this is with fruits and vegetables: we are lucky these days to have grocery stores stocked year round with fruits and vegetables from every corner of the globe at all times of year. That makes it possible to enjoy asparagus into the winter months in northern climates where asparagus would never naturally grow at that time of year if at all. Chinese medical thought prescribes realigning our diets with what would be available to us in the region where we live and at each time of year. In this way, we’re aligning ourselves with the rhythms of the earth. Not only that, but eating fresh, local fruits and vegetables probably means they’re going to be better tasting fruits and vegetables in the first place, because they’re fresh off the vine and ripened close by. Living in balance with the seasons helps to keep us healthy and free of disease, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Each season is also connected to one of the main organ networks and a related element, both based on associations with what is happening in our bodies and in the natural world. In spring, Chinese medicine says we should be attentive to our livers. Springtime is all about new life and life-giving processes. The liver provides essential support to our lungs, heart and circulation system – in other words, all the life-giving systems in our bodies. The liver also stores and distributes nourishment to the whole body. It also filters toxins from the blood and breaks them down for elimination.
When the liver is functioning properly, there is functionality throughout the whole body, and we feel a physical and emotional freedom and expansiveness that allow us to take on the essence of springtime.
Here are four ways to tweak your lifestyle this spring in order to support balance in your liver.
1. Rise and shine. Make it a habit to wake up earlier in the spring than you were during winter. Notice if getting up earlier allows you to have more energy during the day.
2. Exercise more. Try to incorporate more movement into your daily life during the spring. Especially during spring, exercise is a great way to battle depression and anxiety that can creep in due to a liver imbalance.
3. Add sour foods to your diet. The flavor connected to the liver is sour. Adding lemon to your water is a simple way to do this that will help you digestive and emotional health.
4. Keep breathing. Be intentional about developing or maintaining habits that help you to de-stress during spring. Springtime can feel like a burst of energy compared to winter, but it is important to make space each for downtime and not get too busy too fast.
Stress is a word many people are familiar with. The dictionary defines stress in multiple ways, but there is only one that matters when we discuss how stress affects our physical bodies. The definition is this, “stress is a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.” And while most people think of stress as being detrimental, it truly does have a function in our bodies. Stress is the body’s way of signaling for help or a break in the routine. If we don’t listen to these signals, we can develop imbalances in our bodies, which can then lead to illnesses.
Cortisol is the hormone most closely related to stress. Cortisol is a big component of the “fight or flight” response we feel when we are scared or threatened. And in small bursts, cortisol is helpful. However, when stress becomes chronic, cortisol levels become elevated and never return to normal. This puts the body in a constant state of being on edge, eventually causing insomnia, depression, anxiety, digestive issues and even mental illness.
There are ways to fight and reduce stress though. Simple things like exercise, meditation, coloring, talking with friends and even acupuncture. Admittedly, most people don’t think of being stuck with tiny needles as “relaxing,” but it really is. Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years and it is becoming more mainstream every single day. It is even being used in some hospital emergency rooms for those who are in pain and anxious.
Acupuncture acts like physical therapy for the nervous system. The tiny needles retrain the nervous system and the brain to behave as it should normally. For the nervous system to act and respond accordingly, cortisol has to be at normal levels and only used when a true “fight or flight” situation occurs. Studies show acupuncture does this.
Another way acupuncture helps reduce stress is by keeping the heart rate normal. When the body is stressed, the heart tends to pump faster and in some cases, a person may even develop palpitations or atrial fibrillation. The heart rate is closely connected to the vagus nerve. If the vagus nerve is stimulated, so too will the heart rate. There are specific acupressure points on the arms and hands that can calm the vagus nerve and the heart.
Stress is frequently related to specific emotions. Acupuncture controls anxiety and stress by affecting the part of the brain that regulates emotions and then reduces anxiety naturally. This allows the body to calm down and the mind to relax.
Chronic stress frequently leads to depression. Again, acupuncture can help with this. As the stress is relieved through regular acupuncture treatments and other mind/body techniques, then depression will start to clear up as well. Many people are even able to get off their depression medications following a regimented treatment plan that utilizes acupuncture and herbs.
Lastly, digestive disorders can be caused or exacerbated by chronic stress. Digestion occurs while the body is in the “rest and digest” phase. When stress is added into the mix, digestion may become disrupted and things like diarrhea can occur. Studies have shown acupuncture is extremely effective at decreasing or eliminating bouts of diarrhea.
Acupuncture is a wonderful tool for fighting stress. As few as two needles can reset your body and decrease your daily stress level. Talk with an acupuncturist to find out how to resolve your stress the natural way.
During an initial session of acupuncture, most practitioners began with an extensive health intake that goes over all of the systems in the body. We use this to determine certain patterns of imbalance, allowing us to treat the root cause of issues. This is one way we differ from Western medicine.
I have learned throughout the years when someone makes an appointment to deal with their pain, this is all they are concerned about. I understand completely. If I pulled a muscle in my back and went to a doctor who gave me medication to help with digestion, I would be confused and annoyed he wasn’t dealing with the issue I came in with. So, when I see patients, I focus on their presenting issue. I know once this problem has resolved, they will likely see other beneficial side effects from the treatment, such as:
● A reduction in stress or anxiety. Acupuncture is incredibly calming, and when you get acupuncture on a regular basis, that feeling of peace and well-being tends to become your new norm. Life’s little stresses just seem easier, somehow.
● You don’t get sick as often. Acupuncture boosts the immune system, and patients who come consistently often comment on having lesser colds and illnesses throughout the year.
● Better sleep. I’ve had some of the best night’s sleep of my life after a session. It promotes a deep, restorative sleep that can’t be matched by anything else I have tried. Acupuncture is very effective for insomnia, but even those without sleep issues look forward to a fantastic night’s sleep after a treatment.
● Less painful periods. When the blood and energy of the body flows as it should, pain and stiffness disappear. Acupuncture moves the blood, lessening cramps and even alleviating the symptoms of PMS.
● Happier digestion. Again, acupuncture is moving, so it creates movement within the digestive tract too. If you are prone to constipation, this medicine can get you unstuck. And if you fall on the other end of the spectrum and suffer from frequent or loose bowel movement, acupuncture can help to regulate that as well.
● More energy. When your body is in balance, you have the appropriate amount of energy to get through your day without dragging. Patients who get treatment regularly tell me that they feel more energized and alert throughout the day.
● Increased fertility. Studies have shown getting regular acupuncture increases your chances of getting pregnant. It regulates the hormones and lowers stress levels.
● Better relationships. I know it sounds strange, but hear me out. Acupuncture helps to regulate the emotions. It can vent your anger, ease your grief and help you to let go of negativity you’ve been holding on to. Irritated or frustrated? Try a treatment. You will immediately feel those emotions slipping away. When your negative feelings begin to transition into a lighter, calmer place, you will connect with people around you in a very different way.
Summer is a time of abundant energy, long sunshine-filled days and warmth. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, summer has many different associations that help define it. The element of summer is fire, the color of summer is red, the emotion of summer is joy and the governing organs are the heart and the small intestine. But what does all of this mean? Let’s find out.
The TCM system relies heavily on the five elements and how they work and interact within the body. In TCM, there are multiple levels. The first is that of yin and yang. At the most basic level, yin is like water and yang is like fire. As mentioned, fire is the element of summer. Thus fire is yang in nature, which means it is symbolic of maximum activity. During the summer months, everybody and everything is more outgoing or outward in nature. And as the heart is the main organ associated with the season of summer, it should be paid close attention to and nourished to remain healthy.
The heart’s main function is to circulate oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. In TCM, mental activity is also associated with the heart. This is known as Shen in Chinese medicine. The Shen is sometimes compared to our mind, but it is actually much deeper than that. The Shen includes our thought processes, memory, consciousness and emotional well-being. And summer is the most appropriate time to calm the Shen and provide it with enrichment that will last throughout the whole year. When the fire element is balanced, the mind is calm, sleep is sound and the heart organ is strong and healthy. If the fire element is not balanced, there may be depression or an excess of joy, which manifests as mania. Symptoms of an unbalanced fire element include heartburn, insomnia, agitation, nervousness, digestive upset, rashes, palpitations and excessive perspiration.
There are quite a few ways to keep the heart and fire element balanced during the summer months. Meditation and deep breathing are easy to do, plus, they require no expensive equipment to perform and can be done anywhere.
Going outside and engaging all of your senses is another easy way to nourish heart health. A technique known as “grounding” has been gaining popularity over the past decade and science is showing it can be very beneficial. All one has to do is walk or stand in the grass while being barefoot. The energy from the earth is quite healing. And while you’re there, take time to listen to the sounds of nature that surround you and enjoy the fragrances of the flowers. These things are also grounding and have a calming effect on the mind and body.
Probably the two most important things you can do for heart health during the summer months is drink plenty of fresh water and eat cooling foods. No matter what season of the year, water is vital and it is recommended we drink at least 64 ounces per day. Cooling foods like fruits are good at keeping fire under control, which is healthy for the whole body.
Lastly, if you are experiencing a heart or fire imbalance, consider adding acupuncture to your routine. Acupuncture is very good at reducing or increasing the body’s yang/fire, depending upon your individual needs. Finding a licensed acupuncturist in your area may be the best decision you can make when it comes to staying happy and healthy.
Three Teas to Keep You Cool
As summer moves on and the warmer days continue, you will find yourself seeking ways to beat the heat. Herbal teas are a great way to cool both the body and mind. Cooling herbal teas can alleviate symptoms of excess heat and have you feeling your absolute best during these heat-intensive summer days.
Check out these three herbal teas that will ensure you stay cool.
1. Mint, Elderflower and Rosehips Tea
The combination of mint, elderflower and rosehips makes for a soothing herbal tea. Rose hips provide a much-needed boost of vitamin C, the elderflower lends its immune-cleansing benefits and the mint finishes off the tea with the cooling touch of menthol.
2. Lemon Hibiscus Tea
This is an herbal blend just as good cold as it is hot. Regardless of the way this tea is poured, it provides specific cooling benefits to the body. Hibiscus is high in vitamin C and combats against high blood pressure, liver disease and other ailments. Lemon has a kick of vitamin C too, but more importantly it is cleansing and a natural diuretic. This tea combination is both cleansing and cooling.
3. Iced Green Tea with Lemon and Mint
The perfect summer refresher. The combination of these three ingredients work together in perfect harmony in order to cool the body down. Packed with vitamin C, menthol and antioxidants this tea will get your constitution headed in the right direction.
Allergies, seasonal or otherwise, is one of the biggest health issues people deal with in the United States. And the numbers are rising every year. Part of this is because our agricultural practices have changed drastically in the past 40 years and our bodies are not accustomed to dealing with genetically modified foods or the excessive amounts of pesticides now being put in and on our food. We are also being over-medicated with antibiotics used in livestock we eat and that we are prescribed by our own doctors. This has created superbugs like MRSA that no longer responding to antibiotics. Our immune systems just can’t keep up. So every year, the number of people experiencing allergies is increasing.
But what if there were a way to combat seasonal allergies without the harsh side effects of medications and to actually get to the root of the problem instead of just masking the symptoms? There is a way to do this and it’s called acupuncture.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine offer a permanent solution to seasonal allergies and relief from everyday allergies with an all-natural approach that will ultimately save you money. Since TCM attacks allergies in a much different method than Western medicine, there is a good chance your allergies will cease to be a problem. Western medicine knows how allergies work and what happens to the body, but there is still no explanation as to why. But, TCM doesn’t need to know why because it looks at the body as a whole and uses an elemental system to determine where there are excesses and deficiencies in each person. So the TCM treatments are completely customized to each patient, thus making them much more effective than one-size-fits-all over-the-counter medications.
When using TCM to treat allergies, practitioners focus heavily on something called Wei Qi. Wei Qi is similar to the immune system in Western medicine. Wei Qi protects the body against foreign materials that can lead to inflammation and eventually allergies. People with lower immunity/Wei Qi are more susceptible to allergies and frequent colds. Acupuncture helps to boost the Wei Qi making it more difficult for allergens to attack the body. This is one of the best reasons to get regular acupuncture treatments if you suffer from allergies of any kind.
When energy becomes blocked due to inflammation caused by allergies, symptoms will flare back up. Acupuncture helps re-establish the flow of energy throughout the body. This will help to alleviate allergy symptoms. Many people who receive acupuncture treatments report they notice changes immediately. And over time, this will help to bring the body back into balance permanently.
Acupuncture has been shown to decrease heat associated with allergies. This can manifest as a sore throat, swollen sinuses and red eyes. There are specific acupressure points on the body that can almost instantaneously relieve these symptoms.
Many allergy sufferers also report pain in various areas of the body, especially the eyes and head. Relieving pain is what acupuncture is most frequently used for and it is also what most scientific studies focus on. The pain associated with allergies can prevent people from enjoying life. But regular acupuncture treatments can help resolve that and allow people to be more active and happy.
Probably the biggest reason to seek out acupuncture for the treatment of allergies is the amount of money a person will save. People spend over $18 billion per year on over-the-counter allergy medications, most of which only give minimal relief and have side effects like drowsiness and immune system suppression. TCM can provide relief without adverse side effects and for a lot less money overall.