Author Archives: heather

The Importance of Sleep

Most people understand the importance of diet and exercise for overall health, but just as  important is getting enough good quality sleep. Even if you have a good diet and you exercise regularly, poor or insufficient sleep can bring about short and long term health consequences.  A minimum of seven hours of sleep for most people is recommended. If you are getting less then that, your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, obesity, depression and premature aging increases.

We often put sleep on the back burner because of all the other things that take up our time, but how often are those things actually more important than sleep? Have any of you ever found yourself up on the computer or your phone when you should be sleeping? When our bodies natural rhythms are out of whack we find ourselves tired during the day, and awake at night. We have to make an effort to break this cycle if we want to feel and function at our best.

One of the many benefits of acupuncture is its ability to regulate our sleep cycles. A preliminary report in 2004 found that in patients with anxiety, acupuncture increased nighttime melatonin production and increased overall sleep time. Acupuncture also reduces chronic pain, which is another common cause of insomnia. Without proper sleep it is more difficult to heal from chronic pain, and the cycle continues. Acupuncture has even been shown to improve sleep quality in people with no underlying health conditions. Furthermore, the side effects of acupuncture will be improved mood, digestion, reduced pain, and better overall energy levels.

Just like with any form of treatment, the key is to make sure you’re getting the minimum effective dose before you decide whether or not its working for you. I recommend at least 10 acupuncture treatments for most people. This will vary depending on the individual and how long the condition has been going on. In my experience, sleep is usually one of the first things to noticeably improve with a course of acupuncture treatment. In fact many people fall asleep during the treatment.

Besides acupuncture, I have found it extremely effective to prepare the body and mind for sleep ahead of time. One simple way to do this is to turn off your lights when the sun goes down. This is a good time to use a salt lamp. The blue light found in electronics will inhibit melatonin production and throw off your sleep cycle. So avoid or minimize using devices after sundown. Also make sure to expose yourself to sunlight when you first wake up in the morning. Open the shades and let the light in. When the light enters our eyes it triggers an endocrine response and gives us energy.

Focus on movement in the morning, and calmness in the evening, try to get your work done early on, so you won’t have to over stimulate yourself too much in the evening. Do these few things regularly and pretty soon you may find yourself actually being tired when its time
for bed, and getting up easily when its time to rise. More importantly you can expect to feel better physically and mentally.

–Jesse Andreas. L.Ac.

Spring is the Season of Failure

by Heather McIver, L.Ac

In most cultures above the equator, Spring is the season of new beginnings. Baby animals are born, seeds lying dormant underground begin pushing sprouts upward, trees begin to clothe their limbs in blooms. And with those vulnerable new beginnings come threats of failure. Hawks and snakes love young birds and bunnies; large rocks or burning sun can thwart young sprouts; a late frost can decimate a tree’s attempt at fruition.  And yet the plants and animals keep trying. Somehow, despite these threats to life, the tree doesn’t refuse to bloom and birds keep laying eggs.

If you pay attention, you may notice that for humans, spring brings new ideas, new excitement, outrageous projects. Spring fever is not just about romance…it also exemplifies that ascension of Qi that makes us feel invincible, as if we can accomplish anything. We relish the speed with which we can travel to work, the windows open to feel the warming air, our favorite music blaring, the bright colors of green and pink and white trees against the blue sky…spring awakens the senses and we feel connected to everyone and everything. Until we see the blue lights behind us and realize that in our ecstatic appreciation of the world, we let the speedometer creep to 80.

All of a sudden, all that expansive everything-is-perfect feeling drops with a thud into the pit of the stomach, curse words leap out of our mouths uncontrollably, and now the conversation in our head turns mean. “You idiot,” it says, as it runs through all the consequences this mistake will have.  When we are speeding along toward a goal, excited about new possibilities, there are inevitable failures along the way. Getting where we’re going requires us to become friendly with our failures.

Failure is part of the experience of being alive. It’s what happens the moment you engage with the world. As adults, many of us find ways to avoid failure as much as possible. Some of us choose to never take on anything we might not do perfectly. Instead, we spend our time changing channels on the TV, or we get competent at one thing and never bother to try anything new. Some of us try new things but then work so hard that we sacrifice our time, money, health and relationships to be sure we don’t fail.

Children, however, are very good at failure. They fall down. They get up. They drop the ball, they pick it up. They fail to get your attention, they scream louder. They don’t attach any significance to failure, they just keep pushing on.

I wish I remembered the exact moment at which I made failure mean something. At some point—maybe around age 8 or 10 or 13—missing the mark went from “oops, missed. I’ll try again.” To “OMG, I’m stupid!  I can’t do anything! I’ll mess up everything I ever do and die miserable and alone!”

It’s so easy to take our failures as something definitive of our very personhood. “I can’t dance/ sing/ draw/ act…I’m not any good at that.”  What you really mean is that you tried to dance/sing/draw/act once and you got some feedback that didn’t feel very good, and in your attempt to never feel that particular way again, you resolved to forevermore avoid the catalyst for that feedback.  But what if, like children, we allowed ourselves a good cry and then danced again anyway?

Pema Chodron gave a speech at Naropa Institute in 2014 when her granddaughter was graduating. She borrowed a quote from Samuel Beckett who said, “Fail! Fail Again! Fail Better!”  She said learning how to be with failure was perhaps the most important life lesson to learn. In her usual soft manner, she encourages us to “get curious” about how it feels to fail. She reminds us not to admonish ourselves too much, not to blame others too much, not to drown the bad feelings in food or drugs or alcohol—but to sit with them and observe how they move and sway and come and go. To let them be there. Only in the recognition of something’s presence can you actually let it go.

She describes her first meeting with her Buddhist teacher*. Her second marriage had just ended in divorce. She said, “My life is over. I have hit the bottom. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”

He said, “Well, it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you down. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea.”

If you are walking into the ocean, you will get knocked down sometimes. It’s nothing personal. It’s not particularly noble. And maybe some wonderful insight will come from having sand in your face…or maybe not. It’s just what the ocean does. Success and failure is what life does.

So when your kid doesn’t make it on the team, or your best friend doesn’t get the promotion she worked so hard for, don’t try to be helpful. Don’t suggest what they could do better next time or feed into malicious gossip about the person who did succeed. Don’t try to problem-solve or to cheer them up. Instead, allow them the freedom to be in pain. You can say, “I’m so sorry, I know you are disappointed.”  Be the space in which they can let the sadness, anger, resentment, self-pity wash over and through them. Given space, these emotions will move out of their own accord.

Just like a tree will send out blooms again, we all have an innate desire to move forward in life – to create – to make a difference. That desire has its own momentum. Once we can get our minds out of the way, it will take over. It will pull us off the ocean floor and point us in the direction of the horizon.

* Chodron, Pema. (2015). Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better.  Sounds True, Inc. pp 77-79. 

 

 

A Soggy Envrionment

by Jesse Andreas, L.Ac.

If you’ve ever seen an acupuncturist, you may have heard them mention the concept of dampness. Dampness in Chinese medicine is a causative factor of disease. In my experience, it’s a universal epidemic in present day America.

Let’s examine what the term dampness means. Imagine the earth after a pounding rain. The ground is soggy, slowing movement. Unless there is sufficient sunlight to evaporate the water, that muddy mess can linger for days.

In the body, dampness is basically anything that the sunshine of your body, your metabolism, can’t fully process or eliminate. The most basic examples would be highly processed artificial foods, refined sugar and carbohydrates, processed dairy, alcohol, as well as chemicals and preservatives. Even when we eat healthy food, we sometimes lack the enzymes, stomach acid, or peristalsis (the energy that moves food through the digestive tract) needed to digest properly. This can create excess dampness, and we are left feeling heavy, sluggish, slow-thinking or swollen.

Chinese medicine doesn’t distinguish between mind and body the way Western medicine does, so we can also understand unprocessed emotions as a cause of dampness. If situations we experience are too much to process in the moment, they get stored away and can become sludgy and stagnant.

We are inundated with thousands of visual images each day, which require processing, and can deplete our energy, creating more dampness. Whatever hasn’t been transformed, processed, or eliminated will become dampness, and when dampness accumulates over time, it can appear in any number of symptoms or diseases. Excess dampness can manifest as sinus congestion, mucous, snoring and sleep apnea, fungal and urinary tract infections, nausea, loose stools, swelling, excessive weight gain, fatigue, sluggishness, or brain fog.

Dampness may show itself on the tongue as a thin or thick coating that cannot be brushed off, or a swollen tongue body, with toothmarks along the edges. Excess dampness will slow down the body’s Qi, impeding the function of the organs, and thereby continuing a vicious cycle, causing more dampness and more organ deficiency.

With conventional medical treatment a person with symptoms relating to dampness may be labeled with several chronic diseases and be prescribed pharmaceutical medications. The medications themselves can create more dampness, causing unwanted side effects.

You can prevent or eliminate dampness and the consequent health problems it creates by utilizing acupuncture, herbal medicine, moxibustion, and by following dietary and lifestyle principles laid out in Chinese medical theory.

In the same way our houses are always getting dirty simply because we live in them, dampness is always accumulating. It’s only when we lack the energy needed to clean at the rate the dirt is accumulating that we have a problem.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine are like having a team to help you clean your house. They also provide strategies on how to not excessively dirty it up. It takes energy to clean up a mess. If we are not generating more energy than we need to spend to keep it clean and organized, disease conditions will develop.

Whether you utilize Chinese medicine or not, we all need a plan for how we manage and preserve our health, otherwise we are leaving it to chance. It’s like expecting to retire financially secure without a retirement plan. A proactive healthcare plan can utilize acupuncture, herbal medicine, moxibustion, exercise, eating a diverse diet of real food, yoga, meditation, and other stress relieving practices. And as much as possible, minimizing exposure to toxins.

Having a regular healthcare routine can provide the physical and mental resources to prevent symptoms of dampness-related illness.

Aligning with the Seasons: Winter to Spring

by Debby Jennings, L.Ac.

As I sit on this rainy and blustery day, I ponder Spring……….the season and the Five Element correspondences.  This past year has been my first at Stillpoint.  It has been a great year, filled with both challenges and rewards I didn’t know were possible.  I began this journey with a ‘wait and see’ attitude.  Over the year I have come to know many of you and am so delighted to be a part of this journey with you.  As with life, the more we ‘practice’ our trade, the more we learn AND the more questions we tend to have.  As I embark on this year, I have closed some doors and wait for a brief time before closing other ones which have outlived their potential to create joy and inspiration for me.  The journey with Chinese medicine continues to inspire me and push me deeper into the study of this ancient form of healing.

This winter has been a challenge for many of us with the bitter cold.  My garden was decimated by this harsh winter and I am forced to visit the grocer for my normal yard food.  By February each year, I can hardly stand one more minute of cold and dark.  I want to push the spring into NOW.  The wind stirs things up, bringing an impatience to be outside, to get my hands in the dirt and to spring into new growth.

Spring is associated with the Wood element in Five Element acupuncture.  It is ‘green’, the taste of ‘sour’, ‘wind’, the sound of ‘shout’, the smell of rancid, the emotion of both benevolence and frustration/anger, the pushy movement of growth upward and forward.

For those who either have their ‘home-base’ in Wood or who have a good deal of ‘wood’ in their temperament we understand frustration and anger.  Anger gets a ‘bad’ rap in our culture.  It seems to be either everywhere or covered over with the ‘genteel teaching of being nice’.  Anger is a moving energy……….taking us out of our stuck-ness and darkness and bringing opportunities for new growth.

If we ignore these opportunities, we fall into depression and desolation.  If we can learn to navigate the difficult feelings of frustration and anger, looking deep within ourselves, we can see the place we need to grow toward.  We are like trees, standing upright and yearning to move toward the light.  If our forest is too heavily populated, we may have ‘leaners’ weighing us down, holding us back.  If we are too solitary, we risk destruction by wind and harsh storms.  Isn’t it true in life also?  We need to find our place of balance and the things/people/places and activities which nourish us and help us to grow into wiser humans.

In these last weeks of winter, take time to ponder the direction of your growth for this coming year.  Do you need to spend more time near the water or in the woods?  Do you need to move more or rest more?  How will you begin to get a handle on your stress and life’s demands?  How can you ask your companions on this ‘yellow brick road’ to help, or to give you time for solitude, or to share the burdens and the joys?  One of my favorite things is a bit of art by Mary Engelbreit entitled “Don’t Look Back”.  It reminds me of Dorothy on her journey to Oz.  The girl in the picture is at a fork in the road.  The sign for one direction says “No longer an option” and in the other direction “Your Life”.  The girl has her bundle over her shoulder, suitcase in one hand and is striding solidly forward down the path to her new life.

Each spring beckons us to push forward to new life and new growth.  Use this Wood energy of spring to help propel you forward.  As the days lengthen and the weather warms, eat dandelion, chickweed and wild violets to clear the Liver from heavy foods (be sure they are coming from a yard not poisoned by chemicals).  Drink kombucha and lemon water.  Move more and sit less.  Go outside to ‘play’ and lie down on the earth to infuse your body with the energy of Spring.  And take whatever steps you need to grow in whatever direction you deem best for yourself.  We are here to support you on the journey.

Acupuncture: Consistency Required

by Jesse Andreas, L.Ac.

With any endeavor in life, the road to success has two critical elements: a system that works, and the willingness follow the system for long enough to get the results we are looking for. If we intend to follow a diet for weight loss, we need an effective program, and we need to stick with it long enough to see results. Finding the road that leads to our destination is essential, but it is not enough; we must keep moving along that road until we arrive.
     For thousands of years, acupuncture has proven itself to be an effective system of health care, treating not only pain, but many other health conditions as well. The most common reason someone does not attain the results they are looking for is that they do not receive treatment often enough, or for a long enough period of time to receive the full benefit of acupuncture. We should adhere to the course of treatment recommended by the practitioner.
     Most of us have been prescribed antibiotics at some point in our lives. The doctor instructed us to follow a complete course of treatment, to take the pills every day for 10 days, even after we felt better. This ensured the results would last. If we took the pills for a day or two, then stopped because we felt better, we may expect the sickness to return. This does not mean that the medicine was ineffective, it means we didn’t use it properly. The same applies to acupuncture. In order to achieve lasting results we need to follow through with a full course of treatment. The course of treatment will vary depending on the condition being treated, and the patient’s overall state of health.
     The effects of acupuncture treatments are cumulative, with each successive treatment building on the one before it. Often after a treatment, a patient will report that they felt relief for a few days, and then their symptoms started to return. This means the treatments are working, and acupuncture is a viable treatment option for them. The next step is to make sure that they get enough treatments, in an appropriate time span in order for their bodies to fully heal.
     The more treatments they get, the more the severity of symptoms will lessen; they will experience more symptom-free days, until they reach the point where their body is strong enough to heal completely. Chronic conditions do not develop overnight, and they take some time to reverse. The goal is a result that lasts, not a temporary relieving of symptoms.
     In China, acupuncture is performed with much greater frequency than in America. Patients in China may get acupuncture every day or every other day for several weeks and successfully achieve lasting results. In American culture this is not always practical, so patients usually get treatment once or twice per week. This method still produces results, it just may take a bit longer.
     As a general rule, we should be prepared to allow one month of regular treatment for every year we have been dealing with the condition. We want patients to approach their treatment with realistic expectations, and that rarely means complete healing in two or three visits.
     This is truly an amazing medical modality. Acupuncture safely and effectively deals with many health conditions we face today, and it is our sincere hope that all who can be helped by this medicine are able to make proper use of it.