Category Archives: Lifestyle

General advice for better health

More than Just Needles

I am coming upon the completion of my first full year as a licensed acupuncturist. As a relatively new practitioner, I spent a large part of this first year trying to attract new patients. Toward that end, I have participated in health expos and conducted seminars with the intention of educating the public about this form of health care. At many of these events, I would give brief treatments.

Of course there were many people with the usual reservations: fear of needles, wondering if the needles hurt, etc. Usually, the first half of the health care events would find me sitting alone and ignored at my booth, until the first brave soul decided to try acupuncture. Once the first patient was settled in, people would crowd around with curiosity until I was busy treating and educating.

For practicality, I would use only ear acupuncture for these “sample” treatments. The protocol I used was called the “NADA” protocol which is simply a selection of 5 points on each ear designed to reduce stress and calm the sympathetic nervous system. This type of ear acupuncture is often used in addiction and detox programs, as well as trauma clinics after natural disasters. The ear points provide an almost instant sense of relief and relaxation.

I was happy to witness the effects of these treatments as each newcomer became visibly calm. As the patients sat side by side receiving treatments, they would begin to socialize and share experiences. They would soon open up about ailments and their dissatisfaction with their previous healthcare experiences. Also, the more people began to communicate, the more new people wanted to try a treatment. It seemed that once they overcame the initial fear of needles (or whatever was holding them back) they realized that they enjoyed the experience. This sequence of events reminded me that one of the biggest impediments to my profession is the trepidation of the public to try something new. However, the satisfaction of those who were brave enough to try this gentle form of medicine impressed upon me the importance of continuing to educate and encourage people to try acupuncture.

It was clear from these experiences with the public that there are many who want to take the leap toward having more control of their health and their lives. This principle would extend further, into our ear acupuncture clinic at Stillpoint, and with my private patients. I found that people new to acupuncture are doing more than experimenting–they are looking for an adjunct to the healthcare methods that they have been using. They want to be heard and they want their personal experiences considered when making decisions about their health. They want to educate themselves more, and they are ready to heal. Seeing this has brought me a great deal of satisfaction, and excitement about contributing to their efforts.

At the completion of my first year of practice, I feel lucky to have been able to help these new patients on this path. I thought I knew the benefits that acupuncture could offer, but I am pleasantly surprised to see the personal empowerment that comes from people being willing to step outside their comfort zone and take responsibility for their own health.

 Jason Trakas, L.Ac.

Meditation for Fall

Autumn is the time when all of Nature begins to simplify, separating what is summer’s finery from what is needed to survive the winter. Our meditation practice can be simplified as well, giving us little sips of mental nourishment to sustain us.

At the beginning of my journey with yoga, my teacher did two things in class that I found so nourishing I carried them into my own classes when I began teaching. One was to read Mary Oliver’s poetry during Savasana; the other was guiding us in The Ten Breaths as described by Thich Naht Hahn. She told us that this technique is often used to teach meditation to young boys entering the monastic life. If it’s simple and effective enough to momentarily tame 10-year-old boys, it has real power.

Take time to settle yourself into a comfortable seated or reclining position. Use pillows and rolled blankets to prop and bolster knees, neck, and any other areas that need support. Cover yourself warmly, eliminating physical discomforts as much as you can, then accepting any leftover minor discomforts in a friendly fashion. “Hey, uncomfortable shoulder. Let’s try to relax together, shall we?”

If you haven’t the time to settle in this way, the breath work will still be valuable- at your desk, waiting in a carpool line, etc.

The following statements may not ring true, but we’ll say them anyway by way of setting our intention, affirming what is possible.  I indicates what our mind says silently when inhaling; E, what it says silently when exhaling. It’s common to lose track, find that thoughts have interrupted your flow- but you can pick back up anytime. It’s your practice, there is no right or wrong, you get an infinite number of do-overs.

 

I I know that I’m inhaling

E I know that I’m exhaling

I Inhale

E Exhale

I I know that I breathe deeply

E I know that I breathe slowly

I Deep

E Slow

I I breathe calmness into my body (imagine Calm as a substance in the air)

E I breathe with ease

I Calm

E Ease

I I smile to my body (a soft smile releases facial tension)

E I release all tension (the rest of the body can learn from the face)

I Smile

E Release

I I dwell in the present moment

E I know this is a wonderful moment

I Present moment

E Wonderful moment

Sometimes having something for the mind to “say” helps override the other chatter in our heads, and we can begin reaping the benefits of meditation.

Melissa Peet, practice manager

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.