Category Archives: Lifestyle

General advice for better health

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.

Why we Do what we Do…stories of healing with Chinese Medicine

We see a lot of people come through the doors at Stillpoint Acupuncture. The vast majority of the time, they leave feeling better than when they came in. Sometimes, people say, “I feel better just sitting in the waiting room!”  We intentionally try to create a space in which you don’t have to do anything or be on guard. You can simply be. And once you can have that experience, your body often takes care of the rest with a few simple suggestions in the form of needles or herbs.
We get asked a lot, “Does acupuncture really work?” or “What kinds of things can you treat with acupuncture?”  For our practitioners, these questions can be difficult because we spend our days doing our best to be sure acupuncture works for all kinds of different symptoms. Because it’s human nature to focus on our failures rather than our successes, sometimes we forget that we are actually making a difference in people’s lives.  So here are several case studies shared by our practitioners and by our patients themselves. We hope this helps shed light on what we do everyday!
Tinnitus 
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is often associated with hearing loss, and
can be very difficult to live with. There are often little or no treatment options available, and patients will often be told to learn to live with it. If you suffer from this condition consider Chinese medicine, which has been shown in certain cases to be effective for relief, or to slow down progression of certain cases of tinnitus and hearing loss.
I recently treated a patient who had tinnitus and hearing loss in one ear for a few months following a bad head cold and a round of antibiotics. After a few treatments with acupuncture, the tinnitus had reduced from about an 8 out of 10 to a 3 out of 10, and general mood improved.
Even in Chinese medicine, tinnitus can be difficult to treat, but there are
options available that may help. 
Jesse Andreas, L.Ac.
Dizziness
I have Meniere’s Disease, which is an inner ear problem that, in addition to hearing loss, can cause bouts of extreme vertigo, or dizziness.  My hearing specialist had nothing to recommend.  I began acupuncture after several months of unpredictable episodes of dizziness which kept me from work and travel.  Life was very much circumscribed by this issue.  With acupuncture, (and diet changes) I began to see a steady improvement.  After about two months, I had my life back again!  I am very grateful to Jesse for his skillful and caring treatment and for the gift of health again.
Anonymous
Cosmetic Acupuncture
A 42 year-old woman comes requesting facial rejuvenation acupuncture to diminish wrinkles and lines on her face.   She also has outbreaks of acne associated to stress and her menstrual cycle. We began a 12 week series of cupping and acupuncture on her face, supported by distal body points.  By the end of week 2, the lines on her forehead were disappearing.  At week 4, the lines around her mouth were disappearing.  At week 8, most of the lines around her upper lip have disappeared as well.
 Facial rejuvenation acupuncture is a  weekly series of facial cupping and needles for 12 weeks, then a break for 3-4 months with a second series.  The treatment process will need to be repeated once yearly after this in order to remain effective.  Acupuncture facilitates the flow of blood and Qi to the face and neck, strengthening the skin and toning the fascia for a more youthful appearance.
   Debby Jennings, L.Ac.
Anxiety
Anxiety is a very common problem among people of all ages.  Often we do not realize we have it until things change and we recognize that we feel better.  Acupuncture can assist in easing and can even completely remove anxiety.
Here are three examples:
  • Young woman with situational anxiety related to a project she has undertaken.  She had a great deal of performance anxiety because she had to learn a new skill quickly.   Acupuncture and ear seeds on ear points helped to transform the performance anxiety enabling her to perform with a great deal of ease.
  • A middle age man with severe anxiety and inability to sleep through the night came for acupuncture.  A combination of clearing treatments, scalp acupuncture and ear seeds have reduced the anxiety and enabled him to sleep through the night without interruption.  After only a few treatments, he commented he has not slept so well in years.
  • A young woman came in after a medical procedure.   She  complained of fear and anxiety related to the process.  A combination of yintang, scalp acupuncture and ear seeds left her feeling completely relaxed.
Debby Jennings, L.Ac.
  
Pregnancy Care
Justine came in for treatment with acupuncture and herbal medicine after 2 years of fertility treatments resulted in two miscarriages in less than a year, one at nine weeks and one at three weeks.  She had had a baby four years earlier but had difficulty conceiving a second child.  About two years after she had her first child she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism.
She also suffered from restless sleep, disturbed by anxiety, often waking her four times a night feeling hot and sweaty.  She described her energy during the day as sluggish with a dip after lunch but she felt like she was running on adrenaline during her work week. Her RA affected different joints at different times with red joints that were hot to the touch and worse in humid weather.
Her menstrual cycle had lengthened since she began taking Synthroid lasting 29-31 days between periods.  Her periods themselves were long, lasting seven days with heavy bleeding three of those days with dark red blood clots.
I diagnosed Justine with a shortage of cooling, moistening energy leading to heat in her body, heat in the blood and qi stagnation.  Based on her description I diagnosed the cause of her two miscarriages as blood heat.
Five and a half weeks after she first received acupuncture and herbs at our clinic to help cool the blood and nourish fluids, she had an intrauterine insemination procedure and became pregnant.  We adjusted her herbs throughout her pregnancy to support the pregnancy while also, at various times, alleviating morning sickness, treating colds, and supporting healthy sleep.
Justine delivered a happy, healthy baby girl at 39 weeks.
Christi De Larco, L.Ac.
Headaches
I started acupuncture at Stillpoint about 4 months ago.  I have struggled with headaches and neck pain for about 40 years.  I suffered with a headache almost every day with differing severity of the pain and had been taking prescription medicine for the headaches for YEARS.  The headaches and neck pain had affected my life.  I was missing out on fun activities, work and events with family.  I could easily end up with a migraine and be in bed for a day or two and even had a few hospital visits.
In the last 4 months, I have had maybe 3 headaches.  Christi De Larco has helped me with pain and stress management so much.  Before the session begins, she asks a lot of questions – how am I sleeping; bathroom habits; body temperature; water intake and so forth.  Not only does this give her the data she needs for her treatment of me, but it has made me more mindful of my health.  I take note of how I slept and what was different.  (I now realize that I don’t sleep well and don’t feel as well if I eat Chinese or Mexican food for dinner.)  I drink more water because I know Christi is going to ask me about my water intake.  Same goes for vegetables!
Christi seems to truly care about my health, sleep, stress level and overall wellness.  She provides suggestions on certain stretches that will help my neck; reminds me to make my meals 50% veggies and encourages me to keep exercising.  I have recommended Stillpoint to several of my friends for chronic pain and stress management.  It has truly changed my life for the better.
CS
Gallbladder inflammation
A 35 year-old woman came in during a “gallbladder attack.” Her doctors were recommending surgery.  When asked her specific symptoms, she complained of nausea and inability to eat. She experienced pain every time she ate with acid reflux and significant abdominal bloating and constipation. After evaluating her signs and symptoms, I decided this was a fairly straightforward case and prescribed a common herb formula . Within one week, she was basically back to normal. She took another week of the pills to consolidate the effects. Over the next few months, she had one minor recurrence and took the herbs again. Now, two years later, the symtpoms have not returned and she has never needed surgery.
Heather McIverL.Ac.
Urinary Issues
63 year-old woman complaining of feeling heavy, constipation, congestion in nose and sinuses. During the intake it was discovered she was recently having some distention sensations in the lower belly and her urination seemed incomplete. She seemed to have the urge to go frequently, but with scanty volume.  She was given an acupuncture treatment and an herbal formula.  Within two doses of the herbs,  the urinary symptoms began improving and after one week, the constipation and sinus congestion had also improved.  She felt “back to normal” after 10 days.
                                Heather McIverL.Ac.

 

Perspective: The Gift of Chinese Medicine     

As you can see from testimonials and our post “Why We Do What We Do,” Chinese Medicine can offer relief and hope for people with a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms. And yet, it has become very clear over the past couple of months is that Chinese Medicine also offers something which can be equally as healing: a new perspective.
With it’s emphasis on taking action at the appropriate times and maintaining balance among opposing forces, CM reminds us that we don’t have to be moving all the time. Mary Saunders’ lovely little book, “Rhythms of Change,” describes how Chinese Medicine can inform and direct different phases of life. Adjusting our outlook, activities and energies to align with the seasons is one of the foundational tenets of Chinese Medicine.  It’s this perspective that I find so life-changing for those of us steeped in the current culture of “never-let-up, work harder, no matter what.”
Too many people have come in lately burdened by impossible expectations set by themselves and others. A stay-at-home mom exhausting herself with volunteer commitments, corporate employees being asked to work 12 hour days even through the holidays, folks pushing themelves to meet expectations of extended family. Winter is exactly the time to politely decline these invitations to over-extend ourselves.  The earth’s energy and ours is moving down and in now. While it’s natural to be more engaged and outgoing in Spring and Summer, doing so now is contrary to your body’s natural inclination. Too much work in the winter prevents the body from restoring itself and can lead to fatigue, illness and what some like to call “adrenal burnout.”
Use this season to re-evaluate how much you push yourself past your mental and physical limits.  In the long run, who is this serving? Take advantage of the cold weather to pull inward, conserve your energy and look deeply to decide what tasks you perform are truly necessary and/or energy-giving and which are simply too draining.
Following the same principle Marie Kondo presents in her bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” ask yourself if the tasks, jobs, people to which you give energy  “Spark Joy?” If not, consider eliminating or down-sizing them. If you’re in a job you don’t enjoy, but feel dependent on it for income, find joy in the money it provides or a co-worker you have fun with. If it’s the house-cleaning that makes you crazy or the numerous social engagements on nights you’d rather stay in with a book…ask yourself which of those are truly necessary and which can be postponed or hired out or ignored altogether.
The bottom line is that rest and relaxation is important. It’s OK to do nothing sometimes. You don’t need to apologize for it. Only by taking a step back can the sculptor see what she’s creating.  Only by pulling nutrients down into the roots and sacrificing a few smaller branches can the tree survive winter to bloom passionately again in spring.

Working with Fear and Pain

Winter is the season associated with introspection, slowing down and conserving resources. It is also the season associated with the emotion fear. Some of us know well the anxiety which arises the minute we stop DOING something. What we are forgetting in that moment is the importance of rest and recovery.

Nature knows how to rest and how to trust. As the tree pulls it’s life-giving sap into it’s roots in cold weather, it is allowing for the possibility that some of its twigs and branches may be sacrificed in winter storms. As bears go into hibernation and frogs literally freeze during winter months, they do so with some innate knowledge that winter won’t last forever.

That time of darkness can be scary. To survive winter requires a certain amount of faith that spring’s thaw will indeed come again. While NC winters aren’t typically harsh, there are those ice storms that lock us inside for several days, sometimes without power or phones. Some people appreciate these days as a forced method to “unplug.” For some, the prospect of being alone without modern distractions leaves us feeling vulnerable. And for others, these days are physically dangerous–leaving us without heat and the ability to cook food.

Alone with our thoughts and discomforts, we might have to face difficult feelings of fear, anger, grief or shame.  Even without ice storms, we may have experiences or circumstances which leave us feeling trapped, frightened, vulnerable. Something happens and we are left frozen in a state of panic. We know we need to move in some direction, but can’t see how we can possibly take that first step. Obviously, rectifying a threatening physical situation is the first order of business. But what do we do when the pain is not life-threatening but extremely uncomfortable?

Teachers like Pema Chodron and Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasize the importance of giving our undivided attention to both physical pain and difficult emotions. Our natural tendency is to resist discomfort…to want to push it away. But just like a two year-old wanting your attention, the physical and emotional pain you ignore only cries louder. Sometimes just picking up the child is enough to quiet her down.  Similarly, looking directly into the fear or acknowledging the pain is sometimes enough to calm it to manageable levels.

To do this, mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat Zinn suggests beginning with deep breathing followed by a body scan type of meditation. The idea is to allow yourself to actually feel what you are feeling, including difficult feelings like emotional and physical pain, fear and anger.

Similarly, in her book Walking the Walk, Pema Chodron offers an exercise with the acronym FEAR:

Find the feeling in your body. Locate the pain or difficult emotion. Where is it exactly in your body? What does it feel like? What color is it? Does it have a shape? Does it have any words?

Embrace the feeling. Treat that pain or fear or anger or grief the way you would treat a crying baby…with compassion and kindness. With an acceptance of the upset and a loving embrace.

Allow the thoughts that surround the upset to begin to dissipate. Don’t try to avoid them, don’t shame yourself for having those thoughts. Simply acknowledge that they exist, but let them fade into the background.  Continue to notice where the discomfort is, what it feels like and how it changes as you focus on it with loving attention.  How does it change when you stop giving credence to the thoughts and meaning surrounding the sensation of discomfort?

Remember others who might be experiencing similar pains or fears or difficulties. Pain and suffering are human experiences. Although our particular grief or anger feels unique to us, chances are there are thousands of others around the world feeling very much the same way we are feeling. In your mind, send those anonymous others your empathy, your compassion, and your hopes that thier suffering will be lifted.

Further Resources:

You can here more about this practice from Pema Chodron.

Local Quaker minister, SaraBeth Terrell, also offers this guided practice.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s guided meditation for physical pain.

If you just need a laugh along with some scientific reasons that doing these kinds of exercises might actually help real pain, listen to Lorimer Moseley’s Why Things Hurt. In this short TED talk, Moseley discusses what’s happening in the brain when we feel physical pain. He explains why it is that we continue to feel pain–sometimes even severe pain–after the injury to our body is healed.

Finally, if you need some help, community acupuncture is a great way to turn inward without being alone. In a room with other people all intent on healing, you can receive acupuncture treatments designed to calm that “fight or flight” response. You can practice these techniques inwardly while under the compassionate care of a practitioner and commumity who are committed to nuturing your best self.

— Heather McIver, LAc

Aligning with Winter

Winter time in Chinese medicine is when yin is plentiful relative to yang. Yin is cool, dark, inward, still, as opposed to yang which is warm, light, outward, and active. Winter is about conserving and storing energy. After the harvest in the fall, perennial plants must rest and replenish over the winter, so that they will not become depleted and will be productive again in the spring.

 

This is also how we should regard our bodies and minds in the winter.  The emphasis is on conserving, storing, and replenishing our energy for the upcoming year ahead. Some things we can do during winter to live according to the seasons are:

  • Rest more. Go to bed earlier and get up later. Sleep deprivation can tax our immune system and lead to illness. In winter we need even more sleep.
  • Focus on quieter activities like reading or meditating. Exercise is great of course, but don’t overdo it in winter.
  • Eat foods that are highly nourishing and in season, such as root vegetables, potatoes, squashes, winter greens, red and black beans, high protein meats, and hearty vegetable soups.
  • Eat more bone broth. Winter in Chinese medicine is the time that corresponds to the kidneys, and the kidneys govern the bones. Bone broth not only makes your bones strong and healthy, but it boosts our immune systems, reduces inflammation, and heals the digestive system. Its one of the most beneficial substances we can consume for health and longevity. You can find it in the soup section of your local health food store.
  • Minimize stimulation. During winter we should talk less, spend less time on the computer or watching TV, and in general conserve our physical, mental and even sexual energy. Doing so will allow us to have more resources available for the exciting growth and productivity that begins in the Spring.

All of these things will help nourish the kidneys–the root of life–and allow you to live a long and healthy life, say the ancients.  Living according to the seasons can help prevent health problems before they arise.

–Jesse Andreas, L.Ac.

Working