Six Steps for Dealing with Stress

Stress

Stress by Becky Wetherington www.flickr.com/photos/macbeck/

Of all the factors in modern life that degrade our health, stress is probably the greatest one. Whether it’s traffic, money problems, scheduling, family or societal expectations, we constantly need help with stress reduction, even if you’re the calmest person outside of a meditation hall. Rather than yell at someone or eat too much dessert, consider trying some of these offerings:

1. Eat regular meals, preferably three. Three sit-down, hot meals would be perfect, maybe even with your family. I know this can be difficult for many with a busy lifestyle but it’s worth the change. Lack of food can be as much a stressor as too much food while the stress relief of having a healthy ritual that allows you to relax, improve your digestive function and relate to your family or friends is golden.

2. Sleep eight hours a night on the same schedule. Deviating occasionally is not a problem, but erratic sleep schedules and chronic sleep deprivation can be a serious problem.

3. Take time to relax. Having a busy job is one thing, never taking time to relax away from phone, computer and constant work is another. This should be daily and weekly with occasional trips to the beach, mountains, wilderness, etc…

4. Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs can reduce stress. Acupuncture is great at relieving those tight muscles at the shoulders and lower back that come from overwork. Internal stress, with symptoms like slightly elevated blood pressure, irritability and difficulty in focusing, can be helped with both herbs and Acupuncture, by supporting the “rest and digest” aspect of the nervous system.

5. Qigong (pronounced chee- gong) is a chinese form of exercise that has been practiced for centuries to reduce stress, among other things. Qigong is a little like Yoga, but it is much easier for the average person to do. The story from China is that qigong was created by Bodhidharma, the same monk who brought buddhism to China from India and is credited as the creator of Zen buddhism.

6. As the Buddha once said: “Focus.”* Be present with your stress, your job, your family, your joys, your frustrations. Allowing yourself to be distracted with another project when you should be finishing a presentation for your boss won’t get either done faster. Thinking about work when you’re spending time with family will just fill your down time with stress. Stay present and take care of what is in front of you; everything will work itself out.

See how these six help you with your stress and let me know what happens!

*The Buddha didn’t actually say that.

Seasonal Affect Disorder

An article on Seasonal Affect Disorder might seem a little late, since the days are getting longer and we are all looking forward to Spring and, soon after, Summer. Truth is that the lack of sun can get us down, especially in Portland and Seattle where we get plenty of overcast sky for nine months of the year.

Chinese Medicine places us in the context of nature where the cycle of the seasons means everything. We’re supposed to bundle up in the Fall because our immune system isn’t ready for the cold weather – this is why flu season starts in the Fall. It’s also important to keep warm in the Winter because our bodies expend a lot of energy keeping us warm when it’s cold out. When it’s cold, our immune system doesn’t have as much energy to defend the body as it does in the Summer. It’s even worse in modern times because we don’t sleep that extra time in the Winter anymore. Do you know anyone who sleeps at sunset and wakes at dawn? Me neither.

Chinese Medicine supports seasonal eating as well. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables in the Summer is great, but if you eat the same thing in Winter (shipped from California or Chile) that’s going to be a whole lot of cold to dampen your digestive fire, which may be in short supply because of the cold weather outside. Better to eat colder food in the Summer and warmer food in the Winter like soups and broths. Eat your vegetables and fruits cooked in the Winter – the nutrients are more bio-available this way anyway!

If you’re not feeling well this time of year (and especially in the darkest of December) spend more time outside and get a happy light (full spectrum light). Since we don’t get enough sun in the Winter, you still might want to take some Vitamin D until the sun visits us again on a regular basis. Yes, we are a thoroughly modern society, but nature and the seasons still effect us; let’s stay healthy!

The Three Essential Building Blocks for Health

Get at least eight hours of sleep. If one of your complaints is fatigue, exhaustion or something similar your body is telling you that you need sleep. Go to bed early or sleep in if you need more than eight hours.

Eat three meals of healthy food per day, including sitting down for your (preferably hot) meals. If you avoid any foods, make sure you tell your acupuncturist this, because this can indicate a digestive weakness that can be improved upon.

Get some moderate exercise. If you are not feeling well, make the exercise mild or skip it. I recommend Qigong because I teach it. If you can’t find Qigong; yoga, cycling to work or classes at the gym will work. If you walk for exercise but still have significant challenges (such as weight issues, blood pressure or other medical issues) consider seeing an Acupuncturist or other medical professional. If you are constantly wearing yourself out with daily exercise, consider why and how you can change it.

These might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t have good sleep, food or exercise in their regular routine.

Balancing Hormones During Menopause: Questions and Answers

Can Acupuncture help with hormonal balancing during menopause?

Yes, Acupuncture can help with hormonal balancing during menopause and at other stages of life as well. Some of the symptoms we treat are hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia, decreased libido, anxiety, irritability, weight gain, and memory loss. Chinese Medicine, which includes acupuncture, uses a unique diagnostic system and many treatment methods in addition to Acupuncture, including Herbs, Exercise (called Qigong), dietary and lifestyle changes.

 

How does Chinese Medicine look at menopause?

Chinese Medicine was invented 2000 years ago, some even say closer to 5000 years…. As you might imagine, they saw things differently. The chinese saw menopause as part of the continuum of a healthy life, one of many changes throughout life, including puberty and parenthood. Andropause is different, which some people call male menopause, but it is also seen as part of the healthy continuum of life. Menopause is not a disease, it is just a change in our hormonal makeup. Women don’t need to put that energy into fertility and menstruation any longer; they are free to use that energy in other ways.

 

Since you say menopause is a healthy and normal part of a woman’s life why seek treatment? 

Many people say this to me: they don’t need to see a doctor OR an Acupuncturist for menopause because it is a natural change and intervention is not really needed. I agree with this, except to point out that Chinese Medicine is all about preventative, beneficial approaches which can help balance, relax and sustain us even absent acute problems. So if you’re suffering with symptoms from menopause such as foggy thinking or fatigue, this is caused by an imbalance. We can help with that, it will make you feel better and you might even live a longer healthier life.

We’ve heard some negatives about hormone replacement therapy (such as cardiovascular and cancer risks, osteoporosis), but Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs rarely present significant side-effects, unlike conventional medicine.

Let me explain a little further.

Throughout our lives, imbalances can occur, whether it is as a result of injuries, like a car accident or a pulled muscle, or as a result of normal changes, like puberty or menopause. When we see these things, Chinese Medicine uses a few different approaches to help people get better. One of the primary tools we use in hormonal balancing is called Yin and Yang. This is a lot like the philosophical idea of yin and yang we see in that pictograph with the two tadpoles chasing each other in a circle. The idea here is that we are grouping symptoms, hormones and functions into two opposing camps, then we are seeking balance between these two. Yin and yang is dark versus light, female versus male, wet versus dry, heavy versus light, cool versus hot and so forth. We need both yin and yang, but the important thing is that they remain in balance.

An example of a yin imbalance would be a standard menopausal symptom: hot flashes and night sweats. Around 75% of women in America experience hot flashes during menopause. The heat here shows a lack of Yin, a lack of the cooling properties, so it gives us an idea of how to approach these symptoms clinically. We would prescribe cooling but nutritive herbs and foods and take a similar approach of cooling and nourishing with acupuncture.

The opposite symptom picture for us would be a person who is cold all of the time, with cold hands and feet, and is fatigued. This shows a lack of Yang, a lack of heat in the body. We would tend to prescribe warming and energizing herbs and foods, such as red meat, and cooked meals with spicy, warming herbs.

So, just to summarize, menopause wasn’t viewed as negatively as modern Americans view it, but as just a normal, healthy life change that sometimes presents the challenge of imbalance.

 

Are there any differences between menopause in traditional China and in modern life? Is menopause worse for modern people? 

In traditional cultures where aging brings power and status to women, women have tended to experience few if any symptoms of menopause. Perhaps they also know more natural ways to keep their lives balanced. Our modern lifestyles include incredible technologies and advancements but have also brought a lot of stress and emotional blocks, increased toxicity, many illnesses and, in this country, poor preventative medical care. Getting a hip replacement is easy in this country, finding a simple effective solution to hormonal imbalances is hard without Chinese Medicine. If we could reduce stress, eat out of our gardens and from local farms and walk places instead of driving without air pollution and industrial chemicals, we might not suffer as much through natural transitions.

 

Did the ancient chinese know about hormones? Is menopause about hormonal insufficiency?

No, they didn’t have microscopes, or other things that rely on modern technology. They were, however, masters of external symptomotology such that we can treat many things effectively without ever doing hormone tests, blood tests, MRIs and so forth. One thing the chinese were also great at is understanding how everything is connected together. So they knew that treating physical complaints would help emotional complaints and vice versa; they knew how psycho-emotional complaints could be treated with physical interventions like Acupuncture and Herbs.

There are a few different hormones involved in the reproductive system, and the female system is a little more complicated than the male. Once ovulation stops, or slows down, it takes a while for other systems to follow suit. The body wants to make sure that it is providing a proper environment for creating a child, so it takes a while to shut down the system. The short answer is that menopause is not about lack of hormones, but actually about shutting down part of the reproductive system in a smooth way so that women can apply their energy to other things than childbirth.

 

So, is it necessary to supplement hormones at all with the Chinese Medicine approach?

No. Chinese Medicine returns proper function to physiology so that, as long as you are eating and sleeping properly, your body should be able to make and balance the hormones that it needs. In fact, menopause is part of a natural change that oversees a normal decrease in many hormones.

 

Is Acupuncture painful?

This is a great question, and a common one. Acupuncture needles are tiny and are sometimes not even felt by the patient. There may be an initial pinching sensation, followed by tingling, warmth, heaviness or a feeling of movement. Acupuncture is a little like a massage. Most people find acupuncture extremely relaxing and are able to fall asleep during treatment.

 

How does Acupuncture work? Who would have thought that sticking pins into the human body could have a therapeutic effect?

There are lots of theories of how chinese medicine works. Some people talk about it as activating adenosine in the area where the needle is inserted. Adenosine is used in energy production in the cells. Others talk about it as releasing hormones and neurotransmitters. There are modern applications where the focus is on releasing the muscles. Some also talk about working with the fascial planes in the body and removing adhesions. There are lots of scientific explanations and it’s actually pretty clear that a lot of those things may be going on at the same time.

From the CM perspective we talk about a smooth flow of energy through the body and there are ways we learn how to see that. Particular parts of the body relate to particular organs and functions and this is called the channel system. There is something called the stomach channel that runs down the front of the body. So if someone comes in with digestive problems, we will often do pins on that channel. The great thing is really that it works, and it works for many disorders and problems.

 

You mentioned Chinese Herbs, how do those relate to Acupuncture? And what about Qigong?

Chinese herbs use the same diagnostic system that all of Chinese Medicine uses.  We would give a patient between 5 and 10 herbs that bring balance to the body. One example would be balancing yin and yang in the case of hormonal imbalance. Another could be to improve sleep in cases of insomnia. Herbs can be taken as a pill or a tea.

Interestingly, I want to note that most modern pharmaceuticals are built from chemicals derived from natural herbs. So, while drugs are derived from herbal medicine, but herbs are a much safer and natural way to treat illness and promote health.

Qigong is a meditative form of exercise that opens the circulation and builds strength and flexibility. We can apply it prescriptively for health problems. I am teaching a Qigong class starting on June 2nd, please see my website for details. This would be a great introduction to individuals wanting to improve their health.

Qigong Massage for Autism

I will soon be offering Qigong Massage for Autism training for parents of autistic children here in the Portland, OR metro area. Below you can check out a video with an introduction. I will offer training to parents who will do this massage with their kids every day. The studies on this system have shown a 30% decrease in sensory and self-regulation problems of autistic children over a 5 month treatment period.


Managing Pain with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Pain is something that many of us take for granted. We wake up in the morning with back pain, foot pain or neck pain. We get headaches from stress or as part of menstrual cycles. We suffer from migraines, disc degeneration and osteoarthritis. While from the perspective of conventional medicine pain is often permanent and pre-determined, this is not always true with natural medicine.

The Chinese Medicine perspective on pain is simple and that’s why Acupuncture is known for dealing with pain well. It comes down to this: pain means lack of movement. If the Qi (Energy) and Blood are not moving, you will have pain. All we are doing in Acupuncture is moving the circulation harmoniously to reduce or completely eliminate pain. This is done by placing needles above and below the pain and sometimes in the area with pain. Stimulation of the needles moves the Qi and the circulation, activates the nervous system and, sometimes instantly, pain is reduced. Now, I’m not saying that we are doing magic here. If someone has pain because they broke their arm, they may still experience some pain until that arm has healed. But often pain is not caused by a current problem. The reason Acupuncture reduces pain is that it activates the nervous system and immune system and improves circulation to allow the body to do its job better.

Let me give you an example: Everyone has headaches at one time or another in their lives. I treat at least ten headaches a week. I know one thing for certain: the Qi and Blood in the head and neck is not moving enough. Most simply this entails needling acupuncture points in the back or side of the neck (to release tension from the neck and release Qi from the head) and needles somewhere below (often the shoulder, the back or the feet). Even with seemingly intractable headaches this method often brings instant relief.

With this theoretical framework, you don’t even need to see an Acupuncturist to get pain relief. Since pain is caused by poor movement of Qi and circulation, you know now that exercise (in moderation) and massage (including self-massage) can open up tight muscles and relieve pain as well as its source. Other possibilities: a warm soak for your foot, leg or hand and a warm compress for your back or other painful area can do wonders because warmth also increases that circulation.

So are you taking opiates for chronic pain? Are you taking Triptans or other drugs for migraines? Are you regularly taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and pains? You should consider Acupuncture. There is no reason for you to be tied to medications when a natural fix is right around the corner.

Don’t believe me? Need some research? Here are a few studies:

Acupuncture relieves pain in cases of osteoarthritis of the knee, better than “sham” acupuncture or standard care.1 2

Both a trial and analysis show that acupuncture can reduce chronic low back pain.3 4

An analysis shows that women receiving acupuncture during labor have less need for conventional pain management.5

82% of patients with cancer related pain obtained benefits, showing the most benefit for vascular problems, muscle spasm and dysaesthesia.6

1 Cao L, Zhang XL, Gao YS, Jiang Y. Needle acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee. A systematic review and updated meta-analysis. Saudi Med J. 2012 May;33(5):526-32.

2 Kwon YD, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2006;45:1331-7.

3 Manheimer E, White A, Berman B, Forys K, Ernst E. Meta-analysis: acupuncture for low back pain. Ann Intern Med 2005;142:651-63.

4 Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Avins AL, et al. A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med 2009;169:858-66.

5 Smith CA, Collins CT, Cyna AM, Crowther CA. Complementary and alternative therapies for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2006;(4):CD003521.

6 J. Filshie, D. Redman International Medical Acupuncture Conference, Dept. of Anesthetics, Royal Marsden Hospital, London, England. May 4-8, 1986.

 

Don’t Forget: Colds and Flus can be prevented or treated with Chinese Medicine!

Chinese Medicine excels at dealing with colds and flus. This keeps you in great health when you don’t have major complaints; when you have other medical issues, Chinese Medicine can keep that cold from staying with you for weeks or months.

The first herbal remedy for a cold is called Guizhi Tang (Cinnamon Decoction) and it helps to boost your immune system, warm you up and tonify your internal resiliency to keep that cold out. Most of us experience the beginning of a cold with fever, chills and soreness or ache of the neck, shoulders and upper back. A few of us experience colds differently, like when we’re stressed or have another disease process in the background, but for most Cinnamon Decoction is the way to go when that cold first arrives! Cinnamon Decoction contains chinese Cinnamon (different than the culinary variety), Peony, Ginger, chinese Date, and honey-fried Licorice root and has been recommended for around two thousand years. (No joke!)

If the cold doesn’t go away after a day or two you will need a different herbal formula (Acupuncture would help too) because a cold will often sink deeper, going to the lungs, the sinuses, the digestive system or elsewhere. We can customize a treatment depending on where the cold or flu goes, harmonize your body’s response and help the immune system to kick out that cold. In Chinese Medicine, that external pathogen is seen as going to the part of the body that is weakest and can reside there until the body is stronger or until treatment is undertaken to defeat that pathogen.

Now Available: Herbal tinctures that can help prevent a cold.

As soon as you feel those initial symptoms when you walk in soaked from the rain: fever and chills, achy upper back and neck, sneezing; take this Cinnamon and Peony tincture, wrap up with a warm blanket and a hot cup of ginger tea and your cold will decide not to stay. Ask me about it! This tincture is a useful thing to buy before you get a cold, then as soon as you feel symptoms it will be on hand.

Science, Logic and Classical Chinese Medical Thinking

Systems of logic are frameworks to make sense of the world. Newtonian mechanics is one system of logic, codifying ideas of linear relationship, simple causation, predictability and reductionism. This is a valuable system still in use today. Quantum Physics largely replaced it after Albert Einstein brought some different ideas in around the turn of the 20th century, acknowledging that interrelationship, complexity and unpredictability exist.

Chinese Medicine and Conventional Medicine are similar in that they work on the body, but they have very different systems of logic. Unfortunately, the failings of conventional medicine are Newtonian: they don’t look at inter-relationships, but instead look at single linear relationships. For example, if you have pain, we give you pain medications that block certain receptors so that you don’t feel the pain anymore. This is a mechanical approach to the body which can be very powerful but has serious drawbacks.

Chinese Medicine and Quantum Mechanics have systems of logic that take into account holism and interrelationship. You’ve probably heard the example from Physics of a butterfly flapping its wings causing a hurricane on the other side of the planet. In Chinese Medicine, we not only take emotions into account, we can correlate emotions to certain internal functions, for example, Lung problems are often correlated with grief. A symptom like grief in Chinese Medicine does not point to dysfunction directly, but to a dysfunction in relationships. For example, grief could indicate a problem with the Heart because Joy from the Heart, which should normally balance grief, is lacking.

Furthermore, when you talk to a neurologist and a immunologist, they each are unlikely to have the same view as the other because their theory is linear and doesn’t take into account the complexity of the body. The neurologist will talk about the nervous system, while the immunologist is going to talk about the thymus, white blood cells and antibodies. Chinese Medicine assumes from the beginning that every function and dysfunction has an effect on other functions and that you can’t treat one part of the body without considering the whole.

Amongst those with Multiple Sclerosis, who experienced a variety of symptoms before getting that single diagnosis of auto-immune demyelination? In conventional medicine, symptoms often don’t correlate with the final diagnosis, but in Chinese Medicine they do. In the early stages of MS, Chinese Medicine could have diagnosed and treated correctly without knowing that MS was the underlying problem.

MS and a Previous Viral Infection

Another study showing a possible link between Multiple Sclerosis and a previous virus infection. This time it is Epstein-Barr virus.

In Chinese Medicine, external invasion or a virus or bacteria can be treated with a broad set of tools and these are often implicated in later disease. This linkage between a virus and a serious illness is a good reason to practice preventative medicine. If you have a cold, or some other illness, please get some treatments until it is resolved. Herbs and Acupuncture work well for this kind of thing. If it lasts forever, that is certainly punishment enough for us; no one wants to get an autoimmune condition too.