Journaling Ideas for a Busy Schedule

Journaling Benefits

I love journaling. Or to be more specific, I love the benefits I receive from journaling. Among many other benefits, journaling always calms me down when I feel stressed. Even if I only journal for 10 minutes, I always come away from it feeling supported, like I’ve just talked with a trusted friend. And most of the time, along with the stress reduction, I gain fresh perspective and insights that sometimes surprise me and always are helpful.

Meaningful Journaling on a Busy Schedule

Because I, like most people, don’t have a lot of time to spend on journaling, I want to make the most of the time I do have. That is why I love using sentence stems. A sentence stem is essentially a half finished sentence, for example: “What I really wanted to say to Susan was……” Sentence stems help focus your journaling around issues or ideas that you want to explore or understand better. Sentence stems can also help you solve problems that you feel stuck on.

What I find works best is to choose a sentence stem that strikes a chord, and then to spend 10-15 minutes writing about it. Write fast without stopping; don’t lift your pen from the page; don’t censor yourself. If you don’t know what to write, just write “blah, blah, blah….” until the thoughts come – then let it rip!

The reason why you want to write like this is because it allows you to bypass your inner critic and makes room for your subconscious thoughts and feelings to surface. This is where the real juice is. Practice this kind of writing for a while, and you will be amazed at the insights and answers you get to questions or problems in your life.

Some advice:

Keep your journal in a private place where only you will find it. This will allow you to let your thoughts flow uncensored.

Enjoy your journaling. This is a time to spend quality time with yourself. Be curious. Explore. There are no right or wrong ways to journal so enjoy the process and see what unfolds!

Some Sentence Stems

Below are some sentence stems to get you started. 

What I really wanted to say was.....

My heart tells me to....

My biggest fear is....

I am grateful for....

I feel misunderstood when....

Deep down I know....

I am beautiful because....

I worry too much about....

I get stuck because....

I am happiest when....

My secret dream is....

If I were a super hero I would....

As you can see, the sky is the limit with sentence stems.  Now you've got the hang of it, experiment with some stems of your own.

 

Treating Painful Periods with Chinese Medicine

While chocolate cravings and moderate abdominal cramps on a the first day of bleeding are a minor annoyance, many of us know women who really suffer during their periods, with various combinations of abdominal, low back and leg cramps; headaches; mood swings; bloating; heavy bleeding; diarrhea; constipation and even nausea, vomiting and light-headedness.

Thankfully, Chinese Medicine provides natural and effective relief that addresses the root of the problem rather than just the symptoms.

What Causes Painful Periods?

Menstrual cramps are often caused by muscle contractions in the uterus. However, they can also be caused by other reproductive organ issues such as endometriosis, fibroids, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or uterine polyps. While Chinese Medicine can help with all of these, it is important to see your gynecologist if you experience unusually severe pain or cramps, heavy bleeding or frequent spotting. Occasionally these symptoms can point to more serious problems and it is always good to rule things out so you know how to proceed forward.

How Does Chinese Medicine Help?

Chinese medicine relieves the symptoms of difficult periods by strengthening and rebalancing your body’s energy to relieve pain and discomfort. For example, the Liver system is very closely related to the menses in Chinese medicine. The Liver system is responsible for the smooth flow of energy in the body; it stores the blood, and the Liver’s acupuncture channel travels through the pelvic region and the breasts. When the Liver system is out of balance, the result can be uterine cramping, “blood stagnation” (which can cause sharp or gripping pain and menstrual blood clots), moodiness, breast distension and headaches. An imbalanced Liver system can also affect the Spleen and Stomach systems, leading to abdominal bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or nausea and vomiting.

Treatment with acupuncture and Chinese herbs, along with some possible lifestyle and dietary changes help to smooth the Liver qi/energy so that the menses can flow smoothly again and the digestion and emotions can calm down.

What You Can Do Now

Diet, exercise and stress levels can all have a big impact on your menses. Eating a balanced diet with a lot of veggies, some fruit, and healthy fats, such as those found in coconuts, avocados, olive, flaxseed and fatty fish such as salmon or sardines, can help. Cutting back on carbs, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, dairy and gluten can also be very helpful for some women. Regular exercise, plenty of sleep and relaxation techniques such as meditation, tai chi or qi gong are beneficial as well.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

 

Natural Treatments for IBS

About IBS

Do you suffer from abdominal pain or cramps, gas, bloating, and bouts of diarrhea and/or constipation? If this unpleasant combination sounds familiar to you, you may have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS.

IBS is a very common disorder. It is estimated in the US that 10-15% of the population suffers from it, with 2/3 of that being women. The good news is that while IBS is uncomfortable and inconvenient, intestinal and other exams show no intestinal pathologies or abnormalities in people with IBS as well as no significant changes in nutrient absorption. The other good news is acupuncture and herbs can often provide great relief!

What Makes IBS so Uncomfortable?

The pain and urgency from IBS is caused by muscle spasms in the colon. IBS sufferers can also go through periods of constipation, which can be caused by several factors, including a tonic colon (which is in constant contraction, and thus does not perform the normal peristalsis or muscular contractions that allow a bowel movement to happen).

Possible Causes

While the cause of IBS is unknown, emotional stress often seems to play a role. Other possible triggers include certain foods – chocolate, milk, alcohol, fatty foods, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, and beans are common food triggers. FODMAPS, which are a type of carbohydrate found in certain vegetables, fruits and dairy products, can also cause IBS symptoms. Hormones and intestinal bacteria may also be triggers.

Chinese Medicine View of IBS

According to Chinese medicine IBS is often a symptom of Liver qi constraint overacting on deficient, damp Spleen qi. But what does that mean? Well, in Chinese medicine, the Liver system is responsible for the smooth flow of qi or energy in our bodies, while the Spleen system is responsible for digestion and absorption of nutrients. The Chinese Liver and Spleen systems work very closely together to maintain digestive function. When the Liver qi is compromised, as it is by stress, it stagnates and typically “overacts” on the Spleen. This action weakens the Spleen system, which may already be compromised by other factors, such as diet and worry (the emotion of the Spleen system, in Chinese medicine), and digestion pays the price. Gas, bloating, abdominal pain, alternating diarrhea and constipation are all symptoms of Stagnant Liver qi overacting on the Spleen.

How Does Chinese Medicine Treat IBS

Acupuncture and herbs are great for treating IBS. Together they help soothe the Liver qi and strengthen the Spleen. Soothing the Liver qi calms stress and allows your body and mind to relax. Strengthening the Spleen boosts your digestive function so that your body can both assimilate and eliminate properly. Avoiding trigger foods and incorporating relaxation also aid in healing.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

Questioning our Feelings

 The other day I was out walking with a friend, who told me about a class she had taken about mindfulness and fear.  One of the questions they asked in the class was, “who is it (in me) that is feeling this fear?”  I think that is such a useful question to ask, and it can be extrapolated to a number of situations in life.

“Who is it in me that’s stressed?”  “Who is it in me that’s worried?”  “Who is it in me that wants this second piece of chocolate cake?”  When we only feel the stress or the worry or the craving it is easy to just react to the feeling, which isn’t always productive.  When we ask the question we disidentify from the feeling and the feeling loses some of its power over us.

The question helps us begin to understand where the feeling comes from and the reason behind it.  Perhaps we’re stressed not just because we have a new presentation coming up at work, but also because we have a belief that if we don’t please everyone we will be abandoned.  When we recognize that our work stress and our core belief about abandonment have become intertwined we can then separate them.  We can begin to question if our core belief is really true and give support and acceptance to the part of ourselves that fears abandonment.  Doing so, we free up energy to focus on what we need to do to create a presentation we feel proud of.

Acupuncture for Natural Allergy Relief

Do You Suffer From Springtime Allergies?

Springtime is glorious, unless you suffer from allergies.  The sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; foggy head and low energy of allergy season is miserable, especially when you want to be outdoors digging in your garden or just enjoying the longer days.  Thankfully, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can provide good allergy relief.

What is Hay fever?

Hay fever, or “allergic rhinitis” is an immune system response to pollens.  In the spring, tree pollens are the culprit; in the summer, grasses; in the fall, ragweed is the problem.  Symptoms range from mild runny nose to allergy-induced asthma.  If you suffer with allergy symptoms year round, you have “perennial rhinitis”, which is often caused by animal dander, dust, molds and/or environmental pollution.  Whatever the cause of your allergy symptoms, you just want relief.  While allergy medications can relieve your symptoms, they can have unwanted side-effects and just mask your symptoms rather than alleviate the root of the problem.

Chinese Medical View on Allergies

According to Chinese Medicine, hay fever is often related to deficiency of the Lung and Spleen functions.  In lay terms, that means that your immune and digestive functions may not be operating as optimally as they could.  When the Lung and Spleen functions are inhibited, it is easier for your body to accumulate “dampness” and toxins, as there isn’t enough energy to circulate these accumulations out of your body.  This can show up as excess mucus and phlegm; gas, bloating, and excess weight; or fatigue and foggy headedness.  Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help clear the accumulated dampness and toxins and strengthen your Lung and Spleen to reduce your allergy symptoms and strengthen your body’s resistance to allergens.

How to get Allergy Relief

Avoid processed sugar, wheat and dairy during allergy season.  Wheat and dairy are common allergens that can put an extra strain on your already-taxed immune system.  They also tend to produce extra mucus in the body, which is the last thing you need right now.  Sugar tends to lower immune-resistance, which may make you more prone to allergies.

Eat a good variety of richly colored vegetables and fruits.  Fruits and veggies contain bioflavonoids, a type of nutrient which helps your body reduce its production of histamines (the chemical responsible for your allergic reaction when you’re exposed to an allergen).  You can increase the effectiveness of bioflavonoids by taking extra vitamin C or eating foods which are rich in C.

Drink Chrysanthemum tea.  Ask for it in bulk at your local health food store or at an Asian Food Market.  In Portland, OR, you can go to Wing Ming Herbs at 2738 SE 82ndAve, between SE Division and SE Powell.  Put enough of the flowers in to fill a tea ball 2/3 full and steep for 5 min in your favorite mug.  Drink a cup or two of the tea daily to cool itchy, watery eyes.

Make an acupuncture appointment.  Acupuncture works with your body’s energy to rebalance and strengthen it at a deep level so that your body can heal itself more easily and efficiently.  Along with Chinese herbs, acupuncture can help clear your sinuses, relieve your coughing and itchy eyes and make you feel better so you can get back to doing what you like to do.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

 

Five Minute Stress Relief

You’ve just gotten home from a long day at work and all you want to do is kick your feet up and relax, but the dog is whining to be walked, the kids are hungry, there’s wet laundry in the washer and your partner forgot to pick up tonight’s dinner fixings at the store.  This or your own (fill in the blank) version of a crazy, hectic day can leave you feeling like the world is spinning waaay too fast.  All you want to do is go hide your head somewhere, but you can’t. 

Thankfully, there is a 5 minute (5 minutes only!) exercise you can do that can help you relax and feel more human again.

The simple breathing technique I’m going to share with you is one that you can do at your desk, in your (parked) car, or even in the restroom if you have to disappear for a few minutes so your coworkers don’t give you funny looks.

The Exercise

I got this from “Relax Into Your Being”, by B.K. Frantzis.  It is a wonderful book about Taoist meditation and qi gong practices.  I find this exercise very relaxing and I like how calm I feel after doing it.  I’ve adapted it slightly.

1. Sit comfortably with your feet placed on the ground in front of you.  Relax your shoulders; notice your buttocks in the chair and your feet on the ground.  Keeping your mouth closed, place your tongue at the roof of your mouth and relax your face.

2. Bring your attention to your breath as it travels in and out of your nostrils.  Really notice the sensations of your breath moving in and out of your nostrils, even down to the movement of your nose hairs.  Take your time doing this and don’t worry if you get it “right” or not; just notice what you notice.

3. Once you have experienced those sensations, slowly notice your breath as it continues to enter into your body.  Notice the sensations as it moves from your nostrils and into your throat.  Follow the flow of your breath as it moves into your chest and into your lungs.  Feel the line of your breath as it moves into your belly and down to your belly button and finally down to your lower dan tien*, which is the area roughly half way between your belly button and your genitals.  Do not speed through this.  Give yourself time to really feel the sensation of your breath in each of these areas before you move to the next area.  The main goal isn’t to reach the lower dan tien, but instead to feel the sensation of your breath in each of these areas as it moves on down.  If you don’t reach your lower dan tien on the first try or even the tenth try, that is fine.  Give yourself time to feel the sensations and relax into the exercise.  Don’t push yourself.  Eventually you will reach your lower dan tien.  And again, don’t worry if you do it “right” or not, just follow the instructions as best you can and notice what you notice and you’ll do great.

4. Continue with this exercise for 5 or 10 minutes, really feeling the sensations of your breath as it travels through each of these areas.  If you want, see if you can take longer breaths while doing the exercise, but again, don’t push yourself.  This exercise is about relaxing and feeling your breath.  Even if you just do the exercise for two minutes, that is good.  Again, the exercise is about relaxing and feeling your breath.

5. When you are ready to stop, sit for a moment and breath normally.  Notice your feet on the ground and your buttocks in the chair.  Bring your awareness back to the room in which you are sitting.  When you are ready, return to your day.

*The lower dan tien is an area about 4 finger breadths below the belly button, in the center of the body.  It is considered, in Chinese philosophy, to be the seat or focal point of one’s internal energy or qi, and is utilized frequently during meditation and qi gong practices.

 

Natural Treatments for Menopause

Have you been experiencing hot flashes? Night sweats? Insomnia? Anxiety or mood swings? These and other symptoms may be due to hormonal imbalances and can occur during menopause or peri-menopause, which is the ten to fifteen year period that leads up to menopause. These symptoms can make you feel desperate, or at least annoyed. Know that you are not alone with your symptoms and that relief is possible.

Chinese Medicine and Menopause

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine offer wonderful natural treatments for menopause.  One common herbal remedy for hot flashes and night sweats, for example, is Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan (ZBDHW). This formula tonifies kidney yin and cools the body. It often helps with insomnia, dry skin, irritability and other problems as well.  However, since sweating, insomnia and the other symptoms discussed above are not always caused by kidney yin deficiency, ZBDHW is not the right formula for everyone, and shouldn't be self-prescribed.

What is Yin Deficiency?

Yin, in Chinese Medicine, is the cooling and moistening element in the body.  It helps make our skin supple, lubricates our joints and keeps our mucous membranes moist.  The kidneys, and in particular, kidney yin, strongly influences birth, growth and reproduction. As we age, the yin of the kidneys declines, and so does it's ability to support a woman’s reproductive cycle.  Yin deficiency makes women more prone to dry skin, hair, eyes; day and night sweats; bone loss; stress; and other symptoms that arise during the peri-menopausal and post-menopausal years. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help support our bodies as we go through these changes by smoothing our energy or qi, building our yin, and strengthening our bodies.

During menopause, and ideally before, women can also ease this transition by eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, avocados, fish oil and flaxseeds. Getting regular exercise and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, qi gong or tai chi can also be very beneficial.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

 

Natural Treatments for Jaw Pain

IMG_1068.JPG

What is TMD/TMJ?

Do you have jaw pain or stiffness?  Does your jaw make popping sounds when you open your mouth?  You may have TMD (tempero-mandibular joint disorder), also known as TMJ, which refers to a variety of disorders or symptoms affecting the region around the tempero-mandibular joints which connect the lower jaw to the skull.  Symptoms of TMD range in number and severity and include jaw pain or stiffness; inability to fully open the mouth; popping or clicking sounds when opening the mouth; head, neck or shoulder tension; headaches; earaches; toothaches and other types of facial pain.

What Causes TMD/TMJ?

TMD can be caused by a variety of factors including stress, injury, an improper bite, arthritis, or a combination of factors. For example, stress might cause you to grind or clench your teeth during the day or at night while you sleep. This can tire and constrict the jaw muscles and cause pain, and may eventually lead to problems with the joint capsule itself. Whiplash or other trauma can strain the muscles and ligaments in the neck and face. Poor posture, lack of sleep, inability to relax and poor diet may also aggravate TMD symptoms. The contracted muscles and pinched nerves that result from these stresses can refer pain to other areas, causing headaches, earaches or toothaches.

How can Acupuncture Help?

Dental appliances, pain medication, lifestyle changes and occasionally surgery are the common methods of treatment for TMD. Acupuncture offers a wonderful alternative. It relaxes both body and mind and relieves pain without the side effects of medications. It is relatively non-invasive and relatively inexpensive, compared to other therapies. It also benefits overall health and well-being. Within 6-8 weekly treatments, the patient’s pain is generally reduced, range of motion of the jaw is generally increased and the need for pain medication is generally diminished or non-existent.

To treat TMD problems, acupuncturists insert needles around the jaw, neck and shoulders and often employ distal points in the arms, hands, legs and feet to further enhance the treatment. Such treatments help to release constricted muscles and restore proper circulation to the affected areas. Acupuncture also releases endorphins and most patients feel very calm and relaxed during and after an acupuncture treatment. Sometimes an herbal formula will be prescribed if the acupuncturist feels it will enhance the healing process.

So consider acupuncture to treat your TMD. It can help relieve your pain, relax your stress, decrease your need for pain medications and improve your overall health and well-being.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

 

Stress Relief with Acupuncture

 I think this guy needs some acupuncture...

I think this guy needs some acupuncture...

Some time ago, a patient came in with a headache, shoulder pain, nausea, stomach pain, and no appetite. She had been suffering from these problems for the previous three months, and was hoping for some relief.   As we talked it seemed that she felt a lot of stress, both from work as well as family responsibilities.  

After talking with the patient and doing the Chinese diagnostics of looking at the tongue and palpating the pulse, I diagnosed her with “Liver qi constraint”, a very common syndrome, and one closely related to stress.  The headaches, shoulder tension and digestive problems, which she also experienced, are also commonly seen with “Liver qi constraint”.  The acupuncture treatment focused on moving and soothing her "Liver qi".

When she returned for her second treatment, she was about 90% symptom-free!  I gave her another acupuncture treatment, focusing on the same principles, and had her come back the following week.  When she returned, she said she had felt great all week.  No headaches, good appetite and no digestive problems. Needless to say, I was thrilled....as was she.

We all know that stress has an effect on our health.  Based on my years of experience as a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I would say, without reservation, that stress is a factor in almost every ailment a person presents with.   Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are wonderful modalities for helping to manage stress and strengthen the body’s ability to deal with it.  

While it is rare to see such a quick turn around, as in the patient above, it is always rewarding for a practitioner and, of course, wonderful for the patient.  In this case, all of this patient’s problems were caused by stress; hers was a classic case of "Liver qi constraint".  Acupuncture helped to regulate and smooth the qi in her channels, thereby relieving the stress and the effects it had had on her body.  As all health starts at an energetic level, once her Liver qi was flowing properly again, her symptoms went away.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

 

Asthma Relief with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs

Asthma viewed through the Chinese Lens

In Chinese, asthma is described as “xiao-chuan“, which translates as wheezing (xiao) and breathlessness (chuan). According to Traditional Chinese Medical theory, an asthma attack reflects the stirring up of excess Wind.

Just as in nature, Wind is inherently changeable and can appear in gusts or breezes; in asthma, for example, it manifests in coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and changeable body temperature. This excess Wind has such a strong effect because it is paired with an underlying deficiency of the Lung and Kidney qi or energies. Among other functions, the Lung and Kidney qi work in tandem to protect the body from Wind, which is also a harbinger of colds, flus, and other upper respiratory ailments. According to Chinese medical theory, when the Lungs are working properly, their energy descends and disperses. The descending breath is then grasped by the Kidneys, and the person is able to inhale and exhale with ease. In the case of asthma, the weakened Lung qi does not properly descend or disperse, and the Kidneys are too compromised to grasp the Lung qi. Breathing becomes difficult, and coughing and wheezing ensue.

How does Chinese Medicine Treat Asthma?

Chinese medicine can treat asthma very effectively. Treatment consists of the application of very thin needles into points along specific channels along the body that relate to the person’s condition. An herbal formula is usually also prescribed. If warranted, dietary and lifestyle counseling is given as well, in order to fully support the client’s healing process. Initially, treatment focuses on clearing out the pathogenic Wind in order to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. After the asthma is more under control, further treatment addresses the underlying deficiencies of the Lung and Kidney energies as well as other factors that may be involved. As the body becomes stronger, Wind is less likely to invade, and asthmatic symptoms subside.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

 

Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

 ....for when you're feeling under the weather...

....for when you're feeling under the weather...

Cold and Flu from a Chinese Medical Perspective

From a Chinese medical perspective, a cold or flu generally begins as an External Wind Invasion, entering the external channels of the body. These Wind Invasions primarily enter through the back of the head, neck and shoulder regions of the body; this is one of the reasons why it is a good idea to keep your neck and head protected with a warm scarf and hat during cool or windy weather.

After the External Wind penetrates the channels, the body’s Wei Qi (or Defensive Energy), which is our first line of defense against invading pathogens, works hard to fight off the Wind Invasion. It is this fight that we experience as a cold or flu, as we sneeze, cough or burn with fever, in our body’s effort to rid itself of the pathogenic invaders.

There are different types of Wind Invasions, Wind-Heat; Wind-Cold; Wind-Damp and Wind-Dryness. All of these have different symptoms and can affect different people in different ways. The type of Wind Invasion, as well as your constitutional strengths and weaknesses, determines whether you are more inclined to one or more of the following: sneezing, coughing, fever, chills, headache, nausea or any other symptoms. Fortunately, Chinese Medicine has something to treat all of these symptoms and more, as well as to boost your immune system so you will be less likely to get sick. In the meantime, there are preventative measures you can take to increase your resistance to illness. Many of them are common sense.

Cold and Flu Prevention

Regular exercise; a balanced, healthy diet; rest and relaxation and good hygiene all can go a long way toward preventing illness. Walking briskly for 30 minutes per day is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not only will it benefit your immune system, it will increase your stamina, energy level and help to decrease stress. It is always a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

Eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes a good variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. These contain anti-oxidants and beta-carotene, which are believed to help boost your immune system - beta-carotene, in particular, benefits respiratory health. Raw garlic is also an excellent immune booster.  Allicin, the chemical that gives garlic its strong odor, is the primary inhibitor of invasive cold and flu germs.  Reduce your refined carbohydrate and sugar intake, especially when you are sick.  Simple carbs, especially sugar, greatly reduce the strength of your immune system. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and your system flushed.

Get plenty of rest, especially during times of stress, as stress and fatigue together bring your immune function down. Eight hours of sleep per night is optimal, get more if you need it at least two to three times per week. Also, building in a relaxation practice of meditation, yoga, tai chi or qi gong is important, even if only for 10 minutes a day. Take that time for yourself.

Wash your hands frequently and try to keep your hands away from your face.  One of the most common ways germs find their way into our bodies is via our mucus membranes.  When you shake hands with someone, touch a doorknob, a handrail, or any other germy surface, wash your hands before you touch your face.

When You Get Sick

If you do find yourself getting sick, it is best to treat the cold or flu right when you feel it coming on, rather than waiting until it becomes full-blown. Get plenty of rest and fluids, avoid sugars and listen to your body's needs.  

Consider getting some acupuncture.  I’ve seen acupuncture and Chinese herbs nip a very early-stage cold or flu in the bud many times. However, even if it does become full-blown, Chinese herbs and acupuncture can still help move the illness through your system more quickly and help you feel more comfortable during that process.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

A Simple Tip to Reduce Stress

We all know that stress can have a negative impact on our health and lives. But how can we not just manage stress, but minimize it so that it doesn’t run the show?

I have found that learning how I react to stress, both physically and emotionally, as well as noticing my thought patterns, is a great first step towards minimizing stressful feelings.

Study the ways you react to stress 

Do your shoulders tighten up and start creeping towards your ears?
Does your head start to ache?
Do you get a knotted feeling in your belly?
Do you hold your breath?
Do you eat more sweets or drink more wine?
Do your thoughts speed up or do you just want to take a nap?
Do you feel more prone to angry outbursts or crying?
Do you feel anxious, worried or impatient?

These are just some of the ways you might react to feeling stressed out.

All of us have a patterned response to stress. Once we recognize our particular pattern, we can then start to notice the precursors to our stress reactions. For example, if we know our shoulders get tight, we can make a point to notice how they feel throughout the day. If we know our minds race we can notice if our thoughts are speeding up and taking on a worried tone, or if they're staying steady and even-keeled. Noticing our reactions and their precursors are the beginning to getting a handle on stress.

How Does Studying Our Stress-Reactions Help?

When we know our stress-response, it is easier to catch ourselves moving into stress mode, before it becomes full-blown.  We can then take a moment to step back and breathe for a few moments.  Then we can assess what is triggering the stress response.   We can look at the situation, and look at our thoughts and feelings about the situation, because our thoughts and feelings are generally what stress us out, not the situation itself.

Once we know what our thoughts and feelings about the situation are, we can decide if they are relevant for the situation or not. Once we’ve determined that, then we can decide how we want to move forward.

An Example

One simple example might be needing to bring a main dish to a potluck on a Friday night. You promised to bring the dish, but the week wound up getting crazy and the potluck is now in 2 hours and you have nothing prepared. You’re stressed out because you promised to cook a main dish and feel like a guilty wimp who can't get her act together.  A simple solution, of course, would be to get “take out”, but you don’t like that idea. You decide to ask yourself why you don’t like the idea and realize you feel ashamed at the thought of bringing “take out”. You ask yourself why that idea makes you feel ashamed. You remember that your mother placed a high value on cooking meals and thought that buying “take out” for her family was lazy and showed a lack of care.  

Ah so.  Now that you understand where your feelings of shame come from, you have more room for self-compassion AND to make choices, rather than just react to thoughts and feelings.  Whether you decide to quickly cook something or to get "take-out" is irrelevant.  The important thing is that you can now make that decision from a more grounded, aware place that honors both your needs as well as your commitments.  Of course, this is a very simplistic example, but the process can be applied to any number of situations.

While cultivating an awareness of our reactions and thought patterns around stressful situations can really help us minimize stressful feelings, it’s really important to reach out for extra support when needed. Talk to trusted friends or family members; find a counselor; come in for acupuncture.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to know how acupuncture and Chinese medicine might be helpful for you.

 

Healing Naturally from Sprains and Strains

Healing Naturally from Sprains and Strains

Strains are injuries that occur when muscle fibers or tendons, which connect muscles to bones, overstretch or develop a tear due to overuse or fatigue. If you’ve ever felt a cramp in your thigh after running or felt very stiff after a long hike, you’ve probably had a muscle strain. Sprains occur when ligaments, which connect bones to other bones, are overstretched or torn. A sprained ankle is a common example. This article discusses ways to speed your recovery from a strain or sprain.

Should I see a doctor? Strains and mild sprains can generally be treated successfully at home. Adding RICE (described below), and other therapies, as well as dietary supplements and acupuncture to your home treatments can help speed your recovery.

Mild sprains are generally swollen and tender, but you can move the area and put a little weight on it.  Be sure to see a doctor immediately if you have any of the following: significant swelling, bruising, redness or pain; inability to use or move the affected area without significant pain; the area looks crooked or bumpy; the area is numb; you see red streaks coming from the area; you’ve already injured the same area several times.

Follow your doctor’s advice and ask if you can use the therapies described below as part of your treatment; they might help speed your healing process.

Most health professionals recommend RICE therapy for the first 24-48 hours after a strain or sprain.

• Rest: Rest the injured area.

• Ice: Ice the area for 20 minutes (not longer) at a time, every 2-4 hours. Be sure to use a barrier, such as a towel, between your skin and the ice. If the area starts feeling numb before the 20 minutes are up, stop icing and then resume again at the 2-4 hour mark.

• Compression: Wrap the area with an ace bandage for one or two days.  This will help support it and may help keep swelling down.  Don’t wrap so tightly that circulation is cut off, however.  If the wrap feels uncomfortable, experiment with taking it off.  If it feels good, it is probably helping.

• Elevation: Try to keep the area elevated above the level of your heart for 2-3 hours a day.  This can also help keep swelling down.

Refrain from massaging the area for a few days in order to avoid causing more swelling or bruising.  If you want to massage the injured area, find someone who is experienced with sports massage.

Hot/Cold therapy:

After the swelling and redness has dissipated and the injury no longer feels hot to the touch (about three days), start doing Hot/Cold therapy. This involves surrounding the injured area first with heat and then with cold, and alternating between the two. This increases circulation, which aids healing, and helps clear excess fluid.

To do Hot/Cold therapy, you’ll need two large pots or buckets, or a double kitchen sink. Fill one pot with the hottest water you can tolerate and the other with the coldest water you can stand. Immerse the injured area in the hot water for 2-3 minutes and then place it in the cold water for 1-2 minutes. Do this 3-6 times, adjusting the water temperature as needed.

If you can move the injured area without too much pain, it is best to gently stretch and move the area while in the hot water but let it rest while in the cold. If you have to stop heating in order to stretch, always reheat the area in the hot water before cooling it down again. Always finish with the cold immersion. Do this three times per day if you can. Even once a day will be helpful.

If you don’t have large enough pots, you can soak towels, one in ice water and the other in hot water, and wrap the injured area. Do not do this on open wounds, and stop the therapy if you become lightheaded.  As with any therapy, be sure to consult your doctor if you have any questions.

Should I move the area?

Research has shown the importance of movement in injury recovery.   Gentle movement increases circulation to the area, helps remove excess fluid from the area, and helps keep the tissues supple.  After resting a strain or mild sprain for about a day, begin gently moving and stretching the area, putting a little weight on it if it is an extremity.  Go slowly and listen to your body.  The movement may be a bit uncomfortable, but stop if it becomes painful in order to avoid aggravating your injury which can prolong your recovery time.

Diet and Supplements:

Your body needs nourishment in order to heal optimally. Eat at least five servings of different colored veggies and fruits per day.  Certain supplements can also help your body heal.

Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples is an anti-inflammatory. Take 500mg, 3x/day, between meals. Speak with a doctor first if you are on blood-thinners or NSAIDS, as Bromelain may increase your risk of bleeding. Turmeric, another anti-inflammatory, works synergistically with Bromelain.  Take 250mg twice a day. It also has blood-thinning properties, so always check with your MD.

Vitamin C helps repair connective tissue and reduces inflammation. Take 500 mg four times per day.

Reduce the amount if loose stools develop. Zinc 15-30mg/day can help with wound healing. Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oil supplements, help keep body tissues supple and help reduce inflammation. Take one teaspoon/day and be sure to keep fish oil refrigerated.

Homeopathic Arnica helps heal tissues and reduces pain and inflammation. Rub arnica cream or gel on the injured area (closed wounds only) and take arnica pills internally.  Follow instructions on the package.  Start using this and the other supplements as soon as you can.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs:

Both acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help reduce pain and swelling and speed up the healing process. In Chinese medicine, an acute injury always involves stagnation of qi and blood, which is reflected in the pain, stiffness, swelling and bruising. Chinese herbal formulas contain herbs that break up this stagnation, reduce pain and encourage proper blood circulation for quicker healing. Other herbs help target the formulas to the proper areas i.e. the lower or upper extremities, the low back, or the neck and shoulder areas.

Finally, Chinese herbs can help to strengthen your body so that you may be less prone to injury.

 

Cita Oudijk, L.Ac., www.acupunctureportland.com, can be reached at 503.720.9361
Originally published on July 1, 2013 in Portland's SE Examiner's "Wellness Word"

 

Using Dialogue Method in Journaling to Problem-Solve and Find Internal Support

Let’s face it – life can be tough sometimes. Whether we are in a communication road-block with our partner, have a child struggling at school, or just can't lose that extra 25 pounds, life finds endlessly creative ways to challenge us.

Talking to friends or family can be a great way to blow off steam and even to brainstorm creative ways to solve the problem.  However, finding a solution can sometimes be difficult, especially if the problem is a chronic one.  This may be because our perspectives on the problem and its causes stay the same, in other words, we have the same belief systems around what is wrong, who or what might be at fault or how the problem should be solved. I certainly have been “guilty” of this, and it can make it difficult to effectively deal with the issue at hand when a fresh approach may be what’s required.

When facing an uncomfortable problem, we generally want to feel supported and understood, and we want a solution. If we’ve been going around in circles with no resolution in sight, we can sometimes begin to feel a bit hopeless.

A fresh perspective on the issue could help bring new understanding and creative possibilities for solving the problem, but how can we get that?

Get a Fresh Perspective with Dialogue Journaling

Journaling with Dialogue, developed by American psychologist Ira Progoff in the 1960s, is one of my favorite ways for gaining insights and perspective on a problem. It is a written dialogue between yourself and another person, object, or concept, taking on the perspective of that person, object or concept when you write their part.

For example, you might write a dialogue between yourself and your partner, if you are struggling in your relationship. If you always seem to be wrestling with your finances, you might write a dialogue between yourself and Money.

When writing about an object or concept, such as Money, it can be helpful to personify it first – give it a personality, describe what it’s wearing, what its voice sounds like etc.  Describe whatever comes to you when you think about this object or concept. It doesn’t have to “make sense”.  Giving the object or concept a personality to “relate to” makes it easier to dialogue with.

When writing both your description and dialogue, write quickly; keep your hand moving on the page or on the keyboard. Don’t censor yourself and don’t worry about “getting it right”. Let whatever you want to write come out, even if it seems irrelevant. Keep going until you feel finished.

In your dialogue, start by stating your concern. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings and stay open and curious about your dialogue partner’s perspective. Ask them questions. Ask them what they want and need. Be sincere in inviting them to share with you.  You may be very surprised at what you learn.

Here are brief excerpts from a journaler’s dialogue with her body around weight loss to get you started. In personifying her body, the words,  “a warm animal who likes softness and kindness” arose as part of the "personality" of her body.

Some of the dialogue looked like this:

Journaler (J) : I can’t seem to lose this belly weight.

Body: You’ve been way too critical about me. I do my best for you and you just complain. It’s not as easy as it used to be.

J: Is there anything I can do to help?

Body: Well, relax a little for starters. You stress too much and that hurts your blood sugar.  Also, love me more and realize that you’re not 22 anymore. Maybe cut down on the fats some, but not too much because I like those….

Stay open and curious about the insights and solutions that arise, as they may be different from what you’d normally expect. If you struggle with this method at first, keep trying. Like anything, journaling with dialogue improves with practice and the more you do it, the more natural it will feel. Done regularly over time, it will reward you with insights, ideas and a sense of strong inner guidance.

Journaling can be a very beneficial tool for gaining insights, solving problems and exercising creativity, but it is not a substitute for psychotherapy. If you ever feel like you need help beyond that which a journal or your friends and family can provide, don’t hesitate to seek help from a licensed, qualified counselor or psychotherapist.


Originally published on May 1, 2015 in Portland's SE Examiner's "Wellness Word"

 

 

Osteoporosis and What You Can Do About It

An estimated ten million Americans have osteoporosis and 18 million have low bone mass.  Eighty percent of these are women, and its projected that one in three post-menopausal American women will develop osteoporosis.  Sadly, this condition is on the rise.  It is estimated that 50 percent more men will develop osteoporosis by 2027.  Rates are increasing in women as well, and related bone fractures are occurring at younger ages.Calcium is the principal mineral that makes our bones hard, so why is it that regions with the highest calcium intake – the US and Scandinavia – also have the highest rates of osteoporosis?  Why do people in countries like China, who consume less dairy and calcium, have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis and have 1/5 the number of hip fractures as we do in the US (3)?  What is weakening our bones and how can we keep them strong?  This article attempts to answer these questions.

What is Osteoporosis and what causes it?

Osteoporosis means “porous bones”, in other words, bones that are thin, have holes and are thus more susceptible to fractures.  Osteoporosis affects the entire skeleton, but the hip, spine and wrist bones are the most commonly broken.  About 1.5 million fractures occur annually in the US in people with osteoporosis.  Hip fractures in elderly people can result in death as the prolonged immobility required during healing can lead to blood clots or pneumonia (1).

Thin, small-boned, post-menopausal women who live sedentary lifestyles are the most at risk for developing osteoporosis.  Smoking, drinking more than moderately, a family history of the condition and removal of the ovaries before age 40 also increases the risk. Antacid medications may also increase susceptibility as low stomach acid appears to hinder the proper absorption of vitamins and minerals.  Certain drugs which are known to increase bone loss as well as certain medical conditions such as kidney disease and Cushing’s syndrome can also be involved. This article focuses on age-related osteoporosis.

Acid-alkaline imbalance and osteoporosis

Worldwide, per capita high consumption of animal protein is associated with a greater risk of hip fracture, a strong indicator of osteoporosis, in women aged 50 +, and high consumption of vegetable foods is associated with a lower fracture risk. High protein intake, especially from animal products, has been found to result in calcium loss through the urine.  It appears that this is due to the highly acidic nature of animal protein.  Excess consumption of soda and other carbonated beverages has also been linked to greater rates of bone fracture due to the high phosphoric acid content of these drinks (2).  High sodium and sugar intake also negatively impacts our bones.

Why is acid a problem? 

Our blood is designed to thrive with an alkaline pH of about 7.3 or 7.4.  While different areas of the body have different pH levels that may fluctuate, our survival depends upon our blood staying in this narrow range.  Because of this, our body has several acid buffering mechanisms in place in order to deal with the various metabolic processes that produce acid, such as digestion and our immune and stress responses.  When we are younger, our kidneys filter out much of the acid; our lungs do some filtering as well.  But as we age, our kidney’s ability to clear our blood of acid diminishes.  This leaves our bones, our main mineral storehouse, to do the job.  The more acid we accumulate in our blood, the more alkalizing calcium and other mineral salts are leached from our bones to neutralize that acid.  Eventually our bones grow weak.  Excess acid in the body also stimulates the breakdown of muscle.  The combination of osteoporosis and reduced muscle strength increases the risk of falls, fractures and the overall functional decline of the body.

How we can improve our bone health

While it is best to start supporting bone health when we are young, there are a number of things we can do to improve our bone health at any age.  Regular weight bearing exercise such as walking, hiking, jogging and resistance training brings more circulation and nutrients to our bones and encourages bone growth.  Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

Quit smoking or don’t start.  Limit drinking to one alcoholic beverage per day.  Restrict consumption of animal protein, caffeine, sugar, sodium, white flour, and unfermented soy (tempeh and miso are fine).  Educate yourself on the side effects of your medications.  Eat five or more servings of veggies and fruit daily and eat from all the different color groups.  Vegetables and fruit are full of minerals and vitamins and typically are alkalizing. Be sure to include dark leafy greens as they are particularly mineral rich but minimize intake of spinach, chard, rhubarb and beet greens as their high oxalic acid content interferes with calcium absorption (12).  Practice relaxation and stress management.  Bones need a balance of minerals to thrive; magnesium, zinc, boron, silica, copper, Vit D3 and Vit K2 as well as calcium are essential.  A high quality vitamin/mineral supplement will enhance your healthy diet.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs strengthen bones

Chinese medicine can also help boost bone strength and promote faster recovery from traumatic fractures.  In Chinese medicine, bone health is considered the domain of the kidneys.  Treatment of osteoporosis focuses on strengthening the kidney system and improving blood circulation to the bones.  Improving the digestive system to increase proper assimilation of vitamins and minerals may also be part of the treatment.

While a combination of acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle adjustments is generally the best approach, acupuncture alone has been shown to greatly improve bone health.  A study published in China in 2001 found that post-menopausal women, in similar health, treated with acupuncture, Vit D and calcium had a significant increase in bone density after a six month period compared to the control group who only took the calcium and Vit D supplements but had no acupuncture treatments (7).

Another study, in 2004, focused on treatment with Chinese herbs.   Fifty-eight post-menopausal women were given an herbal formula to treat their osteoporosis.  After three months of treatment 40 patients had shown marked improvement in their bone mineral content and bone density, their low back and knee pain had decreased or disappeared and they felt stronger and had better appetites.  Thirteen patients had no more pain and 5 patients experienced no changes (8).

It is up to us to keep our bones as healthy and strong as we can.  Thankfully we have some healthy options to help us in that endeavor!


Originally published on June 1, 2013 in Portland's SE Examiner's "Wellness Word".

Citations:

(2012, Mar. 19) Understanding Osteoporosis—the Basics.  Retrieved from (women.webmd.com)

(2012, Nov/Dec) Acid-Alkaline Balance and its Effect on Bone Health, International Journal of Integrative Medicine, Vol 2. Number 6.

Lang, Susan, (1996, Nov. 14), Eating less meat may help reduce osteoporosis risk, studies show.  Retrieved from www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1996/11/eating-less-meat-may-help-reduce-osteoporosis-risk

Sellmeyer, DE, Stone KL, Sebastian A, Cummings SR, (2001, Jan.) A high ratio of dietary animal to vegetable protein increases the rate of bone loss and fracture in post-menopausal women,  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 73(1); 118-122.

Brown, Susan E, pH and your bones – why an alkaline diet makes sense.  Retrieved from www.betterbones.com/alkalinebalance/why-an-alkaline-diet-makes-sense

Brown, Susan E, Rethinking Osteoporosis.  Retrieved from www.betterbones.com/osteoporosis/default.aspx

(2001) The Influence of Acupuncture on Post-Menopausal Female Bone Density, Journal of Chinese Medicine, #2, p. 88

(2004) The Treatment of 58 Cases of Post-Menopausal Osteoporosis by the Methods of Supplementing the Kidney and Strengthening the Bones, Chinese Medicine Research, #6, p. 32.

Eliaz, Isaac, MD, (2012, Nov. 9), Osteoporosis on the Rise for Both Men and Women: How to Reduce your Risk.  Retrieved from www.easyhealthoptions.com/general-health/osteoporosis-on-the-rise-for-both-men-and-women-how-to-reduce-your-risk

Building Better Bones, Retrieved from www.menopause-metamorphosis.com/An-Excerpt-103-better_bones.htm