Happy Liver, Mellow Minds, aka Stress, and what to do about it.

Very few people have gone through life without experiencing some level of stress. Stress may be a great motivator. Stressed about an exam? You’re more likely to study a little harder. Stressed about a promotion, you’re likely to make sure you’re well prepared. Most of us experience short-term stress, but what happens when it turns chronic?

Stress has become a catch-all word that means anything that causes us difficulty. There is a physiological change that happens within our bodies when we are under a difficult situation. Specific hormones are secreted, the nervous system goes on hyper-alert, and our brain shuts down our ability to see the larger picture. We literally can only focus on the event that is causing our bodies to react.

On a simpler note, it’s as if our nerves are firing rapid fire, telling our brains that there’s DANGER. This is useful if we need to run from a charging tiger. But while most of us aren’t being chased by wild animals, our brains cannot effectively differentiate between a dangerous animal and an impending job interview. The brain still sends the message of DANGER.

So what can we do? Short of taking medication to calm the stress and anxiety, here are some tips.

1)      Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the best ways to rejuvenate the brain, body, nervous system, and immune system.

2)      Breathe deeply. Stop right now and take three very deep, very slow breaths. This will slow the heart rate for a moment, and will oxygenate the brain.

3)      Get therapy. Yes, psychotherapy if you are in need, but do yoga, Pilates, get acupuncture, take a walk.

4)      Get out and have fun. Remember that you have friends—prioritize your friendships. One of the great things about friends is that they can lend an ear and offer a fresh perspective on our lives.

How does acupuncture work for stress and anxiety? From a Chinese medical perspective, the organ most closely related to stress is the liver. The liver is responsible for “smoothing” out our Qi and blood, allowing to flow better. Stress and tension, whether physical or emotional, is a sign that our Qi and blood are stuck. Acupuncture moves this stagnation. From a more modern scientific perspective acupuncture needles stimulate the body’s production of endorphins and anti-inflammatories.

If it has been a while since your last treatment, it’s time to get in for some Qi movement. You’ll feel much more relaxed and energized. I guarantee it!

A Walk is as Good as a Run

I’ve been wanting to post this for a few weeks now, but every time I sit down, I decide to take the walk instead of writing about it! I guess you could say I’m practicing what I’m about to preach. Having already taken my early morning walk today, I’ll now tell you why you need to be out there walking too!

Walking is one form of exercise that most people are able to engage in, barring injury or other physical limitations. You don’t need to be athletic or even particularly fit to take a walk. If you never go for walks, start with a short, 10-minute walk around the block or office complex at lunchtime. This is one of the most rejuvenating activities you can do during a workday. You may be one of those workers who eats lunch at your desk, and with the ease of sending e-mail or instant messages, you may barely move from your chair during the day. It’s little wonder that by mid-afternoon you are reaching for another cup of caffeine or some chocolate! Instead of the caffeine or candy, get out of your chair, take a quick walk outside, then before you sit down, drink a glass of water.

Walking is an under-rated form of exercise and fitness.  Unlike running, walking is low impact but invigorating for the muscles. It can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, even your weight! While the ideal may be 30 minutes of walking five times per week, your schedule may only allow for a long walk once or twice per week. That’s fine, esp. if you remember to take the stairs when you can, park just a little farther from the entrance, and walk outside your office during the day.

Here are some tips for making walking a pleasurable experience:

1) Vary your route. Try a different street or path each time. If variety is not available, then mix it up a little. You’ll find that if you are used to walking up your street one way, try walking the other direction. You’ll see it from a brand new perspective.

2) Take a camera along. Yes, you’ll stop every so often, but it will help you see the beauty around you when you look through the lens of a camera.

3) Choose a destination. An easy and wonderful destination here in San Francisco is the Ferry Building. Wherever you are, find a place you like, and walk there.

4) Walk with friends. Time passes quickly when you’re sharing your walk with a friend.

5) Invest in a decent pair of shoes. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy pair of running or walking shoes, but do make sure your shoes have proper support.

While walking is not a substitute for more vigorous exercise such as weight lifting and cardiovascular workouts, adding walks to your weekly routine will get your Qi flowing and may even lift your mood.

To your health!

The Crud, AKA, the Common Cold

Let’s face it; we all get it. Some more often than others, with children getting it the most. It’s the common cold. It’s a nuisance, a drag, it slows us down, and gets in our way. Sometimes it passes quickly, other times it lingers and gets caught in the chest, the sinuses, or the ears.

Cold viruses are constantly around us. Luckily we do not contract each virus that we come into contact with. This is due to our immune system, which is known as our defensive Qi in Chinese medicine. This is our body’s protection from external influences. If our defensive Qi (wei qi) is sufficient, we can walk directly through a viral cloud and not be bothered. However, during times of defensive Qi deficiency, we are most likely to become ill.

Now for a little Chinese medical anatomy lesson. The Lung is responsible for maintaining our defensive Qi. If the Lung is weakened, through improper diet (too much cold, damp foods–yes, there is a relationship between the Spleen and Lung), poor sleep, insufficient or excessive exercise, our defensive Qi becomes weakened. While most of the time we can get away with washing our hands and avoiding the common cold, if the Lung is not able to keep our defenses strong, no amount of diligent hand washing will be enough.

As a rule of thumb, at the first sign of a cold, a pre-sign, even, such as a faint scratchy feeling in the back of the throat, a little extra sinus congestion, a sneeze that has nothing to do with the dust mop, stop, sit down, drink a large cup of water. It may not have gripped you yet. If you have some echinacea or vitamin C, dose up. Even better, if you have some Chinese herbs (my favorite being Cold Away or Gan Mao Ling), it’s time to dose up. Acupuncture is also helpful. If the cold has set in, acupuncture may help to express it faster, meaning the duration of the illness may be shortened.

Indeed, the best way to boost your defensive Qi is to keep your Lung energy happy. Drink plenty of water every day, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and of course, keep your hands clean and away from your face. In addition, regular acupuncture treatments can increase your defensive Qi and increase your general immunity. If it’s been more than 4 weeks since your last treatment, get in before the winter winds blow in.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Splendid Spleen

In my last post I wrote about how digestion is viewed in Chinese medicine. Today I will delve a bit further into the spleen and how to keep it happy.

In order to discuss the spleen I must first say something about how organs are viewed in Chinese medicine. While there is quite a bit of overlap between western and Chinese medical anatomy and physiology, the ancient Chinese had a broader view of the internal organs. Not only do organs perform their physiological functions within the body, they also have specific elements associated with each one.

As I mentioned last time, the western role of the spleen is to filter out white blood cells. However, in Chinese anatomy and physiology, it is likely the most important organ in the body. Not only does it, along with the stomach, create all of our Qi and blood, it also works hard to spread water throughout the body. The elements associated with the spleen are the color yellow, the earth, and, if out of balance, we may become overly worried or obsessive.

What does this mean in modern/plain language? Take care of your spleen! Overthinking and overeating can damage the spleen. One of the cardinal sins that many of us engage in is to read while eating. The eastern wisdom is that if we engage our brains while we eat it diverts energy away from the spleen, thus slowing our digestion.  So, first things first, put down the book, the newspaper, and step away from the computer at mealtime. Next, take a look at the food that you are eating. Remember that the spleen needs to stay warm so that it can help the stomach break down the food. Therefore, salads and cold sandwiches, ice water, and excessive sweets all have a deleterious effect on the spleen. But enough of what not to eat. Here’s how you can eat to support your spleen: plenty of warm food and drinks!

More specifically, here are some common spleen-supportive foods and spices you might try incorporating into your daily diet:

barley, basil, carrot, chicken, cinnamon bark, clove, coriander, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, ginger, green & red pepper, honey, licorice, nutmeg, peanuts, rice, squash, soybeans.

If this sounds complicated, I’ll make it simple: all you really need to do is balance out the foods that you eat. If you still want to eat a salad, make sure it’s not your main course. Have it as a side with some soup. Instead of putting ice in your water, drink it at room temperature or enjoy a warm cup of tea with your meal.

The most important thing, however, is to take a few moments to enjoy the food that you are eating. It is, after all, the fuel that will propel you through your day.

My Aching Spleen

So here it is, the day after Halloween. Depending on where you live you may not have gotten all that many trick or treaters last night, so you probably have a lot of candy left over. Be careful not to each too much at once—it’s like your mother always said, you might end up with a tummy ache. But really, what is this all about?

According to Chinese medicine, the two organs most related to digestion are the stomach and the spleen. We all know what the stomach does, but most of us have no idea what the spleen does. In western science we consider the spleen a secondary immune organ, mostly filtering white blood cells. However, in Chinese medicine it may be the most important organ in the body!

The stomach and spleen work together to digest the food that we eat. The role of the stomach is to “rot and ripen” the food. But it needs the spleen in order to do this. The spleen’s job is to keep the stomach warm so that it can break down our food. In Chinese medicine we often say that the stomach is the pot and the spleen is the stove.

What this means in plain language is that the food we eat should support our digestive organs. When we eat a lot of cold, raw, or sweet foods, it dampens and cools the spleen, making it more difficult for the stomach to efficiently process food. What happens then? Well, for starters, we get a stomachache. In addition, we might have a whole host of other conditions including water retention, weight gain, acid reflux, irritable bowels—pretty much anything having to do with the digestion.

So, enjoy the candy, but like your mother warned you—everything in moderation!

Happy November 1st!

Children’s Acupuncture, a.k.a. shonishin

You might be wondering if acupuncture might benefit the youngest among us. The short answer is absolutely! We even have a name for children’s acupuncture: shonishin, a word borrowed from Japanese. One of the most common questions I receive is how a baby or a child would sit still for an acupuncture treatment. Until they are about 8 or 9 years old, their treatments look a little different from what you might be used to.

As a seasoned acupuncturist who has treated children from 6 weeks old through the teenage years, I have several tools at my disposal. The most important tool I have, aside from the parents themselves (something I’ll go into further detail in a bit), is a small gold-plated instrument. One end of the tool is slightly rounded for brushing the skin and the other end is a blunted tip for light pressure.

Children have energy (Qi) as adults do, but because they are younger, their Qi is more available on the surface, rather than deeper like ours. It is for this reason that actual acupuncture is optional in shonishin. A typical treatment of a young child or baby lasts between 15-20 minutes, and involves a combination of gentle finger pressure, brushing of the skin with my specialized pediatric tools, light massage, and if appropriate, inserting needles and immediately removing them. There is no physical discomfort experienced by the child (or the parents!). In fact, I often get giggles from ticklish toddlers.

Anther important tool is the parents. Because treatment is most effective when administered on a regular basis, I often show parents how to massage their children in specific areas to treat their ailment. For example, my home remedy for allergies is to have the parents gently stroke their child’s third eye area and down the sides of the nose. If a child is old enough for self-care, I show him or her how to apply pressure on specific meridians.

While I leave more serious conditions to be treated by western physicians, there are many ailments that respond very well to shonishin. My most common ailments include gastric reflux in infants, allergies, colds and flu, digestive disorders, anxiety and concentration issues.

In addition to shonishin I often make recommendations for western and eastern herbs, vitamins, and supplements. Most children respond very quickly to a combination of shonishin and supplements.  And parents, you know that when your child is healthy, you sleep better at night! You owe it to yourselves, so consider shonishin the next time your child is ill!

World Series and what it might mean for your health

Tonight is Game 1 of the 2010 World Series–the San Francisco Giants against the Texas Rangers!

I know that not everyone reading this is a baseball fan, but keep reading to see how similar we are to all of the Giants and Rangers players.  Professional baseball players have gotten where they are for a variety of reasons: raw talent, sheer luck, and physical conditioning, among other things. You may think that you have nothing in common with  professional athletes, but you do. One of the key components to their success is that each athlete has a team of health care providers both on and off the ball field. Without this team of medical professionals, these athletes would not be where they are today.

What does this mean for the rest of us? We all have our own team of professionals. Look around you; who are the ones who keep you going on a daily basis? Who helps you out when you’re hurt or ill? More importantly, who helps keep you going when you are well? Wellness care is equally essential, if not more, than intervention during illness. In fact, in ancient China, doctors were often fired when their patients became ill.

Western medicine is designed to treat illness, and in a lot of ways it excels in its endeavor. However, can you imagine a life with minimal pain or illness? While we all hold a different key to our own health, here are some ways to bring your health back to your consciousness:

1) Sleep. It can be as simple as knowing your natural circadian rhythm. As much as you can, allow yourself to fall asleep naturally, then see what time you wake up, without help from an alarm. You’ll learn a lot about your internal clock, and may not have to fight the pillow as much if you can keep to your natural rhythm.

2) Exercise. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to work out 5 times per week in a gym. Look at your day-to-day patterns. Are you sitting for 9 hours at work and then another 4 -6 at home? Stand up more, walk the halls, get outside at lunch, and take the breaks that are provided to you.

3) Gather your friends. Keep up your friendships, be active with them, make meals together, enjoy cups of coffee or glasses of wine, and be sure to laugh on a regular basis.

4) Gather your health team. Keep up on your regular dental appointments, get acupuncture monthly even when you feel fine, see a great chiropractor or pilates instructor to keep up your physical alignment. If money is a concern, stagger your appointments so that you have something every other week. The bottom line is that health is cheaper than illness.

And, for those Giants fans, go team!

My wrist injury, or how I became an acupuncturist

One of the most common questions I get is about my story. Why am I an acupuncturist? The answer is rather simple: because I had it and it worked!

But there’s a little more to it than just that. I was 25 years old, just a few years out of school (UCSC, Stevenson College), and was working as an office manager for an educational non-profit. Just the perfect job for a history major…in any event, as much as I loved the mission of the organization and my co-workers, I knew it was not my passion. I also knew that I needed to be in the field of medicine. I considered many options before acupuncture even entered my consciousness: massage therapy, homeopathy, chiropractic, psychotherapy and naturopathic medicine. As I pondered the possibilities I realized that massage therapy was out because of an old wrist injury. But as all things serendipitous, it was this wrist injury that got me to where I am today. For two years I had been suffering from a wrist injury that severely impeded my range of motion. One day out of the blue, a co-worker mentioned that she was on her way to an acupuncture appointment. Suddenly it dawned on me. I had no idea what acupuncture could treat, but I thought I’d find out. I called my co-worker’s acupuncturist and described my injury. She sounded confident, so I made an appointment for the following week.

It was after work on a Friday in September, and after looking for her house on the wrong street (my partner, who was there for moral support, and I realized we needed to be on 2nd instead of 3rd Avenue), we rang the bell and were invited into Jan’s home. She had a special treatment room off the main hallway. It was small and cozy. She proceeded to ask me lots of questions about my health, the injury, and then felt my pulse and looked at my tongue. I mentioned that in addition to the wrist pain I had also been suffering from chronic allergies. For two years I was awoken every morning by a sneeze. She asked me to point to the my pain.  Then she nodded knowingly: that’s on the lung meridian. There may be a correlation, she explained, between the blockage on the wrist and the sneezing. I was amazed.

I was further amazed that the needles were nothing to be afraid of; quite the contrary. I felt terrific, both during the treatment and when I got up 45 minutes later!

The most amazing thing to me, however, was that when I woke up the next day I did not sneeze nor did my wrist hurt. After favoring it for two years I suddenly had full range of motion–after one simple acupuncture treatment!

It is no exaggeration when I tell you that I made up my mind the Saturday after my first acupuncture treatment to become an acupuncturist. Within three months I had quit my job at the non-profit, began working with my acupuncturist in her new office, and had begun school.

Years later I was lamenting to a patient that I wished everyone would respond as quickly and thoroughly as I did my first time. She pointed out to me that perhaps that was the way it was meant to be–so that I would be compelled to change my course in life and practice this medicine. I believe she may have been right.

Hello world!

Welcome to Boland Family Acupuncture!

This blog is set up to discuss all things related to the ancient art and science of traditional Eastern medicine. My goal is to create a lively, interactive forum about health, medicine, and life in general. I’ll include anecdotes, anything interesting in the news, humorous events and stories, etc.

Thanks for joining me!

Holly