Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Yin Deficiency: What is It and Five Ways to Recover

Photo by Teresa Y Green



The link above is from Michael Tierra's amazing website, and gives a quick overview of cayenne, and mentions that it may be too hot for someone with Yin deficiency. I completely agree with Mr. Tierra's article (and since he's one of the big names in herbal medicine, I'd be hesitant to disagree with him). But since his article was not focused on Yin deficiency, I found his explanation a little sparse. Most people in Western society have some yin deficiency, and protecting your Yin is crucial to staying healthy, especially as you age. Here's a little info:

Yin deficiency refers to our reserves. Yin deals with the cooling, calming, moistening functions in the body--having the right lubrication (lymph, mucous, saliva, etc.), enough substructure (bone, blood, etc.), and enough rebuilding time and materials (sleep, and the substances above). It also refers to the “stuff” of reproductive function--hormones, menstrual blood, semen, mucous, etc. A yin deficiency may not affect all of these--Stomach yin deficiency means there usually is not adequate stomach mucosa, causing burning, acid reflux, or dry mouth; while liver yin deficiency will affect our ability to make blood properly, stay calm, and get enough sleep. Kidney yin deficiency affects reproductive function, overall calmness, ability to focus, and sleep as well.


Yang is the opposite of yin, and provides the activity that Yin fuels. Yang affects our ability to warm, do activity, remove excess moisture (and not generate it in the first place), wake up, and push through when you’re exhausted and have to keep going. It describes the energy that gets people up in them morning, provides sex drive, and active thinking. When it is deficient, people can have problems with anything from edema to sleepiness to just giving up.


Yin and yang work together. Without enough Yin, Yang is a mechanic with no tools, without enough Yang, the tools sit idle and rust. We need both. To use a different analogy, if you think of life as a fire, yin is the wood that provides fuel, while yang is the spark. Most people, when they get tired, try to add extra spark with caffeine, exercise, supplements, etc., when the problem most often is the substructure fuel that is depleted. Rebuilding the quiet side of your physiology allows you to thrive as you do the active parts of life.


Chronic stress destroys both yin and yang, but because yin is the harder to rebuild, it is the part that is the most important to protect. Overuse of cayenne, or other warming or stimulant substances like caffeine, will aggravate a yin deficiency, and may mask it temporarily because it provides extra yang. Eventually, though, the bottom falls out as a person's reserves are completely depleted. Once someone collapses from overworking her body, she may never fully recover.

So protect your health and your ability to thrive. Protect your yin:


  1. Get enough rest. Rest early and often, with naps if possible. Take regular breaks in your workday, if not to sleep, then at least to disengage from the rat race. Take a walk, look at the outside world or an art museum--but let your mind rest. Meditation is one of the best ways to rebuild yin, and can be as simple as letting your mind wander while you watch people walk their dogs in a park.
  2. Eat well. Eat nutrient-dense food. Eggs from healthy chickens (meaning free-range chickens who have not been fed antibiotics) are a great source of yin, as are any juicy fruits and vegetables. Most fish is considered beneficial for yin as well. Eating warming foods that are considered more yang tonic (such as cayenne, cinnamon, lamb, horseradish and other mildly spicy foods) is not wrong--Chinese medicine is about balance, and getting a wide variety of foods is important. But if you have a yin deficiency, giving extra attention to yin tonic foods is a great idea.
  3. Destress. In our modern times, nothing is as hard on Yin as stress. Stress triggers our fight-or-flight system, which basically means we become on guard most of the time. Feeling rested and refreshed when you are constantly worried or feel cornered in a bad job, relationship, or just with your own thoughts is impossible. See a therapist, make life changes a necessary, or delegate your least favorite chores. The peace you gain will add years to your life.
  4. Do gentle exercise. Exercise primarily builds yang, through activity, but gentle exercise, such as tai chi or moderate walking, allows your body to process stress hormones, circulate your lymph, move toxins around, and manage blood sugar and digestion. These benefits greatly diminish stress in your system, and so benefit Yin.
  5. Diminish distractions. Yin is the energy of quiet and peace. If you have not sat outside and looked at the clouds for a while, I suggest trying it. Turning off your cell phone, stepping away from the computer, and turning down ambient noise any way you can will give your nervous system a break. Like meditation, simply existing in a quiet space without a lot of stimulation allows your body to turn inward and rest.
Using these tips will help you keep your Yin strong, giving you ample reserves for any situation. Try a few of them today!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When It Absolutely, Positively, Has to Be: Five Tips to Do a BIG THING

Photo Credit: Escultura

Usually, my blog is about taking time out, getting rest, and honoring your needs. I usually advocate taking more time off than you think is necessary, and avoiding the mindset that you "have" to do much of anything if you are tired or need renewal time. 

But sometimes, you have to show up, no matter how you feel. I call this a Big Thing. If someone is sick, or you're out of sick days, or there's something that is too good for your overall goals, well-being, or future for you to sidestep it, you have to be there. How can you have the show go on when you want to drop the curtain and beg off?

  1. Do as many health-enhancing habits as possible while you are overextended. If you must work long hours, invest the extra time or money into eating healthy food. Be sure to get at least a tiny amount of exercise, even if it means five minutes of stretching while you listen on a conference call. Sleep as much as you possibly can while still getting your Big Thing done. Naps are great tucked in after lunch (pun intended).
  2. Set limits around your Big Thing. Set some kind of limit on how far you will push yourself. If there is a new baby, or a sick family member, organize a sitter for a few hours each week. If you have a big project at work, put in a few hours on a regular schedule for a break--a nap, a movie, an afternoon off--stagger the time among co-workers if necessary. No one works well with no breaks at all. And whenever possible set a deadline. "If I have not solved this problem within three weeks, I will set it aside for a week before I deal with it again."
  3. Ask for help, and take help that is offered. For some reason, asking for help is anathema to some people. But most people want to help their friends, family, and co-workers, knowing they will need help one day, too. So if your mother offers to make some meals so you have time to take your daughter to rehearsals for the school play, thank her profusely--and accept! If you have a co-worker willing and able to accept your phone call list while you handle your budget shortfall, thank her, and take her out to lunch when the crisis is over. Most people suffer more from stress than necessary simply by not taking help that is offered.
  4. Give yourself permission to let down in something. If you are at your parents' house every night while Dad recovers from hip surgery, don't worry about your normal housework. Or the dishes. If you live alone, and can't get someone to help you, use paper plates or order the healthiest takeout you can find to save time on cleaning up later. Maybe the weekly pizza get-together at work can be shelved until you have the newest promotion done. Or you can cut your exercise time in half for a few days a week until you learn French for your trip to Europe. While you don't want to abandon all standards or healthy activities, don't beat yourself up if you let a few things slide here and there in pursuit of the greater good. 
  5. Reward yourself when The Big Thing is over. My weak point is rewarding myself for an accomplishment, so I want to be sure to preach about it. If you and those around you have worked hard on anything, whether the ending worked out as you hoped or not, reward yourself for your effort. Take the office to dinner when big sale is over--whether you broke any records or not. When the kitchen is finally renovated, invite friends over for a celebration cooking extravaganza. When you spend a month helping your son prepare for his finals, go to the beach for the day when it's done--with an extra treat if he aces it. If your Big Thing is something that is not rewardable, like taking care of a sick relative who dies, you still need to rejuvenate. Take time off work to sleep, think about your loved one, or get a massage and talk to friends. You have worked hard for something, and you need to refill your reserve tank so you can enjoy the rest of your life.
Big Things can come in all shapes and sizes. When you decide something is worth more of your energy than you have to give, make sure it's worth the hours you are taking from your life. Then use these tips to allow you to do your Big Thing and come out the other side still ready for action.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Part Five of the Five Taxations: Maybe 'Stand Up, Stand Up' Is Not Always Best

Image Courtesy of FreeImages.com

Today is Part Five of our Five Taxation series. First, a quick review:

Part 1: Goldilocks and the Five Taxations: An Introduction
Chinese medicine advocates balance in everything. Even activities that seem harmless, or are considered positive by most people, should only be done in balance. Too much of any activity will cause an imbalance somewhere else.

Part 2: I Can See Clearly Now: To Observe Over a Long Time Harms the Blood
Our eyes are sensitive to overwork. Because of the connections they have with the Liver, Gallbladder, and Wood Element in Chinese medicine, overusing your eyes can hurt your health over time.

Part 3: Get Up and Boogie: Excessive Lying Down, Which Damages Flesh
Lying down too much means you cannot be getting enough exercise. Inadequate exercise leads to a host of problems, including blood sugar issues, poor circulation, obesity, and has been linked to dementia and poor stress management.

Part 4: Sitting Needs Moderation 
"Oversitting" is at least as bad as "excessive lying down," with the same issues plus more problems with posture.

And today's entry, "excessive standing, which injures bones." 

These days, standing is in vogue. There are standing desks, standing meetings, and advice to never, ever, ever sit.  

As with most things advised in our modern world, Chinese medicine would disagree with such an all-or-nothing approach. Standing for long periods is hard on the blood vessels in the legs, increasing the risk of carotid atherosclerosis ninefold, as well as contributing to varicose veins. For many people, it can aggravate back, foot, or knee pain, especially if the surface they need to stand on is too unyielding. It can also cause fatigue if there is no option to sit or rest.

Chinese medicine sees standing too long as harmful to the bones. The bones are governed by the Water element, which also includes the Kidney and Bladder systems. More than the organs that filter and excrete urine, in the Chinese medical system they also have a major role in maintaining you jing, or essence--which deals with your reproductive health as well as your "reserve energy"--the well you go to when you're exhausted but need to keep going. Anything that taxes this system will make it harder for you to overcome stress, especially long-term, unrelenting stress that eats at your peace.

So what's a person to do? Don't look out too much. Don't sit too long, don't stand too long, don't lie down too much, and don't walk a lot (our next and final taxation)--unless you can levitate, there's only one answer left someone seeking the wisdom of a millenia-old system of medicine. Do a little bit of all of them. Sit sometimes, stand a little, lie down to rest, and walk enough for exercise, but not to exhaustion. Our bodies are made for lots of different activities. In our computer age, we have made sitting and exercise-for-exercise's sake our primary movements. How about we try other things? Walk with a friend, or walk or bike to get from Point A to Point B. Stretch to rock climb, or reach something from a high shelf, or to dance to music. Lay down on the grass and look at the clouds. Or let your eyes rest, and listen to the birds and the breeze and the sound of children laughing. Stand to greet others, or to give your seat to someone who is tired and needs the rest. If you want other ideas, this article might be helpful.

Chinese medicine is about balance. Instead of latching on to one activity, how about filling your life with the variety of all activities that bring you health?

Articles used in writing this post:
http://www.hazards.org/standing/
http://www.ericcressey.com/6-tips-for-people-who-stand-all-day
http://healthland.time.com/2011/04/13/the-dangers-of-sitting-at-work%E2%80%94and-standing/




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Autumn: Grieving, Sorting, Letting Go



Autumn is my favorite season. I love the color in the leaves, the chill in the air, and the natural instinct to burrow in and nest. But I always find myself going broody and a little melancholy just as the summer heat gets that tiny tinge of coolness. For years, I chalked it up to the memories of school starting, year after year, in my childhood--the end of the freedom of summer, and for me the anxiety and discomfort of being an introvert thrown into a more social climate. 

While those memories may be a part of my "autumn blues," I now know there is a much more powerful reason I have these feelings, and why so many share them. In Chinese medicine, each season is associated with an element, which also relates to different parts of physical and emotional health. Autumn deals with the Metal Element, which is represented in the body by the Lung and Large Intestine systems. These systems deal with your immune system and breathing. But they also have an emotional component. They deal with the process of grief, of knowing what to keep and let go, and have a place in affecting how we organize our lives and set our boundaries.

Just as the leaves shed their leaves and begin to hunker down for the winter, drawing their nutrients inward, so we humans feel an urge to turn inward as the weather cools. Autumn is commonly a time for introspection and review. We look over our year, our relationships, and our homes, deciding what works well, and what does not, and letting go of those things that no longer serve us. We pack away our summer clothes, pull out the comforting shield of our sweaters and blankets, and review our yearly plans. And many of us, for reasons we cannot quite understand, feel the need to pull out old hurts, old problems, or old memories, figuratively running our fingers over our life scars.

This behavior is perfectly natural, and can be beneficial. When we suffer a loss--whether it's a loved one, an injury, a financial setback, or just a vision of ourselves we fail to live up to--we need time to process the change in our circumstances. We grieve a death, or a breakup, or a new reality after illness, and move one. But as a year or two or ten goes by, sometimes we find there are still issues to process. We reach the age of a parent when they died, we find a new romance, or find our health deteriorates further--or, sometimes more frighteningly, improves, bringing new opportunities but also new responsibility. We have grown and changed, and now we need to revisit that old hurt. Is there something new to learn from our old experience? Is there some new way to let go of a limiting belief or behavior? If we do not revisit our story, we may never know.

Of course, everyone has a friend who is stuck in time. They pick a moment of their life, either for its joy or pain, and refuse to leave it. They dress too young, or continue to make teenage choices into adulthood, because growing up threatens the safety they feel in their perceived youth. Or they keep a room or wall or life revolving around a loved one who has left, or died, unable to accept a new opportunity because they cannot let go of the past. For these people, the natural need to grieve and release has gotten bogged down. Sometimes they obsess on the grieving process; other times they avoid it, distracting themselves with work or vacations or play. If they let their mind go blank they risk the pain of memories welling up, so they choose distraction after distraction to avoid discomfort. For either approach, getting help to grieve properly is important. A mature friend or counselor can help stuck grievers go through the process of sorting memories or circumstances and deciding how life has changed around them, and also how to make changes so they can move on to the next stage of life.

Autumn is still my favorite season, even tinged with grief as it can sometimes be. The other side of grief is nostalgia--a happy memory of earlier times that can be a firm foundation from which to launch an amazing life.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Part Four of the Five Taxations: Sitting Needs Moderation

Just  because I'm happy doesn't mean I should be sitting

Not long ago, I started a series on The Five Taxations--five activities that wear out your system when done in excess. Here is our progress so far:
Our next Taxation is "excessive sitting, which injures flesh." 

Sitting has become the new no-no in our culture. Type "dangers of sitting" in a search engine, and watch the articles pop up. Sitting for long periods is linked with increased likelihood of disability, heart disease, poor posture, and muscle pain and weakness, and, if you are exercising by sitting on a bicycle, sitting is linked to impotence. Chinese medicine doesn't think much of over-sitting, either.

In Chinese medicine, "flesh" is considered to be the stuff that covers your bones that is meaty. While some in Chinese medicine equate flesh and muscle, others see them as separate. Either way, flesh is primarily governed by the Earth element, which consists of the Spleen and Stomach and the body functions they manage--the breaking down of food, the sense of self and ability to think, remember, and focus appropriately, management of "dampness," affecting everything from achy pains to edema or bloat, and the creation of energy and phlegm. An injury to the flesh will also compromise these functions by stressing the Earth energy. Sitting injures the flesh by impeding the free flow of blood and qi, both by the pressure of sitting on the meridians and by the lack of movement caused by being still.

The obvious way to avoid excessive sitting is by moving around. Get up from your desk at least every couple of hours (every half hour is better) and walk--to the restroom, breakroom, around the parking lot, to deliver an item to a co-worker--whatever you can do. Standing and treadmill desks  are all the rage now, making it possible to work at a computer without sitting at all.  

We Chinese medicine practitioners would add the caveat that anything done in less than moderation will have a down side. In fact, the final two taxations are excessive standing and excessive walking. So perhaps in addition to giving yourself the option to work at a computer while standing, consider taking time away from the computer completely. And time away from work. And time away from walking. Take some of your sitting outside, where you can connect to the ground and watch the birds, or clouds, or tiny little ants doing their thing. And then go for walk in fresh air.

Coming soon! Our next taxation: "Excessive standing, which injures bones"

Articles mentioned in this blog: 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Be Who You Are: Moving Past Trauma

Photo Credit: Teresa Y Green
Like many people, I've had traumas in my life. The specific type of trauma is not important for this post, and I lived through them, worked through the pain, and came out the other side a strong woman. But it left scars, and one of the scars was not knowing who I was--knowing my personality instead of my shields.

I sometimes think I'm a walking feeling. It's not that I cannot think logically, I just feel first, then think about it. I have fought this part of my personality for most of my life. Feeling is dangerous in a traumatic situation. It leaves you vulnerable to pain, both yours and that of the people around you. Feelings make it hard to rationally analyze a physically or emotionally dangerous situation and get yourself to safety. Feelings make you react, when you need to be in charge of your actions.

But feelings also inform all the good things in life. The joy of love, of friendship, or something beautiful--you cannot analyze the way it feels to have a loved one take your hand and get the most out of it. At least I cannot. Even hard feelings, like anger and sadness, have a good place. Anger fuels action, and directed properly, it leads to appropriate self-defense. Sadness allows you to sift through events and relationships, and know what to keep and what to release.

The degree to which I neglected my feeling side in my youth came to me recently when I read a poem. When I was younger, I had a hard time with poetry, especially the best poetry, which layers visceral images to create a feeling. I loved complete sentences. I liked Emerson over Whitman. I disliked songs with lyrics that didn't make a coherent story. When I got married, my husband introduced me to poetry with feeling--disjointed phrases that teased my subconscious, that spoke in whirling scenes instead of paragraphs, that I felt in my body instead of dissecting in my mind. 

It took a few years, but gradually I integrated the two. Embracing my feeling side along with my thinking side has made me a more whole person. I do not have to second-guess my reactions as often, because I am not approaching life while hiding half of myself. 

Part of acknowledging your whole self is learning to be honest. When you live through trauma, especially as a child, or for a long time, you learn to hide the scary parts of life from yourself and others. You learn to be ashamed of your circumstances. So you lie--if not in word, then in deed. You pretend things that bother you really don't; you let people believe you are in control of life when you aren't, and you deny vulnerability at every turn.

The energy you spend lying keeps you from seeing the truth. Most things that bother or irritate you are not the big deals you make them in your mind--and the ones that are completely unacceptable are usually easy to solve once you get past the initial terror of upsetting someone. When you spend a lifetime pretending to be in control, you never see that no one is completely in control of life--by its nature, life is uncontrollable. We all learn on the job, so to speak--some people are just able to walk an unknown path with confidence, others have to learn confidence by tiptoeing into new things. And it is only in our vulnerability that we really grow and live. Acknowledging you have something to lose makes life precious--pretending you are impervious to harm locks you away from everything that gives life wonder and awe and fun.

In Chinese medicine, we talk about "pathogens" that sometimes get caught inside of the body and can't escape. Illnesses like malaria, strep throat, and shingles are sometimes described as "an evil" that gets into your body, and then your body clamps down to protect itself, and the evil cannot get out. So you may recover, but the symptoms recur, over and over. You may never fully expel the pathogen, but you can learn to build your system, deal with physical and emotional things that stress you, and get appropriate help from the outside in the forms of herbs and acupuncture, you can greatly improve. The same is true for recovery from trauma. Few people completely lose every effect of a traumatic event. But if you reach out to professionals and others who have walked the same path, learn to use proper self-care, and address the things weighing you down in life, you can get better. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Four Ways to Make the Workday Smoother

Image Credit: Free Images.com

I absolutely love my work. I get to help people for a living, and work in an office full of upbeat, creative people who care about our patients and clients. But sometimes, I get a little burnt out. I feel the weight of others' suffering, or get discouraged because I don't meet some of my goals or my plans seem a long way from completion. The patient with the easy-to-treat problem does not improve, or the printer refuses to work when I absolutely need to print out a form.

In the natural health world, we often focus on the "soft skills" or actions that build health. Rather than recommend a dramatic treatment, we advise the people who come to see us to adopt simple strategies to give their minds and bodies room to grow health. I have adapted those strategies to my workday. Here are some tips that help me get back on track when discouragement sets in:

  1. Start with the right thoughts. Every morning, I read. A lot. I read sections from the Bible, articles on relationship and books on living your purpose and goals. Poetry, scripture, affirmations, inspirational books can also put you in a good frame of mind to start your day.
  2. Exercise. I am not a great athlete. For a long time, my health left me exhausted after even moderate exercise, and I'm only just now challenging the idea that I cannot do vigorous activities. But I know the importance of movement, both for physical health, and for emotional well-being. So I do lots of little exercise as often as I can. I wander around the neighborhood where I work and a local botanical garden. I stretch, or spend five minute intervals doing small muscle-building exercises. Not as much as I need to, yet, but I'm improving. And guess what I've noticed? The days I do more little intervals of exercise, the happier and more productive I am. 
  3. Meditate. Taking a moment or two to calm your mind will minimize anxiety, improve brain function and help you make more thoughtful decisions, improve your endocrine function, and help your heart health. Even if you only meditate for a minute every couple of hours, you will find yourself more calm and able to handle challenges more easily. This website has great one-minute meditations.
  4. Show gratitude. Thank the people around you for the wonderful things they do. Keep a gratitude journal. Look for things to enjoy and that make you thankful. Gratitude has tons of health benefits, and also encourages positive action. So jot down things that you appreciate. And tell those around you that you appreciate them--share the good feeling!
These four points are not rocket science, but they will keep you in a better mood. Burnout is hard to deal with and miserable to experience, so taking simple steps to prevent hating your daily routine makes sense. Please share your tips below.