Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Derangement by Metal: Grieving and Anxiety in Chinese Medicine


Every acupuncturist has at least one kind of illness pattern they have a hard time treating. For some, the chronic Earth deficiency, with its frequent love of sweets and ability to obsess on anything, is difficult. For others, it's Liver Fire, with its tendency to be constantly irritable. For me, it's severe Metal imbalances that affect the psyche. The pain this imbalance creates is hard to watch, especially since the people stuck in this pattern often have difficulty believing their perceptions are unclear.

Metal element deals with the Lung and Large Intestine, and deals with the emotions of memory and nostalgia, grieving, and letting go of anything that no longer serves you. It is also the system that deals with boundaries (a la the immune system) and as such plays a part in the metaphorical "boxes" a person uses to keep things organized and sorted in their mind. The season of autumn is a time when the Metal element has more say-so in the workings of the environment than any other time of year. Many people notice a tendency towards nostalgia in the autumn, and pull out old picture books to remember old times. Others notice more of a tendency to think of past losses, or a desire to clear out clutter and re-evaluate the things you spend your time on in life.

For someone whose Metal element, or Lung and Large Intestine energy, is severely out of balance, this process goes awry, sometimes to the point of becoming irrational. The organizational and boundary aspects of Metal can become hyper-sensitive, making a person a perfectionist, or overly detailed oriented. The boundary-setting function can falter, making a person either too lenient with those around them, or, more often in dealing with Metal, too strict. The person becomes so convinced of their own opinions on a matter that they cannot see the faults in their thinking, and become overly uptight and even paranoid. When these problems occur, a person can suffer from symptoms as mild as being too picky about how the dishwasher is loaded to a full mental disorder, such as eating disorder, debilitating phobias, panic disorders, and other forms of irrationality.

While serious, life-altering disorders will usually require greater intervention from medical sources, there are ways to help your Lung and Large Intestine energies regain balance. In the continuum of Chinese energetics, the Metal element is nourished by Earth, controlled by Wood, and feeds Water. Keeping these three systems in balance will help normalize the Metal element.

Since a tendency to over-control is considered an excess state of Metal in Chinese medicine, one way to decrease its influence is to minimize Earth element. This process is tricky, because the Earth element is responsible for digestions, and has some weakness in most people. So keeping food easy to digest is key. Rather than eating raw or processed food, eat warm, well-cooked food, such as soups, mildly sweet vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, and unprocessed grains. Raw food is too difficult for most people to break down easily, especially in cold weather. Warm foods relax your entire digestive system. It also helps relax the muscles in your torso, allowing qi to more easily flow from your chest to your abdomen, linking your Metal and Earth energy.

Another problem comes when the Metal Element "over-controls" Wood energy, which represents the liver and gallbladder functions in Chinese medicine.  Wood is repsonsible for enforcing the boundaries that the Metal element creates, as well as supplying active creative energy for things like art, organizing, and business. When Wood is out of balance, people either become listless and lacking ambition and ability to take action. Alternatively, a person with Wood unbalanced can become aggressive in asserting herself. Often this form of imbalance is predominate in the more irrational forms of Metal imbalance. The Metal element virtually enslaves the Wood energy and uses it to fight the encroachment of reality on the opinions of the person out-of-balance.

To soothe the Wood element, and bring it out of Metal's abusive orbit, you use small amounts of sour foods and plenty of green foods. These foods help Wood energy to "unstick" itself. And stuck energy is a big issue in the particularly severe Metal overbalances. Getting that energy to move allows a person to release their sometimes irrational thoughts and allow other people to help them.

Finally, Water element, which is the Kidney and Bladder meridians in people and animals, is nourished by Metal. Often this energy is weak in the person with an unbalanced Metal energy because the energy gets stuck and refuses to nourish Water. Alternatively, it pushes so much energy into the Water element that its function of providing the oomph for willpower becomes overpronounced, and the poor person cannot allow anyone or anything, including objective reality, to circumvent his or her own will. Grounding the Water element and using the other tips here allow willpower to move to appropriate self-care instead of sometimes arbitrarily strict rules in diet, cleanliness, or other behaviors.

Strengthening Water element can be done by adding small amounts of sea salt or elements from the ocean. Fish, seaweeds, or adding sea or other unprocessed salt to your food can help. Giving yourself plenty of downtime to meditate, daydream, and have unstructured thought is also important. Water element has the most connection to the subconscious mind in Chinese medicine. As such, it deals with the underlying fears and emotions that stir problems in all the elements, including Metal. Nourishing it gives your body the reserves and feeling of grounding you need to improve any emotional or physical condition.

Severe unbalance in any system should be addressed by as many modalities and professionals as you need to restore harmony in your life. In the case of severe Metal element disturbance, you may need to find someone you trust to define your reality if you are having irrational thoughts. Seek emergency care if a disturbed mental process is affecting your life to a great extent, or you have thoughts of harming yourself or others.

Balance is key to all of Chinese medicine. For more information on dealing with your health imbalances, please call or email today.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Brief Intro to Acupuncture (VIDEO)

Here's a video I did for New Year New You at Montpelier Family Chiropractic. I plan on doing more videos this year on topics ranging from foods to eat when you have a bad cold to how the seasons affect your emotional health. You can follow my channel on YouTube, or my Facebook page to always get my videos as soon as they're up. Feel free to suggest topics!




Friday, January 22, 2016

Big News for the New Year--I'm in Montpelier!

After five years at what is now Ariya Chiropractic, I have decided to move on to new things. Effective immediately, I will be moving to Montpelier Family Chiropractic in beautiful downtown Montpelier. I will be there on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Dr. Tree, Mark Atkinson, and Angelica Valencia
I am joining an amazing group of colleagues. Theresa Neiss ("Dr. Tree") is the chiropractor at Montpelier Famiily Chiropractic. She has been my family's chiropractor for the past five years. She has helped me, my husband, our friends and my patients stay healthy and happy, often with problems that were not improved at other chiropractic offices. She has a background in nutrition, and is well trained not only in spinal manipulation, but in adjusting every joint in the body. I didn't know until recently that some chiropractors have little training in adjusting anything beyond the spine. Dr. Tree's expertise with the entire body has been a great help when I come to her with a hurt ankle or wrist.

Mark Atkinson is the massage therapist here. The massage I got from him was one of the best I've ever had. He has special training in pregnancy massage and mobility stretches. His enthusiasm for life will infect you, too, when you see him.

Angelica Valencia is the chiropractic assistant extraordinaire. She is dedicated to natural living, homesteading, patient care and interesting information in general. I love going to the office just to learn what amazing thing she's learned since my last visit. If you are curious, certainly about healthcare, but also about just about anything else, you will find a kindred spirit in Angelica.

Colleen and Tara round out the office support staff. Everyone at Montpelier Family Chiropractic is friendly, knowledgeable, and interested in you and your health. You will love coming here as much as I do.

The office is a star in itself. It is beautiful, and feels relaxing and open. They have put lovely plants everywhere, and the walls are a lovely green--perfect for me!

Snazzy Waiting Area

A Peek Into Mark's Treatment Room

Angelica's Domain

The First Door is My New Treatment Room
Stay tuned and check your email (be sure to sign up for email updates using the box in the upper right if you aren't getting them yet) for a series of special promotions celebrating the move to the new office.

Please feel free to stop by and say hi. We're at 17212 Mountain Road in Montpelier across the street from the Montpelier Center for Arts and Education, at the corner of Mountain Road (Hwy. 33, which is Staples Mill Road in Richmond) and Beaverdam Road.. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Part Six of the Five Taxations: The Boots are Made for It, But Walk in Balance

Photo Credit: Justin Schott

After a long hiatus we're back to our series on the Five Taxations. Here are the previous articles:

Introduction/Part One: Goldilocks and The Five Taxations

Part Two: I Can See Clearly Now: Part Two of the Five Taxations--Vision

Get Up And Boogie! Part 3 of The 5 Taxations: Excessive Lying Down

Part Four of the Five Taxations: Sitting Needs Moderation

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

Today's topic is the Fifth Taxation: "Excessive Walking, which damages the sinews." Our culture is in love with sitting, but our advice gurus are all about the walking. Walking does have many benefits.  People recommend having a treadmill desk so you never have to sit down. 

A basic tenet of Chinese medicine is "everything in balance." So we advise against lying down too much, against sitting too much, and against walking too much. Where many people see this as contradictory advice, we see it as common sense. You need to move your body in many different ways and rest it, too. 

"Walking injures the sinews" warns against the exhaustion of overwork. Sinews can cover a most non-muscle, non-fatty tissues in Chinese medicine-speak. Anyone who has experienced tendonitis knows it is often triggered by overuse. 

The sinews are considered to be governed by the Wood element, which also manages Liver and Gallbladder function. The Liver and Gallbladder are the organ systems most affected by stress. Moderate walking, or other exercise, is great for stress and can help you manage the energy generated by emotions, overthinking, and your response to frustrations and problems. 

But too much exercise wears you out. When you are exhausted from overwork, you have a harder time managing stress. You begin to pull on your reserves, which in Chinese medicine means overtaxing the Water element, which deals with the Kidney and Bladder systems. Together with the Liver and Gallbladder, these systems have a huge influence on all the hormonal functions of the body--endocrine, sleep, and reproduction in particular. The Water element also holds your inherited energy, which are your "reserves." When you don't have enough energy from your rest and breathing and eating, your body naturally taps into these reserves. Many people can over-exercise for years because they use this reserve energy as they push themselves too hard. But once the reserves are gone, you have nothing extra to help you age gracefully, manage life's emergencies or major illnesses, or just have the "verve" that makes life a joy.

How much is too much? It depends on the person. Check with your doctor or other healthcare professional for your specific case. My advice is generally to do enough exercise so your joints feel relaxed and loose, and so your daily tension feels relieved. If your exercise leaves you exhausted for more than twenty-four hours after you do it, or if you hurt more than mild aches and pains when you exercise, dial back. If you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes or heart problems, be extra careful and be sure you have health advice from a medical professional who is qualified to help you--that will usually include a doctor at least, but maybe also an acupuncturist, physical therapist, chiropractor, nutritionist, or other practitioner.

So get moderate exercise, including walking. Enjoy it! But don't overdo it. Like everything else, exercise is meant to be done in moderation.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Self-Care When Illness Strikes

An unintended side effect of illness: I've lost some weight!
This summer has been interesting chez Green. I've had two illnesses that landed me in the hospital, and needed a procedure that put me out of commission for about a week. It has been a month since I was declared more or less back to normal, and I'm still low on energy and don't feel anywhere near recovered.

I've been shell-shocked by the whole ordeal. As a natural health practitioner who eats clean and uses herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic and other holistic healthcare nearly exclusively, the world of beeping machines and various pills, antiseptics, and scary diagnostic things that zap my insides is overwhelming. And I didn't even need surgery.

I treat people every day who make multiple trips to a hospital or outpatient facility for procedures each year. Most of my patients take some kind of prescription medication every day, and many more see their doctor for health concerns frequently. After my brief sojourn in the land of modern medicine, I feel for them.

The doctors and nurses who have treated me have been almost universally professional, kind, and compassionate. They have also been overworked, and in a system that treats bodies like machines.

It is surprising how quickly you begin to feel like a piece of meat when people take your clothes and blood, and make your bodily fluids their business. Even knowing it is exactly what I needed to get well did not make me feel positive about the experience. Feeling my body reel from each medication and procedure disoriented me and made me distrust my natural knowledge.

I am used to using food and herbs to gently allow my body to heal. In most cases, this approach is ideal, allowing your body to makes the minute adjustments that encourage balance. In an emergency, you take care of the potentially life-threatening problem and then help your body recover from any side effects. I have had to develop some strategies to help me recover from the more extreme but necessary healthcare I've had over the past several months. Here are a few things that have helped me:
  1. Remember every person recovers differently. I have taken far longer than I like to get my energy and verve back. My husband and friends keep reminding me that while I was very blessed in not having as severe a health issue as I could have had, I was still seriously ill. They also remind me that I have always been slightly frail, for lack of a better word, and usually take longer than average to recover from anything, even a night of poor sleep. Once I stopped fighting the time I needed to get better, I noticed I improved more quickly.

  2. Take better care of yourself than usual. I already eat well and try to give myself plenty of rest and moderate exercise. But this illness has made it necessary for me to be extra careful in my food. A little too much sugar, too much starch, or a food I know I do not digest well, and I will feel bad for at least the next twenty-four hours. A night's lost sleep means a nap the next day, no arguments. If I don't take care of myself, my muscles hurt, I can't focus, and I'm likely to have an emotional meltdown. So I try to eat mostly simply cooked food with an emphasis on vegetables. When I stick to this diet, I feel better than when I eat too much sugar or spice. I also give myself plenty of rest, and try--the hardest thing for me--to keep calm thoughts and stay optimistic. I am a recovering worrier.

  3. Make a plan for the future. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness that requires some maintenance. Since I've been used to mild symptoms and did not realize they signalled something more serious, I've had to educate myself. I knew the "book-knowledge" information from my schooling in healthcare, but learning what symptoms feel like in my body has taken concentrated study. I now have a plan for a)diet changes and herbal supplements as preventative changes when symptoms start, b) at what point I will go to a doctor, and c) when the best course of action is rest.

  4. Accept managing illness is a process. I am still learning the exact parameters to best manage my health. I have made mistake in overdoing things, and I suspect I could have pushed myself sometimes and did not. After being lectured by my friends and family to take the advice I give to others, I took the pressure off myself to be perfect. Now I don't worry too much about misteps. My goal is to be healthy for years to come, not to be perfect today. I think my strategy is working.
I hope these tips will help you, whether you are dealing with a cold or a serious illness. If you are not healthy, you cannot enjoy life to its fullest. Take the time to take care of yourself so you can enjoy your time on this lovely planet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What Herb Do You Use For. . .?

Photo Credit: Teresa Y Green

"I want to get some herbs for my headaches. What do you suggest?" When I am in the health food store buying groceries, I hear customers aiming these kinds of questions at the staff. The staff usually does not answer them, because they are not legally allowed to diagnose or treat health conditions.

I don't answer such questions, either, even though I have an acupuncture license and herbal treatment falls within my scope of practice. I am an herbalist who uses Chinese herbs, and we don't prescribe herbs that way. Here's a short primer on using Chinese herbs.

1. Chinese herbs are prescribed by syndrome, not symptom. We see the body as a complex grouping of activities, and see illness as a hiccup in the organization of those activities. We have names for the system breakdowns that cause problems. Sometimes a body runs too hot, or too cold, or doesn't handle food or humidity or stress well. Sometimes energy gets stuck in one place, or because of overwork or poor sleep there is not enough energy. We use herbs, as well as acupuncture, meditation techniques, and other tools, to restore balance in the system. For headaches, some are caused by fatigue, some by frustration and stress. Still others are caused by becoming overheated, or because of old trauma or hormone shifts. Each of these causes might need completely different herbal treatment. To give someone the wrong herbs could aggravate the system breakdown and make the headaches worse instead of better.

Chinese herbs are primarily used in formulas. When patients ask me for herbs, they usually expect me to give them one name, like a TV talk show doctor might. Feverfew for headaches! St John's wort for depression! Black cohash for hot flashes! But Chinese herbalism has developed over thousands of years. Herbalists have learned that using just one herb for a person is not the most effective way to treat the whole person. I have treated many people who have not had good results with the one herb treatment. The one herb they chose may not have addressed their syndrome properly, or it may have aggravated another condition, or it may simply have not been strong enough on its own. 

In a Chinese herbal formula, some herbs are for the underlying syndrome causing the symptoms that are uncomfortable. Some ingredients help with digesting the overall formula. Others are added to minimize the chance of any side effects. Still others are used to strengthen general health to prevent the problem from happening again once it is resolved.When I look at a bottle of herbs from a health food store or a multi-level company that sells herbs, even if they are in a formula, almost all the herbs are for the same symptom. There is rarely an attempt to make the formula address the whole body (except when the company uses a Chinese medicine formula--but even then, they market it as being used for a symptom, not the underlying cause). We consider putting every herb that treats a given symptom into one formula as overkill in most cases. 

Chinese herbs are ideally custom prescribed for the individual. Sometimes companies sell a "one size fits all" formula because the people creating the formulas are not trained herbalists; often it is because they are mass marketing a formula to the general public, and know the average person with a headache doesn't know what causes it. Chinese medicine has fallen into this trap, too. Go into most Asian markets, and you'll find formulas for fertility, for PMS, or for headache. These formulas may be frequently used formulas developed over hundreds or years or more, and may work for the majority of the people who try them.  But they are still not aimed at the the exact syndrome affecting the individual buying them. The ideal way to purchase Chinese herbs is from an herbalist trained in Chinese medicine. We will talk with you about all your health problems, and make you a formula that will begin the process of re-balancing all of your systems. 

If you only treat the one symptom that is bothering you the most, it is like taking someone spinning 5 plates and only keeping one balanced. While even a master herbalist cannot always treat every problem at once, we can usually trace a common cause for most of the problems and treat that first. As that system failure is fixed, more than one symptom will begin to improve. If you have headaches, you may find that not only do they get better, but your sleep improves too. Or your digestion is better. Or you catch fewer colds. Treating the underlying cause of health problems has the effect of improving how you feel overall. 

Holistic medicine in general takes the long view. We don't treat you just so you feel better next week, but have side effects from treatment that will cause you problems in a few years. We look to your future, and correct as many of the system faults as possible, so that your health continues to improve over the long term. Not every problem can be cured, but with good health practices and herbs that balance your body rather than simply try to mask a symptom, we can help you to feel better overll.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Does Acupuncture Help Weight Loss?

image courtesy of freeimages.com

After "Does acupuncture hurt?" questions about weight loss are the most common ones for most acupuncturists. The short answer is "yes, usually." Many people lose weight more easily when they add acupuncture to a healthy lifestyle of unprocessed food, healthy exercise, adequate sleep, and good stress management. Changes happen more quickly, and the good habits are easier to follow.

But that is not because acupuncture makes you lose weight. Losing weight may or may not be healthy, depending on your circumstance. And weight loss is not (or should not be) a goal in itself. Everyone agrees it is better to be a normal weight than obese. But if you somehow manage to lose weight while eating overly processed food, sleeping poorly, and stay highly stressed, you will still have health problems.

Acupuncture regulates qi.  Qi roughly correlates to our nervous and endocrine systems--the nearly sentient interactions that keep us alive with minute adjustments to every part of life. Our immune system, heart rate, metabolism--even what our brain focus on in the world around us--depend on how we interpret the internal and external data that comes through our senses. In Chinese medicine, we call the "stuff" that makes that interpretation qi.

Acupuncture allows qi to work as efficiently as possible. When you are stressed, or trying to overcome eating a cheeseburger laced with MSG-laden flavor salt and drinking a diet drink, or haven't gone for a walk in a week, your qi suffers. Your system is backlogged with problems. Like a computer with glitches, you don't work as well. Acupuncture allows your system to "reboot," much like a good nights rest allows your body to process the thoughts and emotions of the day.

Your body, unencumbered by the stresses and injuries of the past, feels good. Exercise is a joy. As acupuncture treatments continue to calm your nervous system, it minimizes your "fight or flight" moments in the sympathetic nervous system. Little things, like traffic jams, feel less and less like emergencies. You start to feel stable and safe. Living in this state allows you to release food cravings.  Your body stops hanging on to every bit of fat it can get as a protection from a sense of deprivation and lack. You will begin to lose weight.

But you will do so much more. You will catch fewer colds, have fewer allergies, feel fewer aches and pains. You will sleep better, be more alert at work, and less likely to strike out in anger because life will feel manageable.

Does acupuncture help weight loss? Only tangentially. Acupuncture opens the pathways inside of you to allow your body to work the way it always should. In health and wellness.

Information used in crafting this post: TED talk: Why Do We Sleep?