Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and in western ideology, the heart is king of love. But in Chinese medicine, the Kidney plays a huge role in addition to the heart! I've seen a LOT of great articles around the last few days on just this topic, here are a few :
Regardless of whether you have a valentine in your life, it's important to keep your Kidney Qi strong and healthy!
Happy Valentine's Day!
Welcome to the last post of Resolutions Week. You made it! Hopefully your first week with your new goals in 2011 went well! If it was a rough one, keep going, it WILL get easier as these new habits become old ones.
Today I'm going to talk about willpower and tips and tricks for keeping the motivation until your new-found habits become integrated in your daily life.
First off, what is willpower? Dictionary.com defines it as: the ability to control oneself and determine one's actions
As I was looking through the definitions to find the one I wanted to use in this article, I found that they have a section of quotes that contain the word you've just looked up. Pretty cool! And funny enough, there's a quote that I think will fit well in this situation:Writing a book is like rearing children—willpower has very little to do with it. If you have a little baby crying in the middle of the night, and if you depend only on willpower to get you out of bed to feed the baby, the baby will starve. You do it out of love. Willpower is a weak idea; love is strong. You don't have to scourge yourself with a cat-o'-nine tails to go to the baby. You go to the baby out of love for that particular baby. That's the same way you go to your desk.
- Annie Dillard
Let's just substitute the parts about writing a book with the idea of living healthfully and loving your body. Nice, huh?
So let's talk about willpower from a Chinese medical perspective.
Our willpower is associated with our Kidneys. When the Kidneys are weak, not only can we experience a decrease in willpower, but fatigue, early aging, pain or weakness in our low back or knees and much more.
Kidney deficiency is really common in college students, parents of young children, and anyone else burning the candle at both ends. Have you noticed that the more tired or stressed out you are, the harder it is to follow through with things that aren't vital?
So what can we do to strengthen our Kidneys so we'll be more likely to follow through long-term with our goals?
- Get plenty of rest - I know this can seem like a tough one, especially for those who are super busy. But rest is going to be a key ingredient in letting your Kidney Qi regenerate.
- Eat a healthy diet - We get our Qi from our food and drinks. High quality foods give us more Qi.
- Keep stress levels low - We all know how stress plays in with fatigue. Exercise can help keep stress from building up.
- Acupuncture and Chinese herbs help increase our quality of sleep, decrease stress levels and improve our digestion so that we're getting the best out of our food all so that our Kidneys can recharge.
So, as Annie Dillard said, it starts with love. Love for yourself and your well-being. When you take basic care of your body (and yes, the items bulleted above should be BASIC things we do for ourselves - not special treats every once in a while), you won't need willpower. You'll love yourself too much to NOT do them, and you'll have enough energy and drive to follow through with them (as well as bigger and better goals!).Resolutions Week - IntroResolutions Week - Part I - ExerciseResolutions Week - Part II - Healthy EatingResolutions Week - Part III - Quitting Smoking
Welcome back to Resolutions Week! If you're just now finding this series, you'll find links to the other posts at the end.
Today we're going to talk about smoking and how it affects our bodies from a Chinese medical standpoint.
In Chinese medicine, any time we're exposed to smoke it has a drying effect. This could be cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke, or even smoke from the wood-burning stove you use to heat your house during the winter. As with many things, a few exposures here and there aren't going to drastically change your health. It's the chronic, long-term exposures that will have an impact.
What does it mean for something to be drying?
Just like a campfire can dry your shoes after you played in the river earlier in the day, smoking will dry up your body fluids. Some people will notice this drying effect as:
- Dry mouth or throat
- Red, dry eyes
- Dry skin, hair or nails
Again, in small doses, the drying won't have a lasting effect. We'll drink more water because we're thirsty, which will replenish our body fluids. Long term, however, while we could theoretically drink enough water to compensate for the loss of body fluids, our body's mechanisms for moving that fluid to different our different parts are damaged. We can drink a ton of water, but we're still going to have the dry skin, hair and nails (and other symptoms) because our body isn't taking in and utilizing fluids properly anymore.
In Chinese medical terms, smoking damages our Yin. When we don't have enough Yin energy to cool, moisten and calm, we end up with uncomfortable symptoms such as those mentioned above.
To reverse this drying effect, acupuncture and herbs can be prescribed, but of course, the best course of action is to limit your exposure.
Tomorrow will be our last piece of this series on Resolutions. We'll be talking about will-power and tips and tricks to keep going with those healthful resolutions!
As mentioned above, here are links to the rest of the articles from Resolutions WeekResolutions Week - IntroResolutions Week - Part I - ExerciseResolutions Week - Part II - Healthy EatingResolutions Week - Part IV - Willpower
Welcome to Resolutions Week! Yesterday
we talked about how Chinese medicine looks at exercise. Today we're going to take a look at how Chinese medicine views healthy eating - another common New Year's Resolution.
In Chinese medical theory, your Stomach is viewed as an oven, in which the foods you eat are cooked using the energy of the Spleen. This isn't too far off from what we know biologically happens. Biologically speaking, our foods are chemically "cooked" using acids and enzymes rather than heat cooked, but those ancient Chinese had a great analogy going, so let's stick with it!
So you put food into your Stomach and then your Spleen turns the oven on to digest that food. There are a couple of ways that we can make our oven inefficient at cooking our foods. Let's take a look at them:
- Ice water - Drinking ice cold water cools off our digestive oven, making it have to work that much harder in order to turn food into energy we can use. If you tend to be on the colder side and you drink ice water, you may notice undigested food in your stools! That's evidence that your oven isn't getting hot enough!
- Raw Foods - Eating lots of raw foods can also make our Spleen have to work harder to digest our foods.
- Too many sweets - too many sweet foods gum up the works of the Spleen, making it difficult to digest foods properly.
The above things that we can do to make our oven inefficient are often used in "dieting" to burn more calories (except for the part about eating too many sweets, of course). For someone who is extremely robust and in tip-top shape, doing those things won't likely make a large impact on their digestion. Their oven is already super efficient and not bogged-down! But in someone who has weaker digestion, who is cold all the time or has fatigue, doing these things can mean you're spending too much energy on digesting the food without gaining enough from it.
So here's what I recommend most people do to eat healthier:
- Skip the ice in your water. Cool from the tap is fine. Room-temperature or warmer is better!
- Eat fully cooked foods - Cooking is merely another way of pre-digesting the food. Don't make your Spleen work so hard and you'll feel much more energetic! A side salad is alright, but avoid those entree salads, especially during the winter when it's so cold outside.
- Avoid sweets - Too many sweets weaken the Spleen. An occasional treat is fine, but let's not over do it.
Come back tomorrow for a look at Quitting Smoking as a New Year's Resolution!
In case you missed the rest of this series:Resolutions Week - IntroResolutions Week - Part I - ExerciseResolutions Week - Part III - Quitting SmokingResolutions Week - Part IV - Willpower
Welcome to Resolutions Week! Today we'll be discussing exercise and its importance as viewed from the Chinese medical perspective.
Many many MANY people make exercise a part of their New Year's Resolutions. (It's definitely made my list!) We all know that to be truly healthy, exercise is an important building block. So why do so many of us struggle with the motivation to get up and move our bodies regularly?
We are a society of stress. Our jobs are stressful. Our families are stressful. Traffic is stressful. We're expected to do so much in so few hours! In Chinese medical theory, stress is associated with the Liver and the Wood element
. Stress prevents the Liver from doing its job of keeping our Qi moving in a smooth fashion. If our Qi isn't moving properly, we start to get symptoms of unhealth.
When we exercise regularly, we are mechanically making our Qi flow. Think of all those muscles moving. That blood pumping. The sweat pouring. Your Qi follows each of them. So even though the stress may be making it difficult for your Qi to move smoothly, when you exercise, it is being forced to do so, which will help ease your levels of stress. See how that works? It's a great feedback loop!
One of the reasons we may find it difficult to get motivated to get moving is because of our Qi not moving properly. Think of it like a car with a dead battery. If the battery isn't sending power to the engine to start it, you're going to have to push-start it. It's hard to be motivated to push that car, especially if it means having to get up earlier in the morning! However, if you know that if you push that car and get the battery fixed so it'll start easily when you tell it to, it's much easier to get out there and start pushing!
So get out there and fulfill your New Year's Resolutions, and know that you're doing your body good to get that Qi moving! Remember, it'll get easier to continue with your new habit once all those little bits of Qi get unstuck!Resolutions Week - IntroResolutions Week - Part II - Healthy EatingResolutions Week - Part III - Quitting SmokingResolutions Week - Part IV - Willpower
I liked this article from Natural News (copied below) and wanted to share it with you all. Apparently I am in the mood for some autumnal foods. Bonus recipe at the end!In Traditional Chinese Medicine, autumn is represented by the metal element, which corresponds to the Lungs and Large Intestine. Weakness in this element shows up as ailments in the Lung and Intestines: allergies, asthma and constipation. The remedy can be found in this season's most notable food: the pumpkin or squash.
The pumpkin is round, orange and sweet. It corresponds to the earth element in the five element cycle. Earth is the mother of metal. In Chinese medicine there is a saying: when there is weakness in the child (in this case metal: lungs and large intestine), nourish the mother (in this case earth.)
Weakness in the lungs will show up as:
Because the lungs open onto the skin, one may also see acne, eczema and psoriasis. The paired organ to the Lungs is the Colon, so weakness here will show up as constipation, diarrhea, or IBS.
In Chinese medicine, the pumpkin is known to relieve damp conditions such as dysentery and eczema. It promotes discharge of mucus from the lungs, bronchi and throat, easing bronchialasthma. (1)
Not only does the flesh of the pumpkin benefit the Lungs and Large Intestine, the seeds are especially good for the intestines, easing constipation and acting as a parasite cleanse. Known as nan gua zi, pumpkin seeds are especially known to alleviate tapeworm and roundworm. For this purpose pumpkin seeds are taken by boiling into a strong tea known as a decoction or grinding into a powder to be taken with water.
Nutritionally, pumpkins are high in beta carotene which is converted by the body to vitamin A. Beta carotene protects the mucous membranes of the body and has been shown to protect both the lungs and large intestine against cancer. (2)
Soup is an excellent way to nourish the body this time of year. The following soup can be made with pumpkin or any kind of yellow winter squash. Make sure to save and wash the seeds, which can then be salted and baked at 350 degrees until dry.
Nourishing Pumpkin Soup
- 1 pumpkin or squash, halved, seeded, and baked face down on baking sheet at 350 until soft (1/2 hour to an hour depending on thickness of squash.)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 cups water
- In soup pot, saute onions, garlic and carrots in olive oil until softened.
- Add water, flesh of the squash scraped from the skin, maple syrup, salt and pepper and mix well.
- Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Cool and blend until smooth.
- Reheat and serve.
- Pitchford, p.508
- Ibid, p.313
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA.
Bensky, Dan and Gamble, Andrew. Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica.Eastland Press, Seattle.
Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine. Acupuncture, A Comprehensive Text. Eastland Press. Seattle.
A recent study on acupuncture as a treatment for depression during pregnancy
finds that acupuncture shows some real promise for being a safe and effective treatment during a time when most treatments are not considered safe.
Depression, according to Chinese medicine, is due to Qi and/or blood deficiency, usually associated with the Heart (the organ associated with the emotion of joy) and Spleen (the organ associated with being grounded and content in life).
When our Qi levels are not strong enough to support these emotions, then we fall to the other, unhealthy, side of the spectrum. We experience the common symptoms of depression.
To further compound the problem of depression, when our Spleen is weak, our Liver (the organ associate with stress!) is allowed to rule the roost! So not only are we feeling bad, but we experience more stress which can force us into a cycle of feeling hopeless.
So how can we treat depression using Chinese medicine? First off, I'd like to mention that anytime you're dealing with a major deficit of Qi or blood, it takes time to correct. There is no quick fix. Expect at least 1-3 months, depending on how deficient you are, to see results. Expect to be treated longer than that for lasting results.
So back to the question - how can we treat depression using Chinese medicine?
Acupuncture and herbs will help get your Qi back to healthy levels relatively quickly.
Things that you can do at home include:
- Wearing sunny colors (reds, yellows, oranges). These are the colors associated with the Heart and Spleen.
- Get outside. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to play a role in depression.
- Eat a nutritious diet. This will help the Spleen build the Qi and blood necessary to reverse your symptoms.
- Take a multivitamin. Because the Qi and deficit is so large with depression, we need all the help we can get in building Qi and Blood.
- Don't lose hope! You CAN get out of the depression hole. Be patient and loving with yourself as you regain your energy.
Please consider seeing an acupuncturist in addition to the rest of your mental health team if you're experiencing symptoms of depression. Your Heart and Spleen will thank you for it!
So I've done a lot of talking about the Spleen, in particular its sibling-like relationship with the Liver. Today I want to give you a few ideas of things you can do at home that will strengthen your Spleen which will in turn give you:
- better digestion
- clearer thinking
- weight gain or weight loss (depending on what your body needs)
- no more diarrhea
- and much more!
Let's start by discussing diet. The flavor of the Spleen is sweet. However, this doesn't mean that we should go out and eat all the sugar we can find. In fact, this damages the Spleen further. What we need is foods that are "sweet-ish" while providing a ton of nutrients. Some common foods for strengthening the Spleen are:
- Sweet Potatoes
- warm, cooked foods (they're easier on the Spleen to digest)
The color of the Spleen is yellow. Orange and brown can also be a part of the Spleen color family due to their "earthy" tones. When looking at the above list of foods, notice how many of them fit this color-scheme. MOST of them! So when planning your diet, consider adding some of these colors! Also consider surrounding yourself with something in the Spleen's color-family. A yellow shirt? A necklace with yellow beads? Be creative!
The emotions of the Spleen are worry and over-analyzing on the negative end and feeling at peace on the positive side of the spectrum. If you're feeling stressed out by something, try not to over-analyze it. It is what it is. This isn't to say that you shouldn't work to change things, but don't get bogged down by negative details.
Earth is the element of the Spleen. Connect with the earth element! Go for a hike in a wooded area - just make sure that the path you're taking is dirt, not concrete!
Below are some stretches that you can do in order to stimulate the Spleen (and its spouse channel, the Stomach). Sit in a kneeling position with your buttocks on your feet. Place your hands on the floor next to your feet. As you slowly inhale, lean back towards the floor as far as you can comfortably go, letting your head drop back. Upon exhale, lift yourself back to the starting position. Repeat 5 times.
Who doesn't love sugar? Our favorite treats contain it. We crave it. (Some of us more obsessively than others) So what could be so wrong about it?
As with everything in life, too much of anything, isn't good. When we eat a lot of sweet foods, we run the risk of damaging our Spleens. (our Chinese medical Spleen, not our biomedical, physical spleen) The Spleen is in charge of many jobs in our bodies:
- Digestion of food
- Water metabolism
- Aspects of women's menstrual cycles
- Controlling our sense of worry, or being at peace with ourselves
Those are some pretty important jobs, wouldn't you say?
A weak Spleen may result in some of the following symptoms:
- extra weight
- lack of motivation
- lack of appetite
- increased sensitivity to stress
- light or heavy menstrual flows
- irregular menstruation
- vaginal discharge
- and may be a contributing factor in MANY more health complaints!
When we eat too much sugar, it tends to damage the Spleen, which leads us to crave more sugar, which in turn leads to more damage to the Spleen. It's a rather nasty cycle!
While I don't always recommend that people go on a no-sugar diet (except those with diabetes), I have found that it can help the Spleen regain health MUCH more quickly if people will cut out the "bad" sugars from their diets. This includes:
- Sodas (yes, even diet! The sweetness is still there and damaging your spleen!)
- Candies & Chocolate
- Pastries of all kinds
- Sugared cereals
- Ice cream
- etc. You know the kinds of things that have sugar in them.
What you may see missing from this list is fruit. Dieticians will argue that these have TONS of sugar in them, and yes, they do, but natural fruit sugar seems to react differently with the Spleen.
So how does one go about cutting sugar from their diet? Many of us have experienced the regular sugar cravings that can be strong enough to compel us to run to the store to get something sweet! How the HECK do you conquer THOSE?
Here are some tips that have worked for me and many of my patients:
- Stop eating sugar cold-turkey. This is one case where trying to wean yourself off won't work.
- Get rid of all the "bad" sugars in the house. If it's not there, it can't tempt you. You'd actually have to go out of your way to get something sweet to eat. Make sure to not be tempted by sweets at the store. KEEP them out of the house!
- Do not go grocery shopping while hungry. Hunger is often confused with sugar cravings, leading to purchases based on these cravings, not what is nutritionally needed.
- Have fruit around you at all times. Repeat after me, "AT ALL TIMES!" And make sure it's something completely delectable, not a grainy apple or a tasteless orange. It's got to be NUMMY. My favorite right now is a juicy nectarine with that perfect balance between sweet and sour. This "bad" sugar substitute will trick your body into thinking that it's getting the "bad" stuff and make you stop craving the sweet. Eat AS MUCH fruit as it takes to keep you from seeking out a sugary snack.
- If the cravings are still getting to you, put a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in an 8oz. glass of water and drink it down. It'll take about 10 minutes to take effect. I know it sounds strange, but it works! Try it!
- Know what you're going up against. The strong sugar cravings will likely last anywhere from a week to two weeks. Many people aren't aware of the addictive qualities of sugar and don't realize that it will take that long! It does. Trust me.
- Notice the positive changes that happen in your body. Use these as motivation! My patients have noticed that they feel less "foggy" in their heads. Their thinking is clearer. Some may notice changes in their weight (mostly water weight, but an important part of the Spleen becoming stronger). Less sinus congestion as well as a decrease in post-nasal drip. Notice how much CLEANER your body feels when it's not bogged down by a weakened Spleen!
This will be one of the hardest things you do in your life. Addiction of any kind is multi-faceted, including physical needs for it, emotional needs for it and social temptations.
While cutting sugar from your diet can be extremely difficult, the benefits to your health can be very rewarding! It's incredible how differently you feel about sugar when you've broken the addiction cycle. Several of my patients have even said that they no longer even WANTED sweets anymore.
Do any of you have more secrets to help stop the cravings for sugar?
Go Ahead and Swear!
A study published in NeuroReport
shows that uttering your favorite curse word helps ease pain. In this study, the participants held their hand in an ice water bath while repeating a curse word. They then held their hand in the water a second time while repeating an everyday neutral word. They reported their pain levels for each "bathing," and it was found that the participants reported a lesser pain experience while being allowed to repeat a curse word.
In Chinese medical theory this makes a certain amount of sense. Pain is caused by our Qi not flowing smoothly. Stress is caused by our Liver Qi not moving properly (Liver being related to the emotion of anger or frustration). Swearing can help release our Liver Qi, freeing it. Perhaps swearing also has an effect on not just our Liver Qi, but all of the Qi in our body. Free Qi movement equals reduced pain!
So, if you bang your thumb with a hammer, or are a pregnant woman going through labor, feel free to mutter (or scream!) that favorite curse word. You'll feel better for it!*I'd like to apologize for the lack of posts lately, the kiddo has ceased taking naps recently, making me reconfigure our schedule and trying to figure out when to get some writing done. I hope to get back on the writing wagon now that things have settled down a bit! Thanks for being patient with us!