Psychology and Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is a system of healing that often takes the patient on a journey of self-discovery.  The physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of each individual are examined together in this natural approach to medicine.  After 20 years of practicing acupuncture, I have witnessed many instances where illness or physical pain resolve when a patient’s emotional issues are simultaneously addressed with the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

Years ago as a student at Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I first saw this connection when I treated a fifty year-old female patient whose main complaint was acute shoulder pain.  I questioned her about the nature of her pain; sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, etc.  As I was new to clinic I neglected to ask any questions of a more personal nature.  As I placed the fine needles along the appropriate acupuncture meridians…she immediately burst into tears!  I asked her why she was crying and she responded that her needles were comfortable, but she had no idea where her feelings of sadness had come from.  My clinic supervisor, Dr Hao, guided me in asking my patient additional questions.  We discovered that her son had left for college a couple of months prior and she was missing him very much.  He was understandably excited to be in his new environment and had neglected to stay in touch with his mother, a single parent.  Her shoulder pain had begun within a couple of weeks of his moving to a different state.  I proceeded to add points to effectively treat grief, “letting go”, and relationship boundaries, in addition to the needles I had already inserted earlier for pain.

The following week my patient returned pain-free and smiling!  I asked her about her son and she responded that she had called him following her treatment and asked that he consider being in closer communication with her.  He had readily agreed and they had arranged to talk a couple of times a week, and for him to return home for Thanksgiving.  This experience early in my acupuncture career was the first of many situations where I clearly saw how our emotions and physical well-being can be intricately connected.

The theory behind Chinese Medicine is based on the energetic interaction between the Five Elements of nature; Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth.  When the flow of Qi (or energy) between these aspects of nature is balanced and flowing with ease, the body is healthy and a person’s energy is sufficient.   Unfortunately factors including, illness, injury, fatigue, poor diet, stress, exposure to toxins, or emotional duress can easily create an imbalance in the smooth flow of Qi.  The Five Elements effectively illustrate the connection between our emotions and our physical well-being.

The Metal Element, which corresponds to the Lung, is related to the emotions of sadness and grief.  Patients experiencing emotions from a death, divorce, or other loss often present with a persistent cough or phlegm that feels stuck in their throat.  The Water Element corresponds to the Kidney and is characterized by fear.  Patients experiencing deeply-rooted fear may also have low back pain, urinary issues, or joint pain.  The Wood Element corresponds to the Liver; anger, irritability, and frustration are the associated emotions.  Physical conditions resulting from chronic stress are numerous and include migraines, hormonal imbalances, infertility, and high blood pressure.  The final two elements are Fire and Earth, which respectively correspond to the emotions of anxiety and worry.  Patients with insomnia frequently describe anxiety as their main emotion, while individuals who are constantly over-thinking issues may find themselves facing conditions including food allergies, hemorrhoids, hernia, irritable bowel syndrome, gluten-intolerance, and indigestion.

The First Line Of Defense – Easing Flu Fears With Chinese Medicine

Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, I opened the door to A Balanced Crane Acupuncture Clinic here in Breckenridge.  My primarily commitment then, as it remains today, was to educate my community about natural health care, what it can treat and how it can be used for preventative health care.  In other words, how you can not only maintain good health, but how to be motivated, creative, and enthusiastic along life’s journey!  So to diverge from the current symptoms of conditions such as seasonal allergies, I would like to reassure my patients and community in light of the recent swine flu scare.  I would like to inform the members of my community that there are very effective ways to be proactive about preventing and treating the flu.   I wish to provide knowledge and some peace of mind.

Prevention should be the first line of defense.  Strengthening one’s immune system, not only by including healthy foods in one’s diet and avoiding processed foods and sugar,  but by taking nutritional supplements under the direction of a qualified practicioner (not off the internet!), should be the initial protocol.   Boasting one’s immunity is not a last minute effort, ideally it should be something that people strive towards in their daily routine.   Keeping your body free of toxins and maintaining a healthy colon is important in creating an environment that can defend itself from disease.  If one’s defense systems are not strong enough to fight off an illness such as the flu, then natural treatments are safe, effective, and available.   Symptoms of illness are a message that one’s body is out of balance.   Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are highly effective in restoring balance and resolving symptoms including high fever, cough, chills, body aches, nasal congestion, headache, and sore throat.   Homeopathic remedies are also safe and useful methods with which to address the flu.

Most people are familiar with using the western herbs echinacea and goldenseal, for prevention and treatment of illness.  But it is important to know that there are many other, and much stronger and more effective Chinese herbal prescriptions available to address the flu.  Everyone knows to take their vitamin C, but what type of vitamin C and in combination with which other supplements are important questions to ask your health care practicioner.  What is the role of probiotics, such as acidopholis, in strengthening one’s immune system?  Again, it is important to consult with a qualified practicioner to get the best and safest natural treatments available for both prevention and treatment of acute illness.   Utilize your natural health care resources!  Ask questions, get answers and peace of mind!

Healing Digestive Disorders Using Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine the earth element is the system primarily responsible for healthy digestion.  The earth reflects the stability of the ground and nourishment imparted from its soil.  It provides structure and security.   The “Qi” or energy from the food we eat is essential to our bodies functioning at their optimum level!

When our bodies become out of balance due to internal or external pathological influences, our digestion can be negatively affected.   STRESS can attack our stable earth element causing digestive disturbances including ulcers, diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux among other illness’.  Our digestive system can also become weak and unhealthy from eating a diet of excess fast food, meat and dairy products, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, and carbohydrates or sugars.  Other disorders that can be readily treated using Chinese medicine include indigestion, diverticulitis, constipation, parasites, candidae, gastritis, nausea, fecal incontinence, Chrohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, anal spasms, hiatial hernia, and other disorders.

Frequently my patients present with complaints of severe abdominal pain and cramping, irregular bowel movements, gas and bloating, and nausea.  The first inquiries I always make in these cases include asking about their diet and any changes to it when their symptoms began.  Often, patients have added more fiber in the form of bars, powders, cluster-type or granola cereals, raw nuts, and sulfur-preserved dried fruits. Coffee is commonly a trigger as well.  Removing these convenient “health” foods, fiber supplements, and stimulants generally solves their problems within a couple of days.  If a patient has weak digestion to begin with, they will not be able to process these foods effectively and without problematic symptoms.  Of course fiber in one’s diet is extremely important for many reasons, but try it in the form of peaches, plums, cooked green beans, steamed carrots, hummus, rice, and other foods without labels!

Frequently patients who come to me with digestive complaints have had costly abdominal scans and been put on antibiotics or medications that suppress stomach acid.  Excess use of antibiotics has been shown to lead to overgrowth of candidae and extended use of antacids suppresses stomach acid that actually functions in healthy levels to destroy unwanted bacteria, virus’, and fungi.   These treatments can sometimes provide temporary results, but exacerbate or make one’s symptoms worse in the long run.  At times, use of western medications may be warranted and recommended, but I would make sure that your health care practicioner has reviewed your dietary habits with you first.

Chinese dietary therapy recommends eating primarily a diet of cooked foods including vegetables, grains, proteins, and fruits.  Your acupuncturist should include a discussion of healthy eating specifically for your individual constitution at your initial visit.  If you are being treated specifically for a digestive disorder, this discussion should be extensive and include suggestions of foods to avoid and include in your daily diet.  Acupuncture and the use of Chinese herbal prescriptions are also extremely effective methods to use in conjunction with nutritional therapy to address many types of digestive illness’.

Seeing Pink! Inviting Joy Into Your Life Using Chinese Medicine

Having practiced acupuncture in Summit County for over 15 years now…..I have asked many people questions about their health and well-being in my office.    I ask about their sleep, their energy, their menstrual cycle, their digestion, if they have headaches, etc.  I also inquire about their stress level and emotional state.  The recession has brought with it an inordinate amount of pressure for people to deal with….reflected in the worries of most peoples’ day to day life.  But when I ask what my patients would like more of in life….I hear again and again…the answer is.….JOY!

In Chinese Medicine, JOY is the emotion belonging to the fire element.  It is housed in the heart along with love.  Peacefulness of the spirit and tranquility of the mind are indicative of the harmonious workings of the heart.  If the heart energy is disturbed by confusion, stress, or anger it becomes out of balance and emotionally results in anxiety, fearfulness, and sadness.   My patients who are lacking joy in their life often report conditions including insomnia, heart palpitations (feeling one’s heart beating in their chest), night sweats, excessive or disturbing dreams, irregular or rapid pulse, shortness of breath, mouth or tongue sores, edema (retention of water), nervousness, emotional sensitivity, lack of energy, and high blood pressure.

So how does one invite JOY into their lives?  Of course one can visit their local state- and nationally-licensed acupuncturist (Me!), who then inserts fine needles along pathways in the body to balance the patients’ heart energy.  Acupuncture provides nourishment and strength where there is a deficiency or weakness, and can promote the free flow of Qi or energy so that stress is alleviated.   Chinese herbs, when prescribed by your acupuncturist, are another extremely safe and effective method to address any imbalance along the heart meridian causing the above conditions including insomnia, anxiety, agitation, stress, “wired and tired” feelings, palpitations, etc.

And what can one do at home to encourage that tranquil and peaceful state of being???  The color of the fire element is red.  So perhaps place a red rose-scented candle on your table, or a vase filled with bright pink gerbera daisies in your bedroom, wear a magenta top with your favorite jeans, watch the colors of the sunset over the mountains, and read a poem or two about love.   Meditate, open your heart, exhale, and place your intentions towards seeking and finding JOY in your life.

The Way of the Water Element… Seeking Balance this Winter

“…Water gives way to obstacles with deceptive humility.  For no power can prevent it from following its destined course to the sea.  Water conquers by yielding, it never attacks but always wins the last battle.  The Sage who makes himself as Water…embraces passivity, acts from non-action and conquers the world.”  -Tao Cheng

In Chinese Medicine there are five elements identified in nature that provide information about one’s health and well-being.  These elements include Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal.  Of these elements, Water signifies our deepest energy, reflecting our inner-most thoughts and fears.  The season of the water element is winter, when bears slumber in dark caves and water flows under streams, coated with a hard layer of ice.  Movement is slowed, trees echo a high-pitched creak as their sap freezes, and plants’ energy is directed to their roots.   It is a time for reflection, for stillness, and for solitude.

In Chinese Medicine, illness’ that are associated with an unhealthy Water element include conditions such as, arthritis, which is characterized by stiff, swollen, and creaky joints that often are worse with cold, blustery weather.  Other conditions suggesting that the Water element is out of balance might include frequent urination, lowered libido or sex drive, water retention or swelling, adrenal or chronic fatigue, and low back or knee pain.  Patient’s presenting with deficient water energy will often moan and groan, complain of fatigue, lack of motivation, depression, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, and weight fluctuation.

Healthy Water type individuals are tenacious, tough, and have significant reserves of energy that lie beneath the surface.  These individuals are often represented by the strong endurance athletes that continually push onward.  But if their solitary character is in excess, and Water proceeds to suppress the naturally opposing Fire element, they will appear inflexible, hard, and insensitive to others.  Sadly in this case….faith, desire, and motivation all weaken and leave one feeling cold and alone.  They may lose their direction in life.  In these cases mile to severe depression may even set in.

So where does one go when the solitary nature of winter isolates them from not only their friends and family, but also from themselves?  The answer can be found in the healing use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, proper nutrition including savory soups and hearty grains, and also in changing our surroundings.  Incorporating colors including warm oranges, fiery reds, and bold bronzes into ones daily life in the form of candles, flowers, clothing, or other décor will invite a balance of Fire into the picture.  Seeking relationships and friendships where one can trust enough to be open as opposed to shutting down or hardening one’s heart can also encourage harmony in one’s life.  Alpenglow…that soft pink hue on the snow….is a good example of a healthy Water element, balanced nicely by Fire, in the high country.  Seek it.

Enhancing Winter Athletic Performance Using Chinese Medicine

Chinese Medicine dates back to four thousand years ago, a time when people based their understanding of their health on what they knew best…. how the processes of nature worked.  They observed how natural balance was restored over time to areas devastated by fires, floods, droughts, and other environmental processes.   They applied their understanding of these natural changes to their own bodies and a beautifully effective system of medicine began……

Winter  is a  time of hibernation and solitude, when Yin energy naturally dominates.   It provides an  opportunity to examine our focus and inner strength.   Athletes who reside in  high altitude mountain communities present an interesting dichotomy of energy during the winter months.  Instead of hibernating they often seem to be found exhibiting their Yang nature by blasting through powder light snow drifts, gracefully navigating endless mogel fields, leaping skyward off jumps, and rhythmically skating through the trees…….ALWAYS MOVING!   Finding stillness in movement, discovering  one’s center,  encountering Yin within Yang are the moments we are seeking in the mountains in order to understand the Yin nature of the winter and within ourselves.    As everything in Chinese Medicine, enhancing athletic performance is about finding an energetic and physical balance – moving what is stuck, nourishing what is weak, and dispersing what is excessive.  Chinese Medicine provides an exceptionally useful and creative  realm within which to become stronger,  more motivated, and more focused.

Chinese Medicine offers several very effective methods with which to enhance athletic performance including, acupuncture, herbs, nutrition, and moxibustion.   These methods may be used alone or in combination depending on a patients overall health and personal goals.  .  Acupuncture is the more familiar technique and involves the placement of sterile needles into acupuncture points along pathways called meridians which travel through the body.  Each patient is individually evaluated and diagnosed according to which factors, such as Yin, Yang, and  Qi (or energy), might be out of balance.  Then an appropriate treatment plan is developed and  put into action!

The condition of the YIN energy in the body helps determine one’s motivation and focus, and helps to define the connection of  an athlete with their environment.   Yin energy is strongly reflected in the female nature, and is calm, cool,  and meditative.  Emotionally it is what keeps an athlete focused and level-headed during competition.  Physically, it includes the fluids in the body that are required to  keep the  tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones  strong.    Tendonitis, chronic or repetitive injuries, and joint pain may indicate a deficiency in Yin energy.   Additional symptoms of Yin deficiency include hot flashes, night sweats, heart palpitations, insomnia, dry skin and hair, and excessive thirst or dehydration.  Other related symptoms often seen in female athletes include dizziness, anemia, scanty or no menstrual periods, spots in the field of vision, a pale complexion, fatigue, infertility, and depression.  An excessively active lifestyle may deplete an athlete’s Yin and make it challenging to reach one’s peak performance.

In Chinese Medicine the YANG energy is strongly reflected in the male nature.  It includes the outwardly directed power, strength, and movement exhibited by athletes.   Yang energy is active and warm in nature and is required to maintain one’s endurance whether skiing with friends for an afternoon or maintaining a high level of performance during a competitive hockey game.   Pain in the low back, knees, and other joints may indicate a Yang deficient condition especially if accompanied by an overall sensation of cold in the body.  General symptoms of Yang deficiency include cold hands and feet, loose stools or diarrhea, a pale complexion, edema, poor appetite, decreased libido, desire for warm drinks, frequent urination, and fatigue.  One method that effectively addresses Yang deficiency is moxibustion, where an herb called mugwort  is used to warm acupuncture points.  Moxibustion not only strengthens the Yang, but also encourages the free flow of Qi along the meridians.

The free flow of QI or energy is essential to one’s athletic performance, and may feel like what is referred to as a “runner’s high” or simply that feeling that one is in synch with their body and the environment.   When the flow of Qi is blocked or stagnant, healthy energy is inaccessible to the rest of the body.   There are several reasons for this lack of flow in the body.  One common reason is stress, which is often due to overwork and never enough time in the day to go out and play!  Physical injury, chronic or acute pain, and fatigue are additional causes of a lack of free flowing Qi.  Often these reasons occur simultaneously.   When stress  is the main problem  the blockage in the body can be similar to pressure building up behind a dam.  Emotions seen  when energy is stagnant  include irritability, anger outbursts, mood swings, and anxiety.   Physical symptoms include migraine headaches, indigestion, painful periods, tinnitus, a bitter taste in the mouth, and discomfort under the ribcage.    Regular exercise, acupuncture treatments, herbal prescriptions, and proper nutrition  are all effective methods to stimulate energy flow.

Chinese herbs, which can  provide that competitive edge that many athletes are seeking,  should be  prepared  in carefully selected combinations by a qualified herbalist.  Formulas are determined based on each individual patient’s symptoms and goals.  Herbal formulas are typically taken two or three times a day  and are available in different forms including tablets, capsules, powders, or liquids.  Herbs that nourish the Yin and Yang, and the Qi are all appropriate to include in formulas that enhance athletic performance.  Herbal linaments  may also be applied topically to injured areas.

Healthy nutrition is an essential component to achieving one’s goals as well.  As a practicioner, I find that in general, high altitude athletes have healthy appetites, but do not eat quite enough.    So I would encourage athletes to make some simple changes and additions to their diets.   In today’s world of low carbohydrate diets, I believe that a balanced diet of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is the healthiest way to go for energy, endurance, decreased recovery time, and long-term health.   As in the discussion on herbs, foods that nourish the Yin and Yang, and the Qi are all important to include in one’s diet.  Your  practicioner can help you choose specific foods depending on your individual needs.

As a health care practicioner, striving to maintain her own athletic performance,  I would encourage those interested in achieving their athletic goals, no matter how large or small they may be, to try to connect to and to nourish your bodies more.  To not only exercise regularly, but also to take the time to find that place of inner stillness, of  focus, of intent, of  YIN.