Herbs

Thankful for Acupuncture and Herbs!

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Thanksgiving and Acupuncture: The Role of Chinese Medicine in Prevention

As we are about to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in Canada, we have the opportunity to be thankful for friends, family, and much more.  And for many of us we are thankful for the gift of health – or at least the gift of being alive!  But what does it mean to be “healthy”?  Is it simply the absence of serious illness or is there much more to the concept of being “well”?  And what is your role in fostering this wellness?

An aspect of Chinese Medicine which does not get the coverage it should is its role in the prevention of disease.  As with many acupuncturists, I find the majority of people come in for treatment after they have tried many western medicine options – and often after other alternatives as well.  With acupuncture and its uses, being one of the more poorly understood medical systems amongst the general public and the western medical community, this is not surprising.  What it means, however, is that your conditions have had more time to develop and, often, worsen.

While Chinese Medicine can be used to treat nearly any condition at any stage, it excels in many ways at treating conditions before they begin to develop.  Some of the reasons acupuncture can be useful in complex conditions with varying symptoms like Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, and various neurological conditions is that it doesn’t treat the “condition” per se, but the “pattern” that is behind its development.  The patterns in Chinese Medicine look at your entire range of signs and symptoms even those that seem unrelated to your main complaint.  Through treating a pattern instead of a condition your main complaint will improve along with all of the issues surrounding and preceding it.

Due to these diagnostic tools, Chinese Medicine can treat conditions before they arise – before the point that you would be able to provide a western diagnosis.  This is often illustrated to patients when we work backwards through their medical history and can begin to see the formation of their current issues.  In fact, the healing process of many conditions often goes through stages which are similar to the development of their current condition.

Often times as I am discussing acupuncture with other people they will say things like “I’d love to try it, but there is nothing wrong with me”, or more simply, “I’m fine”.  What they usually mean is that they don’t have a “condition”.  Everyone realizes that they have some issues, pains that come and go, sleep that is better or worse at times, moods that go up and down — nothing serious, just relatively minor issues.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, however, those minor issues are plenty to work with and often when people come in just for “stress” or “relaxation” they find that other issues change – some they were not really aware of, or didn’t really think too much about.  Some people think it’s normal to have a headache once a week, or not sleep well a couple nights a week, or to have bad menstrual cramps every month, etc.  These minor issues, however, speak to our own personal view of what it means to be “well”.

In Chinese history there are stories where the village doctor was only paid when all of the villagers were “well”.  So if people were sick the doctor would not be paid until they were better.  If the villagers were continually sick then the doctor would most likely be out of a job at some point!  What a different viewpoint to look at the role of medicine in our lives and our use for it on our path to wellness.

From a wellness point of view there are always avenues of improvement – some in ways that people don’t often think about.  When you wake up do you need coffee to get going or do you feel well and rested, is your energy stable throughout the day, are your moods appropriate and balanced, when you eat do you enjoy it and feel well afterwards or do you have a variety of symptoms like heartburn, bloating, etc.  They are minor issues now and may continue to be so for quite some time.  But all of these and more are treatable at this point and treatment will stop these imbalances before they become deeper patterns in your body and ultimately conditions that can be given a western diagnosis.

Of course, these arguments also hold true for living well now with our emotions, diets, lifestyles – all aspects of our lives and doing what we can to improve those.  We do not know what the future holds for us, so it is better to do what we can now when times are relatively easy and things are going well for us than when we are sick and will have a hard time to do what is necessary to help us heal.  Acupuncture is but one part of this equation, but its use in relatively good times can greatly increase the chances that your wellness continues and that your experience of what it means to be well becomes more of an upward moving target than simply the absence of illness.  Now, then, is the time to work on whatever issues you have and work towards higher states of wellness.

Submitted by Chad Dupuis Yin Yang House

Staying Healthy in Autumn: Part 2

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In Part 1 we learned why autumn is a great time to work on getting healthier in the lungs and large intestine, and a few tips on how to do it. In today’s follow up post, we’ll find out even more ways to stay healthy when the leaves begin to fall.

Dr. Elson Haas in Staying Healthy with the Seasons uses a holistic approach and suggests we can use autumn’s characteristics to boost our immune systems. The following is merely a synopsis so if any of it resonates with you, the book would definitely be a good investment!

Autumn Cleansing

A week-long juice cleanse in early to mid-autumn will give us a boost of energy and eliminate any potential illnesses we’ve stored away by flushing out excesses or by improving organ functions.

Since this is harvest time, we’ve got a plethora of fruits and veggies to choose from, including the Master Cleanse recipe (lemon juice, cayenne pepper and organic maple syrup). Apples, pears and grapes are in season, and Doc Haas even suggests eating only grapes for a week coupled with a daily lemonade if the juices are too sweet.

Also, try a teaspoon of cold-pressed olive oil twice daily, as well as one cup of an herbal laxative tea (see below for some choices) on rising and before bed to keep the intestines moving.

With an internal cleanse, we might want to pay some attention to facilitating the cleansing process. Dr. Haas says to:

  1. Brush our teeth and tongue (there will be more coating during a cleanse), and to floss regularly.
  2. Bathe daily and brush our skin with a loofa sponge or skin brush to remove dead skin cells and to stimulate the clearing of toxins.
  3. Exercise, with a good sweat, is beneficial to cleansing before bathing.
  4. At the end of bath or shower, use cold water to close the skin pores and prevent heat loss and vulnerability to colds, as well as stimulate skin circulation.

Garlic

This plant and herb is a lung aid that also facilitates cleansing and healing; it’s been used for centuries by many cultures as a food and medicine for a variety of ailments. The health benefits of garlic deserves its own post, so for now, Dr. Haas says if it’s eaten regularly, it can help prevent colds, flus and other infections.

Try taking a couple of cloves a day, pressed into water or juice (it’s so potent it needs to be diluted), or as garlic capsules, taking two twice daily. Chewing parsley will help balance the strong breath odour. When your body begins to eliminate garlic odor through the skin, it’s said this is when you’ve had enough.

I’ve tried a few of the interesting recipes found in Staying Healthy with the Seasons (like this tonic made with garlic), yet one of the best has to be garlic olive oil!

Garlic Oil

  1. Peel and chop enough cloves to fill a half of a quart jar.
  2. Cover the cloves with cold-pressed olive oil to about one or two inches above the garlic and place in a sunlit window for five to seven days, shaking once daily.
  3. Strain it well through cheese cloth, and you have strong smelling garlic oil.

The soaked cloves can be refrigerated and used in cooking. The garlic oil will last for months and can be used both internally (like on salads) and externally (like rubbing it on a congested chest or even on the soles of the feet to prevent or remedy early colds)!

Colon Hydrotherapy

This autumn cleansing tip is controversial but Dr. Haas is a believer in its benefits. He says,

Many doctors have stated that constipation is one of the main causes of disease, and I feel that aging and death may well begin in the colon… Constipation can create a backup of toxicity through the body, and affect the muscular or nervous system, creating tensions and exhaustion.

Colon hydrotherapy is a non-toxic method of cleansing the large intestine and has been used for thousands of years as a natural internal bath. Before today’s machines, it was done by entering a river or lake and using a hollow reed or bamboo tube to allow water to enter the rectum.

Meditation

This section alone is worth the cost of the book! Meditation is a deep subject and Dr. Haas does a fantastic job in explaining the mind’s potential and using meditation to develop the different parts of our brain for better functioning.

For instance, he talks about how the bimodal character of our brain is crucial to how we experience life. One mode is active, thinking, time-oriented, and attempts to organize and manipulate our world. The other is receptive, sensing, timeless, and perceives and understands our external and internal environment without judgement.

Meditation is a practice which helps expand awareness and moves us to a new balance, which is neither active or receptive. It takes us to the center to experience both of these realms and has been used over the centuries to enhance sensory awareness and alter perception of the environment and oneself. Haas says,

It is important to staying healthy as it facilitates a greater communication between our inner and outer worlds, and allows a deep state of rest and rejuvenation. Physiologically, meditation lowers the respiratory rate, increases the frequency of alpha brain waves, and facilitates muscular relaxation.

Try setting aside 15 to 30 minutes once or twice a day for quiet conscious relaxation and clearing your mind of old and congested thoughts. Many people like to do this in the morning to set their day off right. Just avoid meditating on a full stomach.

Haas even hints that meditation will strengthen our will power: “You may learn how to guide your energies rather than being controlled by your impulses.”

Drugs

Another fascinating section of this chapter in Staying Healthy with the Seasons, Dr. Haas says that drugs can be helpful but should be reserved as a last resort because they all affect our physical, mental, and emotional states. The use of drugs as medicines is part of the same picture as using drugs to alter psychological states.

He suggests that therapeutic options should be:

  1. Lifestyle changes first
  2. Natural therapies second
  3. Drugs last

Short-term use of any drug may lead to weakened resistance to illness and more vulnerable to colds, flus, hepatitis, lung and skin problems. Long-range effects help create many of the degenerating and chronic diseases through toxin build up in the body, and by weakening specific organs and systems.

Haas says it’s time to break the patterns of relying on drugs (including sugar as a stimulant!) to make us feel better:

Understanding your natural cycles will help you see the importance of creating healthier bodies by the use of good foods, exercise, and eliminating toxins in your life. Pleasure drugs are a lazy way to alter and control your energy. And the body will not be able to re-experience this relaxed or stimulated state without drugs unless you take the time to tune your machine to its most healthful state.

Autumn Diet

If you have habits or addictions you’d like to overcome, it’s helpful to change other aspects of your life, such as diet, exercise and attitudes. (And as we learned, meditation may also help strengthen your mind and resolve for change!)

After the week-long juice fast (or, in my case, I just started a month-long mini-cleanse), an autumn diet is a bit heavier and builds on the late summer diet. For meat eaters, this means more meats and dairy products. For vegetarians, autumn requires an increase in grains, nuts, beans and seeds, and eggs and dairy if used.

Although we need these heat-producing foods to combat the colder weather, too many congesting foods (or simply overeating) tends to keep our internal state at the level of physical sensations and indulgences.

How do we know how much of what to choose?

Dr. Haas says diets are totally individual and related to personal character, activity and to the climate in which you live. We must listen to our bodies for clues as to its preferences. This Food Balance Breakdown might help when choosing certain food types, combinations and proportions:

  • Builders: Animal proteins and beans
  • Cleansers: Fruits and vegetables
  • Congestors: Sweets, cheese and breads
  • Lubricators: Nuts, seeds, and their oils

While there are less fruits available in the autumn, an abundance of veggies helps us balance out our diets.

Exercise

The longer nights make the season and our energy more yin (quiet, inward and contracting) so Dr. Haas says we might want to concentrate on staying loose and relaxed:

Stretching, calisthenics, running, and hiking will all help. A strengthening program using weights and isometric exercises will build more muscles from your higher protein meals. Exercise keeps your weight in balance, too, with the heavier autumn diet. It is natural to gain a few pounds during autumn and winter, so turn some of it into muscle as well as a little fat to keep you warmer.

Herbs

In the colder months, just as our energy turns inward, so does the energy in plants. To gain energy in autumn and winter for us, we use root herbs. Dr. Haas suggests quite a few herbs, mainly those that facilitate cleansing in the lungs, skin and large intestine.

For instance, burdock root and comfrey root can both be used as tonics, the former for skin disorders and the latter for intestinal lining, mucous membranes and the lungs. He also suggests simmering fresh ginger root for 15-20 minutes (which I do regularly since reading this book) for more body heat and clearer lungs.

To tone and clear out the intestine, casara sagrada is an effective laxative and tonic. So is licorice root and oregon root.

Dr. Haas imparts a wealth of knowledge and many more tips in his chapter on staying healthy in autumn. Try these out and when you’re ready, get the book  so you can stay healthy throughout the year!

Are you doing an autumn cleanse or juice fast? I’ve got ginger, pumpkin, squash, olive oil and garlic so far on my shopping list for this week!

by Head Health Nutter