Yoga Is Not About the Pose
Yoga is not about the pose. Yoga is not about the warrior, plank, or down dog.
Yoga is not about how flexible you are.
Yoga is not how the pose looks.
Yoga is about how it helps you look at life.
Yoga is about how you feel inside.
I began practicing yoga over 20 years ago and yoga continues to change my life. I started practicing yoga once a week; then twice a week; then three times a week. The more I practiced, the better I felt. One of the first things I learned was that yoga is a practice – it is not perfection and it is not a competition. The more I practiced yoga the less depressed I felt. The more I practiced yoga the less back pain I experienced.
Yoga is breath and movement. I discovered that the breathing practice is just as important as the movement. When I was practicing vinyasa flow yoga, I experienced my breath getting stuck in my throat. I recognized that my breath was shallow; I was breathing from the top of my lungs. Learning to breath in yoga was my biggest challenge and made the most significant impact. When I was able to breathe, I was more present in the moment, more connected to my body and I felt calmer and more relaxed.
Yoga is about community. Yoga is not only about breath and movement. Yoga is about a community of yoga teachers and students. It’s about surrounding yourself with likeminded people. Your yoga community may be at the yoga studio or virtually online. During the isolation of the pandemic, we continued to practice yoga virtually and developed an online community. The silver lining of the pandemic is that you can show up wherever you are.
Yoga builds resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back whatever comes our way. Ways to improve resilience include being socially connected to strong and positive relationships, including a supportive and welcoming yoga community. Resilience comes from remaining hopeful and engaging in self-care.
Yoga is about connecting to your mind and your body. Yoga is about rediscovering your true self – your very best self.
For a free consultation, contact Monya at drmonya.com. Learn how private or group yoga can change your life.
The Foundations of the Self, by Dr. Monya Cohen, Psy. D, MSW, RYT-200, Certified PRYT Yoga Therapist
Happy New Year! As we move forward into 2022, we face continued uncertainty regarding the pandemic. Changes in social distancing, masking and vaccines, as well as gradual delays in supply chains and startling climate changes. It is more important than ever to have a strong sense of self and life’s purpose. It’s important to be a stable base for yourself and for your loved ones. Resiliency is an important quality to continue to develop - the ability to bounce back during times of adversity - no matter what comes our way.
If you are a reader and psychologically minded, I recommend a classic text that integrates the best of psychology and yoga - Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, by Stephen Cope. As a psychologist and yoga teacher, I discovered this book to be extremely useful in understanding the building blocks of creating, containing, and maintaining a calm and abiding self. In other words, developing and maintaining resilience and equanimity.
At conception, we are born through relationship and require “good enough” relationships to thrive and grow. It is essential for infants to experience the feeling of safety and security in the arms of primary caregivers. It is from our caregivers that we learn how to be in relationships and how to soothe the self. The ability to self soothe is the basis of equanimity. - the qualities of responding rather than reacting and staying calm and emotionally grounded in the face of adversity.
The capacity to feel safe and secure develops when we have been securely held and soothed by our caregivers. Unfortunately, many of us did not have the opportunity to experience being held and soothed by caregivers who found their calm and abiding center. Often, our caregivers are needy, scared, and insecure. It becomes necessary for their children to meet their needs rather than the other way around.
In his book, Stephen Cope explains the importance of being seen, accepted, and acknowledged by important others. The ideas that we have in our minds about who we are and who we should be were formed early in our lives by our important contacts. This is often referred to as mirroring. To see ourselves clearly, we rely on reflection. The eyes from which we are seen, become the eyes through which we see ourselves. These mental representations of ourselves and others are formed early and continue to guide our relationships with others well into adulthood.
As adolescents and adults, how do we develop and maintain a calm and abiding self? In my experience, equanimity and resilience develop in relationship. In the safety of a calm and grounded spiritual teacher, yoga teacher and/or psychotherapist, students/clients can begin to risk feeling vulnerable and release their uncomfortable emotions and often frightening memories. In psychotherapy training, it is well known that progress in therapy occurs in the container of a strong therapeutic alliance. In the therapy relationship, the therapist becomes the emotional home base for the client through talk therapy. In addition, yoga, breathing, mindfulness, and meditation, as well as acupuncture, are ways to cultivate equanimity or the qualities of staying calm and grounded during difficult situations.
Throughout my training as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, I have learned that everything we want to change begins with the body. Yoga takes us deeper into the layers of our being or selves, and we learn to become aware of and gradually tolerate sensations and feelings in the physical body. As we become aware of sensations and feelings in the body, we begin to accept whatever is arising with kindness and non-judgment. Awareness and acceptance are the first steps toward change.
From Stephen Cope’s perspective, spiritual practice, yoga, and psychotherapy are about building the foundations of the self. These foundations include the capacity to self sooth, warmly love the self, to value and esteem the self and to experience a satisfyingly cohesive sense of self.
I invite you to begin your journey in 2022 by cultivating your calm and abiding self. Know where you are going and feel confident in your plan of how you’ll get there. Learn to respond rather than react. Live life with intention and purpose. Make decisions for you and your family that are based on your values and priorities. Whether through talk therapy or body work, now is the time to rediscover your true self or best self.
I hope you all are having a wonderful winter and staying as healthy as possible. This time of year is often too stressful and pressure driven, but when we explore what our natural world and inclinations are, winter is truly the season of rest and reflection. Even though our modern lifestyles consistently remove us from the rhythms of the natural world, our physical form and function are part of and influenced by the energetic movements in nature. By observing and contemplating the seasons, we can learn how seasonal energy is manifested within the body and how our habits and focus can shift to support greater balance in the current season.
We are currently in the season of winter, which is associated with the water element. (The 5 elements in Chinese medicine are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water). In nature and the body, the water element is associated with peak yin movement. Yin is the universal energy of contraction, in contrast with the energy of yang and the movement of expansion, which peaks at the summer solstice. The winter solstice, on December 21st, marked the peak of yin energy for the year, with the longest hours of darkness and the shortest day of the year. The colder temperatures also reflect the yin energy of contraction of winter. This is the optimal time for us humans to conserve our energy, prioritize deep, restful sleep, eat nourishing and warming foods, and contemplate plans and priorities for the upcoming year, without any major action. In the plant world, the winter marks the time of stillness and conservation of the life force deep within their roots to survive winter’s freeze. Yang water is symbolized by the ocean in nature, deep, dark, and full of potential energy. The daily expansion and contraction of our oceans is primarily ruled by the gravitational pull of the moon, which is another symbol of the yin energy of the earth (the sun being the symbol of yang). Yin water is symbolized by all the lesser waterways, such as streams and rivers, strong and pervading all the landscapes of the earth. Water is the essential medium for all of life, on earth and in our bodies, and is the primary source of life. Water is involved in all major chemical processes in our body, and is crucial for the circulation of blood, the processing and elimination of waste and for the flow of every fluid in the body. This is a good time to assess what is the actual quality of the water you are drinking and is your intake adequate for optimal physiological functioning.
In the body, the organ systems that reflect the winter energy are the kidney (yin organ) and bladder (yang organ). When functioning normally, both organ systems play an important role in the regulation of all fluids for the entire body. The primary function of the kidney is to govern the storage of our jing, which is roughly translated as our essence or primordial life force. We are born with jing from our parents, and the lifestyle choices we make every day will help preserve, or prematurely use up, the essence we were born with. Jing relates to our genetics, and governs the process of fertility and reproduction, growth and how our bodies age through life. When the kidney energy is not functioning well and being overly taxed, one may suffer from severe exhaustion, autoimmune and chronic illness flare-ups, low motivation and willpower, excessive fear and anxiety, and skeletal disorders, especially related to the lower back and knees. Another sign of kidney weakness is when you get an acute illness, you immediately have symptoms of extreme cold and exhaustion, and you are unable to mount a fever or adequate immune response with the encountered pathogen. The function of the bladder is to store and excrete the waste products from the blood filtered by the kidneys. The bladder meridian is also the longest meridian of the body starting at the eye and going all the way down the back. Physical and emotional congestion along the bladder channel can lead to pain and stiffness. This also relates to our immune system and one of the first signs of illness is a stiff neck and body aches, which is related to the bladder channel and a good immune response to an invading pathogen. Other signs of bladder imbalance include vertigo and headaches, poor vision, and urinary retention or incontinence.
There are many other symbols associated with the water element we can contemplate when thinking about the human experience. The water element is associated with the emotion of fear, the willpower of the spirit, the color black or dark blue, the salty flavor, the sense of hearing, and the bones of the body. There are so many ways we can think about these symbols and how they connect with the energy of water and winter. Most of the water in nature is salty, containing dissolved minerals which are necessary for the biochemistry of life to happen. Our kidneys are primarily responsible for maintaining the delicate balance of minerals in our blood, which is what allows for the very narrow pH range for homeostasis. When we consume the wrong foods and water, the minerals required to neutralize the acid in our blood is taken from our bones, which are also connected to the kidney and water element. Fear being the emotion associated with the kidney and water element is also very fitting to this picture. As humans, we are born with subconscious instincts and natural fears that keep us safe and alive, part of our prenatal jing we come into the world with. There is a healthy balance, and if fear becomes too consuming and predominant, we become frozen and paralyzed, and are unable to move forward through life with courage.
Chinese medicine practitioners utilize acupuncture, herbal medicine, and other modalities to help balance and strengthen energy within the body. During the winter, we often select more kidney and bladder meridian points and herbal formulas to benefit these organ systems. Winter is a good time to reflect and restore. Do not expend more mental or physical energy than you need to, and if you don't have a meditation practice, now is a great time to start. Having the intention of internal work this season, and making time for meditation, yoga, journaling, and inner reelection are all ideal practices during the winter. Are there any fears holding you back from reaching the fullest potential in your life? Why not reflect, explore, and release those limiting emotions and beliefs. Eating more salty, warm, and cooked foods, are ideal for winter months. Spending time observing nature, without getting too cold, specifically near the ocean or smaller rivers and streams, or even in the snow, are all excellent settings for contemplation in the winter. It is a natural time to seek the joy and light from friends and family. It’s best to do so in a balanced, easy way. Lower the pressure and expectations that often come with such gatherings and focus on those deep connections that bring true joy and meaning to your life. Maintain a healthy balance between rest and activity is critical for the health of the water element in the body, this is the time to primarily reduce stress, reflect, and rest. Take advantage!
This is a mere glimpse of the depth to the symbolism associated with Chinese medical theory, specifically related to winter. I would love to hear what connections you make when thinking about these symbols and energetic movements in your own life. Becoming more aware of the natural world and its patterns is a great way to improve your health and lifestyle to feel a greater sense of well-being. When we are in a constant state of opposition to the natural flow of the universe, disease will undoubtedly arise. Enjoy the winter and be well.
I have been making fire cider for almost 10 years now, and it is a must have immune tonic in my house. Fire cider is especially helpful during the fall and winter months when the immune system is typically more susceptible to illness. What I love about this spicy elixir, is that the ingredients are accessible to anyone, you can get most of them at your grocery store right now. While I am always happy to share my fire cider with others, you do not need to be an herbalist to prepare fire cider yourself!
The ingredients of fire cider are very pungent and spicy by nature and are soaked in apple cider vinegar for 4 weeks for maximum potency (see below for our current recipe). Once it is prepared and the fire cider is strained, it is best to take a tablespoon every morning during the fall and winter months. You can also add this fiery mixture to your next salad dressing or toss with vegetables for a flavorful, spicy kick to your meal. Fire cider will help to promote your circulation and warm you up, clear up your sinuses and any phlegm congestion, stimulate your digestion, and has several antimicrobial ingredients. When you first notice a cold coming on, such as symptoms of a runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion, etc, take 2-3 tablespoons, 3 times a day. If symptoms progress, come see me for a custom herbal formula and acupuncture to help improve your body's function.
As a doctor of Chinese medicine, some of my major philosophies for good health are relevant for my love of fire cider. First, food and water are the best medicines. What we put into our bodies every day has the most profound effect on overall health and longevity, and should not be overlooked. There is no number of acupuncture needles or herbs that replaces the need for having a balanced diet and optimal water, full of nutrients and antioxidants and free from artificial chemicals and pesticides. This fire cider recipe is easy to make and gives you a connection to a food-based medicinal elixir that has numerous health promoting properties. As an herbalist, I am always thinking about flavors of the herbs and how they are combined for a therapeutic direction in the body. The pungent flavor increases the circulation of blood and stimulates our wei qi, which is our protective vital force, at the surface of the body and organs. The pungent flavor also greatly benefits the metal organs, which are the lung and large intestine. As a result of ingesting the pungent flavor, our blood circulation is stimulated and our system will be better prepared to handle pathogenic qi. The apple cider vinegar has a sour flavor, which is astringing, balances the very strong pungent flavor, and benefits the wood organs, which are the liver and gallbladder. A little honey can also be added to bring in the sweet flavor, making it even more balanced and beneficial to the earth organs, which are the spleen and stomach. Our last several batches have had the bonus ingredient of hibiscus flower, which is also slightly astringent and has an affinity for the heart. Even though the dominant flavor of fire cider is pungent, it is balanced with the sweet and sour flavors, which is the sign of a great remedy!
I hope you all consider trying our Hibiscus Fire Cider and consider making this useful medicinal elixir for yourself. We do have some in stock at Mindful Medicine for $14 a bottle, if you want to give it a try first. Here is the recipe we have been using, on a much smaller scale for you to make at home. Feel free to get creative with other herbs, spices, and foods you have around your kitchen for your own unique batch and flavors. Let us know how you like it, and happy medicine making!
Mindful Medicine’s Hibiscus Fire Cider
Our recipe is inspired by the herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar
1. Prepare your ingredients and place them in a quart-sized glass jar. Double or triple the recipe for multiple fire cider lovers in a household. Be prepared for a powerful sinus blast when grating fresh horseradish!
2. Pour the apple cider vinegar into the jar and cover the ingredients completely.
3. Put parchment under the metal lid or use a plastic lid. Shake the jar well.
4. Store in a dark, cool place for 4 weeks. Shake the jar every day.
5. After 4 weeks, use cheesecloth or an herb press strain out the pulp and the fire cider into a clean jar. Squeeze as much liquid out of the vegetable/herb pulp as possible.
6. Stir in honey to taste. (We do not bottle ours with honey, so feel free to add if you want a little sweetness!) Enjoy!
Acupuncture is over 2,000 years old as a form of medicine and has countless ties to philosophical, cultural, spiritual, and scientific evolution throughout human history and civilization.
It has developed all over the world to become what it is now, as a whole health care system utilizing both acupuncture and herbal medicine. Acupuncture and TCM, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, are a holistic system of medicine, which promotes and facilitates the body's innate ability to heal itself and keep within the parameters of homeostasis, or balance and harmony.
This blog will look into the treatment of pain and conditions involving physical tension and discomfort in the body. We will cover both an esoteric perspective of how pain can be treated with acupuncture as well as a more modern view of the treatments using the terms and parallels of medical science.
To begin, let's talk about a concept in TCM called Qi. Qi can be described as the vitality of the body and all of the systems in the body that bring about health and wellness. There is also Qi in nature, all things that exist in this universe have some form of Qi that flows throughout it, within it , and into all things it touches. There are countless forms and manifestations of Qi in this universe, most of which we have not yet discovered and do not yet understand, much like science. For human beings, Qi is what protects the physical body from harm in the environment. The body has multiple forms of Qi to carry out different tasks, which have different purposes to bring about homeostasis. Different organs in the body are correlated with different types of Qi, all with different personalities and characteristics of their own.
For example, on the topic of immunity and how Qi protects the body, Wei Qi. Wei Qi is the vitality of the body's immune system and is associated with the lungs. If you were to picture your body like a castle, and an illness trying to break into the castle, the Wei qi is the moat around the structure itself. Wei Qi acts as the first line of defense for our immunity and to protect us from external pathogens.
This can also be seen in the parallel between modern anatomy and physiology with TCM in that the lung, and breathing, takes in air from the environment into our bodies. Aside from just this one example of Wei qi, there are many other organs and with these organs we have pathways of Qi called meridians or channels.
The main channels of the body consist of fourteen pathways which are all associated with different organs, all with different correlations to aspects of health. The channels are like main roads for the vitality of the body to flow through and when there is a traffic jam in one of these main roads, we can develop a variety of conditions over time. One very common condition we see as a result of one of these traffic jams of Qi is pain.
The classical way to describe this occurrence in TCM is called Qi stagnation, or obstruction of Qi. It is when the vital force of the body which ensures proper health and wellness is not able to function how it should. Over time, if there is some sort of blockage or stasis of Qi in a channel, it will continue to backup and create issues in the health of the body which will have symptoms manifest, such as pain.
Examples of things in life that can cause Qi imbalances and stagnation are things like physical injury, emotional stress and trauma, improper exercise or lack thereof, overworking and overextension, and poor dietary choices. Basically, anything that brings the body or your life out of a state of balance will also be bringing the vitality of your body and the associated Qi out of balance as well.
Acupuncture is a comprehensive process which is able to identify these imbalances of Qi and possible stagnations in the channels. The intake of an acupuncture treatment is very in depth and thorough because it addresses exactly how to bring the body and Qi back to a state of equilibrium. Different acupuncture points along the channels have different functions and characteristics to do this. For example, certain points are used to build up and nourish Qi if there is a Qi deficiency causing an illness, and others are used to promote the movement of Qi along a channel for unblocking stagnation. This example is only mentioned to illustrate the diversity of functions with different acupuncture points.
By using acupuncture points in a treatment to unblock Qi stagnation which is associated with your pain, we can treat the condition and greatly improve how you feel. Points which move qi are among the most numerous in the body and are located in all of the major fourteen channels associated with the major organs in TCM. These channels run through different areas of the body and stretch out to the arms and legs as well. Therefore, pain located in any given area of the body can be associated with Qi stagnation in the channel that is located there.
It is also possible for pain to be located along a portion of a channel, but the stagnation to be located in another area, or for there to be a point which is very strongly used to move Qi in a different place than where you may be experiencing the pain itself. For an example, let's talk about the large intestine channel and how it can treat headaches.
The large intestine channel spans from the index finger to the face, by the side of your nose. Let's say that you have a headache one day and come in to Mindful Medicine to take care of it. One of the major points to move Qi, used to treat pain associated with Qi stagnation and headaches is the fourth point on this channel. It is a very powerful point and is one of the more common points used by acupuncturists because of its ability to instantly start Qi movement.
Now let's for a moment flip the narrative here from esoteric and philosophical to an evidence based perspective of medical science and neuroscience. The fourth point on the large intestine channel (LI4) is located on the back of the hand, between the thumb and index finger in the belly of the muscle. LI4 is about the size of a dime in its diameter and can be used to treat conditions of the face, head, teeth, and neck because the pathway of the channel flows through those areas.
Looking at the neuroscience based mechanisms and actions of this point's abilities involves a basic understanding of the anatomy of the nervous system. Our nerves branch out from our spinal cord and form into large clusters called a plexus. From a plexus major nerves branch even further to our limbs and eventually branch again to form smaller nerve fibers the more distal from the spine they become. Much like how a tree forms branches that are thicker when they are closer to the main trunk, and thinner as they get further away.
LI4, being located on the dorsal aspect (back of) the hand has the ability to stimulate the dorsal branches of the radial nerve as well as the palmar-digital branch of the median nerve depending on the depth of the needle. Both of these aforementioned nerves are branched out from the arm and forearm, and trace back to a cluster of nerves close to the spinal cord called the brachial plexus.
When the point on the hand is stimulated, it causes the rest of the associated nerve path to also receive some level of stimulation. It is easy to see the parallel and connection between the western nervous system and the eastern meridians of acupuncture when picturing this happening. LI4 specifically is shown to affect a type of nerve fiber called afferent delta fibers which carry nerve impulses towards the spine and brain, which is the body's central nervous system.
We know from medical science and evidence based practice that the radial branch of the nerve fibers by LI4 will find their way back to the spinal segments of C5-T1 based on neuroanatomy. In other words, when we stimulate the point on the hand, the nerve impulse is sent to that area of the spine after crossing the brachial plexus, specifically through a portion of the vertebrae called the dorsal horn and sent to the brain from the spine involving something delta-A fibers. These fibers terminate (end) in the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is a part of the brain and limbic system, that when stimulated, has to do with the release of something called beta endorphin. Beta endorphin is what helps to modulate pain in the body and when it is released from the brain it then stimulates something in the spinal cord called periaqueductal grey matter (PAG). When the PAG is stimulated all the way down the line of these events from the acupuncture point to the beta endorphins, it creates a strong pain-relieving effect to treat pain and headaches.
Overall, there are different ways to understand and view how acupuncture works. Both the classical perspective, which is philosophically based and the modern perspective, which is science based are valid. The most important thing to understand is that it is an amazing and effective form of medicine and healing that works wonders. For more information please contact Mindful Medicine and schedule an appointment for acupuncture with Dr. Alex or Dr. Erin. We are here to help.
Chinese medicine is fundamentally the study of the natural rhythms and symbols in the universe and how they are manifested in the human body, physiologically and pathologically. Even though our modern lifestyles consistently remove us from the rhythms of the natural world, our physical form and function are part of and influenced by the movements in nature. By observing and contemplating the energetic movements of the seasons, we can learn how energy is manifested within the body and how our habits and focus can shift to support greater balance in the current season.
We are currently in the season of autumn, which is associated with the metal element. (The 5 elements in Chinese medicine are water, fire, earth, metal, and water). In nature and the body, the metal element is associated with downward movement. In the outside world, we have moved from the peak yang, or sun energy at the summer solstice on June 20th , to the midpoint of the cycle at the autumnal equinox on September 22nd , where daylight and darkness are in balance. Autumn is descending toward more darkness, the peak of which is associated with the winter solstice on December 21st and peak yin energy. (Yang is the universal energy of expansion and yin is the universal energy of contraction). We see a lot of descent and downward moving energy in autumn when we observe the plant world. Trees begin to turn beautiful shades of red, orange, yellow, and brown and lose their leaves, which is a sign of the inward turning, or descent of the tree’s energy. Trees, and most living beings, take a more internal focus in autumn, drawing energy inward and shedding what they no longer need, to preserve life and survive the depths of winter. For humans, this is traditionally a time to start turning inward as well, by slowing down the pace of life, simplifying tasks, canning and preserving the abundance of food from the harvest in preparation for the restful and restorative winter months ahead. Yang metal is physically condensed earth and has a cutting and separating energy, like a sword or a dramatic mountain range cutting through a landscape. The yin aspect of metal is symbolized by precious stones and gems and represents the clarity and beauty that comes from the energy of refinement. Autumn is a great time to let anything go that no longer serves you, physical clutter and material excess, emotional grudges and resentments and mental disarray, which can all lead to increased clarity and peace when we consciously cut these things loose from our world. This also includes getting rid of or reducing the many toxins that creep into our lives and affect our longevity, which are present in our food, water, air, and personal care and cleaning products when we are not conscious of our everyday choices.
In the body, the organ systems that reflect the autumn energy are the lung and large intestine. When functioning normally, both organ systems have an overall downward movement. The primary function of the lung is to inhale and descend vital oxygen from the universe for use in the body and exhale the waste we no longer need. When the qi or energy of the lung is not descending properly, symptoms such as coughing, and shortness of breath will occur when the lung energy is moving up and out instead of down and in. The function of the large intestine is to absorb the last remaining nutrients and water from the food we consume and descend and eliminate waste and all that doesn’t serve the body. When the qi of the large intestine is not descending properly, a common symptom is constipation, which is a sign that the large intestine cannot let go of accumulated waste. The metal element is also associated with the climate of dryness, which we can observe in nature on an autumn day with crisp, dry air. Both the lung and large intestine are influenced by the amount of dryness present. The lung prefers to be dry, when it is too moist, there is often excessive phlegm production with cough or chest pressure, but if the lungs are too dry normal breathing patterns can also be affected. Similarly in the large intestine, the environment should remain relatively dry for optimal function, but too much dryness and too much moisture will inhibit normal physiological function of the large intestine and the quality of bowel movements.
There are many other symbols associated with the metal element we can contemplate when thinking about the human experience. The metal element is associated with the emotion of grief, the color white, the pungent flavor, the sense of smell, and the skin of the body. There are so many ways we can think about these symbols and how they connect with the energy of metal and autumn. The connection of the lung to the skin is also relevant, as they both play a role in our immune system and our outer and direct connection to the outside world. When these systems are not functioning well, our defenses are down, and we are more likely to become ill by pathological climatic (or microbial) influences. When these systems are functioning optimally, we are more equipped to handle the changes in our environment. It’s also interesting to ponder what climates or natural elements, or even emotions, activities, and foods, you gravitate to, and how that can indicate what elements are too strong or too weak in the body. For example, if one is averse to the heat and humidity of summer and prefers a cool, dry climate, that can be a sign of too much heat and dampness in the body, so there will be a natural affinity for the cool, dry season of autumn.
Chinese medicine practitioners utilize acupuncture, herbal medicine, and other modalities to help balance energy within the body. During the autumn, we often select more lung and large intestine meridian points and herbal formulas to benefit these organ systems, especially when a patient is not having any specific symptoms and coming in for their seasonal tune-up. If one has issues with these organ systems, such as chronic cough, asthma, allergies, constipation, or bloating, the autumn is a good time to focus on these imbalances as the season is supporting this work energetically. Having the intention of letting go of any emotional weight you have been carrying during a meditation practice or acupuncture session would be an ideal focus during this time. Eating more pungent foods with your seasonal meals can help keep fluids from stagnating and keep an optimal dry environment for the lung and large intestine. Spending time observing nature, specifically the changing of the leaves, the mountains or a still lake are all excellent settings for contemplation in autumn.
This is a mere glimpse of the depth to the symbolism associated with Chinese medical theory, specifically related to autumn. I would love to hear what connections you make when thinking about these symbols and energetic movements in your own life. I intend this to be a seasonal blog series and eventually I will develop more educational material where we will dive deeper into the symbolism of Chinese medicine together and how it can bring greater balance into your life. Becoming more aware of the natural world and its patterns is a great way to improve your health and lifestyle to feel a greater sense of well-being. When we are in a constant state of opposition to the natural flow of the universe, disease will undoubtedly arise. Enjoy the autumn and be well.
Chinese Medicine for Emotional Disturbances, Insomnia and Anxiety by Dr. Alexander Achenza, DACM, LAc
This blog is meant to be an educational “crash course” in traditional Chinese medicine’s way of looking at psycho-emotional issues and anxiety, which are very common in our society. It is my hope to educate and inspire anyone reading this now to gain interest in the wonders of acupuncture and how it can help vastly improve your life. To do this, I will be covering some basic concepts in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and how they relate to different symptoms so many people experience on a daily basis.
As we all know, there are many people out in the world today taking pharmaceuticals such as Lexapro and Xanax (to name a couple) to cope with the stresses and anxiety of the last two years. Acupuncture takes a “whole-body system” view and approach when treating conditions, and psychological or emotional issues are no different. For thousands of years in human history, acupuncture has been used to treat anxiety. Panic and anxiety attacks due to stress are very common these days and acupuncture offers an evidence based, safe, and powerful complement or alternative to taking drugs with potentially harmful side-effects.
Below are brief descriptions for Chinese medical patterns and diagnoses. Keep in mind that these are esoteric concepts that were designed before the time of modern science. However, we are in a modern golden age of acupuncture right now, where the marvels of modern medical science and the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine are integrating and overlapping endlessly. The perspective of evidence-based treatments is not only easier to understand, but also provide a more well-rounded view to provide the highest quality of treatment and care to a patient. If when reading these symptoms and pattern examples you believe they resonate with your experiences, or you identify them to be spot on with issues you are dealing with consistently, please reach out to me because acupuncture will be able to help you.
Symptoms, patterns, bodily presentations, and treatments are as follows (but not limited to):
Eyes: no ptosis, clear nodule on medial side of each pupil, eyes appear red, slightly cloudy or murky, and off-white sclera.
Nose and Sinuses: clear nasal discharge.
Cardiac: mild hypertension, mild palpitations.
Gastrointestinal: belching and heartburn.
Psychiatric: anxiety, depression.
Sleep: difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Disease Category for Anxiety and Depression: “chou chang and xiao tiao” these are Chinese words to describe the pattern of symptoms that fit the diagnostic criteria which leads the acupuncturist to using different sets of points in a treatment. Different points used will facilitate different changes and healing processes in the body, mind, and in turn, the spirit.
Common TCM Pattern Diagnosis for anxiety and emotional issues:
Liver Qi stagnation and Blood Stasis with Liver fire blazing upwards and affecting the spirit:
Difficulty falling asleep from the mind’s vexation from liver fire, the tongue tip is red, the pulse rapid, and eyes are red. Also, sighing frequently and speaking loudly.
Liver overacting on Spleen with Spleen and Stomach qi deficiency:
The spleen relates to the Yi, which correlates to thoughts and rumination, as well as worry when out of balance. They may also have shortness of breath, fatigue, belching regularly, and bloating.
Water/Fire disharmony AKA Heart/Kidney disharmony:
The intense aspects of fear and dread can relate to the kidneys. The symptoms of palpitations, insomnia, associated with the state of mental unease are related to the heart. In this relationship, the kidney is like a pot of water and the heart fire is heating it up. The disharmony occurs when there is an issue between the symbiotic nature of the fire heating the pot of water to turn to steam and nourish the heart, while the nourished heart sends fire back down to the kidney to heat the water.
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the qualities of one’s pulse and the presentation of the tongue to hone in on which channels should be the focus of the treatment, and subsequently, which points to use. A combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas, adjunctive therapies, such as gua sha and tui na, can all be utilized to treat the underlying pattern contributing to the diseased state. Lifestyle recommendations, including supplementation, regular exercise, and dietary changes, as well as other supportive therapies, such as neurofeedback, hypnotherapy, or talk therapy, may also be recommended based on one's unique patterns and presentations. Getting to the root cause of emotional disturbance and turmoil can be complex and challenging. Please reach out for support or if you have any questions or feedback. I am here to help support patients and navigate these trying times.
Maciocia, G. (2005). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. London, UK: Churchill Livingston.
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The past eighteen months have been rough for everyone, including teenagers. In-person school, virtual school, or a hybrid. It’s easy to fall behind with these disruptions. There has been so much change, unpredictability, and loss. Learning DBT Skills helps teens develop positive coping skills, learn to respond rather than react, and improve their relationships.
DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was developed by Marcia Linehan, Ph.D. in the 1980’s to help women diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. It was so successful that a skills manual (Rathus & Miller, 2015) was developed to work with teens and families. I use the DBT Skills Manual by Rathus and Miller (2015) as a foundation for the DBT skills group and share an electronic copy of the skills handouts with the students.
Dialectical is not a word that is part of our everyday vocabulary. Dialectical means that there are two ideas that are opposite and considered together, can create a new truth and a new way of viewing the situation. There is more than one way to see a situation. DBT incorporates CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and Zen mindfulness.
There are five DBT problem areas or problems to decrease: Reduced awareness and focus; emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, interpersonal problems, and teenager and family challenges.
DBT offers five modules or behaviors to increase: Core mindfulness skills, emotion regulation skills, distress tolerance skills, interpersonal effectiveness and walking the middle path. Mindfulness skills or ways to be in the present moment are learned and practiced throughout every session. The group members learn and practice coping skills, create a coping kit, learn to validate themselves and others, recognize and reframe thinking errors and learn skills to be more effective interpersonally.
I’ve been working with teens for many years and as you may recall, being a teenager has never been easy. As a teenager, you are struggling with the developmental stage of individuation and separation. Your peer group is the most important thing and yet you still need your parents – however not too much! You may feel left out, awkward, isolated, and afraid of being rejected. Electronic media has brought a whole new element of communicating as well as bullying to the world of teens. The DBT skills group lets them know they are not alone. In other words, other teens feel the same way and go through the same difficulties with peers, school and with families. The skills group provides them with a community and a safe place to practice and learn their skills. During the skills group, group members have an opportunity to lead one or more mindfulness exercises, share their experiences, as well as positive coping skills and resources with their peers.
Due to the long history of teenager and parent challenges, the Walking the Middle Path module addresses many of the difficulties that teens and their families face. In my experience of working with teens and their families, it is important for one or both parents to familiarize themselves with what the teens are learning in the skills group. I have learned that everyone, including myself have room to improve our thinking, learn how to be more present and less reactive, and be more open to perspectives that are different from our own. We can all learn to recognize when we are being judgmental and validate ourselves and others more often. I encourage parents to join me once a month to review and familiarize themselves with the current skills module. It helps to reinforce the teens when using their DBT Skills. In addition, parents can remind themselves and model for their teens positive ways of responding during a crisis.
A new virtual DBT Skills Group is starting on Wednesday, November 10 from 5:00 -6:30 pm. The group is limited to 8 teens. Register by October 10 and received a reduced rate and participate in the monthly parent DBT skills group free of charge. Be sure to reach out if you have any questions or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lets face it, over the last year or so, we have all been made to live with a higher level of stress than we are used to. Everyone has had to deal with some degree of change. There are many different things to turn to when looking to treat this stress or cope with the intense changes life and indeed, humanity, has been going through. For thousands of years, people have looked to acupuncture as an incredible resource and modality to treat stress and for the effects it can have on mental health. As an ancient form of holistic medicine, acupuncture exists as a powerful method of healing to promote the body's own innate system of vitality. The philosophical concepts that act as a foundation of acupuncture explore a universal notion of balance in all things. Everything from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic. From the structure of a galaxy to a human cell, the relationship between night and day, or an ecosystem in nature. All things that exist in this reality have a harmony and equilibrium to them. When integrating these metaphor based, esoteric concepts of Chinese medicine with modern science we can come to see how there are countless overlaps.
The balance of "Qi" or ones vitality, can be paralleled to homeostasis just as using different acupuncture points to "calm the mind" can be illustrated to effect the nervous system in a way to activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. There is a myriad of scientific literature that supports acupuncture's efficacy for therapeutic stress reduction and in turn, supportive modality for mental health. Acupuncture and its relationship with mental health can be understood in a scientific context by observing the changes in neurotransmitters and endorphin release, such as serotonin and beta-endorphin ("feel good chemicals"). Similarly, one could look to the rich history of literally thousands of years of empirical and anecdotal acupuncture evidence that makes up the backbone of Chinese medicine. Some of us are more comfortable thinking of the science and some folks are happy to look at the philosophy. It is equally valid, important, and profound as a form of medicine either way. However we choose to view and understand the mechanisms, in times like these we could certainly all benefit from some self care.
So how does this relate to everything happening in the world now, and your level of stress? Well, acupuncture can help to maintain your individual level of internal harmony and balance in both your physical and mental well-being. It is a wonderful method of healing and can help to relieve both conscious and even unconscious levels of stress and tension. Everyone's personal level of stress relates directly to their unique state of mental health. No two individuals are exactly alike, just as are our states of mental health and emotional well-being. Acupuncture fits perfectly to treat these issues, because treatments themselves are individualized and specific to the unique needs and patterns of each and every person. Acupuncture is also helpful in that the practitioner truly takes the time to figure out how to help you in the best way they can. It's not just about listing symptoms and throwing pharmaceuticals at them. It is a whole and comprehensive approach to treating the root causes of the problem at hand. Please let us know if you have any questions about how acupuncture can help you. We are happy to help in any way we can and confident that can make a significant impact on the quality of your life.
Welcome to the Mindful Medicine blog! Here our holistic practitioners will provide you with health and wellness education, which we hope will be valuable on your journey towards greater health. Feel free to contact us with any feedback or questions. Thanks for being here.