Keeping healthy in the winter
Chinese Medicine originated thousands of years ago, at a time when people lived more in harmony with nature and the seasons. In winter time, in shorter daylight hours, people got up later in the morning, worked fewer hours and went to bed earlier. They had no choice but to eat the foods that were available to them locally at that time of year. In order to survive the harshness of winter, they paid attention to keeping warm and reserving their energy.
Today, particularly in the Western world, with all the technology available and foods imported from all over the world, whatever the season, we have so much choice. We can indulge in many different activities and foods, and don't often give a second thought to whether that's the wise choice for our health at that time of year. Most of us haven't got a clue!
I must admit, I'm aghast when a patient who is obviously quite a cold mortal tells me that they eat salad regularly throughout the winter; quite possibly whilst working long hours, going to the gym at the end of the day, and then wondering why they are so exhausted! Yet, looking back, before I studied acupuncture, I did those kind of things too.
In Chinese Medicine, winter is the most Yin time of year. Being Yin, it's the time for cold, stillness, slowing down, quiet, inwardly focused activities such as meditation, or even curling up with a book. This is in contrast to summer which is Yang: hot, busy, fast moving and outwardly projected. If it helps, just think of what sort of things are happening in nature at these times (the trees, the animals .....).
Winter is also the time when we should be focusing on our Kidneys. According to Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys are like the "pilot light", at the root of all the energy stored and available to our body; our life essence. They are the foundation of the energy for the reproductive system, so are important for fertility, and they also determine how well we age. In Western medicine, we know that the kidneys have a filtering function, and in Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys also control the water passages in the body, passing on the impurities to the Bladder, from where they are secreted as urine. The health of the Kidneys is said to influence our ears, our bone and bone marrow, and also our brain and memory. At an emotional level, the Kidneys are associated with fear, and they are said to control our will power or drive and determination.
To protect our energy over the winter, in addition to taking time to rest, sleep, reflect and restore ourselves, there are certain foods that can have a beneficial effect on the Kidneys. These include seaweeds (e.g., Clearspring Nori sprinkle), soybeans, miso, sea salt (in small quantities!), small dark beans, kidney beans, steamed greens, roasted nuts, millet, quinoa, amaranth, oats, barley, bone broths, chestnuts. Such foods should be included in a balanced diet. For a better idea of your individual dietary needs, it's a good idea to see a practitioner of Chinese Medicine (acupuncturist/herbalist).
Generally speaking, eating to stay healthy this winter, we can include the following foods in our diet: root vegetables, small amounts of meat or fish (vegetarians can increase the amount of dark beans and nuts), slow cooked foods, bone broths, stocks.
And don't forget..... keep wrapped up warm! According to Chinese Medicine, the neck and shoulders are particularly vulnerable; pathogens can enter the body here, so protect them from the wind and cold. Other areas to keep warm are your feet (the Kidney channel starts on the sole of the foot), so don't walk bare-foot on cold floors, your lower abdomen (particularly women) and your back (the kidney area).
Enjoy the season, see its beauty, but remember to stay healthy!
Using Acupuncture to Treat and Support your Mental and Emotional Well-being
If you are suffering with low mood or depression, anxiety and stress, you're not alone. According to mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year. In England 1 in 6 people report symptoms of a common mental health problem (e.g. anxiety or depression) in any given week. Despite that, it can feel very isolating, and sometimes it feels like nobody understands what you're going through. Perhaps certain events in your life have triggered these feelings or maybe it's something that you've struggled with most of your life. Whatever the reason, you might feel like it's the right time to seek help; or perhaps you have a friend or relative that could benefit from some support.
Many people associate a trip to the acupuncturist with back pain or a dodgy knee. Certainly, when I introduce myself as an acupuncturist, people often launch into stories about a physical injury they once had treated by acupuncture or they say, "I bet you see a lot of bad backs". Not many people suffering from depression or anxiety or going through a period of grief would even consider acupuncture as an option. Most likely they would pop along to their GP first, who might prescribe an anti-depressant (often an SSRI) and encourage you to contact Therapy for You (the NHS-funded talking therapies) with their incredibly long waiting lists for rather limited services. These kinds of interventions can of course be very beneficial to many people; allowing them to get through a difficult period. However, they very rarely tackle the root of the problem, particularly if it's a long-term issue.
As a holistic therapy, acupuncture can help to address imbalances at all levels of the person. It doesn't have to discriminate between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Our emotions are seated in the physical components of the body... the Qi (energy) that circulates and regulates, keeping everything running smoothly and freely; the blood that nourishes the tissues and carries the hormones that influence our emotions. The emotional affects the physical... the physical affects the emotional; it's all interlinked. And the way in which you, the patient, have developed your particular set of emotional issues is a unique and complex combination of emotional and physical stimuli. Although it helps for the acupuncturist to know exactly what you're feeling and the events in your life that have led you here, it isn't absolutely necessary to tease it all apart; there are many physical signs for me to read, and the needles will help to restore that balance anyway.
Finally, it's worth remembering that acupuncture is a complementary therapy (not necessarily alternative); it can be used in combination with conventional medication, and you should always consult your GP before deciding to stop any prescribed medication.
Beating the winter blues with acupuncture
The winter is a particularly dreary time of year. With fewer daylight hours, and cold, miserable weather, our mood and energy levels can be drastically affected. This can have a knock on effect on our sleep patterns, motivation and appetite.
Depression, whether it is a temporary blip, or a chronic condition, is a common reason for someone to seek help from an acupuncturist.
I know from experience that acupuncture can be very helpful in lifting the mood, and there are also scientific studies evidencing the positive effects of acupuncture on people with depression.
So, how does it work?
Generally, acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the nervous system and promote the release of neurochemical messengers. This can generate feelings of well-being. Specifically, it can alter the mood chemistry of the brain, such as increasing the levels of serotonin and endorphins.
For more information, please visit the research section of the British Acupuncture Council's website.
Spring 2014: Put some Spring into Your Step!
At last, after another seemingly long, grim winter, spring is finally here!
Seeds are sprouting, flowers are blooming and we start to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces. What a wonderful time!
In Chinese Medicine, spring is the season of growth, development and new beginnings. It is the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenation for overall health and well-being.
In the Eastern philosophy of the Five Elements, spring corresponds to the “Wood” element, which in turn relates to the liver and gallbladder organs.
According to Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (vital energy) throughout the body. When the liver functions well, physical and emotional activity in the body runs smoothly. When the liver is struggling, we may become more emotional, depressed or angry, or we may experience unexplained pains that come and go.
So, for optimum health this spring, move your Qi!
Keeping well in the spring
Spring is a time of regeneration, new beginnings and a renewal of spirit. It is the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenation for overall health and well-being. As explained on the first page, the liver and gallbladder are usually the prime targets for springtime cleansing and health regimes.
Stretch - The liver controls the tendons. According to Chinese medicine, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then releases it to the tendons in times of activity, maintaining tendon health and flexibility. Incorporate a morning stretch into your routine. Try yoga or tai qi.
Eye Exercises - The liver “opens into the eyes” and is connected to eye function. Remember to take breaks when looking at a computer monitor for extended periods of time and do exercises.
Eat Green - Green is the colour associated with the liver and springtime. Eat young plants- fresh, leafy greens, sprouting seeds or beans, and immature cereal grasses- can improve the liver’s overall functions and aid in the movement of qi.
Taste Sour - Foods and drinks with sour tastes stimulate the liver’s qi. Add slices of lemon to your water, use vinegar and olive oil for your salad dressing. Include pickles with your lunch.
Do more outside activities - If you have been feeling irritable, find an outdoor activity to get the liver energy flowing.
Enjoy milk thistle tea- Milk thistle helps protect liver cells from incoming toxins and encourages the liver to cleanse itself of damaging substances such as alcohol, medication, pesticides and environmental toxins.
Have some acupuncture treatment- Acupuncture can help to improve the overall health of your liver as well as treat stress, anger and frustration, which are often associated with liver qi disharmony.
Shonishin (or children’s needle therapy) is a style of acupuncture specifically designed for babies and children. It was developed over 250 years ago in Japan. It involves specialised treatment techniques, many of which are non-invasive, gentle and non-frightening to the child.
In Shonishin various instruments have been developed that give different kinds of stimulation. These tools can be tapped, rubbed, pressed and gently scraped on the skin instead of inserted like a normal acupuncture needle.
Common symptoms and conditions helped by using this systematic approach are: colic, disturbed sleep, digestive problems (diarrhoea, constipation, indigestion), eczema, asthma hyperactivity, failure to thrive issues, ear infections, bed wetting, allergies, colds/coughs. Some techniques can be taught to parents to use at home in between treatments to increase recovery time and to allow parents to participate in the treatment of their children. Children’s treatments are offered at reduced rates (see Fees and Appointments).