Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Few Fall Health Tips

Fall is around the corner.  Here in Asheville we have truly begun to feel the chill the past couple of days.  For me this is a time of hot tea in the morning while I gaze out at my herb garden, taking my daughter back to school, wearing scarves again, formulating new herbal tinctures to protect my patients' protective qi and enjoying the beautiful colors as they appear on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, autumn is associated with the element metal, the spicy or pungent taste (think daikon radish, ginger, garlic), the organs lungs and large intestine and the emotion of grief.  There is even a time of day that metal is most active, 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.  It is often in the fall that we find ourselves waking early.  It is important to pay attention to the feelings and emotions that arise upon these wakings and allow them.  Sit with them.  Don't resist.  Quiet your mind and you will easily sink back into sleep.

So here are a few tips for staying in balance this fall:

  • Keep your neck covered.  It is believed that wind which can cause disease, enters through the Du channel at the back of the neck.  Try it and see.
  • Avoid raw, cold, and processed food.  These are hard to digest, while cooked vegetables, grains and meats are nourishing and grounding to the body.
  • Avoid sugar.  It has been proven that eating one tablespoon of processed sugar can depress the immune system for over an hour.  Probiotics and fermented foods, on the other hand, have the opposite effect, boosting immunity and regulating digestion.
  • Practice breathing exercises, especially slow, deep breathing from the diaphragm.  This strengthens the lungs and prevents illness.  (I will outline some of my favorite breathing exercises in my next blog post.  Stay tuned.)  
  • If you feel a scratchy or sore throat, immediately drink some scallion or ginger tea while taking a hot bath with 5-10 drops of eucalyptus oil and 1 cup of epsom salts.  
  • A cold or flu is easily cut short with acupuncture, herbs and gua sha.  So see your acupuncturist early.  If you wait until it is lodged in your chest it will be harder to treat.  
  • There are many herbal formulas, each for different stages of sickness.  See your acupuncturist or herbalist for a preventive formula to keep your lung qi healthy as the weather changes.
Enjoy the crispness of this beautiful season and be well.

Why Chinese Medicine?

More than any other question I hear as an acupuncturist and herbalist (aside from 'Does it work?' Answer: Absolutely!  In more ways than you can imagine.) is 'How did you get into this?'  I love answering this question.  The first time I was on the receiving end of those tiny pins was a banner day.  I credit my phenomenal inspiration to my first and much-admired acupuncturist and friend, Andrew Cahn, D.O.M., P.A. I had ruptured my achilles tendon in a rather more-strenuous-than-usual racketball game.  After surgery he encouraged me to come in for treatment as the pain wasn't abating as it should have.  I was skeptical and nervous, not knowing much about acupuncture, but finally assented. After the needles were inserted I felt a calm I had not, to that date, experienced.  And after I left I think I floated for days.

I went weekly and as I did, the achilles pain resolved easily, but also subtler things:  I was sleeping like a dream, I had more energy, and the chronic nightmares that had plagued me for years literally disappeared.  How could something so subtle shift me on so many levels?  How could stainless steel needles the width of a hair have such an effect on my life, my spirit?  This was also my foray into Chinese Herbal medicine.  I thought myself fairly well-versed in Western Herbalism, but what I began to learn about Chinese herbs was taking me in a new direction.  Western Herbalism has a long and beautiful tradition.  It is based on simples, mostly, or single herbs.  Some combinations, to be sure, but it would seem that a great deal of the herbal knowledge of the West has sadly been lost.  Chinese herbalism, by comparison had maintained a great deal more history and coming from such a radically different paradigm and cultural context held a different focus for me.  Single herbs are rarely used in Chinese herbalism.  In general, 5 to 15, sometimes more herbs were used at a time in complex and elegant formulations.  And what an enormous effect it seemed to have on my body.  Suffice it to say I had to learn all about this stuff.

At risk of sounding dramatic, I knew I had stumbled upon my life purpose.  Andrew encouraged me to enroll in acupuncture school and despite having a small child and a business to run, I jumped in head-first and to put it simply I haven't been the same since.  Today I revel in the great joy of treating patients and sharing the same deep shifts, calm joys, healing crises, tears, and breakthroughs with my own patients.  Acupuncture is a heart-centered, spiritual journey.  And I still wish I could experience my first time all over again.