<![CDATA[Bridge Acupuncture - Gentle and effective acupuncture in Doylestown, Bucks County PA - Blog]]>Sat, 23 Oct 2021 19:52:12 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[What a Find!]]>Thu, 14 Oct 2021 23:09:15 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/what-a-findPicture
(By Paolo Propato, LAc) The other day Issa (my son) and I found a plethora of mushrooms in the woods. We both got very excited. “Issa, I’m not sure but I think these are Chanterelles!” Our eyes lit up like we had happened upon a hidden treasure. In my mind all I could see were plates full of mushrooms... there was enough for Mamma, Grace, Faye and the rest of the crew (we picked a lot of mushrooms).

As I looked at them sitting  on the kitchen table I remembered Grace once had an experience of mistaken identity with chanterelles. A quick google and message to Grace with a picture, and the verdict quickly came in, they were not chanterelles but Jack O’lanterns. Very similar in appearance except Jack O’lanterns can cause GI distress. Of course I got rid of them, but it left an impression on me because they looked so good!

As I threw out the mushrooms a thought came to me: Do I think I’m a Chanterelle but am really a Jack O’ lantern, or vice versa? Have I convinced myself that I am one way but in reality I am something else? 

There's no easy answer because like the mushrooms we are more complex than good and bad. This judgment led me to look up these bad-boy shrooms. Permaculturenews.org has an article describing the medicinal value of Jack O’lanterns. They contain Illusin S, which help stop tumor growth. Although you can not get this Illusin S directly, pharmacological research is finding ways to use it in chemotherapeutic drugs. Very powerful information, and that was from only one article. Also, the chanterelle is perhaps saved by animals not knowing if it is safe to eat because it looks just like the Jack O’lantern. From that point of view it is not so bad, in fact it may become a medicinal superhero in this world riddled with cancerous tumors.

The mushroom didn’t care that it was labeled a chanterelle or Jack O'lantern, it didn't care about its medicinal or poisonous effects, it was just doing what it does in the woods. We all have a little poison and we all have healing within us. It's not our job to only be only one way, even if that is what is expected by society, culture, family, friends. Just be what you are. The oak tree is majestic, but can it stop a tumor? The chanterelle is delicious but does it help save the other mushrooms?

Who are you? I was asked that question many years ago and only now is the question beginning to truly take root. I thank Jack O’lantern for the chance to reflect on it, but mostly thank Grace for sparing my family from the diarrhea-causing bounty. 
<![CDATA[Late Summer and Mindful Eating]]>Mon, 06 Sep 2021 21:30:32 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/late-summer-and-mindful-eatingPicture
(By Paolo Propato, LAc and Grace Rollins, LAc) The late summer weeks are associated in Eastern Medicine with the Earth element and the Spleen and Stomach energetic systems. These systems are a Yin-Yang pair and govern all aspects of digestion and assimilation. Even other organs obviously related to digestion, like the bowels and the gallbladder, are secondary to the importance of the Spleen and Stomach. In the 5-element system so central to Chinese medicine practice, the Earth energy is like the gravitational force that holds everything else together. So if the Spleen and Stomach energies are out of balance, many other systems can become compromised. 

As we transition from the slower pace of summer back to the rushed life of full-time work and school, it's good to take a look at how it's not just what we eat, but the manner in which we eat that can drastically affect the health of the Spleen and Stomach, having ramifications throughout the body.

To say the Spleen and Stomach energies are in charge of "digestion" does not only mean food, but the digestion of ideas and thoughts as well as external stimuli. An example is the Internet, our phones, TV and the rest of today’s luxuries. All this stimuli is hitting our senses and needs to be processed, digested. Often we also have at least a day's worth of worries, plans and responsibilities to chew over, if not major life issues and family crises to think about. All of this can lead to an over-burdening of the Spleen and Stomach, leaving little energy left for the complex task of digestion.

Here are several small steps to implement during your meals to help ease the stress and help you digest:

▪ Eat with no other distractions. During your meals shut off the TV, close the laptop and turnoff the phones and just be with your food. Doing so can help those that tend to overeat. In a fascinating study, some participants played computer solitaire during their lunch while another group ate the same meal at the same time with no distractions. The "wired" group reported not feeling full after their lunches and ate more later on compared to the "unplugged" group.

▪ Eat slowly. Take your time, fully chewing your food. This way your gut has more time to take in and signal the feeling of fullness to your brain, preventing you from overeating and feeling like you will burst. The saliva produced from chewing also helps break down the starches in food, making it easier on the gut. Mechanically breaking down food also helps nutrients to be absorbed and prevents symptoms like constipation and bloating.

▪ Do not eat to overfull. Stop before reaching that Thanksgiving-night-about-to-pass-out-feeling. Stopping a bit before being full prevents taxation of the digestion process. This will also keep you from feeling lethargic after eating, and significantly promotes health and longevity. They have a saying in Okinawa, to eat until hara hachi bu - "belly 80% full." (Is the renowned health of Okinawans in part due to this insightful practice?)

▪ Most importantly enjoy what you are eating. Smell the food you are going to eat, and when you place it in your mouth feel the textures. Realize the complexity of taste in a food you have already eaten countless times, or that you previously considered bland. With no other distractions, truly tasting and enjoying your food starts the digestive process with a good intention.

Digestion starts at the brain, then the mouth, then the gut. People always tell us they are too busy to begin a meditation practice. Our response is always, “If you eat you can meditate." If you implement these simple steps during breakfast, lunch and dinner, you are meditating three times a day! Eating can be a pause to let go of stress and connect to yourself and the Earth. Your body and your mind will thank you.
<![CDATA[What Makes One Sick]]>Mon, 28 Jun 2021 23:36:42 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/what-makes-one-sickPicture
(By Paolo Propato, L.Ac.) “Our attitude towards life counts more than our ancestry.” I can’t remember who told me this but it has always stuck. Many patients attribute their health issues with genetics, whether rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, migraines... the list goes on. This attribution relinquishes not only responsibility but in a way, hope. At any rate it is probably premature in most cases.

If you take the seed of a healthy plant and place it in a harsh environment it may survive, but not thrive. The better the environmental quality, the more that life or Qi can expand outwardly. In healthy soil with appropriate light and water, the plant will be able to blossom, attracting bees and butterflies. 

When I was growing up, many times I saw my grandfather replant a tree or bush that someone else had pulled out and discarded due to its appearing unhealthy. With gradual nurturing it would again flourish. (And later he would sell it!) In this day and age, surrounded by so many toxins we can't control, it’s especially important that we do our best to give ourselves a healthy soil to thrive in.

A few years back I went to the Horsham township meeting over the concern of water contamination with perfluorooctanioc acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulonate (PFOS) from the Air Force base. The room was packed like sardines with people from various townships venting their concerns.

One man spoke about his lymphoma, questioning whether perhaps it was caused by drinking a gallon of powdered iced tea made with tap water daily for thirty years. Though he was rightfully concerned about the water contamination, I also couldn't help but think of what that much sugar or artificial sweetener in the ice tea powder had done to him. Another woman spoke about her hormonal issues as she cooled herself with orange soda. People talked over cookies and cupcakes, and some were outside smoking and vaping. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the public about unknowingly taking in toxins, but in the meantime many were voluntarily taking in toxins.

This is not a judgment, simply an observation about where we put our energy. Genetics and infectious disease play a big part in our health, our constitution’s relationship with its environment determines the manifestation of illness.

My grandfather said if you hang out with thieves, eventually you will steal something. If you ingest sugars and chemicals day in and day out, eventually your body will manifest the energetic nature of those toxins. Although we cannot protect ourselves from every toxin, awareness of what we can control will help ease the toxic load in our body. By doing so we may begin to cultivate the nutritive soil that our bodies need to thrive.

I can't help the fact that I grew up drinking water saturated in PFOA and PFOS, but I can help myself in many other ways. Cutting out sugars, processed foods, chemically raised produce, and chemically raised meat and fish that contain hormones, pesticides and antibiotics is a great start. We are lucky that we live in an area where free range, quality meat without all the chemical use is available, as well as access to farms that sell clean produce.

The biggest toxin of all to avoid is being overly stressed. That is the one toxin that always seems to be a major culprit in bringing people into the clinic. Chronic feelings of fear, guilt, anger, and constant worry are toxins that need to be released. Deal with these toxins the way you deal with other toxins: acknowledge that they are there, and that’s OK but today you are going to try something different. Instead of that cookie, I’ll have an apple. Instead of yelling at the guy that cut me off I’ll be grateful it wasn’t an accident and say thank you for reminding me to practice some deep breathing.

In time the vibration of change will reach your core and transform your whole being. The thinking mind stops being the ruler and begins to serve the heart, the way it was intended. Avoiding toxic build-up can prevent or lessen illness that may be in our genetic predisposition. You will no longer be only your ancestry-- you will be YOU, a being made up of the past but determined by the present.

<![CDATA[COVID Vaccines, Bioindividuality and The Tech Medicine Rollercoaster]]>Fri, 16 Apr 2021 14:19:11 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/covid-vaccines-bioindividuality-and-the-tech-medicine-rollercoasterBook
(By Grace Rollins, MS, LAc) This spring I’ve been having conversations just about every day with patients, friends and family about the COVID vaccines. Whether to get one, safety concerns, which one is better, even which arm to get the shot in. My studies of biochemistry and immunology only went so far, and I’m not qualified to offer specific advice on the subject, I tell people again and again. However, I do have some observations that may be helpful based on the way I see everyone grasping for answers.

Personally, I put a lot of thought into getting one of the COVID vaccines (which I did back in February). After all, they are brand-new, super-expedited, and let’s be honest, still quasi-experimental. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have felt compelled to get the jab until it had undergone a bit more testing.

Trying to keep an open mind, I read the entire tomb of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver over the winter.

It’s a delightfully detailed history, full of the setbacks and triumphs of vaccine development going back to the first smallpox inoculations in the 18th century. It’s actually pretty fascinating, if you’re a geek like me. (Did you know Ben Franklin was originally an anti-vaxxer, a position he reversed later as the technology improved? That mercury enemas and extreme bloodletting were originally administered with the early smallpox inoculations--and may have made John Adams’ teeth fall out? That enslaved Africans and Turkish women were the first to introduce the concept of inoculation to Europeans?)

After reading the history it was even more apparent that the matter of vaccines is not black and white. Vaccines sometimes harm people and have been pulled from the markets after launch, even in recent decades. Vaccines have also given our society the luxury of amnesia regarding entire epidemics-- smallpox, rubella, polio, pertussis, to name just a few. 

With any issue that’s complex, there are innumerable ways you can slice it. Is big Pharma falsifying data to make a buck? Are paranoid anti-vaxxers blaming unrelated diseases on vaccines and making vaccine development too much of a liability? Are governments intent on nefarious means of social control; are billionaires intent on evil vaccine empires? The lack of science education in our society doesn’t help-- it’s easy to imagine monsters in the dark.

Also, denialism about vaccine side effects doesn’t help. When bad things happen, like the cases of thrombocytopenia that led to pulling of the J&J vaccine here in the U.S. this week, and the Astrazeneca vaccine being taken off markets in Europe, it reinforces our worst fears.

Powerful medical technologies have upsides, and downsides. We can’t trick, bypass or reroute nature without some kind of consequence, be it small or large. There’s always cause and effect. This doesn’t mean we should never use technological medicine. Even acupuncture is a lower-tech form of technological medicine. We use a tool that’s the end product of advanced metallurgy, manufacturing and modern sterilization to effect controlled units of stimulation, and subsequent hormetic reactions, within the body’s structural, biochemical and electromagnetic fields.
acupuncture and direct moxibustion on a person's arm
Here's another thing: There's how strongly a medical technology rocks the boat, and then there's how easily the boat is rocked to begin with. Medical dosing is a challenging art, due to how uniquely different individuals react on the way to reaching the desired result. This is why we do so much to customize acupuncture sessions--what might be an overwhelmingly strong treatment for one individual might not be adequate stimulation for another to achieve the needed effect. It's also why it's very difficult to offer precise prognoses. Dosages of pharmaceuticals, or even herbal medicines, have to be highly refined based on the wide variability in individual physiology. Even in physical therapy, an exercise prescription for “low back pain” has to be highly individualized to account for the patient’s particular injuries, structural deficits, gait and postural habits, and lifestyle factors. 

Having said all that, I wonder if one of the nuances with vaccines is that by nature they are impossible to dose differently for different individuals. Some people have an overly-robust reaction to the standard dose of vaccine (those that are sick in bed for days after getting a shot), while others may have none (that tiny percentage that the vaccine doesn’t confer any immunity to). The diversity of reactions to the COVID shots has given everyone a personal education in bioindividuality. Probably a more medically advanced approach in the future would involve gathering data on the individual patient’s immunotype that could match them to an appropriate vaccine type and customized dose.

For now, we have to do the best with the level of technology we have. As a practitioner of lower-tech, “natural” medicine I’m always an advocate of finding a way to improve our robustness through quality diet, movement, and connection with natural rhythms. At the same time I live in a setting that is no longer “natural” (as bucolic as Bucks County may seem). We’re in densely populated communities that are now fully globalized, and in an unprecedented way we are prone to epidemic diseases much more than our hunter-gatherer ancestors were. Perhaps we must lean on technological medicine to correct imbalances that are beyond the reach of natural self-correction. The COVID pandemic has had an affect on society like nothing in my own lifetime, and weighing the costs and benefits, to me it seems there’s a role for vaccines in helping us get out of this mess.

Pizza Rat in the new york subway dragging pizza up the subway stairs
As a practitioner of “natural” medicine I’m still compelled, however, to advocate the contribution that health-oriented strategies can make in protecting our society from COVID-19. It can be a great relief when a vaccine steps in and offers a shield, but it’s worth understanding that the majority of those who suffered hospitalization and death from COVID had other, lifestyle-related diseases. A recent study found that 63% of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the US could have been prevented if our society did not suffer from high rates of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many other studies (for example here and here) have found that Vitamin D status and lower Body Mass Index is correlated with improved outcomes and prevention of complications from COVID-19. The CDC published data suggesting that nearly 80% of those who were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 in the US were either overweight or obese. As of 2018, 42% of Americans were estimated to be obese (BMI> 25) and 72% to be overweight (BMI > 30)!

Black American communities suffer greater Vitamin D deficiency due to melinated skin, and greater rates of several other risk factors for COVID associated with suppressed socio-economic status, including obesity. Minority communities in the U.S. have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Failure to emphasize public health approaches beyond vaccination is not just a missed opportunity, but arguably unethical and discriminatory.

I make a conscious, daily effort to opt-out of mainstream food behaviors that are detrimental to my health. As those who have tried know, it takes work because it goes seriously against the grain. Our food economics, delivery system and cultural milieu have trapped us into a pattern of conditioned hypereating by making sure that addictive, hyper-palatable foods are the easiest and cheapest to buy, everywhere you go. It’s a systemic, Matrix-level problem that needs a revolution. Our hospitals would not have been overwhelmed, our mortality rates would not have been this high, had we a healthier, more conscious and sustainable food system. I know that might sound like conspiracy stuff, but when over 70% of the population is overweight you have to take a step back and try to bend the spoon with your mind.

In addition, I can’t help but notice the contrast between the degree of our society's current vaccine anxiety and our cavalier willingness to embrace over-the-counter medicines that carry a high frequency of substantial long-term health consequences. Check out the label warnings for omeprazole (Prilosec) and ibuprofen (Advil) when you get a chance. Any NSAIDs can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, slow bone and tendon healing, cause gastric and intestinal ulcers, and even induce kidney and hearing damage. Certain common antibiotics like Cipro and Levaquin can cause ruptured tendons, tendinitis and neuropathy. Flonase, a heavily prescribed nasal steroid spray, can suppress your immune system, cause nasal yeast infections, and increase the risk of glaucoma and cataract. This definitely isn’t conspiracy stuff; it’s FDA reported-and-known side-effects stuff.

The more mindfulness, and open-mindedness, we can bring to cost-benefit analyses of technological medicine, the more wisely we can benefit from it. I’d like to see more embrace of lifestyle-oriented approaches to health, and natural approaches to the chronic diseases of modernity like acid reflux, IBS, sinus infections, allergies, cardiovascular risk, and common aches and pains, so people don’t have to lean all the time on drugs like Prilosec, Advil, Cipro and Flonase (to name just a few). On the other hand when we’re backed into a corner without a safe alternative, there’s a role for technology. We have most certainly been backed into a corner, worldwide, since COVID arrived in 2020.

If you are inspired to embrace whole-body approaches to minimizing your risk of COVID complications, we at Bridge would LOVE to help you get healthier-- it’s what we do! Time and time again we have seen those with weak immune status regain their robustness with the aid of acupuncture, herbs, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Reach out to us any time, so we can all be part of the solution.

And don’t forget to get your Vitamin D status tested!

<![CDATA[Deeply in Place: COVID, one year later]]>Fri, 12 Mar 2021 19:14:43 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/deeply-in-place-covid-one-year-laterSnowdrop flowers emerging from the snow
(By Paolo Propato, LAC) The past is the earth from which the future grows. 

My own experience of the past year began with our acupuncture clinic closing, and suddenly spending time at home with an uncertain future. The first week was driven by fear, with the neighbors leaving bags of groceries outside their houses to decontaminate. We were constantly on the phone with family and friends in Iran and Italy to get updates, knowing we were only a week or two behind. 

After a few weeks into lockdown, almost every neighbor was jogging or walking outside, and we all spoke from the other side of the street. The news reports gripped us with anxiety, but we would also laugh as we pulled weeds from the flower beds behind our townhome community. 

I learned to substitute holding hands with only a look from a distance, and grieved with those that had lost loved ones or had been overwhelmed by fear of the unknown.

Slowly our clinic re-opened, with many changes to maximize safety. Seeing patients, many of whom feel like friends, brought back a sense of the normal even though the community acupuncture and meditation groups were (and still are) greatly missed. 

The year continued to unfold. Groceries were no longer left outside and when out doing errands, fear began taking a back seat to caution. The younger neighbors on our street began checking in on the elderly to make sure their needs were met. 

In the fall I decided to enroll in grad school for advanced certification for Chinese herbology, something I’ve always hoped to do. Being fixed in place due to COVID, plus the availability of remote classroom options, provided options that helped to catalyze this dream, something I wouldn’t have made time for before as a “busy professional with a family.”

As the fall went on, a major test of the kids’ sanity arrived: Halloween. All of us parents at my son’s school put our heads together. We ended up with tables set up on someone’s property, spaced out, and the kids went table to table trick-or-treating. This creativity gave the kids a special community experience, and they actually had a blast-- possibly the best Halloween they ever had. 

The first big snow had Hansell Park full of kids, all being responsible and spaced out with their sleds. Kids were flying off handmade snow ramps and parents were worrying about simple things like, “This kid’s gonna break his leg.” During the snowstorms it felt like the pandemic was gone, even for only a short while. 

During all that time, I was diving deep into my herbal studies, and Grace was laying the groundwork for Bridge’s new home to come, something that may not have been possible without staying deeply in place during the past year. 

That brings us to the present. A year ago we were closed down with no concept about our future; to almost completing a year of herbal grad school and soon moving to a new, expanded office. 

Today walking into work, there were signs of life coming back into the surrounding flower beds and I thought of this community, my neighbors, my son's school, our patients, friends, this town. We may get hit by setbacks, wind and snow, but we come back. Like those perennials that come back again and again, it is our nature to bloom.
<![CDATA[A Practical Look at Qi and Energy]]>Thu, 18 Feb 2021 20:13:46 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/a-practical-look-at-qi-and-energyChinese calligraphy, the character signifying
Paolo Propato, L.Ac. and Grace Rollins, L.Ac., licensed acupuncturists at Bridge Acupuncture in Doylestown, PA, sit down to discuss the energetics of acupuncture and what it is like to work and train in their field of medicine. 

Paolo: Acupuncture is said to be a medicine that harmonizes “Qi” (“Chi” or “Ki”). Can you describe Qi from your experience as a practitioner?

Grace: Many people think of Qi as “energy,” but I think that’s too materialistic of a translation. It’s interesting that one of the many direct translations of the character for “Qi” is "weather," if you add the symbol for “heaven” just before it. In other words, the Qi of the heavens is weather. So to me, Qi is basically a very useful term that sums up certain complex processes that together, create recognizable phenomena in the body. If you try to think of Qi as some kind of literal substance or force you’re just going to frustrate people interested in an anatomical corollary, because you won’t find a measurable “energy” that corresponds to what people who practice Asian medicine and martial arts are talking about. 

So how would you describe weather? It’s electromagnetic and gravitational relationships between elements and molecules; it's also the interaction of all those molecules with a wide spectrum of solar and celestial radiation, as well as with the gravitational and electromagnetic fields of the earth and moon. On top of that it’s the outcome of complex pressure systems, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, so many chaotic processes, all overlapping and influencing each other. And even with all this complexity, we can study it, characterize it, make tenuous predictions about it.

“Qi” for acupuncturists is like “weather” as it relates to the body. And the same way that we recognize many patterns and phenomena in weather, we learn how to recognize patterns in Qi as acupuncturists, which aids us in influencing the functions of the body to promote health. 

P: What do acupuncture methods actually do?

Artistic representation of a human body's chakras and auras, designs of light emanating from a stylized human body with colors of blue, yellow and fuscia
G: I get asked this a lot. The traditional answer is that it stimulates special points in order harmonize Qi in the body, thereby promoting proper function and health. Scientifically, stimulating acupuncture points with needles and moxa has been shown to generate complex responses.

Needling causes distortions in chains of connective tissue throughout the body, which link different muscle groups as well as organs. Connective tissue has a complex mechanical as well as electromagnetic role in the body that still is far from being fully understood by science. As recently as 2018, a paper was published describing the "interstitium," dynamic fluid-filled spaces throughout the body's connective tissues, and speculating that this was a previously unknown organ. It's highly likely that some of the effects of acupuncture are mediated via our complex network of connective tissue, though I doubt that this tells the entire story.

Needling acupuncture points also has been shown to therapeutically affect signaling in the brain. Different acupoints will influence different areas of the brain, in a way that is consistent but still not understood by anatomical studies. Changes in levels of neuropeptides, neurotransmitters and cytokines are also documented effects of acupuncture.

Some research suggests that dissipative electromagnetic structures in the body can explain the location of acupuncture points and channels, as well as the wide-ranging effects of acupuncture therapy. This is taking more of a physicist's view than a biologist's, requiring a pretty big cognitive leap. Think of it this way-- science understands us very well as chemical, molecular organisms, but hardly at all as electromagnetic ones. Nonetheless, we are undeniably electromagnetic in nature, every bit as much as molecular. It's such a new frontier for science that it still rarely enters into discussion, but I'm hopeful for what this line of inquiry will discover one day. After all, most of what we know about molecular biology is less than 100 years old.

I could go on and on about other measured acupuncture effects-- hormetic micro-injury, heat-shock proteins and infrared radiation from moxibustion, local vasodilation and mechanical stimulation of muscle tissue... With so many complex processes, it's starting to look a lot like trying to describe the weather, isn't it?

I think one of the challenges in studying acupuncture scientifically is that it’s methods do so much, all at once. So it’s hard to “pin down” one exact mechanism (excuse the pun). That’s why, even though I have a very scientifically oriented mind, I still prefer the traditional Chinese and Japanese pre-scientific theoretical concepts and terminology. We still haven’t discovered a better way to describing the complex processes of Qi and the affect of acupuncture techniques on the body.   

P: What do you believe makes acupuncture unique compared to other modalities that work with the "subtle energy" of the body?

G: Possibly the most important thing that makes acupuncture unique is its age. Acupuncture is old, people! Over 2,500 years old! Moxibustion, the practice of heating acupoints with the ember of dried mugwort, is even older, probably over 3,000 years or more! So even though acupuncture is dealing with complexities that provide obstacles to scientific study, it has withstood a very important test with its continued use and evolution over such a very long period of time. 

I think any scientist worth their salt needs to be open minded to all of the things that science still doesn’t have the tools to measure and explain. That applies to a lot of what happens in healing. But that doesn’t mean you have to be open-minded to everything. Honestly I think much of what’s out there these days in the world of “energy modalities” derives its effect from simply helping people to relax, tune into their body and think positively. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but I think people who put acupuncture in the same category as all other "energy" modalities are confused. Acupuncture has been going on for a very long time and there’s a lot more complexity to it. 

Even in the field of acupuncture there are many different styles and lineages. People introduce new methods every year, which I always approach cautiously. Innovation is good, it helps our medicine get better and better, but in a methodology that isn’t bound by objective measures you have to be careful not to be led to far astray by what sounds good on paper but has no real backing other than charisma and positive thinking.

The ease of going astray in “energy medicine” is one of the reasons I gravitate towards traditional systems and reputable teacher lineages. Lineage, reputation and careful apprenticeship was the original way to differentiate the quack from the master.

human skin with three acupuncture needles holding needle-top moxa, smoke emerging from the burning moxa, ink-brush painting hanging on the wall in background
P: When with a patient what is that you are feeling for before, during and after needling?

G: Patients like to ask me if I can “feel the energy” and if you think of it like Qi, the summation of complex processes, then the answer is absolutely yes. We rely on touch, smell, sight, and sound to collect information about the patient-- especially touch in Japanese acupuncture. If I have to wear a band-aid on just one finger, I feel like I have a hand tied behind my back-- it affects what I can feel! Subtle changes in smell, or even in the gaze and breathing rhythm of a patient, also stand out a great deal diagnostically. In other words, gathering very subtle information and processing it as a whole, is important during an acupuncture treatment. 

Before needling, I’m feeling diagnostically for areas of restriction, imbalance and dysfunction in the patient. This might be structural, as in certain muscle groups or vertebral bodies that are too tight, twisted or compressed. Often internal imbalances will also be represented by certain qualities in the pulse, on the tongue or in reflective zones of the abdomen and back. For example, people with acid reflux usually present with tightness in a certain region of the upper abdomen. Cardiac problems may show up with specific reactive points on the upper torso and back. 

Next I’m feeling for an appropriate acupoint location, which is based on the traditional anatomical location as well as certain qualities which identify the point as a “live” one. A “live” point refers to the best point location for that individual, on that day. It might be a recessed area, a tight or tender spot, thicker skin or connective tissue-- these are some of the different qualities that indicate a more effective point. 

When I find the right point and insert the needle, there is a feeling I seek that acupuncturists call the “arrival of Qi.” To me it’s like a certain density on the end of the needle, like it’s connected well with the body. You can have a needle in shallowly or deeply, it doesn’t matter unless there’s this certain feeling of connection. Learning to recognize it is part of our craft. Sometimes we want the patient to feel needle sensation as well to heighten the therapeutic effect.

I’m also feeling for the Qi of the person on the whole. This is the intuitive part, synthesizing the input from all of my senses.

P: What kind of training did you do and continue to do to cultivate these skills?

G: I started studying acupuncture around the same time I started studying the martial art of Aikido as well as Zen meditation. These interests complement each other well. Aikido has a lot of similarities with acupuncture in that it’s training the various senses of the body to respond to and harmonize another person’s Qi, although on a different sort of playing field than what we’re doing with acupuncture. I do think over time Aikido and Zen helped me to be more introspectively attuned to the physical and mental body in a way that helps me empathize with people that arrive to my office with problems I’ve never experienced. At least I hope so. Zen and Qi Gong practice still help me on a regular basis to cultivate my focus, determination and centeredness, which are very helpful in a clinical setting. 

I also voraciously pursue continuing study and apprenticeship. After getting my license I apprenticed for about a decade under Kiiko Matsumoto, a practitioner of international renown, and have followed her to Japan many times to study with practitioners there. I've also been lucky to study with several other great masters here in the US who are rooted in solid lineages and a track record of clinical success. These teachers have offered me not just technical knowledge, but also the Qi of practice-- the complex combination of qualities that allow me to be a dynamic, effective practitioner. This helps me immensely, and by extension, my patients. 

Taking my own health seriously is also a critical way that I stay attuned to the balance of Qi in others. It’s not just practicing what I preach-- I believe in it, I live it. I work on my posture throughout the day, and study how to move in a way that’s healthy and natural. I try to eat in a way that’s balanced ecologically, that doesn’t do me harm and that fills me with vitality. I get outdoors and experience the natural world to help keep my humanity alive. I meditate and exercise a lot, and I try to play and have fun! Last but not least, I get regular acupuncture! 

<![CDATA[How to Detox for a New Year, and Beyond]]>Mon, 04 Jan 2021 21:04:11 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/how-to-detox-for-a-new-year-and-beyondPicture
(By Grace Rollins, MS, LAc) Around the New Year is when many of our patients start to talk about “detoxing” in order to get their health back on track. It seems like a natural inclination, especially if the holidays encouraged a freer intake of sugars, pastries and alcohol. However, as a practitioner I feel the use of expensive kits, concoctions and "crash cleanses" are a bit overrated. 

First of all, what does "detoxing" actually mean? By using its famous enzymes to catalyze changes in other molecules, the liver breaks apart or transforms chemicals, hormones and metabolic byproducts into a form that can be excreted via the GI tract or kidneys. This is why you are wide awake when you first have that cup of coffee, but a few hours later it "wears off"-- the caffeine molecules have been gradually disassembled by your liver and eliminated.

Our daily exposure to high levels of chemicals is a rather recent phenomenon in history. Just think about the following sources our pre-20th century ancestors were never exposed to:

  • pharmaceuticals (OTC and Rx) 
  • exogenous hormones (hormonal birth control, hormone replacement, and hormones that have cycled back to us via water supply, or in industrially produced dairy and meat)
  • chemical pesticides and herbicides (found on non-organic produce, accumulated in meat and seafood, and that make their way to us via "drift" in the environment) 
  • antibiotics (reaching us the usual way or in factory-farmed dairy, meat and seafood)
  • chemicals leached from plastics (phthalates and BPA are just two examples)
  • chemical preservatives, flavorings and dyes in processed foods, beauty products and medications 
  • synthetic fragrance and perfumes
  • caffeine and nicotine (at least in the quantities consumed these days)
  • industrial wastes and byproducts in water, soil and air, or imbedded in manufactured goods (furniture, flooring etc)
  • chemicals in cleaning products, household goods, yard care and auto maintenance
  • higher concentrations of mold toxins in modern indoor environments (which have a tendency to trap moisture)
  • contaminants from medical devices and procedures (e.g. prosthetics, soft plastic catheters, dyes and radioactivity). 
Therefore, our liver detox pathways have to process much more than perhaps they originally evolved to handle. ​

Queued chemicals compete for the same liver pathways needed by your body’s basic metabolic functions, which means exogenous chemicals can disrupt your physiology. ​Backlogged chemicals and hormones can disrupt the endocrine and central nervous system, cause oxidative damage to our blood vessels and tissues, and even alter the expression of DNA in our cells. The chemical glut also likely plays a role for individuals who have difficulty losing weight in spite of "trying everything," since it disrupts our hormonal signalling and feedback loops. Therefore, freeing up the liver from toxic stress is an important way to resolve and prevent disease. 

Finally, inadequate intake of important nutrients, like particular amino acids, minerals or vitamins can slow down the liver detox pathways due to lack of raw material needed to fuel the enzymatic reactions.

The truth is, we can only speed up our liver's work to a certain degree. This is why focusing on lifestyle measures to safeguard detoxification has to be part of our self-care. As opposed to focusing on sporadic "cleanses,” my approach is the following: 
  • Maintain a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet to supply adequate co-factors for the liver’s detox pathways; 
  • Promote healthy digestion and gut bacteria balance, and maintain good hydration practices, to keep elimination pathways clear;
  • Ensure the liver has the right conditions to function by promoting healthy sleep, exercise, sweating, and stress reduction;
  • Take lifestyle measures to prevent chronic daily exposure to chemicals, thus reducing demands on the liver.
Some of the above steps are easier said than done, and it can be helpful to work with a health care practitioner if it seems overwhelming. Below are some tips to get started with. 

Design your own Custom "Liver Rest"

There's a concept in Japanese culture known as kkanbi, translated as "liver rest day." This is when frequent drinkers make an intentional effort to skip drinking for a day, usually once per week, to literally give the liver a rest! You can apply this same concept, but it doesn't have to be limited to alcohol, or to once per week. The idea is to make a ritual out of a doable break from something like alcohol, sugar and/or processed foods, while focusing on whole, chemical-free foods.

What's important is to choose a template and a duration that feels somewhat challenging, but isn't so daunting that you'd never even try. At the end of this article I've provided a basic template of a whole foods, moderate carb diet I like to follow, but if that seems like too much I'd encourage you to maybe pick a couple of things to focus on for your own, customized k
kan (liver rest). For example, maybe it's enough of a start just to focus on sugar, which can still be an impactful way to support your health! 

Pick a time-frame that feels doable; be it one day, 3 days, a week or a month. Then stick to the time frame as your kkan. That part is important-- whatever goal you set in advance, stick to it!

You can then do a k
kan as often as you'd like-- once per week, for example. If you're suffering from chronic illness or wish to optimize your health further, you could consider upping the ante on the duration of your kkan. If this still seems daunting, it probably is exactly what you need!

Another thing about k
kanbi-- it allows the practitioner to politely, inoffensively refrain from an offer to indulge. So if you're worried about turning down the slice of birthday cake, or the drinks, or the sweets at work-- just tell them you're on a "detox cleanse" and they'll understand.

Preventing Toxin overload

A different strategy from “cleansing” is to focus on slowing down the entry of toxins, thus reducing the demands on the liver so it can properly clear your system. Here are general recommendations:

Eat organic whenever possible to avoid herbicides and pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Consume seafood low on the food chain (smaller, younger fish which have less accumulation of heavy metals and toxins than larger, older fish). 

Avoid unnecessary chemicals in processed foods, beauty products, household and yard care. This includes preservatives, chemical sprays, synthetic fragrance/perfume, and anything else for which there’s an effective natural alternative. 

Avoid purchasing or storing your food in plastic containers (which includes soda and food cans, which have thin plastic liners). In particular, hot or acidic foods may leach chemicals from plastics. If purchasing canned soups, fish, tomatoes etc, look for brands with a BPA-free can liner (which allows you to avoid at least bisphenol-A). 

Avoid the use of over-the-counter drugs when possible. Ask us for natural alternatives to things like ibuprofen, tylenol, antihistamines, and other OTC drugs! Obviously this goes for prescription drugs, hormonal birth control and hormone replacement as well, when alternatives are available and changes are approved by your prescribing doctor. 

Make sure your water sources are clean. This is an important way to avoid heavy metal exposure as well as countless other chemicals that enter public waterways. Test your well water, or filter your tap water. 

Take care of your gut bacteria. Gut microbial imbalance can cause a variety of byproducts to leach into the blood that the liver must handle; and healthy gut bacteria actually aid in your detoxification and elimination pathways. Avoid antibiotics if there are other safe alternatives. Take probiotics and eat live fermented foods, and emphasize a diverse range of plants in your diet to give your gut bacteria a healthy substrate. Avoiding refined foods will also help suppress the growth of undesirable organisms. 

These are all actions I take very seriously, but you could start with one or two if it seems overwhelming-- you will still be doing your liver a favor!

How to use acupuncture to support detoxification

In the practice of Chinese medicine we use traditional methods to assess the health of various systems of the body, including the Liver, Kidneys and digestion. We actually use a Japanese acupuncture "detox" protocol very frequently to help patients who come to us with autoimmune issues, skin disorders and hormone imbalances, all ailments that stem in part from backlogged liver detox pathways. This protocol includes points that support the Liver, the Kidneys and Large Intestine and usually incorporates moxibustion as well. 

While using acupuncture can be a good idea during chronic disease processes, it's also beneficial to support those taking birth control pills or hormone replacement, those relying on prescription drugs; or those who frequently work around chemicals, such as on construction sites or in manufacturing facilities. 

We also love to do preventative sessions, in which case we still do a traditional assessment and customize a treatment based on what it appears could most benefit your system. For example in some individuals we'd focus on the liver, while in others we might steer the treatment more toward digestion based on what the pulse, tongue or abdomen is indicating. A preventative session could be done once a season, or monthly for those who feel they are putting themselves under high demands. 

Finally, from a Chinese medicine perspective, managing stress or any stagnant emotion is an important way to keep the liver healthy. It's a good idea to practice an intentional, emotional kkan period from social media, the news and maybe even the whole internet from time to time, to give your liver a break from toxic emotional stress. There may be other types of emotional stress you can strategize a polite interim break from. 

If you're noticing too much "toxic buildup" in the emotional arena it could signal it's time to come in for a session to help your system reset and rebalance. What better time than a brand new year.  ​​

Whole Foods diet template

Here's a basic "detox diet" that both reduces chemical backlog and gives the liver ample nutritive raw materials for its detox work. This is also a great weight loss diet since it helps balance the gut bacteria and promotes blood sugar stability. (Clearing liver backlog can also really help with weight loss!)
  • High-quality protein sources like organic, grass-fed meats, organic/pastured poultry, pastured eggs, wild-caught “small” (low on food-chain) fish or shellfish, and/or organic nuts, seeds and legumes. (Avoid dairy products during your “cleanse” and focus on other proteins instead.) Enough of the right amino acids are crucial for your liver detox pathways, so protein is important.
  • Organic vegetables, including some sulfur-containing vegetables every day. Sulfur-containing veggies include cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli, etc), mushrooms, and alliums like garlic and onions. (These are especially helpful for the liver.) 
  • Organic winter squashes and root veggies to support good gut bacteria, like carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga, burdock root, radishes, sweet potatoes and yams.  
  • Sea vegetables are also great for supplying micronutrients and fodder for your gut bacteria. Try to choose responsibly sourced brands that have been tested for contaminants. 
  • Organic, seasonal fruit (ideally not too much due to the sugar content; focusing on what’s in season and local will help avoid over-consumption). If you need a little dried fruit to help tide over sugar cravings, choose organic ones without added sugar or sulfites (a preservative). 
  • Moderate intake of whole organic grains, emphasizing non-gluten or less common grains like different varieties of rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. (Soaking for a few hours before cooking helps to enhance the nutritive quality of whole grains.)
  • Healthy fats from organic extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado or sesame oil, and organic nuts, seeds and avocados. Be generous with these but avoid other refined/processed seed and grain oils.
  • Support GI tract health with probiotics and/or live fermented foods (like sauerkraut and kimchi). Taking some fresh organic lemon or apple cider vinegar in water before meals can also support gut health. 
  • Try to cut out coffee or reduce it by half, and keep it organic; skip the sugar and creamer. Ideally, substitute organic green or oolong tea for your coffee.  
  • Natural spices and sea salt for seasoning as desired-- these often add powerful antioxidants! 
  • Include a detox-supporting herbal tea once per day. My favorites are dandelion root, milk thistle, or burdock root. 
During this “cleanse” avoid eating any bagged chips, crackers, boxed cereal, sandwich breads, meal replacement bars, pastas, premade packaged foods, and even fresh baked goods made with flour, to give your system a chance to focus on more nutrient-dense foods. Focus on your proteins, veggies and healthy fats as centerpiece ingredients for meals. You’ll refrain from alcohol and sweeteners, including artificial ones, during this time.

Rather than focusing on what you can't eat, focus on what you can. "Treat yourself" by shopping for plenty of fresh ingredients and savor the rich colors, flavors and life energy in your healing food.  

<![CDATA[Becoming Acupuncturists, Part 2]]>Wed, 30 Dec 2020 20:42:48 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/becoming-acupuncturists-part-2From Patient to Practitioner, and small lessons along the way Picture
(By Paolo Propato, LAc) Having suffered from life-long sinus issues, I found myself at age 24 sitting in a dark room in Florence, Italy as a heavy set man with a big mustache burned moxa cones. The room filled with the strange smell of mugwort smoke. My thought was, “I am paying this guy to help with my sinuses and he is making smoke.” After the session he was smiling and said, “I can help you. It may take some time and you have to do some dietary changes but I can help you.” I still don’t know why I made another appointment, but in the end it saved me from my doctor's push for surgery.

Fast forward to a few years later in Bucks County, when I found myself calling every acupuncturist in the tri-state area asking if I could hang out in their office. As fate would have it the only one kind enough to invite me in was close to home. Grace let me observe and eventually took me on as her assistant as I began to attend three years of grad school in northern New Jersey for acupuncture.

The nights studying, long car rides to school, odd jobs for extra cash-- although tiring and stressful, there was never a moment I thought of stopping. All I wanted was to go deeper into this medicine. The more I stood by Grace's side and watched patients heal, the more I was fueled to keep going. The smell of moxa, so strange years ago, had infused into my cells.

Certain moments stand out that have affected the way I practice. During my time at the student clinic in Montclair, NJ, I treated many cancer patients. CANCER: the word itself makes people shudder. Most of my classmates were much like myself, from lupus to colitis, they'd had some health issue and it was this medicine that had turned it around, inspiring them to study acupuncture. From my faith in their experiences and in Grace's clinic, I asked to take on these patients. I knew acupuncture could help, and it did.
I remember a patient of ours with cancer who did a tribal African dance for a classmate's baby shower. As she danced life poured out of her, filling the room. I teared up; when we first began treating her she was not supposed to have made it this long, and here she was, life of the party. It was then that I understood not to get caught up in the label of the disease, but to treat the root.

Once at Grace's side a patient was suffering from migraines. Prior to her treatment the patient was telling me that the migraines were better, the acupuncture was working. Usually patients say these statements with a smile, but she was more just stating a fact. On the table she seemed uneasy and later on we received an email that she was stopping treatment. I could not understand, why stop now that she was so close. Then I looked at the heading of the email: it was titled "MYGRAINE." It was then I understood that we have relationships with our illnesses and pains, and the process of growing out of them can sometimes be daunting.

There are many other cases that stand out as holding a lesson that helped to shape me as a practitioner. Really, every treatment has done so, no matter if it was for an autoimmune disease, the common cold, or the sciatica that we treat day in and day out. Every single one is unique. No matter the presentation the body is always trying to heal even without the needles or moxa. The body is always trying to find balance. And now I find myself saying, “ I can help, may take some time. You may have to do some dietary changes but I can help.”
<![CDATA[Becoming Acupuncturists, Part 1]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2020 16:01:06 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/becoming-acupuncturists-part-1Healing and becoming a healer, with acupuncture Picture
(By Grace Rollins, MS, LAc) My studious habits as a kid landed me in an elite boarding school and later on an Ivy League college. In this academic utopia I adopted the habits of overachievers, both healthy and unhealthy. I learned how to put in very long hours to accomplish goals; but at the same time, how to entirely disregard natural circadian rhythms (pulling "all nighters", operating on very little sleep, and eating at highly irregular times). I learned how to make exercise a frequent part of my routine, but also how to "train through pain" and use stimulants like coffee and junk food to keep going.

My lessons in the Type A lifestyle continued when I graduated and began to work long hours in the nonprofit sector, where our work "was never done." The pattern was to fuel ourselves with coffee, pastries and anxiety, work ourselves silly, and then go out for lots of beers at the end of the week to decompress. It's the kind of routine that gradually chips away at your vitality.

I wasn't even half-way through my twenties when I started to feel the way a lot of middle-aged white-collar workers feel: sluggish, unfocused, often sleepy during the day; always in need of stimulants like coffee and sugar; suffering aches and pains from inflammation, poor posture and repetitive strain. I had acne that seemed to be getting worse with age, not better. I was even on three drugs: two different long-term antibiotics a dermatologist had prescribed me, plus birth control pills. So now I was getting side effects like yeast infections, dry eyes and light sensitivity. I didn't have the knowledge in those days to pursue other options.

I'm pretty sure if I hadn't found a good acupuncturist I would have ended up on more drugs to try to alleviate all these nagging symptoms (or to take care of side effects). A co-worker told me she had seen a local Japanese-style acupuncturist to help with her menstrual cycle--  within a few sessions she had gotten her period back after a several month hiatus. That seemed pretty irrefutable so I decided to give it a try.

My first impression with the acupuncture session was how subtle it felt-- the gentle palpation, the dull, spreading feeling from a few gently inserted needles, the aromatic scent and focused heat of tiny moxa cones. Afterwards I felt a sort of zoned-out relaxation, and some odd (but not unpleasant) sensations in my body. I remember laying that night with my hand on my belly and feeling as if it had disappeared into the center of my abdomen, like it was drifting into a black hole. My body was undergoing a process of waking up and reorganizing.

With a few weekly sessions of this reorganizing, my energy and stamina bounced back, my skin improved, and my aches and pains melted away. Apart from symptomatic relief I noticed something unexpected: a strong impulse to reorganize my life to be more in tune with my physical nature. On an almost spiritual level I felt compelled to eat better, get off the drugs I was taking, and make better choices about my sleep and work habits. Out of nowhere I decided to start training a martial art, Aikido, which right away felt like "home" and ended up becoming a huge force in my life. It was as if I was sailing a boat that had caught a fortuitous wind in exactly the direction I needed to go. All this because of some tiny needles and moxa stimulating my skin?

Perhaps carried by that same fortuitous, moxa-scented wind, I couldn't help but start to read voraciously about acupuncture. I found it had a fascinating, unique history with roots in Chinese shamanism, philosophy and empirical research. It had evolved through countless cultural and political eras, continuing to enrich and diversify with each generation, being passed on through teacher-student lineages over the course of nearly three millennia! Acupuncture had spread from China to every part of the world, and in recent decades had even begun gaining traction among the modern medical community-- an unparalleled feat in the history of medicine.

In addition to acupuncture's fascinating history and, from my direct experience, effectiveness, one of the things that inspired me to keep learning about it was how it stood in contrast to conventional medicine. On one hand you have the modern approach of controlling disease and dysfunction by attempting to compensate for the body's weaknesses (mainly with drugs and surgical intervention). On the other, a practice of harmlessly stimulating the body to engage the natural healing abilities intrinsic in each person.

As I came to see this contrast, I also came to see the workaholic road I had been walking and where it would lead me. Not only did I want to walk a better path for myself; I became excited by the prospect of one day being able to share this kind of healing with others. In waking up to the possibility of self-healing, we can also discover how to escape the continual self-injury caused by poor lifestyle choices. Over a decade later, my secret thrill is not just helping symptoms, not just healing an injury or a syndrome, but helping people to put their humanity back together.

As the owner of a busy clinic my work is once again "never done," and I still get pulled into the current of overachiever culture. But if any of you know my personal habits you know how much I walk the walk. For all the Yang I express in my life (long clinic days, physical training, apprenticing, studying), I also cultivate Yin (quality diet, sleep, meditation, art, yoga). Also, getting some acupuncture from time to time still helps to set me right.

<![CDATA[The Art of Pollination]]>Wed, 25 Nov 2020 23:20:18 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/the-art-of-pollinationPicture
(By Paolo Propato, LAc)  The other morning Issa was lost in thought, looking out the window while we sat at the breakfast table. I was drizzling honey on a sliced pear when he turned to me and asked, “Dad, I have a question.” That is typically how every conversation starts with him.

​“What is wood made out of?”

“Trees,” I replied.

“Then what are trees made out of?”

I felt I knew where he was going so I smiled and said, “Wood.”

“WHAT?! That makes no sense. How can wood make a tree and the tree make wood?!”

“Fine,” He continued, “What is the pear made out of?”

I honestly didn’t know what to say. Do I google the origin of a pear tree, the nutrients, or the Chinese medical energetics? The question has many answers so I simply said, “Pear.”

“WHAT?! Pear is made of pear! That makes no sense.” He pointed at the painting of a covered bridge in the kitchen. “It's like saying that painting is made of painting.”

I saw his point and laughed. “Ok smart guy, you tell me what a pear is made out of?”

With a matter of fact tone he says ”Daddy, Pear is made of life.” 

In that moment the painting, the tree, the pear, Issa and myself were gone, only life remained. 

Later as I sat with the fullness of life, the memory came back to me years ago of watching spring flowers in bloom while a companion asked me, “Tell me Paolo, what do you see?”

“Bees going flower to flower, and butterflies as well. I see the art of pollination.”

He replied, "If you look at it from the view of science you will see the art of pollination. If you see it like a poet and a lover of wonder, you will see the art of pollination.

"If you see it with the eyes of life, you will be the art of pollination.”