<![CDATA[Bridge Acupuncture - Gentle and effective acupuncture in Doylestown, Bucks County PA - Blog]]>Tue, 10 May 2022 16:49:47 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Put your mind in your feet]]>Sat, 30 Apr 2022 16:31:46 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/put-your-mind-in-your-feetPictureThe author on a recent hike
(By Grace Rollins, MS, LAc) As I write this it's the last day of April, but I only just learned this month is considered National Foot Health Awareness Month. Well, there are a few hours left in the month so it's not too late to draw attention to the importance of foot health. 

Why do foot issues impact us so much? First off, they impact our mobility. If your foot hurts, it can be really hard to exercise or do the daily walking we know is vital for our health. Since so much about our health depends upon physical activity, a foot injury or repetitive strain can create snowball effects. 

Secondly, the health of our feet impacts our entire musculoskeletal system. The key word here is system. Our bones, joints and muscles work together in a coordinated fashion, and no one part is separate from the movement and functioning of the whole. In particular, the way we use the many joints and muscles of our feet (or the way we don't use them) has ramifications all the way up your anatomy chains. Your feet alone have 33 joints, 26 bones, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. Why would nature design us with so many tiny joints and muscles in the foot? If you guessed to serve as an active, intelligent interface between the body and the terrain, you win! (The prize is a barefoot walk across the yard.) When such a complex structure loses mobility, strength, sensory input, tissue integrity, or becomes inhibited by pain and deformity, it changes the way we interact with the terrain and impacts the body from toe to head. 

A third reason foot health impacts us so much is that feet are 
sensitive, yo! 

They are full of nerve endings that relate to pain, temperature, pressure and proprioception (the sense of how we are oriented in space). The body relies heavily on sensory input from the feet for its sense of balance and feedback on its position in space.

Just think of the athlete, or the average person trying to avoid a trip and fall. The more sensory input from the feet, the more information about the terrain and environment is reaching the brain so it can make the best possible decisions about how to move.

Furthermore, our brain suffers disproportionately from any pain that strikes us in the feet. That nagging pain in your shoulder, you might be able to ignore. That nagging pain in your heel? It reminds you with every single step. 

A tale of two feet

Our hero starts off in this world with a perfect, foot-shaped foot and all they want to do is play and run around barefoot. Soon however they are seduced by the shoes their parents buy with the sparkles and dinosaurs. Not to mention it's what all the big kids are wearing. 

All the grown-ups seem to be in agreement that the foot needs to be protected and supported (in spite of a long history of humans surviving indeed, colonizing the entire globe, in minimal footwear-- sandals, moccasins and au natural). Following the trends of the time, our hero's two feet come of age inside of padded, restrictive and slightly heeled shoes. As such they rarely get to bend and flex through all their 33 joints, so they start to get stiff. The muscles fail to develop within a full range of motion so never strengthen to their full potential. The tendons lay down less collagen as a result. The toes start to crowd together into the shape of the shoe. The heel of the shoe throws off the weight distribution into the forefoot, causing the toes to curl and bend. 

As the years go on, our hero's encased feet grow ever weaker. The atrophied arches grow painful with exertion and micro-tears form in the plantar tendon (leading to a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis). Bunions start to form as poorly distributed weight and dysfunctional gait patterns cause gradual micro-trauma to the joints.

To "protect" the foot, perhaps thinking they are addressing the root issue of all this pain, our hero follows widespread advice to use arch supports, ever more padding, and customized orthotics. They opt for "orthopedic," "healthy" shoe brands that put the foot in a stiff, cushioned mold. Unfortunately, all of this "protection" further immobilizes and therefore perpetually weakens the foot, never allowing it to rebuild muscular strength, tissue integrity and the ability to absorb its own shocks. It also further dampens the remaining sensory input from the environment and impedes blood flow, yet again weakening the tissues.

Our hero starts to opt for flatter, easier terrain to reduce the strain, and sometimes has to avoid more extensive walking and weight-bearing exercise, again failing to expose the foot (and the entire body) to strengthening opportunities. Between all of the shock-absorbing padding and the disinclination to walking, our hero's entire skeleton lacks the kind of normal weight-bearing stress so important for preventing future osteoporosis.

Even with all of the above weakness, atrophy and sensory impediment going on, our hero is tragically of the fashion-oriented persuasion and indulges regularly in the masochistic thrill of footwear with elevated heels, pointed toes, slides and platforms. After a recent bender in these shoes they are down for the count and begging the podiatrist for a steroid shot (which again, weakens the tissues), or even worse, a bunionectomy surgery, which forever renders their great toe inflexible.

Our hero starts to suffer from chronic, one-sided muscular pain in the hip and sacroiliac joint, poor circulation, neck tension and headaches. They go to see an acupuncturist to see if they can get some relief. To their great surprise the acupuncturist asks, "Have you ever considered strengthening your feet?" 

PictureTocantins, Brazil
Solid steps toward foot health
Hopefully the above story illustrates the road many people have traveled, and why foot problems are common and challenging. In addition to all of those foot-weakening trends, there's the occasional acute trauma to the foot that can be hard to heal. This is actually what landed foot health more squarely on my own radar.

​With naturally slender, high-arched feet I was prone to arch pain from a young age. I instinctually eschewed "heels" and felt more comfortable in shoes like Tevas, Birkenstocks, Adidas, New Balance, Tims, and eventually Merrills, Chaco sandals, and the fancier Naot and Naturalista shoes-- all shoes with somewhat wider toe boxes but that are still quite stiff, padded, heavy, and feature a heel rise and arch support. Even with a closet full of these "healthier" shoes I often suffered from sore feet and arch pain. 

Then, several years ago I broke the sesamoid bone on my left foot while practicing martial arts. This is kind of like breaking your kneecap, but on the underside of the ball of your foot. Now I had a crisis. The podiatrist told me the only thing I could do was have the bone fragments surgically removed. 

Unsatisfied with this advice, I continued to research and experiment, while treating the foot with acupuncture and moxa to control the pain and swelling. At a certain point I came across the work of Katy Bowman, in the form of one of her earliest books on foot health which is no longer in print (she has a great revised version called Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief-- check it out!). I also found out about Correct Toes (a type of toe spreader I love for stretching the foot bones back into a better alignment), and, minimalist shoes.

PictureCatskills mountain range, NY (hiked in Luna sandals)
The key attributes of foot-strengthening footwear:

The more flexibility it has, the more movement it allows to the 33 joints and all the adjoining muscles, tendons and ligaments. If you have foot joints that are too weak for now, opt for a stiffer shoe-- otherwise go for mobility!

FOOT-SHAPED LAST AND TOEBOX. This means widest over the tips of the toes, not just at the ball of the foot then tapering to a midline point (as most shoes do). If you stand over the insole, do your toes flop out over the edges or do they actually fit?

FLAT. Any amount of heel elevation, even less than a centimeter, throws extra weight into the forefoot, shortens the calf muscles, and contributes to a variety of unnecessary stresses throughout the foot and body. If your feet feel uncomfortable or weird in flat shoes, it means you need a daily calf-stretching regimen. (We have half-moons for sale in the apothecary, or you can use a rolled-up yoga mat or towel.)

LIGHTWEIGHT AND HEEL-STRAPPED. If your footwear is heavy or you need to clench your toes constantly to keep it from sliding off, it changes the way your foot muscles work so you can't have a normal biomechanically healthy walking pattern. (This rules out slides and flip-flops except for short distances.)

As I transitioned to minimalist footwear I wasn't instantly doing barefoot trail running, but this combination of footwear features enabled me to gradually strengthen and realign my foot in order to take excessive strain off of the ball of the foot and allow it to heal. I was able to resume my active life without needing surgery.

Soon, as my feet grew stronger and better adapted to the environment, I found I could no longer tolerate restrictive, conventional footwear. To wear them would send me back into pain pretty quickly! Ironically, the less supportive the shoe, the less pain I seemed to have. It required some gradual conditioning, but about ten years later I'm now at the point that I can hike or trail run for several miles in extremely minimal sandals and it feels way better to me than a padded running shoe or protective boot. 

These days I opt whenever possible for minimalist sandals like BedrockLuna or Earthrunners, and for just about everything else I wear VivobarefootMagical Shoes, or Wildling shoes. (No affiliate links here folks, just sharing what I love). There are many other great brands out there, and more each year. See our Resources page for more links.

<![CDATA[Awareness means awareness]]>Tue, 19 Apr 2022 07:00:00 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/awareness-means-awarenessPicture
(By Paolo Propato, LAc) My son likes to call the body the “meat suit” that just takes cues from the brain, helping it get from point A to point B. Instead, I like to think of the body as the most highly sophisticated antenna in existence, transmitting and receiving all types of information that connects us to the world. Our unconscious mind listens to this all the time, but sometimes we need to fine-tune the conscious mind to listen better. 

For instance, take the very ground you walk on. Whether you are walking on soft moss, asphalt, tiles, pebbles… these all have a different effect on your joint angles and motor function, your vestibular sense, even your emotions. The body even senses electron exchange with the earth, if we permit it to have direct contact through our skin to conductive surfaces like soil and water. The sound and vibration of our foot falls, the temperature of the ground, the pain or pleasure of certain pressures and stretches on the foot, different types of footwear… it’s a never-ending exchange of information with your entire body, if you tune in and listen, and your body can learn and adapt from this information. I was told by one of my acupuncture teachers that in Japan, stroke patients are sometimes told to walk barefoot on a rocky beach as part of their rehabilitation. 

To take another example: our emotional environment. Our very thoughts affect the functioning of the body, and just think of all the things that influence our thoughts on a daily basis! 

Depending on whom you’re spending time with, you may feel more joyous, more stiff, relaxed, guarded… all with different impacts on your physiology. Maybe that news program or violent, suspenseful show affected the quality of your sleep, which the next day affected your hormones, your exercise and eating choices, and even your self-esteem. This principle extends even to the habits of your inner monologue. We all know if you are anxious, your entire body feels different than when you are excited, or when you are in love. It’s all information you can pick up on, if you can be mindful of it. 

One of the beauties of acupuncture is that it doesn’t add anything– it just communicates with the body’s own intelligence, helping it find a better way to organize by giving a hint here and there. The same thing goes with other “suggestions” one can receive from the environment. What is your contact with the ground, or your emotional environment, or any other information telling you right now? Are you giving too much of yourself? Are you not moving your body enough, or in some cases too much? Are you relaxing? Having time in nature or with activities you enjoy? Are you eating what your body truly needs? These are not questions of judgment, but questions sometimes your body already knows the answer to, if you can find a way to tune in and listen. 

Once I heard a story of a traveler who journeyed to meet a master that lived as a hermit on a mountaintop. When the traveler finally arrived he found the master sitting under the shade of a tree. The man humbly walked over and said, “Master, I have traveled a long way to be here. Can you give me any guidance for my life?” The master looked up at the man and with his finger wrote in the dirt: “Awareness.” 

The traveler reads the word and a bit puzzled asks, “What does that mean?” The master just wrote, “Awareness means awareness.” 

The traveler was frustrated to have come all this way for such a simple message. “I came a long way. Surely you can elaborate a bit more than that!” The master looked again at the man and wrote in the dirt, “Awareness means awareness means awareness.”

The other day my son and I were talking with a few people around a table, at one point he whispered in my ear, ”Daddy, relax your shoulders, they're all the way up to your ears.” Later I told him I was proud of him that he was aware of my posture and even how I was feeling emotionally about the situation around the table. I felt like that traveler in the story– my whole life I had been journeying up that mountain to find wisdom, but all the advice I needed was a kid saying, “Awareness.”    
<![CDATA[Tackling shoulder pain in more ways than one]]>Wed, 06 Apr 2022 23:35:05 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/tackling-shoulder-pain-in-more-ways-than-onePicture
(By Brian Yang, LAc) Since I’ve been working lately with several cases of shoulder pain I thought I would offer some insights into how we approach common shoulder problems as acupuncturists. The shoulder allows for many of the movements that we use an everyday basis, and has an incredibly broad range of motion compared to other major joints-– something that allows a healthy shoulder to hang, reach, climb and throw with ease. Some of the incredible mobility of the shoulder comes from the shallowness of the ball-and-socket portion (the glenohumeral joint), and the fact that it has three other joints in addition to that ball-and-socket: the sternoclavicular joint (where your collar bone meets the breast bone), the scapulothoracic joint (where your shoulder blade glides close to the ribcage), and the acromioclavicular joint (where your shoulderblade meets your collarbone). In other words, the shoulder joint is actually four joints! 

Similarly, the “rotator cuff” (or “rotator cup” as some are fond of saying) is not just one muscle but four (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis)-- forming a “cuff” that helps “rotate” your upper arm in all different dimensions. In addition to your rotator cuff muscles, we could mention several muscles involved in scapular movement, upper and lower arm movements, and the relational movements between the neck and shoulder, not to mention muscles that impact the brachial plexus (innervation to the shoulder). Shout-out to the lats, biceps, triceps, pecs, scalenes, levator scapula, serratus, and don’t forget everyone’s favorites, the upper trapezius and rhomboids! 

With such a complex “joint” there are many types of pathologies that can cause pain and loss of range of motion in the shoulder: tendonitis, tendinopathy and degeneration, arthritis, adhesive capuslitis (“frozen shoulder”), bursitis, impingement, fracture, radiculopathy, neurovascular compression, dislocation and more. Due to the complexity of the shoulder it’s helpful to narrow in on the origin of pain.

Sometimes a differential diagnosis can be made with simple manual palpation or strength testing. Seeing an orthopedic specialist for examination and imaging can also be helpful from a diagnostic perspective. The first line of care at orthopedic practices often involves NSAIDs and steroid injections. The assumption of this approach to pain is that inflammation is a driver, and artificially suppressing inflammation will be therapeutic. In addition to the possible side-effects of these methods being a possible turn-off, there is research that indicates artificially suppressing inflammation at times can impede normal tissue healing. It’s challenging to know exactly when that will be the case, so it requires approaching these standard interventions with caution. 

Moreover, at times there are other factors contributing to the development of pain in the shoulder region–not just localized inflammation. 

According to the traditional Chinese medical view, various meridians run through the shoulder joint. “Blockages” of qi and blood along these channels can be dispersed by needling points on the affected channels, even in areas as far away as the hand and leg. This can be thought of as akin to releasing lines of myofascial tension and other disturbances to proper healing that run along chains of relationship throughout the body. 

Some types of shoulder pathology may also involve what we would consider “blood deficiency,” or not enough nourishment reaching the area. This can be due to old scar tissue, postural habits or accumulated metabolic waste, or even systemic under-nourishment (subclinical or clinical). The task of the acupuncturist in this case is to nourish the tissue by promoting both nutrient assimilation via the digestive system, and blood flow to and from the symptomatic area. This can involve “local” needling (near the site of pain/dysfunction), techniques like moxibustion, cupping, and gua sha, mobilization exercises, and the application of herbal liniments at home. 

Furthermore, compression of the brachial plexus (shoulder nerve complex) due to tight scalenes and pectoralis muscles (very common in desk workers!) can precipitate poor tissue healing and an acceleration of tendon and bursa wear-and-tear. When this is the case we target those muscles with needles and moxa and get great results, reducing pain fairly quickly.

Unmanaged systemic inflammation can certainly drive poor tissue healing anywhere in the body, leading to repetitive strain problems like tendinopathy and bursitis. In these cases we attempt to diagnose inflammatory drivers and support the modulation of inflammation in order to promote tissue repair. Metabolic stress, chronic infections, microbiome or other digestive imbalances, poor food choices, stress and poor sleep are just a few examples of inflammation drivers that we try to identify and support through acupuncture, herbs and supplements, dietary and lifestyle counseling. 

This is just a small window into how I might approach your “shoulder issue” as an acupuncturist. As you can see, it’s quite a bit more comprehensive of an approach than just hitting it with an NSAID drug or a steroid injection. Of course, certain complex or advanced shoulder pathologies may require a visit to an orthopedist, physical therapy or other medical interventions, but next time you get some shoulder pain cropping up please give your humble acupuncturist a call! 
<![CDATA[Cultivating States of Health]]>Fri, 11 Feb 2022 08:00:00 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/cultivating-states-of-healthPicture
(By Grace Rollins, MS, LAc) It's worthwhile to contemplate why some individuals get sicker than others. Let's intentionally set any kind of judgmental attitude-- toward others or one's self-- aside for the sake of exploration. How much we do to take care of our health, and "how well," is always relative. My own personal day-to-day health maintenance practices are as imperfect as those of my self 20 and 30 years ago. However, each day I am making my best effort to advance my knowledge, discipline and efforts, while also practicing self-compassion.

That being said, we do have a great deal of power over our health through our personal actions. How to generate health states is something our mainstream culture perhaps surrenders too much. Instead we often focus on the "bad luck" aspects of genetics, trauma or infectious disease.

Do some healthy people get a difficult case of COVID due to simple genetics or bad luck? Possibly, we truly don't know at this point. But there are some things we do know. On average, COVID (and many other "bad luck" diseases) tend to hit people harder who don't exercise, who are overweight and who have weakened immune systems, all factors that usually relate to one's overall state of health. It's therefore highly likely that other aspects of health cultivation (how much we sleep, how much stress we suffer, the condition of our microbiome, our nutritional status, etc.) also relate. 

States of illness or degeneration are rarely 100% due to genetic destiny or horrible luck. Our ability to cultivate a state of health in our day-to-day life has a significant impact on the way our genes are expressed; it directly steers how quickly and easily our tissues age or repair themselves; it has enormous implications for our mental wellbeing; and it significantly impacts how well we fend off and recover from infectious disease. 

Something I see time and time again with my patients is the expectation that one can live according to modern norms but not develop modern health problems. The answer to getting better is often a simple one, but requires going against the grain of the mainstream lifestyle (overworked, over-stressed, under-slept, highly sedentary, compromised posture and mobility, relying on inflammatory, nutrient-poor processed food, and over-exposed to artificial chemicals, drugs and screen-based stimulation). 

If you're ready and able to make space in your daily lifestyle for cultivating health, here are the categories I recommend looking at to make a personal assessment: 
  • Is your diet nutrient dense? Are you eating foods made from nature, rather than foods made from machines? What are you eating that's nutrient-poor junk that you can do without? What else can you eat that can make your body stronger? What are some small steps you can take this week (shopping, planning, cooking)? 
  • Do you take care of your microbiome? What are you ingesting on a daily basis that helps or hinders the cultivation of good gut bacteria? 
  • Are you getting enough movement? Do you walk daily as well as do occasional aerobic workouts? Do you stretch? Do you strengthen? How's your posture and mobility? 
  • Do you pay attention to your breath? How often are you breathing deeply and slowly?
  • Do you ever meditate? Do you take moments of quiet and pause, away from the demands of tasks and electronic devices? How much time do you spend time outside and in nature?
  • How much sleep do you get? Is it enough? If not, why?
  • Do you subject yourself to any "healthy stressors," such as cold exposure, sauna, acupuncture, cupping or gua sha, occasional intense workouts, and/or intermittent fasting? 
  • What gives you enjoyment in your life? Do you have opportunities for creative expression, social connection, belonging and gratitude?

It's not necessarily comprehensive but these are a few of the very basics, the ABCs. If there's anything on that list above that you see is lacking, then there's no huge mystery about what you can do right now to advance yourself toward a state of greater health, which is key to resolving existing problems and preventing future ones. Cultivating one's health on a daily basis can be used as a mantra to aid in fending off "bad luck" health problems, not the least of which is a certain famously capricious viral infection. 

Sometimes, of course, we know exactly what is lacking, but we need help to implement new habits or break the old ones that don't suit us. Or sometimes you have the ABCs in place and are ready to aim higher.

Cultivating a state of health is what we do, friends, and we look forward to helping you cross that bridge.
<![CDATA[Cleaning the Corners]]>Mon, 03 Jan 2022 23:01:49 GMThttp://bridgeacupuncture.com/blog/cleaning-the-cornersPictureDai Bosatsu Zendo in upstate NY
(By Grace Rollins, MS, LAc) I've practiced Zen for close to 20 years. Though the primary practice is seated meditation (Zazen), there is a lot more to it, even for a layperson like me. In the past I've traveled several times to a Zen monastery for special week-long formal trainings known as Sesshin. There I would practice Zazen, walking meditation, chanting, formal meals, strict etiquette, and cleaning. Yes, cleaning. 

I was actually fond of the twice-daily cleaning periods during Sesshin because it let me move my body out of the sitting position I was in for so many hours of the day. Probably because I was among the younger and fitter, the monks usually assigned me to floor cleaning duty. In the common Japanese way this involved mopping the floor by hand using a zokin (cleaning rag). To clean the long monastery hallways I'd run in a crouch, pushing the zokin out in front of me in the traditional fashion. The faster, the better-- it was invigorating, and if I'll be honest my martial arts buddies and I were probably showing off to see who could finish their floor section first. Plus, if I finished my chores early, I could have a longer break before the next sit!

One evening I was cleaning the tile stairs that led up to the old head priest's quarters when I saw him coming up the stairs. I respectfully stepped aside but to my surprise he took the zokin​ right out of my hand and demonstrated how to properly clean the corners of the stairwell. In my haste I was being too sloppy, apparently, and he saw me missing the corners. "Clean even where no one can see it," he said to me. 

PictureThe zendo
My felt sense realized in that moment the difference between "practice" for the sake of getting through a chore or obligation, and "practice" for the sake of self-realization. Cleaning the floor, just as much as sitting Zazen for long hours on the cushion or chanting the holy sutras, could be a practice for subduing the falseness of ego and penetrating to the truth of existence. This might sound odd but seated meditation is merely one tool among many, one practice among infinite. 

Any practice can become a tool for greater awareness. Lately my thoughts have been going over the various "practices" involved in caring for my own health. On a given day I might intentionally do any or all of the following practices: fresh and whole food-based shopping and cooking, various types of exercise, stretching and mobility work, walking, breathing practices, intentional social contact, time in nature, meditation, and different kinds of circadian discipline concerning light and temperature exposure. If you factor in the need to work it can sound like a lot to fit in one day and like a list of things to "get through." Especially considering I'm as healthy as a horse, it may seem like a lot. 

However, I see the practices that go into maintaining health as similar to cleaning the corners of the stairwell. It may look "clean enough," and as though doing something like cooking a nutrient-dense meal from scratch would be overkill when I could just pick up some take-out.

Perhaps you have once heard the Biblically derived phrase "your body is a temple." I like this phrase as a way of envisioning the body as your practice hall for getting through this life. Caring for it allows you to dive deep into understanding your true self, your holiness, your higher purpose-- however you like to find meaning. If you can truly believe this, then it can only make sense, every day, to stretch and move, eat natural food, get light and air and time in nature during the day, then darkness and regenerative sleep at night-- the things that human beings require to be healthy and whole. And these things then become no longer a "chore" but a "practice" that creates peace and connection with the rest of existence. 

Yes, your body is a temple. But can you truly believe it?

To know that one's body is a temple requires abandoning the ego. In this case it's an ego that might say your efforts are a waste of time, that there are other more important things to do, or that you are too broken, hopeless, separate from the rest of nature, or otherwise don't deserve these efforts. Let that voice go and return to the moment. Take a deep belly breath and reconnect with the knowledge that you are a manifestation of the endless intelligence of nature. Then go clean the corners of your temple. 

<![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.