(By Misook Lee, LAc) When I was a young mother of two sons, I always struggled with some illness. One day, I read a book titled What is Yin Yang? written by traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors. It was an eye-opening moment for me and I think it was when my medicine studies first began.
The word Yin-Yang consists of the two Chinese characters Yin 陰 and Yang 陽. The character Yin represents the shade of a hill which is a hidden, dark and cool condition. The other character Yang indicates the sunny side of a hill which is an open, bright, and warm space. However, the concept of the Yin and Yang is not about static and opposite contrasts, but it is focused on the dynamics of a changing condition as time passes. In the morning, the sun rises in the East and the sunny side of the hill is the East side. However, in the evening, the East side of the hill becomes shady and the sun shines on the West side. As a result, the Yin and Yang side of the hill is constantly changing over time. The hill is always there, but the phases of the hill can be changeable. This is the basis of the traditional East Asian viewpoint of the world: everything is constantly changing.
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the milestone we have hit this year as a practice, and remark on its significance to me personally. I have a natural inclination to keep my cards close to my chest, but I have come to realize that in my current role, to share a little of my own trajectory can sometimes serve as a source of inspiration.
To put it bluntly, I come out of a difficult, unhealthy family background. My parents had a bitter divorce when I was six, and my siblings and I suffered from extensive psychological abuse as small children. My father voluntarily ceased to be part of my life from the time I was eleven. From that time on, I grew up amid financial instability, substance abuse, and increasingly, the mental and physical illness of my family members. Eventually, those closest to me were all in significant distress and either self-medicating or on medication. The wave of un-wellness threatened to pull me under, too.
(By Paolo Propato, LAc) Those who read my blog posts know that they are mostly about self reflection. During the past couple of years I have been immersed in training for my certification in Chinese herbology, which has given me lots to reflect on.
A few years ago I planted a honeysuckle vine in my back yard. People told me it was a stupid idea due to its invasive nature but there is something about honeysuckles that makes me smile. Especially on a clear night with a bright moon, with the window open, when out of nowhere her fragrance fills the kitchen and everyone instantly smiles and someone says, “Did you smell that?” It's like a friend that shows up at your front door and you're grateful that they took the time to stop by.
I don't pick the honeysuckle, although it is a very useful medicinal in East Asian medicine that is great for viral infections, fevers, skin problems and other issues. Below the honeysuckle, my wife planted chamomile, which this year finally started to take. My son and I often go out and pick the tender blossoms in the mornings.
As I sit out there at night to look up at the stars and catch a whiff of the flowers, I think about the relationship between the honeysuckle above, and the chamomile below.
(By Brian Yang, LAc and Grace Rollins, LAc) When seeking to recover from complex health issues, it's often worth looking at multiple ways to optimize the way the body is interacting with its environment. Sleep, physical activity, and nutrition are among the obvious ways to optimize and are always major priorities. Common chemical exposures is another, but as important as it is, this one doesn't always land on the radar. All the same, chemical exposures create a physiologic wild card, and many chemicals that are permitted to enter personal care products, foods and household goods have documented impacts on our health, even down to the expression of our DNA.
If the idea of this makes you want to throw up your hands at this toxic modern era, don't despair. There are many ways we can avoid unnecessary chemical exposures, once we are empowered with the knowledge of what, why and how. Here are three major ones found in consumer goods that you can place under consideration: Bisphenol-A, artificial "fragrance," and glyphosate. Clean out the not-so-friendly B.F.G., and you'll have drastically reduced your body's ongoing chemical burden.
Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, is a chemical found in many plastics and resins. Consumers are mainly exposed to it in products like disposable plastic bottles, and in nearly all canned foods and beverages (BPA is usually in the epoxy resin lining of these cans). It was previously commonly found in baby bottles and various other baby products; however, the major producers of these products have largely eliminated it, due to the detrimental impact on the health of the infants.
Summer is a time of increased activity-- and we really hope you're getting out there and making the most of it! Being active is the best way to stay healthy, young and happy.
With increased activity comes the occasional trauma or repetitive strain. Many are familiar with the classic RICE protocol for injuries-- "rest, ice, compression and elevation." Often we observe patients instead practicing the "Double I" protocol-- "ice and ibuprofin." But is this truly the fastest way to get back in gear?
You may have heard us gently preach about ibuprofin and other NSAIDs once or twice before. The side effects of this class of drugs are not to be accepted casually: bleeding ulcers, tinnitus and hearing loss, and kidney damage are only the major ones. Some 100,000 people are hospitalized annually for NSAID-provoked GI issues alone, and some 16,500 of these patients actually die. On a sub-clinical level, these drugs have been shown to cause micro-lesions in the GI tract, contributing to such disorders as leaky gut, IBS and systemic inflammation.
Even worse, NSAIDs may not speed the healing of your injury at all. By interrupting your natural inflammatory response to tissue damage, which plays an important role in the early phases of healing, they may actually impede the normal arc of injury recovery.
(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!
(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!
(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.
(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.
(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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.