Stress and the Acupuncture Oasis
According to the Oxford dictionary, stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” At this point in our cultural (d)evolution, I think we can all agree that simply the requirements of survival, of ‘keeping up’ in our very complex world, constitute “very demanding circumstances”. The past 20 months of living through a pandemic certainly qualify humanity on a whole as worthy of some much-needed stress relief.
In Acupuncture terms, stress can be thought of as a traffic jam, a blockage in the free flow of energy. This can be caused by external or internal forces. The Liver is the main organ in charge of processing stress and maintaining the healthy circulation of qi and blood in the body. Other Organs are also involved in the stress response in part because they hold emotional energies. While the Liver is mostly associated with the feeling of anger and frustration, the Spleen holds worry, and the Kidneys fear. These emotions are all natural and expected in certain amounts, but if healthy expression is restricted by stagnation, it can stir up or exacerbate stress.
Acupuncture is a powerful tool that serves to redirect traffic. Point locations are chosen based on each person’s unique pattern in order to bring their individual system back into an open flowing state. From a Western medicine standpoint, Acupuncture can help us shift from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state (from fight or flight to rest and digest). It has been shown to increase our natural painkillers and other happy hormones such as serotonin and dopamine while decreasing cortisol, our main stress hormone. It is also associated with enhanced reception of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that tells our mind and body to relax. The other major stress-relieving power of acupuncture is its ability to increase heart rate variability, which is basically our flexibility in responding to and recovering from stress.
What kind of stress-relief you can expect from acupuncture:
While it won’t necessarily solve the world’s problems (at least not immediately), it will:
● Decrease the severity of the stress response
● Shorten the recovery time from stress
● Provide an opportunity to rest, sleep or meditate comfortably, usually in a peaceful environment
● Occasionally stimulate the release of previously obstructed emotions which often results in a feeling of ‘lightening the load’
● Help to relieve physical pain that contributes to stress levels
● Generate a sense of well-being
It is very common to leave the acupuncture office feeling much more at ease and at peace than when you arrived.
In between acupuncture sessions, it is important to find ways to limit exposure to environmental toxins and external sources of stress while developing better coping skills through healthy communication and practices such as breathwork and meditation. Exercises like tai chi and qi gong can help to keep energy pathways open and flowing to reduce internal tendencies toward stagnation. A point commonly used to support the Liver function of maintaining a smooth flow of qi is known as Tai Chong (LV 3) which translates to ‘great surge’. You can find it on the top of the foot in the depression between the meeting place of the first 2 toe bones. When feeling stressed, try to remember to take a moment to breathe into the abdomen, and massage this point if accessible until you feel a sense of calm begin to replace the tension.
Your local acupuncture office can be an oasis of stress relief in a busy and challenging world.
While the stress of daily life can leave us feeling worn out, going for an acupuncture treatment is an act of self-care and thus an act of empowerment. Call us today and set up your next stress-relieving session!
Winter Solstice: Yin meets Yang
The winter solstice this year falls on a Tuesday, 10:58 am Eastern time to be exact, on December 21st. This is a magical moment in terms of Chinese Medicine’s view of seasonal rhythms. It is the exact time when yin, the dark aspect of the yin-yang (tai ji) symbol, reaches its peak, and the spark of yang is born again. It’s a time when we honor the darkness while celebrating the coming of the light. The word solstice means ‘sun stand still’, marking the time when the sun reaches either its highest or lowest point in the sky (depending on the hemisphere) and, to ancient astronomers, appeared to stand still. To those of us in the Northern hemisphere, December 21st will be the shortest day of the year and the longest night.
Many cultures have historically celebrated this time. (The ancient pagan yule season was a solstice ritual that helped to inspire Christmas traditions.) In China, they have a festival dating back to 200 BC called Dongzhi ,meaning “winter’s extreme”. Families gather to enjoy nourishing foods that support and stimulate the yang energy in the body.
In Chinese Medicine, winter is the season of the kidneys. The kidneys are our source of ‘prenatal qi’ which we inherit from our parents. This prenatal qi corresponds with our genetics and is therefore a vital connection to our ancestors. An integral part of the Dong Zhi celebration is remembering and honoring our ancestors.
Kidneys are also considered the source of all our energy, the storage for our essence, our constitutional strength. Careful conservation of this energy helps to ensure health and longevity. Getting adequate sleep is critical in this kidney essence conservation effort. While we sleep we give our bodies time to detox, repair and replenish. It is basically a time to recharge our batteries. And in order to prevent burnout, we must also adjust our sleep patterns to fit the season.
When we are in the season of extreme yin, exemplified by short days and long nights, nature is reminding us to follow suit with our daily sleeping and waking rhythms. Night time in winter is longer and when we align with the seasonal energy we naturally get to bed earlier and wake later and use that extra yin time for rest which is what winter is all about. Ironically, our current western traditions around the solstice have evolved to become a very hectic time so it’s important to check in with yourself, set boundaries and make sure to get the downtime that seasonal change is encouraging.
Dec 21st marks the beginning of winter and is the moment of extreme yin, but it also marks earth's movement towards increasing light. From this day forth there will be more daylight each day. The yang within yin is also the life under the frosted ground, the seeds that prepare themselves to burst forth in spring. Seeds represent the potential for manifestation, so this is also a time to look inward to find our potential, overcome fears and recognize the opportunity for hope and renewal. The ancient Taoists honored the mysterious blending of yin and yang at the exact moment of the solstice as a transitional moment of perfect harmony and reconciliation. They saw this as an opening, a chance for new ideas and creational energy, a time for conception.
While caught up in the rush of the holidays, take time to consider the shifting seasonal energies. Take inspiration from the Chinese Dongzhi festival and eat yang nourishing foods (soups and stews, bone broths, shrimp, walnuts, black beans and kidney beans, and warming spices like cinnamon and ginger), remember and pay homage to your ancestors, sleep like a bear, and create your own rituals to birth ideas. Remember your potential and generate hopeful visions for the future.
Schedule your next acupuncture session around the solstice to assist your own magical transition. Acupuncture can help fortify your kidneys, and support the seasonal surge of yin while you nurture your seeds of yang!
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
The gift that keeps on giving…is it diamonds? A Kodak camera? The Jelly of the month club?
No, it’s the gift of good health. Health is the gift that offers the recipient their best chance at enjoying life. Health confers energy, freedom, the ability to embrace the fullness of our existence and conquer challenges. Before reviewing some ways to obtain, maintain and of course give the gift of health, it is important to understand what exactly it is.
While Western Medicine mainly views health as the absence of disease, many of us have come to realize it is an interdependent state of balance. In simple Chinese Medical terms: Health is harmony with nature. Inherent in that philosophy is the understanding that we, as humans, are a part of nature. We belong to a dynamic web of life that invites us to re-connect and enjoy the benefits of homeostasis.
So here are 3 easy ways to give (and receive!) the gift that keeps on giving:
Hydrate: First thing in the morning, drink some warm water, and bring a glass to your loved one! The body goes through a detox process overnight and the water helps to flush out toxins. It also helps hydrate the digestive tract for the smooth intake of food throughout the day. Water also cushions your joints and tissues. Optimal water intake has been found to be around 2.5-3.5 liters per day. A good rule of thumb is to check your urine color, make sure it’s in that goldilocks zone: not too dark, not too light. It sometimes helps to remind ourselves that we are creatures of nature who require basic elements (like water!) for survival, elements we can forget when caught up in our technology-focused culture.
Eat Healthy: While the words “healthy diet” can stir up a lot of confusion when it comes to the latest trends in nutritional lifestyles: keto, paleo, vegan, carnivore, intermittent fasting etc., don’t feel overwhelmed. Remember sometimes the simplest adjustments can make the biggest difference. The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to eat healthier is to cut out artificial food. Recent studies confirm this common sense approach. Again, think of yourself as a creature of nature. Your body knows how to process food found in nature, not ones created in a lab. So read the ingredients and make sure you recognize them. Shop the perimeter at the grocery store and, as much as possible, try to avoid filling your cart with boxes, bags and jars from the middle aisles. When your fridge and cabinets are stocked with foods direct from the source (that source being, you guessed it, …nature), you will be more likely to cook something healthy and delicious for you and your loved ones!
Get out in Nature: What better way to get back into harmony with nature than to actually BE in nature?! This is also a (clever) way to cover a few more health-boosting tips in one. Just taking a walk in nature counts as exercise. It also usually stimulates deeper breathing (picture yourself in a natural setting with beautiful scenery, what’s the first thing that you do? Take in the view with a deep breath? Me too). The quiet moments often afforded by time in nature are an important step towards meditation, which, in itself, is one of the best things we can do for our health, the benefits of which would take up much more than this article can cover. So, for the sake of brevity, let’s get back to nature. A 2020 study based on 20,000 participants shows significant health benefits with a threshold of at least 2 hours per week in nature. Can’t get out in nature? Then bring some to you! Simply having a plant in your room has been shown to lower stress, and boost recovery from illness in hospital rooms. So invite a friend for a hike, or put a pretty bow on a lovely house plant for someone you know who could use it!
Bonus Tip: Get Acupuncture! Acupuncture is one of the best tools for re-balancing our energy and harmonizing with the rhythms of nature. It is useful for the prevention and treatment of disease as well as the maintenance of good health. Schedule your appointment today and remember acupuncture gift certificates are another great way to give the gift that keeps on giving!
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.