Despite my profession and calm demeanor, "calm" is not my base nature. It is something that I've learned and something that I've practiced through many years of martial arts, meditation and QiGong training.
Do you ever feel like it is hard to calm down and focus your mind? Like the hustle and bustle of the digital world is overwhelming you? Like you have too many obligations and not enough time, and like even when you DO have time to rest and relax that it takes a long time to quiet your mind and be present?
I still have times when I feel this way too. My dad always used to say, "We get good at what we practice, but most of the time we don't know what we're practicing." What are YOU Practicing today and in this moment? Happiness? Sadness? Joy? Overwhelm? Distraction?
If you want to make a conscious choice to practice calm and focus, Meditation is a true and time tested way to achieve this. Based upon Taoist meditation practices, the Inner Smile Meditation can have profound effects on your body and mind. This simple meditation suggests that you “smile” to all of your internal organs and glands. It is a way of saying “thank you” to your body for working 24 hours, 7 days a week!
Focusing your attention and smiling in this way can calm the autonomic nervous system, revitalize the internal organs, and increase the flow of blood and Qi.
Below is the Inner Smile Meditation for the main Meridian Organ Systems. For more information, please refer to Mantak Chia’s book, Taoist Ways to Transform Stress into Vitality.
It is ok if you don’t know the exact locations of your organs. Just bringing awareness to your organs is benefit enough. Your body will love you just the same.
Perform each exercise 9 times, twice a day. These exercises can affect your body and mind, so it is advisable to consult with your healthcare provider, but meditation is a safe way to practice calm and change negative thought patterns by connecting your calm inner center.
Want to know more or have questions? Contact me anytime. As a veteran martial artist and a certified Thousand Hands Buddha Qigong instructor, I'm here to help!
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”
This is one of my favorite quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and author of many volumes on applying Buddhist philosophies to life. It also illuminates one of the key features of acupuncture that I think people who haven't experienced it often don't think about - that one of the most important parts of an acupuncture treatment is just resting on the table and letting the needles do their work.
Its rare that we take time out to just "be" and dwell in the present moment like the little mantra above suggests. Acupuncture treatment forces us to take that time, because for the 20 minutes you are on the table there is nothing you can do but breathe deep and be present.
Breathing deep and being present can calm the autonomic nervous system - like the woman in this Wall Street Journal video mentions - and acupuncture enhances that effect to calm the heart rate and respiration as well as your stress and anxiety. This makes acupuncture an excellent tool for stress relief.
So if you're looking for a good de-stresser before the holidays, think about getting in for treatment sooner rather than later and even if you can't make it in for treatment, I hope you like the quote above and think about using it as a meditation mantra the next time you get a few quiet moments to just be!
When I first saw this acronym and heard about MTHFR from my dear friend Cathleen my first thought was, "you have the Motherf***er disease?" I mean, if someone texted you the letters "MTHFR" you could think that was the word they were communicating, right? Hm...
I was admittedly embarrassed that my first gut-shot interpretation of this acronym was such a dirty word and did not share that with her for a while, but as her symptoms progressed and she shared more of her story with me it actually seemed like a reasonable correlation so I did tell her eventually. Luckily she found it pretty amusing so we are still friends and general health-focused mommy co-conspirators.
[Picture by chagniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
The more I learn the clearer it becomes that MTHFR is a missing piece of a huge portion of the population's health puzzle - its estimated that 30% of people carry the gene mutation though not everyone expresses it (high stress events such as pregnancy, childbirth, trauma etc. can epigenetically trigger the change) - and the more motivated I feel to learn more and explore how Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help.
My goal with this post today is simply to raise awareness, communicate my (limited) experience in treating MTHFR with Acupuncture in the Portland area, and ask for any and all local resources and connections for people with MTHFR or suspect MTHFR.
What is MTHFR? How does it affect me? The short answer.
If you don't know what MTHFR is, the short answer is that it is a gene mutation which results in a lack of the MTHFR (Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase) enzyme which deals with methylation in the body. Methylation plays a role in how the body deals with environmental stressors, how it detoxifies, adapts and rebuilds. MTHFR is therefore essential for processing a number of things in the body, primary among them B vitamins such a B12 and Folate. There are many resources online that give you the long answer so I won't belabor that here. If you want more details try one of these links below:
Loving Our Guts
Life With Spirit
A MTHFR genetic disorder can cause or contribute to a myriad of symptoms and disorders including:
If you want to know if this could be affecting you, the best way to find out if you have this genetic glitch is to get simple and inexpensive genetic testing done. It costs $99+ if you do it independently of your regular physician depending on the vendor you go with. Here are a couple resources for testing:
23 and Me $99
Lab Testing Direct $149
Holistic Health International $495 (much more comprehensive test)
If you have a combination of the disorders above, or especially if you are fatigued all the time, have tried taking B vitamins but find that they don't help or make you feel ill, you could very well have an MTHFR gene mutation and testing might help you get answers and guide you on a new path to wellness. Oh yeah, getting tested can make you feel less like a crazy person too because you aren't insane or just overly stressed - you may have a genetic disorder that you can do something about.
Knowledge really is power and even though it can be scary to think that you might have a genetic disorder, it is better to get tested and find out sooner rather than later. If it is MTHFR, lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Testing can also help you avoid a misdiagnosis of something else from your western physician such as Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue which might herald pharmaceutical interventions that may or may not be favorable to your constitution over time.
Current Treatment for MTHFR
Treatment for MTHFR is varied depending on the severity of any individual's symptoms, or so it seems from what I am learning slowly but surely. It is clear, however, that there are a number of lifestyle changes that can help you manage the cascade of symptoms, heal, recover and find a new healthier more manageable baseline.
There is an exhaustive list HERE on the MTHFR.net site. It starts with a list of 30 dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health with relation to MTHFR and is based on Dr. Lynch's experience treating patients with this disorder and I trust his recommendations.
Some of the items on this list are understandably specific to MTHFR, such as supplementing specific forms of B12 and Folate and limiting your protein intake to 0.7 grams per kilogram of weight per day, but many others are good recommendations for basic health and for decreasing general inflammation in the body such as:
1. Find a physician - MD, ND - who is experienced in treating this disorder
Your symptoms and journey, or that of someone you know or love, with MTHFR is going to be unique. You need a guide to recovery and care who is going to listen to you and recommend reasonable interventions based on your symptoms and your lifestyle.
MTHFR & Acupuncture Treatment
At this point there is no research or evidence supporting acupuncture treatment for MTHFR specifically. I have literally found one article which mentions an increase in MTHFR mutation found in patients who have migraine with aura, which mentions acupuncture as a known favorable treatment for migraines - but does not specifically link acupuncture with MTHFR.
I have one confirmed MTHFR patient right now, one who has been told by her ND that MTHFR is highly suspect but isn't recommending testing and a dozen more that I suspect based on their symptom pictures. I don't consider myself an expert, but I'm setting out to become one so I want to share what I see and how I think acupuncture can help. I hope to have the opportunity to treat more confirmed MTHFR cases in the coming years so I can compile further data and case studies.
As a 3,000+ year old traditional medicine, Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine has a lot going for it. While no single mechanism of action has been identified by western science for its efficacy, there have now been over 10,000 scientific acupuncture studies. It is increasingly accepted that acupuncture is worthwhile in the treatment of pain, in down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system or "fight or flight" reaction, in treating migraine, PTSD, fertility, gut issues from inflammation to constipation, diarrhea and gut motility disorders and more.
Even this short list shows a correlation between these accepted issues for acupuncture treatment and the list of disorders that MTHFR can produce. This, combined with the hallmark of Chinese Medicine as a tradition which treats every individual uniquely based on energetic diagnosis, makes it a natural fit for the MTHFR road to recovery.
Thus far I feel that my clinic experience shows the same. My confirmed MTHFR patient often comes in with insomnia, back pain, anxiety and nervous energy, high stress, headache and fatigue. I generally see her walk out of treatment with a different gait and posture and she reports feeling better than when she walked in. There have been a couple instances of a detox-type reaction to treatment where she will feel worse for a day but when it happens it does pass and there has always been a net positive response over the course of the week in-between treatments. I see her sleeping better, feeling less anxious and experiencing fewer headaches in particular.
My highly probable yet unconfirmed MTHFR patient right now saw a marked difference after just one treatment. Her symptoms are highly stress related/stress activated - high stress type A personality and high pressure job, neck and shoulder pain, insomnia, anxiety, gut issues clearly increased with stress - and she walked out of treatment feeling relaxed which she found very surprising with a marked decrease in her pain.
Stress is one of my primary specialties, both from a lifestyle perspective and a nervous system perspective. I work hard with my patients to help them identify stressors in their life and make a plan to deal with them while using acupuncture and Chinese Medicine including herbs, dietary and lifestyle changes and general supplementation to create change physically, energetically and emotionally.
In the case of MTHFR, I feel like the MTHFR itself is such a huge stressor - having it, dealing with the lifestyle changes that accompany it and the healthcare journey associated with it - that one of the best things I can provide is a safe space to be heard, to be present, and to receive treatment that doesn't require you to actively *do* anything in the moment.
Part of acupuncture is just resting on the table and letting the needles do their work to rebalance the body energetically - i.e. stopping for a moment and just allowing yourself to *be*. When you are pursuing a health journey like MTHFR which has a steep learning curve, you can feel like you are spending all your time running from one test and doctor and obligation to next with your already limited reserves dwindling as you try to put the puzzle of your health and your needs together. The experience of acupuncture is one of relaxation and restoration - hard to come by in the heat of the healing journey, but so necessary.
As I continue to see and treat more MTHFR patients I will write more about the specific types of energetic diagnoses I see and treatments that are successful, but at this point I don't have enough cases to draw any correlations or conclusions. Suffice to say that at this stage, I feel that the theory and practice of Chinese Medicine can be a strong addition to managing MTHFR on many levels - from the mental emotional piece to the physical symptoms themselves - and I am clearly seeing results in my practice from the limited cases I can draw on.
Share Your Resources - Come In For Treatment!
Do you have MTHFR or know someone who does? Can you share specific resources or health care professionals you feel know their stuff in the comments section? I am looking to build a good referral network for MTHFR patients and cases and I would love to know who you feel is really listening to and working for you in the local area.
I am also interested in treating more MTHFR cases so I can compile data and information to share about Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in the management of this disorder. I feel very strongly that Chinese Medicine is a great fit, but I need more experience and data. I would also love to be a partner in your care or that of a loved one with this disorder. I bill lots of insurance!
I have not been tested myself and I know I handle B vitamins well so I believe I am low on the possible MTHFR mutation spectrum, but I do have IBS gut issues, gluten intolerance and a strong history of Heart Disease in my family. Its possible that I have poor methylation ability myself so I am going to pursue testing as well. We'll see what I find out.
If you have resources or a story to share please post it in the comments section or email me directly - I'd love to hear from you - and stay tuned! As I learn more I will continue to post on my blog about MTHFR.
Thank you for listening,
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a recent OPB special sparked my interest in Intermittent Fasting for health and I've been experimenting with it and learning more about it. In the special, Michael Mosely ended up fasting 2x/week, and by fasting I mean eating only one meal a day, and derived and maintained some amazing health benefits. I'm still in the trial phase myself and once I get a little further along with my journey, I'll report in about it - I promise.
My continued research brought me to some great articles by Dr. Mercola - hence the YouTube video presentation above. Dr. Mercola has done a great job gathering recent research on Intermittent Fasting and putting it together in an easy to understand collection in the article linked to this presentation.
Intermittent Fasting - a great tool for overall health
Intermittent Fasting involves not eating on a regular or alternating basis for anywhere from 6-36 hours at a stretch. Different types of intermittent fasting are better for different people and different lifestyles. The Michael Mosely OPB special examined two different types of intermittent fasting - prolonged fasting for 3-4 days on a monthly basis and alternate day fasting where you eat one meal a day every other day, or 1-2x/week. Dr. Mercola's site gives research based evidence for 4 different types of fasting as listed here:
Variations of Fasting
The above information is quoted directly from Dr. Mercola's website HERE.
The simplest method I think most people could incorporate into their lives with ease is probably the LeanGains method which basically involves (on the eating side alone, not the exercise piece of course) skipping breakfast. Stop eating at 8pm and don't eat again until noon or later and voila - you've participated in intermittent fasting.
Recent research on intermittent fasting is extremely compelling. Take for example the study by Dr. Mark Mattson, Senior Investigator for the National Institute on Aging published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2011 which found that intermittent fasting was just as effective as regular caloric restriction for weight loss and slightly better than regular caloric restriction for reducing insulin resistance (i.e. reducing likelihood of developing Diabetes).
In summary, the participants in this study showed improvements in
All of these are pretty compelling reasons to skip breakfast, but skipping breakfast goes against all previous medical and nutritional guidelines. I mean who hasn't heard that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" before?
Well, according to this research, that may not be the case. In fact, skipping breakfast could be one of the simplest things you can do to improve your overall health and longevity. Who knew?
Of course you don't have to skip breakfast to participate in intermittent fasting - as listed above there are many different ways to do it, and even the "skipping breakfast" LeanGains method essentially involves only eating for an 8 hour stretch, and it can be any 8 hour stretch including or not including breakfast.
If you're curious about trying it I recommend you review the information on Dr. Mercola's site as well as Mark Sisson's website which probably has the most detailed information about how to actually go about it. If you have Diabetes, Hypo or Hyperglycemia or are nursing or Pregnant, it may not be the time to investigate this type of lifestyle choice, but it never hurts to read up and learn more or consult a health professional if you are interested.
I'll be reporting in about my personal experiment in a few more weeks here, so stay tuned for more information on an Acupuncturists Journey into Intermittent Fasting for Health and Longevity coming soon!
Until next time,
Watch Eat, Fast and Live Longer with Michael Mosley - Preview on PBS. See more from Michael Mosley.
So I wasn't intending to watch Michael Mosley's documentary about fasting for health and wellness on OPB Wednesday night, but I found myself zonked out on the couch at just the right time. Despite my intention to catch up on So You Think You Can Dance (I'm mildly addicted, just mildly...) I was mesmerized and just had to check it out.
Let me start by saying that fasting is not a traditional part of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. It is a relatively common naturopathic technique, and can be part of an elimination diet, however, beyond being something gaining popularity for general health. It is not something to be undertaken without supervision if you have chronic health concerns, especially if you are diabetic, and is not appropriate while pregnant or nursing.
That said, theoretically being overly hungry is a bad thing from an energetic perspective. Hunger is a sign that your Spleen and Stomach Qi are waning and if they wane too far, your body pulls energy from the Kidney - your foundation and energetic reserve - to continue normal (energetic) body processes. Intermittent fasting involves shorter fasting times at more regular intervals, and I believe that this is more in line with Traditional Chinese Medicine theory since you don't go for such long periods of intense hunger.
When it comes to longevity, modern research is also clearly showing that calorie restricted diets can contribute to long life. Even more interesting is the recent research - which this documentary reviews and explores - about intermittent fasting for helping to regulate insulin levels (in non-diabetics), decrease cholesterol, control weight and improve health.
To clarify again, intermittent fasting is short term regular fasting - meaning not eating for 6-8 hours anywhere from two to four days a week on an alternating pattern i.e. "feed" one day and "fast" another. Seemingly, this has a similar effect as semi regular long-term fasting (meaning a 4 day fast every few months) and has comparable health effects to a daily calorie restricted diet.
If you think about it from a hunter-gatherer past perspective, it kind of makes sense that intermittent fasting would be somewhat natural to our bodies. If you follow the seasons and the herds, you are constantly going between periods of feast and famine - indeed, our body stores fat to prepare for leaner times - but in modern life, the average American with a home and job doesn't have times so lean that they are forced to go without, even for a 6-8 hour period, unless they are just too busy to eat. Fast food and the carb+meat+dairy heavy modern American diet is also very calorically dense - again not lending itself to "famine" like conditions even for a short while, without making a conscious effort to achieve them.
One of the statistics in this documentary that really caught me by surprise was about lifespan during the Great Depression. Did you know that life expectancy during the Great Depression increased by 6.2 years? Yeah, leaner times, longer lives. Who knew?
Another proponent of intermittent fasting is Walter Willett, MD, the Harvard Researcher and author of "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" which has long been one of my favorite books about general healthy eating. This book advocates for a diet of 1600 calories a day on average, but if you have a hard time maintaining that he recommends fasting one day a week to keep your weekly calories to a minimum. Not a bad plan, and definitely in line with this recent research.
All this said, however, the benefits of intermittent fasting do not mean that if you fast intermittently you can eat whatever you want and not exercise - this method is a technique to help you reach and maintain your health goals, not a way to avoid eating right, supplementing right and exercising. Indeed, regular fasting means your nutritional needs become that much more focused on the days that you do eat full meals, and make supplementation for health that much more important to help you ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need for a long and healthy life.
What I like best about the idea of intermittent fasting is that it feels moderate to me. You aren't doing anything extreme for any prolonged period of time - you're just taking a break from eating for a short duration - so there's a focused time delimited period of cravings that I think most anyone can overcome. Again, it doesn't mean you can eat whatever you want on "feed" days, but it does help balance out an extra piece of cake here and there, so that you don't feel like you have to maintain a "perfect" diet every day to be well; you just have to do the best you can do and indulge consciously.
For me? Intermittent fasting is the newest addition to my personal repertoire of activities for good health. Exercise is tough at the moment as a mom of two little ones, but I get just enough not to feel insane. Supplementation is a given and I participate in the same All Ways Wellness program I promote for my patients taking regular multivitamin, fish oil, green food, B vitamins and probiotic supplements and get acupuncture regularly to stay on track. Considering that ALL my grandparents who died of natural causes died of heart attack or stroke, to say heart disease is risk factor for me is an understatement. With a congenital heart murmur to boot, I can't afford to mess around with my heart health if I want to be here to see my children grow up some day, so if intermittent fasting can help give me a leg up on keeping my cholesterol down I'm all in.
My plan is to start with once a week for the next 4-6 weeks with a goal to increase to twice a week after that. More than twice a week would be difficult for me between the kids and work (my son won't eat if I'm not sitting at the table eating myself at this stage...), but evidence suggests that even two days a week can have a significant impact on your long term health, so here goes!
I'll check in here about my progress around the 6 week mark, so if you're interested be on the lookout for a "Rebecca Fasting Experiment Update" to come. Yesterday was my first day - I figured fasting at work when I'm busy would be easier than fasting at home - and it went great. Plenty of tea and water later, I felt like I sailed through the day and was almost hyper-productive. Wish me luck for next week folks!
Until next time,
I was digging around in my newsletter archives for inspiration this week and came across a shout out to Dr. Dean Ornish I'd done back in 2009 and ironically, I had just been speaking about his work and programs to a patient yesterday, so it seemed like the right topic for a blog post today. This post is therefore dedicated to The Man - Dr. Dean Ornish.
Dr. Ornish is a pioneer in preventative medicine (from a western perspective, nudge nudge wink wink) because he has done some really groundbreaking research proving that low tech solution are some of the best to our high tech health problems. His statement in this TED talk excerpt, that Your Genes Are Not Your Fate, alludes to the fact that by changing your diet, decreasing stress and increasing exercise you can do many incredible things including:
Dr. Ornish's perspective on changing disease and increasing health has a heavy focus on stress and reducing chronic stress in particular. In this way, Chinese Medicine and Dr. Ornish's programs have an incredible synergy.
Lifestyle change including the basics of decreasing stress, increasing movement, doing meditation and Qi Gong and eating well to nourish the body have long been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Indeed, the Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic - the first cannon of Chinese Medicine written in the 2nd century BCE by Qi (Ch'i) Po, says:
"When the mind is calm and stable, the vitality of life circulates harmoniously throughout the body. If the body is nourished and protected by this circulation of vitality, how can it possibly become ill?"
The "vitality of life" is your essence and Qi flow, and here, Qi Po is alluding to the importance of decreasing and managing stress as a preventative medicine measure.
In Chinese Medicine, stress restricts Qi and Blood flow - especially in the Heart and in the Liver - and these in turn can restrict Qi and Blood flow everywhere causing a host of problems from insomnia and headache to mania, pain and digestive disorders. Stress can literally be the root of all health evil - both physically and energetically - so getting it under control must be a top health priority.
If stress is a high factor in your life and you have heart disease concerns as well, combining Dr. Ornish's program with TCM is powerful medicine. Dr. Ornish's program will give you a roadmap to success, while Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can balance your energies to accelerate the process, give you focused scheduled time to meditate and relax during treatment, and give you a place to check in - someone (like me!) who is asking you about your progress, monitoring your blood pressure and helping you stay on track with your goals.
Dr. Ornish says that even after one month you can start to see changes if you stick to his Reversing Heart Disease program, and even people with previous heart attacks have had proven success. So if you can literally Change Your Fate through diet and exercise and avoid western medications, why not try? It might not be right for everyone, but you'll never know if you don't research it and consider the possibility.
So, a tip of the hat from me to you, Dr. Ornish. Thank you for helping the western world see that prevention really is medicine with proven results.
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