Is Your Diet Ruining Your Digestive Fire?

watermelon in car

Summer in Colorado is HOT, and with the onset of scorching, dry weather, we tend to gravitate toward eating cold, raw foods, such as ice cream, ice water, fruit, and salad. While it’s true that these treats initially cool our stomachs, and offer some relief from overheating, cold and raw foods can be hard on the digestive system, regardless of the temperature outside.

The digestive tract requires internal heat to process and distribute nourishment from our food and to eliminate waste products. By nature, heat is moving. (Think of a stove coil warming a pot of water; as the liquid increases in temperature, it begins to quiver until it reaches a rolling boil.) Your digestive system is similar in that it must maintain its “fire” to extract the most nutrition it can from food and liquid. An optimized metabolism is warm, not cold.

This summer, instead of working to cool your digestive tract, think of hydrating your digestive tract with room temperature foods and liquids. Often, when we reach for ice-cold beverages, we are already dehydrated and consume way more than is necessary to bring relief from a spike in temperature. This causes our digestive tracts to constrict, making it harder to process food and eliminate waste.

A few easy tips for keeping your digestive tract warm in the summer include:

  • Drinking room temperature water
  • Limiting raw vegetables to once a day, or less if you have loose stools
  • Watching your fruit intake
  • Avoiding ice cream and other frozen treats

Too much cool, raw food can wreck havoc on your stomach and intestines, leading to abdominal discomfort and even weight gain. How do you know if your digestive fire is low? Pay attention to your elimination. Loose stools are a sure sign, as are stomach pains, or lack of appetite. To prevent heat exhaustion, drink plenty of water and make sure cooked vegetables, with their high mineral and water contents, are included in your diet.

And, if you do find yourself parched, dry, and irritable, pick up nature’s electrolyte-filled cooler: watermelon. Flourishing in the summer months, the watermelon is an excellent source of cooling hydration. Its sweet taste brings moisture to the stomach and intestines, and let’s face it, what better way is there to spend an afternoon than spitting watermelon seeds off the deck?

Happy summer!

Acupuncture for Vibrant Aging

elder woman

Not many patients realize that acupuncture is a preventative medicine as well as a trauma medicine. In fact, some of the earliest developments in Chinese medicine come from Taoist practitioners who sought to preserve their health against the inevitabilities of death and old age. Longevity meant everything to early acupuncture practitioners.

Even in modern America, acupuncture is an ideal medicine for elders. With its negligible side effects, flexibility in administration, gentle nature, and low cost, acupuncture is an important contributor to vibrant aging. It is never too late to implement preventative care.

When we imagine aging, we often think of physical pain, mental confusion, difficulty moving, fatigue, and low appetite. Our zest for life diminishes, and living with discomfort becomes the new normal. Chinese medicine challenges this image of old age. In fact, our approach to health maintenance is that the body/mind/spirit are born with an innate ability to correct imbalances, regardless of age. While none of us can avoid getting older, we can subtly change our body’s energetic tendencies, leading to a better use of resources.

As we age, it becomes even more important to consciously use our body’s wisdom as a guide to healthy living. Unnecessary energetic outputs, whether mental or physical, drain us of the stamina we need to eat, sleep, move, and think clearly. The ability to gain nourishment from our food, rest at night, exercise our bodies, and perform mental functions are, and always have been, the markers of good health. Acupuncture assists older adults with these basic life-giving activities.

If someone you know is struggling with the aging process, consider acupuncture. Our medicine cares for patients well into their senior years and can provide relief from many symptoms that accompany this change in life.

And remember, it is never too late to plan for the future when it comes to your health.

 

Jumping into a Spring Liver Detox? Read this First.

woman smelling spring flowers

Spring is a time of internal and external renewal. After months of hibernation, we are ready to burst into action, just like a spring flower.

Many people look to harness the energy of spring by adopting a liver detox.

This could be as simple as juicing for breakfast or as radical as drinking lemon water with cayenne pepper all day. The problem is that, for many modern Americans, radical cleanses are too shocking to their systems.

A cleanse—though it may sound like a good idea to the mind—is no picnic for the body, especially when it is undertaken in the midst of a hectic lifestyle. Why? Because the liver and digestive organs are already taxed.

In a radical cleanse, toxins and metabolic wastes are shed from tissues very deep in the body. Your system becomes flooded with junk, which is why you may feel achy, crabby and weakened. It is the liver’s job to cleanse the blood of these toxins. Every time you submit your body to a radical cleanse, the liver has to work double-time. As much as it might sound great to get rid of all that waste, your body may not be strong enough to work with this cascade of toxins.

Moderate, deliberate changes in diet and lifestyle over the course of a few weeks will support the liver without adding to its stress of daily filtration and detoxification.

Slow, consistent, cumulative changes are easier for the body to integrate and maintain. After all, it wasn’t your body that said, “Give me all those cookies!” Be patient with your liver as it detoxes from goodies like alcohol, caffeine, sugar and processed foods.

Introduce seasonal gems like spring greens and fresh herbs. Be conscious of your fat and meat intake, but never go hungry. Hunger damages the stomach qi and can lead to long-term changes in your digestive health.

Above all, remember, your liver is your friend.

If you feel sure a liver cleanse is in order, seek the help of a health professional who can support you physically and emotionally as you detox. Allow yourself the time and space to transform on a deep level. Don’t force yourself to move from winter into spring too quickly.

Because we are so ready to change, spring tempts us to overdo even a healthy lifestyle. After all, we want of feel better right now! Just be gentle. Your body, like the earth, will be happier with a gradual transition.

Feature Formula: Gan Mai Da Zao Tang

Dried red jujube
Dried red dates

Gan Mai Da Zao Tang—or Licorice, Wheat and Date Decoction—is a 2,000-year-old formula created by the Chinese master herbalist Zhang Zhong Jing and recorded in the classic text Jin Gui Yao Lue. Although this blend of three herbs may look simple, its effects on body, heart and mind can be profound, if it is matched with the right patient.

Gan Mai Da Zao Tang is used in cases of “Zang Zao”, or what the Chinese call “Restless Organ Syndrome”. This state of agitation is associated with frequent crying and mood swings, poor sleep, irritating bodily sensations, fatigue and feeling emotionally low.

Each herb in the formula serves a unique role. Licorice gently boosts energy by helping the digestive system. Wheat berries calm the spirit and anchor the mind. And those beautiful red dates? They soothe rattled nerves and moisten dryness.

I like to think of Gan Mai Da Zao Tang as the hug you offer a friend who is going through a difficult transition. Its sweet taste and gentle nature make this formula easy to digest, and its simplicity works well with other herbs.

If you are suffering through an emotional storm, ask us if Licorice, Wheat and Date Decoction is right for you.

Is Anxiety Ruining Your Holiday Season?

anxiety surrounded by people in train station

In a previous post I looked at the role of the Heart in social anxiety and offered a simple heart-opening exercise to help anxiety sufferers stretch their social muscles (Help for the Heart in Social Anxiety).

For some, the holidays are a truly challenging time of year. While family and social engagements can be festive occasions, some people become paralyzed by the obligations of the season. Friends and family members who love parties, dinners, and overnight guests are often unaware that these situations can cause distress for people with anxiety.

Many people have been taught to respect the “holiday spirit” by agreeing to the spree of shopping, eating, and socializing that has become Thanksgiving through New Year. Anxiety sufferers are no exception. They dress up for parties they don’t want to attend, join dinners that trigger fears of ridicule, and return to homes where they may feel uncomfortable or unloved.

In fact, this warm, sentimental, joyous time of year can elicit feelings of anxiety and insecurity on a massive scale.

I feel it’s important that we recognize this is all too much for some people. The frenzy of spending, eating, traveling, drinking, and socializing can actually deplete us of the energy we require to feel nourished, especially during the dark months of winter. Often anxiety is a signal that you should stop and reevaluate your situation. More than ever, the holidays may require you to practice conscious self-care.

If winter obligations are causing you discomfort, consider reducing your commitments for the sake of your health.

Anxiety can come from any number of sources—money, over-scheduling, spending time with people with whom you don’t feel connected, even needing to board your dog while you travel across country. The sheer volume of expectations during the holiday season can create a cumulative feeling of helplessness and instability.

To manage these feelings, start by telling yourself I accept this anxious response as a signal that I am overwhelmed. This year I promise to take better care of myself so I am able to participate in the events and activities I actually enjoy.

If you encounter a friend or loved one wishing to bow out of a social opportunity—a company party, a family ice-skating outing, a gift exchange—consider that they may feel stretched thin. Most of all, don’t take their disengagement personally.

By allowing others to care for themselves, we create space and goodwill toward our own needs.

This season comes like clockwork each year, yet our lives may not unfold on the same schedule.  Through respecting your needs during the holidays, you will be better able to appreciating the small miracles of the season—body, heart, and mind.

Help for the Heart in Social Anxiety

heart in coffeeMillions of Americans are treated for social anxiety every year. This experience is provoked by feeling disconnected from the kindness, patience, acceptance, and understanding of the people surrounding you. This sense of separation can come up at work, school, and family functions—even with people you know very well.

The fear of being judged is at the heart of social anxiety. This discomfort can convince you to avoid or flee from interactions that bring up feelings of insecurity and rejection.

Additionally, as technology adds distance to our way of communicating, it can become harder to be physically present for social interactions that challenge your sense of safety. It may feel easier—though not ultimately better—to hide.

In Chinese medicine, the Heart is the ruler of your inner kingdom.

It is highly sensitive to input from the outside world and can easily become disrupted by emotionally challenging situations. Once upset, the Heart can stay aflutter for a long time. You may literally feel your heart beating in your chest, be unable to sleep, or wish to physically hide from other people.

Anxiety is not just a mental phenomenon; it is a full-body experience. This is your Heart’s way of protecting you. Yet sometimes the Heart becomes over-stimulated and needs help finding a sense of safety.

What happens when you encourage the Heart to relax its vigilant grip?

The term “wearing you heart on your sleeve” means you are willing to be vulnerable to the outside world, even with the risk of rejection or failure. When the Heart spirit is healthy—meaning when it feels safe—it recognizes its connection to others. Instead of seeing danger, the Heart sees familiarity and warmth. Imagine peering into the eyes of a sweet dog or a beloved friend. It feels good to sense this connection, right?

One immediate way to work with social anxiety is to focus on your Heart center. To begin, imagine the warmth of your physical heart connecting with the warm heart of someone you know and trust. Then notice the sensations in your body. Pay attention to whether your breath deepens and your muscles relax. Maybe you even feel safe enough to smile during this exercise.

The Heart is not only the ruler of your inner kingdom, it is the lens through which you perceive the world.

A relaxed Heart connects you to the goodness of life.

My work with anxiety patients is built around the belief that physical relaxation opens us to emotional relaxation. Much like meditation or yoga, acupuncture settles your body so that your mind has a place to land.

If you’d like to explore how acupuncture can help with social anxiety, please call Boulder Acupuncture and Herbs today.

Acupuncture for Anxiety? Absolutely.

holdingleavesWith the holidays on the horizon and the arrival of shorter, colder days, many patients are experiencing an increase in stress and anxiety. Acupuncture is one of the best tools I know of to manage this discomfort. In fact, I love helping patients with stress and anxiety so much that I am introducing a new, targeted treatment program designed specifically to help you feel relaxed, right away.

My interest in treating anxiety began during my first year of acupuncture training as the stress of school began to rise. It wasn’t until I told a Western medical nurse practitioner about episodes of chest constriction and lightheadedness that I discovered I was having an acute anxious response.

“Are you under a lot of stress?” she asked me.

At the time my husband was finishing his graduate thesis and neither of us had a job. I was less than one quarter of the way through school and already feeling overwhelmed.

The nurse took my hands in hers and said, “That is a lot of stress. I want you to know that feeling panicked is a natural response to that much stress.”

Oh. I didn’t realize I was under that much stress. But she was right. I was under incredible pressure to accomplish my goals and keep my life together. I knew I needed a body-mind solution. That’s why I chose acupuncture.

Acupuncture offers a full-spectrum healthcare option for body, mind, and spirit.

What I love about this unique approach to working with anxiety is that it is not limited to impacting the way we think; it always involves the body, without question.

What does working with me look like? First, I start by asking questions about your experience, including what initiates your symptoms and how you feel during anxious episodes. Many anxiety sufferers experience muscle tension, abdominal discomfort, heart palpitations, and nervous exhaustion along with their anxiety symptoms, which naturally add to the feeling of stress.

I then come up with a treatment plan that helps your body recognize relaxation as a safe space. It disrupts the sympathetic nervous system response—the “fight or flight” mechanism—and switches the body into parasympathetic mode, the “rest and digest” function.

Over time your body and mind will sink into deeper states of rest and relaxation through acupuncture.

The key to integrating this profound benefit of treatment comes by creating links between the relaxed state of treatment and simple practices you can use outside of the clinic. These may include acupressure, breathing exercises, and creative self-expression, which offer relief between sessions and extend the benefits of our time together.

My goal is to help you see relaxation as your natural state and provide tools for working with your symptoms in the midst of everyday life. You really are capable of feeling grounded, connected, and centered, even in the presence of triggers.

Anxiety is a complex condition, but it is not unmanageable. Acupuncture can help.

Are You Making this One Immunity Mistake with Every Cold?

frozen branchAutumn is the start of the dreaded cold and flu season, which means coughs, sniffles, body aches, and missed days of work. In fact, you may already be impulsively buying immune-boosting supplements to stave off catching the latest bug living on your office door handles. But are you making this one immunity mistake every time you catch a cold?

This year, before you spend any more money on immunity herbs and supplements, remember this: taking immune-boosting herbs at the beginning of an illness may actually make you sicker.

Believe me, I know the allure of those immunity herbs. Before I became a trained herbalist, every time I came down with something, I took tonic herbs, which never seemed to help me recover quickly. It wasn’t until I visited an acupuncturist during the first few days of a cold that I learned how counterproductive this self-help remedy actually is.

Herbs like ginseng, astragalus, and medicinal mushrooms, such as Reishi, are immune super-herbs. These plants have powerful stimulating characteristics that are ideal for jump-starting a weakened immune system. But these herbs also become super foods for invading viruses and bacteria.

It’s kind of like giving your cold or flu the spa treatment, complete with a smoothie, a pedicure, and a massage.

In Chinese medicine, the herbs used at the beginning of a cold address the surface of the body. After all, cold and flu bugs are superficial illnesses, meaning they are not lodged too deeply inside. We call this a surface invasion and use medicinals that gently open the pores, releasing the pathogen through the skin. Many Chinese formulas for colds and flus actually induce a light sweat.

If a cold or flu bug has decided to call your body home get an acupuncture treatment and a custom Chinese herbal formula right away. If I could train patients to do one thing when they feel “a little something coming on,” it would be to call me within the first 24-48 hours of getting sick.

Chinese medicine has been effectively treating the common cold for over 2,000 years. Acupuncture and the appropriate herbs can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend on the couch, and in some cases, keep you from developing a full-fledged illness, like pneumonia.

If chronically low immunity is always a factor for you during the colder months, visit our clinic before you catch that first cold. We create customized acupuncture and herbal treatments meant to support your immunity, optimize your digestion, and keep you sleeping so that you’re prepared for winter weather.

When it comes to protecting your immunity, start now, and start early. Stay warm, eat cooked healthy food, exercise, sleep, and monitor your mood. If you encourage your body to naturally repel cold and flu bugs, those immune super-pills won’t be necessary.

Just think of how much time and money you’ll save!

Love Yourself First: Self-Care for Health

womaninsunlight

In my work as an acupuncturist, I often see women who are exhausted. Fatigue is a symptom of overextension and can be linked to different factors: diet, sleep habits, exercise, work schedules, and chronically low immunity. Yet a single condition tends to connect these women to one another: they have never been supported in implementing a self-care plan.

At its most basic, self-care is doing kind, loving, nourishing things for you. The uncomfortable secret of why women do not prioritize their wellbeing is that, for many, self-care is synonymous with selfishness.

This belief is intimately connected to our traditional role as a caretaker. We do things for others at the expense of ourselves, burying our needs for those of our children, parents, partners, and even our friends and co-workers. After years of self-neglect, we inevitably reach the point of burnout.

What I have learned working with women who do prioritize self-care is that this is a habit. We can—and must—free ourselves from patterns of self-deprivation in order to find the health we crave.

But how do we do this? The true key to overcoming exhaustion is in offering acts of kindness toward your body, heart, and mind every single day. Once self-care becomes your habit, unimagined opportunities for healing will be available to you.

All it takes is waking up to the preciousness of your closest friend and ally: you.

 

Self-care is not self-indulgent

Self-care is often confused with self-indulgence, which is one reason women feel so uncomfortable with the act. When you think of self-care, you may immediately imagine cruises, massages, and facials. True, these are delicious gifts, but self-care is much deeper than what you can buy for pleasure.

Self-care is really self-compassion.

Having compassion for yourself means you recognize your value and protect it the way you would another being’s. You acknowledge your human goodness and pledge to keep it safe so that you can experience the fullness and freedom of life.

When you give up self-care, you abandon much more than new clothes, fancy dinners, and vacations. You forfeit the chance to explore your deepest hopes, fears, desires, and joys. Perpetually preoccupied by others’ needs, you remain disconnected from your personal creativity and potential.

The deprivation that comes from ignoring your needs is actually a terrible roadblock to fulfillment and leads to unforeseen obstacles that often show up in the body.

Because women tend to give to the point of exhaustion, the temptation to make reactive gestures of self-care—like planning elaborate spa appointments or shopping sprees—prevent you from noticing support opportunities that are available right away.

Start by thinking small and cumulative, rather than big and complex. Self-care does not need to be elaborate, but it must be truthful. It must come from the immediacy of how you feel in your body, heart, and mind right now.

What one thing can you do today to make self-care a habit? It can be a simple commitment, such as a 10-minute walk after lunch, meeting a friend for coffee, or scheduling an hour to write or paint.

What can you give yourself this very moment that will inspire you with authentic hope and joy? What can you do to fill your cup, even just a little? The minute you say YES to meeting that need, healing energy becomes instantly available to you.

 

The Promise of Self-Care

When creating a self-care plan, I encourage you to focus your aim. Don’t settle for “good enough”. Choose acts of self-compassion that make you feel good to the bone. “Good enough” will continue to leave you with a nagging sense of exhaustion so don’t be afraid to name exactly what you need and make it real.

As we learn to provide ourselves with what we actually need in life, we create the opportunity for others to receive the same nourishment they require to thrive. Self-compassion allows us to be more giving, genuine, and open because we engage with our world from a place of fullness rather than depletion. It is a simple but profound path to reclaiming our value while enriching others.

Ultimately, self-care is an act of respect that grows in power each time we honor ourselves as worthy of love, health, and happiness.

I invite you to share this article with your friends, daughters, mothers, and partners. Together, we can encourage one another to embrace self-compassion as the first step toward authentic healing.