The benefits of Chinese Medicine for Women's Health

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A woman’s body experiences many different hormonal changes beginning at puberty, through menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and beyond.  This ever-changing hormonal environment is sensitively associated with our emotions, nutrition, home & work life balance, relationships, genetics and stress levels, which can all impact women in different ways not only throughout these natural cycles, but during other seasons of a woman’s life too.  Hormonal changes are happening all the time but they are often more strongly felt at these times.

Increasingly women are turning to Chinese Medicine to find symptomatic and long-term relief of the symptoms associated with this dynamic hormonal landscape.  Acupuncture, along with diet and exercise are able to restore hormonal and emotional balance and vitality during all of these stages.  It does this by influencing the body's hormonal/nervous system self-regulating mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.  A broad body of research confirms acupuncture’s ability to regulate these bodily systems.

Here are five ways that acupuncture can help women find greater balance, vitality and reproductive health:-

1) Menstruation

Acupuncture’s powerful regulating influence can help to restore a regular rhythm and flow to women’s cycles helping to reduce cramping, heavy bleeding and menstrual irregularity.  It’s ability to calm the nervous system can provide a much welcome settling effect on the mood changes that many women struggle with during this time.  Studies to prove acupuncture's efficacy for cramping and pain are being published all the time, and my own experience in practice show me daily just how well acupuncture can help women who are suffering from menstrual pain.  

2) Peri-menopause/Menopause

Chinese Medicine can be offer a natural hormone-stabilising alternative to HRT at this stage in a women’s life.   Falling oestrogen levels, changing nutrient and metabolic demands, and the influence of stress can create uncomfortable symptoms, at least until we adjust to the internal changes of menopause.  An acupuncturist is able to help the body run more harmoniously and bring stability to the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause.  The process is similar to a musician being able to hear where there may be dissonance within a piece of music.  They are able to recognise how well a single note, or combination of notes, will balance and bring harmony to the whole.  Similarly, the insertion of carefully chosen fine needles re-tunes the hormonal and nervous systems (2), which help to reduce the frequency/intensity of hot flushes (1), night sweats, insomnia and anxiety.

In Chinese Medicine, menopause is created by a decline of ‘yin’, which is the cooling, calming and moistening mechanism within the body.  As we get older our body is not as efficient at balancing our natural rhythms of cooling and calming leaving us feeling anxious, hot, irritable, emotionally unsettled and unable to sleep as deeply.  

3) Pregnancy and post-natal support

Acupuncture can relieve the lower back discomfort and other aches and pains associated with pregnancy, as well as morning sickness, heartburn, anxiety and tiredness. After delivery, many women find acupuncture treatments essential for rebuilding their energy and blood, increasing milk supply (3), and dealing with post-natal depression and tiredness.

4) Conception support

For women trying to get pregnant, acupuncture can assist conception by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs.  It also balances reproductive hormones, such as oestrogen, progesterone and FSH.  Fertility clinics are increasingly recommending acupuncture for their patients to help lower overall stress levels, because stress hormones can lower fertility hormones, and improve IVF success rates (4).

"Acupuncture is thought to shift the body into a repair mode where it's better able to heal itself, as well as calming the nervous system,".  Stress causes the sympathetic nervous system to be over stimulated causing blood flow to be diverted away from the ovaries and uterus.  This can contribute to a potential inability to become pregnant.  Acupuncture activates the para-sympathetic nervous system, which helps us to relax and de-stress, increasing the likelihood of pregnancy.

5) Anxiety and depression

Emotional sensitivity to hormonal changes can vary greatly between women.  Some women experience relatively mild and minimal symptoms, whilst others go through a really rough time struggling with anxiety, depression, insecurity and fear, irritability and a lack of confidence....symptoms can be severe enough to dramatically impact on quality of life. The way that each individual experiences menstruation or menopause depends to a lesser or greater extent on their gynaecological history, influence of stress and relationships, psychological problems and changing levels of nutrients/hormones within the body.  As a holistic medicine, acupuncture is able to get down to the root issues, considering all of the different aspects of a person’s health in order to bring the body back into balance.

5 ways to bring the body back into balance

1.    Eat plenty of essential fatty acids as they are essential to the reproductive system, such as fish, fish oil, flaxseed oil, eggs, soy products, raw nuts and seeds, and dark green and winter vegetables like broccoli, beets, carrots, kale cabbage, cauliflower etc.  Omega 3 found in deep-sea fish oil has been found to reduce clotting and encourage blood flow to the uterus.

2.    To give your body a chance to be at its strongest and healthiest do what you can to breathe deeply and relax.  Yoga is a great way of restoring energy and promoting relaxation, as it to softens tense muscles, encouraging greater blood flow throughout the body. Under stress, the reproductive and endocrine systems will not get the blood flow they need to function effectively.  This is particularly important if you’re trying to get pregnant.

3.    Get adequate physical exercise.  Honour your limits....too much exercise can sometimes deplete our energy and blood reserves. Always adapt the intensity and frequency of the exercise according to how you're feeling.

4.    Eat foods that nourish the blood and ‘yin’, particularly if iron levels are low, or you’re going through the menopause, such as kidney beans, organic organ meats, black beans, beets, black sesame seeds, legumes, spirulina, asparagus, aubergine, eggs.

5.    Take time each day for rest and relaxation.

*****

For more information on women’s health and acupuncture, please contact me at nickyjanethomas123@gmail.com, or phone 07583-291616 for a free 15-minute consultation.

 

(1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/03/acupuncture-can-reduce-hot-flushes-in-menopausal-women-by-half-r/

(2) http://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1483-acupuncture-perimenopause-relief

(3) http://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1773-acupuncture-boosts-breast-milk-production

(4) http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(11)02859-7/abstract

 

 

 

5 Ways that acupuncture can help with back pain

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As a leading cause of disability, back pain is one of the most commonly treated musculoskeletal problems that I encounter in practice.  Back problems that are most receptive to acupuncture treatment are those caused by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or muscular spasm irritating or pinching a nerve.  Although painkillers are a useful short-term solution to relieve discomfort, as a longer-term option they can often mask the problem rather than addressing the underlying cause of the back pain, which is where acupuncture can help.  Dr Nagda, an American pain consultant says that “when you look at risks and benefits compared to other methods like NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen, acupuncture comes out on top with minimal risks.”  Its benefits also become clearer when you consider that it is increasingly being covered, in part, by health insurance.

There is a wide body of research showing that acupuncture can provoke a number of physiological changes, which relieve pain, improve mobility and reduce inflammation -https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/back-pain.html. A study recently published in the Australian medical journal, conducted in the emergency department of a hospital, has shown acupuncture to be as effective as, and safer than, medication for relieving acute back pain. http://theconversation.com/emergency-doctors-are-using-acupuncture-to-treat-pain-now-heres-the-evidence-79430.  As such it is being increasingly embraced as a popular choice of treatment for acute back pain.  

Although effective for both acute and chronic pain, more often than not people tend to come into clinic when the pain has become more chronic.  Unsurprisingly, people are more inclined to seek treatment after their pain has eased, and mobility improved, with the help of painkillers, preferring to rest and avoid unnecessary movement.  In extreme cases, people are simple unable to move, much less find their way to the nearest Acupuncture Clinic!  However, this is a time when acupuncture can work its wonders! It's often patients who are able to receive treatment sooner rather than later, particularly within the first month of an injury, who I've seen experience the most remarkable improvement.

Many patients find that even after one session of traditional acupuncture their pain, movement and mobility will be improved, and their muscles don’t feel as stiff.  An example of this is a patient I saw last year who to come into clinic a few days after straining his lower back lifting something heavy.  I needled distal points in his hands and ankles before doing some gentle massage to ease the spasm in his back.  After treatment he was in considerably less discomfort and although still walking protectively, it was clear that he was in less pain and had more freedom of movement.

So don't put off coming for treatment....if you're physically able to come in early on you'll be on the road to recovery sooner rather than later.  Unless, there is a structural disc-related problem which requires rest, or the pain is severe, the advice now is that it is better to be active as soon as you're able to prevent muscles weakening and stiffening further.  Gentle movement encourages good blood flow to the injured area, which helps the back to heal. 

You'll be pleased to hear that often the number of treatments required for acute back pain will be less than for chronic back pain.  The treatment for chronic pain usually takes a little longer because areas of spasm can become locked-in, or other areas tighten due to over-compensation, when treatment to bring about muscular release has not been given early on.

Reassuringly, during the very early stage of an injury there is no need to needle locally into a painful area as there are points located in the ankles, wrists and hands that can do the job of releasing a painful muscular spasm.  Once the inflammation has subsided then you would target the local area with carefully placed needles to release tight spots and reduce pain.

Here are 5 Ways that Traditional Acupuncture can help with acute and chronic back pain:

1)   TARGETS PAIN

Contrary to popular belief, traditional acupuncture is an incredibly relaxing experience. Some people of course will be naturally wary of the needles but they’re sterile and extremely fine! Acupuncture's strength is in its ability to elegantly target muscular tightness and spasm.  

2)   NATURAL PAIN RELIEF

By stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, traditional acupuncture helps release the body's natural pain-relieving hormones, including endorphins and oxytocin. These hormones can change the way the body processes pain, helping to reduce discomfort and distress.  This can replace the need for synthetic drugs, without the risk of side effects.  Although you'll be pleased to hear that traditional acupuncture works just as effectively alongside modern medication and other therapies, such as osteopathy. In fact it can even speed up the recovery process.

3)   REDUCES INFLAMMATION

When an acupuncture needle is inserted local anti-inflammatories are released, blood flow is increased to the local area and excess fluids are dispersed to promote healing and aid recovery.

4)   GETS YOU MOVING AGAIN!

Many patients find that even after one session of traditional acupuncture their movement and mobility will be improved and their muscles don’t feel as stiff.

5)   TAILORED FOR YOU

Traditional acupuncture is an effective therapy that treats the whole person. This means each patient is treated as a unique individual so the acupuncture points chosen for one person with lower back pain may be different for another person with the same symptoms. This tailored approach is one of the key reasons traditional acupuncture is so effective.  The number of sessions needed will depend on each individual and whether their pain is chronic or not. I will put together an individualised treatment plan during your initial consultation.

 

Preventing back pain

In general, the more that your body has got used to flexing and extending, contracting and releasing the muscles that support the spine, the easier it is for muscle releasing pathways to be activated when you tweak your back.  This is why it is so important to regularly support the back with gentle exercises, such as Yoga or Tai chi, which are great ways of gently stretching the muscles in the lower back, as well as strengthening your core to help stabilise the spine.  Yoga is an effective way of lengthening the hamstrings too.  These are the big muscles in the back of the thighs which, when tight, can limit movement in the pelvis, making back injury more likely.

 

Back Pain Testimonial

Even yoga teachers can get tight and sore muscles!

I spend more hours than I would like sitting at a keyboard, and that combined with challenging myself on the mat can lead to complaints from my back.  This spring, I had booked a workshop that I was very much looking forward to on a Sunday, but on Thursday I was struck down by a killer muscle spasm.  I was gutted and was afraid I would have a long and painful recovery... but this story has a happy ending and now I have a tried and true system for recovering from minor muscular injury.  Immediately upon feeling the cramp, I took a low dosage pain killer to keep myself moving.  And where did I move to?  I went straight to Nicky for massage and needling to release the cramp as soon as possible.  I followed the treatment with a hot bath, a day of rest and then a gentle yoga practice, and by the Sunday I was mobile on the mat with no pain and an appetite for movement!  I think the primary benefit was treating the injury quickly so that I could keep moving, breathing, and healing.

 

*****

 

I will be happy to discuss your problem and help you understand whether acupuncture can help you, before you commit to having any treatment

If you'd like you’d like a free 15 minute consultation please call me on 07583-291616.  Appointments can be made by contacting York Natural Health on 01904-788411.

 

 

The Core and its role in Sustainability

I’m sure that you’ve admired the highly toned six-pack of Jess Ennis during the Olympics games last year, maybe even admitting to a little six-pack envy! A toned muscular torso is symbolic of strength and power and as we spring into action this summer, it's worth considering how important our core is in Yoga, whether we have a six or a one-pack!

But when we go beyond the physical outer aesthetics of a strong core you discover a deeper importance; it not only creates strength and stability for the whole body, in many Eastern traditions it is also the origin of our innermost guidance and wisdom.  The benefits of being in touch with our core expand deeply beyond physical muscular strength, but connect us to a highly intuitive support system, which guides all our movements and decisions whether on or off the yoga mat. 

I recently gave acupuncture to a patient for acute back pain caused by overstretching during a Pilates class.  At a time when her body was telling her to wind things down and rest, she was pushing beyond her reserves physically and energetically.  Modern living doesn’t always allow for this basic need to slow down or withdraw.  Yet just as nature ebbs and flows, so too does our energy.  I’ve certainly been reminded of this at times when I’ve been practising yoga a little too enthusiastically, usually at the expense of an old shoulder injury that starts to niggle!

Sustaining our natural rhythms

Yoga teaches us to be in touch with our natural rhythms by focusing on the breath as it travels into the abdomen. When our movements are integrated with our breath in this way, we can discern the needs of our body with greater sensitivity.  In this way we know whether we maybe overextending, which can result in compressed joints, overstretched muscles or our energy feeling dissipated.  A house may be aesthetically beautiful on the outside but may be inefficient in its use of energy.  Developing a connection with our core is like tapping into an inner support system that teaches us to adjust and conserve our energy in a way that is sustainable in the long term.

These days there is a much greater understanding of the importance of sustainability versus short-termism in many different areas of life.  In professional sport, economy in movement can sustain your career. There is a much stronger focus on long-term care, injury prevention and looking after your body.  Football and rugby clubs are investing heavily into podiatry, physiotherapy, yoga and other rehabilitative therapies to sustain the professional life of their teams knowing that preservation, strength and success lie in the small details, such as: maintaining a healthy spine, good balance, alignment of the feet, sustaining good muscle tone and a healthy diet, and not least the importance of resting players for longevity and ensuring that they are match fit.

Less is often more

In an productivity and action focused culture constant effort is encouraged.  In Chinese philosophy, the idea of ‘wu wei' means "natural action, or action that doesn't involve struggle or excessive effort".  It recommends that we stop trying to force things and align with our own intrinsic energy flow; adjusting what we do, where possible, to reflect the energy available to us.  It recognises that there is a natural ebb and flow to life which we can learn by observing nature: nature has a period of stillness, "eagles aren’t always soaring and gliding", waves rise and fall.   When we stop doing for a while, or do a little less, our actions become more energized, focused and efficient.  Likewise, creating stability in our core brings an efficiency and freedom of movement.

Moving from the 'centre'

In yoga it is the ability to be able to move from our ‘centre’ that teaches us how much or how little to extend, when to wait for our muscles to open, when to conserve energy or challenge ourselves more.  Responding in this way brings more integrity, balance, and relaxation to our actions.  In environmental terms it’s better recycle our energy: storing it up for use later on, rather than ‘down-cycling’, which pushes us beyond our energy reserves.

In dance and martial arts moving from your core creates an ease of changes in direction, shifting of weight and balance.  An experienced dancer moves with an effortlessness and fluidity of movement that comes from being able to move from the inside out.  Chinese martial artists develop internal strength and move with a minimum of effort and tension, by nurturing a strong connection to their centre, also known as the Dan Tian.  It is the place from which the navel expands and contracts when we practice deep abdominal breathing.  Breathing in this way makes the mind and body more relaxed, reduces stress and anxiety and increases the body's vitality and energy.

In all of these movement forms there is a constant moving away from and returning to the centre.  The extensions of the arms and legs are always supported and informed by a connection with the core, the periphery is always an expression of the whole or a deeper connection to the inner body.  

A deeper awareness and connection with your core through yoga will help you to develop your understanding of your practice.  Remembering these key points will ensure that you move in a safe, sustainable and efficient way:

  • Integrate breath with movement
  • Being attentive to details that refine your alignment to create greater stability and minimal muscular tension
  • Don't force movement, align with your natural energy flow
  • Move from your centre - this will be the region from which the expansion of the abdomen on the inhalation seems to originate
  • Trust your inner feedback, let your yoga teacher know if something doesn't feel quite right for you, for example, if an old injury begins to niggle or you're experiencing discomfort

 

 

 

 

 

How to stay healthy during spring

I was admiring the morning sunshine earlier this week when the sky suddenly darkened and I found myself staring at a dramatic transformation of the weather into swirling wind, rain and snow..it was quite literally four seasons in one day! But these abrupt weather changes seem typical for this time of year, before the warmer and more settled weather holds.

In Chinese philosophy, we are seen as microcosms of the natural world and the changes that we observe in nature can be reflected in people too.  Each season has a particular quality.  Spring is characterized by a great impulse to push upward and outwards, "when the warmth of the sun returns and life pushes forth with great vitality".  It is an opportunity to "refresh your vision and grow in new directions".  However, the expansive and inconstant nature, particularly of early spring, can throw us out of balance until we can find a firmer foothold into the season, or at least until we can get out into the garden and warm up our sun-deprived bodies!

A tree can only grow from the stability of its deep roots and the nourishment that it has received.  Likewise the transition from winter into spring can be inhibited by fatigue or low energy reserves, instability, depression, unexpressed emotions, or stress, which have the potential to put the brakes on this natural flow of creative energy.  These factors can considerably impact on how our minds and our bodies feel at this time of year.   

Spring is the time of year that resonates with the liver which, amongst its many functions, helps to cleanse the blood and remove toxic substances from the body, ensuring that our blood is healthy and our cells, muscles and tissues are nourished and well-fuelled.  This is reflected in Chinese Medicine theory, which says that the liver is responsible for the healthy flow of energy around the body.  Whenever we overeat or eat too many fried foods, or are exposed to stress the liver becomes overworked and overloaded.

It is the best time of the year to support the liver with acupuncture because Chinese Medicine has a conceptual framework that understands imbalances that are due to the liver not functioning optimally, and treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and nutritional knowledge, that can help to keep the liver happy and healthy.  But there are also ways that you can support your liver too:

 

How to stay healthy during the Spring

A Healthy Diet

The liver will benefit from a de-congesting diet rich in green leafy vegetables.  Apple cider vinegar is beneficial too because of its sour taste and nutritional benefits.  Avoid foods that are too spicy, oily and rich, reduce red meat and roasting or frying to prepare food.   Many of the heavier winter-sustaining foods that we may have wanted to eat during the long dark winter months are not going to be appreciated by the liver during the spring!  Trying to wean myself from the simple doughy comforts of sourdough bread is taking herculean will-power!

In general, think green, as well as light, nutritionally-packed and easily digestible, as this will maximise your energy for growth, just like plants in spring stretching up and out up from the nourishment in their roots.  Other foods that help to cleanse the liver include: garlic, apples, avocado, broccoli, lemons and limes, turmeric, cabbage and walnuts.

Freeing our Emotions

Just as foods can be congesting and place a strain on the liver, unexpressed emotions can create congestion internally.  It is healthier to let our emotions flow during the spring when this push for release is felt inwardly.  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine's Five Element theory, chronically unexpressed emotions, such as anger, frustration or guilt, can unbalance your liver functioning, which can lead to fatigue or depression.  Being able to talk about how you're feeling and letting things go can keep your energy flowing in healthy ways, which inevitably helps you to move forward with renewed energy, creativity and purpose.

Movement and creativity

Other ways of easing stress during spring are by gardening, as this is very grounding physically and emotionally.  Activities involving movement, such as dancing, yoga, qi gong or tai chi; learning a new skill, or taking up a new creative pursuit all help to keep our energy flowing in healthy and creative ways

 

How the 'liver' expresses it's unhappiness!

As you might imagine, symptoms that resonate with spring tend to have an upward or outward flowing tendency, such as headaches or eczema, but also any symptoms that are compounded by stress. Here are some symptoms that are characteristic of spring and suggest that you may need acupuncture to bring some balance to the liver system:

Headaches and migraine

Muscular aches and pains and stiffness

High Blood Pressure

Irritability and mood swings

Flare-up of eczema or psoriasis

Digestive problems, precipitated by stress, such as IBS or gastric pain

Heightened or unexplained Anxiety

Dry eyes, blurred vision or floaters

 

 

If you like more information about how acupuncture or acupressure massage might help you, please contact me on 07583-291616 or email: nickyjanethomas123@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Autumn reflections: a time of change

Have you felt that little internal tug recently, like a child pulling on your coat sleeve, as autumn sneaks up on us, to slow down or be a little more solitary?  Or perhaps you feel an unexplainable urge to clear out clutter, bravely venturing into dark and dusty cupboards and forgotten corners of the house!

As autumn approaches, we look forward to the vibrant colours of fire and warmth that the leaves bring, the crispness of the air and the fresh clarity of the light.  When living in the Middle East, autumn was the season that I missed the most for those very reasons.  It was my first autumn back that I rediscovered my love and appreciation of this beautiful and fleeting season, not only for its vibrancy of colour but the feeling of introspection that it inspired.

Autumn is a time of transformation, of paring back and letting go what is no longer of value.  We can see this all around us in nature in the autumnal colours and the quality of air and changing light. But it is also a time of taking in the crisp invigorating air of our surroundings, which brings a greater clarity to our thoughts and ideas.

As with any kind of transition, this shift can sometimes feel uncomfortable.  Understandably, we’d like the long summer nights and the enlivening feeling of warmth on our skin to continue.  We may not be ready to pack away our summer clothes or banish the camping equipment to the garage or attic for yet another year!  But just as nature does, it is important that we change with seasons too.

In nature, the survival of trees during the cold winter months followed by their transformation in the Spring is only possible through this sloughing and condensing process: Leaves are dropped and precious sap, that nourished leaves during the spring and summer, is withdrawn to it’s roots to sustain the strength, and continued growth, of the tree.

Just as the falling leaves expose more of a tree, emotions that may have been covered over or silenced during the summer months are likely to be more strongly felt, asking to be acknowledged.  It’s so much harder to ignore dust that has settled when light from a window is shining on it, revealing every little particle!

In Chinese Medicine “falling leaves are a reflection of sighs of grief and melancholy that autumn brings when all dies back to the ground”.  If we follow this impulse to withdraw, then we give ourselves time to process our losses, which may prevent depression from settling in during the dark winter months.

It is important to change with the seasons by adapting our diet and yoga practice too.  Here are some ways in which we can do that:

1. Autumn inspiration

It is the perfect time to draw inspiration and energy from our surroundings as we practice yoga. Breathing exercises combined with movement teach us to expand our lungs more fully, which invigorates the body and mind.

2. Refining our practice

The element that resonates with Autumn is metal, which embodies the quality of refinement.  We can bring more refinement to our yoga practice by focusing not only on the outer shape or frame of the asana, but on our inner selves, such as the breath as it moves around the body, the sensation in our spine and muscles, the movement of the diaphragm, or the feeling of gravity pulling the lower body down. 

3. There can be no expansion without contraction

As nature begins a process of gathering in it’s energies, so too can we encourage this feeling of consolidation when we practice yoga, by bringing our awareness back into our center and the lower body as we exhale.  Some postures immediately have this internalising effect, such as Tadasana, Tree pose, Child’s pose, or forward bends.

4. Stillness within movement

As we move into a quieter, more ‘yin’ time of year, nurturing softness and relaxation within effort, and mental stillness within movement, can be deeply restorative and cultivate a feeling of wellness and peace of mind.

Better stop short than fill to the brim,

Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon be blunt.

Yield and overcome;

Bend and be straight;

Empty and be full.

Daodejing, 4th century BCE

5. Tricky transitions

I overhead someone saying the other day that ‘somehow the ‘in-betweens’ are more difficult, as you know what to expect during summer and winter’.  Change can be unsettling and it sometimes feels like the ground is literally shifting beneath us….It’s no wonder that we may feel unsteady, anxious or want to hold on to the familiar. 

Steadying and strengthening Warrior postures or Tree pose can provide a welcome calming, empowering and settling influence - just what we need during periods of change or uncertainty.  While practicing, focus on drawing your attention and energy to your roots, which will help you feel supported during those uncertain transitions.

6. Being present

Transitions require that we keep in the present moment and connect with our inner selves, just as moving into a challenging yoga balance calls for us to be more attentive, trusting, and sometimes brave.  If we can find a way through the inevitable resistance, we’re brought closer to our deeper feelings and vulnerabilities, the recognition of which can bring greater understanding, strength or release.

7. Hearty is best! ... Eating for the autumn season

In Chinese Medicine, foods that embody the deepening and internalising qualities of Autumn include potatoes, parsnips, turnips, cauliflower, carrots, onion and ginger…the heartier the better, so don’t waste any time, get them root vegies roasting! Citrus fruits are great too for their cleansing properties and vitamin C boost as we move closer to winter.

The Space In Between

“There is something greater and purer than what the mouth utters. Silence illuminates our souls, whispers to our hearts, and brings them together……" Khalil G

During a yoga retreat at Casa Cuadrau in the Spanish Pyrenees last year one of the participants shared with the group that during her time in the mountains she had realised how little time she gave herself between one activity and another; she often rushed from one thing to the next without pausing.

Reflecting on this afterwards I couldn’t help thinking that this is a familiar feeling to many of us.  In the business of day-to-day life it is very easy to neglect to give ourselves that space in between.  The reasons for this are many: It might simply be that filling our time seems more natural, familiar and purposeful, and in our commitment to our responsibilities and the people in our lives, it is easy to forget how it feels to truly give ourselves space and silence.  In the pace and fullness of modern life there is often little time for stillness.  We have forgotten that there is space underneath all the noise and rarely stop in a way that allows for deep and nourishing rest and the replenishment of our reserves.

But also it may be that in creating more space we open ourselves to feelings that we'd been busily avoiding, inevitably perpetuating a certain type of overactivity, which was probably the very reason why I took myself off to the mountains! Being on retreat provides a space where people can be with themselves more intimately.  Mountains have a way of laying you bare and revealing your innermost self: there is nothing to hide behind when you are part of a vast spacious vista.  Just as an open mountain landscape provides a space for you to step more fully into yourself, a mountain forest enfolds you in it's reassuring alpine embrace and 'whispers to your heart'.  It is like a wise and supportive friend who listens quietly and comfortingly. 

Just as Danny, our mountain guide, led us carefully along the changing mountain terrain, it is sometimes necessary to help navigate my patients through uncomfortable inner emotional terrains, holding a sacred space for the release of emotions or tension.  Within a therapeutic context I am very aware of the importance of opening a space that allows patients to connect more fully with emotions that need to be given expression.  These can be vulnerable and cathartic moments, just as pauses in music can contain a world of feeling and emotion that has the power to resonate with and transform the deepest parts of ourselves . 

Without space our emotions are like flowers trying to push through a crack in a stone pavement.  We may give ourselves little room for stopping or feeling but eventually our inner world has a tendency to reach up in unexpected places, although often unknowingly creating many different forms of physical and emotional tension or pain in the process.  This might be seen in a person's posture as shoulders that fold in protectively around the heart and the lungs, in the clenching of back muscles or tightness within the chest, or in the abdominal  pain that someone may be experiencing. 

You may not feel it necessary to go to the Spanish Pyrenees to find space, although I would highly recommend that you visit the wonderful Casa Cuadrau mountain retreat! You can give stillness the space it needs, and yourself the space it craves, by moving the 'stone pavement' a little at a time and creating your own rituals.  The way that we do this being very individual to ourselves: it may be sitting quietly in a peaceful place in the house or in your garden, walking in a park or in a forest or listening to a beautiful piece of music.  

The practice of simple yoga stretches where broadening and lengthening your physical frame can help you to release tension and feel more spaciousness within despite feeling pressured outwardly.  Deep breathing too, not only helps us to center into ourselves in a way that gives space to our feelings, but also engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body to relax.

In yoga and qi gong we talk about the importance of finding space in between the breath through deep and slow breathing, that moment of stillness between the movement of the breath.  Just as this stillness is a calm point from which the breath rises, so we can provide a calm center for our thoughts and feelings to surface.  However, if our breathing is too fast or shallow due to tension or anxiety, which often occurs when we feel that we have no room for pauses in our lives, then we block the silence that lets our vital energy through.  

When you find the space in between, it is something that can come everywhere with you, hopefully changing the rhythm and breath of the busiest days.

Finding balance

"Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes

If it were always a fist or always stretched open,

you would be paralysed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,

RUMI

You may have heard it said that it’s important to find a balance in all things.  But what does it really mean to be feeling balanced and how do we recognize when we might be feeling off kilter in a particular aspect of our lives.

You instinctively know when you’re feeling balanced as you feel like you’re not being pulled too hard in one direction more than another.  You feel calm, centered, grounded and energized or you may feel that all the various aspects of your life are working together in harmony.  

However, modern life has a tendency to ask more and more of us so that at times we feel too ’stretched open'.  It may be that you’re pushing yourself too hard physically or mentally without creating enough time for your mind and body to rest, or perhaps you’re giving too much of yourself without allowing yourself to receive nourishment.  We’ve all had moments when life’s demands have left us feeling stressed, scattered and unbalanced. The reasons are usually very individual to you.

In these moments, it’s helpful to have some simple tools to help us come back to our center and regain balance.

Integral to Traditional Chinese Medicine is the importance of balance to a person’s health and well-being.  It recognises that certain symptoms, whether they are mild or more severe, are a way for the body to let us know that there is a physical and/or emotional imbalance.  These symptoms may include low energy, anxiety or tension, headaches or poor sleep.  Identifying aspects of your life that may be out of balance, and choosing carefully selected acupuncture points that are known for their potential to restore equilibrium to the mind and body, acupuncture is one way of helping you to feel more centered and relaxed.  

In yoga too there are postures that can help you to regain a sense of balance and composure when life feels overwhelming or you’re feeling over-stretched.  Balance postures like Tree pose which require you to root through your feet and lower your center of gravity to give you more stability can be a really useful way of finding your equilibrium - the intense concentration required to stay upright on one leg makes it very difficult to focus on anything else!

Over the years as an acupuncturist and yoga teacher I have found certain techniques really useful in helping you to regain balance, particularly during those stressful times:

1) Rooting - Sitting in a cross-legged position with your hands resting on your legs, sense into those places that make contact with the floor, such as your sit bones and the back of your thighs.  Gently press your sitbones into the floor.  Bring your awarenesss to the rise and fall of the belly as you breathe in and out, feeling the belly expand with the inhale and contract towards the spine with the exhale.  As you’re belly contracts feel your pelvis gently rock back and your tailbone descend towards the floor, and as you inhale feel the pelvis tilting forward slightly.  Listen to the sound of your breath.

2) Mountain pose - Stand with your feet hip distance apart.  Feel into your feet: raise your toes and then spread them before lowering them back down.  Feel all four corners of the feet making contact with the floor beneath you.  Let the weight of the pelvis release into the thighs, the thighs release into the knees, the knees into the calves and shins and the calves and shins into the feet.  Visualize your body as a tree, with your torso representing the trunk and your feet representing the roots.  Then imagine that you’re feet have roots descending deep into the earth, feeling the strength and stability of your body as you become more rooted.  Then bring your hands together at  your heart to reaffirm the midline and center of the body.

3) Affirmations - These can be very reassuring and empowering when you’re life is feeling like it is out of control and you find yourself on a ferris wheel unable to get off! Quietly repeating to yourself words like “I can manage” “It will all get done” or “I am doing the best that I can” whilst breathing deeply can help you to reframe the way that you are feeling.

4) Gentle stretching - simple gentle stretches (if you’re already feeling over-stretched in your life then strong stretches may be counter-productive) can help to create a little more internal space even when you’re feeling outwardly pressured.  

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, clasp your hands at your chest and then as your breathe out extend your arms, pushing the heels of the hands away from you to stretch the upper back, particularly the area between the shoulder blades, which is typically where we store tension.  On your next inhale raise your arms above your head and stretch the sides of the torso, lifting the ribs away from the hips to help create more space between the ribs, which will allow your take in fuller more energising breaths.  Release your hands and as you breathe out lower one hand to the right side of the floor beside you and reach over to the right with the left hand (making sure to drop you’re right shoulder away from your ears.  Breathe in and out a few times before raising both arms to the ceiling again and repeating on the opposite side.

Life can feel quite chaotic and stressful at times but these simple tools can help you to balance times of expansion with small contractions that restore your sense of equilibrium.

Chinese Medicine and the changing seasons

The Chinese have long believed humans are intimately connected to natural world and as such the seasons can affect our bodies, sleep and our energy.  When we allow our energy to resonate with that of the physical world then we create health and vitality.  Trying to keep the same pace or rhythms regardless of the natural ebb and flow of the world around us will create disharmony and imbalalance.  

Each season has it’s own particular quality, for example, winter is a time for slowing down, conserving and storing.  The qualities that resonate with spring are expansion, growth and enthusiasm, just as a bud bursting into life .  The element associated with spring is wood and just as trees and plants need space to expand and grow, they need to be deeply rooted to obtain nourishment and need flexibility in order to adapt.  However, any restriction to this natural freedom of movement will cause frustration and anger.  A person shouting is often asking for something to change.  Internally this lack of flow may cause all sorts of problems, such as stiffness and tightness in tendons and muscles or a lack of vitality. When you release tightness held in the body you feel more open, energized, creative and expressive, physically muscles become softer, joints increase their range of motion and circulation improves. There is a saying that flowing water will never stagnate or the hinges of a moving door will never rust.  The re-balancing effects of acupuncture and the fluid movements of Qi gong are ideally suited to keep your energy flowing.

In China it is also very common for people to have acupuncture to help them adapt to seasonal changes, for example, from winter into spring or summer into winter.  The idea is to balance a person’s energy so that it is in the best possible shape to move into the new season.  As a result of imbalances, some people might be constitutionally hot in nature and experience symptoms such as headaches, psoriasis or eczema, hayfever or hot flushes and as a result would find the hotter months more difficult, as climatic heat can exacerbate internal heat. Seasonal treatment would reduce heat to help the person improve.  

If a person tends towards being constitutionally cold then they might be more susceptibile to colds, depression, tiredness, or arthritis and find the winter months more problematic. 

The wisdom of Chinese Medicine has always emphasised the importance of aligning your health with the changing seasons, but this is now being recognised by scientists who have found that the seasons can affect our health.

http://www.npr.org/…/seasons-may-tweak-genes-that-trigger-s…

 

Returning to the Fields by T’ao Ch’ien

When I was young, I was out of tune with the herd:

My only love was for the hills and the mountains

Unwitting I fell into the Web of the World’s dust

And was not free until my thirtieth year.

The migrant bird longs for the old wood:

The fish in the tank thinks of it’s native pool.

I had rescued from wildness a patch of the Southern Moor

And, still rustic, I returned to field and garden.

My ground covers no more than ten acres:

My thatched cottage has eight or nine rooms.

Elms and willows cluster by the eaves:

Peach trees and plum trees grow before the Hall.

Hazy, hazy the distant hamlets of men.

Steady the smoke of the half-deserted village,

A dog barks somewhere in the deep lanes,

A cock crows at the top of the mulberry tree.

At gate and courtyard - no murmur of the World’s dust:

In the empty rooms - leisure and deep stillness.

Long I lived checked by the bars of a cage:

Now I have turned again to Nature and freedom