March 2009

Holden Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Medicine

The Healing Tree
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Got Calm? 5 De-Stress Tips
Rosemary Asparagus
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Dear Robin,

As spring's outward energy is pushing through the cold seclusion of winter, we expect to feel a sense of joy and relief. And we do, in many ways. But often this strong energy brings with it a sense of chaos. While our bodies feel energized, our psyche often feels agitated, irritable. PMS often flares in the early spring months, and people may find their tempers a bit shorter than usual. It is a very common time of year for migraines to flare up as well. Spring allergies can also be a classic symptom of this.


Well, spring is the time of year associated with our Liver energy. One of the most important jobs of the Liver is to keep our energy (qi) flowing smoothly and peacefully through our bodies.  When something works to block this energy flow in our bodies, the Liver gets agitated, which can cause a variety of different symptoms that we acupuncturists often diagnose as "Liver Qi Stagnation." It is the job of the Liver to help us navigate this extreme change in energy that occurs as winter moves into spring.  If our Liver qi is already somewhat blocked, these symptoms will manifest and flare more strongly this time of year as we put additional strain on our Liver qi. 
This month, I'd like to offer some tips to keep your Liver energy flowing smoothly to feel your best as we jump into spring.


Got Calm? 5 De-Stress Tips

All season, changes bring about shifts in energy in the environment, which are reflected in our own physiology. In winter, our energy is quiet, deeper in our bodies. This is even reflected in our pulse, which, if our bodies are in balance, becomes smaller and deeper feeling.

As we transition to spring, that inward energy starts to move to the surface and becomes more active. You can see this in the environment as plant life that has been dormant all winter awakens and begins to push upward and out of the dark, quiet ground into the sun. You can feel it in your body, too. As the days become longer and the weather warms up, we emerge from our homes, eager to go out in the world. Our pulse comes more to the surface, too.

Understanding Liver Energy
According to Chinese Medicine, our Liver energy is largely responsible for making this a smooth transition. When our Liver energy is stagnant, this transition from dormant to active becomes more difficult, and symptoms arise. Because of the pathway of the Liver channel, some of the most common symptoms of stagnant Liver qi include the following: headaches, particularly migraines, PMS and menstrual cramping, tight shoulders, depression, anger, frustration, irritability and "snappiness!"

Liver & Stress
One of the most common causes in our society of stuck Liver qi is stress, particularly stress that is chronic, extreme, or unexpressed. Stress impedes the smooth flow of qi in the Liver channel in particular. Our bodies are meant to handle a certain amount of emotional stress and strain, of course. So, for example, you have a stressful day at work, you tense your shoulders a little more than usual, and, as a result, you might have a sore neck or a headache at the end of the day. A good night's sleep, a vent session with your friend, a brisk walk after work--any of those things will help rebalance and unclog your energy and you will feel better.

But when the stress is more constant or extreme, the same doesn't hold true. For example, when most days at work are stressful and then when you come home to unwind from it, stress exists in your home life as well, it becomes more difficult to rebalance and unclog your energy. Our Liver is constantly being challenged and our energy flow continually impeded. It gets harder and harder to undo the damage. And the more stuck our energy becomes, the more easily stress affects us, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Because every organ and channel is part of a balanced system with each of the others, chronically stuck Liver qi will eventually lead to imbalances in other organs as well. Many conditions are, in part, due to Liver qi stagnation. Very often the first system to be affected is the digestive system. A common result of chronic stress (stuck Liver qi) is digestive troubles: IBS, GERD, bloating, cramping, etc.

Smooth Flowing Liver: Tips & Strategies
So what can you do to keep that Liver flowing smoothly in the face of all of our everyday life stresses?  Here are some suggestions:

1. Exercise. The very best way to get your energy moving is to move! Different types of exercise are better for different people. Some people's constitutions do really well with vigorous aerobic exercise. You probably already know who you are: when you go for a run, you feel fantastic. Other people are much more suited to slower, gentler forms of movement such as yoga, walking, or Tai Chi. Listen to your body, do what feels good, and don't try anything new or extreme without consulting your healthcare practitioner.

2. Diet. There are, of course, foods that help invigorate your qi and ones that help clog it up.  Dairy, greasy, and deep fried foods are cloggers. Also, too much salt, including a lot of miso and soy sauce, and too much meat both have a sinking energy and will work against the rising energy of this time of year. Leafy greens, upward growing vegetables, sprouts, and pungent herbs/flavors (basil, fennel, rosemary, dill, garlic, and ginger) will help support your upward and expanding energy of this season and help keep your qi flowing smoothly.

Again, however, we all have our own set of imbalances. While this is a great season to enjoy raw foods and fresh vegetable juices, this is not recommended for everyone. It can be very helpful to consult an acupuncturist to get more specific food recommendations that will benefit you.

3. Spring cleaning. Believe it or not, physically clearing out your living space, de-cluttering, and making more space can help de-clutter your meridians as well. And it is interesting that many people naturally get the urge to clean old stuff out this time of year. Get rid of things that are helping to keep your energy blocked.

4. Talk/write it out. You didn't have to read this to get that advice, right? You could have picked up an issue of Cosmo. It's true, though. Keeping stuff inside blocks energy flow. We all know the feeling of a "weight being lifted" from our shoulders when we vent our troubles. That is our Liver qi moving out of stuckness! So don't keep it all in. Spend time with people you feel you can be open with and/or do some thoughtful journaling and get stuff off your chest.

5. Acupuncture. Those immediate effects that people feel right after an acupuncture treatment (calm energy, relaxation, improved mood, pain relief) are often the result of stuck Liver energy having been moved and balanced. An acupuncture treatment is a great way to start off the spring right. Get your energy moving and get some good advice on the best foods and exercise for your body type. And hey, most of us acupuncturists are pretty good listeners, too!

These tough economic times and the global sense of fear and worry that pervades society right now are an additional strain on our Livers.  While for many of us, it might be hard to justify an additional expense to do something for ourselves, self care is especially important to remain healthy and balanced to face the challenges ahead. The more balanced we are as individuals, the more balance we can contribute to bringing about on a global level.  So, whether it's yoga classes, organic food, massage, acupuncture treatment, or your gym membership, don't completely cut out things that nourish and balance you.  And don't forget: many flexible spending accounts will reimburse for acupuncture.

Rosemary Asparagus
This month's recipe is simple, delicious, and great for supporting that expanding springtime energy and helping our Livers.

I chose asparagus because it is a delicious, upward growing green that is coming into season. It is mildly bitter and pungent, which helps invigorate the qi. It is also a bit of a diuretic, which can be helpful this time of year, but don't overdo it!  The garlic and rosemary will also help move your energy.  If you are not an asparagus fan, you can follow this same recipe with many other green veggies, including broccoli or leafy greens, such as kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard.

Olive or grape seed oil
2 cloves garlic
sprinkle of sea salt
sprinkle of rosemary
1 bunch asparagus

Break off the tough ends of the asparagus. Chop the rest of the stalks into 1/2 inch pieces. Over a medium flame, heat 1TBSP oil in a pan. Add crushed or chopped garlic and sauté over low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the asparagus, salt, and rosemary and continue to sauté, stirring regularly, for approximately 5 minutes until the asparagus turns a bright green. Time will vary depending on how thick the asparagus stalks are and your own personal taste. This time of year it is helpful to keep your greens slightly crunchy and bright green! 


Here's wishing you a rejuvenating spring!
Robin Chapman
Holden Acupuncture & Chinese Herbal Medicine
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