How to Cut Your Health Problems in Half

I studied tai chi privately for several years with an instructor whose pet peeve was when students would roll their eyes at themselves when they made a mistake doing the tai chi form. Evidently lots of students were prone to this, me included.

She used to say that the judgment was a waste of energy and not helping at all. In fact, she said you could cut your problems by 50% if you just stopped passing judgment on yourself. You could just go about practicing and correcting your tai chi as needed, leaving the judgment out altogether.

Judgment didn’t actually help you perform better.

And really this is a very tai chi idea since tai chi is all about the most efficient use of energy, whether in your posture or defending yourself against an attacker. Tension and effort that don’t serve a purpose are simply a waste of your limited life force.

Apply tai chi principles to your health.


I have noticed a similar phenomenon in my acupuncture practice. People may not literally roll their eyes (although sometimes they do) at their bodies when they have a health challenge.

But people often judge their bodies as having failed when they get sick, experience pain, or even age.

And it isn’t hard to see why folks might do this. It is unpleasant to be unwell, and we tend to judge things we don’t like to experience. It can certainly be extremely frustrating to want to participate in life a certain way, but your body won’t seem to cooperate.

Add to that the emphasis our society is increasingly putting on wellness, as if illness is a sort of moral failure. You got sick? You must have done something wrong. You must not have meditated enough or juiced enough or avoided gluten or done enough yoga/cardio/pilates/bootcamp/crossfit, etc.

Or the really toxic New Age-y version: you must be sick because you have unresolved subconscious negativity. Stop thinking those thoughts and you’d get better.

So, just to be clear, getting sick and experiencing pain (and getting older) are all inevitable parts of the human experience. Full stop.

To quote an acupuncture mentor of mine, “Sometimes these things happen.” That’s all.

Bodies get old. All bodies will ultimately die. That’s just the nature of being on the planet. You haven’t done anything wrong. There has been no moral failure.

Holding yourself and your body accountable for an unrealistic standard (never getting sick) is both a waste of energy and an additional problem you have stacked on top of the health issue.

In fact, sometimes in my office the judgment about the health issue can be a bigger problem than the health issue itself. Sometimes it delays people from taking the steps necessary to care for themselves since they have a belief their body shouldn’t require that care.

I shouldn’t be sick or in pain so I’m not going to address the problem.

Better to spend that energy accessing care and resources to help you feel better. Dawdling in judgment just delays healing or relief.

The balancing act.

But wait a minute! Shouldn’t I take responsibility for my health?

I mean, cardio/pilates/meditation/yoga/herbal teas/nutrition really do help your health, right? Don’t I bear some responsibility for taking care of myself?

I am not suggesting that accepting illness as a part of the human experience means you are obligated to throw up your hands and give up on self-care. Accepting the reality that sometimes the body gets sick doesn’t mean you should not access the resources you have to give your body the best chance of thriving and feeling good.

However, taking care of your health doesn’t mean you will fully escape illness, injury, discomfort, or aging. (This is especially true since there are factors beyond your control that play into health, including genetics, environment, and socio-economic status.)

So you can take responsibility for taking care of yourself in a committed way, but you can’t realistically take responsibility for every single health event you ever have.

And making conscious decisions about how to care for yourself during illness can happen very efficiently if you leave the judgment at the door. The judgment is an optional extra, and I don’t recommend it.

What you can do instead.

What you can start with is an acceptance of reality. The body is a temporary thing. It doesn’t last forever, and it sometimes gets sick.

You can argue with this reality and suffer a lot. Or, you can practice acceptance that this sometimes happens and your body hasn’t failed or betrayed you.

It’s just a body being a body.

Instead of judgment, you can simply acknowledge what is with a simple phrase. “Right now, it’s like this.”

Or, my tai chi teacher was a big fan of the phrase, “That’s interesting.” Instead of judging, you can get curious about how your body feels, even if it is uncomfortable.

Then you will not only have avoided the extra stress of judgment, you will have some information about what is happening in your body that will help you take appropriate steps to care for it.

You can just get on with evaluating and applying any available solutions. No wasted time and energy shaking your fist at your body.

Now this doesn’t mean that when you are sick or injured you necessarily won’t feel sad or scared. Being ill is usually no picnic. That can definitely be part of the reality you may have to acknowledge.

However, you can let yourself off the hook. Your body isn’t supposed to be immortal or never get sick.

Cut out the middle step of judgment, save the energy you would have spent shaking your fist or rolling your eyes at your body, and get about taking care of yourself (or correcting your tai chi form).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need additional and optional problems. Dumping half of them feels like a relief.

Full Recovery from Eating Disorders

Imagine unlocking your front door and walking into your home to find it turned upside down, completely ransacked. The mess and damage are so extensive, your place is hardly recognizable. Lamps are knocked over and broken. Shards of glass from vases litter the floor. The drawers are open and the contents spilled everywhere. Tables are tipped over on their sides, and the couch cushions are torn open. Worse yet, some of your belongings are missing. Valuable items from your locked safe are gone altogether.

This can be what it is like to return to your body after having an eating disorder. You may no longer engage in eating disorder behavior or thoughts, but the illness has taken a physical toll. The thief, the illness, may have vacated the premises but has left an awful lot of damage and even stolen some things. And you are left with the mess and have to clean it up.

I’m recovered from my eating disorder. Why am I still struggling with my health?

Examples of health problems people may experience even after recovery include:

*Lowered immunity and frequent infections
*Joint and connective tissue injuries
*Low energy and poor stamina
*Ongoing digestion sensitivity or dysfunction
*Hormonal imbalance or menstrual difficulties
*Easy and frequent bruising
*Lost bone density and dental problems (valuables from your safe that are missing altogether)

These problems indicate how fragile your health is after prolonged deprivation. These issues can remain even after you are fully recovered from your eating disorder and no longer struggle to have a balanced relationship with food.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, an eating disorder (or even extreme dieting), especially if it includes restriction and/or over-exercise, robs you of your energetic funds. Using the analogy above, the eating disorder breaks your (bodily) “belongings” and takes your (energetic) “cash.”

You lose the energy and substances of the body that are responsible for things like your immunity, stamina, connective tissue, dental health, and bone density when you are in a state of malnutrition. And even when you have normalized your eating and nutritional intake, you are still working from a deficit.

The symptoms listed above indicate that your body is insufficiently funded to run day-to-day affairs.

Can anything be done about it?

Well, just like reestablishing balance and health to one’s finances, you have to address the missing “funds” even after you have restored basic “income” levels. Your income, which is your nutritional intake, may now be reasonable and healthy, but you have to take extra steps to restore your missing energy and really heal your body.
You might try a “budget.” You can save your energy by cutting back on activities. For example, maybe you give up exercise or decline invitations to social events. However, if you are having health problems, your body is already saying it doesn’t have enough to keep the basics going. It doesn’t have any extra to put toward repairing your tendons or keeping your immune system strong.

Plus, let’s face it, being on a strict budget is a drag. You have to miss out on a lot. Who wants to keep declining invitations or skipping fun activities?

So, how can you generate more energetic income to really restore your health?

Enter the wisdom of Chinese medicine.

Chinese medicine (the philosophy and practice of acupuncture, herbalism, bodywork, meditation, and tai chi) provides treatment to help restore your body’s missing energetic resources.

In Chinese medicine we first establish which “accounts” have been drained and what items are broken. The account responsible for the health of your connective tissue and joints? Your immune system account? Your digestive account? All of the above? When it is clear which accounts are low, we start to make “deposits” with the tools of Chinese medicine such as acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine (an especially valuable tool), and traditional therapeutic exercises like tai chi. These methods help the body heal and replenish.

Chinese medicine is all about helping your body balance. Acupuncture helps regulate the body’s major systems like the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system. Herbal medicine, for instance, helps by providing raw materials and concentrated nutrition to help your body repair damage.

Just like restoring your financial health, it takes time. I explain to my patients that exactly like money, your energy is easier to spend than to replenish. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done, but it takes time. Earning a paycheck and socking away some savings takes longer than going on a shopping spree. You have to be consistent, and the amount of time required depends on how badly you were robbed.

And just like a robbery, unfortunately some of your belongings may not be recovered by the police. Your teeth and bones, for instance, are the most difficult to restore to pre-eating disorder levels. Despite this possibility, it is still worthwhile to clean up the damage left in your house and shore up your accounts so you have enough energy to live, dance, work, study, explore, love, and play.

Start where you are.

Expelling the thief from your house is the first step. If you are recovered from an eating disorder, you have done this. Well done. If you are reading this and you are not yet recovered, please know: 1. Recovery is possible. 2. It is worth it. 3. Time is of the essence. The sooner you kick the thief out, the less damage done and the fewer things stolen.

So, if you are feeling that sense of desperation and sadness looking at the disarray in your ransacked house, know you have some options besides simply accepting the mess. Chinese medicine offers ways to address issues such as lower immunity, decreased stamina, digestive problems, and connective tissue injuries. Once the burglar is gone, it is possible to pick up the pieces and make your house a home again.

I have personally seen people regain their health after eating disorders and extreme dieting. If you have questions about your situation and if Chinese medicine might help, I’d be happy to talk with you.

Letting Your Body Win

My dog is, um, unique. She’s a delicate flower, shall we say. She has a lot of fears and phobias: new people, new places, flies, garbage trucks, bicycles, my hiccups (just mine), my wife’s cough (just hers), and (developed just recently) June bugs.

So when we moved to our new neighborhood Tuxedo had a rough time, especially when I would try to take her for a walk.  It was a mess. New noises and new smells were just too much.  We would venture out, and inevitably she would put on her brakes and refuse to move. She became seventy pounds of “Nope!” and I couldn’t argue (and I certainly couldn’t carry her).

Try as I might to command her to keep moving, she wasn’t having it. Pulling and cajoling, I tried to keep her walking. Every time we would have to turn around and go home, her tail between her legs and me super frustrated.

My dog needed exercise, and I was at my wit’s end. I turned to an online group of owners of shy and scared dogs. It is a group of lovely, helpful, good-hearted people who own and/or train dogs that have difficulty navigating the world due to their fear of various things.

I explained that my dog was too scared to go for a walk, and I was powerless to keep her moving. The more I tried to override her fear, the worse it got. However, I was afraid that if I gave in and let her come home I would be letting the dog win.

Several people responded, but one answer in particular changed my entire view, not only of our present circumstances, but of my entire relationship with Tux.

Regarding the fear of letting Tux “win” she wrote, “You and your dog are on the same team.”

I think I actually burst into tears when I read it.

It wasn’t supposed to be a contest or power struggle. My dog, who was doing the best she could, was trying to tell me something. And I wasn’t listening because I was busy trying to be in charge.  We were supposed to be working together to get her needs met.

What does this have to do with your body and health?

What I was doing to Tuxedo—with the best of intentions—is very similar to what I see a lot of people do to their bodies, especially when it comes to exercise and eating.  Maybe you are doing it too.

You have to force your body to look a certain way, weigh a certain amount, or be a certain shape. You can’t possibly let your body “win” by just being what it is. You have to conquer and control it.

And it is absolutely understandable why this is common. We are constantly exposed to messages that explain this is what we have to do to be healthy, fit and responsible. Work harder! Exercise more! Eat less! Eat better! Count your calories! Lose weight!

But you and your body are on the same team.

And like my delicate dog needed me to understand something, maybe your body is trying to tell you something. Are you listening or are you trying to be in charge?

There are realities that no amount of diet or exercise or meditation or botox or supplements or even acupuncture can change. Bodies get old. Bodies sometimes get sick. Bodies are different shapes and sizes. Bodies need to eat. Bodies eventually die. You can’t change any of this. You can’t vanquish your body to make it something it isn’t. It’s a body.

If this struggle strikes a chord with you, maybe take some time to actually listen to what your body is communicating. It doesn’t mean you give up taking care of yourself. Quite the opposite, actually. You can care for yourself in a way that accepts your body for what it is and where it is. And you can also allow room for your body to be different from someone else’s body.

How do you be a good teammate?

You can start by asking yourself these questions (and being honest with the answers):

Do you exercise in a way that brings you joy and makes you feel good or are you trying to burn calories to look a certain way?
When you choose what to eat are you motivated by an easy sense of enjoyment and appetite or by a need to control your body’s size and shape?
Are you able to enjoy your meal or are you busy doing caloric math in your head because you are afraid of gaining weight?
Are you mad at your body for refusing to be a certain size or shape? Are you frustrated with your body for not “cooperating” in some way?
Then ask yourself, what would you change if you listened to your body’s feedback as valuable information rather than an inconvenient attempt to thwart your will? What support is your body asking for?

What would change in your routine if you considered your body as a teammate rather than something that you had to keep from “winning?”  (And maybe ponder how weird is it that you would want your own body to “lose?”)

What is winning anyway?

I changed strategies with Tux entirely. The walks were out. Instead, we played agility games in the back yard and practiced obedience and new tricks. We enjoyed a good game of hide and seek. When she was scared she was allowed to go in the house. No more powering through despite her fear. She got some exercise and stimulation, and we didn’t have to battle each other anymore.

I couldn’t force Tuxedo to be something she wasn’t. She is a shy dog, and we just have to work with that. We can just enjoy spending time with each other, and I let her be who she is.

Winning starts with treating your body as though you were responsible for helping it, not beating it into submission.

Tuxedo is actually pretty amazing, even with all her foibles.  While she’s not ever going to be the dog we take with us when we hang on the patio of the local coffee shop, she’s still awesome. She’s smart, learns quickly, has a sense of humor, loves a good belly rub, adores romping in the snow and is great and loyal company when either of us aren’t feeling well.

There is so much more ease and appreciation with the relationship since I quit trying to override her personality to get to where I thought we should go. When we hang out, it’s fun, we enjoy each other, and it totally feels like winning.

I wish you the same in your relationship with your body.

If you would like support cultivating a more balanced relationship with your body, please reach out. I'd love to help.

When You Can’t Blame Your Knee Pain on Your Weight

Do you have knee pain and have been told by your doctor it is because you need to lose weight?

Lean in. I have a secret for you: your weight probably isn’t the problem.  You can let yourself off the hook.

I’ve been in practice for about 18 years, and knee pain is a frequent complaint among people of all sizes. Despite this, it is not uncommon for a person who is technically overweight to come in and explain they have knee pain because s/he weighs too much. Very often this is what they have been told by their physician.

Usually the conversation goes something like this:

Me: “What can I do for you today?”

Client: “I am here to see if you can help me with my knee pain. I know really I have to lose weight. That’s what my doctor says.”

Me: “Is the pain in both knees?”

Client: “Yes, but the right/left one is worse.”

(Insert the sound of screeching brakes here.)

Hold up.  If the pain is worse on one side or only present on one side, immediately you can rule out your weight as the primary cause. Immediately. If it is only your body weight that is the problem, both knees would hurt equally.  After all, how much weight is the other knee carrying?

Something else is going on.  The question is what’s the difference between the knees that accounts for the pain?

Sometimes there has been a previous injury to the knee. Other times (many, many times) in my experience, there is a misalignment of the knee(s). Your knee joint is designed to function without pain when the bones of your legs are properly aligned. If the bones are not lined up correctly, this creates wear and tear on the tissue which results in inflammation and pain.

If your body is misaligned this happens no matter what you weigh.

On the flip side, you can weigh a lot, and if your knees are functional you can be without pain, even with lots of activity. Please consider NFL offensive linemen as examples. They are very large gentlemen, no? But their knees do lots of strenuous things for them despite their weight.  What’s the difference?  Strength and functionality.

“But I swear my knees hurt less when I lose weight.”

Sometimes people will say that their knees hurt less if they lose a few pounds. I have no doubt this is true because more weight is essentially more stress on a dysfunctional joint system. The essential problem, however, remains the dysfunctional joint system, not the weight.

It’s actually a bit like a dysfunctional relationship. Relationships that are strong and healthy can take some stress. Financial, family, and health issues are all stressors, but a relationship that is in good shape provides support. In fact, life difficulties can make a relationship stronger and bring two people closer together if the basic framework is healthy. Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, crumble under pressure. When life gets tough, the cracks start to show.

Just like with a relationship, the issue isn’t the stress, it’s the health of the overall system. If you haven’t removed the root cause of the problem, and the weakness will crop up again next time it bumps up against a different stressor.

And, like the rest of life, it’s nearly impossible to avoid stressors forever.

Where your knees are concerned, maybe that’s climbing the stairs, or going for a hike, or riding your bicycle, or playing with your kids/grandkids. Probably at some point it will be an activity that you really enjoy.

A misaligned joint has a narrow margin for error and you are bound to bump up against its limitations again eventually, regardless of your size.  And unfortunately that can really diminish your quality of life and restrict the things you can do without pain.

You can lose weight, but your knees (or back or hips or ankles) will still need to be fixed for your long-term health.

How do I know if my alignment is off?

Here are some potential clues that suggest a misalignment.

1. When you look at your knees in the mirror, your knee caps do not face the same direction.
2. When you look at your knees in the mirror, your knee caps do not point straight ahead but outward or inward.
3. When you look at your legs in the mirror, your feet are turned outward or inward rather than straight ahead.
4. When you close your eyes and pay attention to your feet, you notice more weight on one side than the other.
5. When you close your eyes and march in place for 30 seconds, you open your eyes to discover you have marched in a circle.
6. When you pay attention to your weight distribution on your feet, the weight is on the inside or outside of your foot rather than over the center. (This distribution might also might be different from foot to foot.)
7. Your pant legs always seem different lengths.
8. One shoulder is higher than another.

In my office I do other evaluations for your posture, but any of these easy things to notice can tip you off that something is amiss with your alignment.

So, how do you fix it?

Simply put, a misaligned joint means a bone is not where it is supposed to be. A bone has moved and stayed there. How do bones move normally? Yep, that’s right, your muscles. Your muscles move your bones, and if something is chronically out of place you have to look at what is happening with the muscles of your body.

There are lots of ways muscles can be imbalanced, but an individualized selection of exercises and stretches that take into account the alignment of your whole body can keep you strong and functional while you are out and about living your life.

Realigning and strengthening the joint means that you address the underlying cause so you can enjoy a wide range of activities and movements, regardless of your weight. And when your joint is in a healthy position, your body gets stronger with activity.

Please don’t miss the solution to your knee pain because you are busy pursuing weight loss. You could be spending your energy making your joints strong and functional so you can be active without pain.

Just like a relationship, you can make the system healthy so it gets stronger and thrives under pressure and demand.

Do you relate to this article? Curious if you could benefit from an integrative therapy plan? Contact me for a consultation if you want to discover the root of your pain, uncover blockages to healing, and create an action plan to finally solve it.

Acupressure for Sinus Congestion Relief

I hope you are enjoying your summer and having some fun in the great outdoors.  While you are out there enjoying the good weather, you may need a few weapons against allergies or sinus issues.

Chinese medicine offers herbal medicine, bodywork, dietary strategies, and acupuncture to help with sinus problems by regulating the immune system, decreasing inflammation, and relieving pain.  Also, acupressure you can do at home is helpful for sinus pain, congestion, and discharge due to a variety of causes (allergies, a cold or flu, or infection).

Recent studies support acupuncture as a valuable addition to the care of your sinuses, and the same points I use with needles for acupuncture can also be used with massage for acupressure.

Below is a video demonstrating acupoints for when you are having sinus pressure and pain. Use firm but comfortable pressure and hold each point for 30 seconds while taking deep breaths. (Please note that LI4 in the hands should not be used if you are pregnant.)

I hope you put these points to use and keep yourself active and healthy. If you would like to pursue additional natural solutions to your allergies or chronic sinus problems, please call for an appointment: 323-475-9282.

 

Why Acupuncture Helps So Many Things

Skeptics of acupuncture often cite the fact that it has been recommended as effective for so many different conditions as proof that it only works because of the placebo effect.

They ask how can acupuncture be good for both asthma and sciatica? Migraines and acid reflux? Autoimmune disorders and carpal tunnel syndrome? Depression and infertility? All these disorders are vastly different in both causes and symptoms, and it makes no sense that acupuncture can treat them all, right?

The question is an important one because it highlights a huge difference in the way Western and Eastern medicine think. The question betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about the Eastern approach to medicine, which is very different from the Western.

In a nutshell, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can treat all those diseases because we are not treating disease at all.

Huh?

As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I do not treat diseases or disorders. I treat people with diseases and disorders. We ask what imbalance in this person’s system allowed this disease to arise? The focus is then on re-balancing the systems and functions of the human being in front of me. It is not about attacking the disease or just managing symptoms. It is an individualized approach based upon the person who is experiencing the health problem.

This means that two people can come to my office with the exact same Western diagnosis and get vastly different acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments. Eastern medicine practitioners look at how a person’s body is out of balance (often upheld by a lifestyle that is out of balance), and ask how we can help harmonize and restore balance to the person’s system.

Even from a Western research point of view, restoring balance to the body is exactly what acupuncture excels at. Acupuncture regulates physiological functions. For instance, acupuncture balances the nervous system, normalizes levels of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other chemical messengers of the body, as well as regulates the immune system and circulatory system.

When any of these functions are improved, what condition would not benefit? Asthma? Depression? Infertility? Sciatica? Migraines? Yes, of course all of them would benefit.

The reason acupuncture can address so many dissimilar health problems is that the body can address and prevent so many dissimilar health problems. Acupuncture is just supporting the body in what it is designed to do: tend toward balance and health.

That acupuncture helps with so many different types of health problems does not disprove its effectiveness. Rather, it actually demonstrates the value and power of simply supporting the body to heal and prevent disease.

If you would like to experience acupuncture and Chinese medicine to improve your health, call for an appointment: 323-475-9282.

5 Signs Your Diet is Too Healthy

Is there such a thing as a diet that is too healthy? Many natural health enthusiasts might answer with a resounding no. However, professionals who work with eating disorders would have a very different response.

In Chinese Medicine, we support balance and wholeness of both the body and the mind. Eating in extreme ways, even if they are touted as “healthy” can be extremely damaging to your body and your overall quality of life. How do you know if your dietary choices are healthy or problematic? Below are some indications that how you are eating may be too extreme to be truly healthy.

1. How you eat cuts you off from community.

Do you avoid or curtail social interaction because of the type of food served? Do you refuse to participate in meals with friends or family because you can’t control the menu? A healthy diet should not mean such strict control that you miss out on enjoying your friends and loved ones.

2. Your primary focus in life is your food.

Eating is important, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus of your activities. Food is fuel to supply the energy to live your life. Food should not be your life. If the energy you are spending on food choices is draining the time and energy you have to invest in a rich social, spiritual, and professional life, this is a problem. How is it worth it to eat“well” if it does not allow you to actually live well?

3. You regularly skip meals rather than eat something below your standards.

This is a red flag. If you are not able to find meals and food up to your standards in a variety of places and situations, there is a problem. Eating well does not mean eating perfectly. Eating well is choosing the best food options available to you at the time. It does not mean refusing to eat anything because it is not healthy enough. Depriving yourself of nourishment does not support health and balance.

4. You feel guilty for less than perfect food choices.

Again, eating well is not eating perfectly. Sometimes it is ok to enjoy a treat. It is ok to enjoy a meal with friends, even if it is not pristine food, just because you are with friends. Adapting to your situation and eating what suits you at the time should not cause guilt and regret. It also should not cause you to punish yourself by skipping a meal or exercising excessively or punitively.

5. For all humanity there is only one right way to eat: your way.

If you find yourself judging most other people’s food choices as unhealthy or undisciplined, you may want to pause. This can indicate excessive rigidity when it comes to your beliefs about food. The ideal diet for each person varies by their health history, activity level, constitution, and current state of health. The best way to eat is also determined by the season, climate, and location. If you find yourself judging or trying to fix the people around you because they are not eating according to your specific dietary regimen, you may want to examine your motivation and your relationship with food.

Food is a way to facilitate and fuel the rest of your life. Eating healthy is no longer healthy when it undermines the other areas of your life. Not only can eating too strictly undo your overall quality of life, it can also endanger your health. A truly healthy diet is one that allows you to feel energetic, mentally focused, emotionally centered, socially connected, and satisfied. The goal is wholeness and balance, not perfection.

If you are concerned about how your eating habits are affecting your health, please ask for help. If you would like to explore how Chinese Medicine can help, please call my office at 323-475-9282. I am also happy to suggest additional resources if necessary.