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.

The Perfect Diet

Paleo? Vegetarian?  Low-fat?  Low-carb? Vegan? Plant-based? Dairy-free?  Low-calorie? Gluten-free? Food combining?  According to your blood type?

All of these dietary regimens have their die-hard proponents who claim theirs is the perfect and healthiest way to eat.  Staunch supporters of such dietary regimens are often downright hostile if you suggest their way of eating may not be right for you.  I have read more than one nasty Facebook thread about differences of opinion about the right way to eat.  Fascinating how there seems to be so many “ideal” ways to eat. It’s almost like what may work for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person.

Is there really a perfect way to eat?

Actually, Chinese medicine would say yes, there is a perfect way to eat, and the fantastic thing is that your perfect way to eat may not be my perfect way to eat.  The perfect way to eat differs according to a variety of factors, including your current health, your activity level, your constitution, the season of the year, the climate in which you live, your age, and your health history.  Why would we not consider all these things when determining how to eat?

The perfect way to eat in the summer is not the perfect way to eat in the fall.  The perfect way to eat in Toronto is not the perfect way to eat in Ecuador.  The perfect way to eat for a woman of child-bearing age is not the perfect way to eat for a 78 year-old man.  The perfect way to eat for a triathlete is not perfect way to eat for a monk who meditates eight hours a day.  The perfect way to eat when recovering from surgery or illness is not the perfect way to eat when you are strong and well.

This reasoning extends not just to the type of food you eat but also to how you prepare your food.  Grilling, lightly steaming or not cooking at all are more suited for summer and warmer environments.  Baking and roasting are more common and appropriate in cooler weather.

Think about how silly it is to claim that everyone, at all times, should eat the same way.  That stance is utterly absurd.  Your body’s needs differ at any given time, and a healthy diet is one that accommodates your situation. A healthy diet is one that helps you feel energetic, clear-headed, emotionally centered, and allows you to sleep soundly.  Food is medicine, and not everyone needs the same prescription.

Some people have a greater need for meat in their diet.  Some people have a greater need for green vegetables in their diet.  Some people need more fruit, some more grains.  Some people should really avoid raw food and some people should eat more of it.

Instead of letting the next diet book or latest super food craze dictate how you eat, maybe tune in to how you feel. What foods make you feel vibrant and clear?  What foods seem to unsettle you or make you feel foggy and sluggish?  That is your body trying to tell you something, and it is perfectly ok to listen—even if it seems to conflict with what other people say suits them.

If you have questions about how Chinese dietary ideas can support your specific health needs, please call to make an appointment at 323-475-9282. I would love to be of service.

But What Are the Needles Actually Doing? Part 3

This is the final installment in the blog series summarizing the effects of acupuncture according to Western science.  What follows is what we know about acupuncture and the changes it makes in your circulation.

It makes sense that when you insert a needle, even a very small one like an acupuncture needle, that the body increases blood flow to the area.  It pays attention and starts to shift resources to the area.  This is a reasonable explanation for how acupuncture can help issues such as muscle pain.  It brings healing resources to the area, including more blood and oxygen, to release tension and repair tissue.

What is perhaps less predictable, however, is that inserting a needle into the skin can also create particular shifts in blood flow to other parts of the body.  This has been demonstrated in relation to acupuncture.

A needle in an acupuncture point called Liver 3, which is located on the top of the foot between the big toe and second toe, is classically indicated for eye problems and diseases of the head such as dizziness, vertigo, and headache.  Interestingly enough, stimulation of this acupuncture point in a study was associated with measurable changes in circulation to the upper part of the body.

Likewise, an acupuncture point called Stomach 36, which is located on the shin, is classically indicated for digestive issues and problems of the abdomen.  The same researchers demonstrated a shift in blood flow to the blood vessels that supply the abdomen when this point was needled.

Amazing, no?

Let’s summarize.  Acupuncture has been shown to make changes in the nervous system, especially the central nervous system.  Acupuncture has also been shown to alter and balance the major categories of chemicals in your system.  These include hormones, neurotransmitters, and opioids.  Finally, acupuncture has been shown to change circulation and blood flow in your body.

A teacher of mine says, “When you insert an acupuncture needle, a million things happen.”  This makes sense since our bodies are highly intricate systems, and when you influence one part it also creates changes in other parts.  There is no way to avoid a systemic shift. That is why acupuncture is so versatile and useful for so many health problems.  It is why it can treat asthma and sciatica, eating disorders and herniated discs, sinus congestion and infertility.  When you balance the body as a whole, many conditions improve.

If you are interested in experiencing the healing effects of acupuncture, please call to make an appointment. I would love to be of service. 323-475-9282