No Drop--Cycling and Community Acupuncture

I just finished riding 280 miles on my bicycle with over 40 other people. It was an amazing experience and one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done. I loved it! One of the reasons I enjoy cycling, aside from the physical benefits and being outside, is how quickly it creates community.

 

When you ride with people, there is an ethos of looking out for one another’s safety--pointing out hazards in the roads or cars, sharing snacks if someone needs one, and even assisting in fixing flats or other minor repairs. In really good group rides, they are “no drop”--meaning everyone will wait for you at a point down the road--so it’s easy for new people get involved and ride along. It’s nice to know people will be there if you get behind. It both highlights and honors the differences between people. Biologically, I believe people do like being together in groups. It feels much safer than being on your own.

 

I wasn’t the youngest person on the ride or the oldest but was inspired by all the other riders. One who is living with active cancer--a recurrence after 22 years. Another, had multiple autoimmune issues and was able to do a lot of the riding despite intense chronic pain. I rode with 75 and 80 year olds who held their own well. And there were, of course, exceptional riders--fast and fit--who were still kind and supportive to everyone else. To say we had created our own community pretty quickly and certainly by the end of five days of riding together is an understatement.

 

A core/foundational structure of LBCA has always been to create community--to invite people into our healing space and see how they fit. Sometimes, it’s not a good one and people move on but more often than not, there is a great sense of belonging that animates what we do every day. In my mind, it is “no drop,” we are here waiting for you in whatever state you show up. We are here to assist and help.

 

Last month we celebrated our sixth year anniversary, as we move into our seventh year of practice. I am grateful for this inspiring community that gathers and disperses every day, hour by hour.

 

Many thanks to you who donated to support my ride for the California Bicycle Coalition. I raised $1,265.00 from your contributions!  They will be doing it again next year and this time the route will be from Santa Barbara to Oceanside. Perhaps, some of you will join us? If you’d like to see pictures of the full ride, you can click here.

Dream Ride Day 3 2019.jpg

Five Phase Theory: Into the Metal Phase

In a previous blog named Five Phase Theory: Into the Fire Phase, I wrote about a foundational theory in Chinese Medicine that aligns the physical and emotional experience with our ever changing natural environment. Five Phase Theory enables us to live in harmony with nature while offering strategies to anticipate and prepare for any imbalances that may occur within us. As we move through the seasonal transition between summer and fall, we’ll experience a waning Fire Phase as it begins its descent into the Metal Phase.  The Metal Phase is associated with the lungs and large intestine, and autumn; it is a dry time of year that tends to exacerbate any and all dryness related conditions. This is the time of year where we experience a rise in sinus problems, cough, asthma, dry skin, constipation, and even feelings of sadness or depression.

Click the image above to make it bigger.

Photo source: HOPPER ACU.

Seasonally, Autumn is associated with the time of year where nature begins to decline and return to earth as plants wither and leaves turn colors and die.  Metal is characterized by a descending and contracting quality that often sends us inward into our own internal environment like it does with nature. This may cause a drop in social activities and offer a moment to pause and realign ourselves with our values and goals.  When it becomes pathological, this inward movement may engender a feeling of sadness and loneliness. While the emotional expression of this phase is sadness or grief, for those prone to conditions like depression, you may find yourself more likely to experience mild to moderate symptoms.  It is a common complaint during this time of year.    

On a physical level, the metal phase can be connected with a spike in cases of skin and respiratory related disorders like dry skin, eczema, cough, and asthma.  Temperature and weather patterns play a significant role as the season experiences an intensifying dryness in an already desert environment here in Southern California.  The dry air enters the sinus passages that may lead to sinus problems. Every year there is a rise in sinus infections during the metal season. And we are able to consistently ease this discomfort by moistening the nasal passages through the use of acupuncture and related herbs.  This dryness may spread to the lungs and strip them of needed moisture that eventually leads to a cough, ragged breathing, or asthmatic episodes.  

Furthermore, it may aggravate anyone predisposed to dry skin and therefore it may lead to flare ups of general itchiness, eczema or psoriasis.  Personally, even though the fall is my favorite time of year, the dryness aggravates my own skin causing whole body dryness and unexplained patches of peeling, dry skin.  As a student of this medicine, I was relieved to find a reason for this occurrence. I received multiple treatments for my itchy skin that ultimately brought these symptoms to an end.

Since we are not yet in Autumn, it is the perfect time to review your symptoms with your acupuncturist to determine whether dryness might affect you this season.  In addition to acupuncture, we have many herbal formulas to help improve your blocked sinuses, cough, asthma, dry skin, sadness, or any other ailments that may make you feel out of sorts in this upcoming Autumn season.  

Prescribing Nature

Image source: Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine: Wang Ju-Yi’s Lectures on Channel Therapeutics by Wang Ju Yi and Jason D Robertson.

Last time I checked, it’s still summer and I hope you are all finding ways to enjoy it. We have much longer daylight hours and that make getting outside a little bit easier this time of year. In fact, a recent study showed that spending a total of two hours, or 120 minutes, a week outside can greatly benefit your health and that Doctors are actually prescribing “time in nature.”

This prescription may seem absurd to some but it’s refreshing to see allopathic medicine acknowledge the importance of the natural world to our health. When I decided to study Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture, one of the things that appealed to me was how the body was conceptualized and accepted as part of nature. Coming from a background of studying and teaching environmental literature and nature writing, I had no problem with these ideas: we are nature and our bodies are microcosms of the greater environment we inhabit. Living is a constant negotiation between the two.

The benefits of being outside are wide-ranging: “A wealth of research indicates that escaping to a neighborhood park, hiking through the woods, or spending a weekend by the lake can lower a person’s stress levels, decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk of asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while boosting mental health and increasing life expectancy.” This is quite a list! We treat all of these conditions in our clinic weekly. While it may be tempting to think that even more time outside would lead to even greater benefits, researchers have found that is not the case. Even more interesting about their findings is that the two-hour dose cut across economic, gender, and ethnic demographics, as well as those with pre-existing health conditions: “Two hours a week was the threshold for both men and women, older and younger adults, different ethnic groups, people living in richer or poorer areas, and even for those living with long term illnesses.”

While many people may not be able to drive to Sequoia or Lake Elsinore for the weekend to spend time in the trees or by the water, they can still get the benefit of connecting with nature by walking around their neighborhood, sitting on their balcony, getting out to their local park, or strolling along the beach.

How one defines nature these days is certainly debatable, as I often hear people from LA say they need “to get out into nature.” But I believe nature is all around us, even if it seems there’s more concrete than trees. When you get yourself outside, look around. What trees are there? What flowers, animals, or insects? Researchers don’t exactly know why these experiences outside create these salutary effects, but some theories are that getting outside requires physical activity, encourages interaction with others, and invites us to take time away from our devices and screens. Paying attention to the external world, gives us a break from the never-ending stream of thoughts that dominate our minds. I suspect those tenets of TCM can help us understand this too: connecting with the outside world is a way to connect the inside world.

Consider this prescription, no matter your health issue. Go outside, get off your device, for two hours a week? Let me know what happens!

Five Phase Theory: Into the Fire Phase

Have you ever wondered why we overwhelmingly deal with colds in the fall and the flu in winter?  As practitioners we often notice a connection between seasonal change and a rise in specific health conditions.  This observation is explained well by a foundational theory of Chinese Medicine known as the Five Phase or Five Element Theory.  Five Phase Theory  builds on these vital connections between nature and our health by centering the idea that our spirit and health are interwoven with our surrounding environment.  Specifically, it breaks the year down into five seasons, noting our traditional 4 of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter with the addition of late summer as the fifth.  And it draws relationships between the five elements - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water -  assigning each a season, organ energy, emotion, virtue, taste, and pathology.  Five Phase Theory is useful because it provides helpful information to anticipate issues for individuals who are inclined toward one element more than another. This method of diagnosis helps us help you stay balanced during seasons that can be particularly aggravating to your constitution.

Click the image above to make it bigger.

Photo source: HOPPER ACU.

With the recent summer solstice, the Fire Phase is now underway.  Fire is a dynamic, warm, charismatic, joyous and fast paced force that draws us into our hearts.  So it is the perfect season to spend time out and about and among one another, taking joy in all the activities around us.  However, it can stir imbalances especially in those who may already have an excess amount of fire or heat in their constitution.  A fire imbalance might cause any number of symptoms like palpitations, itchy skin, manic episodes, anxiousness, hyper vigilance, and even restless sleep.  This is a time that we do experience a rise in the above symptoms and we have been able to treat them successfully at LBCA.

Temperature often plays a major role in causing these seasonal symptoms.  It has a tendency to stir the mind and quicken blood circulation.  The nature of heat is yang with a rising quality.  When it travels in the body, it naturally rises upward toward the head.  This aggravates the mind, enabling episodes of irritability, mania, and beyond.  As these are easily uncomfortable sensations, they can also trigger the nervous system to heighten into fight or flight.  Heat can also travel outward and when it does, it can cause eruptions on the skin by way of rashes or bumps.  When we regulate heat and encourage the production of body fluids with acupuncture and herbs, it eliminates these issues powerfully. 

During these summer months, it follows that patients complain most often about emotional disturbances like anxiety, vivid dreams and insomnia.  In past years, Susan and I have also observed multiple cases of patients with manic episodes.  We have found that regular treatments reduce their duration and intensity.

This season there has also been an uptick in skin related issues. One patient recently showed me a series of red itchy bumps that have spread across her ribs and abdomen. They occur every summer and appear to cause her discomfort, despite their benign nature.  With two treatments there is a notable change in redness and itchiness.  More treatments will likely restore her skin to its previous state as we improve her circulation, reduce the heat in her body, and promote fluid production. 

In this fiery season, if you start to experience any of these symptoms, please don’t hesitate come in for treatment.  Acupuncture and herbal remedies may be just the right answer to your needs as you move through this phase of the year!

Anxiety & Allergies: How Acupuncture Can Treat Both

Allergies and anxiety are two of the main complaints we treat daily at Long Beach Community Acupuncture. This year both conditions have been extreme: while I can’t exactly say why the rise in anxiety has occurred, I can attest to our very wet winter, followed by an amazing super bloom. An unfortunate byproduct from all of this beauty has been terrible allergies for people who are susceptible--everything from runny nose, watery eyes, blocked ears, and itchy skin.

 

The New York Times column, “Ask Well,” explored the link between allergies and anxiety recently, beginning with the question: “Are my allergies all in my head?” The relationship between reactions has been documented as early as 1883. While they do not claim that “emotions and stress” actually “cause” allergies, they do suggest that allergies can worsen anxiety. And the ENT doctor from the nineteenth century noted that “‘attacks of prolonged sneezing are most apt to occur in persons of nervous temperament’” (4/02/2019, D4).

 

Western medicine describes the mechanism for allergies this way: “In all allergies, the immune system overreacts to certain antigens (called allergens) that are harmless in most people. It is a common immunity mistake because the system is tuned for ‘zero tolerance’ . . . it cannot let a harmful substance slip by its protective barriers and it may overreact in the process of surveillance” (Bruce H. Robinson, M. D., Biomedicine: A Textbook for Practitioners of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, 2007, p. 460).

 

Thinking about allergies as an over-reaction and the immune system as one of “zero tolerance” is a provocative idea. Anxiety, too, is also a kind of over-reaction or hyper-stimulation of the nervous system. One of our great modern teachers of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, Richard Tan, shared this notion in a continuing education class on “Stress, Insomnia, and Depression.” In describing a diagnostic pattern, he links the impulse to over-react to stress and allergies. (He also links expectation and depression in interesting ways but that is for another blog.)

 

Taking his class, I was struck by the connection, remembering one of the last severe allergy attacks I had. Santa Ana winds had been blowing, and I was commuting to work on my bicycle; however, I had also experienced a recent, strong emotional reaction (one might say over-reaction). By the time I had gotten home, my head felt sealed up from nostrils to vertex--like cement--nothing moved and it was hard to breathe. I was miserable and it made for poor sleep.

 

In retrospect, I wouldn’t say that stress caused this particular physical response--as I have had seasonal allergies all my life--but they did occur in succession. More importantly, I have begun to think carefully about my emotional output and how my sinus reacts. Exploring this mind-body connection, I check in to measure my responses and to ask--am I working in a mind-set of “zero-tolerance”?

This greater awareness has been helpful to me overall. Allergies and anxiety are normal responses to existing, and each day presents a new set of circumstances to navigate, both internally and externally. If your daily life is severely impacted by either reaction, it is an indication that you need help. Becoming aware of your patterns of response is an important part of managing anxiety and allergies. Acupuncture can make a difference, especially frequent treatments. Acupuncture assists in calming the nervous system and regulating body functions. At our clinic, we have seen great results in helping people manage these reactions. Remember that “[o]ne-third of all people in the U. S. have at least one allergy” (Robinson, 460). The next time you have a flare up of anxiety or allergies, see what you notice. Which came first? Did one condition aggravate the other? And know that we are here to help.