Saturday, December 10, 2011

Careful where you throw that holiday cheer!

Does anyone really need another Cosby sweater this time of year? Who keeps stocking those in department stores?! How about the gift of needles (not the shiny green pine-scented ones, which beckon your cats to attack and shower your floor when dried up). Give your loved one the gift of acupuncture to erase the stress of shopping, overeating, and holiday traffic. I'd love to help you and your loved ones design a plan thrive the rest of this winter, not just survive it.

Email me to customize and purchase your gift certificates at joy@thejoyofacupuncture.com.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall should be called "Get Off Me" season

Did you know that leaves don't just fall off trees in autumn? Trees actually purposefully "cut" their leaves off when it's time to let go, so they can preserve their internal juices over the winter and make a fresh batch of leaves in the spring. This NPR piece says it beautifully: the season shouldn't be called "fall" - it should be called "get off me" season.

In Chinese Medicine, the season of fall is associated with the Lungs and the Large Intestine, which are both about extracting what you need(oxygen, water) and expelling what you don't need(carbon dioxide, feces). They are our great reminders to let go.

It's the length of time that we hold onto anything that is the key to the rhythm of the Lungs and Large Intestine. There's an adequate amount of time to hold on to things and then there's not holding on long enough or holding on too long.
Not holding on long enough might look like short, shallow breathing, gasping for air, difficulty inhaling, or when food passes right though you. Emotionally that might look like dismissing people or opportunities before giving them a chance and seeing their value.
Holding on too long might show up physically as asthma (for those who have trouble upon exhalation) or constipation. Emotionally that can look like holding a grudge, regret, or prolonged grief. Televisionally, that looks like the show Hoarders. Holding on to anything for too long - whether it's leaves on trees, air, feces, emotions or cardboard boxes - backs us up like a traffic jam so freshness can't flow through us.

In the clinic, I may be paying attention to how you're inhaling and exhaling. I may ask you about your bowels. I may ask you how you are with the actual season of fall. I may inquire more if you mention a recent situation that evoked some sadness, regret, or grudgyness that seems to have no end in sight.

Letting go is a part of life, and while it can sometimes be painful, letting go is also the very thing that allows us to keep on living. If you're feeling the urge to purge something that's holding you back, whether it's in attic, the closet, the kitchen cabinet, the car trunk, that relationship, that job, that living situation....consider what part of it is useful to you, glean a lesson from it, and freely announce "Time's up! Get off me! I've got to get on with living!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

First comes Halloween, then comes cold season

It's no coincidence that the winter cold and flu season starts after Halloween.
Did you know that 70% of the body's immune system is in the gut? Seventy percent. That means most of the germs you come in contact with sneak in through your nose or mouth, which lead straight into the stomach and intestines. If your gut is too overwhelmed to pass germs through you, it resorts to pushing toxins out another way, via mucous, stuffed nose, stuffy head, fever, chills, cough, etc. The way your gut can get overwhelmed is when it shifts into high gear to process stuff like sugar and processed chemicals. Halloween brings on an onslaught of delicious chewy melty goodness...which is like D Day for your gut. With your gut focused on recycling all that goo, your immune system gets dampened. Then comes cold weather, stress, holiday shopping, family get-togethers, stress, holiday pies, death of diets, end of year audits, and more stress...and voila...you have a tissue-filled winter cold and flu season.

The key to preventing all that is to treat your gut gently. Eat in moderation, starting with Halloween candy. Add in more soups more cooked veggies.

If you still feel like the end of fall and beginning of winter is bringing you down, there are some acupuncture points to help clear out toxins and open up your sinuses, so ask your friendly neighborhood acupuncturist about keeping you healthy all winter long!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sane AND busy?

As I'm beginning to build my practice as an acupuncturist, I'm venturing into being an entrepreneur in the health industry. Entrepreneurs are notorious for being workaholics. As I rack up the hours studying, working, planning, & treating, how do I stay healthy myself? With a packed schedule, home cooked meals, working out, and early bedtimes aren't as easy to make time for. "Busy" is a choice, not something that happens to us like mosquito bites. So if I continue to choose to keep my schedule full, can I maintain my sanity and my health?
My teacher introduced me to the concept of being present while busy. Present to each moment - present to whether my breathing is shallow or my forehead is scrunched or my back is rounded. Present to whether I need a sip of water. Present to fully sitting in my chair or firmly standing on the ground. Present to the eyes of the person in front of me. Present to driving my car. Present to the task at hand, not the 100 things I need to do before tomorrow. So far, I've been "practicing" this for a whopping three days and it's making difference -I'm carrying less tension in my body, which is a good step toward keeping both my sanity and my health!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Autumn affects your body and mind


How does September make you feel? 

I feel like a kid again as I head back to grad school, new bag in hand, giddy to see my classmates again. Some people get nerdy for football. I get nerdy for school supplies. And finally, this pale chica can cover up!

A friend didn’t share my excitement for fall. She said, “The end of Labor Day weekend means WINTER is coming soon, and I HATE winter.”

Chinese medicine recognizes that weather and seasonal changes really do affect you. They affect your happiness, your health, and your sense of wellbeing.  Thousands of years before SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) was even a ‘thing’, Chinese medicine noted how people reacted when spending time in the elements, since back then they had more of a first-hand relationship with the weather. I used to think that in this day and age we should be able to escape the elements with our artificial heat, AC, down coats and deodorant. 

But I’m learning that we are not separate from the elements; we cannot escape them. According to Chinese medicine, heat, cold, wind and dampness can ‘invade’ you and bring you down, potentially making you sick. This medicine also emphasizes that when we can find a way to embrace [the benefits and beauty of] each season, we can transition more smoothly to the next season. Embracing a season means yielding to what it brings instead of trying to fight it. For example, fall brings us shorter, dimmer days, slightly cooler temperatures and more root vegetables. Our ancestors- and even plants and animals- historically paid attention to this and used the fall and winter to store up reserves for the next spring and summer.

I used to fear and loathe summer, so I can relate to my friend who hates the impending doom that fall brings. I found immense relief with acupuncture; now the seasonal change in light and temperature doesn’t physically or even psychologically bother me.

Here are a few tips that can help you buffer the transition into fall:
  • Kiss summer goodbye: One last trip to the beach? One last mojito or margarita?
  • Kiss fall hello: Plan a hike when the leaves start changing? Fish out your favorite sweaters and boots? Order the pumpkin spice latte?
  • Consider adding some cozy into your meals: Eat more soup and cooked foods, including root veggies like carrots, squash and sweet potatoes. These are easier for your system to digest and are more warming in nature. Lighten up on the cold, raw foods like salads and ice cream.
  • Build in more rest: Start turning off the computer AND tv AND phone 15-30 minutes earlier at night to power yourself down earlier. Holy silence Batman! It might be scary to disconnect at first, but your body will thank you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What the earthquake did to your body

Yesterday, August 23rd, 2011, the D.C. area was shook up. Since the earthquake, most of us who experienced it have recounted our "where were you when it happened" stories via text, fb, twitter, or phone with friends and family.

I want to dissect the second that I realized it wasn't me that was wobbling, it was the whole building.

I was in my home office calendarizing while listening to the video game my neighbor's kid was playing. All of a sudden, my heart was pounding, my eyes widened, and I sprang into action. Embarrassingly, my "action" was a ridiculous series of darting from room to room looking for what sounded like a rumbling truck out the window while trying to remember when the last time I ate was ("Are these the low blood sugar shakes? Quick! Banana to the rescue!").

After the quake stopped, I could still feel the adrenaline rush that had flooded my body. This natural set of physiological effects is called the Fight-or-Flight or Stress response. Here's what happens in your body in a state of stress:
  • Pupils dilate
  • Hair stands up
  • Heart pumps harder
  • Respiratory rate increases
  • Digestion slows
  • Bladder and bowels constrict
  • Endorphins are released
  • Brain activity moves to survival mode
This response is healthy IF we're actually in a situation that is threatening our life (not if a spreadsheet won't open or traffic is moving slowly). This response was only meant to last 90 seconds. The problem is, many people are feeling this stress response all day every day. When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, it leads to lack of sleep, lack of sex drive,  lack of balanced metabolism, lack of optimal immunity, and lack of emotional satiety.

The book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers paints the picture of zebras getting this adrenaline rush when they see a tiger. If they escape the tiger's dinner plans, they stamp off the anxiety, shake their manes, and return to chilling with their fellow zebras. Your body is also meant to return to a normal resting state too, and stay there most of the time (gasp).

The good news is that you can help turn off the inappropriate fight-or-flight response by breathing. When you inhale deeply while pushing your belly button way out, your lungs expand, taking in more oxygen your cells need to function properly. Your lungs also push your diaphragm down, sending the signal up your spinal cord that your nerves are OK. Take 3 of these big breaths like this and your body will go "oh yeah, I don't see a tiger running after me".

After the earthquake, when I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I remembered the zebras - I shook it off, waved my mane, and logged online to check in with some buds (maybe it's our virtual wading pool). If you're still on edge about the quake, a trip to your local acupuncturist can help calm your nerves, as well as some nice easy big belly breathing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thank you drugs and non-drugs

I am in week 7 of a relationship with a rash. This mystery rash quietly appeared on my ankles and wrists, then wound its way up around my arms and legs like ivy, and got louder and itchier as it spread. Some days I embarrassingly found myself in tears because I was at my wit’s end of not being able to calm this rash, like a screaming child which clung to me, screamed at me, and wouldn’t let me sleep. 

I’ve combed my memory and retraced my steps to pinpoint a food, product, plant or insect I could find, blame, and punish. Nothin’. Then I prayed, pleaded, and surrendered to whatever it was that my body was reacting to. Still nothin’. I sought help at a clinic, took a week’s worth of steroids and allergy pills, which gave me a week’s worth of blissful relief. Then, after the medication wore off, the rash reared its itchy head again, and began spreading up my neck. 

Finally, when I realized this was not going away lightly, I sought the help of my acupuncturist and dermatologist. The acupuncture started clearing out my system with all the natural, God-given healing mechanisms already built into my body. The dermatologist prescribed a stronger, longer dose of steroids to employ man-made chemical technology to calm my erupting skin. I took the help of both, thank you very much.

I re-learned a couple valuable lessons with this rash, to which I am grateful.
First, I have no judgment for a patient who chooses to take prescription drugs. I would love to live in a world where we all lived like healthy cows - a short, lazy life consisting of grass and sunshine. And yet I also embrace life as it has evolved - I love living in this gritty world where my fellow humans have found a way to occupy their time by concocting recipes of stuff that enhances as well as dilutes all that grass and sunshine. I believe everything can be a poison and a medicine, even grass, even sunshine, even drugs. So whatever you would like help with, whether it be itchiness, depression, pain, or the end of your wit, by all means, I will not stop you. I blessed my steroids, smiled at them, took them, and said thank you.

The second thing I re-learned is that I am going into the business of acupuncture to return patients to themselves. When symptoms make themselves known, I have always found the deep desire to go to a doctor and hand myself over to their expertise, so they can deliver a tightly wrapped diagnosis and treatment plan. I want someone to tell me with 100% accuracy what I have, why it happened to me, and how to make it go away. I have never gotten this from any type of practitioner. I have never gotten ‘the answer’. And I’ve heard top-rated, well-known specialists, as well as my dermatologist, say that they are only operating on their best educated guess. 

We like to believe that medicine is a science, and therefore, we can know what it proves to us. But there go my fellow humans again, concocting new technology, new tests, new procedures and new drugs to prove new things and un-prove old things, making our current educated guesses simply a snapshot of what we think we know in this moment of time. Giving someone else the power to make an educated guess about all the history of symptoms and life events that led up to this particular set of symptoms is a major resignation of your own power.  No one can fully know all of you except you. No one is your best wellness advocate except for you. And no practitioner can size you up in a few minutes and reduce your symptoms to “just a rash” or “a herniated disc” or “a tumor”. There has been a whole lifetime and ancestors’ lifetimes leading up to how your genes work, how your body functions, and what this symptom is teaching you now. I’m not saying you can “know” your own diagnosis and treatment plan – I think asking for help from any and all practitioners is definitely helpful – I am saying that by continually and repetitively waking up to our bodies, fully feeling our bodies in each moment, we can be more aware of what triggers aches, pains and odd reactions. 

What this does is empower us as the owners and operators of these meat suits. If this body is truly is a temple, and my spirit truly lives in it, how can I let my life pass by without paying attention to every arch, every window, every door, every step, every surface, every life-giving sensation that courses through it? How can I ever run out of curiosity about it? I want to spend my time in the clinic with patients waking them up to what they already know about their bodies, reminding them of the divinely glorious arches and doorways of their temple, asking them to pay attention to it’s every move, it’s every breath, because it is a gift. It might feel like a tired, painful gift at the moment, and yet it’s still all you’ve got to work with while you’re on this planet. 

I am now on round 3 of steroids, thankfully scratching less and less each day, feeling what the effects and side effects may be, and thanking my body for endlessly teaching me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How 'at home' do you feel?

On my very first acupuncture visit, one of the questions my acupuncturist asked me was, "What does 'home' mean to you?"
I was a little stumped, wondered what this had to do with anything acupuncture-related, and stumbled through an explanation of how I do feel 'at home' even though I don't own a home, have family closer than an hour away, have kids, pets, or feel very attached to much of anything in my place.

In the past few weeks, this question has been following me around like a cartoon thought bubble as I've been searching for a new place to call home. In an effort to live within our means, the hub and I are packing up and moving to a more affordable apartment (preferably with a man cave attached).
As I was visiting apartments, I felt like I was trying them on, like clothes in a store. Not only was I checking out the room sizes and the floors; I was also walking around noticing how I felt inside these walls. How did I feel with the sunlight streaming through these windows at this time of day? Did I feel closed in by the layout or able to spread out? How fun or frustrating would it be to cook in this kitchen? Did the bathroom make me cringe or smile? When looking these spaces over I must have looked a little dazed as I was staring at the empty rooms while imagining scenes passing through them. I imagined furniture laid out in about 10 different ways, including a place where I could study, an area where people could sit when they come over, and options of where could I sip coffee and read early in the morning. I imagined all the different scenarios of living life in this space...I imagined walking around in my slippers; I imagined a dog, then the absence of a dog; I imagined babies (mine or others') crawling around the floor; friends over for dinner; company sleeping on the air mattress; the hub playing his bass; running a bath in the tub; vying for space to get ready in the morning; sleeping in; staying up late; feeling sick; coming home from a trip. Coming home in itself can be the defining factor of how comfortable a living space is - when I come home at the end of the day, do I drop my bags and breathe a sigh of relief, or do I shrink even at the thought of going home?

I've lived parts of my life when I did shrink at the thought of going home, and that feeling weighed on me throughout each day every day. I felt like there was nowhere I could really rest. In the clinic setting, how a patient responds to "What does home mean to you?" can be an important indicator of what's going on in their life as a whole. And what goes on in your life as a whole affects your whole health. Like home plate in baseball, how you define home can be the starting point, the reference point, and the axis of how you play out the rest of your life.

There's an online quiz called Find Your Spot that asks you questions about factors that matter to you in a city, like whether you enjoy going to sporting events or museums, what an ideal home price is to you, and whether you prefer nature nearby. The results may pleasantly surprise you or disgust you - either way,  it's a great exercise to think about what type of environment makes you thrive.

What I learned in this home-hunting process is that what I call home is a feeling inside myself - it's only marginally related to specific external surroundings. It's how I feel in myself - a feeling of ease in my body when I'm enjoying the light, temperature, layout, location, and proximity to others that a space brings with it.

Not only did I learn that feeling at home is a deeply rooted internal state for me, I learned that how I'm defining what home means is the same way I define being in love. When I was dating my now husband, I came across a nugget of which I cannot remember the source - whether I read it, whether someone told me, or whether I saw it on TV - I've never forgotten it: I knew that I wanted to commit to this particular human because of the way I felt about myself when around him, more so than how I felt about him or how he felt about me. In his presence, I feel the most ease and freedom to be myself my my most natural state, and this ease breeds joy, love, contentment and possibility. In the presence of the space I call home, I'm looking for that same feeling of ease in my body.

So for me, being at home is like being in love. And in both cases, more closet space helps.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Processing the nutty moments at the speed of life

Last week was chock full o' nuts: outrageously nutty moments and big, crunchy, healthy moments.

I unexpectedly had to coordinate, via ambulance, getting my husband to an ER because his back decided to  take a vacation and stop moving. I took a comprehensive exam over everything I've learned in school over the past year and a half. And started studying for another comp exam coming up. I treated my first individual patient in a clinic setting (up until now I treated patients in groups with ear points). I witnessed an author and 'healer' perform a healing on my boss at work (that happens in most offices, right?!). I interviewed an apartment (yes I looked it up and down and asked it very serious questions) prior to the impending M word (m-o-v-e). I mustered up a nauseating headache that kept me in bed for about 18 hours. I lost control of my tear ducts and cried through one friend and my acupuncturist for a few hours. And that's just the half of it.

And I learned something: pausing to process is really important to me. In Chinese medicine, the stomach and spleen are in charge of processing - not just the food we eat but also our life experiences. The ancient Chinese medicine books described one's body, mind, and spirit as an integrated being- meaning our organs don't just function on a purely physical level, they also affect how we operate in life - how we think, how we emote, how we believe. The reverse is also true: how we operate in life can affect us on a physical level including symptoms that show up in our organs. So the stomach and spleen are viewed as the organs that help us break down and assimilate everything that comes into our human inbox - the food we eat as well as the movies we watch, the books we read, the people we meet, and the experiences we absorb.

My internal processing plant got a little clogged with the volume of new experiences that were coming my way (you know the famous scene of Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory). This translated into a headache ("brain cannot compute!"), nausea, and loss of appetite for me. Last week was a perfect reminder that when the crazy hits the fan, I can roll with the punches easier if I can build in practices to help me process. And for me that includes talking it out, writing it out, stopping to think it out, stretching and yoga-ing it out, or if there's no time for any of that, a solitary freak out moment in the car, closet, or bathroom work nicely too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Your life is your story-make it a juicy one!


I recently heard Chef Jose Andres, responsible for over half a dozen wildly successful and culturally rich eateries in DC, on an NPR interview. He's a DC-area food superstar known for having the magic touch in the restaurant industry. During his interview, he said, "I don't open restaurants to make money. I open restaurants for the stories. Where are you [and your culture's food] coming from?"


My jaw dropped because I share the same passion for my acupuncture practice. Behind every scar, every surgery, every bout of illness, there is a story. Ask me about the scar on my leg and I can describe the day it happened and the emotions that flooded me when it happened with vivid detail. I'm interested in your story - what happened to you, where are you coming from, and how do these details shape your world now?


The mythologist Joseph Campbell explained that we're all living inside our own stories. We're constantly creating the stories we're living in, complete with heroes and villains. We piece together our perceptions about how we see ourselves, what we believe in, and which causes we root for. And what we believe (what we perceive) informs our actions. 






I'm reminded of a recent article I read about stories being the heart of human motivation. In it, Juma Wood  wrote that "...Joseph Campbell demonstrated that human beings the world over are wired to respond to storytelling. This is because we are emotional, meaning-making creatures first, and what stir us are efforts and opportunities that capture our imagination."  
She goes on to write that "Former CEO of Sony Pictures Peter Guber has written in his new book ‘Tell to Win’ how a lifetime of refining his storytelling ability has accounted for the lion’s share of his success. As he recounts the stories of his life, time and again he returns to the premise that targeting people’s emotions is the best way to move them to action....Once their heart or gut has been engaged, people will formulate sensible reasons to act."

Stories, after all, are what make up our human experience. Stories from ancient texts are what are preached from pulpits, in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Stories are the visions and mission statements we create for our businesses. Stories are what we vote for - ideas of how our country could be run. Stories are what we make up about every person we meet ("she must be high maintenance" or "he's a napoleon"). Stories are what we love to watch, whether on Glee or the news. Stories, regardless of whether they are factual or not, are how we make meaning out of our existence, including our physical and emotional symptoms. 

I can create a story that I'm a victim because I got sick.....it's not fair, I have too much to do, I can't afford to be sick, I feel horrible, etc. Or I can create a story that I got sick and it was a gift because it taught me to to remember and respect that life is fragile and fierce at the same time, to slow down, to ask for help.

In the treatment room, when I'm asking about your sleep habits and levels of pain, what I'm really doing is listening to your story. Who are the characters? Who's the hero and who's the villain? How is your story affecting your day-to-day actions? How are you designing your story to unfold? It's your story -life's short so make it juicy!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Post: Wording the World...

Posted By Rachel Brumberger

Some of our teachers remind me to be careful of what words ever come out of my mouth, because as soon as they are spoken, they create an entire world, which was not there before.

This teaching landed more deeply with me today, than in any other moment I have considered it. Yesterday the world that I lived in was “serious” and “urgent.” Today, the world is “maybe” and “?”

Yesterday, when the doctors said to me that my diagnosis of a cerebral venous thrombosis (or a vein clot in/near my brain) was “serious” – and that I needed to take care of some items with urgency, I allowed it to define me. I listened in a way that I forgot that things could be different tomorrow. And, when tomorrow arrived and the words they spoke were “maybe”, and “it’s questionable,” I also allowed that to define me. I listened in away that I forgot about my confidence and my power.

My BodyMindSpirit had no say in these worlds –I was at the mercy of whatever was said. I forfeited my power and I allowed these words to determine how I was going to be with my life in these moments. I created a story – true or not – about my mortality, and I found myself - without even realizing it – swinging back and forth like a pendulum between doom, manageable care, and some other world I call no big deal. I forgot, in the midst of all of this, that I was living in worlds created by these words, and that there is more to it than that.

I am not ignoring the actual reality of the situation; I am speaking to the power of our language – the sheer power that the spoken word holds…because wherever it lands, a seed is planted and grows.

I have a responsibility to myself, and every person I engage with to be very intentional with my words. I realize now, so deeply and so powerfully, the impact that one word I speak may have on one of my patients.  For them, for me, it might actually paint the difference between life and death.

And I have a responsibility in my listening as well – because it is not just the words I speak, it is the meaning that I hear, attach or assign.

In realizing this, it is my obligation to all of those around me that I listen with a very clear observer. I have the opportunity and responsibility to listen to the words, consider the meaning and choose whether or not this meaning serves. I can ask myself, is this meaning too small, maybe boxed-in or stubborn? Is it a fair assessment? Is it holistic, have I considered all of the angles? Is it large, does it leave room for other interpretation? Have I assigned it a value and is that helpful?

My doctors are using their words the best way they know how – they are giving me appropriate instruction based on the information that is available to them.  I am aware that they were conscientious of their message to me – to take this seriously, and not to panic. What a challenging message to deliver to someone – to make sure they understand a possible severity without causing undo stress.

How are you wording - and hearing - the world around you?

6/2/11 Update: As a response to concerns that have been expressed I want to let you all know I am doing well and more recent tests show no CVT

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Have Tape On My Car

I have tape on my car. On purpose. It keeps the cover on a light that otherwise would not stay on.

I grew up in Guatemala where duct tape is commonly used to patch up cars. So when I put the tape on, I was smiling in memory of the mother land. I noticed the other day that I suddenly felt embarrassed about this. An expensive car rolled up next to me, spewing loud music out into the air, creating an illusion of "it"ness. I looked over and thought, "I'm not riding in a cool machine like they are. If they look over right now, they just might see the tape and know that I don't have 'it'." [Really? Don't we grow out of thoughts like this?]

Soon enough I'll be buying a sparkly new ego-mobile. For now, I'm keeping the tape on my car on purpose. It reminds me that I am not my car. I am not my things. 'Cool' is in the eye of the beholder. Embarrassment is something I create - it's completely self-inflicted, based on my own perceptions, which also means I can let it go whenever I want.

So look for my taped up car on the roads, and if you see me driving by, wave and point. [But don't honk. Trying to cut down on noise pollution.]

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Let me body about that"

Acupuncture is based on the premise of getting out of one's head and into one's body - to hear, see, touch, smell and feel what it is that's coursing through our veins right now at this very moment.

(Remember Billy Ocean? "Get outta my dreams, and into my car...get outta my mind, and into my life...")

It's conducive in society today to treat our bodies like they're second priority behind our brains. How we physically feel is not often convenient, so we've learned to suppress it. We have things to do and mouths to feed. We're working more and sleeping less. There's no off switch to our brains. We have a 24/7 news cycle. The number of hours spent in front of screens are on the rise. Getting coffee is our national pastime. Headache medicine is a staple in our purses and our offices.

As you're reading this, what does your body look like? Are your shoulders rounded? Is there any hidden tension in your hands and wrists? How does your back feel?

Pause: take a full inhale, followed by a full exhale.

What if our bodies had more of a say? What would life look like if we paid more attention to our bodily reactions and gut feelings? What if, instead of saying "let me think about that", we said "let me body about that"?

I've been experimenting with this. If I get invited to an event, I notice how my body responds to the idea of it. Sometimes my stomach will knot up, and sometimes my heart starts pounding. If I feel hungry, I take a minute to see what on the menu makes my mouth water (lately it's broccoli, contrary to my usual plan to order french fries).

Becoming aware of my body has shown me that my symptoms don't just appear out of nowhere. Tension doesn't come out of thin air. Pain and illness, like traffic jams, are the result of series of many mini back-ups. For example, my headaches come after I've been running on low sleep and barely any water. When I pay attention to first feeling tired and/or dehydrated, I know what's coming next -unless I self-correct.

No two bodies "think" exactly alike either. What's you're body telling you when your heart pounds or your breathing gets shallow or your stomach tightens?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Addicted to addiction

I currently spend time in 12-step houses needling patients who are recovering from addiction. Some come because they want to, some are sent by the courts to get clean. They come to receive 5 needles in each year; 5 points that help reduce cravings, detox their bodies, calm their nerves, quiet their minds, and help them sleep through the night.


What I'm not sure they realize is that we are the same. In the moment when I'm bringing each needle to a patient's ear, neither of us are using, and both of us are addicts. It doesn't matter that I have no drugs or alcohol in my system. We're all on a spectrum of addiction, and none is better or worse than the other. Whether it's heroin, crack, coffee, exercise, food, twitter, gambling, alcohol, sex, work, cigarettes, attention or approval, pick your poison. Addiction is a coping mechanism; we're all trying to cope with life (suffering: change, pain, boredom, depression, uncertainty), to understand it, to process it, to go on living with it. 


What addiction creates is a love-hate battle within ourselves. We love the way we feel when we "get our hit", and we hate ourselves for being weak, for not being able to control ourselves from giving in. What I think addiction does is remind us of our humanity, and that we are not in control of life. We have all the choices in the world, and yet we are not running this planet, and we can't survive on our own. Life is living us, rather than we are living life.


I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by German physicist Hans Peter Durr, who explained there is not a single atom that came into existence on its own, or for its own sake. Every single thing exists in relationship to something else. Day cannot be day unless there is night. Cold is not cold unless you know what hot feels like. I am not me unless you exist. We're designed to be connected - to be intertwined - with our babies, our mothers, with our lovers, our food, with the earth we live on. It's in our nature to create habits and patterns. When you feel satisfaction from an experience, our brain chemicals (serotonin, dopamine) say "that was nice, let's do it again", connecting pathways to remember it next time. As my friend says, "It's part of my personality and part obsession." 


If you come to me saying, "Can acupuncture help me quit _____?" I can show you the research supporting the evidence that it can help you quit, and craft a treatment plan designed for you. My ultimate goal in treating you, however, will not just be to end your addiction to X. My goal is to help you end the battle within yourself. I know that when I stop resisting and opposing myself, then I am more at ease in my body, I can see more clearly what I need and don't need, and I can surrender to the life that is living me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Does Flo's insurance cover acupuncture?

Figuring out whether acupuncture is covered by insurance can be tricky. Coverage varies by insurance provider and plan. For example, some Blue Cross Blue Shield plans cover 24 visits per year. Carefirst offers a 30% discount. Aetna covers it with limitations. Some plans require that only an MD trained in acupuncture will treat you.
You'll want to check your individual plan and call your insurance provider prior to scheduling a treatment.

Questions to ask your insurance provider:

  1. How many treatments do I get?
  2. How much will they cover/pay?
  3. What is the normal co-pay for acupuncture from a preferred provider? (This is the amount you would pay out-of-pocket for each visit to a practitioner on their provider list.)
  4. What percentage will I pay for out-of-network practitioners?  (This is the amount you would pay out-of-pocket for each visit to a practitioner who is NOT on their provider list.)
  5. Who must provide the acupuncture? (Licensed acupuncturist or MD?)
  6. Will I need a referral from an MD to see the acupuncturist?
  7. What is my deductible?
  8. What conditions are covered for acupuncture? (Many plans only cover the treatment of pain)
I know a woman who called her insurance company and told them her acupuncture treatments were cheaper and more effective than her diabetes medications so she asked them to cover her acupuncture treatments. They opted to cover them since she was going to be a long term client of theirs and she spelled out how she would be saving them money.

Acupuncture was included in the Health Care Reform Law, so as Health Care Reform gets rolled out over the next couple years, it will become more mainstream and more insurance plans will cover it.

As part of the reform, President Obama established an Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. Recently appointed to this advisory group was Charlotte Kerr, RSM, BSN, MPH, MAc, who is an acupuncturist and faculty member at Tai Sophia Institute with an extensive background in the health care industry. This group's job is to
  • develop policy and program recommendations, and
  • advise the National Prevention Council on lifestyle-based chronic disease prevention and management, integrative health care practices, and health promotion.
This group is also working to make sure that the cost of health care gets reduced by incorporating more prevention mechanisms and low-cost health options. It's in the best interest of the government to see that acupuncture gets fully incorporated into our health care system since, when compared to MRI's, surgery & pharmaceuticals, it costs a fraction of the price and delivers equally effective results.

The real question, however, is how do our priorities line up with our health? We pay $100 a month for cable TV. We'll buy pounds of candy at Costco. Down pints of beer in a night. Drop $100 at Target on a weekend. Meanwhile, we're Vitamin D deficient from lack of exposure to the sun, our gym membership cards are dusty, sleep deprivation is killing us slowly, and obesity is eating us alive. But we expect to pay $10 for a copay that directly affects our own vitality? Boy these flesh suits we inhabit take so much maintenance! They are constantly reminding us that we are temporary.... don't let the moment pass you by.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spa World for all?

There is a cult-like phenomenon going on in the DC area called Spa World.
Spa World is essentially a Korean bath house. One half of the space consists of different types of saunas. The other half has several therapeutic wading pools. I've never seen or heard an ad for this place. It's a true word-of-mouth success story. They recently offered a Groupon and sold about 37,000 entrance tickets. Why does this place generate so much buzz?
When the name Spa World comes up in conversation, the word "naked" undoubtedly also comes up, followed by one's very personal opinion about "being around all those naked bodies". [In the pool area, which is separated into enclosed men's and women's pool rooms, there is a strict "no clothes" rule.]
While the very idea of this makes most people cringe, nothing seems to slow the popularity of this place. Why the success?

I think Spa World is a metaphor for the social climate in America these days: a desire for transparency and authenticity in every way.

We're tired of secrets and fine print. The economic downturn was due to secrets and fine print. Twitter and Facebook have created a new standard of communication that is more transparent and authentic. Obama got rave reviews after the White House correspondents dinner because he came across as a little more real & honest. Part of the satisfaction of the news about Osama Bin Laden is that he is no longer hidden.

This is why acupuncture is so relevant right now. Acupuncture is a process of uncovering the reason we get sick and revealing what triggers our stress, instead of covering it up with one more prescription. This can be scary, requiring a vulnerability of feeling and admitting what's really going on in our lives and our bodies... "my job is too stressful for me to stay much longer" or "my child's crying brings on my migraines". It takes courage to strip down to our bare, honest, authentic self.

Are you feeling brave today?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Heart Boobies


Acupuncture is a holistic medicine: it takes into account the whole person, i.e., how a person is affected physically and emotionally by symptoms. So I've learned to consider both aspects when listening to a patient's medical history.

My iron butterfly of a friend, who is young, recently had surgery in response to some cells that appeared to be getting out of hand in the boobie area. She said to me: "Breast cancer seems to be an emotional cancer. It seems to trigger people emotionally more than say, thyroid cancer."
Hearing about her experience I thought, "I am not exempt; this could happen to me too."
So I asked myself, how are my boobies? Physically, I've got the breast self-exam covered. Emotionally, I realized that just thinking about about my entire chest area, I had a reaction. I felt tightness in my chest and my breathing got shallow. So my internal conversation continued....I asked myself "what word would I use to describe how I feel about that area of my body?" The word that immediately came to mind was 'underdeveloped'. My rib cage must have decided it didn't need any extra padding, because it likes to be visible. I thought about my childhood. I realized that I felt under.developed.in.every.way. Ninety percent of the people in my life were a lot older than me. Older meant taller, smarter, funnier, more important, more capable, socially adept, able to drive, make money, leave the house. From my perspective, nothing I could say or do could measure up to their wealth of experience. This feeling stuck.

Instead of wallowing here, I asked myself "What is the gift from this? How did that experience benefit me?" It took me a couple days to mull this part over. Then I it hit me that this has shaped who I am in a major way:
First, I learned to believe myself. Just because my news (learning to ride a bike, skinning my knees on a fall, etc.) was old news to everyone else, my experience was still vividly real to me.
Second, it created a sense of empathy for people's small big moments. If a 5 year old tells me the sky is falling, I'm actually interested in what they're experiencing. If you buy a new bookcase and it makes you really happy inside, I feel your joy. I know that the smallest experience can feel like a big deal.
This perspective influences the way I communicate with every single person in my life! I approach people from a lets-be-equals approach instead of I'm under par or you're under par. I value your big small moments, because those are what make up most of our existence after all.

Thank you iron butterfly! Now, I am grateful. I heart the act of heart-opening.

(By the way...A Federal court ruled this month that the 'I heart Boobies' bracelets are OK again for kids to wear in school. I hope our young girls are hearting their boobies.)

Friday, April 29, 2011

5 Element Green Juice

Some have seen me carrying around my mystery green drink for weeks. Since I have now recited it's ingredients enough times to make a Sesame Street song out of it, I'm sharing it here. This is a refreshing juice/snack that is great between meals. It helps me work more fruits and veggies into my day.
According to Chinese Medicine, just about everything can be categorized according to 5 elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Each element also has a taste associated with it.
Water: Salty
Wood: Sour
Fire: Bitter
Earth: Sweet
Metal: Pungent/Spicy
This juice includes all 5 elements, which makes it balanced.

Recipe:
30oz Water (or mixed with juice of choice - Carrot, Pineapple, etc.)
1 Banana (Sweet/Earth)
1 Lemon, fresh squeezed (Sour/Wood)
1" cube of fresh Ginger (Pungent/Metal)
1 tsp Cinnamon (Bitter/Fire)
1 leaf Kale (about the size of a dollar bill)
1 small handful Parsley
1 handful Walnuts (Salty/Water)
1-2 Tbsp Maple syrup

Add all to the blender, and whirr away (depending on your food processor/blender, it may take up to 2 minutes to blend until smooth).

This makes about two 20oz drinks. I immediately pour them into Ball canning jars or old spaghetti sauce jars and seal them up. Perfect for on-the-go with a straw, or they can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Cheers!

Oprah's dog

No, this is not a blog about Oprah's dog getting acupuncture. But it does work wonders on on animals!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Life changer

I didn't quite realize that by deciding to become an acupuncturist, I'd be changing my entire lifestyle. I've never been required to change my personal habits for my job before. Now, I am now my product and service: I'm the one deciding where to put needles into a patient and I'm the one actually handling the needles. A lot goes into those two things! This means that, for this career, I've committed to:

  • A lifetime of learning. Not only am I required to get continuing education credits; there will always be something to learn about this medicine. I have a teacher who's been practicing over 30 years and still goes to study groups! This means a major investment in books. I may start recommending acupuncture books at my book club.  
  • Acting like a hand model: I need my hands and wrists intact and my nails kept short. No slamming them in doors, no skiing accidents. I'm investing in super padded oven mitts. And maybe all kitchen gadgets that are hands-free...peelers? knives? graters? Hand lotions, sanitizers and warmers are staples.
  • Keeping my hair and jewelry out of the way. No more giant clocks around my neck, and I can't even consider a Justin Beiber haircut.
  • Keeping my garlic intake to a minimum...or investing in powerful breath tools. No more overdosing on Indian food right before an afternoon block of appointments.
  • Working on my posture. There is actually a way to stand, hold and insert a needle that requires my entire body. 
  • Flat shoes. At least for now. No teetering necessary with a needle in hand.
  • Paying attention to my own health. I now need to be actively mindful of practicing what I preach. Diet, exercise, sleep, water. And I now have the excuse to have regular massages and facials.
  • No more drama. Mary J, be my witness.
  • Being an avid listener. If a patient comes in 10 months in a row telling me about how they stub their toe on their cat's litter box every day, I promise to stay interested (and honest...I might tell you to not come back until you've moved the darn thing).
  • And more...
Why am I willing to rearrange my life for this job? For you. Spending my days talking about what matters in life to my patients is why I'm doing this. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It takes a village

It takes a village to get through acupuncture school. And I've never felt a closer sense of community than here. My school - Tai Sophia - has very specific way of building a sense of community from day one that is pretty remarkable. My classmates and I know each other's full names. We notice when someone is missing from class. We listen when each other speaks. We've presented soul-baring projects to each other. We've pointed out each others strengths and weaknesses. We've had to strip down to our skivvies to practice finding acupuncture points. For better or worse, we are family. What this has given me is a safe place to learn, question and grow with confidence; an environment to learn this healing art with grace and competency. All I can do is pay it forward: this is the environment I strive to offer in my treatment room.