tcm

A Basic Congee Recipe

Throughout the week for breakfast, we eat congee. Have you heard of it before? It was written about almost 2,000 years ago! Congee is usually made with rice, although it can also be cooked with other grains, including barley, millet, or spelt.

Congees come in many varieties and are served as a breakfast, snack, late dinner, or side dish. In China, a simple rice congee is commonly served for breakfast. Because it is easy to digest, congee is a particularly good vehicle for delivering nutrients, especially to people who are weak or frail. If you are recovering from the stomach flu or other illness, congee offers an easy-to-digest dish that can help increase energy. BUT, you don’t have to eat it only when you are “sick."

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This simple rice porridge is easily digested and assimilated, it builds Blood (red fluid inside the blood vessels that provides nutrition for the body) and Qi energy (inner energy level), harmonizes digestion (rice itself strengthens the spleen-pancreas digestive center), relieves inflammation or irritation, internally cools, and is very nourishing because the ample amount of water and lengthy cooking time better joins the ingredients for digestion.

It’s the easiest breakfast you’ll ever know! We combine all the ingredients into a crockpot and cook on low all night. It is said that the longer congee cooks, the more “powerful” it becomes. When we wake up, it’s ready to go!


A BASIC CONGEE RECIPE (Serves 2)

Ingredients

  • ⅓ c. organic brown rice (organic white rice can also be used)
  • *5 c. water (stock is sometimes used instead of water for a heartier flavor + additional health benefits)
  • 3 pinches of sea salt

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients in a pot. (a crockpot works perfectly!)
  2. Cook in a covered pot four to six hours on the lowest flame/setting possible.

*Note: You can adjust the amount of water to your preference—add more for a soup or less for a thicker, more porridge-like consistency.


Be Wise,

Anne & Steve

My Swollen Lymph Nodes Were a Sign of So Much More

I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I was lying on a hospital bed, getting an ultrasound on the lymph nodes in my neck—swollen six times the normal amount—the cold gel shocking to my skin, my brain on overdrive whirring through all of the horrifying possibilities that could be revealed through this device. “It’s cancer,” I told myself. “I should just prepare for that.”

The room was dark and eerily quiet. My wife, Anne, was with me, and I could feel how nervous she was, yet trying to remain strong so we both didn’t lose it. As soon as the test was over, the technician left to go “talk to the doctor.” “What does that mean?” I remember saying to Anne. (Hint: That’s never good when they say that.) So I just laid there terrified. The technician came back and told me I was all set and that they would be calling me with the results—no indication was given as to whether I was ok or what was going on with my lymph nodes. I couldn’t even process the walk back to our car, and I barely made it to our vehicle when I just broke down. Anne and I held each other, crying, reassuring ourselves that everything happens for a reason and all will be ok.

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This was the final straw to a frustrating, scary moment in my life, but let’s rewind a bit. In May of 2015, I went in for an adjustment with my chiropractor. While she was feeling around in my neck, she noticed that the chain of lymph nodes on the right side of my neck was severely swollen. I noted how concerned she looked when she asked me how long it had been like this. “I have no idea,” I said admittedly. She immediately recommended that I get a blood test done to rule out anything major and I could feel her dancing around the word ‘cancer.’ Holy. Shit. What the hell was happening to me?

Before the swollen lymph nodes, I had been experiencing numerous things over the course of many years. I had daily aches and pain in my whole body, feeling more skeletal than muscular. I constantly felt like I was out of alignment, and frequented the chiropractor weekly, sometimes multiple times a week. Specifically, the problems were in my neck, shoulders, right knee, right big toe, and lower back. There had been times where I felt like I was having a heart condition. I felt like my breath was being somewhat constricted like I couldn’t take a full, deep breath. I had a few panic attacks. Feeling tired and brain fog were everyday occurrences for me. I lost weight, which was crippling to my confidence since I had always been “too thin” by most people’s standards. And on top of all of this, my mood and spirit were affected. I was feeling anxious, nervous, worried, and agitated.

The catalyst that triggered everything for me was when I contracted a virus a few months prior. My gums were extremely swollen and my entire mouth was covered in sores. They were everywhere—on my tongue, under my tongue, on the roof of my mouth, on the inside of my cheeks, on my throat—and were searingly painful. It hurt so badly that I could hardly eat or drink anything for days. The pain was so intense that it was all I could focus on. And on top of that, all of the tension it created in the muscles of my mouth, face, and jaw added fuel to the fire. After being told to "wait it out" by a doctor, Anne took action and went to our local apothecary to ask the pharmacist if there was anything that I could help relieve the pain so I could at least get some food down. They recommended that I try applying myrrh oil to the sores. I applied some and it burned like hell, but then, RELIEF! This was my saving grace while the virus ran its course. After suffering for about a week, the symptoms stopped, and I thought I was out of the woods. Emphasis on ‘thought.’

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I started noticing that after every meal, my tongue would burn with a searing pain. It wasn’t until a few days of this that I decided to look at my tongue in the mirror (hello, Captain Obvious!). I was shocked at what I saw. It looked like someone slashed my tongue with a knife all over the place, and there were burns on it as if a cigarette had been extinguished on the surface. This went on for a couple months, and I was completely dumbfounded on what to do. I was lost, directionless, and in pain. It was around this time that I went in for the chiropractic appointment I mentioned earlier, where my chiropractor noticed that my lymph nodes were swollen six times the normal size.

I had the blood test taken, and in the meantime, I scheduled a visit with my General Practitioner. My test results came back negative, and after examining me for about two minutes, my GP ordered that I have an ultrasound done on my neck. I was so scared when he told me that—the flat line of his mouth, his head shaking in concern, forever etched in my brain. We covered the ultrasound already, but what I didn’t tell you is that I had to wait a week to get my results back from my GP. A WEEK! Now, I’m not even going to get into all of the thoughts that popped into my head over the course of that week, but let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

I showed up to the follow-up appointment with my doctor to review the results and he simply stated, “the results came back normal.” A huge wave of relief washed over me, but then confusion set in. The doctor continued to tell me in a short tone that he didn’t know what was causing the problem, that it very well may just resolve itself, but that he would recommend I get a biopsy on it. A new emotion bubbled up inside of me: anger. Why was this man telling me to get a biopsy when he knew it wouldn’t help and knew both my blood tests and ultrasound came back normal? Why would he order a super expensive procedure to have done when I am self-employed and barely have enough to cover a joke of a health insurance plan? And then it hit me. He was passing me off! He didn’t want to be liable for me. He didn’t know what to do for me, and therefore, was done with me. I was furious.

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On my drive home, I told myself that I was going to get to the bottom of this. Mainstream Western medicine failed me. There were all of these things signaling that something was wrong with me. My body was screaming, “Hey man, I need help here! Listen to me!” It was at this time that I decided to try different healing modalities. My first step was seeing a massage therapist who specializes in lymphatic massages. These sessions were incredibly powerful, but after three, even he saw that I needed more help than he could offer. My next step? I would give a Chinese herbalist that I had heard about a try.

In July of 2015, I walked into the shop/office located in Chicago’s Chinatown, and it felt like stepping into another world. Workers were busily divvying up concoctions for various patients; the scent of herbs and tea lingered in the air. During my appointment, the herbalist, Dr. Lisa, examined my tongue, pulses (“There’s more than one?”), my complexion, my posture, and so much more I was not aware of. Right off the bat, she told me foods that I needed to avoid, and also showed me foods to eat more of or add in. Everything she was addressing had to do with food and diet, and I ate it all up (pun intended). I left with an eating plan and a week’s worth of herbs and I felt so empowered. I felt like I finally won some control back over my health! I didn’t understand any of the concepts or reasonings behind her treatments at the time, but I continued to see Dr. Lisa for months. It was difficult to stay disciplined on such a strict, temporary diet.

At times, it made me feel isolated and alone. It was extremely difficult to deal with, and I felt like I lost a part of myself. I felt my sickness changing me. I wanted to bow out of every social situation in order to avoid having to talk about what I was going through or be the "problem one" of the group who had to specify exact requirements when ordering dinner. Anne was a huge help to me during this, always encouraging me and finding new recipes that fit the bill. After implementing Chinese food therapy and herbs for a while, my lymph nodes improved. However, I finally got to a point where my progress plateaued.

Six months later, I decided to also see an acupuncturist. I had acupuncture done once before, but nothing quite like this. After explaining everything that I was experiencing, the doctor went to work placing needles at various points on my body that seemed completely unconnected. He also performed cupping on my back and noticed that my body was toxic, apparent by the deep purple bruising that lasted for weeks. I had acupuncture done religiously for months, each appointment bringing about new discoveries. My acupuncturist pointed me to different foods, teas, and books to learn from. Anne and I couldn’t get enough! We found ourselves researching and learning all about Chinese medicine, specifically how food and diet play such a crucial role in overall health. One of the books the acupuncturist referred me to was Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford. I dove in deep, reading for hours on end, and over the course of a few weeks I came to a section that addressed the danger of root canals.

(Left, January 2016) Severe bruising that lasted for weeks after my first cupping treatment.  (Right, May 2016) Minimal bruising from cupping that cleared in a day after months of detoxing.

(Left, January 2016) Severe bruising that lasted for weeks after my first cupping treatment.

(Right, May 2016) Minimal bruising from cupping that cleared in a day after months of detoxing.

This was a light bulb moment for me because I had a root canal performed on a molar three years prior, and my symptoms really intensified after that procedure. My mind was blown that it could be having such an affect on my overall health and this realization helped me start to connect the dots about a lot of things in my overall health that I had been experiencing for years. I decided to have my root canal tooth pulled out completely. I needed to get that toxic piece out of my body. The moment it was extracted, I felt lighter and more positive, almost like a weight had been lifted off me, and I knew immediately that it was absolutely the right decision. I listened to my gut and it did not fail me! After my root canal was removed, symptoms that I had been experiencing for years started to clear up—things that I never would have associated with a tooth. The constant pain in my right big toe was gone, the pain in my right knee greatly subsided, and the pain and occasional numbness in my right hand resolved. (Fun fact: my swollen lymph nodes and the root canal tooth were also on my right side! Coincidence? I think not.)

I continued to receive acupuncture appointments to help my body detox from years of toxicity and to aid in healing the root canal procedure. Slowly but surely I improved. I didn’t have an instant, “I feel better moment,” rather a slow realization that I was starting to not notice pain or certain symptoms anymore. My lymph nodes were still inflamed at this time, but they were down significantly, from six times the normal size to only twice the size.

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Four months later, my chiropractor was offering a new test to patients that tested blood, hair, and urine for metal toxicity. She felt like I would be a great candidate for it since my lymph nodes were still problematic. I decided to give it a shot, and low and behold, I had extremely toxic levels of various heavy metals. (we’re talking things like copper and mercury, not AC/DC ;) Their office put me on a supplement protocol, which I followed for 7 months. I was doing Chinese food therapy and acupuncture in conjunction with the supplement regimen, and my levels improved drastically! My lymph nodes FINALLY resolved, most of my pain was gone, my attitude improved, my confidence grew, and I had far less flare up with my tongue cuts and sores. I had even gotten to the point where I could start weight lifting to regain my strength.

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There was just one more thing. My tongue was still bothering me on more occasions than I would have liked. I decided at this point to switch to an acupuncturist that Anne was seeing who mentioned that she could help. After just a couple treatments with her and through taking prescribed Chinese herbal formulas, my tongue was noticeably improved. Now, I hardly ever have a flare up! I do want to let you know that I’m not completely healed though because I think it’s important—I’ve learned that I was sick for a long period of my life, and it takes time to recover from that. But I am healthier, happier, and more in control of my health than I have ever been in my life.

In hindsight, I now know that this all happened for a reason. My story is what ignited a new passion for me—to help guide others on their health journey by advocating for Chinese medicine.

I understand what it’s like to struggle with a health problem.

I understand how scary and frustrating it is to not have answers or anyone to listen to you.

I understand how lonely it can be.

I understand how it feels to be neglected by the Western medicine machine.

I get it.

This is why I do what I do, why I am here to listen, and why I want to help you. Because I was there too.

Be Wise,

Steve

 

Eczema: Discovering the Root Cause

I was recently approached by Jenny Leak Miller from Pool Mom to share some advice for babies suffering from eczema especially during bath time. Specialists often recommend limiting or reducing the amount of time spent in baths or the pool because water can aggravate eczema prone skin. But time in the water is important for kids to learn to feel comfortable, especially in babyhood. Jenny wondered, is it possible to treat eczema so that it doesn’t interfere (as much) with important time spent in the water? What should parents consider about a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to eczema?

My immediate thought, it’s an internal issue. Water is not the cause of eczema––it may be exacerbating the problem but there’s a much deeper issue here.

I wanted to share what I wrote for Pool Mom because eczema is such a common aggravation; it doesn’t matter if you are an infant or an adult, this information still applies and I’d love for as many people to have it!

I’d like to begin by thanking Jenny for asking me to share some thoughts about how Eczema is thought about differently in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Chinese medicine views any skin disorder as the result of an imbalance within the body that affects overall health. It is believed that internal organ* disharmony of the Spleen, Lungs, Stomach, Heart, as well as Blood, combined with external pathogenic factors like wind and heat can cause eczema.

*It’s important to note that in TCM “organs” are not the same as the specific organs as we know them in Western culture. In Chinese medicine “organs” are thought of a combination of systems that perform specific tasks in our bodies.

In Chinese medicine, there are many different types of eczema, and the characteristics of the skin are clues to the imbalance that is happening inside of the body. For example:

  • Invasion of Wind: Skin disorders are characterized by their sudden appearance and itching
  • Accumulation of Dampness: Skin becomes puffy, bloated, or weepy
  • Too much Heat in the Blood: Skin has a burning sensation, is red, dry, or swollen.

Different combinations of these internal pathogens (Wind, Dampness, Heat) produce different forms of eczema. For example, if the skin is weeping and hot, the cause is likely to be Damp-Heat.

In both infants and children, the most common type of eczema is caused by Damp-Heat, a result of having a weak Spleen and Stomach. Now you may be wondering, how is it possible at such a young age to have an imbalance of organ function? And the answer––food! Chinese medicine holds food as a major culprit for internal balances of our bodies.

It can begin with the mom when she eats too many fatty, spicy, fried or sweet foods, or overindulges in fish/seafood. These eating habits will contribute to the mom developing a weak Spleen. This may occur before pregnancy, or it can develop during pregnancy as well as while breastfeeding. When the mom’s Spleen is weak it does not produce enough energy (Qi) and that insufficient energy is passed along to the baby, causing the baby’s Spleen function to become impaired at a young age.

What does this mean for the baby? A week Spleen cannot take the food and fluids that are consumed and transform them into usable energy. Instead, Dampness and Heat combine (called Damp-Heat), and together they start to accumulate internally. Dampness and Heat are unhealthy forms of energy that are capable of causing disease if not treated properly and balanced out. When there is too much Damp-Heat for the baby’s body to handle, in this case, it eventually gets pushed outward and gets trapped in the skin––causing eczema lesions.

It’s important to note that the child’s eating habits will also play an important role in eczema developing and how quickly.  Certain food can provoke this skin disorder such as:

  1. Too much sugar, starch, or dairy products: Refined carbohydrate foods and dairy are classified in TCM as Dampness generating food in the body, which may present as weepy/oozing or blistering skin.

  2. Hot spicy food: Spicy foods can cause more dryness due to its nature and ability to consume fluids, resulting in too much Heat internally. Fluids are the body’s source of energy that nourishes and moisten the skin.

  3. Too many fatty or greasy foods: Fatty and greasy food inhibits the body to produce enough Spleen and Stomach energy (Qi), resulting in weakened Spleen and Stomach functions.

Remember––the baby started off with a weakened Spleen due to insufficient energy from its mom. If the child consumes too much dairy, sweet or spicy foods, this diet continues to weaken the Spleen further, resulting in more Dampness and Heat which causes more eczema outbreaks. Yikes, it’s a vicious circle!

This internal development of Wind, Heat, and/or Dampness is one direct way eczema can develop, but it isn’t the only way. Like Western medicine, Chinese medicine also recognizes airborne/respiratory allergies––dust mites, mold, seasonal pollens, animal dander, etc.––as possible causes for eczema and are considered during a treatment consultation. TCM treats eczema with acupuncture and herbal medicine, but it also believes food therapy is a very important preventative measure for eczema outbreaks and part of the treatment process during its recurrent stages.

What is food therapy? Food therapy is the process of reducing or eliminating some foods while increasing the intake of others.

In order to get the most out of food therapy, it is important to determine which internal pathogen is more predominant: Damp or Heat.  More weepy or oozing lesions indicate more Dampness.  When Heat predominates, there may be more redness, but there will also be more itching and dryness. Chubbier babies who tend to sweat more tend to be prone to a Damp condition.  Their eczema will likely have more oozing and the lesions will form yellow crusts when they dry.  Thinner or weaker babies have a tendency to develop the drier type of eczema where Heat is more predominant. This type of eczema will have drier lesions with flaky crusts that look like they have white or gray “bran-like” scales on top. The skin might crack or get bloody scabs if scratching is intense. In infants who are dependent on formula or in children who eat a lot of sugary foods, milk, and dairy products, fatty or greasy foods, there will also be an underlying weakness of Spleen and Stomach function. The TCM pattern of Damp-Heat accounts for most cases of acute eczema regardless of the age of the patient.

However, the TCM pattern of Heat in the Blood is also a possibility during the childhood phase as well as the adolescent/adult phase. Though some Damp-Heat may also be present, this pattern presents as the drier type of eczema, with more redness and even more intense itching.

Once you have distinguished what type of eczema is presenting itself, it’s time to utilize food therapy.

AVOID or drastically reduce foods that may cause Dampness in the body. Foods such as:

  • Dairy (including milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Rich meats (e.g. beef, lamb, sausage, etc.)
  • Eggs
  • Bread
  • Fried or greasy foods
  • Saturated fat and sugar
  • Concentrated juices (especially orange & tomato)
  • Tofu and other soy products
  • Chocolate

From the TCM perspective, excess consumption of any or all of these foods weaken the energy of the Spleen and encourage the development of Dampness and Damp-Heat.

Now you may be wondering, what SHOULD my child be eating?

If the type of eczema is aligning with Damp-Heat these foods that are Cooling or known to relieve Dampness (which are often bitter and/or aromatic foods) can help counteract this type of condition. Examples:

  • Aduki beans
  • Alfalfa
  • Anise
  • Barley
  • Bitter Melon
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Daikon radish
  • Grapefruit
  • Green Tea
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Mung bean
  • Oregano
  • Papaya
  • Parsley
  • Rye
  • Seaweed
  • Summer squash
  • Watermelon
  • Watercress
  • Winter Melon (Wax Gourd)
  • Zucchini

If eczema is aligning more with the drier (Heat) conditions these Cooling foods may prove helpful:

  • Amaranth
  • Banana
  • Barley
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Daikon Radish
  • Fig
  • Green Tea
  • Lemon/Lime
  • Mulberry
  • Mung Bean
  • Napa cabbage
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Peppermint
  • Pomegranate
  • Radish
  • Seaweed (Kelp)
  • Spinach
  • Strawberry
  • Watercress

Remember, food therapy is a very important preventative measure for eczema outbreaks and part of the treatment process during its recurrent stages. It’s not the only option, however. TCM is most effective when using food, herbs, and/or acupuncture in combination. Consider a consultation with a TCM specialist. There are thousands of Chinese herbs used for medicinal purposes and it takes a certain degree of knowledge and experience to prescribe the optimal combination of herbs that would address the conditions of a particular patient.

While it may seem overwhelming or difficult at first, the effort will be worth it. This low impact intervention therapeutically addresses sensitive skin conditions without the side effects associated with Western treatments.

Be Wise,

Anne


My Experience of Treating Frequent Urination with Chinese Medicine

“I have a tiny bladder…” That’s the excuse I used to give for why I would need to go to the bathroom every hour. I’m not kidding when I say that I know where every bathroom is in the stores we frequent. And I’ll never forget the time I went to the bathroom at home before starting the hour and 25 minute drive to my parent’s house, barely making it the 45 minutes to the rest stop, and THEN proceeding to run into their house and immediately heading to the bathroom. The abnormal frequency I would need to urinate was driving.me.crazy.

Did you know that a healthy person should feel the need to urinate four to six times per day, and either just once or not at all during the night? If urinary frequency exceeds ten times during the daytime, or more than twice at night, it may be considered pathological. I did a tally and realized I was going at least twelve times a day and for sure once a night, maybe twice if I drank a lot before bed. “I’m too young for this,” I remember telling myself. I’m an active person, and it was really starting to cramp my style. I know I’m not alone in this; I’ve joked with many friends over the years about having “a tiny bladder.”

What I AM excited to share is that this year I decided to get serious about fixing the problem. I started seeing an acupuncturist/herbalist in April 2017 and over the course of the last three and a half months, she has successfully helped me get down to going seven times a day! I can’t express how free I feel; it truly is a relief (pun intended) that I have dreamed about for years. So many things we think we have to live with can be addressed using a combination of food therapy, acupuncture, and herbs. My body has been telling me for years that something was out of balance, and I finally listened!

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So what did I do? I began with removing caffeine (a known urination instigator ) for seven days. My acupuncturist said if it didn’t make a difference (which it didn’t) then there was something more “structural” happening on the interior.

In TCM there is Yin & Yang. To be in balance, we strive to have close to equal parts of both. In today’s “go-go-go” lifestyle we use a lot of Yang energy which burns up Yin. My acupuncturist likened it to candle wax (Yin) & a flame (Yang). If you keep burning the candle, all the wax gets used up. But you NEED that wax! In our body, Yin is important for interior functions and building new tissue. It is both lubricant and fuel. In my case it would help hold the bladder up and keep it strong. She noted through light abdominal massages that the tissue around my bladder was dry, hard, and weak–it wasn’t performing properly because the moisture was gone.

Rebuilding Yin is a slow process, but extremely important. When Yin is deficient, we need to avoid foods which stimulate us to use up energy we don’t really have, like stimulants and the more heating and drying pungent spices that release energy from our body (e.g., peppers, cinnamon, garlic, onion, etc.) We need to eat Yin-promoting foods which combine deep and subtle nourishment with moistening and often cooling qualities. Yin foods travel deeply into the body replenishing our core and soothing our overworked system. They include many deeply nutritious foods: creatures/plants from the seabed, nuts, seeds and beans, and many cooling fruits. Since building Yin is a slow process, it was important to treat me with more than food. In addition to acupuncture to help strengthen me internally, my herbalist also prescribed certain herbal formulas to help build Yin. While I am a huge proponent for treating as much as I can with food therapy, I truly believe I wouldn’t have had the success I have had thus far without seeing an acupuncturist/herbalist.

Be wise,

Anne

Qi: Wtf is it?

So you may have heard me or someone else use the word ‘Qi’ before and thought to yourself, wtf is Qi? First things first, it’s pronounced ‘Chee.’ Go ahead, say it out loud. :)

Qi can be difficult to translate from Chinese Medicine, but it’s often understood in Western culture as our inner energy level; it is the energy essential for life. Its main characteristic is motion–the activity of life. All functions of the body and mind are manifestations of Qi. Basically, Qi is a mixture of energies derived from the food we eat and the air we breathe, plus an element inherited from our parents which we are born with. All of these “ingredients” combine and are transformed in a variety of ways to make Qi that circulates in the body.

Listen up because this is important! Your health depends on a sufficient, balanced, and uninterrupted flow of Qi. Qi circulates through the body along a continuous circuit of pathways known as meridians. These meridians flow along the surface of the body (protecting you from the external factors that might result in illness) and through the internal organs (which is essential in the process of nourishing all the tissues of the body). When you are healthy, you have an abundance of Qi flowing smoothly through the meridians and into and out of the organs, allowing your body to function in harmony and balance.

Qi is what allows Yin-Yang balance to be maintained in the body. According to Chinese medicine, illnesses take hold when the flow of Qi is disturbed, unbalanced, or blocked. To restore health, Chinese medical practitioners seek to free and realign the flow of Qi through acupuncture, herbs, food, or all three combined.

Be wise,

Anne

Things to Avoid: Sleeping with a Fan On

I don’t know about you, but I love to sleep with a fan on at night. The sound of it is so soothing, and I love to feel the gentle “breeze” blow over my skin. But you know what’s the worst? Waking up the next morning with a stuffy nose and a stiff neck! Sound familiar?

Get this. A fan creates “wind”...(obviously)…and in Chinese medicine this is called Exterior Wind because it acts on our body from an exterior source, the source of said problems I just mentioned above. When this wind penetrates the surface layer of our bodies, it causes our muscles to tense up, become stiff, and often generates feelings of cold. Hello runny, stuffy noses and scratchy throats!

Now on a cold windy day, we put a scarf on or turn our shirt collar up to make us feel warmer and more protected which may even be enough to prevent us from catching a cold. The same is true for when you are sleeping! If you sleep on your side or back, especially in positions where the back of the neck is exposed to a blowing fan, you are setting yourself up for the possibility of developing a very stiff neck or even catching a summer cold. So how can you change this?

Try opening a window. More often than not it will be enough to cool down the room for a perfect night’s sleep. Still too hot? If you need to use a fan, make it a floor fan because their position can be adjusted. Place the fan in a corner away from your bed and make sure it doesn't blow directly on your body (important!). Aim the fan at an angle that will direct the air out of the room through your open bedroom door. The fan will generate a gentle breeze that can be felt indirectly, as well as circulate air in and out of the room keeping it cooler!

Sleep well, Wise Ones,

Anne

Chinese Medicine Body Clock

Tick Tock Tick Tock...it's a [body] clock

I LOVE schedules, but there is one that I would really like to kick to the curb. Every night, like clock work, I wake up between 3-3:15AM to use the bathroom. I have a clock in my bathroom, and I’ve gotten a kick out of looking at the hands up close in the dark to note the time, and think, “of course it’s 3:12 AM, why am I not surprised?” For the longest time I thought it was more because of my personality (the fact that I love schedules and my body was playing along) rather than anything bigger. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that there’s actually a pretty good explanation for it.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there’s a theory known as the Body Clock where each organ is related to specific times on the clock when they are at their peak function and the most energy (Qi) is moving through that particular organ system. Symptoms that appear and disappear regularly during different times of the day correspond directly to this ebb and flow of Qi energy.

Chinese Medicine Body Clock Diagram

Chinese Medicine Body Clock Diagram

When our bodies are out of balance and we have too much Qi flowing through or going to a particular organ, we’ll see symptoms during the peak of that organ’s function on the clock. On the other hand, if that organ does not have enough Qi for it to function properly, the symptoms will appear on the opposite side of the clock when the organ is at its lowest energy level.

For example, symptoms of not enough Kidney Qi show up between 5-7AM. This is the reason why some people have difficulty waking up with energy and enthusiasm. But when there is too much Kidney Qi, the symptoms are different. Instead, there will be increased stiffness and pain in the lower back between 3-7PM, during the peak hours of Bladder and Kidney function.

Here are a couple more examples:

5AM-7AM LARGE INTESTINE

Are you a “must have coffee immediately upon waking to function” type of person? Or a “I enjoy the ritual of coffee and its taste and leisurely sip it after my breakfast” type of person? I’m definitely the second, and have always been appreciative that I don’t NEED coffee to survive, I just WANT coffee.

According to Chinese Medicine our organs optimally function during two hour time blocks, at the same time every day. Think of it as a “work shift” where it does most of its duties. During this time, that specified organ is at its peak energy, and the organ on the opposite side of the clock, twelve hours away, is at its lowest energy.

Between 5-7AM the large intestine is in charge of separating what we don’t need and eliminating it. During this time it is extremely important to drink plenty of warm water (even better with fresh lemon in it to help flush out the liver before it has to start working on the food consumed). Warm water stimulates the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine creating wavelike movements that push the contents for elimination forward. Cold water does not do this as it causes your body to constrict.

So why is it so important to not drink caffeine during this time period? Caffeine is a diuretic which causes an increase in urination. This takes water away from your colon and brings it to the kidneys and bladder to be eliminated. The problem is, our body needs enough water during this time to perform its processes of repairing and maintaining the large intestine and colon and “letting go”, in the literal and figurative sense. Without enough water you can become imbalanced, showing symptoms of frequent constipation, dry stools, skin rash, weight gain, have an unclear and cluttered mind or have the feeling of being emotionally ‘stuck’.

Start the day off right, and give yourself enough time in the morning to allow for the normal elimination function of the large intestine. And if you “must” drink caffeine, save it until after 7AM.

1am-3am LIVER

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, “eating late at night is bad for your digestion." “Ok, but this piece of pizza is so damn good right now I don’t care,” I think to myself. It’s a battle of knowing it’s bad, but not understanding WHY, and just knowing that I shouldn’t do it. That’s always my recipe for failure.

The liver’s “work shift” is between 1-3am–during this time it reaches its peak energy, working to cleanse the blood. Opposite of the liver on the body clock, and at its lowest energy, is the small intestine. This is the organ responsible for the absorption and assimilation of many key nutrients provided by the spleen.

Why is this important? Late night snacking is causing your body to work on overtime! And unfortunately, it never gets to finish the job to completion. Eating late at night causes energy to be taken away from the liver, and it cannot finish cleansing your blood from all the food eaten prior in the day. This results in sluggish movements in the morning and brain fog. In addition, because the small intestine is not fully up to speed late at night, it cannot fully absorb the snack your are eating. Resulting in poor digestion and possibly weight gain if it becomes a habit.

Understanding this has helped me make “better” decisions. That doesn’t always mean passing up the snack, but it does help me know why I usually have less energy the next morning. Usually though, I just go to bed and dream about that piece of pizza instead.

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Isn't the body amazing!? When I learned about the body clock, my mind was blown. And what's so cool is that once you understand that every organ has a repair/maintenance schedule to keep on a daily basis, you can use that knowledge to learn how to treat yourself for improved health and well-being.

Be wise,

Anne

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10 Tips on How To Eat Well + Support Digestion

Food is so much more than just the fuel our body needs to keep going. Each item we eat plays an important role in our body and the balance we all need to stay healthy. However, it's not just what you eat, but HOW you eat that is equally influential.

We'll begin by discussing the spleen, the central organ of digestion in Chinese medicine. It is the means by which we meet our nutritional needs. Through the digestion process the spleen adapts food to nourish and support our system by converting food into usable substances within our bodies and sending them to where they are needed. The following guidelines for eating well are ways we can support and keep our spleen strong, healthy, and working properly.

1. JOY

Enjoying the food we consume is the first step to being fully nourished by what we eat. If we are happy when we eat and happy in our relationship with food, then guess what? Our bodies will actually accept the food more effectively into our system! For many of us, it can be more important to heal our relationship with food than it is to change what we eat.

2. POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Do you feel guilty when you eat a piece of cheesecake? Or dead inside because you’re “forced” to eat kale? (Am I the only one who actually enjoys eating kale?!)

Each of us have these beliefs of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ foods. The foods that may be ‘good for us,’ you may not enjoy eating, and the ones that are ‘bad for us,’ you eat with guilt or avoid them with resentment. But did you know that eating is just as much of a mind game as it is a stomach filler? The attitude that we have towards the food we eat will instruct our Spleen what to do with it.

The Spleen is the mother of digestion, it extracts nourishment from all the food we eat to support our body’s needs. The stronger our Spleen function, the better it is at extracting nourishment from all the food we consume, whether it be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for you. To get the most out of eating, try to accept the food with a positive attitude once you have made the choice to eat it.

3. RELAXATION

We’ve all heard it before. Slow down, take a break, sit and enjoy your meal. Our digestion works best when we are focused on our meal, not working, driving, or watching TV. (Guilty!) This is more than just an ancient tradition. It’s science!

In order for our bodies to properly digest food, it must be in parasympathetic mode. This fancy phrase means your nervous system needs to be in a relaxed state in order to turn on all the digestive processes–from stomach acid production to the muscle contractions of the intestines. If you eat in a rush or while busy doing other things and your body can’t reach the parasympathetic mode, over time it can cause damage because it’s not able to digest your food properly and extract all of the nutrients from your food to support your body.

Before your next meal, try taking a little time to relax your posture and maybe take a few quiet breaths. It is helpful to uncross your legs and sit up straight. Hunching over compresses our digestive organs and hinders the passage of food through our body.

4. CHEW WELL

There is a saying, “The stomach has no teeth.” Thorough chewing allows foods to be mixed with saliva and chewed until liquid to release their full nutritional value. This lessens the work our digestive organs have to do. Without adequate chewing you can feel heavy or dull, develop gas, and even be undernourished.

Chewing also warms chilled or raw foods–which can put a lot of strain on digestion due to exerting a lot of energy to warm those foods up in order to begin the digestion process.

To get started in the correct habit of chewing, try counting the chewing of each bite 30-50 times! This will be difficult to do at first. It’s a great activity to realize just how little you are chewing! I did this and couldn’t believe how long it took to eat. It over doubled the actual meal time, which I usually flew right through. But I also started to notice how much better I felt after a meal, especially one in which I was eating meat. I wasn’t getting nearly the amount of intestinal distress or burping. I don’t chew every piece 30 times now, but I make a conscious effort to chew as much as possible before swallowing. You know you've chewed enough when the food is has become enough of a liquid that it starts to slide down your throat before you've even begun to swallow.

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5. RESIST STUFFING YOURSELF

I’m lookin’ at you burrito baby. I used to think I could “save” my calories. Ya know, eat less today because tomorrow you want to stuff your face with pizza and tacos? Then my trainer likened your stomach to a gas tank. It only holds so much before it just starts spilling out all over the ground.

Overeating at any one meal causes a temporary pile up of food waiting to be processed, and this causes an internal stagnation. As a result, we feel tired while our energy is being used to digest the excess food. (This is where drinking 1 tsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar in ⅓ c water throughout the day comes in handy!) If this is a habit, our spleen becomes overstrained and may produce mucus or a buildup of internal heat—otherwise known as damp heat—a very common problem in a culture of plenty. So, I challenge you to stop eating just before you are full.

6. DRINK LESS WHILE EATING

Sip–don’t gulp! In Chinese medicine the spleen is the central organ of digestion. Digestion is the process of converting food into usable substances within our bodies and sending them to where they are needed. The stronger our spleen is, the better we are able to absorb and put to use the food that we eat. The spleen does not like too much fluid with a meal. A little warm fluid while eating is helpful, but too much DILUTES THE SPLEEN’S ACTION AND WEAKENS DIGESTION. A teacupful (roughly 6 oz) is generally sufficient. Most fluid is best consumed between meals. So...are you a sipper or a gulper?

7. HOLD THE ICE

Have you ever been to Europe and were aggravated that you had to specifically ask for ice? Well, let’s flip that frown upside down and talk about why they are actually doing you a favor!

The spleen’s digestive process needs warmth. In Chinese medicine this is called the ‘Digestive Fire’. A prolonged or excessive use of chilled fluid or food (that includes raw food!) can weaken the spleen because it’s essentially dousing the fire. A weak ‘Digestive Fire’ can eventually lead to a collapse of spleen function. What does this mean for you? Simply, poor digestion. Your body won’t be able to properly extract all the nutrients from the food and use them in your body if your spleen is weak and not performing properly.

One easy win is to hold the ice, and try drinking room temperature drinks as much as possible.We keep our water filter on the counter instead of the refrigerator. At first it was an adjustment as we are conditioned to think that ‘refreshing’ = cold. After getting used to it, I feel refreshed just by consuming liquid in general. And bonus! It really helps with teeth sensitivity to stop consuming those icy beverages.

8. EAT DINNER EARLY

Well, to be honest, Chinese medicine recommends lunch being the biggest meal of the day and dinner be the smallest. For me, it’s a real struggle to overcome societal norms. I like to cook and don’t have time for it during the day, so it makes the most sense to eat my bigger meal for dinner. (Like most of us are used to, I’m sure.) But at any rate, eating dinner earlier than 6/7pm is important.

When we eat later at night, our system is naturally slowing and cooling down–the food sits around for longer in the digestive tubes, resulting in Stagnation. In an effort to burn off and get rid of this food sitting around, the body creates internal Heat which can also burn up the Stomach moisture/cooling lubricant known as Yin. When internal Heat burns up Yin, we don’t have a good reserve of quality nutrients to build new tissue and repair and maintain our bodies.

9. CHOOSE FRESH, STRONG FOODS

Buying local (and organic) isn’t just about supporting your regional farmers. It’s also healthier for you! As food gets transported to its destination it begins to lose some of its nutrients. The longer a food is stored before it is eaten the less it has to offer to our bodies. Food can also be damaged by chemical preservation, excessive processing, and genetic manipulation. So choosing local and organic foods when you can is important. I wish I could afford to buy everything that way, but the reality is, it is expensive. But being mindful of it, and doing it when you can is better than nothing! Also, keep the foods you are buying strong by not microwaving them and killing their vitality and strength with radiation.

10. TRUST YOUR BODY

Sometimes (let’s be honest, most of the time) we crave things we shouldn’t be eating, but in each of us there is a deeper level of knowing what we need. As we bring our awareness to our eating, we can begin to feel what our certain needs are, what truly nourishes us. While you’re learning what is appropriate for your body, you’ll probably need to be guided by more analytical judgments, but as we begin to listen to our bodies, we can begin to make choices from what it is telling us. What makes us feel good at the deepest level is good for us. With practice we can eventually learn to separate our cravings and addictions from our intuition and deeper levels of guidance.

Be wise,

Anne

P.S. If you found this interesting and would love to be updated about new topics and posts, subscribe to our newsletter ↓

10 Tips on How To Eat Well + Support Digestion