Listen to Your Body When it Whispers...
'If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won't have to hear it scream.'
When in conversation with people about what I do for a living, I'm often asked what the benefits of acupuncture are, paricularly if the person asking says they don't have any ailments. I think the quote above goes some way to explain the answer. Often we ignore the subtle changes in our bodies, or perhap we aren't tuned in to the warning signs. Life is busy, time is short, often there isn't time to give attention to ourselves, so the whispers of our body can be overlooked. Health is not the absence of illness, it is much more than that - it is wellbeing and energy too. How often do you feel exhausted or overburdened? Your body is talking to you all the time, from the twitch in your hip to the mouth ulcers that keep coming back.
In Chinese medicine and in many traditional medicines, prevention is better than cure. It is not a luxury to look after ourselves, it is essential. Acupuncture, if you haven't experienced it before, can be profoundly relaxing. This might be contrary to what you imagined. Acupuncture 'fine tunes' your body, rebalancing energy, boosting immunity and blood circulation, and tapping into those feel good hormones and endorphins. Sleep can improve, as well as digestion. People often feel more energetic, calmer, and fundamentally, well.
There is still so much we don't understand about the incredible machine that it the human body, it is full of mystery, yet, if we really listen to it, usually it tells us what we need.
September Spider Webs
This is a picture of bushes taken just by my house. I'm not sure if these spider webs are there all the time, or whether they are just visible now because the mist and moisture are sitting low, clinging to the trees at this time of year, but every September my children and I watch for the appearance of the spiderwebs...
September has a tangible atmosphere, full of abundance and harvest, yet the season to follow shows itself in the morning chill, the dampness and the golden edges on the leaves. Five element acupuncture is steeped in Chinese tradition and knowledge, this pivotal time of year is seen as 'late summer' and is associated with the earth element. The organs and meridians that belong to the earth element are the stomach and spleen. In Chinese medicine the stomach and spleen are responsible for all of the body's transportation and transformation, both physically and emotionally. 'Earth' is our centre, our balance. It is to do with with nourishment physically and 'being nourished'. It's sometimes a time of year when things come full circle, or when we feel like change is ahead. Conversely people can become stuck at this time of year, or sudden change can throw us into a place of anxiety. When balanced, earth allows us to be grounded, stable, able to flow and change, free moving yet contained. The spiderwebs always remind me of this season, of that final excited activity happening under our noses, just before autumn arrives.
Nourishing Qi During Winter
Last week saw more snow fall across many parts of the UK. In Chinese medicine Winter has the most Yin energy of all the seasons. It is a time for rest, recuperation and restoration. Whilst the surface of the earth appears barren, beneath the surface of the ground there is flurry of activity going on - new life is being formed, trees are repairing their roots, gaining strength, animals hibernate. Nature appears to be at rest, but the hard work is being done. Winter can be a time when we find ourselves exhausted. The climax of the year, Christmas, frantic activity. Yet it is when we should kindest to ourselves, allowing the Yin of our body to be nourished through rest. Not only are we exhausted but we are all fighting of coughs and colds and if really unlucky the Nora virus too. The darkness can be oppressive and the festive cheer might be passing us by. Sometimes this is the body's way of trying to tell you to slow down and switch off, impossible usually, but there are things we can do to help ourselves. Try to avoid cold, raw foods that can weaken stomach qi and introduce cold to the body. Soups are your best friend in the winter. Foods that are naturally warming like ginger and garlic will help boost your immunity. Keeping the back of your neck draft free is vital in avoiding catching a chill and then a cold. In Chinese medicine the skin, and in particular, the back of the neck is the first point of invasion of pathogenic factors, so wrapping that scarf tight is not just to keep you physically warm but well too. If you do get a chill, stand with the shower running on the back of your neck, as hot as you can and as soon as you can, it help to reduce the severity of a chill dramatically. If you come for acupuncture at this time of year your practitioner will use plenty of moxa (see 'about acupuncture' page). Moxa warms the points, nourishes and energises Qi, it is invigorating and incredibly relaxing.
I'm no sage on keeping well, I'll most likely be struck down by a cold as soon as I've posted this, but little things can make a difference. Wishing everyone a very happy Christmas and healthy new year.
Seasonal issues in Spring
At times it’s felt like Spring is in reach and then all of a sudden it has felt further away than ever. Yet spring days are slowly starting to outnumber the cold dark, damp days. In Chinese Medicine Spring is the time of year when Yang energy is rising... it’s a time of change, growth, benevolence and a plan. Lots of people love a good old plan, and decision making, so now is the time to use the energy of wood to break free from restrictions - just like the struggling daffodils are trying to burst out of their winter cage (one that’s particularly cold and deep in Aberdeen!) In the clinic I’m seeing lots of seasonal problems - sore necks and tight muscles, Qi that is constricted and tight, along with seasonal blocks leading to symptoms such as headaches. Spring is a great time for an acupuncture tune up to help to shred that winter coat.
What is it all about?
I’m often asked “what does acupuncture actually do?!”, I’m asked this by believers, sceptics, the curious, the worried, almost anyone who shows any interest. Explanations I’ve seen and heard often start with “well it’s been around 1000’s of years, it seeks to restore balance in the body’s energy”. (I too have been guilty of providing loose and vague descriptions). However, the truth of it is that we still have a lot to learn. I firmly believe that we are just at the beginning of our understanding of the human brain and body, not to mention the connection between the mind and the body. Consider how, when in the depths of grief your chest aches and your breathing suffers, or when you bang your thumb with a hammer you feel anger, even if just for a moment. Our mind is not separate from our body, or vice-versa. Our body houses our mind and our soul. So what is this energy that acupuncture apparently treats? In the words of Einstein, “Energy is neither created nor destroyed”, it was always there, before your body came into being, before you took your first breath, it will be sustained, if changed, even after you die. Perhaps you believe in the concept of a soul or not, but in Chinese medicine we believe that this too is simply energy, temporarily housed in your body right now.
Chinese medicine seeks to understand the interplay between your body, mind and spirit, seeing all as intangible, alive, energetic. Pain and symptoms, whether emotional or physical are warning signals that something is out of balance. Through careful verbal, observatory and physical diagnosis the Acupuncturist pieces together these distress signals and identifies the source of the issue.
Okay, so that’s the deeper intention but “what is really happening?” I hear you say. On a physiological level research has shown that acupuncture has a direct effect on the hypothalamus, which, in turn, controls the pituitary gland. This goes some way to explain why it appears to be so regulating for hormones. It promotes circulation, releases endorphins, stimulates the nervous system reducing pain and uncomfortable sensations. It decreases blood pressure and relaxes the mind.
If you believe nothing else other than it’s relaxing, then I’ll take that. As the quote suggests, a relaxed mind opens you up to possibility, it creates space and offers clarity.
For the sceptics, I get it. I was a sceptic too once. I urge you though, to come and chat, ask the questions, challenge this system of medicine. There aren’t always answers, but I mean it when I say you will feel different if you try it. And if all else fails just ask my dog (they don’t do placebos).
If you are interested in understanding more about the cross over between eastern and western medicine and it’s explanations then the following book might be of interest:
‘The spark in the Machine’ by Dr Daniel Keown