Thoughts From Our Practitioners

Lifestyle Choices and Our Health

Lifestyle choices are influential in achieving and maintaining optimal health.

According to acupuncture theory, we derive our basic life energy from two sources. The first is called "pre-natal qi." We are born with it. It is a gift, basically, from our parents. The second source is called post-natal qi and this is what we make for ourselves on a daily basis from our food, water and air. The choices we make in each of these areas contribute to our peace of mind and our good health.

Evidence from every direction suggests that a Low Glycemic Diet (a diet that encourages a slow release of insulin which keeps the blood sugar very stable) is a good choice for most people. This works out to be a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, protein, not too many fruits or sweets, and a minimum of processed sugary foods.

Interestingly, this pattern forms the basis of most traditional diets, which tend to revolve around a grain, such as couscous, rice, or wheat, accompanied by vegetables and small amounts of protein. This is also where most diet programs end up. It is nourishing, filling, promotes proper weight maintenance, a calm feeling, better sleep, and better elimination.

Water. Our bodies are made of mostly water (!) and good hydration contributes to maintaining a healthy weight, good digestion, nice skin, high energy level and clear thinking. A simple recommendation is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. Coffee and soda don't count.

Air. Good deep breaths of air fill up the chest where the lungs and heart live. These two organs have a great deal to do with our energy production. That's where the blood and breath come together, after all. Many people develop habits of shallow breathing or holding the breath when tense. We can consciously remember to enjoy big, slow breaths, bringing good oxygen into our whole being.

Other contributors to good health are sleep, some sort of mind-quieting practice, gentle exercise and nutritional supplements.

Sleep. It's important to get both enough sleep and enough sleep at the right times. The body, with its own innate intelligence, is orchestrating a staggering number of biological processes throughout the day, most of which proceed totally outside of our awareness. From the energetic standpoint, every two hours the complicated machinery of the body shifts a bit to perform a slightly different function. For example, the "stomach and spleen meridians" are in their prime between 7am and 11am. This is a great time to eat and nourish our selves for the day ahead. Twelve hours later the same meridians go into a resting phase. Eating late in the evening, after 7pm, can lead to stomach problems, weight gain and disturbed sleep. After 9pm and especially after 11pm, our bodies are designed to build up their reserves. This is done during sleep. Too many late nights can contribute to breathing and bowel problems, fatigue, irritability and more. Many people think that because they slept for 6-8 hours sometime in the day that they have rested. It's actually better, whenever possible, to be in bed before 10 or 11pm and get up early.

Quieting the mind. Our busy minds can distract us, confuse us, send us into emotional turmoil and keep us up at night. Learning to quiet the mind can lead to a calmer state of being, better learning and decision making, more relaxed emotional responses, and better sleep. There are many ways to do this, although it does take work!!! Disciplining the mind is no easy task! You might want to explore yoga and the breathing exercises called pranayama, tai chi or qi gong, breath awareness or mindfulness meditation, to find an approach that works for you.

Exercise. Some people love it and some people avoid it. If life gets too busy it's hard to fit it in, but exercise of some kind keeps our muscles limber, our blood flowing, encourages the release of hormones that make us feel good, and takes our mind off other things. It's great to have some sort of physical activity built into your life. Some people prefer good hard workouts at the gym, others favor a sport, walking the dog, dancing, working out at home with videotapes, hiking with friends, yoga, tai chi, swimming, climbing or riding a bike. Exercise doesn't have to take hours and doesn't have to be every day, but it's well worth building into your week.

And finally, nutritional supplements. In a perfect world where we all ate organic, freshly grown food in peaceful loving environments, we might get all the nutrients we need from our food. Most of us, however, don't have such a life, and supplements come in handy. There are many wonderful supplements on the market, offering us a way to support our health with little, if any unwanted "side effects."

Thoughts for the Autumn

A Pot of Red Lentils by Peter Pereira

simmers on the kitchen stove.
All afternoon dense kernels
surrender to the fertile
juices, their tender bellies
swelling with delight.

In the yard we plant
rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes,
cupping wet earth over tubers,
our labor the germ
of later sustenance and renewal.

Across the field the sound of a baby crying
as we carry in the last carrots,
whorls of butter lettuce,
a basket of red potatoes.

I want to remember us this way—
late September sun streaming through
the window, bread loaves and golden
bunches of grapes on the table,
spoonfuls of hot soup rising
to our lips, filling us
with what endures.

I love this poem and its reminders that fall is a time to slow down and savor the gifts of the earth that have been harvested.

Autumn marks the end of the growing season. The sun is less intense. The air is dry, cool, and crisp. The sky is bright and blue. The trees begin to draw their energy in and downward. The leaves of the deciduous trees change color from the tips down. After their colorful display, the leaves turn brown and drop. They fall and become compost for the next growing season.

As the days get shorter and cooler, the squirrels are busy storing nuts and we humans order our firewood for the winter. Do you find yourself indoors a little more often, wearing heavier or more clothing, beginning to spend more time in quieter pursuits (perhaps reading a little more and rollerblading somewhat less)?

Autumn is a time for ending or winding down. If I have had a good harvest from my work for the year, I am able to slow down at work and at home. I review what worked and what didn’t, letting go of what didn’t serve and appreciating what did. I begin to move at a different, more contained, pace.

Suggestions for living in harmony with the autumn season

Go to bed an hour earlier. The body needs more rest in the cooler temperatures to help it conserve heat and stave off cool weather illnesses. (Nature gives us a large hint by decreasing the hours of daylight.)

As the weather cools, wear a hat, a scarf, a turtleneck sweater, warm socks. The lungs can be damaged by cold and damp so it is important to keep the head, neck, chest, and feet covered and warm during the cool and cold weather.

Go through your closet, desk, garage, junk drawer, basement, medicine cabinet (pick one or more), and get rid of what you no longer need. Throw out what is no longer good, and donate or pass on the rest.

Take time each day to breathe in and out slowly and deeply.

Select a deciduous tree that you can see from your window. Observe it daily from September through November, noting the minute and large changes.

Drink chai or mulled apple cider.

Balance aerobic exercise with stretching and breathing (think yoga, tai chi, and qi gong).

Meditate. Start with 5 minutes a day, and gradually expand the time. Notice the changes in your life once you start.

Practice acknowledgment.

If you tend toward perfectionism, make a deliberate mistake and notice that the world does not end.

Each night write a few sentences describing something wonderful you saw or noticed that day.

Prune your activities. What are you doing that no longer nourishes you? Create an empty space into which, in time, something new can grow.

Lisa Farley, L.Ac., M.Ac.

Summer Attack of the Zucchinis

There is a story going around about a small town where, if you don’t lock your car door at night, you are likely to find it filled with neighborly donations of extra zucchinis and yellow squash when you get in the next morning. Summer is considered by the Chinese to be the season of full and luxuriant growth, it is certainly so for this great vegetable!

Zucchini and other squash build the yin or fluid aspect of our bodies, which is good for cooling inflammation and summer heat. If you are wondering what to do with all that zucchini, here are a few great options for using all of the zucchini which may be filling your car- or your basket at the farmer’s market!

   Zucchini Corn medley
2-3 medium sized zucchini cut into small cubes
kernels from 2 ears of corn, or about 1 cup of frozen
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced and allowed to stand for 10 minutes*
olive oil for the pan
salt and pepper
small handfull of fresh basil leaves, minced.

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. Add the zucchini, corn and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to allow all sides of the zucchini to get lightly browned. Cover and allow to cook over low until the vegetables are tender but not soggy - about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Salt and pepper to taste, and mix in the basil leaves. Serve warm or room temperature.

   Zucchini Soup - non dairy
Grate several large zucchini/yellow squash
onion diced
small amount of olive oil for the saute
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced*
1-2 cans of coconut milk ( depending upon how many vegetables you have)
salt, pepper, basil, marjoram

Saute onions and sliced zucs for a long time with lid on and lots of juice will appear. Add the garlic after letting it rest, and a little basil and marjoram. Add coconut milk and salt and pepper. Puree, use food processor or immersion blender.

* mincing, smashing or pressing the garlic and letting it rest for 5-10 minutes prior to cooking allows the separate molecules in the garlic to mix and form allicin. Allicin can be a very valuable garlic molecule in terms of its health benefits, because its intake has been associated with cardiovascular, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer benefits.

Do One Thing Well

The ancient Chinese counseled:
'when you eat, eat,
When your walk, walk,
When you sit, sit.'
Wise advice to those who rush
celebrating at the shrine of busyness!

Yet, the seconds on the clock still pass
Reflecting the movement of the sun,
The seasons still arrive timed to the earth's slow turning,
The silver orb of the moon waxes and wanes,
Marking its place on the calendar
As it has for all of eternity.

Indeed, the cadence of our heart
synchronizes with our breath.
Try as we might,
we cannot deny our biology.

Yet we download, upload,
Synchronize and digitize,
Surf and blog,
Interface and tweet.

As for me, I prefer other verbs:
Ponder and contemplate,
Savor and reflect,
Wonder and muse,
Sashay and play.


Mary Brandenburg
If you like this, check out my blog.

Yoga for Balancing with the Seasons

Acupuncturists and other practitioners often advise their clients on lifestyle interventions that can enhance the benefits of their sessions. Yoga is frequently one of those suggestions. In spite of the recent surge in popularity of yoga, myths persist about it and some people are reluctant to try it.

One common misperception is that yoga is just for young, flexible people. Another is that yoga is just a form of deep relaxation without any physical demand. There are many styles of yoga and teaching approaches to accommodate students of all ages and ability levels.

One style of yoga offered at Four Gates is Yin yoga, which complements the practice of acupuncture. According to Sarah Powers, author of Insight Yoga, "yin yoga is slow and steady, often stationary. with a component of surrender, while yang yoga activity is mobile, maintains a core strength that requires appropriate effort." She explains that a balance of the two is optimal.

Powers states, "as we age, our natural range of motion lessens, partially due to the decreased synovial fluid in the joint capsules... Yin yoga complements a more active practice helping to prevent joint rigidity and immobility, helping to enliven degenerative tissues while simultaneously nourishing the meridians."
She puts forth three main principles in Yin postures:

  • Come in to the shape of the pose to an appropriate edge. This means in a non-aggressive and sensitive manner.
  • Become still and soft in the muscles, releasing into gravity. This will nourish the joints.
  • Hold each pose for an appropriate length of time. This nourishes the meridians.
Whatever style of yoga we are practicing, it is imperative that we adhere to the practice of ahimsa, or non-harming. We need to listen to our bodies and our instincts so we do not force ourselves to attain a specific outer appearance and risk injury. This provides an additional benefit of helping us develop mindfulness and awareness of our prana, also known as chi, the precious life force energy. Powers reminds us that "where our awareness goes, our prana flows."

Our yoga practice, like our diet, changes throughout the year to help us balance with the seasons. While we may have an overall framework or structure to our yoga routine, it evolves becoming relatively more yin or yang. For example, in late summer, the spleen and stomach are the organ systems that correspond with the earth element and the principals of digestion. The emphasis is on nourishment on all levels. The featured poses stimulate the spleen meridian along the inner legs and the stomach channels down the front of the belly, according to Powers.

If you have a steady yoga practice and are curious about exploring yin poses, go to http://www.yogajournal.com/ and search yin yoga. Powers has a sequence that is a good introduction to yin yoga and the accompanying article explains the general priciples. For those who are new to yoga or have physical challenges, seek a yoga teacher who has experience with your condition as well as credentials and experience teaching yoga.

With a little investment of time and energy you can develop a personal yoga practice that will enhance the benefits of acupuncture and help you feel balanced and refreshed as the seasons change. Discover the reward of feeling nourished on all levels!