On Monday, July 22nd, I walked into the Frank Ohman School of Ballet with every intention to take class with my teacher and mentor of 24 years, Frank Ohman. But he didn't show.
Words can't describe the pain that you feel when you lose someone close to you. But as the Chinese (and many other cultures) believe, those who pass are never truly gone. In Chinese medicine, we believe that three spirits reside in your body: the shen, the hun, and the po. The shen is your eternal spirit which is reincarnated into a new corporeal body. The po is your animal spirit, sort of like your instincts. This spirit moves back into the underworld when we pass. Lastly, the hun is unique to each life and is likened to a shadow of the shen. This spirit ascends to the big dipper with all the other huns that have moved on and contributes to the collective knowledge of the universe. So long as there is someone to remember your hun, it will live on forever.
In the last conversation I had with him, he told me that I needed to do more tendus. Anyone who knows him will laugh at this statement because he was always saying that. But for those who don't understand ballet, a tendu is your foundation. It's the first step in class where you extend your leg and stretch through your foot (tendu actually translates to, "to stretch"). That extension builds through the rest of class all the way to our biggest jumps, so practicing tendus strengthens your foundation (feet and legs) and thereby makes you a better dancer. But Mr. Ohman was more than a ballet teacher. He was a mentor and a father figure to many. He taught us self discipline, perseverance, and that hard work is how you "make your own luck." He was always giving us these little pearls of advice and every one of them was guiding us to be better.
So, I promise to practice my tendus every day. I will make myself a better dancer, a better teacher, a better acupuncturist, and a better person with what he taught me. I will pass on what he gave to me and ensure that his memory, his hun, will live on forever. I invite you all to do this with me, to pass on the goodness of your loved ones. Instill it into your children, so they will instill it in theirs, and create a legacy. We will make the world a better place and honor those who have moved beyond this realm with eternal life.
Oh that smell! Can't you smell that smell? Nothing tells the world you have an injury with the same punch as liniment. Though the odor may be unpleasant to some, we can't deny that it helps alleviate pain from inflammation, pulled muscles, sprains, strains, twists, and all those other injuries weekend warriors and athletes alike obtain. But which is the best to use? How and when should they be applied? Let's go through my top 5:
Trauma and tendon liniment can be used on everything from sprains to bruises to broken bones (of course, you should see a doctor if you think something is broken). The only time you should't apply it is on open skin.
Trauma liniment: use this instead of ice
Yes, I mean it. DON'T USE ICE! I explain why on my About Acupuncture page but just to reiterate: ice stops inflammation because it's stopping blood flow. Unless you're dead, you don't want to stop blood flow. In fact, you want the opposite to occur. Inflammation is your body's natural healing response and will usually flush out on it's own, but trauma liniment helps this process along. It has the same cooling effect as ice but actually speeds up blood flow through the area. More blood means all the junk is being moved out and more nutrients are brought in for healing.
Tendon liniment: use this once inflammation stops
This is used in the second stage of healing after inflammation has stopped. This liniment has more warming properties to it to increase blood flow and relax muscles and tendons. Continue use until the pain and swelling stops and the injury has completely healed. If you start using it and the inflammation returns, stop, go back to the trauma liniment for a few more days, and try again. Each injury is different so they will heal at different rates.
Red flower oil, white flower oil, and woodlock oil are your go-to muscle treatments.
Red flower oil has warming properties so it will help increase blood flow and relax muscles and tendons. If heat feels good on the injured area, this one will feel great and make you smell like Christmas.
White flower oil has cooling properties and will aid with minor inflammation in the muscles. Similar to the trauma liniment, it will also help speed up blood flow. Use this if you feel ice would alleviate your pain. Bonus: this can also be used to treat itchy bug bites!
Woodlock oil is neutral when it comes to the warming-cooling spectrum. I like to use this in the summertime when heat feels nice but you don't wan't to be any hotter than you already are, or in the dead of winter when there's inflammation but it's just too damn cold outside to apply anything with cooling properties. With woodlock, you get all the tingles to relax the pain away, and the best of both worlds.
There you have it friends. With these five liniments you can treat almost every injury you can incur playing volleyball, dancing the night away, or simply stumbling around your friends yard celebrating America this weekend. Of course, if you lost a finger setting off fireworks, you should immediately go to the ER. Liniment can't help you. If you do get burned by the BBQ though, purple cloud ointment is the Chinese gift to burns everywhere! It can also be used to treat sun and cold burn, eczema, dermatitis, bug bites, itching, dry, and cracked skin. If trauma liniment, tendon lotion, red and white flower oils, woodlock oil, and purple cloud ointment are in your arsenal, nothing will stop the party.
Happy 243rd birthday America! Thank you to all of you who serve to protect everything good this country stands for.
Summer is finally here! It's time for sun, and beaches, and barbecues, and more sun! I love the sun and it loves us too! Without it, life wouldn't exist, but too much? Well there is unfortunately such a thing as too much sun. Sunburn is only one of the side effects. Overexposure to sun can lead to sun poisoning, heat exhaustion, skin cancer, eye damage, and even speed up the look of aging. Does that mean we should avoid it? Absolutely not! Getting out in the sun helps alleviate symptoms of depression and seasonal affective disorder, regulates sleep, and can even support weight loss (and your mood) by increasing the levels of serotonin being released. It's also our best source of vitamin D which is crucial in calcium absorption and phosphorous regulation (meaning healthy bones and muscles), supports the brain, cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems, regulates insulin, and supports lung health. So how do we get all these benefits without going overboard? The key is to limit (NOT eliminate) your exposure. Our skin makes vitamin D from the UVB rays from the sun and this requires some unprotected exposure. In my research, I've found that the recommended amount of unprotected sun per day ranges from 1 to 15 minutes but overall, that amount of time is determined by skin tone. As we all know, darker skin tones will absorb more light before getting damaged. That doesn't mean you're exempt from using sunblock! What I recommend is applying sunblock just before going outside. By the time it kicks in, you've met your unprotected sun quota. Be sure to re-apply because it does come off with sweat and water and you will burn. For those who are of lighter skin tones, wait the full amount of time before going out. Broad spectrum SPF 50 blocks about 98% of the UVA and UVB rays, so that 2% is probably all the "unprotected" sun you really need.
Lets talk about vitamin D deficiency. Firstly, sunscreen doesn't cause vitamin D deficiency. Spending your life indoors or hiding in the shade does. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include osteoporosis, osteopenia, and brittle bones, chronic pain, fatigue, increases in blood pressure, weak muscles, and decreased endurance. In Chinese medicine, we call this yang deficiency. If you're unfamiliar with what yang energy is, read this blog post before continuing on. Now that we're all on the same page, symptoms of yang deficiency include everything above in addition to cold limbs, loose stool, and spontaneous sweating. Yang deficiency in specific organs can lead to crashing periods in the day, heart palpitations, difficulty focusing, poor appetite, sexual dysfunction, and difficulty urinating. If it gets extreme, you can develop what we call yang collapse. This conditions exhibits symptoms similar to heat exhaustion: cold body, cold sweats and chills, low blood pressure, confusion, dizziness, and a very weak pulse. Heat exhaustion might sound like it would be an excess of yang energy but think of it like your computer overheating and shutting down- the overload ends up causing the collapse.
Finding the right balance of sun is going to be different for everyone. If you're sensitive, use an SPF of 50 and make sure you're taking breaks in the shade, especially between 10a-3p when the sun is at it's strongest. If you're not, a minimal SPF of 15 has been shown to decrease your chances of melanoma by 50%, and premature aging by over 20%. When picking the right sunblock for you, always make sure it's a broad spectrum and try to pick one made with mineral zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Popular ingredients like oxybenzone, octinoxate and methyl paraben are damaging to the coral reefs and therefore, the ocean ecosystems. You can read more about this topic and discover reef safe sunscreens here thanks to Badger Balm. Lastly, if you do burn, treat it with aloe! You don't need to get fancy bottles with extra ingredients. Just get yourself a plant, leave it on your windowsill, and break off leaves as you need. If you follow all the guidelines above, you shouldn't need much!
C'mon now, 2 more episodes would have filled in the blanks and we all wouldn't be nearly as upset with the writers of Game of Thrones. The unfortunate reality is they didn't and we were left with a very confusing and disappointing finale. If you're still feeling the sting (as I'm sure you are now because I just re-opened the wound), never fear, the Nine Breathings of Purification is here! The Nine Breathings of Purification is a Buddhist meditation technique that works to release the three root poisons: anger, attachment, and ignorance. These poisons are understood to be the root of all suffering and if you can release them, you will no longer suffer. I would like to make it clear that a lack of suffering doesn't mean you'll enjoy perfect health. Health and wellness are two sides of the same coin but I'll go into that in another post..."No longer suffering" means your maladies and frustrations in life (or with poor writing) won't affect your emotional health.
Anger poison is being angry about things (obviously), but in an obsessive way. You know that one person who is simply mad all the time and lashes out about every little thing? They are consumed by the anger poison. Being angry has it's time and place, but to constantly stay in that state is exhausting for everyone and can actually affect your physical health. Conditions like hypertension, heart disease, and adrenal fatigue are frequently found in people with a tendency towards anger.
Attachment is a reluctance to let go of things. I say reluctance because no one has an inability to let go, it's just a difficult thing to do and we usually don't want to do it. This isn't just about holding grudges, it's holding on to past relationships, lost loved ones, guilt, and all the rest of the emotional baggage we feel the need to carry with us. Why? Yes our scars teach us life's lessons, but the lesson itself is what we want to hang on to, not the pain and suffering we went through to learn it.
Ignorance can also be understood as self doubt or fear and it's the biggest poison of them all. Doubting ourselves is what leads to regret. A surprising amount of people will stay in a toxic environment because they don't believe they can do better outside it. Staying in an "okay" relationship because you don't think you can do better? Self doubt. Want to start your own business but afraid to? Self doubt. Ultimately, all of our suffering comes down to self doubt: "what if I don't have what it takes?" We get angry with ourselves when we fail (anger), we refuse to forgive ourselves of our failures (attachment), and it continues to fuel the "but what if" conversation (self doubt). It's time to start a new one...
The technique itself is simple and you can read all about it in Awakening the Sacred Body by Tenzin Wangyal Rinproche. Simply put, you take three deep breaths to clear out each channel of it's poison, and abide in the light of your true self; one that is free from self inflicted suffering. To close (and you should do this with every meditation in your repertoire), you dedicate your merit to whomever you so desire. The book also includes a second meditation called the Tsa Lung exercises for the chakras, and comes with access to an online video where the author demonstrates and guides his readers in the meditations. So let's release our anger towards the writers, let go of the past eight years, and maintain our faith and hope that someone out there will write a great spin-off. #TyrionForTheIronThrone
Well...that's a great question. If we look at the strict science of it, no one can quite figure it out. fMRI studies show that brain is affected by acupuncture but no one is really sure of how that's happening. Since acupuncture developed far before imaging technology (over 2,200 years before), we don't really need that to explain how it works. It does take an open mind, however, so stay with me here.
As I explain on my About Acupuncture page, we believe that your body is a self healing mechanism. Meaning that when things go wrong (pain or sickness for example), your body should be able to handle things all on it's own. If it can't, that means that some pathology, blockage in the flow of qi (energy) and blood, and/or imbalance between internal organs is preventing that mechanism. This is your root condition: the true reason why you are suffering. If we don't treat the root, no matter what we do for the symptoms, it won't actually cure them. Think of this like the treatment of a tree. If there are bugs eating at the roots, the branches may look brittle and bare. Cutting some of them down may help the others to thrive for a while, but eventually, they will become bare again. This is because the problem isn't too many branches, it's that the tree isn't getting enough nutrients. You must eliminate the bugs so that the roots can grow and provide the tree with what it needs to thrive. Acupuncture works to eliminate the bugs so that your body can thrive. In order to do that, however, we must first diagnose what the root condition is.
An accurate diagnosis requires 3 pieces of information: a detailed history, the symptoms you're feeling, and a reading of your tongue and pulse. The reason we need your complete history is because something that happened in your past could be influencing or contributing to what you are experiencing today. The symptoms will tell us how the root condition is manifesting in your body. Though this information is useful, it can be misleading because similar symptoms will manifest from different conditions. Like how a stuffy nose can be from allergies or a sinus infection. An accurate diagnosis is what leads to an accurate treatment, thus, the key to your diagnosis lies in your tongue and pulse. Different locations of your tongue and different positions of the pulse correspond to different areas and organs of your body. What we see and feel tells us what's happening. Theory will inform what points we use and how we activate them to correct what's happening.
That brings us to the final piece of the puzzle: treatment. Point selection and activation techniques vary between styles and theories of acupuncture but we are all working towards the same goal- it's different routes to the same location. This means that you can see 5 different acupuncturists, get the same diagnosis from each of them but receive 5 different treatments. This flexibility allows us to treat your root condition from several different angles, but one will be the most direct and effective path for you. Now, you just follow that path to wellness.
So long story short, acupuncture works like this:
accurate diagnosis of the root condition -> accurate treatment of the root condition -> results
Huh...that looks kind of like how medicine works, doesn't it?
There seems to be an ongoing debate on which form of medicine is best: western (aka traditional) or eastern? In my opinion, they're two sides of the same coin. Two schools of thought which hold strength where the other has weakness. Both forms of medicine are complete in their understanding and treatment of the body, but we see things through different lenses which provide different perspectives on the same condition. As we all know, looking at something from a different angle can show us things that may have otherwise been missed. When east and west can work in sync, modern medicine will know no bounds.
Our society, however, has very polarizing views on the best way to approach health and wellness. Most often, those views come out of fear. I've had several patients come to me with an aversion to western medicine after a bad experience. They don't want to take medications or see certain doctors because whatever they went through left them with a bigger wound than the one they started with. To everyone else who shares those feelings, I offer this: western medicine saves lives. It wouldn't be such a crucial part of our survival if it didn't work. Remember, there are bad doctors out there just like there are bad acupuncturists, or bad pizza places. Your experience with one doctor or one treatment should not be a reflection of the medicine as a whole. Just like your opinion on pizza shouldn't be based solely on what Donald Trump thinks is good pizza. (I would like to take this moment to apologize to Sarah Palin on behalf of New York). I also know of a lot of people who don't believe in the healing ability of acupuncture. They ask me, "Does it really work?" If it didn't, do you think I would be an acupuncturist? To those who are skeptical about eastern medicine I offer this: if it's survived almost 3,000 years, it must be working. The mechanics of acupuncture can be difficult to understand and even more difficult to test in a lab. There is really no such thing as "sham" acupuncture, which is what studies frequently use as a control. Inserting needles at random is still a treatment which means that a test subject may still feel relief, even if the treatment doesn't follow acupuncture protocols. In reality, there are no "one size fits all" solutions in acupuncture. Every condition is different because every person is different and thus, every treatment is different. So, a traditional lab test, which only proves positive if you get the same result in the same settings, won't be an accurate evaluation of the efficacy of acupuncture. To those who have tried it and didn't feel any changes, take a look at my About Acupuncture page under "Finding the Right Acupuncturist" for an explanation of why that may be.
Moral of the story, medicine isn't about conflict, it's about healing. There is no one ultimate solution to cure all disease. People will find relief in what they believe in (hence the placebo effect). For some, that faith in tradition, for others, it lies in what's ancient, or maybe a combination of the two. Ultimately, it all comes down to what makes you feel well. Explore your options by talking to experts you trust and researching through reliable and unbiased sources (WebMD doesn't count). Make decisions based on your gut, not by what you heard on the news or read on Facebook. Approach healing with an open and educated mind and you'll be amazed at how great you can feel.
Our first lesson in the basics of acupuncture theory starts here: the tai chi. Probably the most famous symbol representing the Chinese understanding of the universe. Everything in the known universe can be broken down into yin and yang, something and it's complement. Nothing can exist without it's complementary force because everything is defined by it's complementary force. I choose not to use the word "opposite" here because opposition suggests separation or conflict. In Chinese numerology, the number two represents division without separation. As you can see, though the symbol is divided into two colors, they are unified as one whole circle. Another reason why I choose the word compliment is because comparing yin and yang is relative. Take men and women for example. When comparing one to the other, men are yang, women are yin. If you were, however, to compare two women to each other, one being a ballet dancer and the other a construction worker, the former would be yin in relation to the yang of the later. To move a level deeper, there are yin and yang aspects within every individual. Referring back to our female construction worker, she may be yang while at work, but yin while she's home knitting.
As I'm sure you already know, yin and yang are more than a simple way of comparing and organizing things of the universe. It's also the fundamental understanding of how the universe works. The white represents yang: energy that rises, associated with the sun and day, activity, and the male gender. The black represents yin: energy that descends, associated with the moon and night, rest, and the female gender. The larger portions of black and white are representative of balance and harmony, and the dot of the opposite color in each half represents their root of existence. Let's start with balance and harmony. Think of a relationship in your life. If you're with someone whom you consider your equal, there's little conflict and what differences you do have can be used to strengthen your bond. If you're with someone and there isn't a balance of power, turmoil ensues (and we've all been there). The same logic holds true for everything else in the universe and it's where we acupuncturists do some of our work- harmonizing the relationships between organs so everything functions as it should. Now to explain the root of existence. Yin cannot exist without its root in yang and yang cannot exist without its root in Yin. Nothing can be entirely yin just as nothing can be entirely yang. If anything is purely one or the other, it actually creates separation and therefore death. To use men and women as another example, if one was to separate them from each other, the population would eventually go extinct. When we put those two aspects together, the symbol in it's entirety represents the transformative properties of yin and yang. Because each is rooted in the other, they have the ability to change from one form to the other, and continue to do so in an endless cycle shown by the buta-like shapes made with the larger black and white portions. We see this transformation every day as it changes into the night, or when children (yang) evolve into the elderly (yin).
A lot to be said of such a simple symbol, right?
I am using this blog...
to provide a basic education in the theories of acupuncture. I feel that the more one understands about acupuncture and how it works, the better connection they have to their treatments and the better their response. I also would like to use this space to give my professional opinion on some hot (and confusing) topics, offer advice in the grey areas of medicine, and answer some of my most frequently asked questions. If you have any questions or would like more detail on a subject please leave a comment or message me directly.