How Your Gut Feeling Relates to Your Gut Health

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

serenity-1851950_1920.jpg

We've all walked away from situations where we wish we'd listened to our 'gut feeling' - that still, small voice that seems to speak from the depths of our solar plexus to give us guidance that always directs us toward our heart's truest desires. At times, the direction we're being pointed may seem illogical but looking back we realize there was always a reason for this guidance. 

The problem is that most of us have a hard time listening to our gut feeling, primarily because this feeling is being obstructed by excessive processing in the mind as well as the digestive system. Understanding the connection between the gut that's related to our digestion and the gut feeling that guides us in the most favorable directions in our lives is essential to our well being.

 

Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

 In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach comprise the Earth element which is said to govern the late Summer and all seasonal transitions. This is why it’s important for us to pay attention to and strengthen these digestive organs during times of transition (seasonal or otherwise) in our lives.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen is mostly responsible for the breakdown and transformation of food to produce Qi energy, blood and fluids. It is also the organ that is most likely to accumulate phlegm or dampness from improper food choices and weakness in its transformation function.

Digestion of food can be impeded by stress and too much consumption of damp or phlegm-producing foods such as dairy, sugar, and processed foods. 

The Spleen is also the organ that governs our thinking process and, because of this, it’s the first organ to be affected by overthinking and being obsessive compulsive.

For this reason, it's common for students who are mentally overstimulated for extended periods of time to develop weak Spleen Qi, or energy. Weakness of the Spleen energy will cause a reduction in mental focus and concentration and create a lower level of energy production in general. This can manifest as fatigue.

Fatigue leads students to grab fast foods and sugar for quick energy, but this energy burns fast. In addition, these types of foods can be toxic and create dampness in the Spleen, thereby weakening the digestive system and creating a vicious loop of low energy and poor decision making with food choices. 

Since students tend to be young adults their tolerance is in general higher than older individuals. However, even these young adults will crash over time with physical symptoms ranging from allergies and asthma, to digestive problems and even fibromyalgia that can manifest as a result of severe Spleen weakness causing muscle pain throughout the body.

 

The Spleen and Stomach Digest Thoughts, Ideas, Emotions, and Food

Your digestive system is not just digesting the coffee and scone you ate for breakfast, but also what the woman at the coffee shop said to you this morning or the argument you had with your spouse upon waking or the boss and co-workers at the office who may have just given you an earful of stressful news. 

The busier the mind, the greater the burden on the Spleen to break down the plethora of thoughts and information you are processing throughout the day.

Metaphorically, the Spleen has to transform this information similarly to the way it does food because the Spleen controls your Yi, your Mind. So what you digest either physically or psychologically will impact your state of mind.

Furthermore, your physical state is impacted by your mental state. For example, excessive stress causes the body to produce cortisol, the primary stress hormone, much of which is actually produced in the gut. Increased cortisol levels lead to the proliferation of an unhealthy microbiome in the gut, which can lead to indigestion, fatigue, insomnia, as well as problems relating to your brain and mental function. 

When you eat while you’re in a meeting you’re putting twice the impact on the Spleen as it not only has to process the food that you’re eating but also all the information from the meeting.

Having your energy diverted to your mental processing inhibits sufficient energy to support your digest. Over time this pattern will cause a serious dysfunction in the digestive system and weaken the Spleen energy. This then leads to common complaints such as fatigue, poor digestion, muscle weakness, and generalized body pain since the Spleen also governs the muscles.

The fact that our mental and digestive processes are so connected makes it clear that our gut health will impact our ability to listen to and follow our gut feeling.

zen-2040340_1920.jpg

The Gut-Brain Axis Helps Us Understand How Emotions Affect Digestion

Modern research on the gut-brain axis (GBA), which refers to the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system (CNS), affirms the connection between the mind, emotions and the digestive system.

Both clinical and experimental evidence suggest that enteric microbiota has an important impact on GBA, interacting not only locally with intestinal cells and the enteric nervous system (ENS), but also directly with the central nervous system (CNS).

The vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, passes through the neck to the abdomen and interfaces with parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. Evidence indicates that microbiota communication with the brain involves the vagus nerve, which transmits information from the luminal environment to the central nervous system (CNS). The enteric microbiota is distributed in the human gastrointestinal tract and relative abundance and distribution along the intestine is similar among healthy individuals. This microbial community has important metabolic and physiological functions and contributes to homeostasis.

The constant communication and interplay between the gut and the brain has the potential to influence and intersect with sleep both directly and indirectly. Breus (2016) summarizes some of the ways that might occur:

  • Mood. Disruptions and imbalance of gut microbes have been strongly connected to anxiety and depression. This has potentially significant implications for sleep, as both anxiety and depression can trigger or exacerbate sleep disruptions.

  • Stress. Research is also revealing a complicated, two-way relationship between stress and gut health. Stress is an extremely common obstacle to healthy, sufficient sleep.

  • Hormones. The intestinal microbiome produces and releases many of the same neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and GABA, which help to regulate mood, and also help to promote sleep.

In sum, the health of the gut impacts the health of the brain and therefore our ability to process information, manage stress, balance our emotions, and digest and assimilate food.

 

Tuning in to Your Gut Feeling

Since so much of our mental, emotional and food processing occurs in the gut, gut health is essential to our overall health.

A healthy microbiome in the gut supports ease in the digestive process, which supports healthy elimination, and results in clarity of mind.

In the same way, the combination of a well-balanced diet, a clear, calm mind and harmonious emotions support the production of healthy microbiome in the gut to support digestive and overall health.

When the body is healthy and the mind calm, we have the clarity to hear and listen to the still voice that always provides us with the least resistant path to achieve our goals and dreams. Healthy digestion thus allows attunement to our instincts and a closer connection to the guidance that's offered by our gut feeling.

Interested to know how to heal your gut? There are still a few spaces left at The Yin & Yang of Nutrition: Customizing Your Diet for Optimal Health, a two-day workshop I'm teaching later this month. See all the details and register here.

Staying on Purpose: Insights on the Heart/Kidney Relationship

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

The relationship between the Heart and the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine is the basis for having a clear sense of purpose and the drive to live out that purpose.

Physiologically, the Heart plays a vital role in sustaining our lives, bringing oxygenated blood throughout the body to nourish its estimated 100 trillion cells. On the other hand, the Kidneys are vital organs that help eliminate waste products from the blood to prevent autointoxication.

In Chinese Medicine these two organ systems have other dynamic and critical functions that are important to understand if we are to cultivate healthy longevity in body, mind and spirit.

The Heart stores the Shen, or Spirit, and the Kidneys store the Zhi, or Willpower.

The Kidneys are also the storage center for the Jing, or Essence.

Jing is our most precious substance as it relates to the constitutional aspect of our physical body, i.e. our genetic material. The more well preserved our genes, the more well preserved our physical health.

The process of preserving this precious resource is essential because the Kidney Essence relates to our reproductive resources on a hormonal level as well.

Your body's hormonal status declines with age, so preventing the acceleration of this decline process is key to promoting graceful aging. Daoist cultivation practices for physical health are based upon slowing down this process.

Equally as important as the Kidney Essence is the Spirit and how it becomes embodied during the process of our physical creation. 

heart book.jpg

The Spirit and Conception

At the time of conception, the Jing of both parents unites and captures the Cosmic Qi of the Spirit to be incarnated.

This Cosmic Qi contains an incarnating Spirit's Zhi, or Willpower, also referred to as the Will.  This Will is the driving force behind a Spirit's incarnation and gestational development. This spiritual energy called the Zhi, or Will, becomes stored in the Kidneys upon development.

Once conception happens, the three trimesters of the gestational period unfold during which not only the body forms but also the Spirit of the baby becomes more fully embodied. 

 

How the Body and Spirit Integrate During Gestation

According to Chinese Medicine, there are three main aspects to the Spirit, known as the Po, Shen and Hun.

During the first trimester of pregnancy, the first Spirit that gets embodied is called the Po. This is said to be the most physically dense of the other soul Spirits.

The Po is the soul that's stored in the Lungs. 

Earth energy keeps the Po connected to the developing fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy. This is why it's indicated to support the Spleen, which along with the Stomach is one of the primary Earth organs, during the first trimester in order to prevent miscarriage. During the first trimester, it's also common for pregnant women to suffer from morning sickness with nausea and vomiting, symptoms that can be attributed to a weak Spleen. When the Spleen's Qi energy is very weak during the first trimester, prolapse and leakages are likely to occur, and this can lead to a miscarriage.

During the second trimester, the programming of a person's new life begins. This is the trimester associated with the Fire Element, the Heart and the Shen/Spirit it contains.

During the second trimester, the Shen becomes programmed with the life curriculum that a person is going to experience. This life curriculum contains one's purpose in life. Once this embodied Spirit called the Shen begins to gather information about one's life curriculum, the experiences needed to fulfill this curriculum begin to get programmed into the blood. This leads us to the third trimester.

The third trimester relates to the Wood element and the Liver organ. The embodied Spirit that gets stored in the Liver is called the Hun.

The Hun is like our 'collective consciousness' that contains a record of all memories - past, present and future. So as the blood gets programmed with all of this information, it gets recorded and stored in the Hun of the Liver making this organ a very important system for the health of our memory retrieval.

Once a baby is born, these three spirits - the Po, Shen and Hun - become more and more integrated until around the age of five when the process is complete. 

peach-blossom-3311538_1920.jpg

The organ systems are in general weak and delicate until we mature. With puberty, the Kidney's Yang Qi, called Ming Men, or Life Gate Fire, also becomes strong. 

The blossoming of the Kidney's Life Gate Fire is the impetus for the Zhi, or Will, to take life on as a young adult and to move the Kidney's Yin resources, the Jing, in a way that will allow one's life curriculum to unfold.

It is therefore imperative that both the Kidney Yin (Jing) and the Kidney Yang (Ming Men), both of which are related to the Water element, are abundant and flowing freely. This ensures that the Water energy will not become stagnant or accumulate toxicity so that our life curriculum, which ultimately gets stored into the level of Jing, can unfold naturally as we grow and mature as individuals.

Furthermore, when the Water energy is strong and pure it is able to properly manage the Fire energy.

If there is excessive Fire energy in the Heart, the mind will become overactive, manifesting as restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, and even mania. The excess Fire person will struggle with too many distractions and lack clarity of mind to live out his or her dharma or purpose in life.

Excessive Fire can cause a person to make choices in life that are counter to his or her dharma and thereby divert from experiencing a sense of completion in life. 

On the other hand, if Fire energy is too weak, a person can become emotionally cold and not feel joy or a sense of interest in life. The weak Fire person is essentially apathetic to having a purpose at all. In this state, the willpower and passion to live are lacking or, in Chinese Medicine terms, the energy of Water and Fire are deficient. 

 

Balance Between Fire and Water Allows Us to Stay On Purpose

A healthy balance between the Kidney's Water energy and the Heart's Fire energy ensures strong Heart/Kidney communication.

Through this interrelationship, we're able to establish healthy self-love and a clear sense of purpose in our lives.

Strong Kidney energy allows us the willpower to fulfill our Heart's desires and live out our destiny. Working together, the Heart and Kidney energies motivate us to have dreams and provide us with the drive to pursue those dreams.

Nevertheless, we have a freedom of choice as to whether to live out our path in this lifetime or choose instead to deviate and go a different way. The latter choice would be considered the result of weak communication between one's Heart and Kidneys.

Fortunately, Chinese Medicine which has created these theoretical models has also created tools with which to cultivate a strong Heart-Kidney relationship. This can be done through Qi Gong and meditation, Acupuncture, herbal medicine, and nutrition to help rebalance Fire and Water energies so that we all have the opportunity to fulfill our life purpose.

Body, Mind & Spirit According to Chinese Medicine

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

The integration of body, mind and spirit is essential to holistic healing practices and is gaining an increased level of importance in the conventional medical world as well. Having once been considered non-scientific, this trinitarian concept is becoming embraced by Western medicine and accepted as an integral basis for explaining the cause of certain health disorders, especially those considered to be idiopathic or psychosomatic. 

Chinese Medicine has established a theoretical model that's based on this trinity as well and forms a framework to help us understand these concepts systematically in order to gain greater clarity about the integration of our body, mind and spirit.

 

The Trinity of the Triple Heater System

Early Daoist philosophers who were fundamental in establishing Chinese medical theory were also intrigued with this trinitarian concept of body, mind and spirit. These philosophers articulated this trinity in terms of Heaven, Humanity and Earth to explain our connection to the universe. Superimposed on the body, the microcosmic system of this macrocosmic trinity is referred to as the Triple Heater.

The Triple Heater is a system comprised of three energy centers: the head, the chest and the abdominal/pelvic region.

The head is part of the Upper Heater and relates to Heaven; the chest comprises the Middle Heater, which relates to Humanity; the abdominal and pelvic regions comprise the Lower Heater and relate to Earth.

abstract-aura-body-161200.jpg

The Upper Heater Relates to the Level of Heaven

The Spirit can be related to the Upper Heater of the Triple Heater system by virtue of the brain and the sensory organs of the eyes, ears and nose.

According to Daoist teachings, the sensory organs of sight, hearing and smell are considered gateways and when 'opened' allow an awakening of perception to higher dimensions of consciousness.

In Chinese Medicine, the head - because of its location on top of the body - is in closest proximity to Heaven's energy above. This gives the brain a close relationship to the energy of Fire. Since the brain as an organ is supported by the Kidney system, it also relates to the element of Water.

This creates an interesting association of the brain as Fire and Water - two energies in opposition based on the control cycle in Five Element theory.

Since the brain has aspects of both Fire and Water, a healthy balance of these two energies is required for optimal function.

Chinese Medicine has established diagnostic parameters for assessing the activity of these energies within the body which helps guide the treatment process to bring these energies into a state of greater balance. Through this process, a normalization of organ function can be achieved to impact one's mind, body and spirit.

 

The Middle Heater Relates to Level of Humanity

The Middle Heater of the Triple Heater system is comprised of the chest and relates to the Heart and Pericardium organs which are associated with the Fire element and the level of Humanity.

The Shen, or spirit, is stored in the Heart.  Fire energy is about "intelligence" and "awareness" so in this way we see the correlation of the Heart and the Middle Heater with the level of Humanity as an expression of higher intelligence.

Physically, the pericardium is a protective membrane around the heart and in Chinese Medicine the major function of the Pericardium organ is more metaphorical as it protects our spirit from emotional trauma.

It is said that the Pericardium holds the traumas that occur in one's lifetime and therefore protects one's spirit from being disrupted by past emotional stresses.

However, if there is an excessive amount of trapped energy in the Pericardium from past emotional stress, a person's heart and mind will be impacted physically and psychologically causing health disorders of the heart itself or mental illness.

 

The Lower Heater Relates to the Level of Earth

Corresponding to the Kidney system and the Water Element is the Lower Heater and this level energetically most closely relates to the health of the body itself. Water comes from the earth, so the energetics of the Lower Heater helps us gather energy from the earth to sustain our physical life.

Your Jing, or Essential Qi, is stored in the Kidney system and corresponds on a cellular level to your genetic material, the chromosomes and DNA.

Since Jing or Essential Qi is stored in the Kidneys, the health of your physical body intimately relates to the Water energy. Daoist practices are generally based on the idea of "Yang Shen", to nourish life. From this perspective, we see how nourishing our life is about sustaining cellular health and maintaining healthy gene expression.

Telomeres, a segment of DNA at the end of chromosomes, are indicators of cellular health. As the telomeres shorten, the lifespan of the genes shorten, so we can see how the integrity of the genes and the process of aging relates to the abundance of Water energy contained by the body.

In this regard, maintaining the health of the Kidneys, including the genitourinary and reproductive systems as a whole, is integral to maintaining the health of the physical body.

 

Balance Among the Triple Heaters is Essential to Balance in Body, Mind and Spirit

Historically, the belief in psychosomatic causes of disease was readily accepted in Chinese Medicine.

Chapter 8 of the ancient text the Ling Shu, or Spiritual Pivot, the canon of Acupuncture dating back to the 5th Century B.C., states that "all diseases are rooted in Spirit."  

From a Daoist Chinese medical perspective, it's clear that maintaining the health of the spirit supports the health of the mind and spirit. With these aspects being rooted in the Triple Heater system of the body, we can understand that maintaining balance of these heaters on a physical level is essential to having balance in body, mind and spirit. 

5 Teas to Grow in Your Garden This Summer

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Each season has its gifts and the greatest gift of Summer is that the longer, warmer days encourage us to be more active, social and to spend more time outdoors.

But like anything, this Fire energy that keeps us active must be balanced in order to prevent it from becoming pathological (learn more about Fire energy here and here). 

Since summertime is inherently warmer, it's important to harmonize this heat with more cooling foods and drinks. 

*These 5 non-caffeinated teas will not only help you stay cool and hydrated during the hot Summer days, but they're also packed with extraordinary benefits to support your health year round.

Each one can easily be grown in a small pot right in your garden or balcony then dried or steeped fresh in hot water to make a delicious cooling tea.

 

1. Peppermint 

 Peppermint is one of the most popular herbs used to make tea.

Peppermint is one of the most popular herbs used to make tea.

Also known as Mentha piperita, Peppermint is one of the most popular and rapidly growing herbs in the world.

The menthol in Peppermint creates both a cooling flavor and effect to help with fever and inflammation.

Peppermint helps reduce inflammation and improves digestion. It's one of the most common oils and teas used to treat gastrointestinal issues including bloating, cramping, constipation, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 

Peppermint tea is also antispasmodic, so it helps to treat vomiting and nausea as well as respiratory conditions that may be present during a cold or flu.

In Chinese Medicine, Peppermint is one of the most important herbs to regulate Liver Qi which can manifest as agitation, irritability and PMS. It's also commonly used to clear Wind Heat with symptoms that include headache, fever, nasal congestion, dry cough, as well as sore eyes and throat.

Besides alleviating symptoms, Peppermint tea protects against bacteria and can boost immune function. Its menthol flavor helps remove bad breath and its antibacterial properties kill the germs that can lead to halitosis.

 

2. Lemon Balm

 Lemon Balm grows abundantly in my mother's backyard.

Lemon Balm grows abundantly in my mother's backyard.

Lemon Balm, or Melissa officinalis,  is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. In addition to its antioxidant benefits, Lemon Balm can reduce chronic inflammation, help protect against disease and relieve pain. 

Studies have shown that both Lemon Balm essential oil and extract can support the treatment of diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels and reducing oxidative stress related to diabetes.

Lemon Balm is my favorite herbal tea for anxiety and insomnia.

Lemon Balm can help relax the nervous system, supporting improved mood and better sleep. You'll notice how light your heart feels after drinking a cup of Lemon Balm tea.

From a Chinese medical point of view, Lemon Balm clears Liver and Heart Fire, both of which can cause the emotions to flare up. By clearing this Fire, Lemon Balm calms the spirit, known as the shen. Lemon Balm essential oil can help relax and open the chest as well as descend Stomach Qi to alleviate vomiting, belching, morning sickness, vomiting, and food stasis.

Lemon Balm essential oil (also known as Melissa) is also helpful for reducing PMS symptoms and for treating the herpes virus when used topically during an outbreak and to increase time between outbreaks.

Like many of the other teas on this list, Lemon Balm is beneficial as a digestive aid.

 We love to grow Lemon Verbena in our backyard. The gorgeous leaves can be dried or steeped freshly into hot water to make a soothing herbal tea.

We love to grow Lemon Verbena in our backyard. The gorgeous leaves can be dried or steeped freshly into hot water to make a soothing herbal tea.

3. Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena is one of my favorite plants that grows right in our backyard.

Scientifically known as Aloysia citrodora, Lemon Verbena is a perennial shrub that has a strong lemony scent when touched. The leaves can be dried then steeped to support metabolic processes.

Packed with antioxidants, this tea can help reduce inflammation and anxiety through its effects in hormonal balancing. It's also been shown to reduce oxidative stress levels leading to stronger immune function.

Lemon Verbena is a great digestive aid that also clears phlegm and dampness, helping to reduce bacteria as well as congestion.

 

4. Lemon Peel

Lemon Peel, or lemon zest, can be steeped in hot water to make a cooling tea. It contains a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, Vitamin A and potassium, and is more nutrient dense than lemon fruit and juice.

Lemon Peel also contains high amounts of fiber so it can help prevent and treat constipation.

 Lemon Peel makes an easy and healthy homemade tea that's packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Lemon Peel makes an easy and healthy homemade tea that's packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.

This tea cools the Liver which can help alleviate irritability, anger and even allergies.

With its high content of calcium, lemon peel supports healthy teeth, hair and nails. Its antimicrobial properties ward off a host of bacteria.

 

5. Chamomile

Chamomile, also known as Martricaria Chamomilla, is an annual plant with white flowers that's commonly used in traditional medicine for anxiety, insomnia and digestive disorders including heartburn, nausea and vomiting.

Chamomile is rich in antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory and is also cooling for the Liver.

Steaming Chamomile extract and breathing in the steam can be effective to treat common cold symptoms.

A recent extensive study published in Molecular Medicine Reports describes the use of Chamomile in traditional medicine with regard to evaluating its curative and preventive properties. The study explains that the flowers of Chamomile contain 1–2% volatile oils that possess anti-inflammatory properties.

The authors also discuss the anticancer properties of Chamomile, noting that preclinical models of skin, prostate, breast and ovarian cancer have shown promising growth inhibitory effects.

Chamomile is cooling and can have a calming effect on both the nervous system and gastrointestinal system. Studies in preclinical models suggest that Chamomile inhibits Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that can contribute to stomach ulcers. Chamomile is believed to be helpful in reducing smooth muscle spasms associated with various gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders.**

From a Chinese medical point of view, Chamomile is especially effective to regulate Liver Qi for symptoms such as headaches, anger outbursts, intercostal distention, muscle cramps and spasms, dysmenorrhea, and PMS. It also helps clear Liver Fire that can be caused by excessive emotions, especially Liver Fire that invades the Spleen and Stomach causing epigastric burning and reflux that's aggravated by stress, and even ulcers.

Chamomile's sedative effect helps calm anxiety and hyperactivity, and makes it a great sleep aid.

The efficacy of Chamomile is amplified as an essential oil though these benefits can be experienced to an extent by drinking the tea.

 Chamomile is a flower that can be dried and steeped in hot water to make a cooling, calming tea.

Chamomile is a flower that can be dried and steeped in hot water to make a cooling, calming tea.


*Please note: this article is for educational purposes only. Please consult your healthcare practitioner to determine what foods and drinks are suitable for your condition. 

** Srivastava, J., Shankar, E. and Gupta, S. Chamomile: A Herbal Medicine fo the Past with Bright Future. Molecular Medicine Report. 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895-901.

6 Tips to Have Your Healthiest Summer Yet

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. and Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Each season is inherently associated with an element that grows stronger during its season. One of the most important ways to maintain your health throughout the year is to understand the various associations and learn how to balance these energies from season to season.

The Fire energy grows strong as we transition into Summer. 

Fire is associated with creativity, inspiration, connection, and gives us the ability to be present in our lives. When out of balance, Fire energy leads to inflammation, fatigue, burnout and aging (learn more here).

Sunflowers.jpg

These 6 tips will help you stay cool and balanced throughout the season:

1) Stay hydrated: a good general tip is to drink 1/2 of your weight in ounces of water, i.e. if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink 75 ounces of water per day.

2) Eat cooling foods such as celery, watermelon and cucumbers and cooling teas such as peppermint, chamomile, lemon verbena, and green tea that are especially therapeutic on days when the weather is warmer. 

3) Avoid eating too much fruit. Summer fruits are hydrating and make wonderful Summer treats. Just be sure to eat them - like anything - in moderation. Too much sweet fruit can create dampness and lead to more heat and inflammation in the body. Dampness and phlegm negatively impacts the digestive system and leads to fatigue and weight gain. Keep a healthy balance of cooked and raw foods in your diet and stay lighter with your meals in the warmer months. 

4) Exercise early in the day: Do high activity exercise first thing in the morning when the weather is cooler. You can do more gentle exercises in the evening. Cooling practices such as Qi Gong and Yin Yoga are excellent ways to calm the mind and counter the heat of the season.

5) Spend more time outdoors, but don't forget your internal cultivation. Mangano Calcite, our Summer balancing stone (see below), can provide support.

6) Play more: have fun, open your Heart, and allow the playful energy of this warm season to weave through all aspects of your life!

 

Summer Balancing Stone: Mangano Calcite

 Mangano Calcite is an excellent stone to cool and calm the heart and mind.

Mangano Calcite is an excellent stone to cool and calm the heart and mind.

In general, calcites provide a fast acting cooling effect on the body, so they can be used for acute cases of excessive heat, or Fire.

Mangano Calcite calms a nervous heart and temperamental mind. 

This stone clears heat that can cause agitation and high blood pressure, allowing for greater clarity and focus. 

The pink color of Mangano Calcite comes from the mineral manganese which influences balanced function in the brain and the entire nervous system, especially in regards to inducing a relaxation effect on the motor nerves that control muscle function. 

Signs for using a manganese stone such as Mangano Calcite include an acute period of impatience, anger, quarrel, anxiety, heart palpitations and general nervousness.

Mangano Calcite is an important stone to strengthen Heart Qi and move Heart Blood to treat cardiac insufficiency and shortness of breath.

Among the calcites, Mangano Calcite is the most appropriate for intentional work. It can be taped in the depression under the ball of the foot at Kidney 1 or at the tailbone to ground your energy during Qi Gong practice. 

Even when used topically on acupuncture points or simply held in the hand or on the center of the chest, the vibration of Mangano Calcite is quite potent to quickly induce relaxation and calmness in the body and mind.

You can experiment with the power of Mangano Calcite if you ever experience an acute bout of anxiety or anger. It's likely you'll notice it help quickly cool your temper and calm your mind.

Is Fire Accelerating Your Aging? A Look at How Heat is Impacting Your Body and Mind

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

With Summer upon us, the energy of the Fire element is quickly heating up.

Fire energy relates to the Heart and cardiovascular system so it's important to know how to protect these systems from excessive Fire. Excessive Fire energy causes inflammation and when chronic or lingering for a long time, can particularly damage areas in which it occurs.

Fire is created not only from the sun's radiation but also via electromagnetic radiation from electronic equipment which most of us are exposed to daily in the form of Wifi signals, electrical power lines throughout our homes, cell phones and a host of other sources. The Fire energy of radiation in any form leads to oxidative stress which creates degeneration on the cellular level.

To be clear, oxidation is a natural part of physiological function. Problems occur when oxidative stress is too great for the body to manage leading to the accelerated breakdown of cellular structures on all levels and thus premature aging.

 

Fire Energy and Pathology

In Chinese Medicine, the primary organ of Fire energy is the Heart which relates to the mind and our desires. 

In today's modern society, mental and visual overstimulation tend to create excess Fire energy in the Heart, which can be at the root of many cases of nervousness and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). With today's common problem of screen addiction, it's not surprising to see more and more children or young adults on medication to manage their ADHD or anxiety.

In addition, since the element of Fire relates to one's desires and passions in life and the emotion of joy, if we are overly driven by these attributes, we may find ourselves with a Heart Fire based emotional problem.

Essentially, any situation that overstimulates the mind or emotions - be it a trauma or too many responsibilities in one's life - may create too much Fire in the Heart and potentially lead to the emotional problems of nervousness, anxiety and in extreme cases mania. These are all indications of Fire out of balance in the body.

Sometimes the Fire energy gets burned out or it can be smothered by an excess of dampness in the body leading to a state called Phlegm Misting the Heart.

In these cases, the person will exhibit a state of indifference and apathy towards life. The weaker the Fire energy in one's life, the more one will tend to be cold, withdrawn and introverted.

On the flip side, the strong Fire type personality is very outgoing and if the Fire energy becomes excessive, it can lead to hyperactivity and even overbearing or obnoxious behavior. This is why some people who have too much Heart Fire can become intense and obnoxious upon drinking too much alcohol or spicy stimulants like coffee.

Stress in general produces Fire in the body and comes in many forms be it physical, emotional or mental. Thus, Fire energy is ubiquitous and a natural part of life. 

What's important for graceful aging is to learn how to manage this powerful energy in your life in order to support a healthy body and mind, and to cultivate feelings of contentment and peace.

fire-heart-961194_960_720.jpg

Living Excessively Causes Fire to Flare Up

The body's structure is Yin, which represents substance in the form of skin, flesh, fluids and blood. Yang on the other hand represents function and movement.

Youthfulness is a state of abundant Yin which provides insulation to protect the body from Fire, which is very Yang.

However, as we age, Yin declines and the body becomes more vulnerable to the Fire energy. This appears as drying up of tissues causing wrinkles and other symptoms of dryness.

Any form of inflammation indicates that Yin needs to be supported and Yang Fire needs to be cooled.  

Since function and movement are Yang, one way to prevent excess Fire from building up is to avoid excessive activity, especially during the warmer Summer months.

Young people can better handle activity during the hot weather but as we get older it's important not to overheat ourselves, especially during the warmer parts of the day. It is especially important as we age to not dehydrate ourselves with excessive sweating as well.

Keep in mind, if you are drinking what seems to be sufficient amounts of water but still feel overheated or experiencing signs of dehydration such as a headache or dizziness, try adding some sea salt to your water as the minerals in the sea salt will help you rehydrate quickly.

Another common excess that creates too much Fire is overeating.

Overeating creates oxidative stress on the body especially the overconsumption of 'hot natured' foods like lamb and beef or beverages such as coffee and alcohol.  With this said, Chinese Medicine recommends the decrease consumption of these types of foods during the summer months. Furthermore, sugar creates acid in the body which generates heat. The summer is replete with fresh fruit as it's a way nature provides for hydration during hot weather. Keep in mind, however, that when over consumed, these concentrated sweet foods create damp heat in the body which essentially is a toxic fungal terrain.

Excess Fire burns out your Qi, leading to fatigue.

Oxidative stress damages the mitochondria within the cells. Mitochondria are the cell's powerhouse structures that create energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). As free radicals break down these cellular components, the body's energy production declines.

In Chinese Medicine, we say "heat destroys the Qi" and when we are not producing adequate Qi the body doesn't have sufficient energy to function optimally. Some common signs of Qi Deficiency are lethargy, low immunity, hyper-sensitivity to Wind and Cold, low libido and a weakened digestive system.

 

*Nutritional Supplements Can Help Manage Excessive Fire and Increase Your Energy

Modern nutritional science is making rapid breakthroughs in understanding how to protect and rebuild mitochondria to enhance cellular energy. A number of amino acids have been found for this purpose. 

As suggested previously, when there's too much Yang Fire, we need to support the body with cooling Yin substances. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are considered Yin substances because they build structure. Many amino acids have also been found to have profound effects in reducing the damage of excessive free-radical activity (Yang Fire).

Considered the mother of all antioxidants, glutathione (GSH) is a peptide made of three amino acids. It is so important that cellular levels of GSH are considered a biomarker of longevity. The problem is that glutathione is not effectively absorbed directly through the digestive tract.  However, since it is manufactured in the body, it can be supported with certain food substances, especially those in the cruciferous vegetable family due to their sulfur amino acid content.

N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) is a precursor to GSH and has interestingly been found to help reduce neurocognitive problems such as bio-polar disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), addictions and even schizophrenia.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid is one of the important antioxidants that's been found to increase GSH levels and to be neuroprotective. Alpha-Lipoic Acid has been used successfully to help prevent neurotoxicity induced by chemotherapy which can lead to symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy, possibly by preventing mitochondrial destruction. 

CoQ10, or in its reduced form Ubiquinol, is especially useful in protecting the cardiovascular system from the Fire of oxidative stress, as well as enhancing mitochondrial function to boost Qi (energy) throughout the body, specifically for the heart muscle. 

Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a compound formed from the amino acid L-Carnitine. Acetyl-L-Carnitine has been found to cross the blood-brain barrier and protect the brain's neurons against oxidative stress. It also supports mitochondrial function systemically and specifically beneficial for strengthening brain function in terms of memory recall. For this reason, Acetyl-L-Carnitine is one of the important supplements being used to support individuals with Alzheimer's.

Astaxanthin is another wonder antioxidant in terms of supporting healthy aging as it has been found to reduce oxidation of the cardiovascular system including the prevention of LDL from oxidizing which leads to atherosclerosis. Astaxanthin also protects mitochondria from free-radical damage which is likely the reason it is known to increase energy and stamina.

Astaxanthin provides important cosmetic benefits as well. Known for its carotenoid content that create the pink pigmentation in flamingos and salmon, Astaxanthin has been found to support skin health through multiple mechanisms. Astaxanthin has potent anti-inflammatory effects through its suppression of inflammatory cytokines which are created in response to the sun's UV radiation. It also directly benefits skin health by supporting the skin's moisture barrier to reduce skin dehydration and by increasing collagen production.

In fact, Astaxanthin has been found to reduce wrinkles, improve skin elasticity and skin texture as well.

PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone). PQQ is one of my favorite new daily supplements as it can activate genes that promote the formation of new mitochondria for increased cellular energy production. Recent studies have shown that 20 mg per day of PQQ has demonstrated the beneficial effects of increased blood flow in the brain and enhanced cognitive function. Trials showed increased mental function after 3 months of daily supplementation with PQQ with increased blood flow to the right prefrontal cortex of the brain involved in higher level cognitive functions.

PQQ also helps reduce neurotoxicity likely through enhancing blood flow, and protects neurons from damage due to excess sugar in the blood which has been attributed to the creation of the tau proteins and amyloid brain plaques associated with dementia and Alzheimer's.

Vinpocetine is the last antioxidant I want to discuss because of its neurological and vascular protection for the brain and heart. This powerful supplement is popular in Europe and has been found to improve cognitive function as well as short and long term memory by supporting the production of ATP, improving cerebral blood flow and glucose uptake in the brain. Vinpocetine also enhances the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline to stabilize mood, decrease depression and increase the sense of pleasure in ones life.

With these benefits we can ascertain that Vinpocetine is best for cases of depression and mental lethargy when Heart Fire needs to be sparked.

 

Taming Your Fire to Support Graceful Longevity

The last point I want to discuss is about how modern society is based on cultivating too much Fire in our life.

As I mentioned earlier, screen addiction is a big problem for most individuals young and old. The more staring we do at our devices, be it the phone, TV or computer screen, the more the Heart gets over-stimulated.

Furthermore, the more active we live, the more Fire energy builds up in the body. Waking up some days it certainly seems we are part of the human race and this race just never seems to end. That's Fire energy and it is very damaging to our health on all levels.

It's true as it's been said that we should try to return to being a human being rather than a human doing.

I like to look at the idea of longevity in terms of quality over quantity. With that said, ask yourself, "Do I feel a sense of contentment with my life?" This is an important question to ponder. You may have a bucket list that seems endless with things you want to do and experience. However, it may be time in your life to try and cultivate less Fire by moving toward calmness and peacefulness to cool down your inner Fire. Perhaps rather than focusing on checking off all those things you want to experience in life, take time each day to be in gratitude for your life as it is.

A simple exercise you can practice is to write down a list of all things in your life for which you're grateful. Doing this will help you be more present in the moment and thus nourish your Yin, helping you cultivate both inner peace and graceful longevity.

*The information in this article is presented for educational purposes only so please ask your healthcare practitioner for guidance in what supplementation may be best for your specific needs.

Restore Movement to Restore Your Health

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

In Chinese Medicine, one of the fundamental ways to optimize the health of the body begins through restoring and normalizing the movement of energy within the body. 

This article will outline key zones of the body where energy flow can become bound up and why releasing these restricted areas is essential to normalizing body function in order to optimize health.

 

The Yin & Yang of Movement

As the basis of Chinese Medicine, the concepts of Yin and Yang are depicted as the dark and light divisions of a Tai Ji circle. 

Yin and Yang are two parts of the whole. Yin is the solid part relating to form and Yang is the non-solid part relating to function. Together, Yin and Yang create the material world of form and function. 

Philosophically, there is no separation of Yin and Yang in the living world as there is always Yang within Yin and Yin within Yang as can be seen in the tiniest atomic particle (Yin) which contains a tremendous amount of energy and power (Yang).

In this view, our body’s structure (the form) is seen as Yin, while the body’s function is Yang.

yin-and-yang.png

Qi, often translated as energy, is an aspect of Yang, and relates to function and movement. When there is proper Qi flow in the body, there is a normalization of movement within the body including the normal flow of Yin circulation which includes all the fluid substances.

Internal fluid circulations include such things as the vascular system and the movement of blood throughout the body, the secretion of glandular and organ fluids to support the many aspects of organ function and metabolism, and the distribution of lymphatic fluids to support healthy immune function and proper detoxification. 

These Yin fluid circulations occur because of the movement of the organ energies in relation to the Five elements.

 

Understanding Movement through the Five Element Energetic Vectors

In Chinese philosophy, the universe is a macrocosmic system made of elemental energies described as the Five Elements. Each of the Five Elements relate to a pair of organ systems and the movement of each of these elemental energies support its respective organs' ability to function.

When in balance these elemental energies all move within the body in a concerted manner to create harmonious function between the organ systems.  Ensuring that these energies move according to their nature is fundamental to keeping the body and mind healthy. 

The following Five Elemental energies support Qi flow throughout the body:

The Wood Element is related to the Liver and the Gallbladder organs. The Wood element energetically supports the ascension of energy, like a tree shooting up into the sky. In this way, the Liver organ supports sending blood into the head for nourishment and healthy function of the brain. The Gallbladder system is important to release the pressure and stagnation out of the brain, in other words, to detoxify the brain. 

The Fire Element is related to the Heart. Fire energy spreads upward and outward, similar to how a fire spreads in nature.  This Fire energy supports the spreading of circulation throughout the body, especially into the four limbs to bring warmth. If a person has cold hands and feet, this indicates that the Fire energy needs more support. On the other hand, when the Fire energy is too hot, the Heart and Mind will be overstimulated leading to a state of being anxious and mentally "scattered".

The Earth Element governs gathering and consolidating energy into the center of the body. In this way, Earth energy supports the Spleen and Stomach for proper digestion and elimination. Through the consolidation of energy into the center, energy then spirals upward and downward to support the transformation process attributed to these two organs. Specifically, the Spleen ascends energy extrapolated from food into the heart for the final production of blood (according to Chinese Medicine) and ascends fluids into the lungs and into the head so there is proper moisture for all the sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose and mouth) to function optimally. The Stomach on the other hand, descends the energy so the digested food can transport smoothly through the intestines on its way to being eliminated. 

The Metal Element governs the Lungs and Large Intestine to descend energy through the body. 

Essentially, the downward movement of Lung Qi (energy) supports peristalsis of the Large Intestine for bowel movements, and descends energy through the Bladder for urination. The Lungs also descend energy to support the release of blood during menstruation. The downward movement of energy, in general, is facilitated through deep respiration, hence the benefit of belly breathing for "getting out of our head" and reducing the over-ascension of energy in times of stress.

The Water Element relates to the Kidneys which is about the state of inertia, or stillness. Through the process of being still, we can recuperate our energy so we can then move outwardly into the world. When the Kidney energy is weak, the lumbar region often tightens up and restricts our ability to move. This is an innate response by the body in its effort to consolidate energy back into its core. Lumbar pain and stiffness, if not due to injury, is therefore seen as a symptom of weakness in the Water energy of the body.  An injury to the lumbar region will create weakness in the Kidney Water energy as well, especially when it is a chronic condition. 

 

The Four Rings

There are four circumferential regions in the body where excessive muscular tension and pressure develops thus inhibiting movement and the circulation of the Five Element vectors of Qi described above.

All of the organ and glandular systems reside within four cavities of the body divided by these four regions: the head, the thoracic, the abdominal and the pelvic cavities. 

An important part of evaluating a person’s physical functionality is through assessing the tightness around the four rings of tension that separate these regions anatomically. 

Each of these muscular rings of tension have the following anatomical associations:

  1. The occipital, temporal-mandibular joint and hyoid bone 
  2. The clavicular region made up of the scalene muscles, sternocleidomastoid muscles and the trapezius muscles
  3. The diaphragmatic region created by the diaphragm muscle
  4. The pelvic region created by the muscular tension around the waist associated with the psoas, para-vertebral, quadratus lumborum and abdominal muscles.
 Acupuncture treatment as well as practices like Yoga and Qi Gong can help release tension and restriction in the body's four rings.

Acupuncture treatment as well as practices like Yoga and Qi Gong can help release tension and restriction in the body's four rings.

When these regions hold abnormal tension, the increased pressure will impede movement in the related external structures as well as the organs that lie within these areas as well. This is how normal body function begins to decline both externally and internally.

It's essential to have freedom of movement in all four rings as chronic tension patterns can stay trapped in the body indefinitely until they are released.

A number of physical therapies as well as Yoga and Qi Gong exercises are especially effective to release these four rings. One of the primary therapies is Acupuncture.

The purpose of Acupuncture is to normalize Qi flow throughout the body both internally and externally. In this process of normalizing Qi flow, function and movement are restored.

As a result, Acupuncture also reduces and can resolve pain patterns, but this effect is often overlooked by the medical establishment. 

In fact, a common misunderstanding by Western medical science is that Acupuncture only temporarily numbs pain by blocking pain signals to the brain. In reality, Acupuncture restores function to allow the body to move more freely without pain. 

In the process of restoring functionality, the overall health of the body is restored as well. 

 

Conclusion

Abnormal or lack of movement within the body not only decreases function but it also impedes the normal detoxification processes imperative for health and vitality.

Freedom of movement is therefore necessary to restore healthy function throughout the body.

Healthy movement is induced and supported by manual therapies such as Acupuncture, physical therapy and bodywork, and can also be restored through gentle exercises such as Yoga and Qi Gong practices.

Spring Cleaning for Your Body and Mind

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

spring_break_march_madness_spring_forward_spring_bloom_flowering_tree_how_to_photograph_flowering_trees_white_bloom-1291265.jpg

As we move deeper into the Spring season, you may feel the desire to clean up and create more space in your environment and life.

Every year our hometown hosts a Spring Cleanup Campaign that gives us the opportunity to clear out any old items and waste that’s accumulated over the past year. It’s incredible how much we unconsciously accumulate and it’s no wonder our minds often feel so cluttered as well.

Your outer world is a direct reflection of your inner world, so the more clear and open you can make your environment, the more clarity you’ll feel inside.

Last year I became inspired to tidy up using the KonMari Method and it was amazingly powerful in helping us reduce - and keep away - so much clutter. KonMari founder, Marie Kondo, recommends that you go through all of your belongings and only keep the items that 'spark joy.' In other words, only keep what makes you truly feel happy, whether it’s a suit, a necklace or a notepad.

The idea of surrounding ourselves only with things that “spark joy” has made a tremendous impact on my and Salvador's personal life and continues to enhance the beauty of our sacred spaces at home and in our clinic. It also has created space for each of us to find more ways to practice and share self-cultivation and self-care.

Marie Kondo herself states that “when your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.”

As you tidy up your external space, you may feel the need to clear your internal space - both body and mind - as well.

Since Springtime relates to the Liver, this is the ideal time of year to do a Liver cleanse.

Severe seasonal allergies, fatigue, low immunity and irritability can all be indicators of the accumulation of toxins in the body. 

You can start with a simple dietary cleanse avoiding all sugar, coffee, alcohol, gluten, dairy and soy products. Make sure to stay hydrated and eat lots of leafy green vegetables, fresh fish, olive oil, small beans such as adzuki or lentils, and non-gluten grains, including millet, brown rice and buckwheat. 

Allergic reactions come from an over-stimulated histamine response by the body and it is the role of the liver to detox these histamines from the blood. If the liver is too congested with toxicity, this function will decline leading to increased allergic reactions and a vicious cycle develops. To address excessive heat (toxicity) in the liver, antioxidant supplements that support liver detoxification are important at this time. These include milk thistle and N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine to boost cellular glutathione levels, as well as alpha-lipoic acid. Reishi mushroom is another important single herb remedy that can be used at this time as it modulates both an under-active or over-active immune response to support both allergy or low immunity issues. To help modulate the over-activation of histamine release during the Spring or anytime you find yourself having increased allergies or inflammation, bioflavanoids such as quercetin are very beneficial as well.

In addition, keeping the flow of Qi circulating smoothly is an important aspect to maintaining a healthy liver. Committing to a regular exercise routine that doesn't over-stimulate the body is most suitable for this purpose. Yoga and Qi Gong are most supportive for circulating Qi without the side-effect of depleting your Liver's blood storage which occurs with more stimulating exercise that can burn-out an exhausted body. Furthermore, Meditation practice will calm your mind and body, as well as cool the heat in the Liver therefore reducing the irritability you may tend to feel during this season.

Clearing your body of toxins helps you cultivate greater clarity and a deeper connection to your intuition so that you can more easily harness your goals and desires.

Cleaning and clearing fosters renewal and rebirth and can have profound effects on your overall health and life.
 

Chiastolite: The Perfect Stone to Support Springtime Detoxification

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Chiastolite is a unique looking stone that has a cross in the center. The name derives from the Greek word chiastos meaning “cross marked.” In Chinese philosophy, the cross represents descension and ascension to make the connection between Heaven and Earth as we see in the Christian tradition as well. Wearing or holding Chiastolite can help you become more grounded as you connect with the spiritual aspects of life.

Since it contains lithium, Chiastolite can calm the emotions and help the Heart and Kidney connect so you feel on purpose in your life. It's therefore a very useful stone to use during meditation.

2c56c5cd-7837-4d64-ab42-13296e23bf04.jpg

Chiastolite is also a powerful protective stone that wards off negative energy and repels negativity rather than absorbs it.

In stone medicine, Chiastolite is very important to alkalize the body to reduce excess heat causing inflammation especially in the Liver.

Since Spring is the time for cleansing the Liver, Chiastolite can be taken in an elixir for a month or two for detoxification.

Chiastolite also contains chromium which makes it very beneficial for people with Syndrome X symptoms of high blood sugar, high cholesterol and hypertension as it can cleanse and break up blood stagnation in the arteries.

Springtime is also the windy season and in regards to Spring's relationship to the Wood element, symptoms of Wind can be experienced during this time.

Wind symptoms during springtime are related to allergies and can involve redness, itching, watery eyes, and sneezing.

Wind also irritates the nerves causing numbness and tingling, radiating pain, as well as irritability, nervousness, twitching, and tics. In Chinese Medicine, these neurological patterns are called Wind Bi, meaning obstruction due to Wind. Chiastolite is one of the most important stones to help reduce Wind Bi, or any problem related to hypersensitivity of the nerves such as sciatica or neuropathy with numbness and tingling in the arms, hands or legs as well as Wind-Bi in the face including conditions like Bell's Palsy and trigeminal neuralgia.

Chiastolite can be taped directly on the skin over the problem areas or acupuncture points related to these conditions. It can also be used as a massage wand to scrape along broad regions affected by the Wind Bi. Scraping massage with Chiastollite helps move the blood to release the Wind and its related symptoms.

How to Allow Yourself to Receive

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

I used to think that to get what I want, I have to strive and work tirelessly. Not until I started to practice Yoga regularly in college did I learn that the opposite is true. The more I practiced, the more I relaxed and the more relaxed I felt the more opportunities came to me. The more I focused on self-cultivation and being still, the less effort I had to make in my pursuits.

In order to receive what we want, we have to let go and be fully present. This means that both the body and mind have to be relaxed, clear and calm. I learned this through both my personal practice and through my training with a number of master Yoga instructors, in particular Erich Schiffmann.

Erich emphasized the power of entering the silence and listening for guidance. The one word I heard repeatedly from Erich was “pause.” He encouraged us to listen inward and taught me that the answer to everything comes in the empty spaces between your thoughts, when your mind is quiet.

Mindfulness-based movement practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi release physical tension to prepare the body to sit quietly so you can experience a quiet, empty mind that allows you to be fully present.

Only when you’re fully present can you tune in to receive guidance that will allow into your life anything and everything you’ve ever wanted.

 As a society of achievers, the challenge for many of us is accepting that only through stillness can we align ourselves with anything and everything we want.

As a society of achievers, the challenge for many of us is accepting that only through stillness can we align ourselves with anything and everything we want.

To get to the place where you can receive, you first have to create space by letting go.

 

Receiving by Letting Go  

According to Chinese Medicine, the Lungs govern the circulation of oxygen and Qi, or energy. The more deeply we breathe, the more freely this Qi can circulate throughout the body.

Deep breathing practices including Pranayama strengthen the Lungs. In addition, practices such as Yoga asana and Qi Gong, which coordinate breath with movement, unbind tension in the body thereby allowing the Lung Qi to circulate more freely.

As I've mentioned in previous articles, the Lungs are the primary organs that help us to let go. (You can read more about this here and here). As we inhale, we draw in fresh energy and oxygen. With our exhale we release toxins, as well as thoughts that no longer serve us.

By allowing us to take a deep breath, the Lungs anchor us into the present moment.

The Lungs have an important relationship with the Kidneys. As the Lungs draw in Qi through the breath, the Kidneys grasp this Qi and use it to consolidate the fundamental energy of the body. 

The Lungs also play an important role in harmonizing our emotions through their relationship with the Liver. Whereas the Lungs govern the circulation of Qi, it’s the Liver that ensures the smooth flow of this Qi throughout the body. (Learn more about the Liver/Lung relationship here). Stress of any kind can impede this smooth flow and cause mental agitation and even anger. The simple act of taking a few deep breaths helps open the diaphragm to release stagnation in the Liver meridian and the Liver system as a whole, and thus smoothes the flow of Qi to regulate the emotions.

So, feeling better starts with taking deep breaths. 

When you take a deep breath, you become more present. When you're more present, you feel more in alignment. When you're more in alignment, you're able to receive the messages that guide you to what you truly want. 

 

Tools to Fine Tune Your Ability to Receive

Years ago, Erich Schiffmann taught me to wear a stopwatch and set it so that I’d receive a notification on the hour, every hour as a reminder to pause, to breathe and be more present in that moment. I encourage you to try this powerful practice.

As the days go by and you pause every hour—simply by stopping what you’re doing for a moment to take a deep breath—you’ll start to feel a deep sense of calm seep from those moments into nearly every part of your day.

I've attached the video below as a guide for you to practice ujjayi breathing, a simple technique that profoundly calms the mind. You can practice this form of breathing as you pause throughout the day, before bedtime to help you fall asleep, and even integrate it into your exercise regimen.

Ultimately, our minds more than anything block our ability to receive what we truly want.

Have you noticed that oftentimes when you grapple with an issue it just seems to get harder? Then the moment you let it go everything seems to fall into place. That’s because once your mind tunes its frequency away from that issue, away from the struggle and negative thinking, it can receive the guidance to handle that situation.

Only when we turn our focus away from the problem can we allow in the solution.

It’s crucial not just to shift the thoughts you think but also to empty the mind, to fully let go, so you can receive messages or inspiration from a higher source.

Inspiration arises only from a receptive, quiet and undistracted mind. It’s not a coincidence that the word inspiration is related to breathing, as it's rooted in the Latin word inspirare, which means 'to breathe upon' and is also related to the word inspire, which means 'to breathe in.' 

Sometimes inspiration, or what we may call ‘gut feelings,’ aren’t logical. You may be guided to do something even when your mind may be telling you otherwise. 

For example, you go to the grocery store and something tells you to buy extra vegetables. You may ignore this because it logically doesn’t make sense—you’ve picked out enough vegetables for dinner. But this gut feeling always makes sense later. You may go home to find that your daughter has brought her friend over for dinner, and this friend happens to be vegetarian.

As you practice quieting your mind so that you can receive guidance in these small situations, you’ll be more tuned in to receive this guidance for more significant situations, like when to quit the job you hate to pursue your dreams.

The process of quieting your mind to become receptive all begins by taking deeper, fuller breaths. Allow yourself to relax more, do less and just be. Only by being present can you allow in all that you’re meant to receive.

Dr. Setareh Moafi shares the importance of deep breathing for your yoga practice and daily life.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. 

How to Blossom During Springtime

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

The three months of the Spring season bring rebirth and renewal. Spring is a time of change as we transition from Winter, the most Yin or quiet season, to the first Yang or active season of the year. This is the time for new beginnings both in nature and within our personal lives.

While we may have set our intentions for this year after the holidays, Spring is really the ideal time to make the effort to manifest these intentions into reality.

spring-bird-2295434_960_720.jpg

The fertility, abundance and growth in nature reflects the potential that we each have during this season.

To maximize your ability to utilize the energy of springtime, it's essential to balance the Wood element and the Liver and Gallbladder systems that are associated with this season.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Wood element relates to growth, decisiveness and action.

When in balance, Wood provides the energy to be brave, focused, driven and decisive. Excess in the Wood energy on the other hand can cause one to become controlling, angry, and combative. On the other hand, if you feel that you have no spring in your step this time of year this can reflect a Wood deficiency possibly arising from a lack of rest to nourish the Kidneys during Winter months.

The Liver is the primary organ associated with springtime. It stores blood and is in charge of smoothing the flow of Qi or energy throughout the whole body. Because the Liver also smoothes the emotions, if it is imbalanced the Qi stagnation that results can manifest as feelings of stress, irritability and anger. 

As Spring arises, the Liver energy becomes more active. This activity can however cause the Liver to generate heat and Wind, which develop into typical allergy symptoms such as itchy, red eyes, sneezing, and sore throat. 

Since the Liver is in charge of detoxification, during springtime it's especially important to be cautious of taking in substances that burden the Liver’s function, such as over the counter medications, alcohol and drugs. 

As the Wood element and the associated Liver and Gallbladder systems become active both within us and in nature, it's important to balance their energy so we can flourish throughout the season. Here are 5 ways to cultivate this balance:

  1. Eat a Wood balancing diet replete with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, artichokes, olives, and berries.
  2. Reduce or avoid coffee, alcohol and spicy foods as they can aggravate the Liver thus worsening allergies and the overall irritability and restlessness that most of us experience during this seasonal transition.
  3. Drink herbal teas such as Chrysanthemum, Chamomile, Dandelion and Nettle Leaf to cool the Liver, especially if you tend to experience allergies at this time of year.
  4. Be more active - exercise daily to keep the Liver Qi moving smoothly. Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Ji are especially helpful as the connection to breathing with these types of exercises helps strengthen the Lungs and open the diaphragm to further help prevent Liver Qi stagnation.
  5. Get Acupuncture treatment to help cool the Liver and move the stagnation that can stir up allergies, irritability and anger. 

With its vital energy and beauty, this abundant, creative season supports us to blossom by starting new projects and sharing our unique gifts and talents.

The Doyo Period - 9 Tips to Support Your Health During Each Seasonal Transition

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. and Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

The transitional period between each seasonal change is a very important time to support the health of the body and mind. In Five Element theory, this period is called Doyo and relates to the Earth energy. The Doyo period is an 18-day period consisting of the 9 days before and 9 days after each Solstice or Equinox.

Since this period relates to the Earth element, the organs of the Spleen, Stomach and Pancreas are most vulnerable to imbalance and disease during this time making it important to protect and support these systems.

Spring Equinox dandelions.jpg

People who already have problems in their Earth element need to take extra care as cases such as diabetes, ulcers and gastrointestinal issues in general can all worsen during this time if their lifestyle is not supported.

During the Doyo period in particular it's important to eat meals at regular times and without distractions. Staying away from too much sweet food and other damp inducing foods like dairy and fried foods is also important to keep the Spleen and Stomach energies in a healthy balance.

The Spleen as the largest lymphatic organ in the body indicates this is a good time for acupuncture and massage to support lymphatic circulation. If you only get these treatments a few times a year, it's best to do them during the Doyo periods.

The Spleen is an especially important system as it supports immunity during the seasonal transition. In addition, the Spleen is an organ that assists in the transformation of food into energy and thoughts into purpose, so a healthy Spleen will support you to stay focused on your goals and be able to transform your dreams into reality.

Weakness in the Spleen can result in problems with digestion and elimination and cause the body to accumulate dampness. Dampness is a fungal terrain, often resulting from a diet heavy in carbohydrates, fried foods, dairy and sugar (even in the form of fruits).  A fungal terrain can also develop from using various drugs such as antibiotics, sulfa drugs, chemotherapy, birth control pills, corticosteroids, antacids and acid blocking medications.

Dampness is reflected in our lives through the feeling of being stuck or lacking clarity.  Dampness is also associated with psychological imbalances such as Obsessive Compulsiveness Disorder and hoarding.

The Earth element organs thrive on a simple diet based on unprocessed foods, a calm mind, and a regular daily rhythm with meals, exercise and rest.  

Here are 9 tips to support you to have greater clarity and a healthier lifestyle during the Doyo Period as we move from the most Yin season of Winter to the first Yang season of Spring, which this year occurs from March 13th until March 30th:

  1. Take time to cook and be present during your meals. Put away your cell phone, turn off the TV and just be - with your meal and people with whom you enjoy spending time.
  2. Eat meals at regular times and without distractions. Avoid eating under stress and eating on the run or while distracted.
  3. Integrate more root vegetables into your diet to nourish your Earth. Root veggies such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and rutabaga also help anchor your body's energy and calm your mind. 
  4. Start to integrate more cooked leafy green vegetables to support the Liver and the Wood element, which are associated with the Spring season
  5. Reduce or avoid coffee, alcohol and refined sugars. All of these substances aggravate the Liver, so this is especially important during the transition to the Liver (Wood) season of Spring.
  6. Take enzymes daily. Enzymes taken with meals will help break down food and prevent stagnation and heat accumulation in the Stomach. Along with a balanced probiotic supplement, enzymes are essential for your gut health, which is the core of your immune function and brain health. Not sure what to take? Call us at 408-244-8565 or stop in and pick up a bottle of our favorite probiotics and enzymes. 
  7. Exercise to strengthen your Earth. Calming exercises such as Yoga and Qi Gong are especially important to integrate into your routine. Join us for weekly Qi Gong classes Mondays at 11:45am
  8. Take more time to meditate or just sit quietly to calm your mind. The imbalanced emotion of Earth is worry, so the more you can quiet your mind the less stress this system will take on.
  9. Get Acupuncture treatment. This is the ideal time to support your core Earth energy and immunity with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. (If you're in our area, you can schedule yourself online here).

The Greatest Form of Love

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

pexels-photo-207962.jpeg

Throughout the month of February and especially on Valentine's Day, we're inundated with symbols and products that we've been conditioned to believe represent love -- hearts, flowers, candy, photos of lovers, and fancy dinner dates. Everything that represents Valentine's Day makes us acutely aware of the need to share love with the ones who matter most.

Interestingly, the middle of Winter during which Valentine's Day takes place is actually the optimal time to cultivate the most important kind of love; the love for oneself.

Winter is associated with the Kidneys and the Water element. Water is about contemplation, quietude and self-cultivation, all of which are necessary to build our primary energy, known as Jing, which is stored in the Kidneys. Preservation of our Jing through proper self-care and diet, as well as practices of self-cultivation such as Qi Gong, Yoga and Meditation helps slow down the aging process and prevent a plethora of illnesses and chronic degenerative diseases.

Water is the element that balances Fire according to the Five Element system of Chinese Medicine, and Fire is associated with the Heart. The Kidney's Water cools the Heart's Fire but if the Kidney energy is drained or insufficient, Heart Fire will blaze, resulting in symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia. 

In Chinese Medicine, the Heart not only circulates the blood, but it also houses the spirit, known as the Shen. A nourished, settled Heart manifests as a calm spirit and mind.

When there is sufficient Kidney energy, the Heart is calm and we can sleep more restfully and feel clear and easy with our thoughts and perception of the world.

Sufficient Kidney Qi anchors the Heart Qi and helps us cultivate a feeling of self-love. As this form of love abounds, it easily flows into others. 

That's why, like nearly everything else, it's so important to first cultivate love for oneself to then be able to authentically share it with others.

Being in love is the reconnection with the whole of who you really are.
— Abraham Hicks

Practices such as Meditation and self-reflection amplify self-love and therefore nourish the Heart.

Heart energy drives our passion and creativity. By cultivating self-love, we're able to generously share love and compassion with others.

Self-love connects us to the highest form of love from our Source and when we're connected in this way, the love that we're able to share with others is limitless.

Fennel Essential Oil is a powerful natural element that can support you to cultivate self-love. While it's commonly used to promote digestion and appetite, Fennel oil also strengthens and warms the Kidneys and improves the communication between the Heart and Kidneys. In this way, Fennel can help you feel a sense of comfort and greater connection with yourself. Fennel can be used in a blend as prescribed by a healthcare practitioner and used topically along the Kidney meridian.

This Valentine's Day, take some time to reflect and be with yourself to nourish your Kidneys and settle your Heart. Remember that you have everything you need to feel loved and that your true love lies within.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. 

Essential Oils to Balance A Water Type Person

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Cold weather can be challenging for the body, particularly to the Kidney system which is a storage center for your Ming Men Fire or Gate of Vitality that warms and stimulates all metabolic functions. The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine are also associated with the Winter season and are therefore most vulnerable at this time of year.

The Kidneys also store our most precious commodity, called Jing, which is the Yin that acts like insulation in a home to help contain our internal warmth. Jing is often referred to as Essential Qi or constitutional energy, as it corresponds to the deepest aspect of our physiology which we associate with our DNA. It is therefore crucial to protect your Kidneys to support your body's regeneration and renewal processes in order to maintain youthfulness.

The Kidneys relate to the Water Element in Chinese Five ElementTheory. In a previous article, we explored the Five Element Water type personalities and how the Kidney energy supports our drive to live and the willpower to fulfill our goals and dreams. Here we explore the distinctions and challenges within the two basic Water archetypes and the use of essential oils to help each type of person restore balance.

 Juniper Berry Essential Oil is beneficial for the Yang Water type.

Juniper Berry Essential Oil is beneficial for the Yang Water type.

The two types of Kidney Water archetypes are on opposite ends of the spectrum energetically. The Yang Water type person is generally warm, robust and vital while the Yin Water type is generally cold, weak and sluggish. 

 

The Yang Water Type Person

In Chinese Medicine the Kidneys rule the bones, so a person who is a the Yang Water type will constitutionally have strong bones and a sturdy structure. These qualities make the Yang Water type person very hardy constitutionally and resilient to disease. 

The Yang Water personality type's sturdy structure will often be matched with a graveling voice that's deep and strong. I've seen clinically, when a kidney type person gets ill, their voice will distinctively get deeper and rougher. This is even a diagnostic parameter in Chinese Medicine for assessing that a person has a Kidney imbalance.

To match their vigorous nature, the Yang Water person will often have robust ideals and goals. When out of balance, the Yang Water person tends to have a lot of excess types pathologies and is inclined to have an exaggerated view of reality. 

The Yang Water person is more physical than mental and cut out for hard physical work rather than sitting behind a desk. Yang Water types want to experience life physically and love the challenge and adrenaline rush of adventure. In extreme cases, these Kidney Yang types are risk takers and daredevils.

Their nature of doing things in excess makes the Yang Water type person prone to diseases related to excess. In Chinese Medicine, this can manifest as Damp Heat with symptoms of excessive mucous and swellings such as edema, or in a more advanced state Phlegm Heat, which is related to the formation of tumors and pathological growths in the body. Because of this tendency, Yang Water types usually need detoxification to reduce the heavy toxic load they tend to accumulate that shows up in the form of many metabolic disorders including gout, diabetes, hypertension, and benign or malignant swellings, especially in the urogenital organs. 

 

Essential Oils for the Yang Water Type Person

Wood based essential oils including Cedarwood and Sandalwood support detoxification because the Yang Water type tends to eat and drink excessively, and can be a bit abusive with his or her personal habits. Juniper essential oil, though not a wood oil, can also be used to detoxify the kidneys but should be used with caution as it can be too vigorous in action for a person with Kidney weakness.

Cedarwood Essential Oil is used to cool and strengthen the Kidney system and support detoxification of the body, especially in the urogenital system. Damp heat factors tend to settle into the lower body causing problems in the urogenital systems, such as prostate inflammation and swelling for men and bladder, vaginal or ovarian conditions for women. 

  • Through its clearance of toxic by-products, Cedarwood is also useful for bone and joint inflammation in the form of arthritis. According to Chinese Medicine, the Kidney system directly supports the bone structure and joint health.The joints are toxic depositories and act essentially like holding tanks to keep pathogenic factors from affecting other more vital systems including the internal organs. As the health of the kidneys improve therefore so will pathologies related to the joints. 
  • With its potent ability to boost Kidney Qi energy and considering the Kidney system correlates to the adrenal glands and the lower back region, Cedarwood essential oil is useful to reduce lethargy and fatigue, and strengthen a weak, achey back. 
  • Cedarwood is a tonic for the kidney organs themselves and an effective diuretic. These benefits are very helpful in the treatment of hypertension and gout.
  • In addition, as the Kidney system relates to the reproductive system in Chinese Medicine, Cedarwood can tone the hormonal glands to help with menstrual irregularity and pre-menstrual type syndromes involving cramping and mood swings.

Sandalwood Essential Oil is a well known essential oil for its spiritual attributes and in Chinese Medicine we say it helps calm a person’s Shen, or spirit. Symptoms related to a Shen disturbance are anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and restlessness. 

  • Sandalwood also treats all of these symptoms by cooling heat in the heart for symptoms like anxiety and insomnia, especially when related to a deficiency of Yin fluids in the Kidneys.
  • Sandalwood is especially effective as an antiseptic and diuretic to cleanse the urogenital system and can be helpful in the treatment of cystitis, prostatitis, vaginal infections and even ovarian cysts and hemorrhoids due to the accumulation of damp heat in the pelvic region.

Juniper Berry Essential Oil is an oil to use with caution as it can be toxic for a person with weak kidneys. Juniper oil can however be very useful for a person who has serious arthritic pain due to Wind Damp Cold factors as it has a very warming quality to break up toxicity in the joints. It's also an important oil for Cold in the Blood causing amenorrhea or the type of painful menses that feels better with a warm heating pad placed over the area.

  • More specifically in its application for Yang Water types, Juniper Essential Oil as a diuretic is also useful for diabetes and gout as it acts as a detoxifying agent and helps clear uric acid out of the blood. In general, Juniper is an important essential oil for most circulatory problems including hypertension, varicose veins and edema. 
 Basil Essential Oil is one of the beneficial oils for the Yin Water type.

Basil Essential Oil is one of the beneficial oils for the Yin Water type.

The Yin Water Type Person

The Yin Water person is more aligned with the typical pattern of Kidney weakness in Chinese Medicine as this type of person tends to be timid and fearful.

A Yin Water type will lack the warmth and vigor of Yang energy. They are constitutionally on the delicate side with poor stamina and circulation, and prone to injury with weakness in the bones and joints.

The Yin Water type is much less physical but more intellectually oriented than the Yang Water person and will persevere toward goals with patience. In general, this person is more mental and spiritually oriented than physical and is considered the philosopher of the Five Elements. If this type gets too stuck within, he or she may become a hermit, which is an archetype for the Yin Water type.

Yin Water types enjoy meditation over socialization. These individuals need their adrenals to be stimulated for motivation and to come out of themselves. Active exercise is important to invigorate the Qi in these sedentary individuals. In extreme cases, this type of person can become a reclusive hoarder.

Because the warming Yang energy in a Yin Water type is weak, he or she tends to have a soft voice rather than a robust voice like their Yang Water counterparts.

Yin Water types have a weak metabolism. They tend to feel cold inside and are sensitive to cold in their environment. Their delicate immune system creates low resistance to diseases so the Yin Water person is more prone to get sick easily. 

Because their Yang Qi is not strong the Yin Water type's sexual vigor may also be lacking. If this issue concerns you personally, then becoming more physically active is a good start to help warm your Yang Qi. Martial Arts and, in particular, the restorative practice of Qi Gong is designed for this purpose.

Kidney Yin Water Types tend to be pessimistic and can easily have weight problems due to a sluggish metabolism. With a weakness in water metabolism, this person is also prone to fluid stagnation and issues of edema which can show up under the eyes and in the lower legs, particularly in the knees and ankles. 

Since the lower back and knees relate to the Kidney system in Chinese Medicine, the weak constitution of the Yin Water type person will give him or her a greater tendency to have problems related to these areas, such as soreness and weakness in the lumbar area and knees.

 

Essential Oils for the Yin Water Type Person

The primary essential oils to consider for the Yin Water type person are warming and stimulating oils such as Rosemary, Basil and Fennel.

Rosemary Essential Oil is a very important oils to stimulate the immune system and improve circulation. It's a key oil to open the diaphragm and invigorate the heart circulation specifically. Through these mechanisms the sensitivity to cold and the feeling of cold internally can be reduced or resolved. 

  • Rosemary is also useful for improving problems with digestion and elimination, including bloating and constipation.
  • Rosemary is considered an adrenal stimulant for problems related to chronic fatigue and low metabolism.
  • The Kidney system correlates to the brain in Chinese Medicine, so Rosemary will help stimulate a person mentally to reduce brain fatigue and brain fog.

Basil Essential Oil is a key essential oil to help strengthen a person’s Kidney Yang energy and in this way bring warmth and stimulation to a person’s overall metabolism. 

  • Basil essential oil is also an important oil for a general lack of vitality, weakness in the lumbar region, and low sex drive or impotence. 
  • Basil essential oil is an adrenal stimulant for fatigue and supports a person who may feel a lack of confidence or low self-esteem.

Fennel Essential Oil is a unique essential oil in that is has estrogenic properties to help regulate menstrual problems and treat problems related to menopause.

  • Fennel is also a diuretic and helps decrease an excessive appetite, so it's useful for weight loss. Fennel can also help stimulate a weak appetite, so be mindful that the effect is dosage dependent. The higher the dosage, the more Fennel oil reduces the appetite. However, used excessively Fennel may stimulate Liver Wind which means it can cause nervousness and anxiety.
  • Fennel can also strengthen the Kidney’s Life Gate Fire thereby improving low energy, weakness in the lower lumbar, impotence or low libido, weak willpower and an apathetic disposition which the Yin Water type person is inclined to experience. 

Ideally and for best results, it's important to support an organ system prior to the season to which it corresponds. However, it's important during every season and essentially every day to nurture our Kidney energy to bring balance and optimize its function. The critical issue with the colder weather during Winter is that it becomes especially important to maintain the body's warmth to protect the Kidney Yang Qi. Elderly people have a decline in this energy and that's why they are especially challenged physically at this time of year.

Essential oils are profound sources of plant based biochemicals that resonate directly with the human body's Jing Essence or constitutional energy. When used properly, the six essential oils discussed here can have profound effects to bring balance to the Yin and Yang Water type person and the physical and emotional syndromes he or she often suffer. I suggest you try them for yourself. For complicated health conditions, it is advisable to consult a professional aromatherapist to target your specific needs in a safe and effective manner.

 

Please note: the recommendations in this article are provided as suggestions and guidance and are not meant to cure the illnesses and imbalances described. Please consult your healthcare practitioner or schedule with us to get specific guidelines, formulations and treatments for your specific needs.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

How to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac., and Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

 

Let's admit it. We all strive for more of what we love, whether it's a deeper connection to our partner, greater success in our work or finances, a more abundant lifestyle, recognition, and even contribution and personal development.

Whether it's true to our human nature or not, we've been taught that more is better. In addition to our own personal goals, we have social media and television telling us that we should and could have more if only we buy X, Y and Z.

The great paradox is that once we buy and do everything we desire or feel is 'required' of us, the tendency is to still find that something's missing.

So when is it enough?

To be fulfilled means to cultivate a feeling of enough. 

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach, which encompass the Earth element, are the primary organs of digestion and assimilation. These are the organs that satisfy the feeling of enough on a physical level by transforming raw material from our diet to help the body regenerate on a daily basis. 

The Spleen and Stomach digest and process not just food, but also our thoughts.

If the Spleen and Stomach are harmonized, our digestion is unobstructed and our mind is clear. But when there is an imbalance in either of these systems not only do digestive difficulties manifest, but mental processing can also be disrupted causing problems such as a foggy mind and obsessive thinking. 

When the Earth energy is out of balance there is a tendency to overthink and worry. According to one of the foremost classical Chinese medical texts, Nei Jing Su Wen, “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207) and if it is not properly resolved, it leads to obsession.

The Earth element relates also to our ability to feel completion, abundance and fulfillment.

When you eat a plate of food, the gut sends signals to the brain so it knows that you've had enough. 

Excessive Stomach Fire can create an imbalance in this process, leading to binging, excessive thinking, obsession, and neediness. Stomach Fire most often results from a poor diet with acidic foods, as well as mental overstimulation. This heat in the Stomach ultimately burns out the Spleen Qi and leads to severe fatigue. This pattern is common among students and can cause post-college burnout and Spleen weakness. 

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen also plays a key role in producing blood. A weak Spleen therefore impairs one's ability to build blood.

This is especially crucial for women who work or study excessively since mental overstimulation weakens the Spleen, inhibiting it from building back the blood that’s lost during monthly menstruation. For vegetarians, the ability to build blood is even more challenging since animal products help to nourish the blood. 

The key is that not having enough blood causes one to feel empty inside regardless of one's circumstances.

The feeling of not having enough relates therefore to either weakness of the Spleen in its production of blood, or excessive heat in the Stomach system causing obsession and the need for more and more.

 Cultivating a feeling of enough brings a sense of security, nourishment and abundance.

Cultivating a feeling of enough brings a sense of security, nourishment and abundance.

Strength in the Earth element via the Spleen and Stomach helps ground us in the present moment. When our energy, or Qi, and blood are strong we feel less vulnerable and more secure in all aspects of our lives.

Furthermore adequate blood reserves provide a sense of comfort and security as well.

In fact, a deficiency of blood can cause one to feel a lack of wealth and prosperity no matter his or her financial status.

A feeling of inadequacy may also result from excessive heat in the Stomach, which not only causes mental overactivity and agitation, but can also lead to addiction, such as to sex, drugs, shopping or alcohol.

Excessive heat in the Stomach system physiologically manifests as inflammation anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract, or the gut. This is how Stomach Heat in Chinese Medicine correlates with the pathology of the brain and numerous mental and emotional imbalances via the gut-brain axis. 

Essentially, the health of the gut determines the health of the brain and therefore our ability to process information, manage stress, and balance our emotions.

When the Stomach is full of heat, it can dump this heat into the Heart. 

When in balance, the Heart stirs a healthy level of creativity, passion and desire. However, excessive heat in the Heart induces excessive desires and passions, and this can overwhelm or disrupt the Shen or spirit of a person leading to different types of neurosis, including anxiety and even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

Since Heart imbalances can result from excessive heat generated in the gut, it's clear how our gut health influences both our state of mind and emotional well being. 

 

Tools to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

Since the Spleen and Stomach are the source of Qi and blood in the body, they are also the source of our nourishment and therefore the basis of our ability to feel comfort, security and wholeness. 

We’re all prone to developing a weak Spleen causing blood deficiency through poor diet, irregular eating habits, lack of physical exercise, and excessive mental activity. 

If the Spleen is weak, digestive enzymes can support the breakdown and assimilation of nutrients to produce blood and healthy cells.

Maintaining a clean diet with more alkaline foods will also support your Earth element. Alkalizing foods are especially important for people who tend to be "over-thinkers" as this leads to over acidity in the Stomach. This can lead to Stomach Fire that can over time lead to both gut inflammation as well as imbalances in the Heart.

A person with an especially weak Spleen will experience a lot of fatigue and feel too cold, so in cases like this it may be best to eat less damp producing foods such as grains, dairy and sugar which feed the fungal terrain known as Candida that ultimately suppresses the body's energy.

Eating cooked, warm foods will also support the Earth organs while raw, cold natured foods, especially during colder seasons, can weaken the digestive system and exacerbate Spleen Qi deficiency.

There's a lot more you can do to balance your Earth element, including setting healthy boundaries and being especially mindful of your self-care during seasonal transitions.

The simple yet powerful practice of gratitude can also contribute to a feeling of enough by helping to amplify all that's good in your life now. It's so easy to focus on what's not going right and this is the root of why so many of us feel like we don't have or are not enough. 

A daily and consistent gratitude practice can be done simply by being mindful of and acknowledging things as they flow into your life. It's best to start with the little things so you can easily begin to see how quickly what you appreciate appreciates.

Small and simple changes can provide a great impact to help you restore balance in your Earth energy and bring a sense of comfort and satisfaction to your life.

Only through a healthy Earth element can we truly foster a feeling of enough where nothing feels missing or empty. Through this deep sense of abundance we're able to have a greater capacity to cultivate a prosperous and fulfilled life.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. 

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

The Virtue of Grief: Life Lessons from a Powerful Human Emotion

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Every human emotion provides a unique message that helps us learn about ourselves and others. Emotional intelligence comes from managing our wide spectrum of emotions and harnessing their respective power. 

The problem is that most of us have been taught to value certain emotions more than others. Joy is considered a "good" emotion while anger and sadness are often considered "bad" emotions. Since "good" emotions are more acceptable, I believe many of us feel shame or self-doubt around fully expressing the "bad" emotions. This leads us to suppress these feelings, which can exacerbate the emotional upheaval internally and cause damage to the corresponding organ system with which the emotion is associated.

Grief is one of the most difficult emotions to process, but when properly transformed, it can provide powerful life lessons that can propel you to grow immensely on your path of self-cultivation.

 Grief is the path to heal past wounds and arrive more fully into your authentic self.

Grief is the path to heal past wounds and arrive more fully into your authentic self.

The Emotions According to Chinese Medicine

Huang Di Nei Jing, a foremost classical Chinese medical text, defines seven emotions as major internal causes of disease. These emotions are joy, anger, fear, fright, anxiety, pensiveness and grief. We all experience all these emotions but when any one of them become excessive or are not properly transformed, they can damage their respective organ systems.

It's important to note that all emotions have the potential to negatively impact your health, including the ones we often deem as positive, such as joy. According to Chinese Medicine, over-joy can be likened to anxiety, which is an emotion with which many of us are familiar. Anxiety has the potential to aggravate the Heart and Pericardium system, or Fire element.

Other emotions can also cause damage when chronic or in excess. Worry, or pensiveness, leads to obsession and can damage the Spleen and Stomach system, or Earth element. Anger can turn to rage and damage the Liver and Gallbladder system, or Wood element. Sadness can turn to chronic grief and damage the Lungs and Large Intestine system, or Metal element.

Organ systems are particularly vulnerable during their respective seasons. The Liver and Gallbladder are for instance most vulnerable during the Wood season of Spring, while the Lungs and Large Intestine are most susceptible to harm during the Metal season of Autumn. Consequently, you're more likely to feel the imbalanced emotion of each element during its respective season. In other words, it's common to feel angry or irritable during springtime while sadness is a common emotion during the Fall season.

Sadness and grief are the emotions associated with an imbalance in the Lung and Large Intestine system, and thus the Metal element.

Because of our social bias toward "good" emotions and away from the difficult ones, like grief, there's a tendency to suppress rather than fully express these feelings. However, when we learn to properly transform grief, not only can it help us develop a greater capacity emotionally, but it can also help us deepen our self-awareness and self-cultivation.

 

Grief and the Lungs

Grief is the unbalanced emotion related to the Metal element, which encompasses the Lungs and Large Intestine, as well as the skin.

Grief directly impacts the Lungs and overwhelms our ability to let go, which is the virtue of the Lungs in their balanced state.

Your lungs are part of the respiratory system, and they provide a connection between your external and internal worlds through the breath. Inhalation draws in fresh oxygen and Qi, or energy, while exhalation helps you let go of toxins. 

The Lungs' natural movement is to disperse and descend Qi.

The Lungs disperse, or spread, the body fluids as well as the Wei Qi, the defensive Qi that runs on the surface of the skin to protect you during the day and travels into the body to help you sleep at night. This ensures that Wei Qi is equally distributed under the skin and to the muscles to warm and moisten the skin, allowing for a normal amount of sweating, and to protect the body from external pathogens that can cause colds, flus and skin problems (see more about this in a previous article).

As the uppermost organ, the Lungs also descend Qi to communicate with the Kidneys, which are said to 'grasp' the Qi of the Lungs. This allows for deep breathing. The Lungs also direct body fluids downward to Kidneys and Bladder. Dysfunction in the communication between the Lungs and Kidneys can result in wheezing and asthma or accumulation of fluids either from the failure of the Lungs to descend the Qi or weakness in the Kidneys that prevent the grasping of the Lung Qi.

 Dealing with grief weakens your Qi, which then demands that you slow down and turn inward to process the depths of your emotional state.

Dealing with grief weakens your Qi, which then demands that you slow down and turn inward to process the depths of your emotional state.

The Virtue of Grief

Grief weakens the Lung Qi and inhibits the natural ability of the Lungs to disperse Qi, thereby preventing the Lungs from letting go and extending your energy out into the world.

Grief also impairs the Lungs' ability to descend Qi into the Kidneys, which can further weaken the Kidneys. As a result, when faced with tragedy such as death or other loss, you may feel isolated and vulnerable.

Since grief directly impacts the Lungs, it's common to have Lung problems develop after a loss, including asthma, cough, and even pneumonia.

Dealing with grief can be draining and weakens your Qi, which then demands that you slow down and turn inward to process the depths of your emotional state.

Turning inward allows you to consolidate your Kidney Qi, which supports the Lung Qi, governs Willpower and holds the Life Gate Fire known as the Ming Men that stokes all of the body's energy.

Turning inward and slowing down is thus essential for the Lungs to regain the strength necessary to help you let go and express yourself in the world once again.

It's therefore necessary to have a hibernation period to build back your energy and process your grief.

The best time to do this is during the slow, Yin seasons of Fall and Winter, which are the seasons of the Lungs and Kidneys, respectively.

Grief can be particularly challenging to process because it stirs up the regrets, insecurities and unresolved issues of your past.

Grief is the path to heal past wounds.

Left alone, the wounds of your past become more and more painful and inhibit you from living a fulfilled life.

These unhealed wounds can be likened to what author Michael Singer calls "inner thorns" in his book, The Untethered Soul. Singer explains that these "thorns" are sensitivities that lie in the human heart. When something touches these thorns, we feel pain deep inside.

Singer says that you have two choices to deal with these inner thorns. You can either compensate for being disturbed by avoiding feeling the thorn, or you can remove the thorn and not have the focus of your life revolve around it. To remove the thorn, he says that you must "look deep within yourself, to the core of your being, and decide that you don't want the weakest part of you running your life" (Singer 81).

When you avoid or compensate for your emotions, they become the inner thorns that manifest into your greatest blocks.

When you instead take time to process your grief, it'll guide you to insights that help you heal your inner thorns; your deepest wounds from the past.

Through this healing, you’ll cultivate a more grounded connection to yourself.

 

Conclusion

If you don't process grief, it ferments in your body-mind and later manifests as more severe, chronic emotions such as depression and even rage.

Like every emotion, the full expression of grief is the process by which it's brought to the surface to heal.

When you catch a cold, your body attempts to clear it through your orifices with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Similarly, the body needs to process an overwhelming loss through the expression of emotions, including grief, which must be felt and experienced fully to transform and clear from the body.

Loss is a natural part of life, and we're all grieving something most of the time, whether it's the loss of a loved one, a career change, a move, a breakup, or the simple inner transformations that can occur daily.

Every change in your life, whether positive or negative, can stir up grief about what you're leaving behind. Every change therefore has the potential to offer new wisdom and insights through the virtue of grief. When you allow this grief to transport you to the depths of your heart, you can hear the lessons of your past, let go, and regain the strength and clarity to more fully experience your authentic self.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com


Is Your Liver Insulting Your Lungs?

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Autumn is the season that’s related to the Lung energy and the Metal element. According to Chinese Medicine, the Lungs thrive on moisture and since dryness is predominant during Autumn, the Lung energy tends to be most vulnerable during this season.

Issues related to the Metal energy are therefore more likely to occur during this time of year. Metal is associated with the Lungs, Large Intestine, and skin so symptoms may manifest in the form of respiratory and skin infections and inflammatory flare-ups such as allergies, asthma, psoriasis and eczema. Furthermore, since the emotions of the Lungs are sadness and grief, these states may surface at this time as well.

As we all know and have experienced, Autumn is a dry season. We may notice this dryness manifest in our skin and in our sinuses. In Chinese Medicine, the Lungs like adequate moisture though not too moist with dampness or phlegm. If you notice your mouth and lips are drier at this time of year, it’s likely that your Lungs are as well and this dryness will weaken the Lungs’ function and make them predisposed to illness.

Another common complication during Autumn is that the Lungs' vulnerable energy makes them susceptible to “insult” by the Liver. This idea is based on the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine. Normally the Metal energy, which is related to the Lungs, controls the Wood energy, which is related to the Liver.  However, if this relationship is imbalanced due to a weakness in the Metal energy, which is common during Autumn, the Wood energy can insult the Metal energy especially if the liver is overheated with toxicity.

If these patterns are occurring within your body or your life, it likely indicates that it’s a good time to do a Liver detoxification. 

FiveElementsCycleBalanceImbalance.jpg

 

Let’s take a look at how these patterns can manifest. 

Generally speaking, we do not suggest doing a Liver cleanse at all times of the year. It’s best to avoid cleansing during the cold Winter months because your body needs to maintain its warmth and not be subjected to the cooling effects of a cleanse. While it’s best to consult a healthcare practitioner before starting any cleanse, generally as long as the weather is relatively temperate in your area and your body is not feeling challenged by cold temperatures or feeling cold internally such as having cold hands and feet, a liver cleanse may be appropriate during the Fall. 

 

How To Identify if Your Liver is Insulting Your Lungs

One of the common signs of toxicity in the liver is tightness or discomfort in the flank or sides of the ribcage (not due to injury), as well as a feeling of oppression in the chest making it difficult to take a deep breath. This is often due to an overly tight diaphragm that’s preventing the lungs from comfortably expanding.

The Liver is considered 'the General' who leads the troops since the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. If the General is abusive however, his overbearing and insulting actions can compromise the performance of his troops. In the same way, a toxic liver can impair not only the lungs’ functions but also the digestive and elimination systems.

If the liver is not properly detoxifying the body or keeping the energy circulation flowing smoothly, this will lead to inflammation and pain as toxicity will build up in the tissues, especially in the joints.  

In Chinese Medicine, the Liver energy has an ascending quality and through this action it helps bring blood to our eyes to support strong vision and into the brain to support memory retrieval. However, if there is liver congestion due to toxicity its natural ascension of energy may become impaired and lead instead to a horizontal spreading out of energy hence causing tightness along the diaphragm and across the ribcage or flank regions. If more severe, overt pain or cramping can be experienced in the region of the liver itself.

If the Liver energy is spreading sideways pathologically rather than ascending this will also lead to the Liver or Wood energy over-controlling the Earth-digestive energy and causing numerous digestive complaints ranging from GERD to gas and bloating as well as nausea. In fact, according to Chinese Medicine, more serious conditions such as Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are often rooted in a toxic liver that is insulting the Large Intestine and depending on the condition can involve the Small Intestine as well.

Since the Large Intestine is the other Metal element organ along with the Lungs, it is therefore also predisposed to being insulted by a toxic Liver.

A toxic liver is overheated indicating inflammation, but this may not overtly present in a blood test with elevated liver enzymes. A "hot" liver, however, may show up in your day-to-day health in different ways. For example, if you suffer from allergies or asthma during the Autumn season, it is likely that your Liver is insulting your Lungs and therefore needs a good cleanse.

An overheated liver can push its heat into the Heart system, causing hypertension, and into the head, causing headaches behind the eyes, around the temples, migraines and even temporomandibular joint pain (TMJD). In addition, since the Liver Blood nourishes the tendons and nerves, too much heat in the liver can dry up the blood and cause the development of muscle spasms and cramping or restless legs and neuropathy. All of these conditions are indicators that the liver is overheated and causing irritation of the muscular, vascular and neurological systems.

In these cases, you may benefit from doing a liver detox this season. You can start with a simple 10 day detox or try for a 4 week or more period depending on the severity of your condition. And during this time, it is important to avoid spicy foods such as coffee and alcohol which further create heat and dry up the blood. Of course, smoking is going to create both heat and dryness in the lungs and liver as well.

 

Tips for Detoxifying Your Liver

A powerful way to support liver detoxification is with an amino acid supplement called N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC). NAC helps synthesize glutathione which is a major antioxidant of the body that helps reduce the toxic effects of lipid oxidation which can lead to liver damage. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant stored in the liver to further support detoxification and repair of the liver itself. Numerous studies have shown NAC to improve liver function. Furthermore, taking 600mg twice a day has been shown to reduce mucous in the lungs and improve respiration with patients suffering with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, also known as COPD.

Another important amino acid supplement that supports liver detoxification and intestinal repair is L-Glutamine. Glutamine is now popularly used to repair a "Leaky Gut" due to erosion of the mucous membrane of the small intestine. It's also an important amino acid for the production of brain neurotransmitters, GABA and glutamate. These two neurotransmitters act in a Yin and Yang fashion as GABA helps down-regulate nervous system activity and glutamate helps stimulate the nervous system.

Bupleurum, Milk Thistle and Turmeric are important herbs used to improve glutathione levels as well in the liver and support liver restoration. Bupleurum and Milk Thistle are especially useful when there is heat in the liver. In regards to Turmeric there are three parts of the turmeric plant used in Chinese Medicine. I will mention two of them. The root is called Yu Jin. Yu Jin is cooling, very good for depression and anxiety as well as reducing the chest constraint and flank pains related to Liver Qi stagnation. The rhizome of turmeric is called Jiang Huang. This is the common turmeric herb used in cooking. Jiang Huang is warming and especially useful for joint pain and swelling from wind, dampness and blood stagnation. It also is used when blood stagnation is occurring in the liver and causing pain in the abdomen or flanks as well. Both forms of turmeric are used in anti-inflammatory supplements but have a clear distinction in action.

Your Chinese Medicine practitioner can diagnosis what liver conditions may be present upon examination of the tongue and pulse. In regards to tongue diagnosis, a tongue that shows blue veins along the sides of the tongue would indicate liver blood stagnation and if the tongue sides are especially red, this indicates heat. Please consult with us or your practitioner for a more detailed assessment before beginning any detox regimen.

 Turmeric is commonly used in cooking in many Eastern cultures. It contains compounds that can support restoring healthy glutathione levels and boost the activity of glutathione enzymes.

Turmeric is commonly used in cooking in many Eastern cultures. It contains compounds that can support restoring healthy glutathione levels and boost the activity of glutathione enzymes.

Essential Oils to Reduce a Toxic Liver Insulting the Lungs and Large Intestine

Petigrain is an important oil to relax the chest and deepen inspiration when Liver Qi stagnation has constricted the diaphragm. Petigrain is a leaf oil and in general leafy greens help spread the Liver's Qi when it congests. Liver Qi stagnation will result in an irritable mind and if the Lung Qi gets depressed, depression of the mind can set in too. Petigrain helps resolve both of these patterns and transforms dampness in the process to improve memory as well. Apply diluted over the center of the chest and at the wrists to relax the diaphragm, deepen respiration and soothe the mind.

Peppermint is the signature oil to decongest the liver. Its antispasmodic action is useful for spasms of the colon and cramping of the muscles which may occur with liver toxicity. Taken internally in capsule form, peppermint oil has been shown to improve symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Lavender & Lavandin are all-purpose oils that can diffuse Lung Qi for chest tightness with diaphragmatic stress from liver congestion. These oils can calm an irritable or nervous mind and relax muscle tension due to Liver Qi stagnation. Both of these oils are antiseptic and used for reducing Lung Heat presenting with sinus infections and sore throats.

Lemon essential oil is an antiseptic for Lung heat problems such as sinusitis and sore throat as well. It also reduces Liver Fire with symptoms such as headaches, migraines, abdominal distention and gas. If excess Stomach Fire is occurring, lemon essential oil can reduce acid reflux and burning of the epigastric region. All citrus oils are effective antioxidants and very alkalizing for acidic conditions. Lemon essential oil is also useful for congested lymphatic regions and best when applied in diluted form with a carrier oil over the areas affected. Lemon essential oil is considered a liver decongestant and rejuvenator as well as a blood tonic. Lemon essential oil has been known to help strengthen fingernails which are supported by Liver Blood according to Chinese Medicine. 

Helichrysum (Everlast) is an amazing flower oil that's useful when the lungs have too much heat causing asthma, chronic bronchitis, coughing or allergies. It's especially beneficial to reduce toxins during a liver detoxification. Helichrysum is one of the key essential oils to use if Liver Fire (inflammation) has created Liver Blood Stasis as indicated with the red sides of the tongue along with blue veins which commonly occurs with the overuse of drugs (both pharmaceutical and street drugs).

Rosemary essential oil has a powerful therapeutic action on both the liver and lung systems. Rosemary can help relax the diaphragm to deepen respiration, and stimulates both the liver and gallbladder to support detoxification. Its stimulating action improves circulation, focus and concentration. Rosemary is a very warming oil that is considered a heart tonic so be cautious in its use if there is hypertension.

Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile are both amazing essential oils that can help regenerate a toxic liver and reduce liver inflammation. They are relaxing oils that can also reduce diaphragmatic constriction and discomfort around the ribcage and flanks to improve respiration by relaxing the nervous system. They are very calming oils hence the use of Chamomile tea before bed to help with sleep. When a toxic liver is causing trouble with the GI system in the form of dyspepsia, bloating, IBS, etc, both of these Chamomile essential oils can be rubbed over the affected regions in a diluted form for relief. In general, Roman Chamomile is used for children while German Chamomile is used with adults for anti-inflammatory and detoxification purposes.

 

Conclusion

When the Liver is relaxed and clear of toxins, the mind is calm and Qi can flow smoothly throughout the body. This helps us to also breathe more deeply and increase the strength of the lungs so they are less vulnerable during the Fall season.

These health suggestions are for educational purposes, so please consult your health care provider for personalized support and guidance.

Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, PhD, L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

How World Events Can Impact Your Health: A Chinese Medicine Perspective

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

A few nights before the full moon, I woke up at 1:30 am and after tossing and turning for a while, I simply couldn’t get back to sleep. I finally got up and went to our guest room to do a meditation. At first this settled me quite a bit but within several minutes I felt stricken with a tightness in my chest, difficulty breathing and tension throughout my body.

The anxiety I felt was something I’d never experienced before, and it literally took every tool in my toolbox to get my heart to settle so I could finally go back to sleep.

I woke up exhausted early Monday morning and walked into the kitchen as Salvador read an article aloud about the massacre in Las Vegas. Like most people, I was initially just shocked. But as the reality set in and I read—and bawled over—story after story about the victims, the heroes and their families, a deep sense of grief took over.

Salvador pointed out later that day that there may be a connection between the way I’d been feeling the prior night and the incident. I felt the truth in this right away. 

Even though I didn't personally know anyone involved in the Las Vegas shootings, I felt a deep sense of compassion and empathy for all involved.

The human interconnection is something we all participate in and yet we seem to have lost sight of it lately trying to fit into a race, a gender, a religion, a political party, a certain way of thinking. 

These classifications create a broken nation, a divided world in which brothers and sisters turn against each other and we forget how deeply connected we all are.

But in moments like this, when fear strikes and lives are lost, we realize when other humans suffer, each of us suffer on some level.

Now more than ever, our greatest task is to preserve our health so that we can ultimately begin the healing that the world so desperately needs.

 

How Trauma Impacts Our Health from a Chinese Medical Point of View

All of us feel the same emotions. These emotions are one of our many common threads as human beings, though we may each process what we feel differently.

Li Dong-yuan, founder of the Earth School in Chinese Medicine, focused on what he referred to as the “five thieves,” or the emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, pensiveness, and fright, any of which in excess become pathological. 

All of the emotions that Li Dong-yuan mentioned are excessive emotions that can cause pathology to develop in the body. For example, the Earth attribute of yi, or the mind, which is associated with the Spleen and Stomach, has a tendency to worry or become pensive. Nei Jing Su Wen, an important classical Chinese medical text, stated: “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207). If pensiveness is not properly transformed, it leads to obsession. The attribute of the Heart is known as the spirit, or shen. Over-joy, which includes excessive desires and passions, can overwhelm the Heart and disrupt the shen, since the Heart is the organ that manages joy. Over-joy can transform into anxiety and eventually mania.

According to Chinese Medicine, emotions are merely the movement of qi, or energy, directed by a certain organ, but excessive or repressed emotions have pathological consequences. 

Trauma shocks the entire system, and eventually sets into the internal organ system.

Trauma initially strikes our Kidneys with fear and fright, affecting our adrenal glands, our willpower, and even our faith.

Our Hearts are also affected and since the spirit resides in the Heart from a Chinese Medicine perspective, the spirit suffers as well. We may lose sleep, becoming restless and anxious.

Grief impacts our Lungs and the resulting weakness can cause shortness of breath, coughing, depression and even infections such as pneumonia. Weak Lungs also affect our ability to let go, which is a virtue of the Lungs.

Anger fires up our Liver causing irritability and even affecting the body’s detoxification and digestive processes, which then impacts our ability to assimilate both our food and thoughts.

Trauma can also stir up Wind as a form of resistance to change. (See more about Wind as a challenge to healing in this article)

 

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

Stress impacts the body and mind on so many levels and tragic events activate our stress response - whether we watch the news, read the paper or hear about it from a friend or family member.

This does not mean you should tune out entirely to protect your health, but it's important not to lose yourself in world events. When it feels like too much, do something nourishing. Cook a warm meal, call up a good friend, or go out and spend time in nature. It's crucial that you learn to consistently take care of yourself.

Self-cultivation and self-care are the only things we can control and the most important way to make a difference in what seems like a wounded, frightening world. 

To do this, we have to take more time alone. Take time to sit quietly, to feel the anger, sadness, fear, hopelessness. As the feelings move through you, you can let them go.

Retreating also allows us to nourish the blood to help open the orifices and eventually make changes in our perception.

Solitude provides space and time to fully process our emotions so we can start to see things more clearly with a greater sense of compassion and less fear. Time alone is important to help the energy of the Heart move back down into the Kidneys so that we feel purposeful and clear. This then calms and pacifies the Wind that stirs us up internally with the changes so that we no longer have the nervousness that prevents us from facing the world and the issues. 

Wearing stones such as Amethyst, Moonstone and Amber help calm the Shen, or spirit, to calm the mind and Heart. Herbs such as biota seeds and jujube seeds help to nourish the Heart. Nourishing the heart means being good to yourself, being kind to yourself and also being kind to the world so that you can develop a greater sense of compassion. 

When we’re healthy and compassionate, we act from a place of love, which allows us to be more available to support others who aren’t as strong or who are going through a difficult time.

Once you calm your Shen and nourish your Heart, you begin to open the orifices to change your perception of the world. 

As we change inside our bodies, the Yang of the Kidneys will support us to move through the difficult changes in our lives. Pacifying Wind through calming practices helps settle the Yang to have the courage to make change.

Only when we’re healthy and empowered can we truly make a difference. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The more love we cultivate within ourselves, the more this love ripples into the world.

Our fundamental emotions, arguably the only emotions, are fear and love. The opposite of love is fear, not hate. The only way back to love is through a change in the perception of the world and the eradication of all other emotions that represent fear.

The first step to make this change is to recognize what we actually feel. Only then can we move through these feelings and channel their energy toward making positive changes in the world.

Our teacher, 88th generation Daoist Master Jeffrey Yuen has said many times: "The consciousness that brought on the disease cannot be the same consciousness that brings about healing." This goes for our individual healing and for the healing of the world as a whole.

 

A Meditation to Support You

Many years ago, I developed the BEME Meditation, which stands for Body, Emotions, Mind and Environment. Becoming aware of each of these aspects builds a deeper consciousness that connects us to how we truly feel. 

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to help us be more present, and can be profound to help settle the mind during difficult times. A calm mind becomes a clear mind and eventually provides the foundation for guiding the change that brings about healing.

You can practice this 10-minute meditation daily from the comfort of your home.

 

What You Can Do To Help Others

There are so many people who need our help right now. Here are a few ideas on what you can do for the victims and families affected by the recent tragedies:

Las Vegas

Puerto Rico

California


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Dr. Moafi offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Breathe Deeply,  Fall Into a More Mindful Way of Life

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

leaves-1051937_1920.jpg

With the Fall Equinox on September 22nd, we arrive fully into the season of Metal, which according to the Five Elements of Chinese Medicine is associated with the Lungs and Large Intestine organs.

It's therefore imperative that we focus on our Lung health this season, and especially during the seasonal transition when Lung Qi is most vulnerable.

The Lungs govern the circulation of Qi throughout the body and support us to breathe deeply.

When Lung Qi is weak, symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, allergies and even asthma can manifest. Having strong Lung Qi also provides the force to stimulate Large Intestine peristalsis to maintain healthy bowel function.

Since the Lungs receive their fluids from the Spleen, which is responsible for the production of fluids, an imbalance in the Spleen system may result in either dryness or dampness of the Lungs.

The Fall season relates more to dryness as we often notice more dry skin during this time of year. When the Lungs are too dry, the skin will also lack moisture as the skin is an expression of the Lungs in Chinese Medicine.

Strong Lung Qi provides us with greater endurance and stamina and supports us to take more full, conscious breaths.

Conscious breathing allows us to be more present and helps us cultivate a sense of mindfulness - breath by breath and moment to moment.

One essential way to strengthen your Lungs is through regular exercise. This doesn't have to be running marathons or climbing steep mountains, but a simple daily walk is a great way to keep your Lungs strong and vital.

The Metal energy is also strengthened by the Earth energy which is related to Spleen Qi in Chinese Medicine. Earth energy is weakened by too much sitting, so when you sit too much both the Spleen and Lung Qi are compromised and the ability to create energy in your body will decline. Over time, your stamina and endurance will suffer and fatigue will become more prevalent in your life.

So go out and take a walk, hike or ride your bike not only to boost your Lung Qi and help you breathe more deeply, but also to enjoy all the lovely colors that manifest in nature during this time of year.

And with the mindfulness that you'll cultivate by taking deeper breaths, you'll find an even deeper state of presence to enjoy all the changes of this beautiful new season.

The Transformational Power of Fire in Nature and in the Body

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. & Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

This year Indian Summer, which in Chinese Medicine refers to as Late Summer, came on historically strong in California with extreme heat waves. This dry, hot time of year often coincides with fires sprouting up in our forested regions and we are reminded of how this is a cycle of life that is natural for the earth to become replenished.

In fact, during our visit to Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks a couple weeks ago, we were reminded how important fires are for the survival of the majestic, magnificent Sequoia trees.

Fire is a necessary process for the earth to gain nutrients through the burning of plant material.

 Many of the Sequoia trees we saw during our visit to Sequoia National Park wore wounds from past fires they'd survived. The bark on these trees is an effective fire retardant and the scars left on these incredible trees following a forest fire slowly heal over time.

Many of the Sequoia trees we saw during our visit to Sequoia National Park wore wounds from past fires they'd survived. The bark on these trees is an effective fire retardant and the scars left on these incredible trees following a forest fire slowly heal over time.

Forest fires are a natural and necessary part of the ecosystem. Fire turns dead trees and decay into ashes that become nutrients that return to the soil instead of remaining captive in old vegetation so that new plants and trees can grow and flourish.

In Five Element Theory, Fire nurtures the Earth energy. In nature, as fire burns, ash forms to enrich the soil. The same idea holds true in the body's energetic system as Fire is also needed for our own internal Earth energy to be strong as well.

Fire supporting the Earth within the body can be explained with Stomach acid, more specifically called hydrochloric acid.

If the Fire within the Stomach is strong, digestion will be healthy. If it's weak, digestive power will also be weak.

Many people are misdiagnosed with excessive stomach acid.

People who suffer from GERD or acid reflux are often erroneously given medications to reduce acid production in their stomach. Symptoms may be alleviated, but the condition often will not change because the root of the problem is actually a lack of stomach acid.

To clarify, it is not uncommon that digestive disorders such as GERD and acid reflux are rooted in a digestive system that is under producing hydrochloric acid (HCL). Therefore food sits in the stomach and travels upward into the esophagus because there is a lack of acid to stimulate the emptying of the stomach.  

It was once believed that stomach acid declined with aging, but this idea has been disproven. With that said, many people through a history of excessive medication usage and poor diet, have weak stomach fire or a weakness in stomach acid production. In Chinese Medicine, we can assess this by taking a person’s pulse. There is also a simple test a person can do at home to make an assessment if they have weak stomach acid.

You can do a simple test by drinking 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water 15 minutes before eating a high protein meal. If this alleviates your acid reflux or indigestion, you'll know that you lack stomach acid to stimulate enzyme activity to digest your protein intake.

Betaine hydrochloride with Pepsin can be purchased as a supplement to increase your ability to digest protein and reduce symptoms such as bloating and acid reflux.* Over time, your need for such supplementation will be reduced as these substances act as a tonic to strengthen the stomach's function.

When a stomach is weak and under producing hydrochloric acid, as you restore the Fire of the Stomach, not only are you likely to alleviate digestive problems like GERD and bloating, but your body will also be able to better utilize the amino acids in the protein ingested to rebuild tissue for regeneration.

This simple example shows the importance of enhancing Fire energy to support Earth energy, which is essential to optimize our overall health. (For other tips on how to specifically support your Earth energy, read this article).

 

Essential Oils to Manage Stomach Fire and Improve Digestion

Here are some cooling essential oils suggestions to alkalize excessive Stomach Fire:

  • Peppermint is a popular choice to help with symptoms of indigestion including gas, bloating and even intestinal spasms that can occur with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It also helps decongest the liver and is useful when stress is a trigger for digestive difficulty. Peppermint is a cooling oil so it helps calm the nerves and is very useful for headaches. Peppermint should be avoided for cases of GERD related to hiatal hernias as this oil can relax the esophageal sphincter and exacerbate the symptoms of acid reflux.
  • Lemon and Orange Peel based Essential Oils such as Sweet or Wild Orange, Bergamot, Bitter Orange and Blood Orange all help with acid reflux, nausea and bloating. Citrus oils are especially useful to relax diaphragmatic or epigastric constriction and help the Stomach energy descend for improved digestion. As the citrus oils are very cooling, they tend to work well when a person has too much Stomach Fire with excessive appetite or food stagnation from overeating. 
  • Chamomile is another popular choice to reduce symptoms of abdominal distention, gas, nausea and diarrhea. 
  • Lemon Verbena is a very useful essential oil for excess Stomach fire causing halitosis, burning epigastric discomfort and nausea or vomiting. It also is especially useful to calm an over-active stress response that is interfering with the digestive process. Lemon Verbena is an important oil to reduce fire in the Liver and Heart causing symptoms such as anxiety, tachycardia and nervousness.

Here are some warming essential oils that are best used when Stomach Fire and digestion are weak:

  • Anise Seed is a popular choice when a person has overeaten causing food stagnation that leads to vomiting, nausea and excessive gas and bloating.
  • Cardamom is said to descend Stomach Qi and harmonize the Spleen and Stomach. It is used for poor appetite and weak digestion leading to diarrhea, nausea and indigestion. It may be beneficial for gastric ulcers causing acid reflux.
  • Black Pepper is useful when a person has very weak digestive fire resulting in Cold in the Stomach that causes epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting and constipation or diarrhea. This type of person also tends to have a very weak appetite, fatigue and lethargy with poor concentration and weak, cold extremities. Smelling Black Pepper essential oil is very powerful to make the mind more alert and sharpen concentration.
  • Clove is beneficial to expel cold in the Stomach and Spleen. As described above, this person will tend to have a poor appetite and suffer with abdominal pain as well as nausea and diarrhea. Clove is also used if intestinal parasites are involved. Smelling Clove essential oil is also a powerful stimulant for the brain to increase focus and concentration.
  • Oregano is also used to promote appetite and helps with intestinal pain as it destroys parasites. If taken internally, Oregano should be used short-term such as for periods of 10 days then take a break to reduce strong die-off symptoms called herxheimer reaction.
  • Coriander is a much safer and gentler oil to use. It is a Spleen tonic to promote healthy digestion when a person has poor appetite, loose stools and abdominal bloating. Used over time in can help reduce fatigue, weakness of the limbs, poor concentration and depression. 
  • Cumin is a common culinary herb especially popular in Indian and Persian cuisine. Cumin is a Spleen Qi tonic and beneficial for a person with weak digestion, poor appetite, fatigue and a tendency to have loose stools.
  • Lemongrass is another culinary herb that is very useful for weakness of the digestive system. It is said to strengthen the Spleen's Qi to support its function in transforming and transporting that which is ingested. In this way, lemongrass can help reduce flatulence, abdominal bloating, increase a weak appetite and even help with fatigue, lethargy and poor concentration. Through it's function of increasing the Yang Qi of the Spleen, lemongrass is especially useful to slowly bring warmth back to the body when a person has cold limbs.

These oils can be taken internally if they are food grade quality.

Please consult a holistic practitioner who specializes in Essential Oil therapy for specific guidance regarding your needs. We offer this service at our clinic. 

 

*Any form of orally ingested hydrochloric acid must be taken with food otherwise it will cause burning and pain. Furthermore this treatment suggestion is contraindicated in the presence of any ulceration of the stomach or small intestine. In fact, in the presence of ulceration, antacid medication or supplementation is often beneficial. In addition, it is not uncommon for stomach ulcerations to be caused by an excess of H-pylori bacteria. H-pylori infections require either anti-bacterial medications or herbs to eradicate this type of pathology and the associated digestive problems.