Passion & Creativity: Balancing the Fire in Your Life

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

fire ring.jpg

Fire is the most immediate, the most in-the-moment of the Five Elements. It represents our potential; the total expression and integration of our being.

Fire is the element that relates most closely to love, passion, creativity, and compassion.

Represented mainly by the Heart, Fire is the only element that encompasses four organs. The other three are the Pericardium, also know as the "Heart Protector," the Triple Burner, which energetically controls the upper, middle, and lower portions of the body, and the Small Intestine. 

Known as the Emperor, the Heart is the main organ within the Fire element. It is responsible for circulating blood throughout the body and thus nourishing all of the internal organs. As such, the Heart is the organ that allows oxygen to flow to the muscles and organs, and allows us to feel warmth, empathy, and compassion.

The Heart holds the Spirit, which in Chinese Medicine is called the Shen and represents the outward expression of the individual energy.  The Shen emanates our sense of compassion, which gives us a sense of our individual self as well as our union with others. Through the Heart we therefore connect to the external world with empathy.

Fire energy guides us with the powers of expression, compassion, intimacy, spontaneity and excitement. It is thus the energy that represents love, an experience that is purely felt. Unlike its opposing element, Water, which has to do with perspective on the past and future and is understood materially through thought, Fire is all about the present moment, and can only be understood in the here and now through feeling.

Since Fire is associated with the Summer, this is the season during which it is most prone to imbalance. Understanding the Fire type personalities guides us toward cultivating harmony with this element in our lives year round.

 

*Fire Type Personalities  

Fire type people live in the moment and use both personal magnetism and their gift of expression to draw people close to them. When in balance, Fire types are jovial, affectionate and optimistic. They are people-oriented, and their charm makes it easy for people to feel close to them and get involved in their exhilarating and often dramatic world. 

Fire types are passionate, creative, personable and sharply intuitive. They can be very spontaneous and make decisions quickly, though they may just as quickly change their minds. 

Like the element in nature, Fire type personalities are warm so it's no wonder why it's so easy for people to feel close and connected to them. And just like fire, these personalities can burn out and burn you in the process if you get too close when they're out of balance.

Once out of balance, Fire types can be overly emotional, anxious, and self-destructive. They are often volatile and restless by nature and tend to develop anxiety and heart problems. They also tend to develop addictions to alcohol and coffee. 

In general, the Fire type personality has a very sharp intellect, incredible memory and will work tirelessly until he is burned out. His restlessness makes it difficult for him to meditate and take time to be still. 

Water is the opposite element to Fire and is also what balances the Fire element. Water relates to wisdom and thus below the emotional flares of Fire lies an unparalleled wisdom; a knowing that comes from a finely tuned intuition.

The Fire element's correlation with the Heart means that Fire type personalities live from and through their hearts, allowing their feelings to guide their decisions and lives. 

Since the Heart system in Chinese Medicine is most closely related to the Shen or Spirit of a person, the Fire type tends to be a very animated individual. 

The Five Element personalities have Yin and Yang variations with the Yang type being more expressive and outward in its expression and the Yin type being more introverted.

If a person is a Yang Fire type, he or she tends to have an extremely unpredictable personality and be the most manic-depressive of all elemental types. One moment the life of the party filled with joy and excitement, and the next moment in deep despair, all the while dragging everyone around them up and down with their extreme nature. 

The Yang Fire person is artistic, passionate and has a magnetic, perhaps even hypnotic quality. Yang Fire types are enthusiastic individuals when pursuing their passions and often prefer to work for a cause they deeply feel they want to support. 

Yang Fire types tend to be easily addicted to coffee and alcohol, prone to heart issues such as palpitations, tachycardia and high blood pressure, as well as angina, heart attacks, insomnia, manic-depression and anxiety.

Yang Fire types are also prone to Intestinal problems such as Irritable Bowel and Crohn’s disease as they tend to have hyperactive nervous systems resulting in overactive and inflamed bowels. 

The Yin Fire type person is a much different individual than the Yang Fire type. The Yin Fire type person tends to be introverted unlike the expressive extrovert Yang Fire personality. The Yin Fire personality can develop as a result of childhood trauma that causes her to feel defeated and develop a negative and pessimistic outlook on life. However, even with that disposition, she can be very committed to striving toward life aspirations even if it requires years of patience. 

Physically, the Yin Fire type tends to have a weak heart and slow blood circulation. In Chinese Medicine, the Heart relates to mental and emotional vitality. As such, the Yin Fire person tends to have a restless mind and emotional fragility, and this unsettled state of mind tends for her to develop insomnia and anxiety. Yin Fire types can be prone to get endocarditis and mitral valve prolapse, reflecting the Fire in their blood. They may also develop aneurysms and arteriosclerosis as a result of their tendency to internalize emotions.

 

Essential oils are an excellent tool with which to rebalance the Five Elements.

Essential oils are an excellent tool with which to rebalance the Five Elements.

 

Essential Oils to Balance Fire Types

The Yang Fire type person needs to cool her blood to calm her Heart in order to resolve the associated problems related to this element. Essential oils that are often used for this purpose are Lemon Verbena, Sweet Marjoram, Neroli, Valerian, and of course Lavender.

For Yin Fire types who tend to have poor circulation and weakness of heart function, essential oils that strengthen heart circulation and relax the diaphragm to improve deep breathing are Sandalwood and Frankincense. Both of these oils are cooling and also useful for anxiety, insomnia and invigorating blood circulation throughout the entire body. Warming oils are important for poor circulation leading to internal coldness and cold extremities. Essential oils such as Cinnamon, Ginger, Fennel, Basil, Black Pepper and Rosemary are some of the most useful oils for these purposes. It is best to dilute these warming oils in a carrier oil if applying to the body because their spicy nature can be irritating to the skin. 

Sage is a very nourishing essential oil for what is called Yin Deficiency with empty fire. This pattern translates as a hormonal weakness that creates the common symptoms of menopausal hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia and night sweating. Sage is an estrogenic oil and contains a chemical called thujone which can be toxic so it requires caution in its use and best with professional guidance. Sage is however a very important and unique oil with two contrasting actions as it is very nourishing to the hormonal system while supporting detoxification of phlegm stasis in the body. A safer alternative is Clary Sage which is also yin nourishing and cooling to treat menopausal symptoms of dryness and overheating.

Essential oils offer a very potent option to help with Fire imbalances that negatively impact the body, mind and emotions. In combination with your effort to practice "living in the moment" whether it's through meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong or just practicing mindfulness, the support of essential oils can truly help you live from your Heart to enjoy the passion, creativity and joy that the Fire element brings to all aspects of your life!

 

*We all encompass certain aspects of these 5 element personalities in each of our personalities. Thus, it's important to recognize what element is out of balance to harmonize your health. You can do this by learning about how to rebalance the 5 Elements on your own and with the care and guidance of a licensed practitioner who is familiar with this system.

Disclaimer: the suggestions provided here are not meant to cure any of the ailments listed. It is strongly recommended that essential oil blends be tailored to each individual's needs by a licensed practitioner who is well trained in the use of essential oils, and that long-term use be under the guidance of such a practitioner. You can schedule a consultation with one of our practitioners if you'd like to learn more. 


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, Ph.D., 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.

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

Feeling The Heat? The Impact of Chronic Inflammation on your Heart Health

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

Cardiovascular diseases in the form of heart attacks and strokes are two of the top five leading causes of death in the U.S. Assessing how these conditions can be rooted in inflammation is therefore critical. In this article we will examine how any form of chronic inflammation is a stress on the heart and can potentially lead to cardiovascular disease.

Source: By BodyParts3D/Anatomography (Anatomography) via Wikimedia Commons

Source: By BodyParts3D/Anatomography (Anatomography) via Wikimedia Commons

In Chinese Medicine, the pathology of Heat is a primary factor of disease in the same way that inflammation is associated with many health problems according to Western medicine.

Pathological heat can be clearly identified because of either an acute infection or inflammation or chronic inflammation in the form of common problems such as allergies, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, gastritis, and intestinal issues including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or colitis. Furthermore, chronic infections such as Lyme disease, Hepatitis, Epstein Barr and mycoplasma can all involve pathological heat according to Chinese Medicine. 

Inflammatory heat can go unnoticed for months and years brewing slowly in the body like fermentation in a barrel. Heat can combine with Dampness (called Damp Heat) and lurk in latency for a long time before it rears a host of symptoms and pathology.

According to Chinese Medicine, Dampness is a fungal terrain and the root of many chronic health problems that today we associate with inflammation. Damp Heat is commonly created by a diet of processed foods, high in carbohydrates and toxic chemicals. Sugar in any form can induce inflammation as it feeds yeast to support a damp terrain and creates heat through its acidic nature.

Sugar is the perfect Damp Heat toxic bomb for the body. This point is well established medically with the way sugar feeds cancer cells so efficiently.

A Damp Heat fungal terrain can also be attributed to the use of antibiotics, oral corticosteroids and estrogen based drugs such as hormone replacement and birth control pills. It seems practical to say the incredible increase in pharmaceutical drug consumption is a huge factor for creating the toxic Damp Heat environment within the body that Chinese Medicine associates with the creation of chronic degenerative disease, including cardiovascular disorders. (If you'd like to learn more about Dampness and Heat pathologies according to Chinese Medicine, you can read my article here.)

 

It's Just About Summertime 

Summer is the season when the sun kisses our palate with an abundance of fruit. However, even this natural sugar can induce serious health problems if there is a Damp Heat problem. Year round consumption of fruit sugar is a key trigger for a Damp Heat toxic environment in the body.

Historically, fruit was eaten seasonally when it was available, especially in the Summer, when the increase in ingested fruit sugar triggers the body to store fat for Winter energy. But today, with year round access to a variety of fruits, the body's gene stimulation to store fat is a year round event as well. Sugar in all forms, from fruit to breads, cookies, chips, pies, cakes, Big Gulps, ice cream, and let's not forget frozen yogurt, all contribute to obesity as the body is overwhelmed with sugar. 

Blood sugar problems such as diabetes and obesity often go hand-in-hand. 

 

The Critical Link Between Obesity and Chronic Inflammation 

Medical science now recognizes that excess body fat causes continuous low levels of chronic inflammation in the body. The cause is due to inflammatory cells called cytokines that are released by fat cells. The more excess fat is held by the tissues, the greater the systemic inflammation with these cytokines wreaking havoc all over the body as they distribute through the blood and lymphatic circulation. The process of systemic inflammation can therefore be stimulated simply by being overweight. 

In Chinese Medicine, obesity is considered a condition of excess Dampness, which is why it's important to reduce foods that create Dampness in order to lose weight and thereby reduce inflammation in the body.

Dairy or carbohydrate-based food are the big Damp producers. Grains, starchy vegetables, fruit (especially tropical fruits and melons with high glycemic load) and nuts are some of the key foods that create Dampness. If a person has a very swollen tongue or thick tongue coating, this indicates a body burdened by Dampness, which means it is imperative to limit these food groups until the tongue body and coating normalize. The clearing process can take months for some individuals heavily burdened by the condition of Dampness.  

The other consideration in examining the roots of chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease relates to excess Heat in the body.

People with excess heat can be overweight or excessively skinny. Heat can dry up one's Yin fluids so people who are skinny can be types with excess heat as the heat burns up the body's reserves.

The key indicator of a person with excessive Heat is that they will tend to have a very red tongue body and if it has sections that are bluish, then Blood Stasis has developed as well. Blood that gets too hot thickens and becomes sluggish, and therefore impacts the cardiovascular system. Reducing foods and exposure to toxic environments that cause excessive Heat in the body is required. This can relate to ending a bad marriage or any toxic relationship as well.

Pathological Heat can be generated from over exposure to "dirty electricity" in the form of electromagnetic waves (EMFs) or "dirty" chemicals in the form of anything chemically toxic, be it natural or man-made. Pathological Heat is induced in the body by many common chemicals found in our daily lives. Chemicals ranging from medications, to pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, facial makeup and hair spray have been associated with many types of inflammatory diseases and cancers.

Many individuals involved in the devastation of war have been exposed to man-made chemicals that have created many forms of chronic degenerative disease never seen before. In the Iraq and Gulf wars and as recent as 2015 in Syria, the United states employed nuclear waste material in the form of DU (depleted uranium) weaponry. This highly radioactive material was the pathological factor of Heat that caused numerous birth defects, Gulf War syndrome, and many cases of cancer among soldiers and civilians who were exposed to these toxic gases. 

The herbicide, Agent Orange, used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War is another example of chemically induced toxic heat that continues to cause many health disorders decades later. Agent Orange was used extensively to burn the dense foliage off of the jungles of Vietnam. Even today medical doctors suggest that the toxic effects of Agent Orange are being felt as some Vietnamese people suffer from an unrecognized syndrome similar to leprosy with their body disintegrating as it eats away at itself. The Guardian reported back in 2003 that 650,000 Vietnamese people suffer from an array of baffling chronic diseases which can be attributed to the toxic exposure to Agent Orange. 

 

How to Cool the Body on a Daily Basis

Limiting our exposure to EMFs and toxic chemicals in any form can have a big impact on preserving our health. Other measures to reduce internal Heat in the body can be even more basic than this. 

It's not just what we eat, but how we cook that influences the temperature of our body. If you ingest a lot of moist or hydrating food created from steaming, soup, broth and juices, your body will tend to cool down.

In the Summer, people tend to barbecue on a regular basis, but this is the type of cooking that induces a lot of Heat. In addition, meat, especially beef, lamb, bison and wild game are very hot natured foods. Barbecuing beef and bison burgers will therefore induce a lot of internal Heat. Add to this meal some alcoholic cocktails followed perhaps with coffee, a sugary dessert and a cigarette and this smoking hot combination will inflame any body burdened with excessive Heat.

Roasting is another cooking method that dries up the Yin of the food and induces a lot of Heat. So take it easy with roasting, baking and barbecuing if you are trying to lower your internal heat and reduce systemic inflammation.

Source: Scientific Animations, Girish Khera (http://www.scientificanimations.com/), via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Scientific Animations, Girish Khera (http://www.scientificanimations.com/), via Wikimedia Commons

Heat and Cardiovascular Disease

Arterial plaque, or a condition called atherosclerosis, is a product of excessive heat in the blood system.

A theory that is accepted by many medical professionals is based on the idea that cholesterol levels increase in the body to plug up bleeding arterial vessels that are inflamed. Bad cholesterol is essentially a bandaid for wounding in the vessels. An elevation of LDL can therefore suggest there is a constant wounding in the vessels stimulating the calcification of cholesterol to patch it up. 

According to Chinese Medicine, blood circulation through the vessels is controlled by the Heart and Percardium. The Heart relates to self-love and life's passions and the Pericardium serves as the Heart protector, which stores the unresolved traumas of our lives. From a philosophical point of view, this "wounding of the blood vessels" can be rooted in the process of "self-wounding" resulting from a negative self image, self-hatred, or a lack of forgiveness or acceptance. High LDL cholesterol and rigid arterial calcification can therefore reflect a self wounding process that results from these types of unresolved psychological and emotional factors.

Pathological internal Heat can be created in many ways and stress is a tremendous factor. Simply cultivating a life of peacefulness in one's relationships, environment and in one's heart goes a long way to keeping you cool and unimpaired by the blistering heat found in our every day world. 

Practicing daily Meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi are very useful tools to return a body and mind from the chaotic state of excess heat to a calm and cool state of peace.

What you cultivate is what you become.

Are you cultivating a chronic state of stress with constant high levels of cortisol flowing through the body or are you cultivating relaxation, ease and strength within a state of calm?

The good news is that it's your choice.

May you have a Cool Summer!


Salvador Cefalu, 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.

Food as a Mirror

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

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat” but what may be more true is that what you eat is a reflection of how you feel about yourself. 

When we make healthier food choices, we're also making choices about the quality with which we want to live our lives.

A healthy lifestyle comes from knowledge through the proper resources but also through tuning in with the self. Adapting a healthy lifestyle means looking at all aspects of your life – your work, relationships and your diet.

Proper nutrition is one of the primary pillars of healthy living and, for a lot of people, it’s also one of the most challenging. My hope is to empower you to be more conscious of your diet because it is one of the most impactful aspects of your health over which you have total control.

 

Food and Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese Medicine, the Spleen and Stomach are the primary organs responsible for digestion. Everything you eat and drink has to be digested and transformed into Qi, or energy, with the help of these organs.

There are two major kinds of Qi in the body - the essence Qi, often referred to as the prenatal Qi, and postnatal Qi, which is produced from food and drink (Gu Qi), in the Stomach. Prenatal Qi is the constitutional essence with which we're born and postnatal Qi is our basic daily energy that we cultivate through our diet and lifestyle. The healthier the diet, the better quality Qi we can extract and therefore the greater our endurance.

The Gu Qi, or “grain” as it is often called in the classics, that enters the Stomach, is transmitted to the Lungs to produce the defense or “guard Qi,” also known as Wei Qi, which is essential for maintaining one’s circadian rhythm.

Wei Qi forms in the Lungs through the Gu Qi that first enters the Stomach. As Chapter 21 of Nei Jing Su Wen stated, “Beverages enter the stomach. Overflowing essence Qi is transported upward to the spleen. The spleen Qi spreads the essence, which turns upward to the lung” (Unschuld, 2011, 375). 

The Spleen sends Gu Qi up to the Lungs, where (with the help of Kidney Qi) it combines with air and transforms into another form of energy known as Zong Qi, which is often referred to as "gathering Qi." 

Zong Qi is formed from the combination of Gu Qi extracted through food and drink and Lung Qi extracted through the breath. Therefore, the more nutritious your diet and the better your capacity for deep respiration, the better quality Qi you'll have to support the various organs' Qi in the body.

Since Gu Qi is also used to produce Wei Qi, which controls circadian rhythm and supports immunity, a healthy diet also supports sleep and healthy immune function. 

An unhealthy diet that's high in sweet, spicy, fried and processed foods taxes the digestive system and over time will make us not only feel lethargic but also can damage the gut, or the Spleen and Stomach terrain, and lead to chronic inflammation.

In Western Medicine, the impact of nutrition on overall health has been confirmed through recent studies on the gut-brain axis (GBA).

Eating healthy can be so simple (and beautiful!) - Sprouted quinoa, lentils and adzuki beans with brussel sprouts, arugula and beet salad, avocado, butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes. We dressed the salad, grains and brussel sprouts with organic olive oil, black and cayenne peppers, and lemon juice from Meyer lemons in our garden.

Eating healthy can be so simple (and beautiful!) - Sprouted quinoa, lentils and adzuki beans with brussel sprouts, arugula and beet salad, avocado, butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes. We dressed the salad, grains and brussel sprouts with organic olive oil, black and cayenne peppers, and lemon juice from Meyer lemons in our garden.

The Gut-Brain Axis

Recent studies have revealed that the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is a system of neurons within the gastrointestinal tract and often referred to as the ‘second brain,’ may be linked to immune function, hormonal regulation, psychological disorders, and even autism. The bidirectional communication between the brain (i.e. the central nervous system) and the ENS is known as the gut-brain axis (GBA), an information superhighway of chemicals and hormones that provides constant feedback and influences - among other things - our moods, emotions and sleep patterns.

The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It passes through the neck to the abdomen and interfaces with parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract. Evidence indicates that the communication between the microbiota in the gut and the brain involves the vagus nerve, which transmits information from the luminal environment of the gut to the central nervous system (CNS). 

Important hormones and neurotransmitters such as melatonin, which regulates sleep, and serotonin, which affects mood, are produced in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, about 90% of serotonin, which can affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function, is produced in the gut. 

The health of the gut therefore impacts the health of the brain and our ability to process information, manage stress, sleep, balance our emotions, as well as digest and assimilate food.

 

Chinese Medicine Perspective of Digestion, Emotions and the Gut-Brain Axis

Li Dong-yuan (1180 – 1251 c.e.) was a Chinese medical scholar who is considered to be one of the Four Great Masters of the Jin-Yuan period of Chinese Medicine. As founder of the Earth School, Li believed that the health of the Spleen and Stomach was the foundation for disease prevention. He developed the concept of Yin fire, which he believed is produced by excessive emotions and poor diet, both of which damage the original Qi and overwhelm the Spleen and Stomach. Excessive emotions engender heat internally. This heat, accompanied by weakness in the Spleen and Stomach, eventually flares upward into the Heart causing symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety and insomnia.

The gut-brain axis dynamics discussed earlier parallel Li Dong-yuan’s emphasis on the pivotal role of the Spleen and Stomach, or gut health, for all human functioning. Li believed that disease pathology manifests as a result of damage to postnatal Qi, the source of which is the Spleen and Stomach. 

The Spleen and Stomach is responsible for creating the Gu Qi, or energy that is transformed from food. Excessive or unbalanced emotions and stress weaken the Spleen and Stomach and therefore the gut. According to Li Dong-yuan, this weakness leads to stagnation of Stomach Qi that eventually turns into heat or Fire. This pathological heat relates to any inflammatory or infectious condition within the gastrointestinal tract.

We can therefore surmise that heat accumulation in the gut eventually affects the brain and interferes with the harmonious interplay between the gut and brain. Furthermore, pathological heat in the gut burns out the Stomach Yin which correlates to the destruction of the intestinal mucosa.

Over time, as the mucosal lining of the gut deteriorates, "leaky gut" syndrome develops allowing for undigested proteins to leak into the blood stream and begin the cascade of inflammation throughout the body. This is one of the fundamental pathological processes underlying a host of autoimmune diseases.

 

Diet and Your Health

Some argue that to eat healthfully is too costly or a less convenient option. But we can’t be short-sighted. The long-term return on your investment is quite high, even if in the short-term it is a little more expensive to cook healthy foods at home rather than eat processed foods, for example.

Nothing is worth more than the health of your mind and body. And nothing will give you as great a return on your investment.

Your health is the pillar of your future success, happiness and fulfillment. Nothing is possible without health, and in health anything is possible.

So it should naturally be the number one place where we put our resources.

In Chinese Medicine, diet can be used as a modality in and of itself to heal chronic illness.

Diet is also the most important self-care tool we all have. Our diet provides an opportunity to feel empowered because we're able to have a say in our self-care and well-being through the choices we make with food.

What we eat is a mirror for how we feel about ourselves, and the choices we make with what we eat also allows us to choose how we want to feel and what we want to create in our lives.

Once you've finished reading this article, I'd love to hear from you on any or all of these questions in the comments below --
* How does what you eat reflect how you feel?
* Do you eat better or worse under stress?
* What's one change you could make in your diet to better reflect what you want to create in your life?


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is co-owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. The Silicon Valley-based health and wellness clinic specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture with a clinic and studio where Setareh 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 Skin Driving You Mad? A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

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

Skin problems are some of the most challenging health disorders to resolve. Here we will examine two of the most common types skin disorders we see in our clinic: psoriasis and eczema.

As with most skin disorders, flareups can often be associated with an increase in stress.

However, simply trying to relax is not going to cut it as a treatment option. We need to understand the factors driving these inflammatory conditions in order to begin resolving these problems from the inside out.

It is my hope that you will be empowered through understanding a Classical Chinese Medicine perspective on these often challenging health conditions so that you can seek a path to healing and resolution rather than suppression.  

According to Western medicine, the key difference between psoriasis and eczema is that psoriasis is an autoimmune over-reaction of the skin and eczema is rooted in an allergic, inflammatory reaction of the skin known as dermatitis (derma = Greek for skin, itis = inflammation). Both of these skin conditions can become chronic and often require the use of toxic internal and topical medications. These medications are designed to either suppress the immune response or the inflammatory heat, both of which can lead to other more serious diseases. 

Though the healing process can be challenging and require lifestyle changes, with patience and perseverance, eczema and psoriasis can be treated safely and very effectively through Chinese Medicine.

A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, there is a distinct difference between the pathogenesis of these two skin disorders.

Psoriasis is an outward expression of pathological heat emanating from the deep bone level of the body which is correlated with the Kidney system.

Eczema, on the other hand, manifests as an allergic response to something either internal or external that initiates the skin reaction. It may be triggered by food or an environmental chemical that irritates the skin and causes the inflammatory reaction which can spread as long as the allergic reaction continues.

Both psoriasis and eczema can be disorders with hereditary predispositions that have been passed along genetically.

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, both conditions are associated with heat in the Lungs which over time will weaken the Lung Qi, or energy. 

Weakness of Lung Qi causes weakness in the immune system as well. This is why chronic sufferers of eczema or psoriasis become prone to secondary infections on top of their skin sores. Furthermore, since patients with either psoriasis or chronic eczema can develop weak Lungs, it is also common for these patients who chronically suffer from either of these skin disorders to develop asthma.

Both eczema and psoriasis can present with sores that form clusters on the skin. This clustering indicates that the root cause is likely related to diet. In Chinese Medicine, clustering indicates internal dampness that is exuding out to the skin level.

Dampness in the body and is often rooted in overconsumption of foods that are very sweet, oily, or processed, as well as heavily dairy or carbohydrate based. These clustering type of skin diseases may also be associated with some form of food sensitivity or allergy such as gluten or lactose intolerance.

Another common problem associated with eczema and psoriasis is a history of gastritis, which in Classical Chinese Medicine terms can be associated with excessive Stomach Fire. 

In Western medicine, gastritis is often rooted in the presence of the bacteria Helicobacter Pylori (aka H Pylori) in the gut. From a Classical Chinese Medicine point of view, both Dampness and Heat are major pathological factors in this case. The Dampness creates the clustering sores, and the Heat creates the Wind/itching, the redness and causes the condition to spread more rampantly.  

If Dampness is present with eczema or psoriasis, this suggests that there is also some problem involving the bowels likely with excessive Heat trapped in the large intestine causing constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or colitis. Heat and Dampness can also get trapped in the bladder causing recurring urinary tract infections or interstitial cystitis that creates cramps and pain in the lower abdomen often following urination.

There is a close relationship between the Lungs (skin) and the Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine. If excessive inflammatory heat overwhelms the gastrointestinal system, it cannot eliminate the heat sufficiently through urination and defecation, and therefore the body will try to release it out via the skin creating inflammatory skin issues.

Gluten sensitivity is one of the factors commonly at the root of gut inflammation which underlies both eczema and psoriasis problems. 

Heat from chronic gut inflammation can spread anywhere throughout the body. In psoriasis, as the heat tries to penetrate the deepest organ level, which is the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys will push it away. If this process continues, the body will inherently push this inflammatory heat into the bone level at the joints to protect the Kidneys. This is how psoriasis can become psoriatic arthritis, a related autoimmune problem. This is also the mechanism for how gout develops.

In these cases, the body is basically overwhelmed with metabolic heat rooted in an imbalanced diet and gut inflammation. Over time, this heat gets pushed into the joints as a way to try suppress and control it.

If Stomach Heat is part of the Chinese Medicine diagnosis, it is essential to identify if any foods are causing the inflammatory reaction. Stomach Heat (gut inflammation) can also be created by an imbalance in the intestinal micro-biome due to a fungal or bacterial overgrowth including what is becoming a far too common problem, Lyme's disease.

From a Western medical perspective, psoriasis, as an autoimmune problem, is much more complex than eczema. 

From a Classical Chinese Medicine point of view, Psoriasis is created from heat coming out of the body's deepest energetic level, the KIdney or bone level. When heat comes out of this deep Constitutional level it is called a "Steaming Bone Syndrome."

"Steaming Bone" suggests that the Kidney system is pushing excessive metabolic heat away from itself in order to protect the Jing, or Constitutional Essence, that it stores. Jing corresponds to our cellular genetic makeup, so protecting our genes from heat invasion is a fundamental survival mechanism of the body. Toxic heat can create genetic mutations on a cellular level leading to more serious problems such as cancer. If heat is not being sufficiently cleared through the elimination channels of urination and defecation, this heat gets pushed upwards and prevents the Lung energy from properly functioning.

If the Lung Qi cannot descend properly because too much heat has weakened the lungs, asthma can develop. 

Furthermore, if the Lung energy cannot descend properly, then the Lung's action of diffusion out to the skin becomes overactive and this process pushes heat outward to the skin resulting in overstimulation of the epidermis and the development of psoriasis.

Early stage psoriasis will first manifest on the scalp, palms and soles of the feet.

As the condition becomes more chronic, the psoriasis moves toward the joint regions of the elbows and knees as the Dampness and Heat migrate closer to the center of the body and the trunk, where the psoriasis makes its way around and down to the base of the spine.

 

The Causes of Heat that Underlie Eczema and Psoriasis

The heat that gets penetrated to the deepest aspect of the body (the Kidney system) can come from emotional trauma, hereditary factors, diet, vaccinations, and exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and herbicides, especially in the farming industry.

Vaccinations induce tremendous heat directly into the blood. Diet can also contribute to inflammatory heat in the body, especially a diet heavy in processed foods, bad fats such as hydrogenated oils, sugar and hot, spicy foods such as caffeine and alcohol. 

Lifestyle can create inflammatory heat that eventually explodes out via the skin. Unhealthy habits including excessive mental stress, smoking, drugs, and even excessive exercise and sex can generate too much heat in the body and consume the blood reserves needed to cool down this heat pathology.

As we age, our blood reserves decline so it is imperative to keep our systems cooler. As our blood declines with aging, our vision declines, our memory decline, and our skin and muscles dry up. Adequate blood reserves also keep inflammatory processes of exorbitant heat under control as blood cools the fire in the body. Once blood weakens with aging, inflammatory disorders begin to express themselves and latent heat can begin to surface on the skin with dark skin pigmentations, liver spots and moles. These are all indications of heat that has been trapped in the body, now being released.

Constitutionally, we are all born with different levels of strength. However, all children are deficient of Yin and Blood. If a child's Jing, or Essence, that is stored in the Kidneys is particularly weak, he or she will be prone to early onset of diseases. This is especially true when aggressive vaccinations are administered at an early age. Vaccinations put toxic heat directly into the blood system and in general children have very vulnerable immune systems, which is why a lot of chronic diseases begin at a very early age.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, childhood onset of psoriatic arthritis arises when inflammatory heat penetrates to the level of the bones or joints. Excessive inflammatory heat at an early age is likely created from some type of stress (vaccinations, birth trauma, a stressful pregnancy of the mother or food sensitivities) that compromise the child's Jing, or Essence, and prevent him or her from properly dealing with it. The child's body with its innate wisdom traps this toxic heat in the joints to protect the vital organs, and this creates arthritis. If the skin gets hyped up as a way of venting the heat, this leads to the painful chronic autoimmune problem of pediatric Psoriatic Arthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis occurs concurrently with around 30% of the people afflicted with psoriasis.

The good news is that Classical Chinese Medicine has a way to understand the pathogenesis of these complex skin diseases and a systematic way to treat and address both the acute and chronic phases of these disorders. Through the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, essential oils and diet modifications the often stubborn conditions of psoriasis and eczema can be brought under control safely and effectively to bring healing and a sense of peace to one's life.


Salvador Cefalu, 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.

Move Your Body, Transform Your Mood - and Life

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

As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I was an anxious young woman. Determined to perform my best in a highly competitive environment, I put constant and endless pressure on myself. 

The pressure sourced in my mind built up in my body. To relieve it, I pushed myself physically, through intense cardiovascular exercise, to release the stress.

But the stress and anxiety only seemed to worsen.

Little did I know that the harder I ran, the more heat I was accumulating, and this heat was obstructing my capacity to process my emotions (more on this later).

I continued to run myself physically and mentally from one accomplishment to the next, collapsing during my menstrual periods and spending the rest of the month trying to recover.

Then one day, my mom suggested: "why don't you try Yoga?"

She said it had helped one of her clients and was becoming really popular throughout the Bay Area. 

"Yoga?" I said as I looked over some information she'd sent me. "I can hardly sit still for a minute. How am I going to stretch for 90 minutes? Besides, I'm the stiffest person in the world."

"I think that's the point," my wise mother replied. "Yoga could probably help you get flexible and calm you down. You can't keep pushing yourself and be so anxious."

Yeah, anxious and depressed, I thought. Depends on the day.

Weeks passed and one night my roommate brought up a list of DeCal (student-organized) classes that would be available for the next semester. One of the classes jumped out at me immediately. 'Yoga for Relaxation,' it read. And then a short description of how it can help reduce your overall stress and anxiety. 

I turned to my roommate and told her that ironically, my mom had suggested I do Yoga.

"Wanna try it together?" she replied. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to say yes. Despite my initial resistance, my roommate's interest somehow sparked mine.

For the first two weeks of the twice weekly Yoga class, I spent the majority of the class asleep.

The beautiful Native American Yoga instructor (I remember this because she had a shamanic, angelic presence about her) started each class in Savasana and for at least the first couple of classes, I never got out of that posture. I laid there sleeping and the teacher didn't even bother to wake me up. Clearly, she knew something I didn't.

As weeks passed, I started to be more active in the class and I began to feel a shift in my life. I started to practice what I learned at home and soon I no longer felt my heart pounding in my chest throughout the day. Having had severe test anxiety my whole life, I found myself so calm during midterms that I hardly recognized myself. And the results were extraordinary.

Not only did I feel more calm and clear, but I also started performing better than I ever had, setting the curve in some of my most challenging classes.

The biggest shift occurred when I stepped out of Yoga class one evening. I could hear the birds singing, the wind blowing, the cool evening air on my face. Were there birds here before? Was the wind always so gentle? I'd never been aware like this before. And I noticed something remarkable within me...my mind was utterly quiet.

This was my first experience with stillness.

As my body became more flexible, I found an unprecedented sense of ease, presence and calm in my mind. Everything in my life started to change for the better, and Yoga became a regular daily practice. You might even say it became an obsession.

I practiced any time I could during the day and started taking all the on-campus Yoga classes I could fit into my schedule at Cal (at that time, Yoga studios were few and far between).

When I went to register for my last semester of classes, I was completely caught off guard - and I honestly credit my daily Yoga practice for this. My advisor reviewed my coursework, closed the book and took off her glasses. She looked up at me and said, "You're done." I couldn't believe it. Somehow I'd already completed all the classes I needed to graduate. She explained that I could either stay on another semester and work on a thesis or graduate early.

The most incredible part of this experience was that I had come this far in the absence of the anxiety and depression that had distracted me in my life for so long. I felt a sense of inner peace that grew stronger each and every day I breathed through a practice. 

I decided to graduate early and commit to Yoga fully. I registered for a one month Yoga teacher training in San Francisco and subsequently started teaching at local studios throughout the Peninsula. Within two years, I co-founded Yoga of Los Altos, the first Yoga studio in Los Altos, California. Soon thereafter I sold the business and began my studies in Chinese Medicine, which in time led me to meet my husband, Salvador, and to co-create the beautiful community at A Center for Natural Healing. To this day, the heart and soul of my work is in understanding the mind-body connection that I was introduced to through Yoga.

Now, I'm not saying that life becomes easy when you practice Yoga.

Challenges will arise whether or not you practice. But having a consistent practice provides you with tools to better deal with the natural ebbs and flows of life. And that makes life a lot more enjoyable.

I'm sharing this story to exhibit the power of a regular Yoga practice, and to empower you to make positive changes in your life.

Moving your body in the right way can transform your life.

What is the right way to move your body? In coordination with your breath. So whether it's Yoga, Qi Gong, Taiji, or any type of moving Meditation practice, activate the breath of life and your life will unfold in ways you never imagined possible. And these changes can be as simple as a more steady mental-emotional state.

The Mind-Body-Breath Connection According to Chinese Medicine

According to Chinese Medicine, the Lungs are in charge of respiration and are the organs responsible for processing grief. When the Lungs are weak, they hold grief and thus increase our experience of depression. 

The Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi and regulates the emotions, especially anger. The Liver channel runs through the diaphragm, which separates the thoracic cavity that contains the heart and lungs, from the abdominal cavity.

The diaphragm is crucial for respiration. As it contracts, the thoracic cavity expands and air is drawn into the lungs. If the diaphragm is tight or constricted, its proper contraction becomes inhibited and thus less air flows into the lungs. 

A tight diaphragm indicates Liver Qi (energy) stagnation and can cause Lung Qi (energy) deficiency. As a result, we may feel angry, anxious and depressed.

Conventional aerobic exercise pumps oxygen into the lungs temporarily but does not demand the mind-body connection of practices like Yoga, which focus on deep breathing to improve the overall health of the lungs.

Deep breathing also regulates the autonomic nervous system so it's not stuck in a hyper-sympathetic stress state. This allows for the Liver to relax so it can smooth the movement of Qi throughout the body. The result is a more calm and relaxed mental and emotional state as well as improved organ function for healthy digestion, elimination, and sleep.

Coordinating body movements with the breath cools the heat that may otherwise build up in the Liver due to excess strain during exercise. As a result, exercises such as Yoga, Taiji and Qi Gong that coordinate breath with movement can transform your mood and improve mental clarity. And since heat drives inflammation and stress, which are both major causes of disease, this transformation improves your health on all levels.

Deeper breaths. Calmer mind. Stable emotions. Better health.

That's the power of Yoga and movement practices done mindfully to coordinate the body with the breath.

P.S. Whether you've never tried Yoga or Qi Gong or you're a seasoned practitioner, we really think you'll get a lot out of this transformational immersion Salvador and I are teaching live on Saturday, May 13th. We'd love to see you there!


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is co-owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. The Silicon Valley-based health and wellness clinic specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture with a clinic and studio where Setareh 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

 

Essential Oils for the Five Element Personality Types - Wood

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

The Five element model begins with the Wood element as it relates to Spring, the season of growth and new beginnings. The Wood element also relates to time management. Difficulty with maintaining a schedule and the tendency to be late to meetings and events for example may relate to an imbalance in Wood energy. Difficulty maintaining discipline is also a weakness in Wood energy because this has to do with an inability to keep a schedule or routine. Difficulty getting things started also relates to a Wood imbalance as it relates to Qi stagnation of the Liver with Qi not moving well in a person's life. 

The Liver and Gall Bladder are the primary organs of the Wood element and the reason this element relates to time management is based on the Liver's primary function of maintaining the smooth flow of Qi, or energy, in the body.

Issues of time also relate to cycles in one's life, such as a woman's menstrual cycle. If the menses tends to be early, delayed or comes irregularly, it may also indicate Wood imbalance. In fact, maintaining regularity is a Wood energy issue even in relation to having regular daily bowel movements. This is why when the Wood energy gets full and stagnates right before the onset of a woman's menses it is common for a woman to experience constipation during her premenstrual phase.

Wood energy is a part of all of our lives and learning about it's energetic qualities allows us to become more self-aware and self-empowered. For some, learning how to enhance the Wood energy in their life will help them become more assertive since Wood relates to assertion. For those who have excessively strong Wood energy on the other hand, toning down this assertiveness will help them less aggressive in dealing with others. This can foster diplomacy and an easy going attitude rather than the tendency to force one's agenda which a strong Wood type person often has. 

The following discussion will outline how Chinese Medicine breaks down the nuances of Wood energetics that can be expressed with great variation based on the Yin and Yang characteristics that define the dualistic nature of each element. The Yang energy is more masculine and assertive and Yin energy is more feminine and receptive.

Essential Oils to Balance the Wood Personality Types

A Yang Wood type of person is a strong, courageous and enthusiastic personality who likes to be in charge because they like to be noticed and are very competitive in nature. This person is very Yang with a lot of energy, tremendous stamina and drive so it can be hard for people trying to keep up with them. Yang Wood types can be very entertaining, but also with so much heat in the Liver system they can be emotionally volatile with a hot-temper and prone to anxiety attacks or nervousness.

The Yang Wood type person typically bites off more than he can chew so though a good leader, this person needs others to support him in following through with plans. 

Another typical trait of this personality is that he's often in a rush; he runs from one commitment to another and often gets very uptight if he's late for any date. Rather than being unable to keep to a schedule, the excessively Yang Wood person is obsessed and rigid about keeping to a schedule.

Typical imbalance symptoms of Yang Wood types are high blood pressure, heart disease, muscle spasms and stiffness of the neck, insomnia, headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances such as stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. 

Essential Oils that can be used to calm the nervous stress and cool the emotionally hot-tempered and uptight nature of Yang Wood personality types are: Roman and German Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon and Spikenard. These oils are all powerfully effective for the associated physical imbalances as well. German Chamomile is stronger than Roman Chamomile so for children exhibiting the very temperamental qualities of a Yang Wood imbalance it is best to use Roman Chamomile.

A Yin Wood type personality is also nervous but more timid and indecisive (vs. the overbearing leader that is displayed by Yang Wood personalities). The Yin wood person, though highly intelligent, lacks the courageousness we associate with the Yang Wood person. 

And even though a Yin Wood person is success driven, he tends to have a low self-esteem or self-worth issues,  feeling insufficient and not good enough within himself.  To help fortify this sense of insufficiency, the Yin Wood person needs to nourish the Liver Blood. 

In Chinese Medicine, Yin Wood types are also moody and emotionally unstable, and since they often withhold the expression of their feelings they can be physically rigid and tend to have a wiry type of muscular build. These people typically are not very flexible in body or mind. As they tend to internalize their feelings and emotions, Yin Wood types are prone to both depression and anxiety as a result of the emotional build up from repression.

Yin Wood types have a lot of ideas streaming through their minds, so it can be difficult for them to focus on a particular project. They are prone to headaches, digestive upsets and sexual frigidity, nervous tics and twitches. 

The Yin Wood type personality needs to also calm his or her nervous system but rather than cooling the system down, he or she will need more blood nourishment to relax internally. Supporting the blood will help boost vitality so they are more courageous and sexually invigorated.

Essential Oils that support nourishment of the blood are Angelica sinensis root (Dang Gui), Angelica Archangel (seed and root),  Ligusticum Wallichi (Chuan Xiong), Carrot Seed, Celery Seed, Rose and Vetiver. Winter Savory is also an important essential oil to stimulate the Spleen in its production of blood to benefit the Liver.

All of these oils can be diffused or made into blends and applied topically over acupuncture points to regulate and nourish the Liver or to sedate the Gallbladder thereby establishing a healthy rhythm for your Wood energy. Some of these oils can be taken internally as well. Please consult an acupuncturist who practices Medical Aromatherapy to learn specific protocols for your particular needs.


Salvador Cefalu, 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.

Managing Anger & Power: Liver & the Wood Element

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

Springtime brings renewal, rebirth and growth. These qualities can be seen in nature with birds nesting to bring new life, and the blossoming flowers and trees. 

According to Chinese Medicine, springtime relates to the Wood element. The central characteristic of Wood is growth and the related organs are the Liver and Gallbladder. Energetically, the Liver smooths the flow of Qi and thus allows one to create and execute change. The Gallbladder is necessary for the change to occur, as it is the organ responsible for making decisions. 

When the flow of Liver Qi is not smooth, we tend to feel angry, irritable and restless. Over time, this "Liver Qi stagnation" can lead to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, elevated cortisol levels and therefore greater stress, all of which can compromise the immune system.

The emotional and intellectual aspects of Wood can be understood by examining a plant. Starting out as a tiny seedling, it grows and expands and its roots stretch further out. Over time, it needs more space, and thus begins to encroach on the space and feed on nutrients of the neighboring plant. This process stirs up competition and conflict. The stronger or more adaptable plant eventually survives.

The skill to be adaptable can transfer to the intellectual level related to Wood, which has to do with ingenuity, inventiveness, and the willingness to explore something new.

On an emotional level, Wood is represented by the spirit of a pioneer for which one needs to be brave and trust one's own abilities and power. This person is a leader, and leadership serves the community to grow and to expand.

Anger is an integral aspect of the Wood element.

Anger erupts most commonly as a result of two circumstances. First, if an individual violates one's boundaries, attacks one verbally or physically, one will become angry and defensive. The second circumstance that commonly arouses anger is if someone or something stands in one's way, thus hindering one's progress or expansion.

A certain amount of anger can drive one to create positive change, but excessive anger can damage one's health as is often driven by a hunger for power or control.

Wood type personalities are ambitious, focused, and driven. They can be entrepreneurial, decisive and make wonderful leaders. 

When in balance, Wood types are like knights in shining armor: brave, gallant, strong, and always on a mission. When out of balance they can be very controlling, angry, and combative.

The Liver stores the blood, which gives us the fortitude to make decisions and feel supported. Liver blood deficiency often manifests as fatigue, lack of luster and color in the hair and nails, and problems with the eyes. The vulnerability that one can experience as a result of blood deficiency can result in loss of clarity around one’s vision. When one lacks fortitude to face challenges, it’s easy to feel victimized and unable to adapt to changing circumstances.

Women, because they go through menstrual cycles, have a greater tendency to experience Liver blood deficiency. Wood types in general tend to push themselves very hard and thus it’s important that women with these personalities consciously slow down during their cycles in order to avoid burnout. 

The Liver is in charge of detoxification, ridding the body of chemicals, hormones and toxins. It also manufactures all the essential proteins necessary for the body. Wood types therefore need to especially be cautious of taking in substances that burden the Liver’s function, such as over the counter medications, alcohol and drugs. 

Alcohol in particular, which we often refer to as ‘fire water,’ creates a lot of heat in the Liver, which can stir both the heart and liver, intensifying emotions such as anxiety and anger. Ironically, alcohol is one of the main forms of relaxation to which Wood types resort, especially if they are tightly bound through accumulated stress from their hard work. It's vital, however, to be conscious of this tendency and instead turn to more natural methods with which to cope with stress and smooth the Liver Qi such as Yoga, tai chi, or even more active movement and martial arts.

During Spring, the Wood element becomes active both within us and in nature, so it's important to balance its energy.

Here are a few Wood-balancing tips:

1. Exercise daily: practicing Yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi or martial arts especially help smooth the Liver Qi. 

2. Meditate or journal daily. Writing is an excellent tool with which to transfer busy thoughts from the mind onto paper so that they feel less burdening. Writing helps us to process our emotions and get clear about our goals, which is especially important for Wood types who are very goal-oriented.

3. Eat lots of leafy green vegetables and berries. Both of these foods help build Liver blood. Leafy green vegetables also help drain dampness, which can accumulate in the sinuses causing headaches and allergies.

4. Avoid alcohol, coffee and recreational drugs, which aggravate and heat up the Liver and impede its detoxification process causing more anger, irritability and restlessness.

5. Try Essential Oils to calm your mind and settle allergic reactions which can be triggered by an overheated Liver: Peppermint, Lemon, Lavender and Roman Chamomile can be very beneficial to relax irritability and nervousness and reduce allergies. You can directly inhale or diffuse these oils in your home. Peppermint is cooling, refreshing and stimulating for your mind and can be used during the day to keep you mentally alert. Lavender and Roman Chamomile are cooling and relaxing, best used in the evening to wind down and rest. Lemon soothes a tight Liver due to toxicity and helps reduce emotional frustration and irritability. As a food, lemon zest can also be put in warm water or steamed with vegetables providing the natural benefit of Lemon essential oil. 

Discipline is key to balance the Wood type personality, so it's important to commit to these habits and practices daily. You'll realize that by making this commitment to smooth the flow of Liver Qi, your life will flow more smoothly as well.


Setareh Moafi, 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. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Overcoming the Challenges to Healing: Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold

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

In Part 2 of this series we covered the topic of Wind with its many manifestations and psychological correlations. Wind is also associated with other pathological factors including Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold, which will be introduced in this finale of our three-part series (you can see the first two articles here and here).

Examining a person's tongue is an easy way to get direct insight into the pathological patterns of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold that may be the key challenges for overcoming a chronic degenerative disease. 

The simplified version of tongue diagnosis that I'm introducing will provide great insight into your health status in understanding the factors challenging your ability to heal. To begin, let's take a look at the tongue zones so we know where problems are occurring based on tongue assessment.

Different parts of the tongue reflect different internal organs and systems within the body. The center of the tongue for example reflects the Stomach behind which are the intestines. The sides of the tongue relate to the Liver. The tip of the tongue corresponds with the Heart system. When the tip of the tongue is red it often reflects mental over-activity, anxiety and potentially insomnia. Behind the tongue tip is the Lung zone and when heat is present you often see red dots in this area. The root of the tongue relates to the Kidneys, Bladder and genitals. 

Tongue diagnosis can get quiet complex, so for the purpose of this discussion we're going to look at the overall appearance of the tongue in exploring  the factors of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold which underlie all chronic degenerative diseases.

DRYNESS

If there is simple Dryness due to dehydration, the tongue coating will look dry reflecting a deficiency of thin fluids. These fluids can be restored by simply increasing one's fluid consumption, especially water, and eating hydrating foods such as juicy fruits and vegetables such as celery. Be cautious when hydrating with electrolyte beverages such as coconut water because these elements can increase heat in the body and exacerbate an imbalance if there is already internal heat within the body.

A deeper or more severe level of dryness is indicated when there is no distinct coating on the surface of the tongue. In this case, the tongue body may look like raw meat. When the tongue coating is essentially missing, we call this a peeled tongue, which reflects dryness due to Yin deficiency. Yin refers to the body's substance so we can say this Yin deficiency is an aspect of a hormonal depletion and an actual deterioration of an organ or organs.

Hormonal (Yin) deficiency relates to the thick fluids of the body.

Imagine the thick fluid of oil in your car engine. If your car engine runs without enough oil, the engine will eventually overheat and burn out. In the same way, when the body is hormonally depleted, overheating will often occur. As the body overheats, calcium will be pulled out of the bones to cool down this heat by alkalizing the acid in the blood. This is the mechanism that drives osteopenia and osteoporosis especially in the time of peri-menopause and menopause when a women's hormonal status begins to decline.

When you drive yourself hard and overstimulate your adrenals, heat is generated in the body. If your  status of thick fluids is weakened due to aging, poor lifestyle habits such as insufficient sleep, over-dependency of stimulants or drugs, poor diet or simply being born constitutionally deficient, Yin deficiency problems  of overheating can occur at an early age. Emotionally this heat can show up as anxiety and attention deficit disorders, which we commonly see in many people today. 

Yin deficient dryness can manifest typical menopausal syndrome including hot flushing and dryness symptoms such as the thinning of the skin (collagen breakdown) and drying up of the body's mucosal tissues making the delicate tissues of the body more prone to irritation and inflammation.

In the upper body, dryness can lead to irritation of the eyes, sinus or the lungs. 

In the middle of the body, Yin deficiency dryness can cause mucosal degeneration in the Stomach causing weak digestion and even gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD). GERD often relates to a lack of proper HCL (hydrochloric acid) production due to stomach degeneration that occurs with aging. Yin deficiency dryness in the Large Intestine leads to chronic constipation and in the Small Intestine relates to the very common problem of  leaky gut syndrome caused by breakdown of the mucosal lining of the Small Intestine. Yin deficiency dryness that has lead to leaky gut syndrome causes un-digested proteins to escape the Small Intestine and leak into the bloodstream. These partially digested proteins are pro-inflammatory factors that create systemic problems of inflammation.

In the lower body, Yin deficiency dryness leads to conditions such as vaginal dryness and thinning of the bladder wall causing recurring cystitis (bladder inflammation).

For a chronic health problem, if your challenge to healing is a deep level of Yin deficiency, you must give yourself at least 6 months for sufficient healing to take place and it is usually longer for the body to repair itself after years of degeneration. The more severe the condition and the more depleted the patient, the more time will be required for the healing process.

Inflammation is the key issue when trying to resolve chronic degenerative diseases and the pathological factors of Heat, Cold and Dampness underlie many inflammatory problems.

sunrise.jpeg

HEAT

Heat can manifest from dryness, but often heat is due to toxicity. In this scenario, the tongue coating can be normal but the tongue body is very red rather than the healthy pink of a normal tongue body color. When it becomes red there is too much heat in the corresponding organ associated with that zone of the tongue. Too much heat indicates an inflammatory state is actively occurring.

This type of Excess Heat is due to a toxic body in need of clearing and an alkalizing diet to cool down the acidic terrain.

Excess heat may also present with a yellow cast on the tongue coating. This is a more complex issue because this is a mix picture of Dampness combined with Heat. To keep our discussion simple, a thick tongue coating, either white or yellow, indicates that Dampness is present. This relates to a fungal (Candida) or parasitic issue in the body which we will explore next in our discussion on dampness.

Internal heat can be generated from many factors ranging from mental and emotional stress to an acidic or overly spicy diet as well as allergies and sensitivities to various substances one is exposed. Heat can also be generated from stagnation in the body. Chinese Medicine differentiates 5 types of stagnation which will be the topic of another article. These stagnations are based on Food, Qi, Blood, Fluid and Cold.

DAMPNESS

If the condition of dampness relates simply to a problem of fluid metabolism this is usually not too difficult to get under control. You can see this type of problem when the tongue is overly swollen and wet and often the sides of the tongue are pinched or scalloped. However, when dampness relates to a fungal problem in the body it can take months and even years for a person's health problem to be resolved. 

A damp, fungal problem will be indicated when the tongue coating is thick and white or even yellowish.

Fungal issues are difficult to resolve because they insidiously spread everywhere from head to toe. It takes a very strict diet regimen often requiring the elimination of grains, dairy, alcohol and most sugars to get an aggressive problem of dampness under control. Dampness causes swelling in the body and is associated with arthritis. One of my patients got rid of his Rheumatoid Arthritis condition simply by switching from a vegetarian diet to a Paleo diet. According to Chinese Medicine, over time grains can lead to an infestation of parasites and fungus. After being on a grain-based vegetarian diet for over 40 years, this patient was able to resolve the pathological dampness underlying his Rheumatoid Arthritis by eliminating grains over the period of just two years!

COLD

Internally, cold is generated by diet such as a lot of raw food, including smoothies and Western pharmaceutical drugs especially those which suppress inflammation, pain and the immune system or antibiotics. Western medicine relies heavily on anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications to relieve pain. The problem is that these drugs induce what Chinese Medicine describes as Cold, which is another pathological factor. 

Cold freezes pain and inflammation to bring temporary relief, but Cold also freezes the problem into the tissues and inhibits the circulation of Yang Qi and blood, both of which are needed for longterm healing. Yang Qi is metabolic energy that creates body warmth and supports healthy immunity. Once the Yang Qi is compromised, a person's healing capacity is weakened.

A person with Yang Qi insufficiency will show signs of fatigue, low metabolism, gets sick easily and tends to feel cold. This type of patient will usually present with a tongue that is pale (lacking warmth), swollen and very wet.

Cold leads to the stagnation of circulation and pain and can also be induced by working in a cold environment such as the fish department in a grocery store. I have seen in my clinical practice arthritis conditions develop over long term exposure to cold environments. 

A condition of cold with dampness will show a white pasty tongue coating and this is often the case with the use of medications especially antibiotics which lead to fungal problems. 

A tongue that is overly swollen and pale, shows a system that has fluid stagnation due to a lack of Yang Qi to properly stimulate the circulation for good fluid metabolism.

For any condition of cold, you need to focus on warming your core energy.

The factors of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold must all be considered in the healing of chronic illness. Looking at your tongue can give you an idea of what is going on in your body.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder and Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Overcoming the Challenges to Healing

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

The purpose of this multi-part series is to present concepts established in Chinese Medicine that explain physiologically and philosophically the many challenges involved in a person's healing. My hope is to empower those  who may be struggling with healing through the insightful wisdom of Chinese Medicine with its history of more than 2500 years.

Chinese Medicine is rooted in ancient philosophy with a human being considered to be a microcosmic expression of the environment in which he or she is created. This philosophy is based on the theories of Yin and Yang and the 5 Elements which were established as an integrated theoretical system by the School of Naturalism during the 5th century B.C.;  the Warring States period in China's history. During this period, these concepts became fundamental elements of Daoist philosophy and Chinese Medicine.

This ancient wisdom can help us understand many of our modern day dilemmas regarding our physical and psychological health.

In a previous article, we examined an often overlooked issue -- scar tissue.

If there are scars with significant adhesions causing tightness and tenderness to the touch, this may be the first factor that needs to be treated and resolved in order to initiate the healing process. Scar tissue if problematic can block the flow of energy in an area of the body that relates to a person's health problem. (You can read the article here for insights on how scar tissue may be a major barrier to your healing.)

Conventional medicine and the use of medication is often the first resort for most chronic sufferers of disease.

While medication often provides quick relief, it usually does not provide a longterm solution to health problems. Most patients of chronic disease seek alternative healthcare to either reduce their need for medication or to get off medication altogether. While medication may bring quick short-term relief, healing chronic problems usually takes time for deep change to unfold on the physical and psychological levels. 

Lifestyle changes are essential to heal chronic diseases in particular, though the healing that comes from these changes takes time to unfold. 

Essentially, a chronically suffering individual must give the body and mind a chance to both integrate these changes in his or her life as well as time to allow deep internal transformation.

The development of a chronic disease does not occur overnight and the longer a condition has been around, the longer it's likely to take to resolve. Often the chronicity of a person's disorder is due to the very treatments used to control it. Western medicine is designed to control the disease process, not necessarily resolve it. This approach can create health complications with side effects that further complicate the disease process and make healing an even greater challenge.

Another barrier to healing we commonly see in our clinic is the simultaneous introduction of too many different healing modalities.

This shotgun approach can send mixed messages that confuse the body, potentially interfering with the healing process. One practitioner may be working to detoxify a patient while another is trying to strengthen and consolidate energy for healing and rejuvenation. These approaches do not necessarily work well together at the same time. If the various healing modalities with which the patient is working are not in alignment with one another, the effects of the various treatments can be counterproductive to achieve the desired result. 

It is therefore important to ensure that your healthcare practitioners' strategies are in alignment and clearly working towards your health goal.  

Some of the greatest barriers to healing a chronic health problem are rooted in a long history of emotional, medicinal, surgical and dietary complications. 

To understand these barriers, the following articles will survey the pathological factors that according to Chinese Medicine underlie chronic health disorders and impair the healing process. These factors include the pathological processes of WindDampness, Cold, Heat, food stagnation, Qi stagnation and blood stagnation. In addition, there may be factors of deficiency such as deficiency of Qi and deficiency of blood.

The material presented in this blog series will help you gain an understanding of these pathological factors  and help clarify, according to Chinese Medicine, why you may be suffering from a chronic health disorder.


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder and Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Why Scar Tissue May Be the Cause of Your Suffering

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

Untreated wounds from past traumas, surgeries or injuries may be causing you more problems than you realize. To understand why, we have to look at the nature and cause of scar tissue.

When you cut or burn yourself,  the body forms a scar on the skin’s surface as the area begins to heal. In the same way, scar tissue forms internally when there’s an injury to the muscles, ligaments or tendons. 

The body forms scar tissue after surgery, radiation, or trauma in order to repair the area that has been injured. 

When left untreated, scar tissue can grow and inhibit the Qi (energy) and blood from flowing adequately through certain areas of the body, eventually causing pain and obstruction in the internal organs.

What's most interesting is that these effects can go unrecognized and may show up several years after a surgery or injury. 

Sometimes, this scar tissue can form an adhesion that binds two parts of tissue or organs together. Abdominal adhesions are a common complication of surgery, particularly abdominal or pelvic surgery. They have the potential to cause small bowel obstructions in adults, and are believed to contribute to the development of chronic pelvic pain.

Adhesions typically begin to form within the first few days after surgery, but they may not produce symptoms for months or even years. 

Pelvic adhesions can occur in any organ within the pelvis, such as the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or bladder, and usually occur after surgery, such as after C-section or hysterectomy. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which results from an infection, frequently leads to adhesions in and around the fallopian tubes. Since a woman's eggs pass through her fallopian tubes into her uterus for reproduction, fallopian adhesions can lead to infertility and increased incidence of ectopic pregnancy.

During menstruation each month, a woman sheds endometrial tissue. Endometrial tissue can implant in areas where it does not belong, such as on the surface of the uterus,  ovaries, fallopian tubes, bowel and the membrane lining of the pelvic cavity. Endometriosis is the abnormal growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus which is similar to that which lines the interior of the uterus. The severity of endometriosis is determined by the location, extent and depth of the endometrial implants, their size and presence in the ovaries, as well as the presence and severity of scar tissue.

Scar tissue can also form within the membranes that surround the heart, thus restricting heart function. Infections, such as rheumatic fever, may lead to adhesion formation on heart valves and can impede heart efficiency.

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, it is vital to treat scar tissue anywhere it has developed in the body. In fact, long-term health issues go unnoticed and the effects of treatments are impeded simply as a result of the presence of scar tissue in the body.

This is why it’s crucial to ask patients if they’ve had any surgeries or traumatic injuries and treat the area where scar tissue is forming prior to continuing with deeper treatments.

Even scar tissue from old piercings can be a problem, depending on where they're located on the body.

I once had a patient with a long history of recurrent digestive issues. Each time I would treat him, he would improve for about a week and then his abdominal cramping and diarrhea would return. One day as I was examining his abdomen I noticed a small scar around the area of his pelvis. He had never mentioned having any surgeries so I was quite surprised to see this. When I asked him about it, he let me know that he had been stabbed in that area during a fight when he was 18 years old (he was now in his 50s). Naturally, the area had started forming scar tissue after the injury and the removal of his stitches. 

I started to vigorously work on the area with acupuncture, moxibustion and topical treatments with essential oils. Within the next month, his digestion started to regulate and the lower abdominal pain disappeared. 

There are several other times where I’ve seen patients with chronic pain in an area of the body that clearly radiates as a result of the stagnation caused by scar tissue in another area. 

One of the most unusual cases Salvador has treated was a young, emaciated high school girl who came to our clinic wearing a feeding tube. She had not been able to eat anything for many months and had lost a considerable amount of weight and strength.

Once a vital athlete, this young woman came to the clinic looking like skin and bones, and a feeding tube was required for her to receive any form of nutrition since she would vomit anything she tried to eat and digest naturally. Her doctors were at a loss for the cause of this problem and upon finding no clinical reason for her disorder, she was referred for psychiatric evaluation. After ruling out anorexia and other psychiatric disorders, she came to our clinic hoping to find an answer to why she suddenly developed the inability to eat at the young age of 17 years.

During her first visit, Salvador learned she had received surgery for an intestinal obstruction as a very young child. Upon examining her abdomen, Salvador found two very deep, large scars along the upper part of her abdomen. He suspected these scars to be the cause of her problem, and her history confirmed this. She had become an athlete in high school and was doing  a lot of abdominal crunches to strengthen her core muscles. Over time, the scar tissue in her abdomen began binding up her small intestine. At some point the binding became so severe that it blocked her ability to ingest food entirely.

Within a few months of releasing the scar tissue with acupuncture, Salvador was able to get this young woman off the feeding tube. Within about a year, she was able to recover her strength so she could finish high school and resume the normal life she once enjoyed as a teenage girl who loved to sing and play sports.

The important takeaway is this -- your body is intimately interconnected, so any time you have discomfort in one part of the body it will affect other parts.

This is why it’s so important to maintain the free flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body. Releasing scar tissue ensures this free flow so that you can heal from any other issues that may be impeding your health and wellness.

Scar tissue is an important barrier to healing. Other barriers to healing will be explored in our Challenges to Healing series.


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. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Finding Courage: Kidneys & the Water Element

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

Life is formed and develops in the water that holds the Essence of the body, called Jing. The Kidneys comprise the organ system that stores this Essence and are the primary organs that provide the Yang metabolic energy which drives the entire function of the body. In this way, our Kidney Essence is the foundation for all Yin and Yang energies of the body. 

Preserving Kidney function is therefore fundamental for health on every level. 

The Water element stores and represents our Essence, and it is through connecting with our Kidney energy that we connect with the deepest aspects of ourselves, especially memories and emotions that have been buried within our subconscious.

As the primary energy of our entire being, the Kidney energy relates to our fundamental drive to live and the willpower to fulfill our goals and dreams. 

On an intellectual level, the Water element deals with philosophy, spirituality, and the great, essential questions of life. The related emotion is what one feels in the presence of the divine, or when one understands the marvels of life. In other words, the sense of awe.

In Chinese Medicine, the Water element brings one through time. It houses the prenatal Qi that we derive from our ancestors, which can be understood as our inheritance or genetic makeup. In this way, our DNA is the fundamental physical aspect of our Essence. 

From a psychological perspective, a Water personality is a deep-thinker, a seeker of sense rather than sensations; someone who strives for enlightenment or the presence of the divine. These people are easily taken as being aloof but they are enormously loyal and can help untangle the most complicated situations. Unlike their opposite element, Fire, which is fully in the moment, Water types are mostly concerned with and have great perspective on the past and future.

The Water type personality is the prototypical hermit as Water types enjoy spending time alone in contemplation. As such, Water type personalities can also be considered “the philosopher.”

The Water type person does not like to conform to social norms.  In general, the Water type likes to be alone to contemplate, collect and simply do his or her own thing his or her own way without interference from the world.  

Some people are naturally very Water oriented and it's easy for them to slow down and relax, however, when a person is too Water he may become stuck within himself,  and may therefore need motivation.

Earth energy helps to balance the excessive Water energy, which may cause one to become overly reclusive or self-absorbed. Earth energy involves community and social relationships.

By cultivating social activity (Earth), a person who is an overly Water-type individual can become more balanced. Doing social work or having an enthusiastic partner or friends can keep the Water type active and prevent being disengaged from society.

Active invigorating exercise is also very important to move the Water personality who can be very content sitting and lounging all day in front of the television or computer. 

Classical Chinese Medicine teaches that the root of most disease is emotionally or spiritually based. Therefore, to change a disease condition, a person needs to change on a deep emotional and spiritual level. Chinese Medicine therefore takes an active approach to get a person moving from their comfort zone in order to experience life in a different way and, hopefully, in a way that is supportive of their healing.

For an ill person who is a highly introverted Water type, the provocation for change needs to be induced through social interaction. For healing to take place on a deep level, it is crucial to move the energy of that person out of the reclusive mode and into a space involving more interaction. This of course can be very difficult for an introverted person and take them out of their comfort zone, but this is the type of interaction necessary nonetheless to stimulate the changes for true healing to take place. 

Whereas a person with excessive Water needs to be socialized, a person who lacks Water energy needs to counter the tendency to be overly extroverted and social by spending more time in contemplation through practices such as meditation. For an extrovert, this practice can be provocative and challenging. Qi Gong and Tai Chi are other practices that support the person lacking Water energy by helping draw their focus and energy inward to strengthen the Kidney Qi as well as calm and ground their restless mind. 

A major aspect to supporting a healthy Kidney system requires giving attention to the adrenal glands located above the kidneys. Through proper nutrition, rest and exercise we can manage the impact of stress which deplete the function of these essential glands.

Especially during the winter months when there is less light, it is best to slow down and go to bed as early as possible. In general, it is essential to reduce the amount of stimulation in one's life in order to restore adrenal function. This includes avoiding or reducing caffeinated beverages, reducing time in front of the computer especially playing computer games, over exercising, over working and engaging in too much sexual activity. It is also critical to reduce exposure to unhealthy or stressful relationships as much as possible to maintain calmness in mind and emotions in supporting adrenal recovery.

These changes will create the opportunity for the body to draw energy back into the Kidneys to strength one's willpower throughout the winter so a newfound courage can sprout forth in the coming spring season, the season of Wood, growth and new beginnings. 

Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California. 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 and Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. Salvador also teaches Qi Gong at the Dharma Studio within A Center for Natural Healing.

Your health depends on letting Go

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

Have you noticed how your immune system seems to crash after a period of high stress or grief?

It’s very common to develop a cold, a cough or even pneumonia after a period of sadness such as the loss of a loved one, a breakup or divorce. In fact, we make sure to tell our patients as they're going through these periods to be mindful of this potential and support their immune systems as much as possible. But sometimes, especially when dealing with grief from the loss of someone dear to you, it can feel like your body just can’t take any more. To make sure that you actually slow down, the body gets sick as though it’s forcing you to rest.

In Chinese Medicine, sadness and grief and their impact on immunity is related to the Metal element and the energy of the Lungs.

Grief and longterm sadness or depression weaken the Lung energy and stagnate the fluid circulation controlled by the Lungs. Over time, as Lung Qi and fluids stagnate, phlegm, cysts and tumors on the Lungs and related glands such as the breasts and thyroid can develop. 

The Lungs, Large Intestine as well as the skin connect us with the environment and comprise the Metal organ systems. Each of these organs allow us to interface in different ways with the world around us. The skin provides interaction with the exterior via sweating and touch, the Lungs through our breath and the Large Intestine through the release of waste to be recycled back into the earth. 

On an emotional level, the Metal element represents the need for self-definition within the world and the need to interact with others. Thus grieving, mourning and sadness, the emotions generated when one is separated from someone or something significant, are Metal emotions that impact the Lung's energy.

On an intellectual level, the strength of the Lung's energy, or Qi, supports the ability to separate things or data into categories to support analytical skills and the ability to coordinate tasks to keep one's life in order. 

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The Lung Qi supports us to breathe in and out, and to let go. The struggle to let go of whatever is bothering us from the past is the primary reason why we often have so much trouble with the health of our Lungs during challenging or uncertain times.

When faced with a challenging situation, often our first response is to hold our breath. However, the practice of taking a deep breath supports us to let go and move forward. When we aren't able to breathe deeply during times of stress, the Metal organs - the Lungs, Large Intestine and skin - are impacted. We may therefore develop asthma, allergies, and inflammatory flare-ups of the skin and colon such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), as well as symptoms of poor digestion with acid reflux (GERD), bloating and gas.  

When we cultivate ourselves through practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi, we learn to observe and control the breathing and regulate the flow of Qi throughout the whole body. This supports strong muscles, tendons, skin and hair, as well as all organ and glandular functions.  

Breath awareness pulls us out of our minds and into our bodies, bringing us more in touch with the present moment where energy flows harmoniously throughout the body and mind.

Our breath teaches us to be present with what is rather than trying to make it something else; a state that creates resistance and stress. 

When we're stuck in the past or caught up worrying about the future, Qi flow is impacted and dis-ease develops. When we cultivate ourselves through these practices, we become aware that with each breath, we're able to let go and find peace, regardless of our circumstances.  

According to Huang di Nei Jing, one of the most pivotal classical texts of Chinese Medicine, “A person is not sick because they have a disease; they are diseased because they are sick.” In other words, our mental and physical health ensures the prevention of disease. This is why it's so important to protect our Lungs through the practice of letting go.

Try this simple exercise every night before bedtime: When you lie down to sleep, first take a few moments to take an inventory of the key events of your day. Notice what experiences you may have had that caused you to be angry, sad, nervous or numbed out in any way. As your mind reviews the day's events, breathe into each experience and mentally allow yourself to let each one go so you don't fall asleep holding onto the negative feelings.

To "let go" requires acceptance; allowing the situation to be as it is without trying to change it. From this place, we can find peace in the moment, and clarity from which to move forward. In this way, we move without confusion or resistance to change so that we can have a full sense of presence to receive the endless possibilities that life has to offer.


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 and Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture.

More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Why Your Exercise Routine May Be Hurting Your Health

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

As we all know, exercise is essential for a healthy life and especially a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. But improper exercise may actually cause health problems.

A condition known as Overtraining Syndrome, or Metabolic Overtraining Syndrome, is more common than you might think.

Overtraining, especially with endurance and anaerobic training such as weight training, accelerates aging as inflammation gets ramped up in the body.

When overtraining is combined with overworking and a lack of proper rest and recovery time, Overtraining Syndrome can impact a person on many levels ranging from becoming injury prone to metabolic disorders involving hormonal imbalances, immune system dysfunction, fatigue, mood disorders and neurological problems.

One biomarker that should be considered as a possible result of overtraining is elevated homocysteine. 

Homocysteine is an amino acid that is created by the body from the essential amino acid Methionine. It gets converted with the help of vitamin B6 into an important amino acid called Cysteine. Chronically elevated homocysteine levels are a potential indicator of cardiovascular disease development since homocysteine is an important biomarker for vascular inflammation.  Over time,  elevated levels of homocysteine can increase risk of heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia, the second most frequent cause of dementia in the elderly behind only Alzheimers. 

Stress and caffeine consumption will also increase homocysteine as the neurotransmitters related to stress, epinephrine and norepinephrine, become elevated.

Since the major focus should be to minimize inflammation, maintaining a healthy level of homocysteine is a KEY component for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. 

So how much exercise is really necessary to achieve optimal health?

According to Dr. Mercola in his article “Physical Inactivity Costs Global Economy $67 Billion Each Year,” he says "the greatest effect on longevity was found among those who engaged in 150 to 450 minutes of exercise per week, the bulk of which was moderate intensity activities such as walking. Including bouts of vigorous activity can give you an additional boost in longevity.” 

In fact, recent research has shown that just 5 minutes of high-intensity exercise is needed to have optimal health benefits. 

You may consider short periods of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for your routine. With even just five minutes of high-intensity exercise, healthy nitric oxide (eNOS) is released to dilate blood vessels and increase blood perfusion throughout the body. Growth Hormone (GH) is elevated and BDFT (Brain Derived Neuro-trophic factor) is released in the brain’s Hippocampus. 

How does elevated BDFT impact your health? 

Increased BDFT helps improve stress management and memory while reducing mood swings and depression. Better stress management will prevent your body from overflowing with cortisol, which in excess can lead to weight gain and lowered immune function. 

In general, chronic, long-term stress takes its toll on your health and over-exercising when the body is already maxed out from a stressful day can be very damaging to your health.

So if your busting your behind for 40 minutes on the treadmill, keep in mind that less is more and short-term interval training is a much better option.

If you engage in endurance type aerobic exercise or engage in regular, intensive weight-lifting workouts, I suggest you have your homocysteine levels tested when you have your next blood test. Keep in mind, the standard medical belief is that homocysteine should be below 10.6 for cardio-vascular health. However, some of the leading physicians in the growing field of Functional Medicine recommend a level below 7 for optimal metabolic health overall.

Another important bio-marker to check in relation to inflammation is C-Reactive Protein (CRP). It is advised to keep your CRP level below 1.0 mg/L. Any measure above this point indicates a risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

In addition, check your vitamin B status (especially B6, B12 and Folic Acid) to ensure you are able to maintain healthy homocysteine levels because these vitamins are essential to support  liver detoxification.

The final point about exercise relates to the timing of working out.

It's best to avoid excessive and vigorous exercise in the afternoon during the hottest time of the day. 

The early morning between 5am and 11am is the optimum time to work out and ramp up the body’s metabolism. Ideally, focus on the HIIT type workouts for no more than 20 minutes.

Remember, the peak Yang time is midday, so it’s best not to overstimulate the body during the heat of the day.

Midday exercise increases internal heat and burns out the body’s Qi leading to fatigue and exhaustion.

The Yin time occurs during the evening as the sun sets and peaks during the midnight hours, so it’s also best to avoid training hard late in the day.

Late evening exercise, especially exercise that causes a lot of sweating, depletes the body’s fluids and thus dries up the body’s cells leading to accelerated aging and the occurrence of wrinkles and sagging skin.

Proper training requires proper rest and recovery time so it's best to avoid daily exhaustive training. With your extra time, take regular 20-30 minute walks to keep your aerobic system active. In the late afternoon and evening try focusing on exercises that improve your flexibility such as stretching, gentle yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi to keep your body cool and your mind calm and relaxed as you wind down to have a nice deep restorative sleep. 


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder and Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Cultivating Self-Love and Overcoming Addictions: A Five Element Perspective

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

There are five basic elements categorized in Chinese Medicine: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has its own characteristic features and goes through a generation cycle through which it transforms into another element.

Five Elements

The Five Elements begin with Wood because Wood represents growth and new beginnings. The season of Wood is Spring as new growth begins to sprout forth.

The active energy provided by Wood creates Fire and Fire is about maturity and relates to the season of Summer, the hottest time of the year. 

Fire creates ash as it burns and this ash creates the next element, Earth. Earth is about harvest and corresponds to a period known as Late Summer. Earth also corresponds to a 16 day transitional period that occurs during each seasonal transition. 

The minerals found in the earth are metallic, so the Earth element creates the element of Metal. Metal is about decline, corresponding to the season of Autumn, a time when nature transitions toward a state of dormancy. 

As Fall enters full dormancy, we enter the Winter season, which relates to the element of Water. Water relates to going within, introversion and introspection. Winter is the gestational period that supports the consolidation of energy back into our Kidneys for physical rejuvenation and inner transformation. Through this process, we can blossom forth a resurgence of new growth energy that ensues in the springtime as the 5 Element cycle starts again.

The Summer's Fire Energy can set Addictions Blazing --

 Since we are in the season of Summer, the element of Fire is in its full effect potentially overheating our body, especially our blood.  Hot blood creates an over-stimulated emotional state. If we add hot natured food to our diet such as coffee, alcohol and hot spices such as garlic, rosemary, basil, ginger, peppers and onions, the internal fire can really get out of control during this season causing inflammation, high blood pressure, skin rashes and emotional disorders such as anxiety, irritability and outbursts of rage. 

If we don't make an effort to keep the body cool and calm, patterns of ADDICTION can become more of a problem during this time of year too as the Heart Fire starts to blaze and a person will crave substances such as sugar, medications, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs such as marijuana to numb out.  

One of the very interesting aspects about the Heart is that it is the organ related to us having emotional control in our lives. If we are stuck in patterns of addiction, then our Heart Fire is overwhelming the function of our Earth. The Earth relates to the Spleen and the Mind so one's mental control becomes overwhelmed by their emotions if the Heart Blood gets too hot. The Earth/Spleen energy also relates to the Pancreas so we can see as the emotions get over aroused with Heart Fire, a person will crave sweets and damp-inducing comfort foods to numb out and placate one's restless emotions. Even fruit, which is very high in sugar and prevalent during the Summer when eaten in excess will create a lot of dampness which further compromises a person's mental capacity to control their heart's emotional fire. In addition, as dampness accumulates in the body, it creates a sluggish circulation of Qi energy and a person will reach out for stimulants to get their energy moving which can perpetuate the state of internal heat that is driving  the emotional imbalance and the addictive behavior.  Internal dampness relates to the popular topic of CANDIDA which underlies many health problems from the head to the toes.

Managing the internal fire driven by addictions is a very important issue underlying all Chronic Degenerative Disorders --

Whether the addiction is substance related or other such as an addiction to work, exercise or masturbation, these habits induce a smoldering of internal heat that grows and grows deep in the body. This is a dangerous condition that we call "Latent Heat or Latent Fire"  that becomes suppressed so a person may not be aware of it because they are not symptomatic. However, over time as this suppressed heat that is trapped in the body slowly burns out the body's resources to stay repressed, various symptoms of disease will start to manifest. These diseases are all related to inflammation from this latent heat escaping anywhere in the body and is the underlying cause of chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune disorders and cancer. 

Breaking the Addiction cycle is about CHOICE --

The more severe the addiction, the more involved a person's treatment may need to be. However, it's ultimately about choice. We've all seen people with longterm addictions to cigarettes who stopped smoking on a dime when they made up their mind to do so for whatever reason. Chinese Medicine is a powerful ally to support a person to clear the fire in the blood in order to reduce the restless emotions and the addictive cravings. Cultivating a daily routine of calming practices such as taking nature walks and doing Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga and Meditation are very important especially during the summer season to help calm the emotions so one can regain mental control of their lives and break the addiction cycle.

From a dietary perspective, eat more of a vegetarian diet during the hot summer months and follow a diet that is cooling and alkalizing for the body. And always remember, those morning protein smoothies that include everything but the kitchen sink, well, they induce a lot of dampness and heat in the body so try to simplify your morning smoothie and have a nice green vegetable based juice instead to alkalize your body.

Green juices have a bitter, cooling nature that effectively drain and clear out the heat in the blood, calm the heart and mind and help you to once again gain mental control over your emotions. 

Calming the Heart supports cultivating Self-Love --

As the blood becomes more alkaline, the Heart energy calms down and this allows the Kidney Jing, also called Essence, to be conserved. Conserving one's Kidney Essence relates to cultivating Self-Love because the Kidney energy relates to one's relationship with oneself.  

Essentially, through the process of calming the Heart, a person becomes more Spiritually oriented as one's desires of the heart begin to settle down and become less important in one's life. This process of detaching from one's desires allows one's sense of Self-Love to grow and expand.

If you find yourself this summer getting a bit overwhelmed, frazzled and feeling "out of control", remember, you have a choice to be calm, to cultivate detachment and embrace yourself with more love as you sit back and sip your tall glass of green vegetable juice. 

Start your day this way and you'll really enjoy your summer with a happy calm heart!


Salvador Cefalu, L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, CA, a wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Overcoming Spiritual Arrogance

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

When we embark on a spiritual path, many of us think that our lives will suddenly become easier, but in reality the opposite is often true. (If you're wondering what I mean by being spiritual, check out my last article on this topic here). 

Since our newfound awareness equips us to face greater challenges in both our internal and external worlds, the challenges with which we’re faced often grow stronger.

As you learn to face these new challenges, you gain a sense of greater confidence. If you’re not aware of how to process this confidence, the ego kicks in and convinces you that your new way of living life is somehow superior.

The initial excitement that comes with a heightened awareness is unlike any other. There's a feeling of power, peace, and joy you want to share with the world.

What's often difficult during this transition is learning that not everyone is interested in your spiritual growth. In fact, as you grow, many of your best friends may not be able to identify with the new you. Those closest to you may not be ready to make the changes to adapt to the transformed life you're creating or your personal growth.

As you change and let go of old ways that no longer serve you and your highest good, you may find it frustrating that others are comfortable staying the same. 

Wanting to invite your community into a world filled with your new insights and beliefs because you feel they can benefit from this way of life is beautiful. But becoming frustrated by the way others live and believing that your way of life is somehow more significant is spiritually arrogant. 

We may feel that consciousness and spiritual practices help make us better people, but this does not mean that we should look down on others for not accepting or integrating these practices into their lives.

In fact, you’ll likely notice that as your spiritual practice deepens, more challenging people enter your life to force you to practice what you’ve been cultivating.

The more you cultivate yourself, the more you encounter people and situations that test your growth.

Being a spiritual person has nothing to do with how much Yoga you do, how often you go to church, or what scriptures you’ve memorized. 

Being truly spiritual means having the ability to embrace life unconditionally and accepting others for who they are - without judgement. Living spiritually is a lifelong journey, not a destination. And the ultimate spiritual practice is to embrace unconditional love for ourselves and others.

Truly spiritual living means aligning actions with beliefs, and therefore living as a person of integrity. 

A person of integrity isn’t hypocritical and has a sense of compassion for all beings, understanding that we’re all interconnected in the web of life. A person of integrity picks up after herself simply because she cares about the environment, and treats others with kindness and respect because she understands all people's connection to one another.

We all make mistakes, and we've all had moments where we're dishonest or are unstable with our sense of integrity. So, why then, even if we have truly changed, do we have the right to judge others who are still struggling with the shadows that we claim to have overcome?

Being spiritual is not about practicing a certain philosophy or religion. It's about being present, loving, and aware.

The awareness that comes from living spiritually creates space for universal compassion. 

This doesn’t mean you don’t get angry, hurt, or act out sometimes. But when these things happen, you’re able to hold yourself accountable and create healing with those you hurt.

Consciousness is a gift that's easy to take for granted. Rather than gloat about how conscious you are, begin to use this awareness to serve others and make greater contributions to your social and global communities. 

As Gandhi stated, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Live it out, model it and be an inspiration to others. 

Your external world is a reflection of your internal world, so when you see or experience something you don’t like, rather than judge or point fingers, turn your attention more deeply inward and see what in your mind and actions has created the picture that stands before you. Every person and experience that comes into your life is a teacher; the more challenging the person or experience, the greater the potential to enhance your spiritual growth.  

Awareness provides each of us the power to change what we can and wholeheartedly accept the rest.

Paired with humility, it also empowers us to unite with others, even those who are not walking the same path,  through a deeper sense of compassion.

Humility gives us a sense of presence and reminds us that we're all on this journey together.


Setareh Moafi, L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California where she runs a Classical Acupuncture and wellness coaching practice, and teaches transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Hope for CTE Part II: Healing our American Warriors with Classical Chinese Medicine

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

In Part I of this CTE series, I discussed how the pathology of brain degeneration found in patients with CTE is similar to those with Alzheimer’s disease. Part II is presented to further establish the legitimate benefits of Classical Chinese Medicine in the treatment of CTE and other types of dementia.

As we explore treatment options for CTE through the use of Classical Chinese Medicine, keep in mind this information is also useful for maintaining healthy brain function in general and addressing the issues of age related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in particular. 

First, let’s consider the conventional medical treatment options available today for CTE.

From a Western medical perspective, treatment for these types of brain degenerative diseases is not yet established. A quote from the Mayo Clinic’s website regarding standard medical treatment for CTE at the time of this writing clarifies this fact.

CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease for which there is no treatment. More research on treatments is needed…” (Mayo Clinic website)

The best treatments western medicine offers today are 1) medications to try and control the severe headaches, seizures and mood disorders related to CTE, 2)  two medications (Aricept and Memantine) that support cognition but do not help regenerate brain neurons or treat the pathology driving the brain degeneration and 3) simple suggestions such as: reduce physical activity, get plenty of rest and write things down to compensate for one’s loss of memory.

In the meantime, individuals suffering with CTE and other types of dementia continue to degenerate because there is no prescription medicine to control the progression of these degenerative brain diseases or restore brain neuron function.

Do we need to sit idly watching ourselves or loved ones wither and suffer with the progression of brain diseases such as CTE, Alzheimer’s and age related dementia? 

One thing I have learned in almost 30 years of practicing alternative medicine is that there is always hope.

So here’s the good news…

Over more than 20 years of clinical research in Japan, China and Korea has provided extensive proof supporting the use of herbal medicine for the treatment of various types of dementia.

In fact, Chinese herbal medicine has been clinically proven to help restore brain function even after degeneration has developed due to the amyloid and tau protein plaques found in CTE and Alzheimer’s disease. 

But time is of the essence. 

The sooner treatment is started to address the pathological process damaging the brain, the easier it will be to restore normalcy to one’s brain function and to one’s life.

As discussed in my first article on CTE, a primary factor underlying the pathological plaque buildup in the brain that occurs with CTE and Alzheimer’s is due to inflammation from abnormal oxidative stress. The question is what is driving this inflammatory process in the brain.

In Chinese Medicine, brain plaque due to inflammation/oxidation correlates to the pathology of Phlegm-Heat and research shows Chinese herbal medicine can reverse this condition and the related problems of amyloid and tau protein plaques causing the neurofibrillary tangles associated with symptoms of CTE and Alzheimer’s.

Furthermore, it has been clinically proven that Chinese herbal medicine can stimulate regeneration of brain neurons to restore brain function that has been lost as well.

Now that’s exciting!

Classical Chinese Medicine covers all the bases in treating the syndrome of CTE. Through reversing the progression of the disease to restoring the damage done to the brain, Chinese medicine can achieve the ultimate goal of enhancing one's capacity to think and perform daily life activities. 

There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence, too. An article in the 2009 issue of Traditional Chinese Medicine featured Dr. Qiu, a medical doctor with over 40 years of experience, who has successfully treated many patients with advanced dementia using Chinese herbal medicine. 

Though there are a multitude of factors underlying the inflammatory process according to Chinese Medicine, I suggested in my first CTE article that according to Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the brain degeneration found in CTE and Alzheimer’s disease is going to be likely rooted in an excess of dampness and heat in the stomach system. This is described as both Spleen and Stomach Damp Heat pathology in CCM.  

According to Western medicine, this association is gaining scientific traction in terms of Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes where elevated blood sugar and insulin levels have been found to be involved with changes in brain chemistry that create the plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. 

In fact, the incidence of Alzheimer’s among diabetics is 70% higher than the non-diabetic population.

Keep in mind that according to CCM a person does not have to be diagnosed with diabetes to have an extreme problem of dampness and heat in the Stomach and Spleen systems. Diagnosis for this pathological imbalance can be determined via traditional diagnostic parameters by assessing the tongue, the pulse and the abdomen in Chinese Medicine to evaluate the extent damp-heat is driving the brain degeneration. 

If a patient is having a lot of symptoms such as headaches, irritability and confusion, there is likely too much dampness and heat in the the Stomach and Spleen that needs to be reduced via diet, herbal medicine and acupuncture.

You need to be proactive to empower yourself and your life.

If you are noticing symptoms of brain degeneration such as memory loss, brain fog, mental fatigue, severe mood swings, seizures, headaches, etc, seek the advice of a Chinese Medical practitioner and begin your journey to healing and regenerating your brain so you can once again live life with vitality and clarity of mind. 


Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, CA, where he specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine & is one of the leading US practitioners of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare non-insertion form of Acupuncture. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Here are some references regarding the use of Chinese Herbal Medicine (also refered to as Japanese Kampo medicine) and the use of Essential Oils for the treatment of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease.

  1. Yang Y, Liu Q.Therapeutic Effect of Therapy of Warming Yang and Tonifying Kidney, Removing Blood Stasis and Phlegm for Alzheimer's Disease. Journal of New Chinese Medicine. 2014-10.
  2. Liu S, Pan B, Cheng T (Department of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, Second Hospital of Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710004, China). Effects of various traditional Chinese medicinal prescriptions on learning and memory disorders in model mice with vascular dementia. Journal of Xi'an Medical University. 2002-04.
  3. Yan L , Liu B , Guo W , Li G , Li Y , Gao H , Cui H , Sun L , Wang M Weifang Medical College, Shandong Province. A clinical investigation on Zhi Ling Tang for treatment of senile dementia. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2000 Jun; 20(2): 83-6.
  4. Koh Iwasaki MD, PhD, Seiichi Kobayashi MD, PhD, Yuri Chimura MD, Mayumi Taguchi MD, PhD, Kazumi Inoue BS, Shigehumi Cho, Tetsuo Akiba MD, Hiroyuki Arai MD, PhD, Jong-Chol Cyong MD, PhD and Hidetada Sasaki MD, PhD. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial of the Chinese Herbal Medicine “Ba Wei Di Huang Wan” in the treatment of dementia. Journal of the American Geriatric Society. 2004-10. 
  5. Akhondzadeh S, Noroozian M, Mohammadi M, Ohadinia S, Jamshidi A, Khani M. Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 2003;74.
  6. Jimbo D, Kimuro Y, Taniguchi M, Inoue M and Urakami K. Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Psychogeriatrics. 2009; 9: 173–179.
  7. Mizukami K, et al. A randomized cross-over study of a traditional Japanese medicine (kampo), yokukansan (Yi Gan San) in the treatment of the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Mar;12(2):191-9.
  8. Watari H, Shimada Y and Tohda C. New Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, Kamikihito (Jia Wei Gui Pi Tang), Reverses Amyloid--Induced Progression of Tau Phosphorylation and Axonal Atrophy. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 706487, 10 pages. Article ID 706487.
  9. Terasawa K, et al. Choto-san (Gou Teng San) in the treatment of vascular dementia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Phytomedicine.1997 Mar;4(1):15-22. 
  10. Hagino N. An overview of Kampo medicine: Toki-Shakuyaku-San (Tang Kuei Shao Yao Tang). Phytotherapy Research.Volume 7, Issue 6, pages 391–394, November/December 1993.

What it Really Means to Be Spiritual

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

What do you think of when you hear the word spiritual?

To many, ancient spiritual practices such as Yoga and Meditation give this word meaning. To others, the word spiritual may represent detaching from the challenges of the world to find a more peaceful existence.

One of the primary misconceptions that seems to turn a lot of people away from spirituality is that it’s always connected with religion.

Another misconception is that to lead a spiritual life, you have to forsake materialism and worldly desires. 

Living isolated in a cave doesn’t necessarily make you spiritual. 

In fact, the ultimate test for a spiritual life is the ability to cultivate that life in the midst of a society full of challenges.  And each one of us can learn to live a more spiritual life.

It’s easy to retreat to the Himalayan mountains, meditate daily to center yourself and be (mostly) kind to the people around you. But can you maintain a sense of calm and inner quietude in the midst of morning traffic on your way to work or with a difficult friend or relative?

If the answer to that question is yes – at least more often than not  – then you’re living a spiritual life. And even if you can’t keep your cool but you’re aware of it and consciously trying to better yourself, you’re living a spiritual life.

The spiritual life challenges us each and every day. Can you look someone  in the eyes who’s yelling at you and feel a sense of compassion for him or her? Or do you take things personally and attack back? 

Dedication to a spiritual practice means nothing if you’re not implementing the teachings of those practices in your daily life.

A rise in our consciousness comes from the ability to be present in the moment and fully feel a sense of connection to our environment and others. Spirituality allows us to have a sense of connectedness with the soul, the spirit - our own as well as that of others. 

Kindness, compassion, presence, understanding - these are the pillars of spirituality. 

You can practice Yoga, Qi Gong and meditation every morning or pray in church, synagogue, mosque or temple weekly, but if you come home and yell at your spouse or kids every time you get triggered you’re in no way more spiritually cultivated than the person who doesn’t even believe in God, but can listen and be present with others unconditionally without reacting harshly or imposing their beliefs authoritatively on others. 

Of course, spiritual practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong, Meditation and prayer are powerful tools with which we can deepen our consciousness and sense of presence. 

When we sit quietly and tune into the rhythm of our bodies and minds, we cultivate a deeper sense of connectedness to our own needs, which then allows us to feel into and be present with others.

My father is one of the most spiritual people I’ve ever met. He also happens to consider himself an atheist and is one of the least religious people I know. 

Having grown up in Iran in a very religious family, my father did a prayer ritual known as namaz up to five times a day until he went to college. He used to tell us the story of how things changed for him when he advanced his education and starting reading more. He came to the conclusion that religion was the underlying cause of most of the war and corruption throughout history. So, he stopped praying, gave up religion and became a political activist hoping to change the world, starting with his birth country in Iran through political consciousness. Unfortunately, the 1979 Revolution in Iran only made matters worse by fully establishing an Islamic Republic that forged the country into a deeper struggle and religious oppression, endangering my family and forcing us to leave as political refugees.

Not only did the new government took away many of the people's basic human rights, but they also executed people who stood up for these rights, including several of my parents' closest friends.

You'd think that with such a traumatic experience my father would become angry, resentful and bitter. But the truth is that my father is one of the most peaceful, loving and selfless people I have ever met.

His sense of compassion and nonjudgmental presence are inspiring and a true testament of what it really means to be spiritual.

When my husband Salvador first met my father, he saw a person who was unconditional, embodying the spirit of deep patience, kindness and lovingness. After 7 years, my husband's view of my father has never wavered. 

We all can learn to weave more conscious patterns into our lives. Here are 3 simple suggestions:

  1. Listen authentically with a full sense of presence - turn off cell phones, computers and TVs and be there fully when someone is talking to you.
  2. Take a moment at least every hour to breathe deeply and come into the moment - you can set a timer on your watch or cell phone to remind you to pause during every hour through the day.
  3. Read ancient texts and philosophical books such as the Tao Te Ching or the writings of Chuang Tze. For a more modern Christian orientation, there is A Course in Miracles. To cultivate living in the moment, the popular book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is quite helpful. Other influential authors that have written spiritually uplifting books include Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhat Hanh and Don Miguel Ruiz. These influential writers cover a variety of traditions and spiritual ideologies that provide wonderful spiritual food for the soul. Reading these synthesized ideas can help you cultivate living in the moment and connect to the deeper meaning of life every day.

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. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com