How to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

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

 

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

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

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

So when is it enough?

To be fulfilled means to cultivate a feeling of enough. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tools to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emotions According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grief and the Lungs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Virtue of Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief is the path to heal past wounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


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


Is Your Liver Insulting Your Lungs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

FiveElementsCycleBalanceImbalance.jpg

 

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

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

 

How To Identify if Your Liver is Insulting Your Lungs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tips for Detoxifying Your Liver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Meditation to Support You

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

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

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

 

What You Can Do To Help Others

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

Las Vegas

Puerto Rico

California


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

Breathe Deeply,  Fall Into a More Mindful Way of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Transformational Power of Fire in Nature and in the Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many people are misdiagnosed with excessive stomach acid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Essential Oils to Manage Stomach Fire and Improve Digestion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Blending Yoga and Chinese Medicine into a Business

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

 

I frequently get asked how and why I thought to integrate Yoga and Chinese Medicine, and how I turned this fusion into a thriving business.

Having lived in various countries as a political refugee during my childhood, the desire to learn about different cultures, traditions and people has always come naturally to me. So blending practices from different cultures, including that of my Iranian heritage, was an organic process in some ways. Turning my passions and interests into a business however was not something I planned, but it's led me to learn, grow and find greater fulfillment than I could have imagined.

A little while ago, my friend Tina Deane Coddington invited me to do an interview for her podcast, the Healing Business Podcast (which you can download through iTunes).

Our conversation led me to share what it took for me to develop a flourishing integrative healing business practice with my husband, Salvador.

In the interview, I share why Yoga and Chinese Medicine create a perfect synthesis, as well as personal insights and habits for success that I think will benefit you.

You can listen to the full interview by pressing play below. And please feel free to share it with anyone you think it may help or inspire.

I'd love to hear what insights you gained from listening to this interview in the comments below.

With love and gratitude,

Setareh
 

Special thanks to Tina Deane Coddington and the Healing Business Podcast. Listen to all the episodes on iTunes.

Setting Boundaries is Essential to Your Health

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

About a year ago, my husband and I adopted a 1 year old Italian Greyhound mix we named Crystal. When we first brought her home from the rescue, she was terrified of everything. In fact, she'd spend most mornings hiding under our China cabinet shivering when we'd take her out of her crate.

She'd obviously been traumatized and likely been abused, so we decided to hire a trainer to help break her out of her fear.

After some trial and error, we hired Mike, an experienced trainer who would gently force her to stay present each time she got fearful and wanted to run away. By essentially forcing her to move into her fear it didn't take long for Crystal to realize she was safe and there was nothing to fear. Through this initially challenging process, Crystal quickly became loving and trusting of our trainer who created a very strong boundary with her.

Crystal loves to feel contained. Boundaries are essential for all beings to feel safe.

Crystal loves to feel contained. Boundaries are essential for all beings to feel safe.

The training worked wonders and though she resisted the process during many of the sessions, Crystal became more relaxed, more trusting and more affectionate after each session. Mike also helped us learn how to assertively yet lovingly hold boundaries to heal her behavior. 

The stronger we set boundaries around her reaction to fear, the more relaxed she became.

As a result, the anxiety and fear that once ruled Crystal settled down, and she continues to feel more safe and be more present than ever.

Humans have similar behavior patterns. Healthy boundaries between children and parents are crucial to cultivating healthy relationships and to prevent enabling unhealthy behavior patterns. Held with love, compassion and respect, boundaries help create a sense of stability and safety.

In Chinese Medicine, this sense of safety and security is supported by the Earth element as the basis for establishing healthy boundaries. 

The Earth element rules our digestive system and helps us process both food and thoughts. Energetically, Earth relates to all transitions - seasonal and otherwise - and is the ruling element of the late Summer. It's most important to balance and strengthen the Earth element during these times, but since change is a constant in life and we're naturally always going through transitions, cultivating a healthy Earth is essential to all aspects of our health year round.

 

Boundaries and the Earth Element

The Earth Element is the fertile soil that allows plants to grow and flourish to provide nourishment and sustenance; it gives protection and shelter as well as stability and substance. 

Earth contains water, creates boundaries to define continents and carries us through space with stability. Earth represents safety, protection and our home base. 

Being centered, calm, and balanced, feeling at home, and having a sense of harmony and peacefulness are the essence of a healthy Earth energy. Creating a comfortable home and cooking for oneself and one's family are essential factors to nourishing the Earth energy in one's life.

Rice fields from our 2015 trip to China. Earth contains water and provides the fertile soil where nourishment can be cultivated.

Rice fields from our 2015 trip to China. Earth contains water and provides the fertile soil where nourishment can be cultivated.

Cultivating a healthy Earth means understanding and prioritizing our needs. If we pour all of our energy into helping others or work excessively, we'll have nothing left for ourselves. If we don't discipline ourselves around our diet and set boundaries around eating generally healthy foods, our health fails. If we continuously go to bed late because we don't have the discipline to stop working or watching TV at night, we slowly but surely deplete our blood, our Yin, and our essence, which accelerates our aging process.

In other words, strong boundaries around how and with whom we spend our time, what we eat and even when we sleep is fundamental to our health.

In the body, these boundaries are established by the Earth element organs that govern digestion, the Stomach and Spleen.

 

Nourishment and the Earth element

Earth energy is about transformation; transformation of food into energy and raw material to rebuild the body, and transformation of our thoughts so we're not stuck obsessing about negative things and can have clarity of mind. 

Earth energy is also associated with our relationships with ourselves and others, which begins with our relationship to our family, especially our mothers. As the archetype for the Earth type personality, the Mother represents unconditional love and the nourishing qualities that exist within each of us.

Loving, supportive and nourishing parents help children understand they are accepted for who they are, which gives them a deep sense of security. Starting life with unconditional nourishment both through food and emotional support supports a calm and secure demeanor. It also prevents the development of excessive dependence on others to have one's needs met. 

Our first experience with nourishment comes from suckling at our mother's breast, ingesting the colostrum that activates our Earth energy.

Colostrum is so potent for the digestive system that it's been well established as a supplement to heal digestive disorders. For one thing, colostrum restores leaky gut to normal permeability levels. Serious health syndromes which we can recognize as Earth imbalances are now known to be associated with abnormally increased gut permeability. These include autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Colostrum can also benefit Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, hepatitis, fibromyalgia, asthma, and allergies. 

Colostrum contains growth factors and hormones to help repair damage to the intestinal lining, including damage caused by NSAIDS and other medications, and restore gut integrity. Colostrum is high in immunoglobulins to help control harmful fungi, such as Candida, and harmful bacteria, such as H. Pylori, which is known to cause ulcers. Colostrum has also been shown to increase the surface area of the intestinal lining to improve absorption of nutrients. And there are no known side effects from using colostrum.

Colostrum reduces inflammation, protects against irritation from toxins, prevents infection and promotes epithelial growth and repair. It's also a useful supplement to quickly boost the immune system following a strenuous workout or periods of intense stress. 

In this way, colostrum boosts Spleen Qi, which is fundamental for supporting Earth energy and therefore our ability to establish healthy boundaries.

Nourishment begins in the gut first with our mother through breast feeding and evolves into how we nourish ourselves. Thus the connection of the Earth element to our digestive function determines our ability to have healthy, harmonious relationships as well as strong immunity, or Spleen Qi.

 

Earth Element Imbalances

Physiologically, Earth element imbalances most commonly relate to weakness of the Spleen, which manifests as poor digestive function, as well as bruising and hemorrhaging. This is because the Spleen not only transports and transforms food and thoughts, but it is also the organ in Chinese Medicine that's responsible for holding blood in the vessels. A woman who has very heavy flow during her menses for example needs to focus on strengthening her Spleen and blood. Weak Spleen Qi can also cause leakage of Qi, which is a disorder we've discussed in a previous article.

Chronic digestive issues as well as eating disorders are common among people who have imbalances in their Earth element, which may have begun during childhood as a result of lack of nourishment emotionally and physically from one's parents or through excessive consumption of prescription drugs, especially antibiotics, which directly damage the gastrointestinal system.

When there is an Earth imbalance, or weakness in Spleen Qi, dampness or phlegm tends to develop in the body, which leads physiologically to weight gain and psychologically to obsessive thinking. This is why worry and pensiveness are common symptoms of imbalanced Earth energy.

Psychologically, Earth imbalance manifests as neediness, self-absorption, resentment or excessively self-sacrificing and lacking the ability to care for oneself.

A weak Earth also inhibits one's ability to hold strong personal boundaries, making one inclined to meddle in other people’s lives as a distraction from looking at herself or lack the personal boundaries to prevent other people from meddling in her life. 

Earth imbalance often creates a challenging relationship with both food and money, each of which energetically represent a form of nourishment that allows us to feel safe. 

People with an Earth imbalance will not only have digestive issues, but they'll often also have an unhealthy relationship with money management as well as with food, which that may result in eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia or simply addictions to food for comfort.

Balanced Earth means that we know how time, energy, food and money all fit into our lives. It allows us to feel abundant no matter how much we have. Therefore, an imbalanced Earth will cause us to feel lack, especially with our money and our energy.

 

Balancing Earth to Establish Healthy Boundaries

Having a more balanced Earth element helps us feel more calm, secure and nourished. When we feel more peace within, we can make our needs, and therefore our boundaries, more clear. Strong boundaries and a healthier relationship with ourselves allows us to then cultivate healthier relationships with others.

Here are some tips on how to strengthen the Spleen and your Earth element to help you establish stronger boundaries:

  1. Cook - the physical act of preparing a meal nurtures the mind, body and soul.

  2. Eat a healthy, low carbohydrate diet - carbohydrates and sugars increase the damp or fungal terrain in the body so it's important to reduce these foods and increase the consumption of leafy green vegetables, root vegetables and clean meats to clear this dampness, cultivate clarity and optimize your health.

  3. Eat regular meals - Earth thrives on a regular daily rhythm.

  4. Manage your time and money - Earth is about nurturing and abundance. Keeping track of how you spend your time helps you manage your energy. Managing your finances is another way to help consolidate your Earth energy and is an essential aspect to cultivating the feeling of security in your life. Money is energy which when circulated properly helps balance Earth energy.

  5. Journal to replace worry and obsession with contemplation and reflection.

  6.  Get involved in the community - find what organizations, church groups, charities, etc. interest you and see what role you can play to contribute.

Self-care is therefore essential to rebalance the Earth element. When your food, money, time and energy are properly managed, the mind becomes more clear and you're able to naturally set healthier boundaries that allow you to share the best aspects of yourself with others.


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


Practices To Ensure a Healthy Seasonal Transition

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

Dr. Setareh Moafi offers simple step-by-step guidance to do Dragon Pose. This Yin Yoga posture is important to open and release the Stomach Meridian and improve digestion. Benefits of the posture and its relationship to the Earth element and Stomach channel in Chinese Medicine are explained.

While this is a transitional period between Summer and Fall, late Summer is itself a season according to Chinese Medicine. August is the end of the Fire season and moving into the Metal season of Fall. The transitional period, known as late Summer, is Earth.

The Earth element rules the late Summer as well as all seasonal transitions, so it's a most important time to strengthen our Earth - in particular the Spleen and Stomach organs.

The Earth element relates to the digestive system and includes the Spleen, Pancreas and Stomach functions. Restoring health to our digestive system is fundamental to restoring health to our lives. The digestive system creates Qi to support a strong immune function and fluids to support the hormones and healthy endocrine function.

Digestion is about transformation; transformation of food into energy and substance to build the body. Having a strong Earth energy also supports transformation in our lives as well so we can create the life we want to live. And perhaps most importantly, creating a strong Earth energy in our lives helps support having healthy relationships especially within our family.

Weakness in the Earth organs can lead to sweet cravings which then cause the body to accumulate dampness. Dampness is a fungal terrain, often resulting from a diet heavy in carbohydrates, fried foods, dairy and sugar (even in the form of fruits).  

A fungal terrain can also develop from using various drugs such as antibiotics, sulfa drugs, chemotherapy, birth control pills, corticosteroids, antacids and acid blocking medications.

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

Imbalance in one's Earth can also lead to excess accumulation of heat in the Stomach causing acid reflux, indigestion, excessive appetite and even anxiety as the Stomach dumps the overflow of heat into the Heart. 

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

The following tips will help strengthen the Earth energy to help bring clarity in your life and clear the heat and dampness that causes burnout and creates a sluggish body and mind.

6 Tips for a Healthy Earth:
1) Eat meals at regular times and without distractions. The digestive system thrives on eating with a relaxed state of mind. Try also to not skip meals and eat snacks if low blood sugar is an issue.
2) Cut back on sugar, including fruit. Even 'healthy' Summer fruit have a high sugar content that can create dampness and lead to immune suppression and Fall colds and flus. 
3) Eat more root vegetables. Root veggies such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and rutabaga help anchor your body's energy and calm your mind. 
4) Take enzymes and probiotics daily. Enzymes taken with meals will help break down food and prevent stagnation and heat accumulation in the Stomach. Along with a balanced probiotic supplement, enzymes are essential for your gut health, which is the core of your immune function and brain health. Not sure what to take? Call us at 408-244-8565 or stop in and pick up a bottle of our favorite probiotics and enzymes. 
5) Exercise to strengthen your Earth. Calming exercises such as Yoga and Qi Gong are especially important to integrate into your routine. Join us for weekly Qi Gong classes Mondays at 11:45am. You can also do the short late Summer Yin Yoga practice with Dr. Setareh Moafi in the video at the top of this article :)
6) Go to bed a little earlier - before 11pm is optimal. It's also helpful to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.

The transition toward the cooler Autumn season through this late Summer period allows us to harness our energy and create a calmer, more regular rhythm for optimal health durnig the upcoming Yin seasons of Fall and Winter. 

Are You Leaking Qi? How to Preserve Your Essence to Slow Down the Aging Process

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

Leaking Qi, or energy, describes the body’s inability to consolidate and hold in any type of fluid substance in the body. Leaking Qi is common because it relates to many different types of conditions.

In order to describe the different types of leakages, I will begin by describing the three divisions of the body according to Classical Chinese Medicine. These divisions are called burners, heaters, or energy centers and are associated in Chinese Medicine with the Triple Heater organ system. 

 

The Triple Heater System

The Triple Heater, also referred to as the Triple Burner, is called in Chinese Medicine San Jiao, meaning three warmers.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Triple Heater system is an organ but it has no form. This is a system that essentially coordinates the organ functions of the body held within these three energetic centers and is responsible for maintaining overall metabolism within the body.

Imbalances in the Triple Heater system can lead to leakage of Qi that can then cause damage to the fluids and essence of the body. 

The three energetic centers controlled by the Triple Heater are the lower abdomen (called the lower heater or Lower Jiao), the middle abdomen (called the middle heater or Middle Jiao) and the chest (called the upper heater or Upper Jiao). 

The Lower Jiao located in the pelvic basin contains the genitourinary system responsible for reproduction and elimination. The Middle Jiao contains the organs of digestion, including the Spleen, Stomach, Pancreas and Small Intestine, and controls digestion and absorption of nutrients. The Upper Jiao contains the Heart, which controls circulation, and the Lungs, which control respiration.

It is through the action of these systems that fluid dynamics are maintained in the body. Depending on the type of leakage one may be experiencing, we can determine what heater, or Jiao, is out of balance and needs support.

Excess Sweating as a Form of Leaking Qi

Sweating easily or excessively is often associated with a weakness in the Upper and Middle Jiao. Sweating too easily is often due to the Qi of the Lungs being too weak to control the skin function to properly contain fluids. A weakness of the Lungs is often concurrent with a weakness of the Spleen since the Spleen supports the health of the Lungs. For example, if the Spleen is weak and overly damp due to a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar and dairy, then the Lung function will suffer and a person may tend to sweat too easily with or without exertion.

Sweating due to hot flashes is a different situation and is related to weakness in the Kidneys and Lower Jiao. Excessive sweating that occurs with hot flashes is usually a hormonal imbalance related to hyperactive adrenal glands and dryness of the sexual organs due to a depletion of Yin fluids. Lack of Yin fluids, coupled with hyperactivity of the adrenals that are trying to produce more Yin as the ovaries decline, generates a deficiency heat which induces sweating. Correction of this type of sweating is different than the Lung Qi weakness issue as it requires nourishment of Kidney Yin to relax the adrenals.

Both of these situations involving excess sweating and the leakage of Qi. If left uncorrected, leakage of Qi will damage one’s Constitutional Essence and accelerate aging.

 

Dietary Tips to Strengthen the Lungs and Reduce Excessive Sweating

From a dietary standpoint, for a weakness of Lung Qi causing excessive sweating, the use of compact fruits eaten on a daily basis are helpful to strengthen the Lung energy.

Compact fruits, including apples, pears, Asian pears, persimmons and quince tonify Lung Qi in Chinese Medicine.

Stewed pears and apples are especially nourishing to the Lungs but be aware that too much can lead to phlegm in the Lungs. For example, if a person has a lot of sinus congestion, eating these foods can exacerbate this condition.

Japanese persimmons are more useful to help stop sweating than Chinese persimmons. Japanese persimmons are higher in tannins which gives them a strong astringency affect on the body to deal with profuse sweating and prevent leakage of Qi.

Citrus fruits are also effective for tonifying Lung Qi.

Citrus is hydrating and high in vitamin C to boost the immune system. More sour citrus fruits are better astringents to stop sweating that causes leaking Qi.

Though lemon and lime are highly concentrated in citric acid, once ingested, they become alkalizing to your body and help balance an acidic terrain so they have a cooling affect on the body.

Too much citrus, however, will induce the opposite effect and induce heat. For example, drinking a lot of orange juice is not a healthy habit as it creates a lot of damp heat in the body in the form of excessive mucous which can then lead to sinus and ear infections over time. Consumption of orange juice during acute infection can cause chronic infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

Overall, since citrus, including oranges, produce a lot of fluid, they are especially good for dryness, but excess consumption can induce phlegm very easily when a person has a lot of dampness.

Infusing or steeping citrus peels in water is an especially effective way to support astringency without inducing the dampness that easily develops from drinking the juice.

Citrus peels are also used to produce essential oils. In Chinese Medicine, citrus oils help regulate Qi to reduce epigastric distention and bloating. These oils can simply be rubbed on the belly for immediate benefit.

Citrus essential oils contain a chemical called limonene, which has a plethora of potent health benefits. Limonene (also called d-limonene) makes up over 90% of orange oil and is found in citrus peels. It helps aid digestion for problems such as acid reflux. Limonene also helps support elimination by reducing sluggish bowel movements especially when Candida is involved. It's also been shown to help reduce cholesterol and improve Gallbladder function to improve bile flow and support fat digestion. In addition, limonene has been found to be helpful for weight loss as it suppresses appetite and regulates blood sugar. 

 

Leaking Qi and the Middle Jiao

Leakage of Qi as it relates to the Middle Jiao, or middle burner, involves how the Spleen is managing blood. In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen’s Qi is responsible for containing the blood in the vessels. A person who bruises or hemorrhages easily likely has a weakness of the Spleen Qi. 

Hemorrhaging can be associated with many conditions so a proper diagnosis is required to establish an accurate treatment protocol. With that said, hemorrhaging can occur in many ways. Hemorrhaging can include mid cycle breakthrough bleeding during menses, excessive menstrual bleeding with long periods, frequent nosebleeds, and can be as serious as gastric or intestinal bleeding or stroke involving bleeding in the brain. 

The saying “Spleen Qi manages the blood” means that the Spleen keeps blood from leaking out of the vessels. Thus, varicosities are associated with weakness of Spleen Qi as well and if there is also edema in the legs due to venous insufficiency, the Kidney Qi may also need support.

Here are a few Western and Eastern herbs commonly used for the purpose of reducing leg edema and varicose veins: 

  • Butcher’s Broom is an evergreen shrub known to contain phytochemicals that are both anti-inflammatory and astringent to tighten up blood vessels and strengthen capillaries as well as reduce edema. Butcher’s Broom is also a folk remedy for hemorrhoids, another form of leakage of Qi due to a lack of vascular integrity,
  • Chestnuts are good for strengthening the vascular system as well and Horse Chestnut seed extract has been known to be especially effective as a vascular anti-inflammatory and to strengthen weak veins and capillaries causing edema due to vascular insufficiency.
  • *Gotu Kola is an Asian herb that has been successfully used to reduce edema and poor circulation leading to varicosities. Studies have also found Gotu Kola to be regenerative to the brain by supporting neuron growth. 
  • Gingko Biloba is another super herbal supplement to improve circulation in the brain and strengthen vascular integrity for the treatment of varicose veins which is a common type of leakage of Qi.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, these herbs strengthen the vascular system and therefore also strengthen Spleen Qi. Herbs that reduce edema in the legs also strengthen Kidney Qi.

A simple dietary tip in Chinese Medicine for weakness of the Kidneys is to eat both toasted and raw sesame seeds as well as pumpkin seeds. And if a person is not urinating completely and this leads to edema, eat the sesame seeds with cucumber. This needs to be eaten at every meal of the day so it’s a big part of one’s diet.

 

Leaking Qi and the Lower Jiao

Incontinence is a common form of leakage of Qi that relates to the Lower Jiao, or lower heater. Getting up during the night to urinate is also a form of leaking Qi related to the Lower Jiao, and is due to deficiency of Kidney Qi.

Acupuncture is highly effective to improve incontinence.

Some of the most useful herbs in Chinese pharmacopeia that treat incontinence are commonly used in cooking. Many of these Chinese herbs are seeds, including lotus seed (Lian Zi), Astragali seed (Sha Yuan Zi), Euryales seed (Qian Shi) and Cherokee Rose Hip fruit (Jin Ying Zi).

From a dietary standpoint, seeds are important to strengthen the Kidneys. The primary seeds that target the Lower Jiao and the Kidneys are pumpkins seeds and sesame seeds. Small amounts should be eaten 3-5 times per day.

In general, foods that are high in zinc strengthen the Kidney system. Zinc is essential for the health of the prostate, which is part of the Kidney genitourinary system in Chinese Medicine. Foods highest in zinc are oysters, lamb, pork and grass fed beef. Toasted wheat germ, pumpkin and squash seeds are also potent food sources of zinc.

 

Conclusion

Leaking Qi is common and while challenging to one's health, it can usually be resolved with proper treatment and dietary modifications. Preventing the leakage of Qi is essential not only to have healthy levels of energy, but also to maintain one's constitutional Essence in order to slow down the aging process to achieve optimal health and longevity.


*I’ve used Gotu Kola with my 91 year old father who has moderate level dementia, swollen ankles and poor kidney function. After a few months of taking Gotu Kola twice daily, his mind is clearly working better, his ankle edema has reduced and his recent blood test showed his kidney function has improved. He is much more mentally alert and present than before he started Gotu Kola.


Please note: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and not intended for diagnosis or treatment. Please contact a licensed health provider for lifestyle, dietary and herbal recommendations specific to your condition.


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

Sleep and the Gut-Brain Axis

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

Digestive health is fundamental to the health of your entire body. According to Chinese Medicine, the Earth element, which includes the Spleen and Stomach, is considered to be the central element in the Five Element system. Earth corresponds to the late Summer as well as to all seasonal transitions. This is why it's especially important to take care of our digestive health during all transitions, seasonal and otherwise.

The health of the digestive system, or gut health, is the foundation of our ability to properly digest and assimilate food, manage stress and sleep well.

Gut health is directly impacted by stress because of a mechanism known as the gut-brain axis, which explains the biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. Under stress, the hypothalamus in the brain signals the autonomic nervous system as well as the pituitary gland to produce stress hormones, including epinephrine and cortisol. The production of these stress hormones shuts down the parasympathetic nervous system, which is related to our ability to rest and to digest.

When the sympathetic nervous system, or our 'fight or flight' response, is active, the parasympathetic nervous system is impeded and therefore both our sleep and digestion are impacted.

We know from experience that our thought process, especially when we're under stress, affects our ability to digest food, but this relationship goes both ways.

In other words, what we eat also impacts our ability to think -- and sleep. 

 

Sleep and the Gut-Brain Axis

The bidirectional communication between the brain and central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) is known as the gut-brain axis (GBA), an information superhighway of chemicals and hormones that provides constant feedback and informs, among other things, our moods, emotions and sleep patterns.

Recent research on the gut-brain axis (GBA) affirms that an unhealthy microbiome in the gut impacts sleep quality and that poor sleep causes changes to the bacterial community in the gut. This is because sleep deprivation produces an imbalance of the stress hormone cortisol.

Too much cortisol can lead to a proliferation of unhealthy bacteria microbiome that can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) problems. GI imbalances increase the potential to develop sleep disorders.

In addition, research has shown that there is 400 times more melatonin in the gut than there is in the pineal gland where melatonin was traditionally thought to be produced. It appears that stress causes changes both in gut bacteria and in neurotransmitter levels (Beckett, 2015).

The rhythms of gut microbes are affected by diet, both the timing of eating and the composition of foods consumed. A healthy diet helps the body generate more beneficial gut microbes thereby helping to reduce inflammation and optimize gut health.

The health of the gut helps determine the health of the brain and therefore our ability to process information, manage stress, balance our emotions, and digest and assimilate food; all of which affect our ability to sleep.

 

Unbalanced Emotions and Sleep

Li Dong-yuan, Founder of the Earth School in Chinese Medicine and one of the Four Great Masters of the Jin-Yuan period in China, believed that disease pathology manifests as a result of damage to postnatal Qi, the energy that we refine and consume through our environment from food and drink. Postnatal Qi is produced by the Spleen and Stomach through the Gu Qi, or energy that's transformed from food. This process occurs in the gut.

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 that burns the fluids in the body.

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.

During menopause for example, hormone production decreases and, since damage to the gut inhibits the proper production of melatonin and other hormones necessary to regulate stress and sleep, there is a great tendency for a woman to develop insomnia at this time.

Li believed that weakness in the Spleen and Stomach, or Earth organs, is the foundation of disease and begins with unresolved emotions. He stated that "the downward flowing [of the five yang qi] into their confinement with yin fire in kun earth is always due first to damage done by the five thieves -- joy, anger, sorrow, worry, and fright--followed by stagnation of stomach qi. Finally, overtaxation and dietary irregularity succeed in damaging the original qi" (Li, 2004, 203).

The “five thieves” damage the Spleen and Stomach, leading to stagnation of Stomach Qi. Overwork or overtaxation and poor diet further damage the original qi. This pattern is prominent during major life transitions like menopause during which, as Dr. Christiane Northrup has explained, many women’s unprocessed and unresolved emotions cause insomnia and fatigue to accompany “the enormous changes of midlife” (Northrup, 2012).

This internal heat caused by Qi deficiency is called Yin Fire and flares up into heart. This pattern is common among women going through the menopausal transition where stress along with hormonal changes damage the Spleen and Stomach function.

 

Yin Fire: The Impact of Emotions on Your Health

According to Nei Jing Su Wen, one of the foremost classical Chinese medical texts, seven emotions are considered major internal causes of disease - joy, anger, fear, fright, anxiety, pensiveness and sadness. Li Dong-yuan focused on what he referred to as the “five thieves,” or the emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, pensiveness, and fright, any of which in excess become pathological.

The Earth attribute of Yi, or the mind, has a tendency to worry. Nei Jing Su Wen stated: “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207) and if it is not properly transformed, it leads to obsession. The attribute of the Heart is known as the spirit, or shen. Over-joy, which includes excessive desires and passions, can overwhelm the Heart and disrupt the shen, since the Heart is the organ that manages joy. Over-joy can transform into anxiety and eventually mania.

Yin Fire causes excessive emotions to aggravate the Heart, which then dumps heat into the Stomach. As the abode of the shen, or spirit, the Heart’s disturbance will affect the circulation of blood and thus the shen, inhibiting one’s ability to sleep restfully.

Wei Qi, which determines the body’s circadian rhythm, forms in the Lungs through the Gu Qi that first enters the Stomach via food and drinks. The circadian rhythm, like the circulation of Wei Qi, dips and rises at different times of the day and can be impacted by the pathological process of Yin Fire.

Sleepiness and sleep propensity are strongly influenced by our circadian clock as indicated by circadian rhythms, most commonly by that of core body temperature. Sleep is most conducive in the temperature minimum phase, but is inhibited in a "wake maintenance zone" before the minimum phase, and is disrupted in a zone following that phase. Different types of insomnia symptoms have been associated with abnormalities of the body temperature rhythm (Lack et al., 2008).

Yin Fire results from Qi deficiency heat caused by poor diet, over taxation, and imbalanced emotions (Li, 2004, 86). Over time, Yin Fire creates an internal heat that can burn up the body’s blood, qi and yin and cause insomnia, especially because its ascending quality affects the Heart and Pericardium. It can also inhibit a decline in core temperature, which is essential for falling asleep (NIH, 2005). 

Internal heat can also arise from Yin deficiency wherein insufficiency of body fluids prevents the body from cooling or tempering the heat, or Yang energy, in the body.

Think of Yin Fire as a process of inflammation that slowly erodes the internal membrane of the intestinal wall. As this membrane barrier breaks down, the gut lining becomes hyper-permeable and leads to the problem of Leaky Gut Syndrome. An abnormally leaky gut allows molecules of partially digested food as well as microbial toxins like bacteria, virus and fungus to flow directly into the bloodstream. These foreign invaders lead to overactive immune responses by the body which can lead to a host of serious diseases such as cancer or chronic degenerative conditions like autoimmune disorders. 

If a person is dealing with chronic inflammation of any kind, it's usually imperative to clean up the toxic terrain within the gut and heal the intestinal lining.

 

Healing the Gut, Brain and Sleep

One very effective way to support the process of healing a leaky gut and build back a healthy microbiome for improved digestion and elimination is through the ingestion of bone broth.

Bone broth is a food source packed with substrates to help bind up the intestinal wall, referred to as the Yin of the Stomach in Chinese Medicine. Yin is substance, so we need substance to heal the body's broken down tissues. Bone broth contains the following substances to repair and restore your muscles, skin, joints and gut health:

  • Protein - supplies the building blocks for growth, including the building of muscles, tissues and new cells.
  • Glycine - an amino acid necessary for healthy DNA and RNA that's essential for properly functioning cells.
  • Collagen - holds together our joints, bones, ligaments and tendons. Needs to be supplemented as it starts to diminish as early as age 20.
  • Chondroitin Sulfate - supports joint health and comfort (especially in combination with glucosamine)
  • Glucosamine - a compound that's involved in the creation of molecules that form cartilage.
  • Hyaluronic Acid - a compound contained in the synovial fluid in our joints that serves as a cushion and lubricant in the joints and other tissues. Hyaluronic acid is also a major component of skin, where it is involved in tissue repair and wound healing.  

Furthermore, bone broth comes from slowly cooking down bones to provide different types of collagen depending upon the animal source of the bones. In Chinese Medicine, the bones relate to the Kidney system and the Kidney system also supports the brain. So we can see a correlation with how the regular ingestion of bone broth can be very nutritional to strengthen brain function as well.

Other important supplements that support gut restoration include probiotics and digestive enzymes (contact us to learn more about products we recommend that are available at our clinic).

A healthy diet rich in omega fatty acids, leafy green vegetables and limited complex carbohydrates (especially gluten free) will also help to develop a healthy gut microbiome . 

Self-care is also crucial to heal the digestive system, as the ability to care for oneself and others is a virtue of the Earth element. Learning to cook healthy meals at home, receiving regular Acupuncture treatment and taking time for cultivation practices such as Yoga and Qi Gong will help to regulate both the nervous and digestive systems.

With a calm mind and healthy gut, a good night's sleep will naturally become a more regular part of your life.


References

Beckett, F. (2015). Can’t sleep? Blame your gut bacteria! Retrieved from https://secretsofagoodnightssleep.com/2015/03/03/cant-sleep-blame-your-gut-bacteria/

Lack L.C., Gradisar M., Van Someren E.J., Wright H.R., & Lushington K (2008). The relationship between insomnia and body temperatures. Sleep Medicine Review, 12(4): 307-17.

Li, D.Y. (2004). Treatise on the Spleen & Stomach: A translation of the Pi Wei Lun by Bob Flaws. Boulder, Colorado: Blue Poppy Press.

Northrup, C. (2012). The wisdom of menopause: Creating physical and emotional health during the change. New York: Bantam Books.

Unschuld, P., & Tessenow, H. (2011). Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.


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. 

Is It Time for a Brain Detox?

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

Source: Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/44568283@N02/4097561067

Source: Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/44568283@N02/4097561067

While we've all heard of or experienced a colon or liver detox, we rarely hear about detoxifying the brain. A decline in brain function is a common complaint many people have and the multitude of related symptoms can be due to both brain weakness and brain toxicity.

Abnormal brain function symptoms can vary between hyper and hypo-activity. Both conditions can be rooted in the accumulation of excess toxicity in the brain or a deficiency of adequate nutrition to properly feed the brain's neurons. When the brain’s neurons are overstimulated, symptoms such as epileptic seizures or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can develop. When the brain is under active, symptoms such as brain fog, brain fatigue, poor memory and weakness in critical thinking can develop.  

Brain dysfunction can arise from the condition of systemic inflammation and systemic inflammation is often rooted in poor gut health. In addition, poor brain nutrition is not just the result of a poor diet but also due to poor digestion and poor assimilation of nutrients.

Anything that involves the function of the gut and digestion in Chinese Medicine relates to the Earth element organs, the Spleen and Stomach. Restoring balance in our Earth organs is always going to be a fundamental issue to restore function in our brain.

From the point of view of Western medicine, as we age, the production of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes declines significantly, making it more difficult to properly break down and assimilate the nutrients we consume. Furthermore, the combination of toxic food, toxic medications and toxic thoughts all contribute to inflammation of the gut.

Toxicity that brews in the gut due to imbalances in the microbiome, or gut flora, can lead to 'leaky gut syndrome.' A 'leaky gut' causes improperly digested proteins and unwanted microbial agents to pass through the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream. This dysfunctional process can then trigger a cascade of inflammatory responses throughout the body. This is one of the main causes underlying the degenerative process of systemic inflammation which can create a "brain on fire" and lead to many of the brain disorders we commonly see today.

Treatment of degenerative brain disorders therefore requires the restoration of healthy digestion and elimination so the brain can be properly nourished and detoxified.

 

A Classical Chinese Perspective on the Brain

In Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), the brain is considered one of the six Extraordinary Organs and also called the “Sea of Marrow.” The Jing, or Essence, corresponds to the body’s constitution and relates to our genetic material. The Kidney system stores the Jing which supports the brain, so maintaining the health of our Kidneys is fundamental in Chinese Medicine to establishing a healthy, long life. It is the Marrow that comes from the transmutation of Jing Essence which creates the substance to form the brain, the spinal cord, as well as the bone marrow. 

As we age, Jing declines, so there is naturally a decline in brain function with aging resulting in shrinkage of brain mass and decline of memory and other mental functions as well as sensory decline such as hearing, taste and vision. This process relates to our cells dying off with aging and the decline of our genes' ability to replicate and rebuild tissue as efficiently as they did in youth. In Chinese Medicine, this reflects the natural decline of our Water element.

The brain needs blood to function properly as blood brings oxygen and nutrients to support its structure and function. Some of the nutrients transported from blood comes from water. As we seeing clearly in the elderly, a lack of proper hydration through water consumption has a dramatic impact on reducing brain function.

According to Chinese Medicine, building and storing blood in the body is a function of the Spleen, Heart, Lung and Liver. Supporting the brain is therefore a function of all five primary organ systems found in the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine. The Spleen and Heart combine to produce the substance of blood, the Lung’s provide the Qi or oxygenation to complete the blood production, and the Liver stores the blood and helps send it up into the brain to support proper neurological function.  

 

The Brain's Built-in Detoxification System

We learned only five years ago through a major medical discovery that the brain’s waste disposal system is far greater than what had ever been known.

It was discovered that the brain has an independent and unique drainage system, called the Glymphatic System that's far more efficient and powerful than the cerebrospinal fluid system we had previously thought was the only drainage system in the brain. The reason for such a late discovery of the Glymphatic System is that technology just recently developed the capacity to study the living brain in action. Prior research was done on dead brains and the Glymphatic System works through live cellular action and not through a structure of its own.

The glymphatic drainage system was actually discovered in the process of researching amyloid protein circulation and its abnormal accumulation in the brain in the form of brain plaques thought to be associated with Alzheimer's disease. 

The Glymphatic System is, in fact, much more proficient in moving nutrients and waste in and out of the brain than the cerebrospinal fluid system. It is like comparing a system that works on a drip process versus a system that is activated by the powerful pumping force under the pressure of blood flow. 

To make a theoretical correspondence to Chinese Medicine, I would say the Glymphatic System is under the functional domain of the Liver and Gallbladder systems.

The Liver meridian ascends blood into the brain for nourishment and the Gallbladder meridian is the main drainage system of the brain to support detoxification. 

Both the Liver and Gallbladder are Wood element organs established in Five Element Theory. According to Five Element Theory, the Wood energy is strengthened by the Water element and this makes the connection how the Kidneys (Water) support the Liver (Wood) for healthy brain function, especially in memory retrieval.

More specifically, long term memory is supported by the Liver and short term memory is supported by the Spleen which brings us back to the Earth element and gut health. If you find yourself having difficulty with memorization, than this is a weakness of the Spleen often due to dampness from excessive sugar in the diet. Dampness or a fungal terrain can also be attributed to excessive use of antibiotics, birth control pills or corticosteroid medications. So any of these medications can impact one's brain health in a negative way.

You may notice that your brain gets fuzzy, lazy and tired after eating too many sweets. This is often due to blood sugar quickly dropping with the consumption of simple sugars and the resulting dampness that impedes brain function. A damp terrain is a fungal terrain. Just as chronic sinusitis is now recognized to be associated with fungus, the same fungal pathology can seep into the brain to down-regulate brain neuron function.

Sugar in any form feeds fungus in the body so it's easy to see why the condition of dampness is a very sticky, stubborn pathology to clear up.

Dampness therefore, according to Chinese Medicine, essentially needs to be dried up or drained out of the brain to support proper function and impede the disease process that leads to brain disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

It is imperative for those suffering from these disorders to eat a very low carbohydrate and low sugar diet. If you've known anyone with these disorders, their diet is usually heavy on carbs, sugar and dairy -- the exact foods that feed the fungus in their brain.

 

Inflammation, Inflammation, Inflammation

You may find you can't recall things as well as before, or perhaps you easily get tired while reading. These everyday occurrences that people brush off as aging can be early stage signs of a brain inflamed with toxicity. 

Inflammation is associated with most chronic degenerative conditions and what we have now realized in modern medicine is that systemic inflammation is often rooted in poor gut health. The problem is that Western medicine protocols are not addressing this fundamental issue and rely on toxic drugs to try and ameliorate symptoms without addressing the underlying problems. All the while, the medications are tearing apart the very system that is already inflamed and deteriorating.

 

Chinese Medicine Offers Clues to Evaluate Subtle Indications of a "Brain on Fire"

Based on the associations of the organ systems and brain function as outlined above, we can make some direct correlations you may find helpful to evaluate your own brain health.

If you're suffering from inflamed joints not due to an injury, then it’s time to consider healing your digestive system in order to cool down inflammation that's likely also occurring in your brain. Hip inflammatory problems relate to the Gallbladder system and knee inflammation relates to the Kidneys. Since these systems are directly related to healthy brain function, if you are suffering from any systemic inflammation or, specifically, these large joints are chronically painful and stiff, your brain is also likely inflamed. 

 

Beginning the Process of Brain Detoxification 

Chinese Medicine offers some of the most potent medicine available today to restore brain function which has been damaged. 

Chinese Medicine is a comprehensive medical system that looks to restore healthy brain function in a holistic way by addressing the other supporting organ systems involved in the brain's function. 

The brain can be directly targeted therapeutically through Acupuncture and herbal medicine, which can provide nutrition and support the flow of nutrients into the brain. In addition, these modalities can stimulate the dissolution of brain plaque and the clearance of toxic debris. 

Acupuncture can stimulate the Gallbladder Meridian to detoxify the brain. 

The Gallbladder Meridian system offers direct access to drain toxicity from the brain and support the removal of debris such as denatured amyloid proteins that cause plaques that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Acupuncture can essentially stimulate the Gallbladder system to flush the brain and help reduce toxicity leading to brain inflammation. Acupuncture as a form of manual therapy is a critical part of detoxification because it is very common for the body to form blockages internally which impair detoxification and interfere with the recovery process. These blockages can be efficiently released through Acupuncture, Cupping and Gua Sha (a type of scraping therapy).

It is imperative to note: for acupuncture and herbal medicine to work optimally, a person's diet must support the healing process that is being instigated by these modalities. Otherwise, you may be disappointed with your progress and blame the medicine for failing. You must clean up your habits for healing to take place, there is no way around this fact. We cannot continue the same lifestyle habits that created our problems. We must change in order for change to occur.

 

Chinese Herbal Medicine: An Important Component for Restoring Brain Function

Some Chinese herbs target the Gallbladder system to decongest and move the lymphatic circulation for detoxification. Some herbs are specific to break up amyloid tissue and plaques that block the brain neurons from functioning optimally. Other herbs support the nutritional aspect and provide nutrients for the brain to work better as well as the different organs involved in its function. There are herbs to strengthen the Qi energy of the Spleen to improve overall energy and others provide nourishment to help the Spleen build up the blood. These benefits support healthy brain function.

Other herbs specifically nourish the blood of the Liver to improve memory retrieval and vision. In addition, there are Chinese herbs used specifically to increase the Qi of the Lungs which improve oxygenation of the brain in order to quicken brain function and reduce brain fatigue. Perhaps most importantly, there are herbs to strengthen the energy of the Kidneys which as we now know has a direct correlation with the brain and is fundamental to maintaining the health of one's hearing and brain function overall. 

What is most exciting, is that many herbs have been shown to reduce brain inflammation and amyloid plaque deposition which interfere with brain circulation and neuron function.  And perhaps most importantly, herbs such as Turmeric, Gotu Kola and Bacopa Monnieri have been found to stimulate the regrowth of brain neurons to restore lost function as well. In fact, these three herbs support all of these critical actions for restoring brain health. There are a number of studies to support these claims, mostly international studies from China, Japan, Korea and India.

 

Healing the Brain Takes Time

Keep in mind, when working on the level of the constitution which includes anything related to the brain, it takes a minimum of three months of treatment before one can evaluate the progress of one's condition. Usually results are noticed right along, sometimes quickly, but studies show it takes a few months to regrow brain neurons to improve brain function. Older, weaker individuals and those with more serious brain dysfunction will require longer periods of time to restore brain health.

Healthy brain function allows us the awareness to experience a more full and meaningful life. Awareness is important to put us on the path of healing. My hope is that this information brings you awareness that there is always opportunity to heal and improve your health. Depending on your situation, the path may be easy or challenging, but if you persevere, you may find yourself living in greater health with an active, lively brain for many years ahead.


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

 

 

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.


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