Transitioning into Winter: The Doyo Period & Your Family Relationships

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

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As we approach the Winter Solstice, we find ourselves once again in the transitional period between seasons, known as the Doyo period. This period starts 9 days before each solstice or equinox and extends through 9 days after.

While each season corresponds to a specific element, each Doyo seasonal transition period relates to the Earth element.

Earth elemental energy relates back to your digestive system and the primary organs involved are the Spleen and Stomach. These organs are the fundamental producers of Qi, Blood and Body Fluids within the body.

We’re all familiar with Blood, but the concepts of Fluids and Qi are quite unique to Chinese Medicine. For example, from a Chinese medical point of view, Fluids include the fluids of your sweat, saliva and tears as well as your body’s hormonal secretions.

The focus of this article is on the concept of Qi as it relates to the element of Earth.

The Earth organs generate Qi in the body from the food and drink you consume. So in this sense, Qi is energy. If you have strong Qi, you have good energy or stamina, and healthy immune system function.

Our Daoist teacher, Jeffrey Yuen, a world-renowned expert in Classical Chinese Medicine, has a different perspective about Qi and likes to consider the concept of Qi in the context of relationships.

Water which is the element of Winter is associated with the Kidney organ system which stores the Essence of one’s being, called Jing. Therefore, with this understanding we can see that the strength of your Kidney’s Qi will reflect the strength of your relationship to yourself and influence the level of self-esteem you bring into your life.

In terms of the Earth element, Earth energy is about nurturing others especially in terms of family. So the Qi of Earth relates especially to family relationships, and the health of your Earth energy (digestive health) relates back to how you were nurtured by your parents and your ability to be caring and nurturing of others as an adult.

During the holiday season during which you have a lot of interaction with family, it’s common to experience a resurrection of unresolved emotional issues relating to family. These emotionally challenging times can take a great toll on your gastrointestinal system and potentially lead to flare-ups of symptoms that may have been lying dormant.

Many people are easily triggered simply with the idea of having to spend time with family or particular family members, let alone having to have direct personal interaction. If this is the case for you, it indicates that the Qi of your Earth is in an imbalanced state.

If you have a hard time with your family, especially for a protracted period, the health of your Earth suffers and your ability to digest and assimilate nutrients becomes compromised leading to a lack of Qi in your life.

If you lack Qi, oxygen is not properly circulating throughout your system and this will compromise the function of every single cell of your body. With this said, the function of all your organs and glands will be compromised which will impact your immune system, cardiac system, endocrine system, reproductive systems as well as your brain system.

This is why digestive health is considered the cornerstone to your well being.

In previous articles on supporting your Earth energy, we’ve shared how Earth corresponds with the digestive organs, so supporting your gut health through proper diet and eating habits is fundamental to heal your body.

Since healing your body, especially your digestive system, is closely tied to the health of your family relationships, below are some tips to support you in healing these issues as well.

How to Begin the Process of Healing Your Relationships

Healing these relationships will not be an easy task if you expect someone else to change. What you can do however is change yourself. You can start by:

  1. Practicing forgiveness and letting go of the past to free up the energy that may be keeping you stuck.

    You can learn practices to support you to let go here and here.

  2. Creating healthy boundaries.

    There are cases in which your relationships with certain family members may never be good, healthy or rewarding. This is why sometimes the best solution is to completely disconnect from a toxic relationship regardless if it’s a family member. However, this should be done with compassion and unconditional love which again requires that you work on yourself to let go of past resentments and bad feelings that can make you ill as well.

    Boundaries are an important part of cultivating healthy Earth energy. Click here for ways to strengthen your Earth and create strong, healthy boundaries.

In the end, the process of healing your relationships with others begins by healing your relationship with yourself. Focusing on your Spleen and Stomach organ systems and your gut health in general will initiate the changes within you so that you’re more readily available to heal your relationships with your loved ones. In that way, you can enjoy a healthy and nourishing holiday and Winter season.

How Going on Retreat Benefits Your Health: A Five Element Perspective

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

From a Chinese medical point of view, the balance of Yin and Yang is the foundation for achieving health and harmony in your life.

Generally, Yin relates to quietude, receiving and being, whereas Yang relates to activity and doing.

If like most, you live in a primarily Yang society where you’re constantly stimulated through work, emailing, texting, listening to music, browsing the internet, and interacting with others, your need for more Yin, or quiet time, is essential.

And there’s no faster and easier way to bring balance back into your life than to unplug and reset by going on retreat.

Removed from your daily distractions, retreat allows you to rejuvenate so you can become more Yin, or receptive, to what you truly want and need in your life.

There’s a multitude of health benefits that come from retreat. Below is a Five Element perspective on the impact of retreat on your health and life.

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HOW RETREAT BENEFITS THE FIVE ELEMENTS IN YOUR LIFE

1. Wood Element & Liver/Gallbladder: Retreat Allows for Rebirth & Renewal

In the Five Element system of Chinese Medicine, Wood represents rebirth and growth, and is related to the ambition required to live out your highest purpose.

Wood energy gives you drive, focus and the fearlessness to accomplish your goals.

Wood is related to the Liver, which stores blood, and the Gallbladder, which utilizes this blood to make things happen in your life. In the Five Element cycle, Wood is nourished by Water, which represents the deepest part of yourself; the aspect that helps you go within to understand your purpose and develop greater self awareness.

As part of the Water element, your willpower, or Zhi, which is housed in the Kidneys, encourages the ambition of the Liver and Gallbladder to manifest your dreams.

Water energy is nurtured through contemplation and rest. Water is associated with the Kidneys, which also house your essence, or Jing, and provide an essential source of energy to live out your life curriculum. Weak Kidney Qi is related to adrenal fatigue - the feeling of being exhausted and wired simultaneously. When Kidney Qi is weak, you feel like you’re running on fumes.

When your Kidney Qi is replenished and strong, you’ll feel a natural energy that’ll drive you to get things done more effortlessly.

2. Water Element & the Kidneys: Retreat Deepens Your Self-Awareness

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

Water fuels the introspective aspect of self and in balance gives you the ability to be an observer of life, letting go of judgement while at the same time providing you with your fundamental drive to live and the willpower, or Zhi, to fulfill your goals and dreams.

When your Water element is in balance, you’re able to spend time alone comfortably and look at life from a bird’s eye view, learning the lessons that are transmitted through your experiences.

Retreat provides space and time to create the opportunity for your body to draw energy back into the Kidneys to strengthen your Water energy and willpower so a newfound courage can sprout forth through Wood energy, which initiates growth and new beginnings. 

3. Earth Element & the Spleen/Stomach: Retreat Improves Your Relationship with Yourself and Others

Earth energy is about transformation; transformation of food into energy and raw material to rebuild the body, and transformation of your thoughts so you’re obsessing about negative things and can have clarity of mind. 

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

Nourishment begins in the gut first with your mother through breastfeeding and evolves into self-care, or how you nourish yourself.

Thus the connection of the Earth element to your digestive function determines your ability to have healthy, harmonious relationships as well as strong immunity, or Spleen Qi.

Retreat may be the highest form of self-care. Eating a more simple diet and taking time to eat mindfully while on retreat further strengthens your Earth energy.

4. Metal Element & the Lungs/Large Intestine: Retreat Helps You Organize Your Thoughts and Cultivate a Greater Sense of Clarity

The Metal element relates to order, discipline, organization, and clarity both in your internal and external world.

The Metal element relates to the Lungs and Large Intestine organs. Weak Lung Qi can result from a weakened immune system, inadequate exercise or grief.

To strengthen the Lung Qi, it’s important to take deep breaths and also do practices that connect the body, mind and breath, including Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi.

Many retreats encompass these practices, along with Meditation, which cultivates the Kidney Qi and also helps develop your self awareness.

The quietude of retreat also creates space to process your grief, and any other emotions that are being neglected during the busyness of your daily life.

When you allow emotions such as 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.

5. Fire Element & the Heart: Retreat Deepens Your Sense of Wonder, Creativity and Self-Love

In Chinese Medicine, the Heart not only circulates the blood, but it also houses the spirit, known as the Shen. A nourished, settled Heart manifests as a calm spirit and mind. A strong Heart-Kidney, or Water-Fire, connection helps you stay on purpose with your life (learn more here).

When there’s sufficient Kidney (Water) energy, it cools the Heart (Fire) making you feel calm and able to sleep more restfully.

Sufficient Kidney Qi, which is cultivated through proper rest, anchors the Heart Qi and helps you cultivate a feeling of self-love.

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

Heart energy drives our passion and the pure, present sense of wonder that we can associate with a young child. As you get older, it’s just as important to create space so that this creativity and spontaneity can flourish in your life.

By creating space while on retreat, you’re able to cultivate creativity and self-love, which help you develop compassion and a deeper connection to the highest form of love from Source.

When you're connected in this way, there’s no limit to the love that you’ll return home with to share with others.

Interested to join us on retreat? Click here to learn more and sign up for one of the last spots on our Journey to Wellness in Bali January 13-20, 2019.

5 Tips to Stay Healthy through the Holiday Season

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

The holiday season is both beautiful and challenging.

Sure, it’s easy to cultivate yourself and maybe even reach enlightenment while you’re away from society, meditating in the Himalayan mountains. But can you achieve this same state of peace and presence when you get triggered by a family member during a discussion about the past?

Top that challenge off with the changes in your diet, the weather, the stress of buying gifts, and of course your immune system can suffer.

Luckily, if you gather your tools and apply them, the holiday season has great potential for healing. And if you don’t overdo it with the shopping and sugar, you may even strike enough of a balance to feel great.

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5 Tips to Help You Stay Healthy Through the Holidays:

  1. Sleep more - less sunlight during shorter days increases the secretion of melatonin in the body and naturally supports us to sleep longer hours. Try not to resist this need for more sleep (with more sugar and caffeine!) and be mindful to allow more time for rest overall.


  2. Practice Yoga or Qi Gong regularly - doing a daily practice that connects breath with movement helps you be more present in your daily life so you can attune yourself to your needs and the choices that will be most nurturing for your self-care. Plus, it’s essential to keep your Lung Qi strong for healthy immunity and resistance to colds, flus and other infections.


  3. Take colloidal silver - known to stimulate the immune system, regular intake of colloidal silver can help ward off infection and disease. Other benefits of colloidal silver include that it can kill pathogens, oxygenate the body and lower inflammation.

    This is why Dr. Stephen West, DL, PMD (son of Dr. C. Samuel West, DN, ND, renowned chemist and internationally recognized lymphologist), concludes, “Silver ions stimulate the lymphatic system by cleaning out the dead cells and bringing oxygen to the healthy cells.”

    I can say from personal experience that my immune system has never felt stronger since I was introduced colloidal silver, and I don’t even take it every day. You can find out more information at The Silver Edge.


  4. Create healthy boundaries - you don’t have to say yes to all the holiday parties and gatherings and even if you do, try to shift back to a healthy regimen that resonates with what you know will help you stay strong. Enjoy yourself but then remember to nurture yourself if you overdid it. Eat soups, reduce sugar, dairy and gluten, and properly hydrate to help cleanse the body of the unhealthy food and drink that can compromise your immune system.

    Try to keep boundaries not only with your relationships but also with the choices you make with your self-care.

    Eating warm, nourishing foods and lots of vegetables when you can ensures that you’re enjoying equally clean, healthy foods to balance out the indulgence of holiday gatherings.

    Like your Lung Qi, your Spleen Qi is essential to your immune function, so eating a lot of sugar or just eating too much too often will tax the Spleen Qi and leave you feeling groggy and exhausted.

  5. Be gentle with yourself - the pressure of the holiday season can only wear on you if you let it. Take time to do the things you love, even if that means spending some time alone, take time in nature and let go of perfection.

    Naturally, you won’t eat the way you normally do, be as active or keep a regular daily rhythm during the holidays, especially if you travel to see loved ones during this time.

    Just be present with the changes and savor the joy and challenges with your family and friends knowing that it’s all supporting your growth and helping you on your journey to greater wellness.

How to Let Go of Uncomfortable Emotions

Feeling angry, sad, depressed or disappointed sucks. Especially when you know life is great and don't want to muddle your path with negative emotions.

But every single feeling is part of the beautiful spectrum of human emotion we ALL experience.

The problem is that since the emotions we've been taught not to feel can be uncomfortable or difficult to tolerate, they trigger resistance.

And resisting or suppressing these emotions makes everything a lot harder.

In the two short videos below, you’ll learn about the two organ systems that need to be harmonized to be able to let go of uncomfortable feelings.

You'll learn:
*  that letting go begins with acceptance, and how the harmonious balance of the Liver and Lung Qi is essential for you to cultivate this state in your life
* how excessive stress and poor food choices may be hindering your ability to let go of difficult emotions
* a simple exercise that helps smooth Liver and Lung Qi so you can more easily let go of anything you’re struggling with.

Watch and practice the simple exercise then leave a comment letting me know how you feel. My hope is that you'll start to shift back to your natural state of ease.

You deserve to feel great. But it takes the occasional struggle to fully appreciate what that means.

With love and support on your journey to wellness.
XO,

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Immune Support for Autumn

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

Autumn is the most important time of year to support your Lungs. Autumn is the season of the Metal element, which relates to both the Lungs and the Large Intestine organs.

Combating Dryness During the Fall Season

Each season has an associated pathological factor that must be managed during that period. During Summer, it’s essential to manage Heat while Winter is Cold, Spring is about Wind and Fall is about Dryness.

Our skin is an extension of our Lungs and what we call in Chinese Medicine Lung Essence. Essence is about substance and fluids so if your Lung Essence is dry, your skin will be dry too.

The skin is considered the largest detoxification organ of the body as it releases toxins through sweating. The colon or Large Intestine is also a large detoxification organ through its elimination of waste.

All of these organs - the Lungs, Large Intestine and skin - are associated with the Metal element and the Fall season.

Both the Lungs and Large Intestine require proper hydration to work efficiently and it’s quite easy to tell if these organs are too dry.

If the colon is too dry, there will be constipation with dry, hard stools and if the Lungs are too dry the skin will be dry and appear dehydrated with a rough, wrinkled texture. A dry cough and dryness of the nose, lips and mouth are other key signs of Lung dryness.

Simply drinking adequate amounts of water is an easy solution to hydrate both of these organs. Today, however, with high consumption of filtered water, we’re not ingesting adequate amounts of minerals to maintain proper fluid balance in the body.

If you’re noticing that your body feels and looks dry, try adding some naturally processed salt to your drinking water to help your body hold onto fluid.

If you’re concerned about taking too much salt because of high blood pressure, be sure to use naturally processed salt such as Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt.

Pink salt is higher in potassium and lower in sodium than Celtic salt and you may be pleasantly surprised to watch your blood pressure drop with the addition of more natural salt in your diet.

If you’re dealing with high blood pressure along with weak kidney function and leg edema, be careful with any additional salt increase and monitor your blood pressure as you introduce natural salt into your diet slowly and certainly discontinue if you do not respond favorably with the addition of natural salt in your diet.

Potassium helps reduce blood pressure, palpitations and heart arrhythmias so if you have such symptoms, try using the Himalayan pink salt.

Adding natural salt to your drinking water can be especially beneficial if you notice fatigue, muscle weakness or brain fog throughout the day.

I was recently having elevated blood pressure in the morning and simply by drinking warm water with Himalayan pink salt my blood pressure quickly dropped to normal levels.

Managing proper hydration is the first step to keeping your immune system functioning optimally by supporting the production of your Defensive Qi called Wei Qi.

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Essential Oils Provide Potent Support for Immune and Metabolic Functions

Essential oils strengthen the Lung Qi to effectively combat fatigue, low immunity and asthma.

Evergreen essential oils, including Pine, Black Spruce, Cypress, Fir and Balsam, are important immune boosting oils.

These oils can be used in an oil diffuser to strengthen a weak immune system and prevent colds and flus during the Fall season.

Essential Oils for Acute Illness - Colds and Flus

If you tend to get sick during this season, consider a different set of essential oils during the acute stage of illness.

Any of the Eucalyptus oils can be used to clear congestion in the lungs.

Eucalyptus Radiata is a good all purpose ear, nose and throat oil and very good for viruses. Combine it with Eucalyptus Citriodora or Eucalyptus Globulus to combat infections.

Eucalyptus Polybractea and Eucalyptus Dives can be used when there’s deep congestion in the sinuses and lungs that’s difficult to get out. Eucalyptus Polybractea can also be used along with the other anti-infectious essential oils listed below as a steam for a deep inhalation treatment.

Note: do not breathe in Eucalyptus Dives essential oil directly as it can be very harsh and caustic to the sinus membranes.

Ravensare is a strong antiviral and anti-infectious essential oil that you can add to your diffuser or steam inhalation treatment to recover from a cold or flu include. Aromatherapists recommend taking 1 drop every 2 hours of food grade Ravensare essential oil for acute flu.

Thyme, Bay Laurel, Lemon, and Lavender are all powerful antiseptic oils to fight bacteria and viruses during the acute stage as well.

Be cautious in administering essential oils to children and especially toddlers as not all of these oils are appropriate for them and dosage needs to be reduced significantly as well.

Lemon, Lavender, Thyme Linalool and Bay Laurel are extremely potent essential oils for swollen lymph glands and throat infections such as tonsillitis.

One gentle way to introduce essential oils into your health regimen is through the use of hydrosols.

Hydrosols are a concentrated water based by-product created from the steam-distillation of plant materials in the production of Essential oils.

The concentration of essential oil in hydrosols is much lower than in the concentrated oil itself so they are much gentler and easier to use with direct topical application such as a spray mist.

Regular use will still provide potent benefits especially when you are using for preventative purposes such as treating fatigue or low immunity and topically for various skin conditions.

Hydrosols are a wonderful way to hydrate the skin and provide an astringent quality to tighten pores and provide a more youthful glow.

Some of the most useful essential oil hydrosols for dry, mature skin types are Rose Geranium, Rose, Frankincense, Lavender, Fennel seed and Sandalwood. If there is facial flushing from PMS or menopausal heat, Clary Sage, Sage and Cypress hydrosols can be quite beneficial additions as well.

Summary for Fall Immune Support

Combatting Lung dryness and supporting your body’s immune function is imperative during the Fall season with the plethora of colds and flus that tend to arise during this time of year.

By incorporating essential oils, hydrosols and proper hydration, you’ll effectively support your health as we approach the colder Winter season.

Please note: These health tips are for educational purposes only. Please consult your medical professional for health advice specific for your individual needs.


 

How Your Gut Feeling Relates to Your Gut Health

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

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

When you struggle to listen to your gut feeling, it’s often because this feeling is being obstructed by excessive processing in the mind as well as the digestive system.

Understanding the connection between the gut that's related to your digestion and the gut feeling that guides you in the most favorable directions in your life is essential to your well being.

 

Understanding Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Your digestive system is not just digesting the coffee and scone you ate for breakfast, but also what the woman at the coffee shop said to you this morning or the argument you had with your spouse, or the earful of stressful news you heard at work. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tuning in to Your Gut Feeling

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

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

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

When your body is healthy and your mind is calm, you have the clarity to hear and listen to the still small voice that always provides you with the least resistant path to achieve your goals and dreams.

Healthy digestion thus allows attunement to your instincts and a closer connection to the guidance that's offered by your gut feeling.

Staying on Purpose: Insights on the Heart/Kidney Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Spirit and Conception

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

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

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

 

How the Body and Spirit Integrate During Gestation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Balance Between Fire and Water Allows Us to Stay On Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

Body, Mind & Spirit According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

 

The Trinity of the Triple Heater System

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

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

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

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The Upper Heater Relates to the Level of Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Middle Heater Relates to Level of Humanity

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lower Heater Relates to the Level of Earth

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fire Energy and Pathology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living Excessively Causes Fire to Flare Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another common excess that creates too much Fire is overeating.

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

Excess Fire burns out your Qi, leading to fatigue.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taming Your Fire to Support Graceful Longevity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restore Movement to Restore Your Health

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

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

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

 

The Yin & Yang of Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Understanding Movement through the Five Element Energetic Vectors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Four Rings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

Spring Cleaning for Your Body and Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiastolite: The Perfect Stone to Support Springtime Detoxification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Allow Yourself to Receive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Receiving by Letting Go  

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, feeling better starts with taking deep breaths. 

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

 

Tools to Fine Tune Your Ability to Receive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How to Blossom During Springtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greatest Form of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Essential Oils to Balance A Water Type Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Yang Water Type Person

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

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

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

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

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

 

Essential Oils for the Yang Water Type Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yin Water Type Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Essential Oils for the Yin Water Type Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

How to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

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

 

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

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

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

So when is it enough?

To be fulfilled means to cultivate a feeling of enough. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tools to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emotions According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grief and the Lungs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Virtue of Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief is the path to heal past wounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


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