Managing Anger & Power: Liver & the Wood Element

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anger is an integral aspect of the Wood element.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few Wood-balancing tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Your Health Depends On Letting Go

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

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

It’s very common to develop a cold, a cough or even pneumonia after a period of sadness such as the loss of a loved one, a breakup or divorce. In fact, we make sure to tell our patients as they're going through these periods to be mindful of this potential and support their immune systems as much as possible.

But sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with grief from the loss of someone dear to you, it can feel like your body just can’t take any more. To make sure you actually slow down, the body gets sick as though it’s forcing you to rest.

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

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

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

On an emotional level, the Metal element represents the need for self-definition within the world and the need to interact with others.

Thus grieving, mourning and sadness, the emotions generated when we’re separated from someone or something significant, are Metal emotions that impact the Lung's energy.

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

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

When faced with a challenging situation, often our first response is to hold our breath. However, the practice of taking a deep breath supports us to let go and move forward. 

When you’re not able to breathe deeply during times of stress, the Metal organs - the Lungs, Large Intestine and skin - are impacted. You may therefore develop asthma, allergies, and inflammatory flare-ups of the skin and colon such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), as well as symptoms of poor digestion with acid reflux (GERD), bloating and gas.  

When you practice self-cultivation through exercises such as Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi, you learn to observe and control the breathing and regulate the flow of Qi throughout the whole body. This supports strong muscles, tendons, skin and hair, as well as all organ and glandular functions.  

Breath awareness pulls you out of your mind and into your body, bringing you more in touch with the present moment where energy flows harmoniously.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Why Your Exercise Routine May Be Hurting Your Health

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

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

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

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

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

How to Know if You’re Overtraining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timing Your Exercise for Optimal Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Five Elements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking the Addiction cycle is about CHOICE --

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

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

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

Calming the Heart supports cultivating Self-Love --

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

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

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

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


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

Overcoming Spiritual Arrogance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What it Really Means to Be Spiritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having grown up in Iran in a very religious family, my father did a prayer ritual known as namaz up to five times a day until he went to college. He used to tell us the story of how things changed for him when he advanced his education and starting reading more. He came to the conclusion that religion was the underlying cause of most of the war and corruption throughout history. So, he stopped praying, gave up religion and became a political activist hoping to change the world, starting with his birth country in Iran through political consciousness.

Unfortunately, the 1979 Revolution in Iran only made matters worse by fully establishing an Islamic Republic that forged the country into a deeper struggle and religious oppression, endangering my family and forcing us to leave as political refugees.

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

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

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

When my husband Salvador first met my father, he saw right away how unconditional, kind and loving he authentically is, and immediately admired how my father embodies the spirit of deep patience. After 7 years, my husband's view of my father has never wavered. 

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

  1. Listen authentically with a full sense of presence - turn off cell phones, computers and TVs and be there fully when someone is talking to you.

  2. Take a moment at least every hour to breathe deeply and come into the moment - you can set a timer on your watch or cell phone to remind you to pause during every hour throughout the day.

  3. Read ancient texts and philosophical books such as the Tao Te Ching or the writings of Chuang Tze. For a more modern Christian orientation, you can try reading A Course in Miracles. To cultivate living in the moment, the popular book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is quite helpful. Other influential authors that have written spiritually uplifting books include Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Don Miguel Ruiz. These writers cover a variety of traditions and spiritual ideologies that provide wonderful spiritual food for the soul. Reading these synthesized ideas can help you cultivate living in the moment and connect you to the deeper meaning of life every day.


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

Understanding Yin & Yang in Your Body

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

At the core of Chinese Philosophy and Chinese Medicine is the fundamental principle of Yin and Yang. 

The concept of Yin and Yang is often attributed to the philosophical traditions of Daosim. This holds true for the theory of Five Elements as well. These major theoretical concepts were, however, all established by the School of Naturalism that predated Daoism. This school was also called the School of Yin and Yang. The first mention of Yin and Yang are found in the I Ching, a book of cosmology established by this school, dating back to 700 B.C.

The ideas of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements were established as theoretical principles in order to understand the cosmos and man’s relation to the cosmological forces found in nature. Yin and Yang are symbolized by the black and white divisions within a circle, indicating the circle of life and the movement of energy from one basic form into another.

As described in Chapter 1 of the Dao de Ching: "From nothing, came the one, the Ether that was the first Essence of life.  From the one, formed the two and from the two creates the myriad of all things."

This is how Yin and Yang are considered the fundamental principles of life and creation. 

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Yin represents the substantial resources of life while Yang is the motivating force that works with these resources. Yang is about action, Yin is about substance. From the Chinese philosophical creation idea, first comes the force, the Qi, the Yang aspect creating a constrictive energetic field. As this constrictive field gathers, the condensation of gas creates the dust that densifies into matter. In this way, Yang initiates the formation of Yin. In other words, function creates form.

Prior to planetary matter were clouds of gas. Yang is the gaseous state, the Heaven. Yin is the state of particles creating matter, our Earth.

As the Earth forms, matter collects together into a sphere with its gaseous state contained within its center. The magmatic core found within the Earth equates to the core energetic center that is called the “Dan Tian” or “Elixir Field” in the body of humans. The Dan Tian, located below the navel, is the most powerful energetic force within the body that maintains optimal function and preserves the integrity of form.

When using the terms Yin and Yang to describe personality types, these definitions do seem contrary. For example, a Yin personality type is more constricted or constrained and in its extreme state an introvert whereas a Yang personality type is very expressive and in its extreme negative state rather manic or belligerent.

The more Yang, the more expressive and the more Yin, the more reserved. 

There are four basic principles of Yin and Yang. 

  1. Yin and Yang are oppositional forces.

  2. Yin and Yang are interdependent and cannot exist without the support of each other.

  3. Yin and Yang are mutually creative as one energetic movement can transform into the other.

  4. Yin and Yang are mutually consumptive forces as each will consume the other as it becomes over predominant.

These are the fundamental aspects of YIn and Yang that form the basis for understanding the forces influencing and shaping our selves and our lives. These principles of Yin and Yang are the basic building blocks that guide us to create balance in body and mind.

Yin relates to contraction and introversion, darkness, coldness, feminity and alkalinity.

Yang relates to expansion and expression, brightness, warmth, masculinity and acidity. 

If a person is too Yang, overactive and overstimulated with work, exercise, sex and drugs such as caffeine, cocaine, or energy drinks, this can lead to excessive heat in the body. Excessive heat or acidity in the body will burn the body out.

Over time, too much Yang will lead excess Yin as overactivity will create fatigue and lethargy. Hypo-metabolism will potentially result with lowered thyroid and adrenal function.

In this way, balancing activity (Yang) with rest (Yin) is essential to creating a balanced, healthy life.


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

What it Means to Be Healthy (and why it's easier than you may think)

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

“The first wealth is health.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The topic of health can instigate a variety of feelings and responses. If you’ve ever struggled with your health, the word alone can be a trigger. 

You may even feel shame and guilt about your choices with your health or think that being healthy may be too costly. 

And quite frankly, with all the information that’s available about the topics of health and wellness, it can be challenging to know what to believe or even where to begin. 

By definition, health is “the condition of being well or free from disease.” But to be healthy means “enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit.” 

So, to be healthy is to be free from disease and have vigor of body, mind or spirit.

Note that the spirit is embedded in this definition, which is why we’re going to look at why being healthy is fostered through a deeper relationship with yourself. 

Having a healthy lifestyle does not mean letting go of all the fun and pleasure in life and it certainly doesn’t mean making healthy choices all of the time.

Being healthy simply means doing things that keep you feeling good physically, mentally and spiritually. 

The World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” illuminates just that.

We are all comprised of a physical body, a mind and a spirit. So why is it that most of us forget about at least one of these parts of ourselves throughout the day?

The most complicated element of the human experience is the mind—and it’s also the most difficult to condition. Luckily, if you notice that your mental state is imbalanced early on, you can use your physical body to reshape your thinking. Ancient practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong and Meditation are designed to help with this.

The ‘monkey mind’, as many of these ancient traditions call it, needs to be trained. Otherwise, the mind will run in all directions and lead you to the demise of both your physical body and your spirit.

But what if you have a problem with your body physically, perhaps as a result of an illness, an injury or some type of chronic pain? 

When your body suffers, you have two choices—you can dwell on the pain or dwell on the process of healing.

When you’re able to change the station that’s playing in your head to focus on healing, you can more effectively uplift your spirit to then help your body recover. This can be done through a variety of spiritual practices and very simply through the daily and routine practice of gratitude. 

Gratitude creates space for positivity and joy to flow into your life. 

The more you focus on the good you have, the more you magnify those things and begin to cultivate better things to come into your life. This is the fastest way to heal your body, which is a reflection of the health of your mind and spirit.

To be healthy then does not necessarily mean eating the right foods, exercising and sleeping well.

In its very essence, health is cultivated through a sound, peaceful and positive body, mind and spirit. 

Health is the state of ease you cultivate through an intimate relationship with your body and mind.

This means that you care about and pay close attention to both the body and mind. 

To pay close attention, you have to be fully present. 

When you’re present, you feel what you need and want in each moment and are therefore far less likely to make decisions based on impulse. 

When you’re present, you often choose nutritious foods because you’re in tune with the impact of food on your body and mind. 

When you’re present, you’re more more mindful of the people with whom you spend your time because you want to feel nourished by your relationships. 

When you’re present, you listen to the cues to exercise not because you feel you have to, but because you actually enjoy it. 

Paying close attention to your body and mind means being present with how you feel moment to moment, and this cultivates self-love. Self-love brings ease to the body, mind and spirit and prevents disease manifestation.

Self-love means that you care enough about yourself that you fill your life with the people, things, foods and activities you enjoy

It’s more important to have your life be fullfilling than to have it be full

For many of you this may mean that you do less, rest more and spend time in fewer yet more nurturing relationships and surroundings.

Tips on what foods will give you energy, which exercises are appropriate for your body, element and age, and which practices will help recondition your mind are certainly helpful.

But the truth is, no matter what I or anyone else tells you, the choice to be healthy must authentically come from you. 

And once you really slow down and pay close attention to yourself, the realization of a truly fulfilling life simplifies making healthy choices.


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