Healthy Transitions: 6 Keys to Support your Earth During Times of Change

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

The one universal constant for all of us in life is the presence of change. 

During various points in our lives, we all go through periods of transition — from birth to graduation, to marriage, and finally death. Throughout our journey, we see the evolution of our bodies and minds, hormonal changes including menarche and menopause for women and andropause for men. 

Because transition can be challenging and throw off your rhythm, it’s easy to end up sick or so tired that it takes weeks to recover and feel like yourself again.

While the only constant in life is change, it doesn’t have to be so hard — but it is essential that we equip ourselves with better self-care and be mindful of the potential effects of these changes on our health.

According to the Five Element system of Chinese Medicine, transitions are orchestrated by the Earth element which is associated with the primary organs systems that are in charge of digestion, the Spleen and Stomach. 

These organs are responsible for the transportation and transformation of food and thought, and they’re therefore the organs that are most needed, and thus most vulnerable, when something in your life is changing.

Any kind of change affects the Earth element, which is why it’s important to pay close attention to this element during times of transition.

Especially during transitions, it’s essential to harmonize the Earth element and ensure that it’s kept strong and balanced. 

 

Cultivating a Healthy Earth

The health of your Earth element relates to your digestion, as well as your ability to take care of yourself and others. 

An out of balance Earth type can present itself most often in one of two ways.

First, a person with an Earth imbalance may over-care for people. In other words, he or she will lack boundaries, meddle and offer advice to people who don’t ask, and be overly concerned with other people’s needs. This person may also tend to accumulate a lot of extra weight and present with a pattern of over-indulgence, whether food or relationships. 

In contrast, another person with an Earth imbalance may lack the ability to provide care for herself and others. This presents as poor self-care, as well as a lack of awareness of her own needs. This imbalanced Earth type may complain that she doesn’t like to cook or is always drained from doing too much as a result of her internal disharmony. 

In both cases, when Earth is out of balance, the individual will most often have accompanying digestive symptoms including diarrhea or constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or simply an excessive or poor appetite depending on the type of imbalance.

The best way to prevent an Earth imbalance is to make sure you’re doing proper self-care, especially during times of transition. 

Times of transition include all seasonal changes, weddings, graduations, menarche, menopause, andropause, back-to-school, moving to a different home or business, and the loss of a loved one, including a pet.

Since Earth is the element that transforms and supports change, it is important that this element be kept strong and vital during any transition or life change. Since the Spleen and Stomach are the primary organs associated with the Earth element, it’s imperative to strengthen and support your digestive system during these times. 

6 Ways to Support Your Earth Element During and After a Transition

  1. Eat More Nourishing, Hydrating Foods such as yams, sweet potatoes, and soups. The easier foods are to digest, and the more cooked they are, the easier these foods will be on your digestive system.

  2. Commit to a Daily Relaxation Practice. Your digestive system is closely linked to your parasympathetic nervous system, which when activated helps you rest and digest. If you’re under a lot of stress, the sympathetic nervous system— our fight or flight response—will become active, and over time will result in physical and mental tension and focus that keeps you in survival mode thus inhibiting your ability to properly slow down. To protect and optimize our digestive system, and thus the Earth element, you must learn to relax. Yoga, Qi Gong and even a simple 10 minute mindfulness meditation can be immensely powerful to foster this sense of relaxation throughout each day.

  3. Optimize Your Self-Care. This involves taking time to slow down and relax, but beyond that, it also means you maintain boundaries with your time and energy. One very important aspect of self-care that’s related to a healthy Earth is cooking for yourself and making sure to take time to eat without distractions.

  4. Create a More Regular Daily Rhythm or Schedule. Whether or not you work a 9-5 job, it’s important that you create some sort of regularity with your sleep, eating and exercise. Earth thrives on rituals and predictable rhythms and your digestive system will thank you for knowing when you’ll get your next meal. Changing this rhythm during weekends and vacations is natural and of course acceptable.

  5. Manage Your Finances. Earth has to do with all the things that nourish and keep us feeling a sense of safety. In the material world, money is one of those elements. That’s why it’s important to keep track of where your money is going, to balance your checkbooks and reduce debts in order to prevent the worry that is characteristic of an Earth imbalance.

  6. Clean and Organize Your Home and Office. Earth types who are balanced keep a clean and very organized home and workplace, whereas those who are out of balance, misplace things and tend to accumulate a lot of clutter. Try to maintain a sense of order with whatever system most resonates with you in the places where you spend your time.

When we go through times of change, maintenance of our rhythm and order is what usually falls off our radar first. So the next time you find yourself entering a transition of any kind, try being more mindful of maintaining the simple things including your regimen, a good diet, and a clean home. These simple things can provide a sense of harmony as you move through the uncertainty and constant changes of 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. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com

Start Every Day on the Right Foot: 5 Steps to Creating a Healthy Morning Ritual

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

“Don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities.” - Steven Covey

How you start your day is an expression of what you’re cultivating in your life. 

If you wake up to a loud alarm, rushing to get ready and make it to work on time, you’ll likely spend the rest of your day feeling rushed.

If you jump straight to email and social media, you’re choosing to allow your day to begin with the needs and lives of others instead of your own.

If, on the other hand, you begin the day slowly, mindfully and with a regard for your well-being, it’s the centered state you cultivate is more likely to follow you throughout the day.

Taking care of your own needs at the start of your day will allow you to be more available to the needs of others without becoming drained or feeling resentful.

When you fly, you're told to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others put on theirs. By starting your day with a focus on yourself, you’ll be better equipped to contribute at a greater capacity to others throughout the day…and still come home feeling charged.

The moment you open your eyes in the morning, you invite a new day of possibilities. 

early morning

In that moment each morning you have the opportunity to set the rhythm for the rest of your day. As the days cultivating self-care accumulate and that rhythm flows, your life is vitalized on the path of healing and wellness. 

When you first awake, your brain operates at around 10.5 waves per second. The range from 8 to 13 Hz, or cycles per second, is the alpha stage, which is often referred to as the gateway to the subconscious mind.

Since your subconscious mind is most active right when you wake up, mornings are the ideal time to train your brain to use this subconscious activity to think positively and accomplish more throughout your day.

When you’re positive, intentional and focused with your mornings, you create the foundation for greater dreams to blossom and come to fruition. 

To have time for a ritual in the morning will mean that you create that time by waking up earlier—even just 10 extra minutes in the morning can make a tremendous difference in the pace of your day.

Your morning ritual sets the tone for the rest of your day—and life. 

In Chinese Medicine, the Earth element, which is comprised of the Spleen and Stomach, must be harmonized in order for us to move through life's challenges with ease as well as to maintain a consistent level of energy throughout the day.

The Earth element thrives on regularity - with meals, exercise, sleep and activities. 

A regular morning ritual helps to strengthen the Earth element energy within us. This, in turn, will increase our ability to digest and assimilate the important nutrients we consume, as well as enhance our ability to process and assimilate our life experiences in a more healthy way. This is one way to support being more grounded in your daily life. 

Ritual provides order and order harmonizes and calms the nervous system.

Starting your morning early allows more time for you to set the foundation you want to create for your day and to be more intentional about what you want that foundation to look like.

When building a house, the foundation is the structure that ensures stability for the entire project development.

Think of your morning ritual as your foundation for the project development of your goals and dreams. 

5 Simple Steps for a Healthy Morning Ritual

  1. Hydrate

    After several hours of sleep and inactivity, the body needs hydration for optimal functioning. Drinking water on an empty stomach first thing in the morning supports cleansing the colon and flushing toxins out of the body.

    While in general hydration is important (try to drink 1/2 of your weight in ounces of water daily, i.e. 75 ounces for a 150 pound body), it’s best to drink more water earlier in the day.

    Some suggest that drinking 50% of your daily water intake by mid-morning will not only keep you hydrated throughout the day, but can also prevent headaches and fatigue.

  2. Center Your Mind

    This can be done through a quiet meditation or relaxation practice, and even journaling to help you release negative thoughts, worries and also to help plan out your day.

    I love waking up to the practice of Morning Pages, which I was first introduced to in 2005 by the wonderful Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way. Morning Pages are three longhand pages of pure, uncensored writing about anything and everything as a way to clear the clutter from your mind. This has been an integral part of my morning routine for over a decade now and I swear by it, but really any type of journaling can be helpful as long as you do it regularly.

  3. Move Your Body

    Particularly with exercises that connect the body and mind, like Yoga and Qi Gong. The early morning hours are also the optimal time for aerobic exercise to stimulate your metabolism and activate your brain.

  4. Practice Gratitude

    You may feel grateful, but expressing this gratitude itself could be a daily ritual.

    Remember, when you take time to acknowledge and give gratitude for all that is working, you create space for greater positivity and joy to flow into your life.

    Gratitude is most powerful when it’s written, so start by writing 5-10 things you’re grateful for every morning.

  5. Eat a Warm, Nourishing Breakfast

    Taking time to eat without rushing is equally important to eating something healthy and nourishing. I always recommend cooking non-gluten whole grains such as buckwheat, millet or amaranth for breakfast. Grains in general nourish the Spleen Qi to support healthy digestion.

    Allowing time for your meals also nourishes the Earth element and digestive system, which leads to a faster, healthier metabolism.

Most importantly, I recommend doing these practices before you check your phone or email and avoiding external distractions for as long as possible when you first wake up.

Over time, you’ll notice that taking just 15-30 minutes each morning to center yourself will fill the remaining hours of your day with greater awareness, productivity and ease.


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

You Are Divine and Miracles Happen

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

You are divine because you have a potential we attribute to the Divine—the ability of miraculous transformation. 

You have an innate miraculous potential within your body-mind to spontaneously or slowly transmute your current state of health.  

An example of the miraculous potential within each of us can be seen in the phenomenon of disease transmutation in patients with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). A person who exhibits multiple personalities can present completely different disease states with each of his or her personalities.  

The variations in illness presentation among the various personalities can even be observed through blood analysis, indicating that the changes occur on a cellular and biochemical level. 

For example, a person who is diabetic when he exhibits the personality of Bob may not have diabetes or any of its symptoms when he’s living through the personality of John. 

How is this possible?

It’s truly a mystery in terms of science, but in terms of the power of the body and mind, it’s more in line with a miracle or more specifically a ‘miraculous transformation.’ 

How Classical Chinese Medicine Understands the Process of Miracles

According to Chinese Medicine, this phenomenon of disease transmutation (i.e. changing from one form to another) in a patient with MPD occurs through the transformation of his Jing, or Essence, that’s facilitated through a shift in his Shen, or consciousness, when he exhibits a different personality. 

Since the Jing corresponds to the Kidneys and the Shen to the Heart, this radical transmutation of disease states is achieved through the power of the Heart-Kidney communication, and this affirms why maintaining a strong Heart-Kidney connection is key to transforming your life.

Your Jing as it’s stored within the Kidneys relates to your body’s deepest constitutional energy, which relates to the level of cellular activity. Therefore, in scientific terms, Jing equates to your DNA and its genetic expression.

The Shen on the other hand is stored in the Heart. Shen is loosely translated as “Spirit” but it is better understood as one’s “conscious state of mind.”

So when there is a shift in your Shen, there will be a shift in your consciousness and through the power of the Heart bringing its Yang (warmth) down into the Kidneys, the Jing can transform into a different state. Not necessarily a healthier state, but a different state. So when a person who has multiple personalities shifts into a different personality, his health or disease status can shift as well.

Miracles occur when your Shen, or state of consciousness, shifts enough to allow for the restoration of health.

This miraculous process is described as the Heart “vaporizing phlegm” to cleanse and clear pathology from the body. This vaporization can happen suddenly or slowly over time as you shift your consciousness into a healthier state and essentially “let go” of the pathological state you were experiencing.

So what seems like a miracle is a natural transformation of Jing that allows a disease state at the cellular level to transmute into a healthy state. 

With this said, you are the conductor of your life, and the more clear you are about how you conduct your life and in particular your life-force—your Jing—the healthier you will become. 


The Metaphors of the Heart-Kidney Relationship

The Kidney is the domain within the body that relates to the Self, so as the Heart Qi moves down into the cold darkness of the Kidney Water, it brings warmth into you so you can feel a deeper sense of self-love.

As the Heart Qi travels down into the Kidneys, also helps shine a light onto your deepest subconscious fears that are held within the Kidneys.

This process of moving the Heart’s energy down into the Kidneys allows you to become conscious of what holds you back in life and to embrace these fears with unconditional love.

In addition, as the Kidney Qi moves up to embrace and activate the Heart, it supports you to open your Heart and express love in your life more freely and to manifest your Heart’s desires and passions.

Perhaps most importantly, the process of activating the Triple Energizer to move your Kidney Essence, or Jing, helps you become conscious of your destiny and supports you to follow the path you were destined to live (read more about this dynamic here).


Triple Energizer Qi Gong Supports Transformation in Your Life

Historically, in the search for the elixir of life, the practice of alchemy developed through the use of toxic herbs that when ingested properly were claimed to induce magical transformations within the body and mind.

Out of this tradition arose the practice of meditation and Qi Gong as a cultivation practice to achieve the same levels of physical and spiritual transformation without the potential of dying from ingesting poisonous substances.

Qi provides the power of transformation and transmutation within the body and mind and this is why Qi Gong is an alchemical exercise in Daoist practices.

Enlightened masters lead austere lives to support their internal transformations through mediation and Qi Gong practices. As you develop your Qi Gong practice it’s necessary to also improve your self-care through diet and lifestyle adjustments that support transforming your health and life.

Since the Heart-Kidney energetic connection is so important in the process of life-transformation, a primary way to maintain a healthy Heart-Kidney communication is through supporting the Triple Energizer system of your body.

The Triple Energizer is a Fire organ that relates to the Heart and facilitates the movement of your Kidney’s Water energy or Jing-Essence.

Triple Energizer Qi Gong is an exercise system designed to strengthen your Heart’s Qi and bring the warmth of the Heart’s Yang into your Kidneys to provide for the transmutation of Qi and Blood into Jing to support slowing the aging process.

In addition, exercise practices like Triple Energizer Qi Gong can help cleanse your Jing-Essence to purify your body, resolve illnesses and prevent disease from developing.


You Are the Master of Your Life

As you begin this self-exploration through practicing Qi Gong, see yourself as a scientist observing and discovering the phenomenon of natural healing through the cultivation of Qi within the laboratory of your own divine body.

Practicing Qi Gong is an evolutionary process with benefits that unfold over months of time and practice slowly restoring your body and expanding your mind. It is through this process of cultivation you can create the miracles in your life to achieve your heart’s desires.

Learn more about Triple Energizer Qi Gong and join Salvador for an upcoming live class at Dharma Studio at A Center for Natural Healing. 

Self-Healing & Self-Discovery through Triple Energizer Qi Gong

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

The term Qi Gong basically means “Qi Cultivation” or “Qi Effort”. The practice of Qi Gong is therefore about applying concentrated effort to support your Qi. 

In terms of physiology, Qi is the electro-magnetic energy within the body that provides the power for movement and function on all levels ranging from cellular function to gross mechanical actions.

Every living cell of your body has an electrical charge on its membrane. This is known as the Resting Membrane Potential measured by the voltage between the fluid inside the cell and fluid outside the cell.

The Resting Membrane Potential is a neutral state and information does not actively get transmitted in this state. But as soon as the voltage changes, then the cell can transmit information to trigger different actions throughout the body.

This change in energy potential allows for fluid to pass in and out of cells, so fluid dynamics are to a great extent based on the shifting of cellular membrane voltage.

In terms of Chinese Medicine and Qi Gong, this process is supported by activating Qi through special movements and deep focused breathing. In terms of fluid metabolism and organ function, the Triple Energizer system supports the Lungs, Spleen and Kidneys to work synergistically to support fluid metabolism for the purposes of nourishing and cleansing the body.

Although the Triple Energizer (aka Triple Heater) is considered an organ in Chinese Medicine and has a meridian circulation devoted to it like the other primary organs, it’s considered to be a rather mysterious organ because it has “function but no form.”

Two years ago, however, the form of the Triple Energizer system was likely discovered through state-of-the-art electroscopic analysis of living tissue which allowed for the observance of an entirely new system of fluid movement within the body.

This newly discovered fluid highway flows between tissues of living organism (an interstitial system) and therefore had not been able to be observed prior to the development of special electroscope technology.

Some scientists called this discovery a ‘new organ' while others balked at the reference to this system as an organ because it had no defined shape. In my estimation, this new fluid network is the exciting discovery of the Triple Energizer system that has been long established in Chinese Medicine.

Jing is the Qi of Your Constitution

We are each born with a finite amount of life-force according to this tradition and it is called your Essence or Jing that is stored in your Kidneys.

This Jing is like the oil in an old fashion lamp and as you live your life you use up your body’s oil reserves. It is therefore accurate to say if you live a fast, hard life, you will burn yourself and your life out more quickly.

In Chinese Medicine they take this idea literally believing the Kidney system also holds within it a pilot light, called your Ming Men or Life-Gate Fire.  It’s considered a “gate” because this flame protects your life. So as you burn out the fire of your Ming-Men, your fundamental life-force declines as well.  

Your Kidneys therefore store both the fuel, called your Jing or Essence, and the pilot light, called your Ming-Men Fire, and since Jing relates to your constitution it has a direct resonance with your DNA. With that said, it is clear why Chinese Medicine emphasizes that optimal health and vitality depends on the health of your Kidneys and why the practice of Triple Energizer Qi Gong is concentrated on this achievement.

The Eight Extraordinary Meridians Cleanse Your Constitutional Jing

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the practice of Triple Energizer Qi Gong is designed to facilitate a healthy flow of Qi in order to regulate and cleanse the Water energy within your body.

Water energy is regulated through the dynamic action of the Triple Heater system and the function of the Lung, Spleen and Kidney organs.

Water energy not only corresponds with the fluid dynamics of the Triple Heater but also to your constitutional Jing-Essence and there is a unique set of energy channels called the Eight Extraordinary Meridians that have direct resonance on this deepest level of your life force. 

These Extraordinary Meridians correspond with your constitutional Jing because they develop in utero during gestation.

The organs that correspond to these Extraordinary Meridians are also referred to as extraordinary. In modern Chinese Medicine we call them the Curious Organs which include the brain, the genito-reproductive systems as well as the bones and blood vessels.

These Eight Extraordinary Meridians are considered both ‘ancestral vessels’ and vessels of ‘latency’. Three of the eight meridians are the original ancestral vessels of your creation and contain your hereditary information. These are called prenatal vessels.

The other five meridians are created after birth and therefore called postnatal vessels and act like reservoirs that contain latent toxic factors that would otherwise damage your vital organs. These latent factors can be chemical in nature from exposure to toxic substances or simply a lifetime of overeating or consuming excessive toxins such as alcohol, drugs and medications.

Latent toxic factors can also be emotional in nature and even acquired through physical trauma.

For example, a car accident can induce a lot of external Yang energy into the body that can overwhelm the system. This excess energy can get trapped and become a latent factor that restricts mobility and causes chronic pain.

Most importantly, working with these Eight Extraordinary Meridians can help you cleanse your body of these latent toxic factors that can damage your constitutional Essence and lead to serious states of disease.

And as you optimize the function of your Eight Extraordinary Meridians which can be achieved through acupuncture and Triple Energizer Qi Gong you can greatly enhance the quality of your health and lead an extra-ordinary life.

The Benefits of Triple Energizer Qi Gong

Triple Energizer Qi Gong helps regulate the Eight Extraordinary Meridians to unburden your body of toxic latent factors that can lead to serious diseases and accelerate your aging process.

Triple Energizer Qi Gong also supports all of your vital systems by regulating the three Energizer centers of the body— the organs of digestion and reproduction in the Lower Energizer, the Heart and Lungs in the Middle Energizer, and the Brain within the Upper Energizer.

In this way, Triple Energizer Qi Gong supports the function of the three Energizer centers of the body, thereby improving the health of your organ and glandular systems to balance and regulate your overall metabolism.

With this said, a diaphragmatic breathing exercise system has been scientifically studied in Japan on obese, post-menopausal, depressed women. This Japanese exercise uses a similar form of combined movement and breathing used in Triple Energizer Qi Gong so in my opinion it helps to improve the function of the Triple Heater system as well.

This Japanese form of diaphragmatic breathing has been found to help with weight loss, fatigue, asthma and depression. Physiological observations included improvement in adrenal gland function and sympathetic tone, as well as increased release of growth hormone and estradiol to support cellular regeneration and mood enhancement.

Qi Gong and diaphragmatic breathing in general have been found to reduce cortisol levels and oxidative stress which accelerate cellular damage and aging, reduce symptoms of GERD (heartburn), lower blood sugar, elevated blood pressure and rapid heart beat which are all physiological effects of stress. And let’s not forget about the release of beta-endorphins which help improve one’s outlook on life.

Another Qi Gong study will excite those on the ketosis diet kick to burn fat and lose weight. This study worked with a group of overweight male and female college students and after one month of Qi Gong practice it was found that their morning urine ketone levels increased indicating improvement in their lipid metabolism.

Other studies have shown reduction in cholesterol and triglycerides levels and the increase in HDL after 3 months of Qi Gong practice. Another report regarding a study of 100 Qi Gong participants showed improvement in platelet aggregation tests which indicate a reduction in blood viscosity and improvement in blood circulation. Furthermore, Qi Gong has been shown to initiate an immediate increase in hemoglobin as well which supports enhanced oxygenation throughout the body.

With all of these positive indicators, it is therefore safe to say that practicing Qi Gong daily provides positive physiological benefits to improve health in both body and mind.

Triple Energizer Qi Gong & Your Life Purpose

Your Jing is stored in your Kidneys and therefore it relates to the Water energy of the body.

As the body’s irrigation system, the Triple Energizer is responsible for moving and disseminating your Water’s Essence which stores your life curriculum.

Smooth circulation of the Triple Heater system allows you to be healthy and live out your life’s purpose.

According to Classical Chinese Medicine, your Jing is programmed during gestation with information about the ‘curriculum’ you are to live out and experience in this lifetime. 

In other words, your ‘curriculum’ according to Taoist philosophy is ‘the path’ you are to follow in this lifetime in order to free yourself from the cycles of reincarnation.

If you bring your curriculum to completion in this lifetime, you’ll be free to create whatever you want with the rest of your life here on earth and thereafter.

However, if you avoid fulfilling the curriculum you’ve come into this life to experience, then according to this ideology, you’ll return to similar circumstances to try again.

This is why it’s important that you don’t allow your Jing to stagnate and keep the Water moving smoothy in your body.  This will not only prevent your body’s fluid system from becoming a stagnant cesspool that leads to disease, but also allows you to fulfill your destiny.

Salvador demonstrates a sample of Triple Energizer Qi Gong.

According to Daoist philosophy, if your Jing is stagnated in this moment, then you likely aren’t living out your Dharma, or purpose, you came into this life to fulfill. 

Activating your Triple Heater system through Triple Energizer Qi Gong will support you in this profound life changing experience. And as you awaken to your higher purpose, Triple Energizer Qi Gong can help you heal your body and mind to support graceful aging.

Click here to register for an upcoming Triple Energizer Qi Gong class at Dharma Studio at A Center for Natural Healing.

You can also learn about this unique practice in the Yin Yoga Integration Teacher Training with Dr. Setareh Moafi starting in September 2019.


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

5 Ways Yin Yoga Can Transform Your Health & Life

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

Setareh yin twist.jpg

You may have already heard my story about how practicing Yoga changed my life as a stressed out overachiever at Cal (if you haven't read the story, you can find it here). But you may not know that beginning the practice of Yin Yoga awakened my interest in Chinese Medicine, and led me toward the path that I'm on now.

As I prepare to teach the second (and probably last) live round of my one-of-a-kind Yin Yoga Integration Teacher Training this Fall, I hope to demystify the practice of Yin Yoga so you can better understand how it can transform the way you feel in your body and move through your life—regardless of your practice level or age.

Yin Yoga isn’t the same as gentle Yoga, nor is it necessarily restorative. Rather, Yin Yoga is a deep and sometimes uncomfortable practice.

Understood through the lens of Chinese Medicine, this practice can access the deeper connective tissue of your body to help you release trapped emotions and free you physically to allow for greater freedom of movement.

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga is a passive practice primarily comprised of seated and supine postures typically held for 3 to 5 minutes. Practicing in this way allows the stretch to go beyond the muscles to the deeper layers of fascia.

Over the years, Yin Yoga has become a practice I come home to when things are difficult, when I’m exhausted and even when I feel great. It’s a comfort for me to sit in the long-held postures, breathe, take in the moment, and let go of the chatter in my mind.

And because your body sits passively to experience the deeper stretch, your mind naturally settles with time, supporting you to let go of the distractions of the day without forcing anything.

Yin Yoga is the passive balance to a daily active, or Yang, lifestyle that’s typical for so many of us.

And since this practice releases the connective tissue and most importantly the illiopsoas (the muscle group in the pelvic region that’s comprised of the illiacus and psoas muscles) where emotional stress and trauma are stored, as your body releases, your mind becomes more free and you can move through your life with far greater ease.

5 Ways Yin Yoga Can Improve Your Health & Life

Butterfly pose in the Yin style.

Here are five important health benefits that can be cultivated through regular Yin Yoga practice:

  1. Reduced Stress, Anxiety and Depression

    In a randomized controlled trial, researchers examined whether participating in a five-week yoga intervention reduces biomarker Adrenomedullin (ADM) and increases psychological health in middle-aged adults who self-report as moderately to highly stressed. ADM is a blood pressure-lowering peptide expressed in cardiovascular tissues including the vascular wall and heart. Plasma levels of ADM are elevated in patients with hypertension, heart failure or arteriosclerosis, as compared with control subjects.

    Compared to the control group, the researchers observed significantly greater pre-post reductions in plasma ADM levels, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

    The study concluded that five-week Yin yoga-based interventions appeared to reduce both the physiological and psychological risk factors known to be associated with non communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

    The study also suggested incorporating Yin yoga as an easy and low-cost method to limit the negative health effects associated with high stress.[1]

  2. Improved Digestion & Sleep

    The very experience of Yin Yoga is calming and can reduce your stress levels since the poses are held for extended periods, averaging 3-8 minutes each. This calming effect regulates your nervous system and helps to relax your ‘fight or flight’ response.

    Whereas most styles of movement practice emphasize muscular strengthening and stretching, Yin Yoga focuses on stretching the connective tissue that’s more closely associated with the parasympathetic nervous system.

    As a result, you walk away from a Yin Yoga practice feeling calmer, stronger and can often notice improvements in your sleep and digestion—the aspects ruled by your parasympathetic nervous system—right away. (For more on the connection between digestion and sleep, you can read this article ).

    And when you sleep and digest better, you move with greater clarity and focus throughout your life.

  3. Greater Freedom of Movement

    Yin Yoga postures focus primarily on releasing and lengthening the hips, pelvis and lower spine. These areas hold a lot of latency—unresolved physical and emotional trauma that can over time inhibit your range of motion.

    Most books describe the practice of Yin Yoga in relation to the Primary Meridians, which are the main channels that are addressed and treated in Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, from the point of view of Classical Chinese Medicine, movement practice would be insufficient to access or treat the Primary Meridians.

    The classics of Chinese Medicine describe complement channels, which include the Sinew, Luo, Divergent and Eight Extraordinary Channels. Of these, the Sinew Channels control the movement of the Wei, or defensive Qi, and our movement.

    The sinews conduct Wei Qi and are the first to respond to exogenous pathogenic factors, or EPFs, that enter the body from the external environment. As these pathogenic factors internalize, they inhibit movement and therefore the Sinew Channels must be addressed in order to liberate your movement.

    Emotions can also be addressed through the Sinew Channels but the primary benefit of freeing the Sinew Channels is to develop freedom of movement and therefore greater flexibility in both the body and mind.

    So the emphasis in learning about the Sinew Channels in relationship to Yin Yoga practice is to be able to free these channels so you can find greater freedom of movement in all aspects of your life.

  4. Stronger Bones

    Distraction (often called traction) is one of the focuses in Yin Yoga and is the application of a long-held stress that tends to pull bones apart. A study published in Isfahan, Iran found that distraction stimulates both the growth of bones and their associated ligaments.[2]

  5. Greater Mental Clarity & Focus

    Practicing Yin Yoga can be challenging because the poses are held for minutes, releasing layers of tension and latent emotions that are held deep within the body’s fascia.

    The primary tool that helps ease the challenge is breath awareness, which anchors you into the present moment.

    Through breath awareness, you’re guided to ‘play your edge’, or to move to a point that challenges you physically while still taking deep, conscious breaths.

    Consistent practice in this way builds mental focus and clarity and will help you move through each day with both a stronger body and calmer mind.

If you’re interested in delving more deeply into this practice, you can apply to participate in my one-of-a-kind Yin Yoga Integration Teacher Training or attend any of my live retreats.

References
1. Daiva Daukantaitė, Una Tellhed, Rachel E. Maddux, Thomas Svensson, and Olle Melander. Five-week yin yoga-based interventions decreased plasma adrenomedullin and increased psychological health in stressed adults: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018; 13(7): e0200518. Published online 2018 Jul 18. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200518

2. Subodh Shankar Natu, Iqbal Ali, Sarwar Alam, Kolli Yada Giri, Anshita Agarwal, and Vrishali Ajit Kulkarni. The biology of distraction osteogenesis for correction of mandibular and craniomaxillofacial defects: A review. Dent Res J (Isfahan). 2014 Jan-Feb; 11(1): 16–26.


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.

5 Reasons to Drink Yerba Mate

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

There’s nothing like waking up early in the morning and enjoying a hot drink to start the day. And all the better if that hot drink can help you wake up and give you more clarity and focus.

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to coffee and even just half a cup is enough to give me heart palpitations and heartburn. Plus, I’m well aware that driving up my cortisol with too much caffeine can have some painstaking long term effects. That’s why I’m grateful for having discovered (and recently rediscovered) the magical Yerba Mate.

Yerba mate is a tea made from the dried leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant, and is an excellent substitute for coffee, black tea and other high caffeine drinks. Plus its slightly bitter, smoky flavor makes it less of a compromise than most coffee substitutes.

It’s traditionally consumed in South America from a container called a gourd and sipped with a metal straw with an attached filter at its lower end to strain out the leaf fragments.

The health benefits of Yerba Mate are extraordinary, and its ability to give you a kick of energy without compromising longevity are one-of-a-kind. Here are five key benefits of switching to Mate in the morning.

5 Reasons to Drink Yerba Mate

  1. Strengthens Your Body & Boosts Your Immunity

    Yerba mate is rich in nutrients and antioxidants. It contains high concentrations of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, and E, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur and zinc.

    Unlike coffee, which can interfere with the body’s absorption of minerals, the high mineral content of Yerba Mate protects against bone density loss.

    Plus, its metabolic boosters increase energy, and its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties provide excellent immune boosters.

  2. Gives You Energy without Caffeine Jitters

    There is currently a debate about the chemical nature of the stimulant in Yerba Mate. While North American chemists say it contains caffeine, South Americans claim it contains a unique molecule known as mateine, which has the same chemical formula but a different molecular shape from caffeine.

    Because of this difference, mateine is absorbed and processed differently by the body, providing an adaptogenic effect, which means it increases the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.

    As an adaptogen, Yerba Mate produces no toxins, creates a non-specific response in the body and works in a bidirectional manner.

    Yerba Mate is also a great substitute for coffee and most tea since its adaptogenic properties prevent it from elevating your cortisol levels and creating the ‘fight or flight’ stress response that can lead to adrenal fatigue.

    My personal experience with Mate has convinced me that the South Americans are onto something—I’m very sensitive to caffeine in coffee and tea, but I can easily have a restful night of sleep just an hour or two after drinking a cup of Yerba Mate. With that said, I suggest drinking the hot tea rather than canned Yerba Mate because of alterations and loss of benefits that can result from excessive steeping of this tea.

  3. Clears Toxins from Your Body

    Yerba Mate contains saponins, which are phytochemicals found in plants and nearly all adaptogenic herbs.[1] Saponins have a unique chemical structure that produces foam when mixed with water, and can bind with water as well as fats and oils. In the digestive tract, saponins bind to bile acids and help eliminate them from the body, preventing cholesterol from being reabsorbed.

    In other words, saponins work like a detergent to clear toxins from your body.

  4. Helps Improve Digestion & Elimination

    Yerba Mate contains compounds such as xanthines that are known to relax the muscles to aid digestion, especially with cramping, constipation or bloating.

    While coffee and tea can cause stomach upset while potentially damaging your stomach lining, Yerba mate aids digestion by stimulating increased production of bile and other gastric acids.

    It also helps to effectively and efficiently eliminate waste from your colon by clearing heat in the Stomach, which in excess can cause constipation, bad breath and even ulcers.

  5. Can Help You Get Rid of Stubborn Belly Fat

    Research suggests that Yerba Mate can increase the amount of stored fat that's burned for energy [2].

    Furthermore, in a 12-week study in overweight people, those given 3 grams of yerba mate powder per day lost an average of 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) and reduced their waist-to-hip ratio by 2%, while the participants given a placebo gained an average of 6.2 pounds (2.8 kg) and increased their waist-to-hip ratio by 1% over the same 12-week period [3].

So if you’re looking for a healthy alternative to coffee or caffeinated tea without compromising the energy and focus, try a fresh brewed cup of Yerba Mate to start your 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. 

The Upside to Feeling Down: The Water Element and Depression (Part 3)

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

What Western medicine calls a state of depression, Chinese Medicine often describes as a lack of Willpower, called Zhi, which is a virtue of the Water Element and its primary organ system, the Kidneys.

In Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys are associated with the adrenal glands and the reproductive organs, and considered the fundamental source of energy for metabolic function of all other organ systems as well as the primary system for regeneration.

For these reasons, the Kidney’s energy is called the Life Gate Fire—the body’s core Yang Qi that protects your life. 

Your Kidney Yang Qi also gives you the Willpower to follow your dreams and take action in your life, so if you’re lacking drive and motivation, your Kidney Qi may need a kickstart.

Your essence, known as Jing, is stored in the Kidneys and functions like oil in your lamp of life-force. Since we’re all born with a finite amount of this fuel, Daoist longevity cultivation practices work to preserve Essence through meditation, lifestyle and Qi Gong practice.

As you live life, your Essence transforms into Kidney Yang Qi to fuel your every thought and action. So if you feel your lacking physical power or mental stamina, your Kidney Yang Qi needs to be warmed up and stimulated.

In Western medical terms, this is similar to restoring your adrenal and thyroid functions. Adequate rest for recuperation is also necessary to recover your energy. With states of depression, however, excessive resting due to lethargy is often the problem and not the solution. Overcoming depression needs a nice blend of rest and stimulation.

The Relationship Between the Lungs & the Kidneys

In Five Element theory, Lung Qi, or energy, is the spark that ignites the fire of the Kidney Yang Qi.

In Chinese Medicine, the Lungs are said to ‘govern Qi’, drawing this Qi energy into the body via the breath and descending it for the Kidneys to grasp. In this way, the Kidneys as the child receive energy from their mother, the Lungs.

In other words, oxygen received through inhalation (Lungs) helps provide an external energy source for the Kidney’s energy.

This is why deep, slow breathing is an important aspect of Qi Gong practices.

If Lung Qi becomes weakened from prolonged emotional states of sadness, grief, depression or from other factors such as a lack of exercise or a diet that is too damp or cold (e.g. daily smoothies), over time the Kidneys can become weakened as well.

Lack of internal core energy within the Kidneys leads to coldness within the body and the nature of cold is to slow things down, so circulation and metabolism slows down as well.

Kidney Yang Qi Energy & the Wei (Defensive) Qi

The Kidney energy center is located in the lower abdomen between the navel and pubic bone. This is why the elderly in many Asian cultures keep their bellies wrapped to keep this region of the body warm to help preserve their life energy.

Cold by nature settles downward, unlike heat which rises. Cold therefore inhibits circulation upward into the brain so symptoms of mental sluggishness tend to develop from a decline in brain function and one’s mental faculties.

Internal cold slows and depresses adrenal function, leading to fatigue and lethargy. And since the energy of the Kidneys resides in the lower aspect of the torso, lumbar stiffness and lower back pain are associated with coldness in the Kidneys as well.

Your Kidney Yang Qi supports your body’s defensive Qi, called Wei Qi, which relates to the thyroid functions. As cold impairs Yang Qi transformation into Wei Qi, a whole chain of metabolic disruption develops including lowered immunity, weight gain, and even possible food sensitivities and bowel irregularities such as diarrhea or constipation.

This may also lead to greater sensitivity to cold environments or feeling cold inside, especially in the feet and lower legs. This is also why Kidney Yang Qi weakness is associated with knee joint weakness, stiffness and pain.

The use of a warming treatment called moxibustion is an integral form of treatment in Chinese Medicine when cold has developed internally. Moxibustion is the performed by burning the dried herb of the Artemisia plant (Mugwort) over special points to stimulate warmth inside the body.

You can learn more about warming the Kidney’s Yang Qi in the section “The Yin Water Type Person” of this article.

Other Factors that Weaken Kidney Yang Qi

The Kidney system relates to your constitutional Jing, or Essence, and everyone is born with a different constitutional Kidney status. Also, the way you treat your body over time can weaken the Kidney Yang Qi.

Conditions including Down Syndrome involve severe Kidney weakness causing underdevelopment of the brain. Patients with Down Syndrome can benefit greatly from Chinese Medicine through warming the Kidney Yang Qi to arouse the energy to more efficiently move upward through the spinal cord and into the brain.

Overuse of stimulants including caffeine can cause exhaustion of the adrenal glands as it strongly disperses Yang Qi and leads to coldness within the body. This is why young people who consume a lot of caffeine are prone to cold signs and symptoms.

Women are particular susceptible to accumulating internal cold because the Lower Chamber of a woman is hollow and open to the environment so cold can enter directly into the uterus causing the Kidneys to weaken. This is why Chinese Medicine discourages swimming during the time of menstruation.

In clinic, I’ve seen young women in their 20s suffering from severe coldness because they work and go to college at the same time or college athletes who endure long days training and studying.

How Stimulating Yang Qi Can Bring You Back to Life

Some years ago I was providing care for a close relative who had surgery and radiation on his brain due to an aggressive cancerous tumor called Glioblastoma. At one point he slipped into a coma which was later found to be due to an insufficiency of sodium, likely from a very low sodium diet and weakness in maintaining electrolyte balance in his brain.

I visited him in ICU on the second day of his comatose state. Knowing there are acupuncture points on the tips of the fingers and toes which stimulate Yang Qi into the brain, I began to squeeze each finger and toe tip with my fingernails.

I squeezed relatively hard to agitate the area with pressure from my fingernails. As I began to make a second pass and was stimulating his right hand, he suddenly awoke out of the coma and was cussing a blue streak. He was agitated that I was hurting his fingers. Not too concerned about his discomfort, I was more astonished how he suddenly became conscious with this simple technique.

After coming out of the coma, we noticed his right arm was paralyzed. I went back to my clinic and made up a strong essential oil formula using very spicy and warming oils to stimulate the brain and therefore his Yang Qi. It was a formula created to ‘open the portals,’ which means to activate the brain’s sensory organs.

Upon returning to the hospital that morning I applied the oil blend to each of his fingers and toes. By that afternoon he was fully using his right arm to feed himself. I was once again amazed at the power of Chinese Medicine and will never forget how truly unbelievable this experience was to behold.

I share this story to illustrate that if stimulating Yang Qi can take a person out of coma so quickly, it can help you recover from your depression, too.

Cold is the internal pathogenic factor that can suppress the light of your Spirit and the warmth of your heart. It is therefore essential to support and stimulate your body’s Yang Qi by warming the internal energy in order to overcome depression.

If you’ve been depressed for a prolonged period, as the Kidney gets colder and colder, you can become frozen with helplessness and hopelessness. In these cases, it is essential to keep in mind that each individual is different and the longer a problem has been around, the longer it may take to return yourself back to a more normal state. So be patient and get professional support to begin this recovery of your Kidney Yang Qi.

Considering there is nothing more valuable than your health, stay confident that with perseverance you can regain that feeling of warmth in your life again and achieve the state of well-being that your heart longs for and desires.


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

The Upside to Feeling Down: A Chinese Medicine Perspective on Depression (Part 1 of 6)

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

Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your joyful, optimistic personality? Or perhaps you’ve been dealing with fatigue or insomnia, and just lacking motivation or feeling apathetic. If you can relate to any of these feelings, it’s likely you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing a state of depression.

Fortunately, Chinese Medicine can provide an understanding of the root causes of depression and empower you to bring motivation and joy back into your life.

What May Be Causing Your Depression

Depression has many causes. Some cases are purely from physical depletion as in postpartum depression. Other forms of depression can be from a longterm overwork and sustained stress that leads to physical and mental exhaustion.

Cyclical hormonal changes that come with aging, including menopause in women and andropause in men, can also lead to depression. This form of depression is related to exhaustion of the Kidney’s Essence, known as Jing.

Giving birth, working, raising a child, sustained stress of life, lack of proper sleep for recovery, and constitutional depletion as a result of the aging process, are some of the leading factors that can cause depression.

It’s no wonder that some statistics show that one in six individuals will suffer from depression at some point in their life and taking anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications seem to be a standard part of the American diet. And many become dependent on these medications just trying to get through each day.

Chronic stress, depression and anxiety can lead to dependency on other substances as well. Some people become addicted to mood altering substances such as marijuana, CBD or cocaine to offset feeling down. Today there is a rise in the use of methamphetamines (known as Speed) to offset chronic depression. Alcohol, even though it is a depressant, is a popular drug of choice to numb difficult feelings. Caffeine is another common addictive substance, particularly among young adults looking to cope with the unhealthy stresses they face each day.

With educational demands on children and young adults so much greater than in years past, it’s easy to see why so many are suffering from depression and nervous disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Though the use of mood altering drugs may be suitable for short-term support when feeling acutely out of sorts, long term dependency on these substances can cause major problems. Both prescription or over-the-counter drugs can be useful to suppress symptoms but won’t lead to longterm resolution of the depression. Furthermore, on a physical level, drugs create toxic residues which stagnate the circulation of blood throughout the body—especially in the main organ of detoxification, the liver.

According to Chinese Medicine, the more stagnant your blood is, the more you’ll be stuck in your emotional traumas. A key indication of blood stagnation can be seen by observing the underside of the tongue. If the two bilateral veins are dark, there is blood stagnation in the body and we can assume there are stagnant emotional issues as well.

It’s therefore clear that using drugs to suppress the symptoms of anxiety and depression does not allow for the resolution of your emotional issues.

According to Chinese Medicine, to resolve the root of your emotional disturbances, you must cleanse your blood in order to release the deep withheld traumas in your body .

Furthermore, according to Chinese Medicine, suppressive substances such as marijuana, CBD or the prescription anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs, lead to the development of Cold inside the body. This Cold energy impairs the warming, vitalizing power of the internal Kidney Yang energy therefore keeping you feeling stuck.

Over time, because of this taxation on the inner power source of the Kidneys, it’s not uncommon that greater dependence on these suppressive substances eventually leads to the loss of willpower to overcome difficult circumstances and worst of all can lead to the loss of hope.


This Can Help

The good news is that Chinese Medicine offers solutions to offset the side effects of mood-altering substances and revitalize the core energy to restore your zest for life.

Chinese Medicine offers a comprehensive approach to address the multitude of factors underlying chronic depression and anxiety.

It can take months of treatment for recovery if a person is severely burned out or has a lot of internal toxicity and blood stagnation. However, everyone is different and I’ve seen older individuals reverse a downward emotional and physical spiral of deep exhaustion, depression and anxiety within a few short months.

Downtime to rest and recuperate is critical and deep restful sleep is fundamental to the process of recovery.

The more time you have to build and consolidate your energy without further burning yourself out with stress and work, the easier it will be to regain a feeling of well being.

The process to reverse this downward cycle of apathy, depression, anxiety and exhaustion can be understood clearly through the lens of Chinese Medicine, in particular the Five Element model.

In Part Two of this series, we’ll explore how the Metal Element and treatment of the Lungs is involved with resolving depression.

Please add your comments and questions in the comments below so we can continue to gain a greater understanding of the development and process of healing depression together.

In the meantime, you can get some extra support by checking out a previous article by Dr. Moafi called Why It’s OK to Not Always Feel OK.


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

Transitioning into Winter: The Doyo Period & Your Family Relationships

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

winter heart

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.

The holiday season often includes a lot of interaction with family, making it 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 obligatory direct personal interaction in general. 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 begin to 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 in old patterns.

    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 of 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 are 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.


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

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.


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

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.


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

How to Let Go of Uncomfortable Emotions

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

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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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

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.


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

How Your Gut Feeling Relates to Your Gut Health

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

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.

 

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.

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 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.

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.


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

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. 

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.


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

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.

 

You can learn fundamental practices to balance this system in my twice monthly Triple Heater Qi Gong classes. Learn more and register now. I’ll also be sharing elements of this practice in the Yin Yoga Integration Teacher Training.


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

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.


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

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.


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