Food as a Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

 

Food and Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gut-Brain Axis

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Diet and Your Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Is Your Skin Driving You Mad? A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective on Psoriasis and Eczema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Causes of Heat that Underlie Eczema and Psoriasis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Move Your Body, Transform Your Mood - and Life

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

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

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

But the stress and anxiety only seemed to worsen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was my first experience with stillness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mind-Body-Breath Connection According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Your Health Depends On Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com