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.

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.

Body, Mind & Spirit According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

 

The Trinity of the Triple Heater System

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

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

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

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The Upper Heater Relates to the Level of Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Middle Heater Relates to Level of Humanity

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lower Heater Relates to the Level of Earth

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fire Energy and Pathology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living Excessively Causes Fire to Flare Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another common excess that creates too much Fire is overeating.

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

Excess Fire burns out your Qi, leading to fatigue.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taming Your Fire to Support Graceful Longevity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Cleaning for Your Body and Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiastolite: The Perfect Stone to Support Springtime Detoxification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Blossom During Springtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Eat a Wood balancing diet replete with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, artichokes, olives, and berries.

  2. Reduce or avoid coffee, alcohol and spicy foods as they can aggravate the Liver thus worsening allergies and the overall irritability and restlessness that most of us experience during this seasonal transition.

  3. Drink herbal teas such as Chrysanthemum, Chamomile, Dandelion and Nettle Leaf to cool the Liver, especially if you tend to experience allergies at this time of year.

  4. Be more active - exercise daily to keep the Liver Qi moving smoothly. Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Ji are especially helpful as the connection to breathing with these types of exercises helps strengthen the Lungs and open the diaphragm to further help prevent Liver Qi stagnation.

  5. Get Acupuncture treatment to help cool the Liver and move the stagnation that can stir up allergies, irritability and anger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Take time to cook and be present during your meals. Put away your cell phone, turn off the TV and just be - with your meal and people with whom you enjoy spending time.

  2. Eat meals at regular times and without distractions. Avoid eating under stress and eating on the run or while distracted.

  3. Integrate more root vegetables into your diet to nourish your Earth. Root veggies such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and rutabaga also help anchor your body's energy and calm your mind.

  4. Start to integrate more cooked leafy green vegetables to support the Liver and the Wood element, which are associated with the Spring season

  5. Reduce or avoid coffee, alcohol and refined sugars. All of these substances aggravate the Liver, so this is especially important during the transition to the Liver (Wood) season of Spring.

  6. Take enzymes daily. Enzymes taken with meals will help break down food and prevent stagnation and heat accumulation in the Stomach. Along with a balanced probiotic supplement, enzymes are essential for your gut health, which is the core of your immune function and brain health. Not sure what to take? Call us at 408-244-8565 or stop in and pick up a bottle of our favorite probiotics and enzymes.

  7. Exercise to strengthen your Earth. Calming exercises such as Yoga and Qi Gong are especially important to integrate into your routine. Join us for weekly Qi Gong classes Mondays at 11:45am.

  8. Take more time to meditate or just sit quietly to calm your mind. The imbalanced emotion of Earth is worry, so the more you can quiet your mind the less stress this system will take on.

  9. Get Acupuncture treatment. This is the ideal time to support your core Earth energy and immunity with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. (If you're in our area, you can schedule yourself online here).

The Greatest Form of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

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

 

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

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

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

So when is it enough?

To be fulfilled means to cultivate a feeling of enough. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tools to Cultivate a Feeling of Enough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emotions According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

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

Sadness and grief are the emotions associated with an imbalance in the Lung and Large Intestine system, and thus the Metal element, which is most active during the Fall season.

When we learn to properly transform grief, not only can it help us develop a greater capacity emotionally, but it can also help us deepen our self-awareness and self-cultivation.

 

Grief and the Lungs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Virtue of Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grief is the path to heal past wounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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


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


Is Your Liver Insulting Your Lungs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How To Identify if Your Liver is Insulting Your Lungs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tips for Detoxifying Your Liver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Meditation to Support You

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

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

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

 

What You Can Do To Help Others

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

Las Vegas

Puerto Rico

California


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

Breathe Deeply,  Fall Into a More Mindful Way of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Transformational Power of Fire in Nature and in the Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many people are misdiagnosed with excessive stomach acid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Essential Oils to Manage Stomach Fire and Improve Digestion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Blending Yoga and Chinese Medicine into a Business

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

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

Having lived in various countries as a political refugee during my childhood, the desire to learn about different cultures, traditions and people has always come naturally to me. So blending practices from different cultures, including that of my Iranian heritage, was an organic process in some ways.

Turning my passions and interests into a business however was not something I planned, but it's led me to learn, grow and find greater fulfillment than I could have imagined.

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

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

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

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

Once you’ve listened, I'd love to hear what insights you gained in the comments below.

With love and gratitude,

Setareh
 

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

Setting Boundaries is Essential to Your Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Boundaries and the Earth Element

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nourishment and the Earth element

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Earth Element Imbalances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Balancing Earth to Establish Healthy Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Practices To Ensure a Healthy Seasonal Transition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep and the Gut-Brain Axis

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

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

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

Gut health is directly impacted by stress because of a mechanism known as the gut-brain axis, which explains the biochemical signaling between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. 

Under stress, the hypothalamus in the brain signals the autonomic nervous system as well as the pituitary gland to produce stress hormones, including epinephrine and cortisol. The production of these stress hormones shuts down the parasympathetic nervous system, which is related to our ability to rest and to digest.

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

You probably know from experience that your thought process, especially when you’re under stress, affects your ability to digest food, but this relationship goes both ways.

In other words, what you eat also impacts your ability to think—and sleep. 

 

Sleep and the Gut-Brain Axis

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Unbalanced Emotions and Sleep

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

Excessive or unbalanced emotions and stress weaken the Spleen and Stomach and therefore the gut. According to Li Dong-yuan, this weakness leads to stagnation of Stomach Qi that eventually turns into heat or Fire that burns the fluids in the body.

We can therefore surmise that heat accumulation in the gut eventually affects the brain and interferes with the harmonious interplay between the gut and brain.

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

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

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

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

 

Yin Fire: The Impact of Emotions on Your Health

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

The Earth attribute of Yi, or the mind, has a tendency to worry. Nei Jing Su Wen stated: “Pensiveness harms the spleen” (Unschuld, 2011, 207) and if it is not properly transformed, it leads to obsession.

The attribute of the Heart is known as the spirit, or shen. Over-joy, which includes excessive desires and passions, can overwhelm the Heart and disrupt the shen, since the Heart is the organ that manages joy. Over-joy can transform into anxiety and eventually mania.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re dealing with chronic inflammation of any kind, it's imperative to clean up the toxic terrain within your gut and heal the intestinal lining.

 

Healing the Gut, Brain and Sleep

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

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

  • Protein - supplies the building blocks for growth, including the building of muscles, tissues and new cells.

  • Glycine - an amino acid necessary for healthy DNA and RNA that's essential for properly functioning cells.

  • Collagen - holds together our joints, bones, ligaments and tendons. Needs to be supplemented as it starts to diminish as early as age 20.

  • Chondroitin Sulfate - supports joint health and comfort (especially in combination with glucosamine)

  • Glucosamine - a compound that's involved in the creation of molecules that form cartilage.

  • Hyaluronic Acid - a compound contained in the synovial fluid in our joints that serves as a cushion and lubricant in the joints and other tissues. Hyaluronic acid is also a major component of skin, where it is involved in tissue repair and wound healing.

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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

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

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

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


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