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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

early morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Simple Steps for a Healthy Morning Ritual

  1. Hydrate

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

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

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

  2. Center Your Mind

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

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

  3. Move Your Body

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

  4. Practice Gratitude

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

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

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

  5. Eat a Warm, Nourishing Breakfast

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

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

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

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


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

The Best Way to Celebrate Valentine's Day

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

While Valentine's Day represents all of the conventional definitions of love, for some the void of love is even more apparent at this time.

The focus of most Valentine's Day photos, posters and cards is a fantasy-like love.

We’re encouraged to buy gifts and express our love for those most important to us in our lives. And while all of that is important, Valentine’s Day, and love as we’re taught in general, is focused on everything and everyone outside of us.

We rarely see images of the most lasting and authentic form of love—love for oneself.

As best-selling author, professor and speaker Brené Brown points out: "Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each of them -- we can only love others as much as we love ourselves." 

If you’ve explored the world of personal development for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve discovered the importance of self-love. Self-love is undoubtedly THE most significant form of love. (You can learn more in this past article)

Self-love is the source through which all other forms of love grow. The seeds to nurture and grow love must therefore first be planted in the self. 

But what does it mean to love yourself?

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What if you’re going through a challenging time or you’re really struggling with something in your life, like shame, guilt or pain? It’s not that simple to just love yourself in moments like this.

Rather than focus on loving yourself or extending love to others, the way to cultivate self-love—however slowly—is to focus on being kind to yourself and accepting yourself however you are right now.

The best way to begin this practice is to be more present in each moment. The more present you are, the easier it is to be aware of your thoughts as they come and go, and you'll therefore be more able to release negative thoughts before your mind is overtaken by them.

Feel your body and listen to your thoughts by taking as many moments as you can during the day to take deep breaths.

One of my favorite yoga instructors, Erich Schiffmann, taught me to set a timer every hour as a reminder to take a moment to be fully present. In the busyness of modern society, it’s easy to live on autopilot, so it’s essential that we intentionally slow down and practice mindful awareness as often as possible throughout the day.

The simple practice of mindful awareness helps you be more kind and gentle with yourself.

As you practice being kind and accepting of yourself, you'll naturally impart this kindness and acceptance, and therefore love, onto others.

Only in this way—through the gentle cultivation of kindness, acceptance and self-love—can love can be harvested and shared with others.

And if you're fortunate enough to be surrounded by loving, supportive people, recognize this as a reflection of YOU.

As the last month of the Winter season, February is our final call to move inward, to self-cultivate and to plant the seeds from which we can enliven our dreams in the upcoming Spring season—a time of rebirth and renewal.

So this year for Valentine's Day and throughout the month of February, take time to nurture and be kind to yourself. Take time to be with and celebrate yourself. And if you feel like you want more love, again focus on what you need to cultivate within yourself.


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

5 Tips to Stay Healthy through the Holiday Season

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

The holiday season is both beautiful and challenging.

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

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

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

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5 Tips to Help You Stay Healthy Through the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How 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

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


Feeling The Heat? The Impact of Chronic Inflammation on your Heart Health

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

Cardiovascular diseases in the form of heart attacks and strokes are two of the top five leading causes of death in the U.S. Assessing how these conditions can be rooted in inflammation is therefore critical. In this article we will examine how any form of chronic inflammation is a stress on the heart and can potentially lead to cardiovascular disease.

In Chinese Medicine, the pathology of Heat is a primary factor of disease in the same way that inflammation is associated with many health problems according to Western medicine.

Pathological heat can be clearly identified because of either an acute infection or inflammation or chronic inflammation in the form of common problems such as allergies, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, gastritis, and intestinal issues including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or colitis. Furthermore, chronic infections such as Lyme disease, Hepatitis, Epstein Barr and mycoplasma can all involve pathological heat according to Chinese Medicine. 

Inflammatory heat can go unnoticed for months and years brewing slowly in the body like fermentation in a barrel. Heat can combine with Dampness (called Damp Heat) and lurk in latency for a long time before it rears a host of symptoms and pathology.

According to Chinese Medicine, Dampness is a fungal terrain and the root of many chronic health problems that today we associate with inflammation. Damp Heat is commonly created by a diet of processed foods, high in carbohydrates and toxic chemicals. Sugar in any form can induce inflammation as it feeds yeast to support a damp terrain and creates heat through its acidic nature.

Sugar is the perfect Damp Heat toxic bomb for the body. This point is well established medically with the way sugar feeds cancer cells so efficiently.

A Damp Heat fungal terrain can also be attributed to the use of antibiotics, oral corticosteroids and estrogen based drugs such as hormone replacement and birth control pills. It seems practical to say the incredible increase in pharmaceutical drug consumption is a huge factor for creating the toxic Damp Heat environment within the body that Chinese Medicine associates with the creation of chronic degenerative disease, including cardiovascular disorders. (If you'd like to learn more about Dampness and Heat pathologies according to Chinese Medicine, you can read my article here.)

 

It's Just About Summertime 

Summer is the season when the sun kisses our palate with an abundance of fruit. However, even this natural sugar can induce serious health problems if there is a Damp Heat problem. Year round consumption of fruit sugar is a key trigger for a Damp Heat toxic environment in the body.

Historically, fruit was eaten seasonally when it was available, especially in the Summer, when the increase in ingested fruit sugar triggers the body to store fat for Winter energy. But today, with year round access to a variety of fruits, the body's gene stimulation to store fat is a year round event as well. Sugar in all forms, from fruit to breads, cookies, chips, pies, cakes, Big Gulps, ice cream, and let's not forget frozen yogurt, all contribute to obesity as the body is overwhelmed with sugar. 

Blood sugar problems such as diabetes and obesity often go hand-in-hand. 

 

The Critical Link Between Obesity and Chronic Inflammation 

Medical science now recognizes that excess body fat causes continuous low levels of chronic inflammation in the body. The cause is due to inflammatory cells called cytokines that are released by fat cells. The more excess fat is held by the tissues, the greater the systemic inflammation with these cytokines wreaking havoc all over the body as they distribute through the blood and lymphatic circulation. The process of systemic inflammation can therefore be stimulated simply by being overweight. 

In Chinese Medicine, obesity is considered a condition of excess Dampness, which is why it's important to reduce foods that create Dampness in order to lose weight and thereby reduce inflammation in the body.

Dairy or carbohydrate-based food are the big Damp producers. Grains, starchy vegetables, fruit (especially tropical fruits and melons with high glycemic load) and nuts are some of the key foods that create Dampness. If a person has a very swollen tongue or thick tongue coating, this indicates a body burdened by Dampness, which means it is imperative to limit these food groups until the tongue body and coating normalize. The clearing process can take months for some individuals heavily burdened by the condition of Dampness.  

The other consideration in examining the roots of chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease relates to excess Heat in the body.

People with excess heat can be overweight or excessively skinny. Heat can dry up one's Yin fluids so people who are skinny can be types with excess heat as the heat burns up the body's reserves.

The key indicator of a person with excessive Heat is that they will tend to have a very red tongue body and if it has sections that are bluish, then Blood Stasis has developed as well. Blood that gets too hot thickens and becomes sluggish, and therefore impacts the cardiovascular system. Reducing foods and exposure to toxic environments that cause excessive Heat in the body is required. This can relate to ending a bad marriage or any toxic relationship as well.

Pathological Heat can be generated from over exposure to "dirty electricity" in the form of electromagnetic waves (EMFs) or "dirty" chemicals in the form of anything chemically toxic, be it natural or man-made. Pathological Heat is induced in the body by many common chemicals found in our daily lives. Chemicals ranging from medications, to pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, facial makeup and hair spray have been associated with many types of inflammatory diseases and cancers.

Many individuals involved in the devastation of war have been exposed to man-made chemicals that have created many forms of chronic degenerative disease never seen before. In the Iraq and Gulf wars and as recent as 2015 in Syria, the United states employed nuclear waste material in the form of DU (depleted uranium) weaponry. This highly radioactive material was the pathological factor of Heat that caused numerous birth defects, Gulf War syndrome, and many cases of cancer among soldiers and civilians who were exposed to these toxic gases. 

The herbicide, Agent Orange, used by the U.S. in the Vietnam War is another example of chemically induced toxic heat that continues to cause many health disorders decades later. Agent Orange was used extensively to burn the dense foliage off of the jungles of Vietnam. Even today medical doctors suggest that the toxic effects of Agent Orange are being felt as some Vietnamese people suffer from an unrecognized syndrome similar to leprosy with their body disintegrating as it eats away at itself. The Guardian reported back in 2003 that 650,000 Vietnamese people suffer from an array of baffling chronic diseases which can be attributed to the toxic exposure to Agent Orange. 

 

How to Cool the Body on a Daily Basis

Limiting our exposure to EMFs and toxic chemicals in any form can have a big impact on preserving our health. Other measures to reduce internal Heat in the body can be even more basic than this. 

It's not just what we eat, but how we cook that influences the temperature of our body. If you ingest a lot of moist or hydrating food created from steaming, soup, broth and juices, your body will tend to cool down.

In the Summer, people tend to barbecue on a regular basis, but this is the type of cooking that induces a lot of Heat. In addition, meat, especially beef, lamb, bison and wild game are very hot natured foods. Barbecuing beef and bison burgers will therefore induce a lot of internal Heat. Add to this meal some alcoholic cocktails followed perhaps with coffee, a sugary dessert and a cigarette and this smoking hot combination will inflame any body burdened with excessive Heat.

Roasting is another cooking method that dries up the Yin of the food and induces a lot of Heat. So take it easy with roasting, baking and barbecuing if you are trying to lower your internal heat and reduce systemic inflammation.

Source: Scientific Animations, Girish Khera (http://www.scientificanimations.com/), via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Scientific Animations, Girish Khera (http://www.scientificanimations.com/), via Wikimedia Commons

Heat and Cardiovascular Disease

Arterial plaque, or a condition called atherosclerosis, is a product of excessive heat in the blood system.

A theory that is accepted by many medical professionals is based on the idea that cholesterol levels increase in the body to plug up bleeding arterial vessels that are inflamed. Bad cholesterol is essentially a bandaid for wounding in the vessels. An elevation of LDL can therefore suggest there is a constant wounding in the vessels stimulating the calcification of cholesterol to patch it up. 

According to Chinese Medicine, blood circulation through the vessels is controlled by the Heart and Percardium. The Heart relates to self-love and life's passions and the Pericardium serves as the Heart protector, which stores the unresolved traumas of our lives. From a philosophical point of view, this "wounding of the blood vessels" can be rooted in the process of "self-wounding" resulting from a negative self image, self-hatred, or a lack of forgiveness or acceptance. High LDL cholesterol and rigid arterial calcification can therefore reflect a self wounding process that results from these types of unresolved psychological and emotional factors.

Pathological internal Heat can be created in many ways and stress is a tremendous factor. Simply cultivating a life of peacefulness in one's relationships, environment and in one's heart goes a long way to keeping you cool and unimpaired by the blistering heat found in our every day world. 

Practicing daily Meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi are very useful tools to return a body and mind from the chaotic state of excess heat to a calm and cool state of peace.

What you cultivate is what you become.

Are you cultivating a chronic state of stress with constant high levels of cortisol flowing through the body or are you cultivating relaxation, ease and strength within a state of calm?

The good news is that it's your choice.

May you have a Cool Summer!


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

Food as a Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

 

Food and Digestion According to Chinese Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gut-Brain Axis

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Diet and Your Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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