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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Relationship Between the Lungs & the Kidneys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kidney Yang Qi Energy & the Wei (Defensive) Qi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Factors that Weaken Kidney Yang Qi

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

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

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

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

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

How Stimulating Yang Qi Can Bring You Back to Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restore Movement to Restore Your Health

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

In Chinese Medicine, one of the fundamental ways to optimize the health of the body begins through restoring and normalizing the movement of energy within the body. 

This article will outline key zones of the body where energy flow can become bound up and why releasing these restricted areas is essential to normalizing body function in order to optimize health.

 

The Yin & Yang of Movement

As the basis of Chinese Medicine, the concepts of Yin and Yang are depicted as the dark and light divisions of a Tai Ji circle. 

Yin and Yang are two parts of the whole. Yin is the solid part relating to form and Yang is the non-solid part relating to function. Together, Yin and Yang create the material world of form and function. 

Philosophically, there is no separation of Yin and Yang in the living world as there is always Yang within Yin and Yin within Yang as can be seen in the tiniest atomic particle (Yin) which contains a tremendous amount of energy and power (Yang).

In this view, our body’s structure (the form) is seen as Yin, while the body’s function is Yang.

yin-and-yang.png

Qi, often translated as energy, is an aspect of Yang, and relates to function and movement. When there is proper Qi flow in the body, there is a normalization of movement within the body including the normal flow of Yin circulation which includes all the fluid substances.

Internal fluid circulations include such things as the vascular system and the movement of blood throughout the body, the secretion of glandular and organ fluids to support the many aspects of organ function and metabolism, and the distribution of lymphatic fluids to support healthy immune function and proper detoxification. 

These Yin fluid circulations occur because of the movement of the organ energies in relation to the Five elements.

 

Understanding Movement through the Five Element Energetic Vectors

In Chinese philosophy, the universe is a macrocosmic system made of elemental energies described as the Five Elements. Each of the Five Elements relate to a pair of organ systems and the movement of each of these elemental energies support its respective organs' ability to function.

When in balance these elemental energies all move within the body in a concerted manner to create harmonious function between the organ systems.  Ensuring that these energies move according to their nature is fundamental to keeping the body and mind healthy. 

The following Five Elemental energies support Qi flow throughout the body:

The Wood Element is related to the Liver and the Gallbladder organs. The Wood element energetically supports the ascension of energy, like a tree shooting up into the sky. In this way, the Liver organ supports sending blood into the head for nourishment and healthy function of the brain. The Gallbladder system is important to release the pressure and stagnation out of the brain, in other words, to detoxify the brain. 

The Fire Element is related to the Heart. Fire energy spreads upward and outward, similar to how a fire spreads in nature.  This Fire energy supports the spreading of circulation throughout the body, especially into the four limbs to bring warmth. If a person has cold hands and feet, this indicates that the Fire energy needs more support. On the other hand, when the Fire energy is too hot, the Heart and Mind will be overstimulated leading to a state of being anxious and mentally "scattered".

The Earth Element governs gathering and consolidating energy into the center of the body. In this way, Earth energy supports the Spleen and Stomach for proper digestion and elimination. Through the consolidation of energy into the center, energy then spirals upward and downward to support the transformation process attributed to these two organs. Specifically, the Spleen ascends energy extrapolated from food into the heart for the final production of blood (according to Chinese Medicine) and ascends fluids into the lungs and into the head so there is proper moisture for all the sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose and mouth) to function optimally. The Stomach on the other hand, descends the energy so the digested food can transport smoothly through the intestines on its way to being eliminated. 

The Metal Element governs the Lungs and Large Intestine to descend energy through the body. 

Essentially, the downward movement of Lung Qi (energy) supports peristalsis of the Large Intestine for bowel movements, and descends energy through the Bladder for urination. The Lungs also descend energy to support the release of blood during menstruation. The downward movement of energy, in general, is facilitated through deep respiration, hence the benefit of belly breathing for "getting out of our head" and reducing the over-ascension of energy in times of stress.

The Water Element relates to the Kidneys which is about the state of inertia, or stillness. Through the process of being still, we can recuperate our energy so we can then move outwardly into the world. When the Kidney energy is weak, the lumbar region often tightens up and restricts our ability to move. This is an innate response by the body in its effort to consolidate energy back into its core. Lumbar pain and stiffness, if not due to injury, is therefore seen as a symptom of weakness in the Water energy of the body.  An injury to the lumbar region will create weakness in the Kidney Water energy as well, especially when it is a chronic condition. 

 

The Four Rings

There are four circumferential regions in the body where excessive muscular tension and pressure develops thus inhibiting movement and the circulation of the Five Element vectors of Qi described above.

All of the organ and glandular systems reside within four cavities of the body divided by these four regions: the head, the thoracic, the abdominal and the pelvic cavities. 

An important part of evaluating a person’s physical functionality is through assessing the tightness around the four rings of tension that separate these regions anatomically. 

Each of these muscular rings of tension have the following anatomical associations:

  1. The occipital, temporal-mandibular joint and hyoid bone 
  2. The clavicular region made up of the scalene muscles, sternocleidomastoid muscles and the trapezius muscles
  3. The diaphragmatic region created by the diaphragm muscle
  4. The pelvic region created by the muscular tension around the waist associated with the psoas, para-vertebral, quadratus lumborum and abdominal muscles.
Acupuncture treatment as well as practices like Yoga and Qi Gong can help release tension and restriction in the body's four rings.

Acupuncture treatment as well as practices like Yoga and Qi Gong can help release tension and restriction in the body's four rings.

When these regions hold abnormal tension, the increased pressure will impede movement in the related external structures as well as the organs that lie within these areas as well. This is how normal body function begins to decline both externally and internally.

It's essential to have freedom of movement in all four rings as chronic tension patterns can stay trapped in the body indefinitely until they are released.

A number of physical therapies as well as Yoga and Qi Gong exercises are especially effective to release these four rings. One of the primary therapies is Acupuncture.

The purpose of Acupuncture is to normalize Qi flow throughout the body both internally and externally. In this process of normalizing Qi flow, function and movement are restored.

As a result, Acupuncture also reduces and can resolve pain patterns, but this effect is often overlooked by the medical establishment. 

In fact, a common misunderstanding by Western medical science is that Acupuncture only temporarily numbs pain by blocking pain signals to the brain. In reality, Acupuncture restores function to allow the body to move more freely without pain. 

In the process of restoring functionality, the overall health of the body is restored as well. 

 

Conclusion

Abnormal or lack of movement within the body not only decreases function but it also impedes the normal detoxification processes imperative for health and vitality.

Freedom of movement is therefore necessary to restore healthy function throughout the body.

Healthy movement is induced and supported by manual therapies such as Acupuncture, physical therapy and bodywork, and can also be restored through gentle exercises such as Yoga and Qi Gong practices.

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 likely that the centered state that you cultivate will also 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’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 5-10 extra minutes in the morning can make a tremendous difference in setting 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. 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.

  3. Move your body

  4. Practice gratitude - this in and of itself could be a daily ritual. Remember, when we give gratitude for all that’s working in our lives, we create space for greater positivity and joy to flow into our lives.

  5. Eat a warm, nourishing breakfast and take the time to eat without rushing. Allowing time for your meals also nourishes the Earth element and digestive system, which leads to a faster, healthier metabolism.


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

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. Many of us feel shame and guilt about our choices with our health while others of us either think it’s too expensive to be healthy or simply don’t know where to begin. 

Healthy means “enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit” and health itself is defined as “the condition of being well or free from disease.” 

So, to be healthy is to be well, free from disease and have vigor of body, mind or spirit. Note that the spirit is also contained in this definition, which is why we’re going to look at why being healthy is fostered through a deeper relationship with ourselves. 

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. In fact, being healthy 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 and change. Luckily, if we notice that our mental state is imbalanced early on enough, we can use our physical body to reshape our thinking. Ancient practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong and Meditation are designed to help us do this. The ‘monkey mind’, as many of these ancient traditions call it, is like an animal that needs to be trained. Otherwise, the mind can lead us to the demise of both our physical body and our 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 - dwell on the pain or dwell on the process of healing. When we’re able to change the station that’s playing in our heads, we can more effectively uplift our spirits to then help the 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 our lives. 

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

To be healthy then does not necessarily mean eating the right foods and exercising right 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 we 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 less important to have your life be full than to have it be fulfilling

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 we 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 makes choosing to be healthy a no-brainer.


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