Summer Wellness Series: Summer Soaks + Soothers

Essential Oils and Self-care practices for summer

This article is fourth in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: the energetics of the fifth season: Late Summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

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What is self-care? It’s a popular buzzword these days - #selfcare - but what does it mean? I think of self-care practices as not just things we can do for ourselves that promote health, but as loving time we take for ourselves. ‘Self-care’ can’t solve all our problems, but it can be an important part of our mental and physical well-being. Whether it’s dry-brushing, face masks, self-massage or herbal steaming - it’s as much about spending loving, soothing time with your body as any specific outcome. Take the opportunity of giving yourself a ‘beauty treatment’ to give yourself a love treatment - slow down, use natural and non-toxic ingredients, and send yourself some messages of love and care.

Summer Scents and Soothers: 3 essential oils and 5 self-care practices to try this summer

What are the best essential oils to enjoy in the summertime? The answer is endless, but here’s three of my faves to help you keep cool and balanced in summertime

Ylang ylang: this sweet, floral oil has an instant cooling and refreshing effect. It has a sedative quality that calms fire-type symptoms like agitation, insomnia and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure.

Lime: Lime is also a cooling oil and has an affinity with the digestive system - great if summer heat is making our digestion sluggish or our appetite is weak. Lime has an uplifting, anti-depressant effect that gives a sense of being ‘refreshed’. Like other citrus oils, lime causes photosensitivity where you can burn your skin with just a small amount of sun exposure. Don’t use lime oil containing products on exposed skin, use in appropriate dilution, and look for steam-distilled lime, which doesn’t contain the photosensitizing compounds. I like to use steam-distilled lime for topical application, and cold-pressed for inhaling, as the cold-pressed lime has a fresher, cooler scent.

Peppermint: Peppermint is VERY cooling. It’s menthol compounds are what put the ‘ice’ in icy-hot style rubs like Warming and Ginger Menthol. It benefits acute ‘wind-heat’ conditions with sore throat, headache, stuffy nose, and red, itchy eyes. It can make us feel energized by moving Liver Qi and releasing frustrated, pent-up energy. Peppermint and lavender is a great combination.

You can use these oils in some of the best body-caring practices to try in summer:

Foot soaks

Ending the day with a cool or lukewarm bath can help swollen, tired feet, as well as helping you sleep (use a warmer bath for extra help falling asleep after a hectic summer day.

Try an epsom + essential oil combo. Mix together 2 cups of epsom salts with 5 drops of essential oil blended in a tablespoon of carrier oil - try ylang ylang and lime with coconut oil, or peppermint in sunflower oil. Fill a foot tub with warm water and dissolve in the epsom salts. Chill out in the soak for 10-15 minutes (no more than 20) and dry your feet off.

Try finishing up with a soothing foot massage - I like to use Swimming Dragon oil, or Legs N All from By Nieves. Coconut or avocado oil works great too.

If sandals and hot asphalt have your feet calloused and dry, try a foot scrub during your bath - mix melted coconut oil with an equal amount of granulated sugar. Add a few herbs like lavender blossoms, mint leaves or rosepetals for added scent. Store in a glass jar and use a spoonful to scrub your feet before you take them out of the bath.

Self-massage: This is a truly luxurious way to spend quality time with yourself! I like to follow the guidelines of abhyanga from Ayurvedic medicine, which uses warmed oil and gentle strokes towards your heart to stimulate circulation, benefit the lymphatic system and cleanse and moisturize the skin. After the massage, jump in a warm shower and rinse off the oil - it’s the oil cleansing method for your body! , Here’s an in-depth how-to from Banyan Botanicals (including when to avoid abhyanga).

I hope you enjoy incorporating some of these healing and loving self-care practices into your summer!


 

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Summer Wellness Series: Eating for the Heat!

This article is second in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: herbs, tonics and supplements for summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

A guiding principle of holistic health systems including Traditional Chinese Medicine is harmony or balance. So healthful eating in summer means feeding ourselves in a way that offsets the extremes of the seasons and keeps us in harmony with the earth's energies. What this is exactly will vary depending on the climate - traditional seasonal foods from where you live are the best place to start! For those of us with hot, dry summers like Northern California here's three things to consider

1. Hydration: we're in the dry season - the earth is parched, fires are burning and it's a long way to go before the rains of winter. 

2. Seasonal produce: what's fresh, local and available right now? These foods are naturally in sync with what our bodies need, and make meal times tasty and fun.

3. Energetics: part of 'food medicine' - certain flavors help us balance the external energies coming at us and keep us on an even keel

Hydration - healthful and tasty summer bevvies:

There's something so 'summery' about a big glass of a refreshing, beautifully colored beverage, even better if sipped on a patio with friends and your feet up! There's a lot of options out there that might not help you feel great, like sugary sodas and alcoholic beverages. It's great to have options that will restore you, rather than leaving you having to recover the next day!

Sun tea: brew herbal tea in a half gallon mason jar or jug in a sunny spot. Great choices for cooling summer hydration include hibiscus, mint, lemon balm and chrysanthemum. Put 1/4 cup of herbs in half a gallon of water and leave in the sun for a few hours until it's strong enough. Strain to drink.

Shrubs and switchels: delightfully refreshing old fashioned drinks. Vinegar, sweetener and ginger are added to water, along with fruits or other flavorings. You can buy readymade shrub bases in many health food stores and liquor stores, or experiment with making your own. Try this strawberry shrub recipe from Erin.

Earth Wisdom: seasonal foods have what we need!

Foods in season at this time of year are light, refreshing, usually easy to digest even when raw, and packed with water. Melons, stonefruit, grapes and berries, and veggies like summer squash, artichokes, cucumbers, snap peas, broccoli, tomatoes and lettuce. In general, most people don't do well with a ton of raw foods in their diet - we evolved to eat cooked foods and it is easier on our digestion. At the height of summer we can often tolerate more raw foods - but if you still find you have gas, bloating and indigestion with raw veggies, try a cooked veg salad.

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Energetics: Healing with the Flavor of the Heart.

Last week Erin talked about the energy of Summer - it's the season of the Fire element and the Heart. We're 'fired up' and open to connection, eating together with friends, family and lovers, and especially tuned to beauty and love in our mealtimes. The flavor of the Fire element is bitter. Bitter has a cooling, descending quality, and a small amount can help us cool off and feel more grounded. It's a flavor that's often neglected in Western diets. Try adding some bitter greens like escarole or dandelion to your salad, sprinkling a few raw cacao nibs on a bowl of diced peaches, or have some herbal bitters in water -especially if you're feeling overwhelmed with the fiery energy of summer, too hot, too much, overdrawn on social energy or having trouble sleeping or 'coming down' after fun and exciting times.

Seasonal eating is the heritage of all people! Here's a few of my favorite sources to learn more (and get lots of recipes!) Please let me know some of yours in the comments!

Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, Jessica Prentice

Staying Healthy with the Seasons, Elson Haas MD

The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni PhD and Cathy McNease

Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon Morrell

Recipes for Self-Healing, Daverick Leggett

The Ayurvedic Cookbook, Urmila Desai

The Yin-Yang Diet, Tara Akuna R.Ac. & Sara Ward R.Ac.

 

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Summer Wellness Series: The Energy of Summer

This article is the first in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: my fave recipes for keeping cool in high summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

What is the Summer Energy All About?

Welcome to Summer!  The summer season can be divided into two time periods and elements in Chinese Medicine.  First comes full summer, the true heat of the season and is associated with the fire element.  Full summer transitions into late summer, which is connected with the earth element, which then leads into fall and the metal element.

Challenges we face in the summer are heatwaves, dehydration, sunburn, trouble sleeping, and agitation.  We might also experience digestive distress from eating at BBQs and too much ice cream or chilled beverages.  Cold and damp foods like ice cream can extinguish the helpful part of the digestive fire. Like anything, we are looking for balance here.  We don’t want too much fire and we don’t want too little. We need to cook the food without scorching it. We want some sunshine and Vitamin D, but we don’t want to get sunburned.  

Full summer’s fire element is connected with the organs of heart and the small intestine, the color red, the bitter taste, and the emotion of joy.  And as in all aspects of life, there can be too much of a good thing, and that too much joy can look like mania. It can also manifest in a milder way as agitation, anxiety, or insomnia.  We can also get a natural boost of energy and enthusiasm for new projects and adventures starting in the spring that can carry into the summer.

Read more at www.erinwoodacupuncture.com 

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Simple and Natural Strategies for Worry and Anger

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I hope you enjoy this article! It went out to my subscribers last month - sign up here to get my monthly newsletter with articles like this, product specials and sales and interesting news in natural beauty and wellness. -Kirsten

In Western medicine, there is starting to be a growing understanding that emotions are material experiences - they are hormones, neural pathways, even our microbiome, interacting with each other and on our entire body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine and other holistic systems, this has always been understood. Frustration, worry and anger are emotions that can lead to clear physical symptoms as they 'knot' the body's energy and lead to symptoms like insomnia, headaches, muscle tension and tightness, menstrual irregularity, digestive upset and more. When there are external situations provoking the emotions that we can't do anything about, working with our physical body and encouraging our Qi to move and regulate itself is one way we can help ourselves. It's important to recognize that our emotions aren't 'wrong' or 'making us sick.' They are there and they are having an impact, and the more we can take care of ourselves without judgement, the better. By helping our bodies cope with the impact of strong emotions and difficult times, we can be more effective at making change, and protect ourselves from burnout, exhaustion and the long term consequences of stress.

1. Move! Moving doesn't have to be vigorous to be effective. Tai qi and Qi Gong are ancient, effective practices for cultivating peacefulness and calming our bodies. Yoga, walking, activism, stretching, singing and dancing are all great ways to 'shake it up' and help our bodies release stored emotions and move the qi. If you're in the Bay Area, I recommend Wild Goose Qi Gong at Energy Matters, or check out this video of the Qi Gong Eight Brocades or Golden 8, a very simple form for beginners, and the one I do.

2. Massage! You can head to your local massage therapist for a treatment, see your acupuncturist for a cupping session, or give yourself or a partner a beneficial liver qi moving self-massage with Swimming Dragon Oil! Other practices that help move the qi, benefit circulation and release stuck emotions are dry brushing, and tapping (I usually do this with a loosely closed hand for a softer tap)

3. Meals! Foods can strongly affect our emotional and physical health, and we might find ourselves reaching for very spicy and crunchy foods when we're angry, and very sweet and heavy foods when we're worried. These will briefly relieve our feelings, but can end up leaving us feeling more stuck and overwhelmed. Supportive options to include when you're feeling these type of cravings are dark green veggies (try cooking greens with a splash of vinegar for extra liver qi benefit) and naturally sweet foods like squash and sweet potato. Try my favorite beet salad recipe for a balancing and delicious veggie dish that uses winter produce.

Emotions are natural and human, and strong emotions are an appropriate reaction to strong events! I hope you find some benefit in these ideas for taking care of yourself and your feelings in the days to come. If you'd like more guidance and support, please contact me for help finding a practitioner in your area.

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Relieving and Releasing Stress with Natural Products

I hope you enjoy this article! It went out to my subscribers earlier this month - sign up here to get my monthly newsletter with articles like this, product specials and sales and interesting news in natural beauty and wellness. -Kirsten

While you work on saving the world, don't forget to save a few minutes for yourself. Bathing and grooming are naturally soothing activities for most of us. Having some easy, pleasurable, non-toxic ways to give your body some loving attention is a great go-to for when life is stressful or overwhelming. 

1. Swimming Dragon Oil: designed to relax and release the flow of energy in the body, Swimming Dragon Oil combines Chinese herbs, natural oils and essential oils for an uplifting, relaxing experience that leaves you feeling like you have room to breathe. Put a few droppers into a warm bath with epsom salts, apply to neck and shoulders, or use for a foot massage

2. Clay Face Mask. Using a face mask pretty much requires that you have some peace and quiet. Retreat to your bathroom or boudouir, slather on a face mask like Clarifying or Regenerating and let yourself get grounded with clay and herbs. Follow up with:

3. Three-in-One Serum facial treatment. Calm and moisturize skin with a treatment like Three-in-One Serum. Apply serum liberally, and then cover your face with a warm washcloth. Leave it on until the cloth has cooled down. You can repeat a few times for a thorough steam. Breathe. The essential oils in the serum like lavender, geranium and sweet orange are great for your spirit as well as your skin. Wipe your face clean.

4. Hare Oil Treatment. If your hair is dry and brittle, you can treat all of it by brushing or finger combing a small amount of Hare oil through your hair, from root to tip. Don't forget to give yourself a scalp massage! If just the ends are dry, warm the oil in your hands and rub gently onto the ends. Wrap your hair up and wash out in the morning, or not if your hair has drunk it up. PS you can also do this with a beard! 

5. Serious Stress Buster. If you're feeling the kind of tension that's got your neck and shoulders in knots, take a moment for some self massage with a healing balmGinger Menthol is great for tension induced headaches, Basic Balm has a soothing herbal honey scent, and BeLoved Balm brings rose, lavender and geranium together in a bouquet just for you. The base of your skull, sides of your neck, and tops of your shoulders will all benefit from loving, gentle self-massage.

Stress is a cumulative health concern that affects our quality of life every day. Giving your physical being a few minutes of tender care every day is a great way to counteract some of those effects. Relax!

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A season of rest - for you and the world

Traditional Chinese Medicine and holistic medicine are about harmony and balance - but what does that mean? It means we move in sync with the external rhythms of nature, not fighting against them. What those rhythms are and what being "in sync" means in practice is traditional knowledge: based on observation over thousands of years. Western science itself is starting to grapple with the idea that what we learn is passed down in our DNA to our children and we can 'know' these things without ever being taught them - we might call it our 'intuition,' our 'wisdom' or as my Granny would say, 'the common sense God gave a chicken'.

The transformation of yin and yang in the four seasons is the basis of the growth and the destruction of life. The sages were able to cultivate the yang energy in spring and summer and conserve the yin energy in autumn and winter. By following the universal order, growth can occur naturally. If this natural order is disregarded, the root of one’s life will be damaged and one’s true energy will wane.
— The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, trans. Maoshing Ni, PhD

Here's an outline of the year as it corresponds to the primal polarities of Yin and Yang. We sail through the year, transiting from Yin (darkness, stillness, rest) into Yang (brightness, action, movement) and back again (I recognize this cycle applies most to those living farther from the equator. The traditional medicine of equatorial peoples no doubt contains its own applications of harmonious living). The apex of each energetic moment is also the beginning of the transition into the next. Right now as we approach the Autumnal Equinox (and celebrate the mid-autumn festival), we are travelling into the most Yin time of the year:

When we accept the reality of change. and the forces that are affecting all us earthlings, we don’t use our resources fighting it - we modify our experience harmoniously, softly, gracefully. This is what I think a lot of "New Age" philosophies are trying to get at when they talk about being "supported by the universe" or the "law of attraction" - when we align ourselves in harmony with the earth cycles, with the massive, manifest patterns that are exerting themselves on our being, we FEEL supported, because we are - the wind is at our back, we are planting in planting season, harvesting in harvest season, and we are much more likely to get the outcome we want and expect.

So back to Fall and rest - as you can see from the yin yang, the Summer solstice, the most YANG time of the year, is the moment when the earth begins its energetic transit into yin - into darkness, cold, wetness, quiet, inaction. As the months progress through the autumn equinox, keeping the frantic pace of modern life becomes even harder. Our energy lowers, our sleep is longer, deeper, we feel quieter, more introspective. We suffer more as we face the growing contradiction between the earth’s energies and the requirements of capitalism - start school, take the kids to soccer, 60 hours of work each week, joyless exercise, big salad for lunch, drinks after work, hurtling ourselves through space, as our cells are insisting more loudly that we slow down, put on weight, sleep more, do less.

As a healing practitioner and as a human being, I often have an internal reaction to this type of discussion (people need to rest more! Folks need to do less and slow down, sleep more!) because so many people literally cannot. Cannot access, cannot afford, cannot find the time. And here too there is a yin and yang - the yin of the personal and the yang of the political. The yang of global capitalism requires an infusion of yin from anti-capitalism and holistic political organization. Political issues like universal health care, paid family leave, universal basic income, housing reform, environmental protection etc., are yin in nature - they nourish, they share, they prioritize rest, healing, redistribution, slowing down so everyone can catch up. Right now the earth and human society is suffering on a massive scale from a lack of rest, from a denial and denigration of the yin energies of existence - the quiet, the dark, the still, the cool, the wet, the chaotic, the unknown, the feminine. Is it any wonder our poor mother earth is becoming hotter, drier, suffering from yin deficiency, hot flashes and night sweats?

I hope you are able to join me this fall in bringing more yin into existence - I don’t want to close on a note of despair, so let me share some of my suggestions for bringing more yin energy into your life right now.

  1. What can you stop doing or simplify? Do you have a bevy of activities? What can you quit for a few months and return to in the spring? (this goes for your kids too!)
  2. Do you have a meditation or mindfulness practice? This is the perfect time of year to start a stillness practice - even a few moments in the day can be powerful
  3.  Can you go to bed earlier? every hour we’re awake after sunset we’re fighting with our biorhythms. Maybe the next episode of Stranger Things can wait.
  4. A regular practice of rest: Shabbat or the Jewish sabbath is a profound weekly rest where observant Jews refrain from all kinds of work, including the use of electronics and spending of money. Consider incorporating a weekly habit of rest: screen free time, family dinner, no shop Saturdays. Ritualizing this time can be a supportive way to introduce a regular restful practice:

May you have a restful and restorative Fall!

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

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TCM Talk in August: Natural Pain Relief

Join Denise from Cicuto Acupuncture and myself on Thursday August 4th and 18th at 4 pm PST on @tcm_talk on Periscope. This month we'll be discussing Natural Pain Relief - how acupuncture, herbal medicine, topical treatments, diet, movement and mindfulness practices can relieve and manage pain. As always, we'll answer questions about what you can expect from working with a practitioner, and load you up with practical at-home practices and strategies.

Send your questions to us at: traditionalchinesemedicinetalk@gmail.com 

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Spring Skin Renewal

I hope you enjoy this little how-to for spring skin - it features Angelica & Peony skin care products, but as always, I include some DIY alternatives. This went out to my subscribers last week, sign up here to get my monthly newsletter with articles like this, product specials and sales and interesting news in natural beauty and wellness. -Kirsten

At the end of the winter season, your skin might be ready for a little renewal - dark days, indoor heating, heavier foods, can leave your skin feeling dull, dry or broken out. Here's some easy yet sumptuous at-home skin treatments to try before stepping out into the springtime! Pick the one for your skin type.

Dry, sensitive and mature skin: it's important not to be rough with your delicate skin. Use steam, herbs and the gentle exfoliation of a terry cloth facecloth to renew your skin's surface without aggravating it. Slather your face with a gentle oil with healing and moisturizing properties, either a premade combination like Angelica & Peony's Nourishing Serum, or individual oils with moisturizing and healing properties like olive oil, sesame oil or wheat germ oil. Heat a wash cloth under the tap, and lay it on your face. Allow it to cool on your face, and then use it to wipe off the oil, giving a loving scrub as you do. If your skin is very dry, end with a final application of Nourishing Serum.

Oily or acne-prone skin: be grateful for your face's oil! It's a natural protectant that will keep your skin plump and dewy for life! You can likely tolerate a slightly more vigorous exfoliation. For the benefit of Chinese herbs, use Angelica & Peony's Serenity Scrub and Mask. Mix a tablespoon of Serenity with an equal amount of warm water and pat over your face. Gently scrub and rinse. You can also make a mask using egg white, or yogurt for a slightly stronger exfoliating effect (tutorial here). For a homemade version, grind adzuki beans in a coffee grinder or blender until fine and use as scrub or mask. End with a treatment moisturizer for oily skin such as Angelica & Peony's Three-in-One.

Uneven pigment, sun-damage, fine-lines: if these are your main issues and your skin is not very sensitive or ultra dry, try my favorite treatment: a clay mask! This is a fun article on the different types of clays, but I use Angelica & Peony's Regenerating Masque with Ginseng and French Clay, which combines the detoxifying and purifying qualities of French green clay with Chinese herbs used for centuries to nourish, rejuvenate and heal the skin. Combine the Masque or clay with water to make a paste, and apply to the face, avoiding the eyes. Let it sit until it begins to dry - not until it's so dry it cracks. Using a warm wet washcloth, wipe off and rinse your face clean. Finish with a rejuvenating product like Angelica & Peony's Regenerating Serum, or single oils with skin renewing properties like rosehip seed oil or hazelnut oil.

I'll be offering customized treatments like these in the intimate and healing atmosphere of the Manzanita Wellness Clinic in Berkeley on May 1 if you'd like to join me! The admission price includes a 1 hour workshop on self-care and restorative practices, an array of mini-treatments including customized facial renewal with me, herbal foot soaks and energy balancing massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture and private energy readings. We'll also have time for reflection, journaling, communing and tea drinking, and send you home with herbal favors to keep your inner and outer beauty nourished. Tickets are very limited, so RSVP before April 20!

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