January Detox?

This is an article I wrote when I was a senior intern at acupuncture school, over ten years ago - it still pretty much sums up what I think about 'detoxes' and 'cleanses' and I hope you find it useful! -Kirsten

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The flurry of the holidays has died down, and even here in California there is a certain dreariness to the months of January and February. The days are still short, it's cool (or downright cold), we're probably all broke and a little bloated after overindulging in every way through the month of December.

A question I am often asked is "should I 'detox'?" Many people feel that their bodies are clogged with toxins, and that some tough love is in order. Fasting, gallbladder flushes, high colonics, herbal 'cleanses' and other methods are all popular. I would wager that sales of those products, many touting weight loss benefits, peak at this time of year. So what does Chinese Medicine have to say about 'cleansing'?

In Chinese Medicine we view the body as an interconnected and balanced system. The digestive and eliminative system is analogous to a pot on a stove. Food goes in the pot, and the fire underneath cooks it, producing steam that rises up. In an ideal situation, the fire burns hot but not too hot, and there is the right amount of food in the pot, with the right amount of moisture to produce lovely, fragrant steam. (as a side note, the Chinese character "Qi" or "vital force" is of a rice pot with steam rising out of it.) When we have overloaded or underloaded the pot, or if the fire is sputtering, or burning out of control, we have an imbalance, and uncomfortable symptoms result.

The body has its own mechanism for restoring balance. In western terms this is called homestasis, or self-regulation. In the acupuncture clinic we facilitate this with herbs and acupuncture, but most important is letting the body return to its own natural balance. If we suddenly empty the pot, it can all too easily be scorched or cracked. And scrubbing it out with clorox is similarly too radical a solution. Personally I feel many of the more 'radical' detox methods contain an element of self-disgust. We feel we have overindulged so we punish ourselves by starving or taking harsh herbal brews that keep us in the toilet, contemplating our sins.

The student of Chinese Medicine views the body as something to be treated gently and with love and respect. Alright, fine, you say. But what do I do about feeling maxed out after 3 weeks of canapes and candy canes?

Acupuncture and herbs can both be used by your practitioner to ease symptoms like constipation, bloating, gas and heartburn. At home, try digestive herbal teas like mint, ginger, citrus peel and fennel seed, or hawthorn berry tea, a tasty and traditional remedy for digestion, especially helpful for fatty foods.

Dietarily, it is important that your body have nourishment to continue its work. To ease the burden on your digestive system as you recover from a period of overindulgence, one of the best foods is congee: traditional chinese porridge. Usually made with rice, it can be made with any grain or legume, and can be quite convenient when you use a slowcooker. (A great book about using congee as medicine is Bob Flaws' The Book of Jook). Slow cooked whole grains,  proteins like fish and chicken, and steamed vegetables are all nourishing, easily digested foods that will feed your body without taxing it. Foods to avoid are cold and raw foods, including vegetables like salads. Many people are surprised at this advice, but salads and raw veggies are actually quite hard to digest. We are not herbivores like cattle. Our bodies have to 'cook' the vegetables once they are eaten. Many patients find they have more energy and less digestive problems when they switch to cooked veggies. Steering clear of heavily flavoured foods is restful for your system, and of course artificial and processed foods are always best avoided.

In the end, remember that January is just a month like any other. Certainly it is an opportunity to 'start fresh,' but so is every day, every moment, every breath.

ess in gezunterheyt/eat in good health
Kirsten

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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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Friday Roundup - January 29, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

Love is grand! I created two custom products for a special Valentine's collaboration with one of my favorite jewelry makers, Kyla of IMPRESSED by Nature. She turns real flower petals into unique, delicate pieces of jewelry. Her jewelry joins my goji berry and cocoa butter lip tint (a touch of pink on your pucker comes from real organic beetroot) and BeLoved Balm, a delicate floral balm that's great for massage or moisturizing.

Donkey Imposters: E jiao or donkey-hide gelatin, is a traditional herb used extensively in gynecology. I loved using this herb in for its restorative powers when I was first in practice. It's now very difficult to find a reputable source, and if you do, the price is prohibitive (around $50 a gram). Unsurprisingly, this has led to a growing market in counterfeit donkey hide gelatin. Caveat emptor!

Healing meals: I had the chance to be part of creating a Chinese Medicine healing dinner for a friend's birthday last week - what a treat! I'll be sharing the whole menu in the coming week, but here's a sneak peek - the fragrant braised chicken with chestnuts and shitake mushroom recipe I adapted for the main course.

Have a great weekend!

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Friday Roundup - January 22, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

Your beard is protecting you!

Your beard is protecting you!

Beardly biome brings health benefits: Beards are full of bacteria - but it turns out that's a good thing! Symbiotic bacteria that live in facial hair seem to confer protective benefits - huzzah! (keep your biome happy with A&P beard oil, on sale for 20% off)

Darkness turning into golden light: Denise of Cicuto Acupuncture shares some of the deep wisdom of Chinese medicine on wintertime - including some harmonizing practices to keep you in sync with the deepest dark that germinates the seed.

Love is the best medicine: The health benefits of relationships and social connection are increasingly being recognized - and a massive study review provides more evidence. I'm working on a super secret collaboration all about LOVE right now - stay tuned for news in a few days!

Denise and I are now sharing our semi-monthly periscope and interesting and inspiring holistic health information through our new show, TCM Talk! See all our broadcasts and links to information on Pinterest, and follow us on Periscope, Twitter and Facebook!

Have a great weekend!

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Friday Roundup - January 8, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week!

It's a belated Friday roundup! I took a few weeks off from regular roundups during the holidays, but there's always so much interesting stuff to share, I'm back in the habit!

Cold Weather Salads: I've been eating a lot of veggies this week! Chinese medicine generally recommends cooking vegetables - most people find raw vegetables hard to digest, and cooking helps mitigate the GI distress a lot of folks have when they crank of the vegetable content of their diets. I wanted to make all the recipes in this article from the Kitchn (and check out an older blog post of mine for the beet salad I'm having for dinner!)

Essential Oils Implicated in Day Care Center Shut Down:  This news story has gotten a lot of attention! A day care center in Idaho called the fire department when toddlers and day care workers began showing signs of poisoning. Although it's not totally clear what happened, the center had been diffusing a popular oil blend with cinnamon for several hours in the unventilated space. Yikes! Check out my article on essential oil safety and the NAHA safety page for more on avoiding the serious side effects of misusing these powerful oils.

Random cool stuff: This incredible woodcut that took three years to create, this cooler than cool minimalist kampo (herbal medicine) clinic in Japan, and this hilarious bunny that I used to announce my El Niño sale on Hare + Bear Oils!

Have a great weekend!

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