Getting sleep when you're worried and stressed

Trouble sleeping? This post from last year is still relevant! Check out the TCMTalk video   (at the end of the article too) for more, and if you'd like to try the WOOD element anointing oil blends mentioned (or any of the other elemental blends) they're on all sale for spring!

I've collected some ways of understanding insomnia and solutions that most folks can do themselves. Chronic insomnia that doesn't resolve with these kinds of approaches or is severely affecting your ability to function needs attention. Please find a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or holistic medicine in your area for treatment and further support - email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area. Visit TCMTalk on Pinterest for more resources and links

Do this first: BASIC SLEEP HYGIENE PRACTICES

  1. Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Change sheets regularly and purify air with filters and/or plants
  2. Use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and sex - not work
  3. Go screen free or at least be sure to use a light modulator
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible
  5. Develop sleep rituals - having a bath, journalling, meditating, (here's some ideas)
  6. Keep your bedroom cool

Top tips for “Wood Element” insomnia:

The 5 Elements through the day  (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The 5 Elements through the day (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The Wood Element is the dominant element in the Spring time. It is associated with the Chinese medicine organ systems of the Liver and Gallbladder, and related to self-expression, the free flow of energy, and the expression of anger and self-assertion (learn more in Denise's TCMTalk on the Wood Element) Dysfunction and imbalance in the Wood element shows itself when your sleep is disrupted by anger, stress, frustration and overwork. You might find yourself waking in the middle of the night (during the 'Wood Element' time of day) and tossing and turning, with your mind going over the day’s events or the causes of your frustrations

The prescription for this kind of sleep trouble is to relieve and release the congested energy and emotions which are backing up and disrupting your sleep with mind-body-spirit practices that benefit the Wood Element and the Liver-Gallbladder system.

Yoga + qi gong for the liver/gallbladder/wood element - to help in discharging energy from those systems with stretching  and gentle movement - we’ve shared a few videos on our pinterest board, and I especially love the Qi Gong videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, like this one for the Wood Element

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

Massage especially for foot and leg massage, or the sides of the head - use an aromatherapy blend like Move Wood, Swimming Dragon oil, or make your own with the essential oils that harmonize and move stagnation in the Wood Element - Denise has a great infographic sharing some of our faves and how to use them.

Herbs + foods: herbs that help move and benefit the Liver/Gallbladder and can relax you into a good night’s sleep include mint, lemon balm, cardamom, chamomile, and bupleurum or chai hu, (especially combined with peony root or bai shao) cumin, fennel and ginger. These aren't designed to knock you out, but rather help balance out your energy through the day - try drinking a spicy or minty blend in the afternoon.

I like to add mimosa blossom or he huan hua, to my Swimming Dragon tea blend to relax and release the liver and promote sleep. Water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is a good morning beverage for folks suffering with liver congestion and stagnation. Try mixing equal parts (about a tablespoon each) of honey and apple cider vinegar into a big glass of water for a balancing sweet and sour health beverage to begin the day. Eating lots of veggies, whole foods and getting enough fiber also helps keep everything, including your stagnant energy, moving!

Worry Journal - this is a way to help manage stress and worry: you write down everything that’s weighing on your mind so you can release it before sleep. It goes well with bedtime rituals and keeping screens and work out of the bedroom. You leave the day in the journal and enter into a different space/time for sleep and restoration.

Meditation practice - meditation is something we recommend for every condition and stage of life! For when you’re feeling very pent up, try walking meditation. You can even do it if you awake in the night and can’t get back to sleep - get out of bed and do walking meditation for 10 or 15 minutes and then try to sleep again.

The Wood Element and the Liver-Gall Bladder system are working hard in these times to cope with the onslaught of external stressors, environmental toxins and daily frustrations that we are all living with, especially those of us in oppressed and marginalized communities. Denise and I hope these ideas and strategies and everything we share through TCMTalk can support your wonderful body in harmony with the energies of the Universe and help you as  you do your work in the world.

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Getting sleep when you're worried and stressed

I talk about these issues and ideas in the most recent episode of TCMTalk! Check out the video on our Youtube Channel, or scroll to the end of the article. Subscribe to the TCMTalk channel to get our seasonal health and wellness videos as soon as they're released!

I've collected some ways of understanding insomnia and solutions that most folks can do themselves. Chronic insomnia that doesn't resolve with these kinds of approaches or is severely affecting your ability to function needs attention. Please find a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or holistic medicine in your area for treatment and further support - email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area. Visit TCMTalk on Pinterest for more resources and links

Do this first: BASIC SLEEP HYGIENE PRACTICES

  1. Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Change sheets regularly and purify air with filters and/or plants
  2. Use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and sex - not work
  3. Go screen free or at least be sure to use a light modulator
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible
  5. Develop sleep rituals - having a bath, journalling, meditating, (here's some ideas)
  6. Keep your bedroom cool

Top tips for “Wood Element” insomnia:

The 5 Elements through the day  (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The 5 Elements through the day (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The Wood Element is the dominant element in the Spring time. It is associated with the Chinese medicine organ systems of the Liver and Gallbladder, and related to self-expression, the free flow of energy, and the expression of anger and self-assertion (learn more in Denise's TCMTalk on the Wood Element) Dysfunction and imbalance in the Wood element shows itself when your sleep is disrupted by anger, stress, frustration and overwork. You might find yourself waking in the middle of the night (during the 'Wood Element' time of day) and tossing and turning, with your mind going over the day’s events or the causes of your frustrations

The prescription for this kind of sleep trouble is to relieve and release the congested energy and emotions which are backing up and disrupting your sleep with mind-body-spirit practices that benefit the Wood Element and the Liver-Gallbladder system.

Yoga + qi gong for the liver/gallbladder/wood element - to help in discharging energy from those systems with stretching  and gentle movement - we’ve shared a few videos on our pinterest board, and I especially love the Qi Gong videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, like this one for the Wood Element

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

Massage especially for foot and leg massage, or the sides of the head - use an aromatherapy blend like Move Wood, Swimming Dragon oil, or make your own with the essential oils that harmonize and move stagnation in the Wood Element - Denise has a great infographic sharing some of our faves and how to use them.

Herbs + foods: herbs that help move and benefit the Liver/Gallbladder and can relax you into a good night’s sleep include mint, lemon balm, cardamom, chamomile, and bupleurum or chai hu, (especially combined with peony root or bai shao) cumin, fennel and ginger. These aren't designed to knock you out, but rather help balance out your energy through the day - try drinking a spicy or minty blend in the afternoon.

I like to add mimosa blossom or he huan hua, to my Swimming Dragon tea blend to relax and release the liver and promote sleep. Water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is a good morning beverage for folks suffering with liver congestion and stagnation. Try mixing equal parts (about a tablespoon each) of honey and apple cider vinegar into a big glass of water for a balancing sweet and sour health beverage to begin the day. Eating lots of veggies, whole foods and getting enough fiber also helps keep everything, including your stagnant energy, moving!

Worry Journal - this is a way to help manage stress and worry: you write down everything that’s weighing on your mind so you can release it before sleep. It goes well with bedtime rituals and keeping screens and work out of the bedroom. You leave the day in the journal and enter into a different space/time for sleep and restoration.

Meditation practice - meditation is something we recommend for every condition and stage of life! For when you’re feeling very pent up, try walking meditation. You can even do it if you awake in the night and can’t get back to sleep - get out of bed and do walking meditation for 10 or 15 minutes and then try to sleep again.

The Wood Element and the Liver-Gall Bladder system are working hard in these times to cope with the onslaught of external stressors, environmental toxins and daily frustrations that we are all living with, especially those of us in oppressed and marginalized communities. Denise and I hope these ideas and strategies and everything we share through TCMTalk can support your wonderful body in harmony with the energies of the Universe and help you as  you do your work in the world.

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Simple and Natural Strategies for Worry and Anger

IMG_20170117_125741-01.jpeg

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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Three Herbs for Powerful Pain Relief

Herbs offer effective treatments for pain of all kinds, often as effective as Western pharmaceuticals, with dramatically fewer side-effects and risks. These are three of my favourites, but there are literally hundreds of herbs and combinations with pain relieving abilities. As always, I’m sharing information, not providing medical advice. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

Ginger

It’s a food, it’s a spice, it’s a healer. Ginger is effective internally and externally for a wide variety of problems, including pain. Stomach pain, discomfort, indigestion and nausea respond rapidly. Sip ginger tea, chew candied ginger or try a topical application on your tummy. I created a topical ginger based treatment for just this type of problem, Ginger Belly Soother Oil with infused ginger and fennel oil and essential oils of patchouli and sweet orange, all of which act to relax the digestive system and relieve gas and bloating, common causes of stomach pain. Ginger oil + massage = relief.

Muscular pain, acute or chronic, also responds well to ginger, (Source). I use straight infused ginger oil with pure menthol and ginger essential oil in Ginger Menthol Balm, and ginger with cinnamon and mugwort with menthol in Warming Menthol Balm for pain that responds especially well to heat (read Should You Apply Ice or Heat for Pain by Lynn Palmgren L.Ac) 

Ginger also relieves menstrual pain - better than ibuprofen with added anti-nausea benefits (Source). Make a tasty and gentle menstrual cramp relieving tea by mixing chamomile and dried ginger half and half and steeping in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Use about a tablespoon per cup of water. Externally, both Tranquil Palace Oil and Warm the Palace Oil use ginger’s pain relieving and warming power to relieve menstrual and abdominal pain.

Turmeric

Turmeric has gotten lots of attention as an anti-inflammatory superpower. In Chinese medicine it ‘moves the blood’ ‘moves the qi’ and ‘cools the blood’ indicating its effectiveness for pain related to constraint like digestive and menstrual pain and to chronic internal inflammation and bacterial and viral infections. Here’s a massive overview of research into the abilities of turmeric for stomach pain, arthritis pain, post surgical pain, dental pain, hemorrhoid pain and more!

A meta analysis of research on the zingiberaceae family, ginger, turmeric and galangal, for chronic pain treatment finds them to be effective and safer than NSAIDs (Source)

Turmeric can be taken daily as a capsule for joint health, but check in with your health practitioner before launching into it - it has some contraindications and you don’t want it to interact with an existing health condition or medications you may be taking.

You can get the benefits of turmeric in food form without the worry that comes with large doses or extracts. Add a teaspoon to lentils while they cook, sprinkle a tablespoon onto sauteed veggies for a soup or pilaf base, or make chai or golden milk, the traditional combination with black pepper which modern research has shown increases the bioavailability of active components in turmeric

Here's a golden milk recipe I like.

Mugwort

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I love mugwort! Called Ai Ye in Chinese, the latin name is artemisiae argyi (although western mugwort, artemisiae vulgaris, is sometimes substituted). Mugwort is the herb used to make moxa - a phenomenal pain relieving technique from traditional chinese medicine, where a cigar or cigarette of packed herbs is lit and held over the painful area or acupuncture points. Moxa powers up all Angelica & Peony’s Healing oils when used together with them, (here’s Denise Cicuto L.Ac explaining how to use moxa at home especially for menstrual cramps

A device called a tiger warmer or lion warmer is another safe and easy way to get the power of moxa at home. We did a TCMTalk about that as well! 

Mugwort makes a great warming and pain relieving bath if you have achey joints in cold, damp weather. It’s also a beneficial addition to a ‘v-steam’ blend for vaginal steaming, especially for pain and heavy bleeding. I infuse mugwort into sesame oil along with ginger and cinnamon to make my Warming Blend, the base of both Warming Menthol Balm and Warm the Palace Oil

There are safety and health considerations with using moxa, so be sure to speak with your acupuncturist or health practitioner before folding it in to your pain management routine. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

You can get ginger and turmeric at most grocery stores, and certainly healthfood stores. You can ask your acupuncturist about bulk mugwort, moxa sticks and tiger warmers. This is the type of moxa stick I especially like.

Tune in to TCMTalk on Thursday August 4th and 18th at 4 pm PST on Periscope for more discussion about natural pain relief and management, ask your questions while we're live, or email them to us at traditionalchinesemedicinetalk@gmail.com!

Kirsten Cowan L.Ac is a Physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine and CEO and Chief Alchemist at Angelica & Peony, Radiant Natural Health and Beauty. She lives and works in Oakland California.

 

 

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Friday Roundup - March 18, 2016

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

Measuring toxic cosmetics: This new study showed a large drop in detectable chemicals in the bodies of teenage girls just three days after they quit conventional personal care products. This study is also notable because the teenage subjects helped scientists to design it!

More teenage health issues: growing numbers of teenagers are using the Pill and other hormonal contraceptives, for birth control and for issues like menstrual regularity, cramps and acne. This article by naturopath Dr. Lara Briden gives some of the reasons why that's not great news.

Technology Pick-me-up: I probably look at my phone between 1 and 2 gajillion times a day. While I work on keeping technology in its place, I also tricked out my phone with some thoughtful and pretty wallpapers I found here.

Organs at Play: The Awkward Yeti is a favorite comic of mine, following the adventures of impulsive Heart and sensible Brain. This strip called 'overindulgence' features a guest appearance by Liver and made me laugh out loud.

I'll be gone on a ten day meditation retreat starting next week, so no Friday Roundups for a bit. I'll be back to rounding up on April 8!

 

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Kitchen wisdom for PMS symptoms

Traditional Chinese Medicine sees medicine as a continuum. Herbs are not only things you'll take as teas or pills when you're ill. They begin with food, and travel all the way to toxic substances (most modern drugs would fall into the latter category). We like to begin treatment with the most gentle, non-toxic approach, and only move into more possibly damaging substances and interventions if necessary. This philosophy of always beginning at the simplest, least interventionist solution is a big part of why I chose to become a holistic health practitioner and is my guiding philosophy. It's spelled out very beautifully by Western herbalist Susun Weed in Spirit and Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition

In that spirit, I'd like to share some simple solutions for a common source of misery: premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, headaches, moodiness and irritability. In Chinese Medicine, these are generally understood as imbalances in energy flow. If lifestyle changes like movement, dietary tweaks and rest don't shift your symptoms, level up to working with a practitioner and you'll likely find relief with acupuncture and herbs. But let's begin at the beginning - with some kitchen remedies by symptom. Enjoy (and feel better!)

Learn more with my previous article on easing PMS symptoms, and for more on food and healing in Chinese Medicine, check out Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett and Real Food All Year by Nishanga Bliss

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Put your skin on a detox regimen - starting on your bathroom counter

Your skin needs a detox. Moisturizers, makeup, exfoliants, anti-perspirants, eye creams, body washes... the whole gamut of personal and beauty products that we happily pick up at the drugstore - or even the health food store, is populated by an unsavory cast of characters that are impacting your body even while they plump, hydrate, exfoliate or deodorize.  

The issue of dangerous ingredients in personal care products is one that's always resonated with me. It bothers me that these products primarily target women, affect our hormonal systems and cycles, as well as causing cancer, and often do all this by preying on self-hatred and unrealistic beauty standards. Break free! give your body and your spirit a break by lowering the toxic load on your body and detoxing your mind from social constructs of beauty!

You can read in-depth on this issue at Skin Deep - the database of skin care ingredients and safety produced by the Environmental Working Group. You can get active on this issue by visiting Breast Cancer Action, whose 'Poison Isn't Pretty' campaign aimed to stop the Personal Care Products Council from giving breast cancer survivors and those in treatment 'gift baskets' laden with cancer causing ingredients.

Here's my 4 step skin detox to give your bathroom this month. Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture and I will be talking about natural skin care on TCM Talk all February, so join us on Periscope live on February 11 or 26, and comment here with any questions about non-toxic alternatives, your fave products or Chinese medicine and your skin! #getyourglow #tcmtalk

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TCM Talk for February: Radiant, Natural Skin Care!

Did you know that the average woman in the industrialized world is directly exposed to hundreds of carcinogenic, hormone disrupting and skin and organ harming chemicals every day? With virtually no oversight, cosmetic and personal care companies, especially in the US, are able to use a toxic cocktail of ingredients in products that are applied directly to the body, where they immediately affect our whole systems.

There are alternatives! With savvy product choices, dietary changes, alternative treatments and big doses of self-love and acceptance, we can break out of the skin care toxin trap and get our glow naturally!

Join Denise Cicuto of Cicuto Acupuncture and I for TCM Talk, our Periscope channel where you can join us for live discussions, demos and Q&As, focusing all February on radiant, healthy skin, naturally.

On February 11 at 4 pm PST, we'll be talking about detoxing your skin care, showing you how to use natural daily routines to get beautiful skin without the junk, and how acupuncture and herbs can help tackle serious skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea and more.

On February 25 at 4 pm PST, we'll answer viewer mail about natural skin care, Chinese medicine for skin issues and whatever else you want to know - so please send questions! Comment here, ask on social media, or email TraditionalChineseMedicineTalk@gmail.com.

Find recordings of all our broadcasts, as well as links to everything we mention on the show, on our Pinterest Board, bit.ly/periscopepins.

Follow TCM Talk on Twitter and Facebook, and send us questions or ideas for future shows!

 

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Friday Roundup - January 14, 2016

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

Image from www.AlbertWStern.com

Image from www.AlbertWStern.com

The Force Awakens. I'm a pretty big Star Wars fan. Seriously. I loved this article (with images!) by Colorado acupuncturist Albert Stern, about what Star Wars teaches us about acupuncture (and that quote from Obi-wan was my email signature for about 8 years.)

This herbalist isn't happy that women are seeking herbal abortions: In December I created a special limited edition product, LOVE Balm, as a response to violence against BlackLivesMatter protestors and at a Planned Parenthood clinic. I donated the proceeds of the balm to BlackLivesMatter and the National Network of Abortion Funds. I was reminded of how important the Fund's work is (and of the times I've been touched by this issue as a practitioner) when I read this alarming article about the number of women seeking herbal abortions because medical ones are inaccessible.

Don't get mad: take action! In another health scandal that disproportionately affects women, I learned from Breast Cancer Action that lymphedema, a common side effect of cancer treatment when lymph nodes are removed, is not covered by Medicare and many insurance plans. A lot of clients at Charlotte Maxwell Clinic deal with lymphedema, and the clinic is a great resource for patients and practitioners in understanding this frustrating and dangerous complication. It's scandalous that people can't access the treatments (simple things like compression garments!) that can keep it from progressing.  Email your representative and help prevent life-threatening complications BEFORE they happen.

Have a great weekend!

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Friday Roundup!

Sinus Relief: We've had another week of warm days here in the Bay, alternating with cooler ones - the cool is a relief but the changing weather can bring its own problems. When zooming air pressure starts making me feel congested, I thank heaven for my NeilMed, which I love and am embarrassed to say find much easier to use than a regular neti pot!

photo from cnn.com

photo from cnn.com

Motherhood in China: I really enjoyed this longish article about Chinese practices of postpartum confinement (based in TCM theories about the need for after birth recovery), and how the current generation of Chinese women are both adapting and abandoning them.

Cooling Soup: And I spent a bunch of time reading through the archives of the Chinese Soup Lady. I love her site and she offers wonderful seasonal recipes using herbs. I especially want to try her Sugar Cane and Imperatae Drink!

Have a great weekend!

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