Summer Wellness Series: Moving into Fall

This article is the final in a special Summer Wellness Series I've collaborated on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Read all the installments here or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

With the Fall Equinox this week in the Northern hemisphere, we are deep in the transition moment from Late Summer in Fall. The days are perceptibly shorter, there may be a nip in the air in the morning, and even in the Bay area where there are still hot days to be had, the sidewalks are beginning to have piles of leaves, and our energy is turning inward and slowing down.

It’s an oft-noted irony that the time when the Earth is encouraging us to slow down and go inward is the time in our external calendar when things are getting busiest - back to school, the ramp up to the holiday season, and for us in the United States this year, an extra layer of work and anxiety around the mid-term elections and all that is at stake.

Your body might express this experience of cross-purposes with trouble sleeping, digestive upset, and as the Fall moves on, skin complaints, allergies, colds and sinus trouble. Seasonal self-care through the Summer (see the #tcmsummerwellness series !) can help buffer some of these, and here are a few self-supporting practices to consider incorporating this month;

  • sleep more. The days are shorter, and our energy is waning. In pre-industrial times (ie most of human history), we went to sleep and woke with the sun. Even 15 minutes earlier can make a difference. Chronic sleep deprivation is one of the most serious health issues facing modern people.

  • eat cooked foods. Save your raw salads and melon for next summer - save your body some energy by transitioning to cooked foods - if a salad is a must-have for a lunch on the go, try making one with cooked veggies - blanched greens, roast zucchini and peppers topped with chickpeas under a dijon vinaigrette, topped with a few toasted seeds or almonds for crunch. Very chic and easy to transport in a mason jar!

  • Give your lungs extra TLC. The Fall is the season of the Lung - they are especially vulnerable to allergens and viruses at this time of year. Improve the quality of the air indoors with an air purifier, air purifying plants and give your pillows a wash to eliminate allergens. Ask your acupuncturist about allergy treatments (best started before you are sneezing!) and buy or make some natural cold remedies to keep on hand so you can take them at the first signs of illness. Try Fire cider, Ginger-Scallion tea and this go-to list from Erin on natural remedies and herbal formulas for cold. My fave essential oils to keep on hand at this time of year, especially for steam inhalation: Rosemary verbenone, balsam fir and sweet thyme (linalool).

  • Going deeper: I wrote this essay on resting in sync with the earth a few falls ago. What does it mean when we don’t get enough rest? What are the personal and global consequences of our exhaustion and burnout?

May your Fall be filled with love and health, and time for darkness, rest and contemplation! For help with specific health challenges, including scheduling treatments or finding a practitioner in your area, contact Erin and I!

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Summer Wellness Series!

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Summer is here! There are five seasons discussed in traditional Chinese medicine, and here in Northern California we experience all of them - Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Fall and Winter. My colleague Erin Wood L.Ac and I love learning and teaching about the art of 'harmony health' - how we can enhance our wellness and sense of well-being by moving in harmony with earth cycles. What types of illness are we prone to at certain times of year? How can we prepare in this season for the next? Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing a mini-course in holistic practices for Summer and Late Summer. Subscribe to our blogs to get all the updates, and follow #tcmsummerwellness on Instagram

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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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Looking into your Heart

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Valentine's day is here, and we're inundated with images of hearts as a symbol for romantic love. February is also 'Heart Health Month,' focused on heart disease in a literal sense. It's also Black History Month, a good time to acknowledge the burden that experiencing racism and oppression have on health, notably cardiac health. Hearts have been on my mind so I dug into the Traditional Chinese Medicine view of the Heart energetically, as well as the physical organ.

The Emperor

The heart holds the office of lord and sovereign. The radiance of the spirits (shenming) stems from it. - Nei Jing Su Wen

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is the seat of consciousness, the Shen. Like an Emperor seated in a vast cinnabar throne room, our heart requires stillness and calm to make the highest level decisions that keep our spirits in tune with our deepest selves and our heavenly destinies. In the vision of the human as a well-ordered society, the Heart-Emperor is protected and aided by the other officials, the organs and conduits of the body that allow it to remain in contemplative meditation and connection with our true self. When we're balanced, we're able to respond appropriately to life events, to avoid over or underreacting, and to proceed in harmony with our true desires and natures.

Circulating Health

Traditional Chinese medicine texts recognized all varieties of heart conditions and understood clearly blood circulation and the role of the physical heart. Acupuncture and herbal medicines can be very helpful in preventing and treating heart disease. From the kitchen pharmacy, there are many food herbs which can be taken daily as tonics for cardiovascular health, including maintaining healthy blood pressure and circulation. Here are a few faves:

Hawthorn Berry Tea: Hawthorn has been extensively studied as a cardiovascular health supplement, including all parts of the plant, berries, leaves and flowers. In TCM, the berries are used to aid in the digestion of fats, and from a Western perspective seem to lower serum lipid levels.

Chrysanthemum Blossoms: I often use the bitter, refreshing tea of these flowers to aid with allergies and eye irritation, but the same energetic action that sends energy down to calm eyes and headaches can act to lower blood pressure. Hawthorn berry and chrysanthemum blossom tea is a tasty cardiac combination.

Heart-friendly Foods: Despite what we were taught for many years, fat consumption by itself is not the guilty party in heart disease. Overconsumption of sweet, refined and processed foods increase inflammation in the body and our bodies reaction to it can result in stagnation and impaired circulation. Eating a whole foods, balanced diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits is a vital move for all of us. Foods with an especially beneficial effect on the heart and circulatory system? Try celery, onion, garlic, carrots, apples, pears and tangerines. Black fungus, shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and mung beans are other tasty recommendations.

The Emotions of the Heart

'Symbolic image of the heart: Chinese/Korean/Japanese' . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

'Symbolic image of the heart: Chinese/Korean/Japanese' . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The Heart holds a powerful symbolic role in many cultures. Associated with the element of Fire in the 5 Element cosmology, spiritual and emotional dysfunction of the Heart can show up in a variety of ways.

Too Hot: An excess of Fire element affects our Heart energy with overexuberance. We can't stop talking, our minds race. Our sleep is disrupted, especially falling asleep. Anxiety and restlessness can make us feel overwhelmed and make it difficult to think clearly. In addition to proper treatment with a practitioner, cooling foods and herbs and calming activities such as meditation can help chill us out and give our Hearts room to breathe.  

Too Cold: Deficiency in the Fire element often manifests in physical symptoms of coldness and poor circulation, but emotionally we can feel detached, listless and depressed, unable to access our feelings or communicate them. Together with treatment, warming herbs and foods and gently stimulating activities can help stoke our Heart fire.

Check out 5 Element Healing Anointing Oils for some gentle aromatherapy designed to support the 5 elements and our emotional well-being.

Wishing you a happy heart!

Sources:

The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease

The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine, Bob Flaws and Philippe Sionneau

Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine. Lonny S. Jarrett

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Giovanni Maciocia

Chinese System of Food Cures, Henry Lu

Healing with the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra

Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, Mary C. Tassell, Rosari Kingston, Deirdre Gilroy, Mary Lehane, and Ambrose Furey


 

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Plant Support! Herbal Help For Healthy Changes

(I wrote this article a few years ago but I'm referring back to it as my patients and I look to let go of some habits with the fresh air of January...-Kirsten)

It's January! A time of year when many people think about changes they'd like to make in support of the life they'd like to live. Making healthy changes is great - when it's done with love and in a way that's sustainable! Enjoy the video version with a TCMTalk on this topic!

So you've decided to let go of some habits that don't nourish you - or cultivate some that do. Great! One of the keys to sustainable change is enlisting support.  While you're getting cheered on by the people in your support network, you can also add some herbal cheerleaders to the mix. I've rounded up some herbal and essential oil allies that can give you a boost at some of the changes you might be making this month.

(Important message: herbs and essential oils are powerful medicine! This article is not intended to diagnosis or treat you. I strongly recommend that you enlist the support of a licensed physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine or other qualified professional so you can fully experience the benefits of herbal medicine!)

Quitting: smoking, alcohol, sugar and other substances

Acupuncture and acupressure are very helpful in reducing withdrawal symptoms, and your TCM physician can also prescribe a customized herbal formula for you that can reduce anxiety, withdrawal and cravings, no matter what substance you're eliminating. Generally, regulating the flow of energy in the body is the goal, as we support the body through the discomfort of cravings and learning to produce the feel-good chemicals we relied on our drug of choice for.

Easy to access herbs to try at home during this time include: spearmint leaf, dried orange peel, cinnamon, clove, lemon balm and fennel. Look for these herbal allies in a pre-made blend, or make your own tea with bulk herbs (try a tablespoon each of the leafy herbs, and a teaspoon of the denser ones). You can also try an infusion bath - use tea bags or cheesecloth to steep herbs in your bath water.

Essential oil helpers include carrot seed oil (especially for marijuana),  roman chamomile, lavender and lemon (this duo is especially good for sugar cravings) Here's some guidance on different methods of applying essential oils.

Healthy Habits: regular exercise and quality sleep

Looking to make exercise a habit this year? Chinese medicine, broadly speaking, helps you have more energy by either boosting insufficient energy, or moving stuck energy. Try energy boosters like ginseng, jujube, Chinese yam, goji berries and reishi mushrooms, or energy movers like dried orange peel, fennel and cardamom. Essential oils like patchouli and grapefruit help move and transform energy as well.

Herbal helpers for restful sleep include mimosa flower, lemon balm, lavender blossom, chamomile and zizyphus (jujube seeds). A supplement like Natural Calm is an easy alternative to traditional sedating herbs made from oyster shell and fossilized bones. Essential oils known as sleep aids include lavender, sandalwood, mandarin, chamomile and ylang ylang.

Attitude Adjustment: self-love and self-discipline

Thinking about a new attitude this year? Support some self-love with heart-opening herbs like mimosa flower, zizyphus, or the traditional formula, gan mai da zao tang: licorice root, jujube fruit and wheat berries. Essential oils for self-love include patchouli, rose, geranium and ylang ylang.

Self-love starts with self-care: if you're trying to amp up your self-discipline and keep your health a priority, herbs and essential oils to firm your resolve include walnuts, fenugreek, black sesame seeds, and essential oils of rosemary, ginger and vetiver.

If you have questions about using herbal allies in the new year, or would like some help finding a Physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine in your area, email me!

Some sources used in this article:

  • Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Revised Edition, Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble.
  • Clinical Aromatherapy, Peter Holmes
  • Healing with the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra
  • Materia Medica of Essential Oils, Jeffrey Yuen

 

 

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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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6 strategies for an easy (well, easier!) whole foods or elimination diet

What’s the most important part of a ‘healthy diet’? That you do it! Finding a way of eating that nourishes your body appropriately, but is also realistic and can be maintained over the long term through busy work lives, family demands, unexpected changes in routine, budget and energy, can be daunting! I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but in my years of developing a sustainable way of eating for me and my family, I’ve come to rely on a few foods, recipes and strategies that I’d like to share - you don’t have to go from zero to making your own coconut milk from scratch in one day (although it’s actually pretty easy!)

My partner and I mostly avoid grains, processed foods, sweetened foods and dairy, and emphasize loads of organic veggies and fruit, grass fed and organic meat and eggs, unprocessed fats and bone broth and organ meats. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, we eat a diet emphasizing damp reducing foods and seasonal eating. These tips and recipes reflect that, and I hope will be especially valuable for those who have been precipitated into dietary change by illness and need easy and immediate ways to start eating in a way that helps them feel better.

Number 1: Planning and Prepping

How much of this you need to do depends on where you’re starting from. If you’re doing an elimination program or following a whole foods diet for the first time, you might need to invest in a kitchen overhaul to have some basic equipment and pantry supplies. Here’s some great advice from the Whole30, and my must-haves include:

  • A good knife and cutting board
  • Storage containers so you can make food ahead. I like mason jars and tiffins or glass ware, but you can also put a plate over a bowl like granny did before tupperware!
  • A good basic cookbook like Whole30, Practical Paleo or 30 Day Guide to Paleo. These three all have helpful ideas and instructions for ‘building blocks - see below!
  • Spices! Get a few mixes if you are starting from scratch, and honestly, quality matters with spices. If you don’t have a local fancy spice shop or that’s a pain, shop at mine! Think curry, chili, pumpkin pie spice and italian seasoning

2. Building blocks

This is my single most important recommendation. If you’re pressed for time or energy, don’t worry about following complicated recipes. Cook simple single foods that can be combined to make a meal. Think proteins, carbs or starches, veggies, toppings and sauces. If you have a couple from each category on hand, you can always throw together a yummy meal that fits your food needs without having to create anything from scratch. Here are a few of my faves and check out my Healthy + Easy pinterest board for more.

  • Oven roasted chicken drumsticks + cooked greens + baked sweet potato + mustard vinaigrette
  • Grilled porkchop + mashed butternut squash + steamed green beans with slivered almonds, melted ghee and pumpkin pie spice
  • Baked salmon + chopped romaine lettuce + kalamata olives + chopped apple + capers + balsamic vinaigrette
  • Chopped cooked chicken + mixed cooked veg + coconut milk + thai curry paste + fish sauce
  • red lentils with ghee and curry + sliced hard boiled egg + braised red cabbage + mashed potatoes 

3. Canned Fish is your Friend!

Many ‘grab and go’ foods are grain based, sweet or carb-heavy, super processed, or just not satisfying enough to serve as a meal: granola bars, crackers, protein bars, trail mix. Canned fish is a healthy, fast and economical protein source and more versatile than you might think! (here’s an article about safety concerns with eating fish - upshot, benefits outweigh the risks!) 

My go-to faves: tuna or salmon salad with homemade mayo and mixins like apples, grapes, capers or pickles. Tuna or salmon patties with salsa, vinaigrette or caper mayonnaise. Sardines on a big salad. Canned salmon ‘pasta’ with zoodles. There's loads more on Pinterest.

4. Think outside the bun

Looking for substitutes for super easy foods like crackers and bread? Don’t bother with fussy imitations, think about vehicles for easy speedy proteins. Try the current instagram star, sweet potato toast

Other ideas:

  • Chard or lettuce leaf rollups
  • Thickly sliced oven fried potatoes
  • Baked Potato
  • Cucumber slices
  • Apple or melon slices

If it’s flat, you can use it as toast.

My fave combos:

  • Tuna salad on green apple slices
  • Salmon salad on potato wedges
  • Chicken salad in chard rollups (remove the stalk from a leaf of swiss chard (look for a tender one)

5. Know your search terms

If you’re looking for recipes and inspiration, try using these search terms to get useful results. I used to use “gluten free” but as gluten free has become more mainstream, I now find many of the recipes include premade mixes as well as high sugar content, margarine etc and are really just gluten free versions of standard american foods. If that’s what you want - a fluffy frosted birthday cake for your friend with celiac - perfect, but if you’re looking for whole food, unprocessed and low or no sugar options, try these instead:

Search Terms to try on google or pinterest: Paleo, primal, nourishing, whole foods, whole30 grain free

6. Have a Sh*t Hitting the Fan Plan

It happens to all of us: everything goes to hell, and the time you set aside to chop or shop or cook is swamped by emergencies, work or illness. Now what? Stop right now and think of a few emergency back up plans - they will vary depending on your food restrictions and preferences, as well as the options available where you live, but some of my faves are:

  • rotisserie chicken from the health food store,
  • throwing leftovers in the freezer to pull out in an emergency (cook double for this purpose),
  • pre-chopped and ready to steam veggies or salad from the grocery store,
  • takeout like thai curries, prepared foods from the deli case or salad bar.
  • grocery delivery including ready to eat options such as Good Eggs .
  • ask for help!

I hope this has given you some food for thought in transitioning into a whole foods way of eating or dealing with temporary food restrictions. There’s a mountain of material available in books and online with tons more hints, tips and strategies, but whatever you do, stop and enjoy what you’re eating, keep the focus on your health and the benefits of nourishing your body and the planet wholesomely, and remember that sometimes your best is good enough. Ess in gezunterhayt! (Eat in good health!)

PS why do I talk so much about food? Because I’m a holistic physician as well as a skin care maker. Happy skin comes from the inside out as much as from choosing the right skincare. Stay tuned for my best skin healing recipes coming soon.

 

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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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Plants with Benefits Part II: Essential oils for a satisfying sex life

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Herbal medicine and acupuncture offer a lot of support for those experiencing any kind of sexual problem, physical or emotional. This article is intended to introduce you to some plant allies and offer some simple home and traditional applications for gentle support. For effective treatment of ongoing or serious issues, consult a qualified herbalist (email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area).

Warning: radically-inclusive, sex-positive, body-positive language spoken here

(I cribbed this tongue in cheek warning from Denise's most recent article about Acupressure for Good Sex. Learn more about sex-positivity)

Perfumes have always been used for their aphrodisiac qualities! You can harness these powers yourself using essential oils as perfumes, room sprays or in bath or massage oils. Essential oils are the 'spirit' of the plant - and they can have a powerful effect on our spirits. Many of the traditional aphrodisiac oils work by addressing emotional issues that are so often at the root of sexual dissatisfaction. (Wondering how to find quality essential oils? Check out my earlier article for guidance)

Spicing it up

In Part I of Plants with Benefits, I talked about Yang tonics - herbs and foods that stoke the energetic fire that governs sexual desire. Some essential oils have the ability to tonify Yang and are suitable for low libido with sensations of coldness, low back ache, knee problems and low energy. These spicy essential oils can be irritating to the skin. Never use them undiluted, and you can DIY gentle versions by simmering the spices together on the stove or in a potpourri diffuser. 

Basil: this essential oil is a potent Yang tonic, addressing infertility, impotence, and low self-esteem and confidence

Cinnamon, Clove, Black Pepper and Cardamom: cinnamon and clove (in the form of pumpkin pie) were famously found to increase penile blood flow more than any other scents (Source) All are very powerful stimulants, and can lead to exhaustion if overused, and definitely cause skin irritation - use them in very small proportion in a blend, or as whole herbs rather than essential oils for a more balanced effect.

Calm, heart centering oils

Other essential oils work as aphrodisiacs by helping reduce stress and anxiety and encouraging us to feel relaxed and unguarded - necessary for good sex! All these oils make fantastic massage or bath oils, or can be added to a diffuser or room spray. Hydrosols of these oils are much more affordable than essential oils and spritzing them over the sheets will add their aphrodisiac gifts to your bedroom. 

Rose: the Queen of Flowers, she has been used to enhance sexual connection for millenia. Her lush, accepting fragrance is especially beneficial where sexual life feels blocked by lack of confidence or a sense of inadequacy.

Neroli: from the flowers of the bitter orange, neroli is a powerful anti-anxiety oil, and physically is an anti-spasmodic, relaxing both emotional and physical stress and spasm.

Patchouli: Patchouli can be a love it or hate it scent, but if you haven't smelled real, quality patchouli essential oil, you should give it a chance. As a herb, patchouli is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to 'transform dampness' and relieve symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Emotionally, the oil serves to transform and release pent up emotions, which is the source of its aphrodisiac power. Perhaps that is why folks tend to react so strongly to it!

Ylang ylang: the sweet, heady floral scent of ylang ylang is a sedative, and is used by medical aromatherapists to lower blood pressure and heart rate. It serves to break the cycle of sexual anxiety and soothe anger, frustration and jealousy. Best used in combination with other oils lest you find yourself so relaxed you fall asleep!

Bringing the Balance

These final two oils may have a hormone balancing action in Western terms, and energetically serve to harmonize and bring balance to our physical and emotional states - centering us in our own truth so we can reach for another from a place of solidity.

Jasmine: precious Jasmine essential oil is most accessible as part of a blend from a quality manufacturer. Her gifts in the physical realm are powerful, she is traditionally used during childbirth to promote relaxation and opening, to encourage milk production, and to help heal the after effects of a traumatic birthing. According to Peter Holmes,  "emotional vulnerability from any cause and emotional disconnection (or dryness) from repression or trauma are its key indication." Those with trouble opening up, expressing needs and desires will benefit from jasmine's healing touch.

Sandalwood: a powerful, complex scent, sandalwood has been used in temples and monasteries to enhance meditation and prayer practices. It's aphrodisiac qualities help us stay grounded, in the moment and present with our partner, letting go of past experiences, insecurities and fear of inadequacy.

Lovers' Blend:

  • 8 drops sandalwood or patchouli
  • 4 drops ylang ylang
  • 2 drops sweet orange or tangerine

For massage or bath oil, add the oils to 1 oz of carrier oil such as apricot kernel, jojoba, coconut or sesame. For bath salts, toss with 1 cup of epsom salts. Don't use essential oils undiluted on the skin. For inspiration on where to massage, check out Acupressure For Good Sex by Denise Cicuto L.Ac! And tune in tomorrow at 4 pm PST to TCMTalk on Periscope for more holistic sex talk!

Here's to good sex!

 

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Plants with Benefits Part I: Herbs to support a satisfying sex life

Herbal medicine and acupuncture offer a lot of support for those experiencing any kind of sexual problem, physical or emotional. This article is intended to introduce you to some herbal allies and offer some simple home and traditional applications for gentle support. For effective treatment of ongoing or serious issues, consult a qualified herbalist (email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area).

Herbs to stoke the flames: Yang Tonics

Many herbs traditionally considered aphrodisiacs in the Chinese materia medica are in the Yang tonic category - they stoke the energetic fires of the body and reinforce the basal energy that governs sexual function and especially libido. Herbs in this category are generally warming, and include a few foods you might be familiar with. You might recognize some of these herbs advertised as aphrodisiacs or 'herbal viagra' but it's not a good idea to indiscriminately guzzle them. Overuse of yang tonics in search of super potency can be overheating and lead to side effects such as headaches and dryness.

Notice what's not on this list? Rhino horn. It's never been considered an aphrodisiac in Chinese Medicine, and is not used by TCM practitioners.

Yin Yang Huo, known as Horny Goat Weed, might be one of the most well-known Chinese libido enhancers. It's been shown to increase erections and ejaculations in studies with rats, and seems to mimic testosterone in the body. 

Dong Chong Xia Cao or Cordyceps. Cordyceps is a type of fungus that grows in the body of a caterpillar. It has been used in Tibet for millenia and is renowned as an aphrodisiac. "People of both sexes usually take one piece of [cordyceps] with a cup of milk to enhance their sexual potency and desire." (Source)

Cuscuta Seed or Tu Si Zi. The tiny seeds of this parasitic vine are used traditionally especially for issues like premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.

Other herbs that benefit the Yang and might be found in your kitchen include walnuts, fenugrek seed and black cardamom seed.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbal medicine is a continuum from foods, which one can use to gently maintain and restore balance, all the way to toxic substances that can only be taken for a short period to deal with serious illness (how I would categorize most Western drugs). So your kitchen is filled with aphrodisiacs! Renowned libido enhancers include lamb, especially the kidneys, walnuts, warming spices such as fenugrek, fennel, cardamom, black pepper, garlic and ginger.

Shrimp is another famed aphrodisiac; 'some Chinese herbalists believe that if one consumes too much shrimp without sexual intercourse, one may develop nosebleeds due to excessive fire built up in the body." Take that under advisement! (Source)

A simple shrimp stir-fry with ginger and garlic is an easy yang enhancing meal, or try spiced dairy or coconut milk as in this ayurvedic recipe, with fenugrek, cardamom and black pepper for a spicy drink that will give you a boost.

These dietary additions are great to support you when you feel a little 'off your game' or to enhance the effects of customized treatment you're receiving from a practitioner. 

Plants with Benefits Part II: Essential oils for love and sex (up next!)

 

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