Blog

Acupuncture for Your Yoga Practice

I work in a yoga studio, so I see a lot of patients who practice yoga or want to practice yoga. Yoga has so many wonderful benefits when practiced in conjunction with receiving acupuncture. A regular yoga practice can increase your flexibility and range of motion, restore healthy movement, improve posture, correct musculoskeletal dysfunction, relieve pain, reduce stress…. the list goes on and on!

The benefits work in reverse, too, though! Acupuncture can relieve pain, prevent injury, release restricted movement, and calm the mind. All are essential for a great yoga practice. There are a few common challenges yoga students experience in their practice. 

  • A tight or weak psoas and hip flexor muscles
  • Shoulder and chest restriction (think the forward shoulder computer posture) 
  • Low back pain. 

In this three part series, we’ll explore how acupuncture and Chinese medicine can address these challenges. Let’s start with the mighty psoas!

The Mighty Psoas

The psoas is one of the most amazing muscles in your body! It’s often know as the “iliopsoas” because its fibers and iliacus cross each other at the inguinal ligament. The psoas is the sole muscle that connects your torso to your lower body. This powerful muscle allows you to stand upright, walk, run, bend over, and practice yoga. Without the psoas, asana practice would be very different!

The iliopsoas’ main job is to flex the hip. It may also play a part in medial and lateral rotation of the hip. When you run, climb stairs, or bring your knee to your chest, you are activating the iliopsoas muscle. Most problems with the psoas come from hypertonicity of the muscle due to prolonged sitting in chairs, cars, etc., or from overexercising (e.g. tons of sit-ups or running can cause chronic tension in the psoas). 

What Happens When Your Psoas Gets Cranky?

A tight psoas can cause low back and even knee pain by pulling the lower spine forward, putting pressure on discs, and interfering with normal rotation of the thigh bone at the hip. A forward leaning posture due to a tight psoas can cause problems all the way up the spine to the neck. And a tight psoas will keep you from being able to ease comfortably into yoga postures that require hip flexion and flexibility. Think downward dog, extended side-angle pose, and even tree pose.

But a tight psoas is not the only problem yogis face. Often a weak or overstretched psoas muscle can cause problems, too. The same types of prolonged sitting postures combined with exercises that focuses on the glutes and abdominals can lead to a weak and chronically overstretched psoas. As the glute muscles become too tight, they can pull the pelvis into a posterior tilt, straining the psoas and making it feel tight, too. So you stretch it, when what you really need is to strengthen it! It’s entirely possible to have a tight AND overstretched psoas. 

Acupuncture for Your Psoas

So how can acupuncture help? Trigger point acupuncture can release chronically tight muscles, including the psoas. Acupuncture also helps to reestablish the proper circulation of Qi and Blood through the sytem, opening meridians and removing blockages where pain and dysfunction have accumulated. Acupuncture also helps to release mental tension, stored emotions and trauma, all of which can create chronic tension in the psoas through its connection to the diaphragm.

So if a tight, weak or overstretched psoas is affecting your yoga practice, consider scheduling a session with your local, NCCAOM board-certified and licensed acupuncturist! We’d love to see you here at Dragonfly Healing Arts!

Stay tuned for my next segment on Acupuncture for Your Yoga Practice. I’ll be discussing what my colleague, Katie Hardin, LMT, calls the “computer/commuter posture,” and how acupuncture can complement yoga’s chest and shoulder opening practices!

Photo by kike vega on Unsplash

Biotherapeutic Drainage, Chinese Medicine, and the Liver

liver health

Biotherapeutic drainage is a way of supporting the optimal functioning of the emunctories – our organs of detoxification – through the use of homeopathic remedies, gemmo and oligotherapies, and other nutraceuticals. It is highly compatible with Chinese Medicine approaches to harmonizing organ systems, and can be used quite effectively in conjunction with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to support liver health.

Your “Chinese Liver”

The Liver in Chinese Medicine is said to “store the blood,” and “ensure the free flow of Qi.” These terms are often confusing to Western patients, but can become more clear if we understand that the organ systems described in Chinese medicine encompass more than just the physical organ whose name they share.

When we talk about the “Liver” (we always capitalize to differentiate from the actual physical organ) in Chinese medicine, we mean both the physical functions that the liver performs, as well as the emotional and spiritual aspects of the Liver – as we understand them. For a CM (Chinese Medicine) practitioner, addressing mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of liver health are just as important as treating physical symptoms and conditions.

The Amazing Liver

In Western terms, the liver performs many functions. It stores iron, folic acid, and Vitamin B12. It stores and metabolizes fats, while producing bile which – aided by the gallbladder – helps to emulsify fat. The liver produces up to 3/4 of our cholesterol, both HDL and LDL. Proteins are metabolized by the liver, and sugar is stored and turned into fatty acids in the liver. The liver helps to produce and also eliminate excess hormones in the body. It also filters out and neutralizes all toxic substances that enter the body through the food we eat, what we drink, the air we breathe, and substances we ingest in pharmaceuticals. And these are just a few of its many functions!

Symptoms of Liver Imbalance

Due to the abundance of toxins in our food, water, soil, cleaning products, cosmetics, bath and body products, and pharmaceuticals, the majority of us can benefit from some degree of liver support. However, there are a few symptoms that can definitely signal that your liver is under stress. Headaches, allergies and skin sensitivities, eye problems, sleep issues, fatigue, sluggish digestion, vertigo, and even tendonitis and shoulder pain can be a symptom of a congested or poorly functioning liver. Difficulty focusing, a lack of motivation or creativity, depression, and feeling “in a slump” can also be signs that your liver needs some attention.

Many of these symptoms translate to Liver pathologies in CM. Hypochondriac pain, constipation, headaches, depression, and PMS can all be signs of Liver Qi constraint. Scanty or irregular menses, fatigue, poor concentration, and ligament or tendon issues can point to Liver Blood deficiency. Often multiple symptoms present with a combination of organ imbalances.

Treatment Is Available!

The combination of Chinese Medicine and biotherapeutic drainage can be very effective in supporting liver health. Unda numbers 1, 20, and 243 are a classic drainage combination to support healthy liver function. These formulas contain a special combination of homeopathic rememdies to address the many functions of the liver and gallbladder, including hormone regulation, detoxification, digestive health, and hepatic drainage. Different Unda numbers may be added or substituted to address individual patterns and presentation.

Depending on the condition, I may combine Unda formulas with a CM herbal formula like Xiao Yao San (Free and Easy Wanderer) to move Liver Qi or Dang Gui Bu Xue Tang to nourish Liver Blood. I may also use acupuncture protocols to facilitate movement of Liver Qi, to reduce Heat in the Liver, and nourish or move Liver Blood.

Unda numbered compounds are taken for a period of three weeks with one week off for reevaluation. Similarly, CM herbal formulas may be taken for a period of several weeks or months depending on the nature of the herbs and actions of the formula. Acupuncture protocols vary depending on the nature and severity of presenting symptoms.

To learn more about how biotherapeutic drainage, Chinese herbal medicine, and acupuncture can help you achieve optimal health, reach out and schedule today!

 

Featured Photo by Annelie Turner on Unsplash

Acupuncture for Trauma and PTSD

Did you know that Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can effectively treat trauma, and even prevent the development of PTSD?

About 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. As many as 20% of these adults will develop PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (also known as PTSI – Post Traumatic Stress Injury).

Most of us are familiar with PTSD as something experienced by veterans of active military duty, or survivors of catastrophic natural disasters. Living through the horrors of war or natural disaster can most definitely be traumatic, and can predispose a person to PTSD. However, many of us have experienced trauma in less direct and obvious ways.

Causes of Trauma

According to author and trauma researcher, Peter Levine, Ph.D., obvious causes of trauma include: war; severe childhood abuse or neglect; experiencing or being a witness to violence; rape; or catastrophic illness or injury.

Less obvious causes of trauma include: minor motor vehicle accidents, especially when they result in whiplash; invasive medical or dental procedures; falls or other minor injuries; illnesses; natural disasters; losing a loved one or a child; prolonged immobilization; exposure to extremes in temperature (especially for children and babies); sudden loud noises; and birth stress or injury (both for mother and baby).

These less obvious causes of trauma are often overlooked because many of them are common experiences. However, your nervous system may still have been affected by these experiences. If you noticed your heart rate increase, your breath shorten, or your diaphragm constrict while reading the above lists, your body may be responding to the experience of a past distressing event.

Symptoms of Trauma

Some symptoms may develop shortly after a traumatic or distressing event, while others may take years to develop or progress. The more obvious, immediate symptoms of trauma include: hyper vigilance; flashbacks; exaggerated responses; nightmares; difficulty sleeping; and mood swings. Symptoms that may develop later include: panic attacks and anxiety; avoidance behavior; addictive behaviors; chronic fatigue; chronic pain; immune system disorders; fibromyalgia; digestive problems; severe PMS; depression; alienation, or isolation.

These symptoms are not always related to trauma, but they can be. Our nervous systems may still carry the effects of a trauma even years after the event because our body hasn’t been able to complete the natural, biological response to trauma and fear. Just as an animal in the wild will shake and tremble after being immobilized or attacked by a predator, our nervous systems are designed to help us recover from a traumatic event. However, especially when we have experienced immobility or the “freeze response” during trauma, we seem to have trouble moving out of this state and discharging the energy that builds up in order to help us escape a frightening or distressing event.

Acupuncture and Trauma

Acupuncture can be effective in treating trauma and PTSD because it can help to balance the nervous and hormonal systems. Acupuncture can also help balance parts of the brain that are affected by trauma.

I use several points on a patient’s head to increase circulation to the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain stores memories, modulates fear and other intense emotions, helps us think rationally, and maintain a healthy balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The prefrontal cortex typically gets “turned off” during a traumatic event, while other, more basic parts of the brain designed for survival become more active. Studies have shown that patients with PTSD often have dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex, including atrophy of the dendrites (the neurological cells involved in transmission of electrical impulses).

During a treatement, I may also use points in the ear, called auricular acupuncture, to reduce stress and anxiety, and treat the brain and nervous system. Shen Men point, (aka “Spirit Gate”), is a very calming point. I often use this point with Sympathetic (a point which relaxes the sympathetic nervous system), Point Zero (releases the diaphragm to promote deep breathing), and other organ points based on the patient’s symptom presentation.

Balance and Healing

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine also address the underlying causes of imbalance through an assessment of tongue, pulse, and symptom differentiation to identify the specific organ systems and meridians involved in a patient’s presentation. By addressing imbalances in the flow of Qi – or energy – in the meridians, acupuncture can restore the patient’s natural, internal healing mechanism. Addressing emotional symptoms like fear, anger, or anxiety can also help bring a person back into balance. While acupuncture is useful in treating the effects of trauma that happened even years in the past, it can also help to prevent the development of PTSD after a trauma. The sooner treatment is administered after a traumatic event, the less likely the development of PTSD.

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, and you want to see if acupuncture can help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Sources:

Acupuncturists Without Borders, “Why We Use Acupuncture for Trauma Prevention and Treatment,” About AWB, <http://www.acuwithoutborders.org/acupuncture-for-trauma/&gt; (3 Apr 2017).

Amy F.T. Arnsten, et. al., “The effects of stress exposure on prefrontal cortex: translating basic research into successful treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.” Neurobiology of Stress Vol 1. (2015).<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289514000101&gt; (3 Apr 2017).

Levine, Peter, Ph.D. Healing Trauma. Boulder, CO: Sounds True. 2005

Sidran Institute. “Post Traumatic Disorder Fact Sheet.” 2016. <https://www.sidran.org/resources/for-survivors-and-loved-ones/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-fact-sheet/&gt; (3 Apr 2017).

Recipes for Spring

Spring is all about leafy greens for me. Not only because their vibrant color resonates with the Liver organ system, but because after a long winter of root veggies, soups, and stews, my tastebuds can’t wait for the crunch of fresh lettuce, the stimulating bitter flavor of dandelion greens, and the burst of nutrients in nettles and other herbs in bloom.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes to indulge in this Spring season. They are simple, quick, but loaded with nutrients. Enjoy!

Simple Spring Greens

This recipe can be used with any leafy greens in season. Mix it up with swiss chard, dandelion greens, collard greens, kale or even nettles. (Just remember to handle those nettles with care! Boiling takes the sting out!)

Serves: 4   Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp organic, extra virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil
  • Sea salt or mineral salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 4 cups freshly chopped leafy spring greens

Instructions:

  1. Add the juice of half the lemon to olive oil, salt, and pepper in a lidded jar and shake. It should be a nice, zingy dressing for your greens. Set aside.
  2. Fill a saucepan halfway with filtered water, and set to boil.
  3. Trim and cut the greens lengthwise and finely slice them.
  4. When water boils, add the greens and cook 3-4 minutes or less. The greens should be tender but retain their color. Turn off heat. Drain and let steam dry for 1 minute.
  5. Return to the pan, shake your dressing, and then gently toss with the greens.
  6. Remove from pan and serve immediately.

Recipe inspired by Jamie Oliver

Sautéed Spring Greens with Bacon and Mustard Seeds

Serves: 4   Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. thick-cut nitrate-free bacon
  • 2 tbsp organic, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 hot red chile, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 1/4 lb spring greens like dandelion, mustard, collard, kale and spinach, stems and inner ribs trimmed, leaves cut into ribbons
  • Sea or mineral salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp vinegar of choice – apple cider, red or white wine vinegar

Instructions:

  1. In a large skillet, cook the diced bacon in olive oil over medium heat about 3 minutes
  2. Add the shallot, chile, and mustard seeds, and cook until softened 2 to 3 minutes
  3. Add the greens, season with salt and pepper, and cook, until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Greens should retain their vibrant color
  4. Stir in the vinegar and serve immediately

* Tips – instead of bacon, you could easily use sautéed chicken, prawns or salmon in this recipe

From Food and Wine

Feature Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash