If there is one thing I try to consistently impress on my patients as they heal with acupuncture is that the healing is being generated from within. I use the needles to signal the body to self-adjust, to self-correct. There is no masking of the pain or disabling of your body’s healing mechanisms. We are working with (not against) your body’s elaborate equilibrium systems whose sole mission has always been to help you survive and thrive.
One of the mechanisms by which acupuncture is able to do this is by directly impacting our autonomic nervous system – the unconscious elaborate web of triggers and responses that our body instantly engages to help our body adapt. This intelligent, dynamic system is constantly responding to stimuli to help us maintain an equilibrium state of health in our body.
Modern science is revealing everyday just how dynamic and intricate this subconscious response system is. The autonomic nervous system helps us process EVERYTHING as we move through life – from what food we put in our bodies, to how we process an emotional break-up, to how we deal with tensions at work, to how we continue to function after certain trauma that our conscious mind refuses to deal with. Everything we experience has an imprint on our bodies and is being processed in real time without our conscious attention.
By directly accessing these systems through the body – Acupuncture aims to help you get out of your own way to healing. However, it is nonetheless a passive engagement on the part of the person making their way to their acupuncturist. I always hope that patients’ experience with Acupuncture serves as a catalyst to spur their personal journey towards taking a more proactive role in tapping into, trusting, and engaging that intelligence on their own. How can we empower individuals to harness their own ability to consciously attune their own nervous systems?
Throughout my studies and practice I continue to be in awe of what Eastern Medicine has distilled and dissected about what we call in the West the “mind-body” connection. This is a connection we are only beginning to tease through in the West and is why mindful meditative practices are getting so much more attention lately. As a consequence of understanding this connection we are only now beginning to study and understand the scientific basis for the benefits of internal practices like meditation, and other mindful practices on our health.
More interestingly, this is one area where one can start to assume a more proactive role in our inner health – Where we start to heal from the inside out. However, as we are increasingly attracted to these practices much of it still seems elusive, mysterious.
Mystics from various traditional societies, particularly in the East have been attuned to these inner practices for millennia. As a Chinese Medicine practitioner it has always been impressed on me by my teachers the importance of cultivating a robust internal practice to not only safeguard our personal health as practitioners, but to also help us potentiate our healing relationship with our patients.
Lately, I’ve been studying a system of self-cultivation practiced by one of my Balance Method teachers of Chinese Medicine, Dr. Paul C. Wang. Dr. Wang has been traveling the world teaching practitioners how to harness their inner healing abilities through a discipline synthesized and integrated by him – Gong Fa (short for Dao De Gong Fa) – based on the essence of various martial, Chinese medical, and mystical lineages and disciplines he has practiced and honed over the years.
His quote above, “Illness is a state of disintegration and wellness is a state of integration” encapsulates the holistic understanding of what the goal is on our journey to healing. Many of the self-cultivation practices that have been practiced for millennia honor this process of integration. But often we practice mindLESSly. We remain scattered and don’t fully embody the intent of restoring our natural dynamic process of integration.
The Gong Fa teachings aim to take apart this inner process of integration in a language we can understand and teaches us to incorporate it in everything that we do. The novelty of his teachings is that he distills universal core understandings that underpin most holistic, meditative practices. The practice is simple and can be practiced as a stand-alone practice of self-care or easily integrated into any existing personal self-cultivation practice. I have used it with great interest to upgrade my yoga practice in addition to practicing it separately.
Last March Dr. Wang was present at Harlem Chi and opened a small session originally meant for practitioners to non-practitioners as well. It was a short introduction to the practice and I asked him to return to teach a slightly longer session. Dr. Wang will be teaching Gong Fa basics at Harlem Chi on Sunday, September 15 from 2 to 5pm. If you are interested in learning more about this practice please join us! Find out more about this event here.
We had a record number of patients last week at Harlem Chi. Was it a coincidence that our busiest week ever coincided with a contentious and angst-ridden election week? That may be the case, but I’d like to hope that the clinic can serve you as a place for effective healing and wellness in the midst of a crazy, stressed-out world. I am grateful when Harlem Chi can be a calming “third space” where you can decompress and take time out to process.
We’ve seen a lot of uncertainty and witnessed much tension this year. If you’ve been feeling the relentless slow churning of fear, anger, overwhelm and/or anxiety that many are struggling with right now, know that you’re not alone. This deceptively relentless stress challenges our “fight or flight” stress response system and tips us into chronic ailment territory. That means that it’s vital for you to take the time for self-care and mindful interventions. These important actions help us reclaim power over our health — and that’s uniquely important during these uncertain times both at the individual and community level.
As this current climate continues to impact us, I suspect people will seek community more than ever to express their opinions, fears and angst; to bond with others; to hear and comfort one another; and to proactively work together for positive change.
Have a great month. Take extra care of yourselves and enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!
Acupuncture has gotten a reputation for helping with weight loss. Something about “magic ear seeds” that help you dump the weight has garnered attention in minor circles and I constantly get approached by people wanting to know if acupuncture can help them shed the weight. When women (as well as the occasional man) come to me specifically for acupuncture for weight loss, I discuss with them realistic expectations and make them understand how acupuncture helps with their efforts.
The reality is that weight management is a complicated affair that requires a comprehensive, holistic approach to assure continuous success and as I outlined last year in a blog post specifically relating to weight control, acupuncture’s inherent holistic approach to healing makes it an excellent adjunct to any serious weight loss program.
I find however when it comes to weight control it helps to truly understand this holistic approach and requires a firmer understanding from the individual that embarks on this process as well as their dedicated engagement.
By engagement I don’t mean the usual “crank-up-the-exercise” and “watch-what-you-eat” type. I find that even a dedicated person fails in the long term if the process at any point feels like a struggle. Studies are constantly emerging showing that whenever any activity is engaged in with an underlying fear or obligation it is doomed to fail because it triggers a stress response in the body – the same stress response that forces us to hold on to the weight. Mindset is therefore key. However just knowing better does not lead to doing better. Many of us are bombarded with health advice everyday and we intellectually understand what we need to do but we simply can’t do it, or we do, but don’t get the results we expect.
Ever since I opened Harlem Chi I have been brainstorming the design of a comprehensive program to aid women (men too) on their weight management journey. I hear what individuals who come to me struggle with and have wanted to design a program that is flexible to address the roadblocks encountered in real time in a supportive environment that does more than inform but works more directly with individuals to address mindset issues to help them make the lifestyle changes that will have a longer lasting impact.
Over a year ago I was introduced to Melissa Rapoport, a certified nutrition counselor with a master’s in psychology who works specifically around mindset issues that afflict us when we are trying to make the right health choices. She works from a solid real and whole-foods based approach that really resonated with me. Since our first encounter we quickly became friends and have been meeting almost every week to share and commiserate.
Melissa has led several successful women focused groups around “real food” diet and lifestyle aimed at fostering the right environment to not only inform women but to provide the right amount of support, address implementation blockages, and hold women accountable so that they can adopt the successful mindset to make lasting changes.
And so the program I’ve dreamed about has come to fruition. We have co-designed an intensely interactive face-to-face program that combines the best of East and West to address the real day concerns of people embarking on their personal journeys.
If you are struggling with weight issues or know someone who is find out more about our program here. We look forward to launching this phenomenal event this Spring…
Countless practitioners around the globe were in shock and devastated by the recent news of the passing of Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. To say that I was deeply affected by this news is an understatement. Today I find it important to write something about this Master teacher that had such a profound impact on my practice.
After my first seminar with Dr. Tan just three years ago I was so blown away by what he was able to unlock around my understanding of Chinese Medicine that I took every seminar I could with him during an intense two year period. I was devastated when he had to cancel another seminar I was planning to attend in San Diego this past summer. I knew he was ill but I was praying that I would see him again.
There is no doubt that Chinese Medicine lost a legend. But for those who were fortunate to study with Dr Tan we know what an immense blessing it was to have seen him in action. For those who chose to assiduously study and apply his teachings to recognize their full potential we are more than grateful to have shared his passion and understand our debt to him and his vision.
Dr. Tan challenged all his students not to simply follow him or take his teachings as the gospel but insisted we diligently practice the teachings to make the theory and medicine come to life.
“When you cast a pole in the sun you must see its shadow.” This was more than a simple admonition from the great teacher that acupuncture “always works” — it was a challenge to all of us to rethink, restudy, reconsider our diagnoses and continually deepen our understandings to effect dynamic change everyday with our patients in our practice.
Dr. Tan’s teachings were impressive because they emanated from a thorough and deep study of the Classics. His genius was in his ability to distill the Chinese classics over many years of study and unlock a logic that only a brilliant mind could decipher. This “logic” is what he shared in his seminars with his student practitioners and provided them with the ability to continue to evolve the art and science of acupuncture in their clinical practice. He provided the bridge between the philosophy and theory to actual clinical practice in a way that has eluded many. In addition once you’ve attended a Tan seminar you read the Classics and anything surrounding Chinese medicine with a valuable, distinct, and discerning perspective. Numerous are the numbers of practitioners around the world who speak of revolutionizing their practice after studying with Dr. Tan.
He exuded the type of confidence that only comes with true merit and the assurance that he was called upon to share this knowledge for a greater purpose. His intention was never to play the guru and clothe his teachings in mysticism. His confidence came from a higher calling and thus his intent was to make this knowledge truly accessible to those who would use that knowledge to further study and explore. He not only wants his practitioners to bring this medicine to greater throngs of people globally, particularly in the West, but to empower them to usher this medicine in its rightful place for the healing of this planet in the 21st Century.
Dr Tan was a great teacher because his wisdom was inspired, his mission was selfless and his compassion was great. While I am deeply saddened that I will not see Dr. Tan again I am grateful that he will always inspire my every contact with every patient. He will continue to be one of the driving spirits behind my lifelong devotion to this art and science.
Like every true master with a higher mission Dr. Tan made sure that his teachings would survive him. He trained master students who will continue to propagate the teachings and infuse future generations with the dynamic spirit of Dr Tan and his legacy.
Thus his spirit will not rest in peace but will continue to inspire continued healing for generations to come.
His shadow is cast!
Thank you Dr. Tan.
Unfortunately for many seasonal allergy sufferers Spring can be both a welcome and a burden. Sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, congestion, runny nose and sinus headaches are what many have to look forward to this time of year.
It is important to understand that the symptoms allergy sufferers experience are a sign of a suboptimal functioning of the immune system. It isn’t the allergy itself that’s the problem, but a person’s reaction to the allergens. Typical symptoms are a result of the body’s hypersensitivity to substances in the environment. Substances that are normally harmless, such as pollen, now represent a threat to many.
Western medicine views seasonal allergies as a form of immediate hypersensitivity reaction, which occurs when anti-bodies produced by lymphocytes interact with airborne particles such as pollen. The locations of of these lymphocytes in addition to being in the blood stream are also in Peyer’s patches in the gastrointestinal tract, spleen, lymph nodes, and bone marrow. Interestingly often times a typical acupuncture treatment consists of treating the Spleen, Stomach, and Large Intestine meridians as a way to balance and regulate those systems to address the exaggerated immune response. Just one example of the overlap of Western and Chinese medical thought.
In fact, Chinese Medicine operates from a fundamental systems-based understanding of the functioning of the body where a complex meridian system ties a number of functional activities in the body together. The task is always to restore balance and aid the body in better regulating those activities. Thus a weak digestive system (first line of defense) may be at the base of one allergy sufferer’s symptoms whereas one’s Liver detoxification system (second line of defense) (as discussed in a previous blog) might be the weak link in another. A typical acupuncture session always seeks to access the proper system to address the imbalance.
While there are many medications to treat the symptoms of seasonal allergies, conventional treatments, which consist primarily of antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays, focus on suppressing the symptoms and can cause unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness and immune system suppression as well as an over-reliance on medications. These side effects motivate many people to search for alternative approaches to manage their allergies.
Fortunately, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a safe and natural option. With acupuncture there are no such side effects and most often an immediate response. Most people end up significantly reducing or eliminating their dependence on allergy medication. People usually get relief during their first acupuncture treatment. It is often recommended to come in for treatment prior to the onslaught of allergy symptoms to address the underlying imbalances. A normal course of treatment may include a series of acupuncture treatments with a prescription of herbal remedies as well as recommendations for dietary modifications.
So to all allergy sufferers out there — Give TCM a try this season. Make your next appointment with your acupuncturist today.
It’s true, being stuck with needles—no matter how small—doesn’t sound very appealing to many people. But acupuncture really isn’t frightening at all. Acupuncture’s been around for thousands of years and has been used to attain a variety of health benefits from helping to reduce chronic pain to helping with low energy levels. Unfortunately, people usually only consider acupuncture when their doctor can’t help them through other treatments or their prescriptions no longer work for their ailments. If you’re one of those people that are hesitant, read on and let these five reasons convince you to give acupuncture a try.
Health Care That’s Personalized
You’ve heard that “no two snowflakes are alike”, right? Well, the same is true of acupuncture treatments for pain or illness. Acupuncturists view your body as a system of parts that support one another: bones, organs, bodily fluids, muscles, connecting tissues and blood in addition to layers of qi and meridians. They’re taught to notice everything about you: from the condition of your skin to how your voice sounds to the light in your eyes. They’re trained to discover—both physically and mentally—what’s not working properly within your body as well as what’s lacking and make changes where it’s needed to promote your body to heal itself.
Treating the Source of the Problem
It’s possible for acupuncture to be extremely healing since it focuses on the present problem of the patient. Yet, these treatments can also seek out the reasons that their symptoms are appearing and remedy the issue’s basic origin. Indeed, even with acute physical pain the acupuncturist will work to move from the immediate relief stage to a corrective stage to help you get to the root of the imbalance that has led to the pain.
Terrific Side Effects
If you were to go for treatments for your migraines, for instance, you might discover that the frequency of migraines may decrease. But there are many other things that could improve too such as your mood, sleep, stress level and digestion.
Have No Fear
There is no reason to be afraid or nervous. You might feel a small, brief pinch from the sterile, tiny acupuncture needles; however, enduring chronic pain is much worse than anything you’ll feel from those needles. (To read more about the experience of acupuncture go to our Frequently Asked Questions section of the Harlem Chi website.)
Well, let’s put it this way, if acupuncture didn’t work then it wouldn’t have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. For years, modern scientists have been trying to figure out the workings of acupuncture from a biomedical view and have yet to agree on all of acupuncture’s effects. However, very interesting studies in embryology and better understanding of how our body works beyond a strict biomedical lens is helping to reveal the science behind this ancient medical system. More importantly, over many years, acupuncturists have evolved and learned what works best for their patients—and there are millions of satisfied patients!
One of the most rewarding aspects of practicing an ancient form of medicine in our modern times is to bear witness to the many modern studies which increasingly help to shed some light on the wisdom of these practices. Lately there has been much press on various studies that are proving the mind body connection. The American Heart Association recently published a study that showed a high correlation between women experiencing depression with the likelihood of suffering from heart disease. The research study looked at more than 3,000 adults with suspected heart disease for 3 years and revealed that women 55 and younger with moderate to severe depression were twice more likely to suffer a heart attack or require an artery opening procedure. http://newsroom.heart.org/
THE CHINESE MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE — THE HEART AND SPIRIT
Traditional Chinese Medicine has an explanation for this. In Chinese Medicine the physiological processes ruled by any given organ encompasses more than its basic biomedical function as understood in the West. While the heart’s main function is to pump oxygen-rich blood through the body, from an Eastern medicine perspective it not only regulates blood circulation but also governs consciousness, mental clarity, memory, our thought processes, and emotional well-being.
Ancient Eastern texts describe the heart as housing the “Shen.” The “Shen,” according to Chinese medicine, is described as psyche, mind, or spirit. In other words, “it is the residence of the mind.”
I recently read a book on Western herbal medicine (Guido Mase’s “The Wild Medicine Solution”). In a section devoted to understanding the potent effects of aromatic herbs, the author goes into a detailed review of studies and the science around heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. Apparently, much of this variability depends on how much activity is occurring along the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a key component of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, regulating the homeostasis (or “resting state”) of the majority of the body’s internal organ systems that operate on a largely subconscious level, such as the heart, lungs, eyes, adrenal glands, and digestive tract. It is the messenger of the “rest-and-digest” side of our nervous system. The nerve that records our responses to external stress and internal tension.
Thus the “tone” of this nerve tells us a lot about the body’s internal state of tension. In the context of psycho-physiological research, vagal tone represents an index for the functional state of the entire parasympathetic nervous system. The greater, more regular, and more frequent shifts in heart rate (HR) due to the greater amount of “tone” signals healthier parasympathetic functioning. Greater variability also indicates better adaptability and ability to modulate internal tensions.
[Indeed studies have shown that poor HRV often indicates an imbalance and dysfunction of the vagus nerve signaling leading to nervous system problems and that people with poor HRV are more likely to have high blood pressure. (1998 Research – Singh et al., “Reduce HT Rate Variability & Neurological Onset Hypertension.”)]
In sum what this all seems to indicate is that the nerves and heart participate in a feedback loop. As the nervous system experiences stress, as it retreats from relaxation, the heart hardens. The cardiovascular system is less able to endure and respond to stress.
Clinical research and physicians who deal with behavioral & emotional disruptions (such as anxiety & depression) have indeed observed connections between emotional states and HRV and heart disease and HRV.
If these links exist it is further evidence of how the mind and the body, in particular our emotional processing centers and our cardiovascular system are intimately linked and not separate entities.
Traditional Eastern medical practitioners seem to have intuitively understood this. Indeed, Traditional Chinese medical doctors have a long tradition of diagnostics, most notably the pulse reading, to gauge the internal state of tension and balance between the internal organs, the mind and the patient’s external environment.
ACUPUNCTURE AND THE HEART
Modern scientific research have found that many of the effects of acupuncture can be attributed to its ability to modulate parasympathetic/sympathetic nerve activity. Modern research has shown that acupuncture can improve the health of patients who experience severe heart problems by dramatically reducing the activity in the sympathetic nervous system that regulates heartbeat and blood pressure.
A study conducted through the Los Angeles School of Medicine suggests that acupuncture can be used “successfully with long-range results in improving hypertension, and it may also be beneficial in lowering sympathetic nerve activity.”
Overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system is common with patients who suffer from heart problems. Over time, this may cause the heart to work harder, forcing blood to flow through blood vessels that are constricted due to heightened nerve activity.
The study showed that sympathetic nerve activation was significantly reduced in those individuals who received acupuncture care compared to those who only received a placebo. (Middlkauff HR. Acupuncture in the treatment of heart failure. Cardiol Rev. 2004 May-Jun; 12(3):171-3.)
ACUPUNCTURE AND DEPRESSION
Since Eastern medical traditions have always recognized the body-mind-spirit continuum we can explain how minding Heart health has a side effect of minding the health of your spirit and vice versa. In TCM the element of the Heart is Fire and the predominant nature is Fire Yang energy, which unlike the darker & calmer Yin, is related to excitement, assertiveness, and exuberance. The Fire element brings warmth, passion, joy and activity into our lives. When we lack fire, we lack emotional warmth, passion and joy. This leads to inactivity and depression. An imbalance in this energy can manifest as excess or deficiency. Thus while joy and contentment might represent a balanced Fire energy, an imbalance can manifest as agitation, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia when in excess, or as depression and lethargy when deficient.
This is why from a Chinese Medicine perspective, treating a Heart imbalance can mean not only addressing heart-related physical ailments but also addressing the psycho-emotional components as well.