Archive for May 2016

Recipe for dry cough

Steamed Pears for Dry Cough

Though it’s no longer cold and flu season, some people I’ve seen are suffering from a lingering dry cough. The cough could also be from allergies. So, in addition to treating the immune system, what can you do? How about a Traditional Chinese Medicine food cure?

TCM food cures are remedies that have been passed from practitioner to practitioner, family to family for centuries. Just like we’ve now discovered that chicken soup really can help address the symptoms of the common cold, so too can some of the TCM food cures help modern health issues.

Steamed Pears
This is a traditional remedy from TCM.
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  1. Chinese pears
  2. or other pears
  1. Cut the top off one pear (don't toss it out)
  2. Core the pear
  3. Fill the centre of the pear with honey
  4. Put the top back on the pear
  5. Steam the pear for 45 to 60 minutes
  6. Pear should be very soft
  7. Let pear cool for 10 to 15 minutes
  8. Eat the whole pear and juices
  9. Do this for 3 nights in a row
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC

Could it be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome–TOS, for short

thoracic outlet syndrome acupunctureWhen it first began with shoulder and upper back, I thought it was just muscular tension from leaning over the computer or patients as I’m doing acupuncture. But as the initial pain resolved and the throbbing pain moved to my forearm, I knew what it was. Thoracic outlet syndrome

Unfortunately, I was on my way to a week long yoga/surf retreat, so there was little I could do to address it immediately. The forearm pain progressed to tingling and numbness in my fingers, so sitting still in meditation or savasana (corpse pose–lying down on back and remaining still) was really a struggle. I one-handed some of the yoga poses and skipped out on others. Surfing and paddle boarding were a bit of a challenge, but workable. Perhaps it aggravated my TOS since the numbness persists, but at least now the pain is gone.

Isn’t it interesting though that once you experience something yourself, you seem to draw in others experiencing the same? Such is the case for me in my practice, so I thought I would blog about thoracic outlet syndrome, so you can know if maybe you or someone you know has the same.

What is thoracic outlet syndrome?

TOS is a condition caused by compression of the nerves, blood vessels, or both as they pass through a narrow area between the base of the neck and the armpit, called the thoracic outlet (makes sense). It’s kind of like the more commonly recognized carpal tunnel syndrome, except where the arm meets the torso instead of at the wrist. 

How it thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosed?

First, symptoms are considered. Do you have:

  • neck, shoulder, or arm pain
  • numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • weakness in the hand
  • impaired circulation to your hands and fingers
  • redness or swelling in your arm
  • hands or arms that are easily fatigued

If you have those, you can try out this the Roos test. Raise your arms by your sides and bend at your elbows 90 degrees, hands facing front. Quickly open and close your hands for up to two minutes. If the affected side feels worse than the non-affected side, reproducing your symptoms, then you may have TOS.

You can also get electrical and radiological tests.

What causes thoracic outlet syndrome?

The thoracic outlet really doesn’t leave much space for the blood vessels and nerves to pass through, so anything that causes compression on them can result in TOS. I mentioned that mine is predominantly tight pecs minor muscle. But it could also be tightness or inflammation in the scalene muscles (along the side of the neck) or an extra rib called a cervical rib.

My thoracic outlet syndrome was from carrying one dog in a front body carrier while walking my other dog who sometimes pulls me forward (my first and only time doing that). I wish I could say it was from doing something amazing like a one-handed handstand or saving someone’s life, but sadly, it wasn’t. 

You might also get it from an imbalance of strong chest muscles to upper back muscles, improper weight lifting, impact injury, repetitive movements, poor posture, obesity, or just that you happen to be born with a cervical rib.

What can you do about thoracic outlet syndrome?

Stretching is helpful. Check out this video for a few stretching options. Stretching the neck and the chest helps open up more space for the structures to pass through the thoracic outlet. Balancing that with strengthening exercises to help pull the shoulders back and position the head better over the torso are also helpful. 

I use a rolled up yoga mat to lie on (place it between your shoulder blades and stretch your arms out to your sides or over your head), but you can also use a rolled up towel, blanket, or sheets. Or, another option might be to do a Zipline and stretch out this way! Not exactly practical, but definitely more fun! 😉

thoracic outlet syndrome stretch

What I find most helpful is acupuncture. While I was at the retreat, I was unable to get someone to acupuncture me and I was unable to acupuncture my own shoulder, pecs, and back, so I did a very simple forearm treatment (shown partially completed above) that helped. Oh, and kinesiotaping to support the muscles. That really helped in between the acupuncture sessions.


Courage to Come Back Award Winner Answers My Questions

Courage to come back inspiration pain management chronic illnessPain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, disabilities, injuries, and chronic illness. Every day I work with people who are suffering. And the question that sometimes comes up is, “Will I get better?”

I believe that our bodies are designed to heal, so yes, I do reply that things will get better. Does that mean 100%? Sometimes, against all odds, yes. Sometimes not 100%, but better.

Courage to Come Back

I was recently honoured to get to watch someone I know well received a prestigious award, the Courage to Come Back Award. Tom is a man who doesn’t do things for awards or accolades. In fact, in this video, you can see that he says he doesn’t know if he was a good social worker (I’m sure he was!), but that he felt he could do his best to do little things to help others. 

He has many major health challenges—legally blind, kidney transplant (twice), chronic pain, and more—but despite them, is one of the more active people I know. He curls, does yoga, and walks everywhere. He travels, he volunteers, he writes articles, he advocates for people in need, and his home is a regular gathering place for parties. 

So, what does Tom have to say about overcoming and dealing with challenges? I interviewed him for his perspective a week after receiving the Courage to Come Back Award.

Support of others

Tom was born with severe vision problems. Nearly blind, he could see the blackboard at school, but couldn’t see the words on it. He asked his teachers to read aloud what they wrote on the board. In university, his friends read his textbooks to him.

So, it’s no surprise that when I asked Tom to name some of the things that have helped him through his life, despite his health challenges, he said that support is the most important. Find people you trust, respect, and can rely upon. And know that it’s a two-way street, so be trustworthy, respectful, and reliable to them.

But then I asked him how to ask for help. Because sometimes it’s hard to ask. He said that his experience is that most people want to help. And that when people care for you, they don’t want to worry about you. It’s more of an impediment to worry than to be able to help. And sometimes people don’t simply offer to help without you asking because they don’t want to intrude.

Coping management

Sometimes pain continues. Sometimes things don’t get better or more challenges arise. So, how do you manage? What do you do?

Tom’s suggestions? “Pain is something you may not always be able to get rid of, but you can work on reducing it. Your body and mind can adjust to pain. If you can just get better bit by bit, even chronic pain can feel less painful. And remember, it usually took a long time to get to where you are now, so it takes effort, commitment, conviction, and hope to make changes for the better.”

Though this phrase may not work for all, Tom remembers with a chuckle, a time that he was really struggling and a friend said to him, “It’s better to be above ground than below.” For him, that was motivation to push forward.


If you get to meet Tom, you’ll find out he has a great sense of humour. He says he’s always perceived things in a “zany way,” and that has helped.

One of the main messages he’d like to share is that it takes courage. It’s no surprise that the award is called Courage to Come Back. “Everyone suffers some type of adversity, struggles in their life. And the most important thing is to take steps forward, one at a time, and keep trying. Don’t give up. Stay positive, even when it’s hard.”

What you can do to help someone in need

What if you’re on the other side of the equation? You may know someone with chronic health issues, and perhaps you want to help, but you don’t want to mistakenly offend. Tom told me that a simple question to ask is, “Can I help?” That way a person can say yes or no to assistance.

Also, try to avoid saying, “you should…” as that can come across as overbearing. But, Tom says that it’s important for all of us to remember not to take things too personally. Most of us are well-meaning and are just trying to help.

Additionally, sometimes it’s better to just listen instead of offering soothing words, suggestions, or a pep talk. “Silence is very important. It shows you are listening and thinking,” Tom says.

And, when you do talk, Tom told me of advice he received from one of his mentors, “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

One more quote

One more bit from Tom, “Healing is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” And he would know. Tom has been beating the odds for more than 70 years.

For more about the winners of the Courage to Come Back Award, check out their site here.



Yoga Retreat Benefits and Acupuncture

yoga retreat acupuncture VancouverI recently went to Costa Rica for a yoga retreat. It had long been on my wish list, but when I saw that a friend from my university days would be co-hosting this particular retreat, I knew I needed to go. Fortunately another friend decided to join me and I was also approved to provide a lecture on Traditional Chinese Medicine nutrition.

Five years ago I went on my first yoga retreat. It was a short one to Uclulet, before I had done more than just a few yoga classes at my gym. In fact, the reason I decided to do that retreat was because I took hip hop fitness classes from the teacher and thought he was fun, and because I wanted to try surfing, which was also part of the retreat.

As it turned out, I wasn’t much a fan of surfing (at least cold water surfing), but I loved the yoga, and it started me on a brand new path. Because of that retreat I tried a 40 day yoga challenge. After that I quit my gym and joined a yoga studio instead. At the beginning, it was all about the physical practice for me. Yoga made me feel stronger. But even then I knew that there was something more to it. One of my friends asked me “how” yoga had changed me, not “if” it had. I thought that was an interesting way of phrasing the question. But he was right. It had started to change me in subtle ways.

Back to 2016, I was curious to see what this yoga retreat would bring. The name of this retreat was “Discover/Rediscover,” so we were asked in advance to think of a question we’d like to answer for ourselves. I was mostly just excited to reconnect with friends, give surfing another shot, and enjoy a daily yoga practice (I only get 3-4 days a week of yoga at home). But I did think of one question I hoped to resolve over the retreat.

One thing I love about yoga, about retreats, about taking time for oneself, is that you will always learn something, though it may not necessarily be what you want or expect.

I didn’t get the answer to my question, but two things impacted me. First, a couple of days before I left for this trip, I injured my left arm/shoulder and ended up with thoracic nerve outlet syndrome (numbness, tingling, and pain). That meant that my physical yoga practice had to be modified. I had to let go of practicing the postures I could normally do. I had to work on letting go of ego. And I had to be more compassionate toward myself than I was used to.

My second learning manifested while I was in Costa Rica. I mentioned here that I was excited to reconnect with friends at this retreat. And I did. But also, during the week I was away, I received an email from my TCM association, asking if I would like to go to Ottawa to help create TCM exam questions. Though it would challenge my schedule, I recognized it as a chance to meet up with some of my other university friends. The main reason I went became an opportunity for more of the very same!

I was very fortunate to be able to go to this yoga retreat, and I recognize that not everyone will have the ability. But I do believe that you can create your own mini version.

What does a retreat provide?

  1. Time to relax
  2. A space that is quiet and/or in nature
  3. Connection with like-minded others
  4. Focus on healing and/or intention

There’s no reason we can’t create these parameters without going on a week-long retreat—though of course it’s nice if we can.

Can you give yourself the gift of just 5-30 minutes a day to invest in yourself? How about 30 minutes just once a week? Or pick an hour or two or more once a month? Is there a place in you can close out the usual thoughts of “things-to-do” and “I must be”? Do you know others who you can share your experiences with? You don’t have to sit in silence or do yoga with them, but it helps to have someone you can share with afterward. And, do you have something you’d like to shift in your life? An intention that is meaningful to you?

Did you know that acupuncture can give you the opportunity to have your own retreat? A space to heal and relax, the mind softens its grip on control as acupuncture releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) and loosens tight muscles. Next time you come in for some acupuncture, ask me for your own acupuncture retreat.

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