Here I’m going to start with the bad, so I can illustrate the power of something you could call a natural medicine. A study in the 1950s by Dr. Carl Richter involved taking rats and putting them through a forced swim test. Rats can swim, and the rats they used were, as far as they could tell, equally healthy. The rats gave up swimming and sunk (we’ll pretend they ended up ok), fairly quickly–some in mere minutes, some up to 15 minutes. But, if they were removed from the water for a short amount of time before that, and allowed a brief rest while they were held, they could then be put back in the water and swim for up to 60 hours! From 15 minutes max to 60 HOURS!
What?! How could they somehow bring about a Herculean effort to keep swimming for 240 times longer when they would otherwise have given up?
A Natural Medicine
They had hope that they might again be rescued. Hope is a powerful natural medicine. It helps us try more, push harder, and persist longer. And, often, eventually succeed.
So, when I hear from patients that they’ve been told there’s nothing further that can be done–to manage their pain, help them sleep, improve or cure their illness, or simply function and feel better–I’m disturbed by that. Why
That’s why I love Traditional Chinese Medicine and most natural medicine practices. The goal is to discover what combination of imbalances have lead to the health issue at hand, and to help strengthen the body, and thus allow healing. There isn’t always cure. There isn’t always a fast fix. But improvement is possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I’m someone’s last resort. At the very least, I aim to offer hope and support while the body begins the process of healing.
I recently wrote an article, Sweet in the Modern World (pages 7-9), for Medicinal Roots Magazine. As a result, Michael Max, an acupuncturist in the US, contacted me to ask me to join him to talk about sugar’s health effects on his podcast channel, Everyday Acupuncture.
In this podcast, Michael and I discuss a number of issues that come up with sugar.
Show highlights on sugar’s health effects
2:27 How I discovered sugar was affecting my health
5:24 Sugar’s health effects: health issues that may be caused by or aggravated by too much sugar
8:06 Planning ahead helps you manage your sugar cravings
10:42 Your taste buds can change to become more sensitive to smaller amounts of sweet
14:46 Be mindful about your food choices
19:50 Is it stomach hunger or are your bored, lonely, or other?
20:27 Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you get off sugar
26:20 Some simple tips to reduce sugar intake
29:48 Your menstrual cycle and sugar cravings
31:22 What else can you eat that’s healthier and still tasty?
37:43 Have you considered a food diary?
41:35 Quick tips to get your own attention around food and eating
Here’s the podcast:
Check out more of Everyday Acupuncture podcasts by clicking on the image below.
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.
This is a traditional remedy from TCM.
- Chinese pears
- or other pears
- Cut the top off one pear (don't toss it out)
- Core the pear
- Fill the centre of the pear with honey
- Put the top back on the pear
- Steam the pear for 45 to 60 minutes
- Pear should be very soft
- Let pear cool for 10 to 15 minutes
- Eat the whole pear and juices
- Do this for 3 nights in a row
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome–TOS, for short
When 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! 😉
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.
Pain, 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.
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.
I 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?
- Time to relax
- A space that is quiet and/or in nature
- Connection with like-minded others
- 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.
Smoothie bowls are definitely trending now. And they aren’t hard to make, so why not make your own? I subscribe to Dr. Lipman’s newsletter. He’s an integrative, functional medicine MD in NY, and he recently sent out a recipe for a delicious smoothie bowl that I made the other day. It is so good that I’ve decided I need to share the recipe.
I found this to be really filling, so I made a take-to-work version for my leftovers.
Power Punch Smoothie Bowl
- 1 scoop of your favourite protein powder (I used Vega One Coconut Almond)
- 1 cup almond milk (or non-dairy, non-soy milk of choice)
- 3 Tablespoons chia seeds
- 1 Tablespoon cocao powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon maca (I opened maca capsules for this)
- 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 avocado
- 1 Tablespoon cashew butter
- 2 ice cubes
- This is a single serving, but I found it to be pretty filling for one sitting.
- You'll need to be organized the night before you want to make this one.
- Stir the chia seeds into the almond milk and keep it refrigerated overnight.
- The next day, mix all the ingredients in a blender.
- The mix will be very thick, not like a drink. You'll need a spoon.
- - coconut flakes
- - your choice of fruit
- - cacao nibs
- This is the kind of recipe that is adjustable to your own tastes.
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
Perhaps you’ve been told to cut back on salt, to limit your intake of saturated fats, and to eat more fibre. But, I think that the most common dietary mistake in our modern world is, for many of us, too much sugar. The problem is that we’re designed to like the sweet stuff–wired to like it. Many of my patients ask me, “is sugar bad for me?”
In a recent article I wrote for my TCM colleagues, I talk about the history of sugar, how it affects our brains, the problem with too much (especially processed sugars), and how Traditional Chinese Medicine addresses sugar and the sweet flavour.
Is Sugar Bad For Me?
Maybe not. Not if you don’t have too much. It’s necessary. But, I can tell you, no one has health problems from a lack of cookies, cream puffs, or pop. Check out my article on sugar here: Sugar article in Medicinal Roots Magazine. There’s a discount code there if you’d like to take my short online course on sugar, if you want to learn more. You may also want to check out the whole TCM magazine: Medicinal Roots Spring 2016.
New to acupuncture? Limited health budget? Starting in MAY and for a limited number of sessions, Connect Health is offering a few group acupuncture sessions. Call now for one of these coveted spots.
What is Group Acupuncture?
In a typical group acupuncture setting, you will receive your treatment in a room with 1-3 other people. Treatments are booked every 20 minutes, so you can quietly discuss your concern with your practitioner before receiving the actual treatment. We do ask that patients be mindful of being as quiet as possible so that everyone can benefit from a relaxing and peaceful environment.
Even though there isn’t any group chat, some people find it reassuring knowing they are not alone. There is a sense of community that is created when people experience their health collectively. Better yet, book times with your family and/or friends, so you can get healthy together.
This is a fantastic option for people who are seeking additional treatments, but for whom cost may be a barrier. This setting may not be right for you if you feel that privacy may be a concern. Additionally, if you are seeking acupuncture for a fairly complex health issue, it might be better treated in a longer one-on-one session with our registered doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Dr. Carr or Dr. Cmolik.
Paula Woodward is a registered Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner from Kelowna who will be offering the group acupuncture sessions May 7th, June 4th, June 25th, and August 13th for $25 per treatment.
We look forward to seeing you, and if you have any questions about whether or not group acupuncture might be right for you, please feel free to contact Connect Health’s office at 604-733-4400.
By Paula Woodward and Dr. Melissa Carr
I’ve been doing a fair amount of acupuncture for sprains and strains lately, so I thought I’d share why you want to make acupuncture one of your first choices for treatments if you are unlucky enough to injure yourself.
I’ve sprained my right ankle twice. The first time, I was playing intramural volleyball in high school. I jumped up to block a ball, and when I landed, someone’s foot was on my side of the net, so I crash landed when I came down on it. It was a bad sprain. I still remember how it felt when the doctor stuck his finger into the tennis ball-sized swelling that I had once called an ankle. The image here is kind of what my ankle looked like, though my legs were somewhat less hairy. 🙂
I had a number of physio sessions–icing, taping, ultrasound, and exercises. I was on my school’s volleyball team so after a week or so of rest, I continued to play with my ankle tightly wrapped. Once healed, my ankle was not the same. I turned it constantly. The stretched ligaments were no longer as supportive as they should have been.
The second time I sprained my ankle, I was in TCM school. I was simply running across the street when my ankle did its then common floppy roll. Boom. On the ground and writhing in pain. This time I had TCM on my side. I received acupuncture and Chinese herbs, and I did my own version of stabilizing exercises. I was told by the medical doctor that my ankle would be worse, even more prone to sprains and strains, as those lazy ligaments would have even more laxity. They don’t. My right ankle is now just like my left–uninjured and strong–ankle. This is just one of the reasons I recommend acupuncture for sprains and other injuries.
Acupuncture for Sprains and Injuries
Acupuncture can help improve local blood flow to an injured area. That helps bring in healing nutrients and remove waste products from damaged tissue. Acupuncture can also relieve pain, allowing you to be able to sleep well, instead of struggling to get comfortable at night, for faster recovery. Acupuncture supports stress management. One of the ways it does so is by causing a release of feel-good hormones like endorphins. If you are less stressed, your body can be in a healing state instead of a defensive state.
If you’re worried about needles, don’t. If your injured part is too sensitive for me to treat directly, I can treat around it. And, acupuncture is not painful. Acupuncture needles are skiiiiinnnnny. Super skinny. That makes it easy for me to treat you comfortably.
So, if you are injured, don’t hesitate. Come in for acupuncture for sprains, strains, tears, inflammation, bruising, fractures (after proper xray, bone setting, and other medical emergency treatment, of course), or other injury so you can heal faster and better than with time alone.