Health Blog

Have a topic you'd like me to write about? Just ask.

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.


Power Punch Smoothie Bowl Recipe

smoothie bowl healthy recipeSmoothie 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
Serves 1
Write a review
  1. 1 scoop of your favourite protein powder (I used Vega One Coconut Almond)
  2. 1 cup almond milk (or non-dairy, non-soy milk of choice)
  3. 3 Tablespoons chia seeds
  4. 1 Tablespoon cocao powder
  5. 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  6. 1/2 teaspoon maca (I opened maca capsules for this)
  7. 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. 1/4 avocado
  9. 1 Tablespoon cashew butter
  10. 2 ice cubes
  1. This is a single serving, but I found it to be pretty filling for one sitting.
  2. You'll need to be organized the night before you want to make this one.
  3. Stir the chia seeds into the almond milk and keep it refrigerated overnight.
  4. The next day, mix all the ingredients in a blender.
  5. The mix will be very thick, not like a drink. You'll need a spoon.
Top with your choice of ingredients, like
  1. - coconut flakes
  2. - your choice of fruit
  3. - cacao nibs
  4. YUM!
  1. This is the kind of recipe that is adjustable to your own tastes.
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC

Is sugar bad for me?

is sugar bad for me TCM health nutritionPerhaps 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.


Group Acupuncture for Limited Time

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?

Group acupuncture VancouverIn 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


Acupuncture for sprains and strains

acupuncture for sprains strains injuryI’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.


Vegetarian Slow Cooker Chilli with Mushrooms

This month I’ve been slow cooker crazy. Yes, spring is right around the corner (starts tomorrow!), but it’s still cool enough out now in Vancouver to make me crave some warming, comfort food. Plus, slow cooker meals are pretty easy to make and last for several meals because I can easily make a lot.

Of all the ones I’ve made this month, this is my fave slow cooker recipes of the month.

Vegetarian Slow Cooker Chilli with Mushrooms
High protein, easy to make, and delicious!
Write a review
  1. 2-3 cans of your choice of beans, drained and rinsed (I used black beans and barlotti beans)
  2. 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  3. 2 tablespoons chili powder
  4. 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  5. 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  6. 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
  7. 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
  8. 1/4 cup water
  9. 3 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  10. 3 cups vegetable broth
  11. 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  12. 2 limes, cut into wedges
  1. Combine oil, chili powder, cumin and cardamom in a large pan (I used my stirfry pan).
  2. Place over high heat and stir until the spices sizzle, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and water.
  4. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are juicy, 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Uncover and stir often until the juices evaporate and the vegetables are lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Add broth and tomato paste
  6. Mix well.
  7. Place the beans in a large slow cooker.
  8. Pour the hot vegetable mixture over the beans.
  9. Turn heat to high.
  10. Put the lid on and cook until the beans are creamy, 4 hours.
  11. Serve with lime wedges. I also added avocado on top, though you could choose sour cream or cheese.
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC

March is National Kidney Month

kidneys National Kidney MonthWhen patients come in to address particular organ health, they most often mention their heart, their liver, their lungs, or the various organs of their digestive system and reproductive system, but rarely does someone ask me about their kidneys. Your kidneys do a lot of work for you, but I doubt you think much about them, unless you have kidney health issues. This month is National Kidney Month, so I ask you to think about this hard working duo, and consider how you can keep them healthy.

What do your kidneys do?

Your kidneys filter about 200 litres of blood daily. You know that the kidneys help eliminate waste products and excess fluid from your body, but did you also know that your kidneys are needed to:

  • Regulate your blood pressure
  • Produce an active form of vitamin D 
  • Control the production of red blood cells

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we look to the TCM Kidney system when issues arise for bone and joint health, low back pain, issues with fear and anxiety, fatigue, edema, reproductive health, menopausal symptoms, and more. If you’ve experienced trauma, ongoing chronic stress, or have been told you have adrenal issues, we consider the Kidneys for that too, as the adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys.

How do kidneys malfunction?

There are many reasons why your kidneys could find themselves in trouble. Things that can increase your risk include smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, urinary tract infections that travel to the kidneys, a family history of kidney disease, and aging. Some are just born with congenital issues affecting the kidneys, and those of Aboriginal, Asian, South Asian, Pacific Island, African/Caribbean, and Hispanic descent are at higher risk.

Though most aren’t aware of it, estimates are that up to two million Canadians have chronic kidney disease (CKD) or are at risk for it.

How do you know if your kidneys are struggling? One simple blood test you can get is called estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). Check out this risk assessment online tool for National Kidney Month to see if you should ask your doctor for this blood test.

How do I keep my kidneys healthy?

  1. Hydrate. You don’t have to go overboard, but I find many of my patients are chronically dehydrated. Unless you are taking B vitamins (including in a multi)–in which case your urine is likely to be bright yellow–your urine can help you determine if you are sufficiently hydrated. It should be a very pale yellow. If it’s a dark yellow, you may be dehydrated. Keep in mind that diuretics, like some blood pressure medications and caffeinated beverages, can make you have to pee much more often, as can overactive bladder and prostate problems.
  2. Keep healthy eating and exercise habits. Both will help manage your blood pressure, diabetes, stress, and weight. Watch your salt intake. Yes, salt is important for our health, but many take in too much salt, as it’s found in so many processed foods. You can also overdo the “good salt” like sea salt and Himalayan salt, especially if you have high blood pressure. 
  3. Stop smoking. So many reasons to quit. Smoking damages your blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and increases your risk for kidney cancer. Acupuncture can help you quit smoking.
  4. Don’t overdo pain medications like Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause kidney damage if taken too often. Acupuncture is best known for its ability to help treat and manage pain. Check out TCM for pain management options.
  5. Treat your diabetes, high blood pressure (click me), and urinary tract infections. Because these all increase your risk of kidney disease, it’s vital that you treat these health issues appropriately. Did you know that Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you not just treat the symptoms of these problems, but also work on getting to the source?
  6. Manage your stress. Stress can be a catalyst for disease. When the body is in chronic stress, it has a hard time healing. It doesn’t do a good job of simultaneously defending and repairing the body–often picking defending as its preferential course of action. There are many ways to cope with stress and support your adrenal glands. For more on adrenal fatigue click here.
  7. Come in for a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consultation. While I won’t be able to detect your GFR levels without lab results, your body may be giving clues that your kidneys need to be addressed. Plus, it’s better to work preventively than in response to organ failure. 

National Kidney Month

I have a friend who has a kidney transplant. He knows the challenges that come with dialysis, organ transplant, and ongoing health issues. I urge you to remember to pay attention to the health of your kidneys this National Kidney Month and beyond, and to register for organ donation. It’s easy to do. Simply start with clicking here.

Facing the Facts about Kidney Disease National Kidney Month


Allergy season in Vancouver already?

allergy season in Vancouver acupuncture biopunctureSpring allergies. That’s what they are commonly called, but it’s not even spring yet and allergy season in Vancouver has already started! Warmer winters mean earlier starts to the allergy season, and higher pollen counts too. According to a Vancouver allergist quoted on CBC News, this year’s allergies actually started in January, though my patients started to notice their allergies early to mid-February.

Allergy Season in Vancouver

So, what exactly are you allergic to? It is hard to say without proper testing, but you may be able to narrow it down a bit by what is in season at a specific time of year. As mentioned, however, keep in mind that some dates are earlier this year (and recent years), than may be listed at this link because of warmer weather. Also, it may not be a complete listing, but it’s a start. PollenPlus Vancouver

Also, did you know that some foods can cause cross-reactions of allergies? If, for example, you’re allergic to birch trees, you may also have reaction to apples, pears, tomatoes, cherries, carrots, celery, and tree nuts, so you’re best to eliminate those foods from your diet, at least while you’re suffering from your seasonal allergies. 


Also, because cold and flu season is not over yet, it is worth considering if your symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, and maybe even sore throat or headache might be a cold. To figure out if you’re suffering from a late winter cold or allergy season in Vancouver, you can check out my past article in 24 Hours newspaper through this link: Is it allergies or a cold?

Treating Allergies Naturally

For some, symptoms are fairly mild. But for others, allergy symptoms can be nearly debilitating. The first year I worked in Japan, I was excited to experience springtime, with all of its beautiful flower trees. That excitement soon disappeared though, as I suffered my first year of seasonal allergies. Every day I walked to work, and every day, by the time I reached the hospital, my eyes were swollen, red, and itchy. I could barely see. I wish I knew then what I know now.

Now I recommend Pascallerg biopuncture injections. Pascallerg is an ultra-low dose of natural ingredients in a sterile ampoule, designed to help modulate an over-active immune system. While also drinkable, I find it more effective when it is injected either just below the skin (subcutaneous) or into muscle (intramuscular), often in acupuncture points. 

For extra support, I often recommend vitamin C and quercetin. Some find local bee pollen helpful. While others use plant sterols. Still others find supplemental magnesium does the trick. 

One of the most practical things you can do is saline solution nasal rinsing. While it may not sound particularly fun, it is a safe, easy, inexpensive, and effective therapy, as it rinses out allergens that can collect in the nasal passages and sinuses. My preferred rinsing tool is called the Nasaline Irrigator. Horrible name, but what I like about it is that it doesn’t require you to tip your head to get water to enter the nostril via gravity. Designed like a big syringe (I know, I’m making it sound less and less attractive, but it really isn’t scary), you can control the flow, and the pressure allows you to move the water through, even when you are particularly congested. Other useful ways to do nasal rinsing include the traditional neti pot and sinus rinse bottles.


Traditional Chinese Medicine Treats Allergies Too

While all those suggestions I’ve given above are general, when I see someone in clinic, I ask lots of questions, take a look at your tongue, and feel your pulse. All of this gives me clues to your particular areas of health challenge so I can create a treatment plan–potentially including acupuncture, herbs, and dietary suggestions, in addition to the above suggestions.

Have you noticed the early allergy season in Vancouver? What are you doing about it?


Creamy “Cheesy” Vegan Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

Vegan Spaghetti sauce recipeMy husband and I have decided to include beef into our no-eat food list. We’ve already removed all pig products and I don’t have dairy (I’m not militant about it, but I generally avoid it and I don’t buy it for myself). I think the decision to avoid beef is a bit troubling to my parents, as we go there weekly for dinner. No problem, I said, as I’ll just bring food. So, when I was told spaghetti is on the menu, I decided to make a vegan spaghetti sauce recipe to bring along.

Luckily one of my patients told me that she had made one with squash, garlic, and coconut milk. I had a couple of sweet potatoes at home, so I decided to start with that.

My Creamy “Cheesy” Vegan Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

My Creamy "Cheesy" Vegan Spaghetti Sauce
I'm sure you can modify this to your own taste, as that's all I did
Write a review
  1. 2 medium yams, cubed
  2. 3-5 cloves garlic minced
  3. Coconut oil
  4. 1-1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  5. 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  6. 1 tsp (approx) dried thyme
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  1. Boil water and add yams. Cook until tender.
  2. Drain yams and blend in blender or with a hand blender, until smooth.
  3. Put generous amount of coconut oil in pot and add garlic, stirring until it is slightly browned.
  4. Add yams, coconut milk, nutritional yeast, thyme, and salt and pepper.
  5. Stir everything together.
  6. You can add small amounts of each ingredient at a time to get the right thickness of the sauce and the right flavour you want. I also tried a pinch of coriander and thought that was a nice added flavour. I kept wanting it to taste cheesier, so I got up to a tablespoon of nutritional yeast, but you might stop sooner.
Adapted from from various ideas I found online
Adapted from from various ideas I found online
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC

5 Healthy things to do in Vancouver on Bonus Day

This is a leap year, so February 29th is kind of like a bonus day. 

Do you often think that you don’t have enough time to do the things you need to do or want to do? Well, this year you have an extra 24 hours, so what will you do? Here are some healthy things to do in Vancouver on “bonus day” (or any day, if today’s already booked up).

5 Healthy Things to Do in Vancouver 

healthy things to do in Vancouver acupunctureTake a hike. Sometimes when we’re stressed to the point of wanting to tell someone to “take a hike,” the best thing we can do is take our own advice and take that hike ourselves. Of course Vancouver is close to many wonderful hikes, including those on Cypress, Seymour, and Grouse mountains. If those seem too challenging or you just don’t have the time for those ones, there are several more local (and flatter) walking options, including of course the Stanley Park seawall, Pacific Spirit Park, Lighthouse Park, Burnaby Mountain trails, and one of my fave nearby ones, the False Creek seawall. Some of those are also great cycling options.

Shop for healthy ingredients. If you want to be healthy–and really, why wouldn’t you want that–then you’ll need to make some healthy food choices. First, you’ll need to figure out what you want to make. For some healthy recipes, check out my blog (search “recipe” when you go to my blog) or recipe page, my chef friend’s blog Cooking Journeys, web search what type of nutritious food you’d like to make, or dig out your recipe books or magazines. Right now I love my slow cooker. Doesn’t take too long to make delicious food, and I usually have lots of leftovers. We have so many places in Vancouver to buy healthy food, from Choices and Whole Foods to small markets and local stores like Greens Market and Pomme Market. Even our big chain grocery stores are recognizing our wish for organic, local, and healthy food options. And then there are the farmers markets–gotta love those! 

healthy things to do in Vancouver acupunctureEat out right. Don’t have time to make a healthy meal? No problem, there are a ton of healthy eat-out food options. I don’t eat out much, so perhaps you can chime in via the comments section to list your faves. I like Heirloom, Nuba, and The Naam. I also like to get a pick-me-up from The Juicery Co. 

Do something helpful. If you’ve volunteered for a worthy cause, you know that you feel good about it. But did you know that the benefits may go beyond a simple temporary “I done good” sensation? Studies have shown that donating our time through volunteering helps us ward off loneliness and depression, allowing us to feel more socially connected. Another potential benefit is a lower likelihood of having high blood pressure. That’s huge because hypertension contribute to heart disease, stroke, and premature death. So, giving your time away actually may help you have more time! There are many worthy causes in Vancouver and surrounding areas. I love animals, so I volunteer for Furbearer Defenders. I’ve worked with my friend’s wonderful organization, Beauty Night. And, I’ve done talks for the David Suzuki Foundation. If you’re not sure what you would like to do or how to find out how you can help, check out this online resource Go Volunteer.

Treat yourself well. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the foundation of wellness care and illness prevention. If you are not well, it’s important to address those aspects of your health to get to the source, not just mask them with medications or ignore them. If you are well, it’s important to do what you can to stay well. I recommend seasonal tune-up treatments or monthly treatments (depending on your particular needs) to help you limit the amount of time you spend in pain, tired, depressed or anxious, bloated, or struggling with other health issues. Come in for a TCM and acupuncture tune-up!

What do you recommend for healthy things to do in Vancouver (or anywhere, for that matter)?


%d bloggers like this: