Herbal Tonics for Allergies

An allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance, called an allergen.  This could be anything from something you inhale to something you touch to something you eat.  An allergic reaction may cause sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, a running nose, a sore throat and rashes. In severe cases, allergic reactions can induce something known as anaphylactic shock, which can actually be deadly. continue reading »

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Five Reasons to Get Acupuncture for Allergies

Allergies, seasonal or otherwise, is one of the biggest health issues people deal with in the United States. And the numbers are rising every year. Part of this is because our agricultural practices have changed drastically in the past 40 years and our bodies are not accustomed to dealing with genetically modified foods or the excessive amounts of pesticides now being put in and on our food. We are also being over-medicated with antibiotics used in livestock we eat and that we are prescribed by our own doctors. This has created superbugs like MRSA that no longer responding to antibiotics. Our immune systems just can’t keep up. So every year, the number of people experiencing allergies is increasing. continue reading »

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Eating According to TCM: Five Foods for Spring

Spring is a time of renewal, regeneration, growth and energy. The plants and animals awaken from the slumber of the cold winter months. The vital nutrients that have been stored in the roots of the plants and the bodies of the animals, comes to the surface and life becomes more vibrant and fluid. Human beings are no different. Humans tend to stay indoors more during the winter months and sometimes pack on a little extra weight in the process. As the weather warms, humans become more gregarious and spend more time outside enjoying nature. This is just a natural process. continue reading »

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Five Acupuncture Points for Spring

Spring is the season of growth, regeneration, increased activity and new beginnings. During the season of spring, people experience many changes. Allergies, high blood pressure, headaches, sinus pain and congestion, anger, irritation and tendon problems are just some of the issues common to the spring months. Many of these problems can be attributed to increased wind in the environment. And while there is nothing that can be done about external wind, internal wind can be addressed and diminished using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the many modalities it incorporates. continue reading »

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Mental/Emotional Aspects of The Heart

The major responsibility of the heart in TCM is housing the mind and controlling the shen. “Shen” can be seen as the overall healthiness of the mind. When you look at a healthy person in good spirits, you know how you can see that in their eyes? There is a certain bright clarity and sense of health that shines from within. We acupuncturists would say that this person has good shen. continue reading »

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Physical Aspects of The Heart

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the heart is the organ most closely linked to emotion. Think about all the terms we use every day to describe our state of mind: “heartsick,” “heartbroken,” “heartache” The heart is not the director of subtlety; the emotions it encompasses seem to always be on the far end of the spectrum, either extreme sadness or extreme joy. continue reading »

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Auricular Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a medical system that dates back nearly 4,000 years. Auricular acupuncture was first mentioned around 500 B.C. in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, which is the equivalent of the Bible for TCM practitioners. However, the method in which auricular acupuncture is practiced today is actually based upon discoveries that occurred in France in the 1950s. Modern auricular acupuncture is based upon the work done by Dr. Paul Nogier of France.

Auricular acupuncture is the stimulation of the external ear for the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions. These health conditions may be taking place anywhere throughout the body. The stimulation of these acupuncture points can be done manually, with an acupuncture needle, a laser, magnets or ear seeds. Regardless of the means of stimulation, auricular acupuncture can be a very powerful addition to regular acupuncture treatments.

The current form of auricular acupuncture came about after Dr. Nogier noticed a scar on the upper ear of some of his patients. When he inquired about the scar, he found out a local practitioner had been treating his patients for sciatica pain and she was cauterizing this specific area on the external ear to relieve their low back pain. Dr. Nogier conducted similar tests on his own patients and found their low back pain was also relieved. He tried using other means of stimulation as well, such as acupuncture needles and found it to be just as effective as cauterizing the area. So Dr. Nogier theorized if an area of the upper external ear is effective on treating low back pain, then perhaps other areas of the ear could treat other parts of the body. This led to the model now used when teaching auricular acupuncture. The ear is thought to represent the whole anatomical body. However, it is upside down in orientation, so the head is represented by the lower ear lobe, the feet are at the top of the ear and the rest of the body is in between. According to history, the Chinese actually adopted this model of auricular acupuncture in 1958.

Auricular acupuncture is considered a microsystem, in that the ear is like a microcosm of the whole body, meaning one part of the body, the ear in this instance, represents the whole body. Microsystems also appear on foot and hand reflexology, facial acupuncture and scalp acupuncture.

This system has been practiced in Asia, albeit in a different form, for over 2,000 years. Auricular acupuncture has been used in Europe for the past 40 to 50 years. And it is finally starting to take root in the United States. The U.S. military, over the past 5 to 10 years, has started utilizing auricular acupuncture for its battlefield personnel. This form of battlefield acupuncture is used to help soldiers deal with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) brought on by being in combat.

Since auricular acupuncture allows for every part of the external ear to connect through the microsystem to every part of the body, many conditions can be treated using only a few very tiny needles. Not only can PTSD be treated using auricular acupuncture, but also things like chronic pain, drug addiction, high blood pressure and nausea. And for those who are a little needle-shy, auricular acupuncture is a great way to treat them because they will never see the needles and they will still get the help they need to achieving health and wellness.

Photo credit: Ear – Travis Isaacs | CC 2.0

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Cupping Around The World

by Jon Pontrello, LAc

A few weeks ago, I went up to Canada to take a curing class with a teacher who had travelled from Australia. This class would not be my introduction to cupping. For the last few years I have been working in a clinic where I learned how to cup and practiced regularly under the guidance of a practitioner who has been cupping since before I was born. My reasoning for taking this class is not because my glass was half empty, but rather because my glass is half full. I am fascinated by cupping because, like an acupuncture needle, a cup is a very simple tool that in the hands of a skilled practitioner can provide a very effective and economical treatment for many health problems.

Cupping is a method of using suction to create a therapeutic effect. This is most commonly done using a cotton ball mini-torch that is carefully inserted into the body of the cupping vessel so that when the flame uses up the available oxygen within the cup, a vacuum is created. When the cup is placed upon the surface of the skin a negative pressure system is created, which causes the suction effect.

Where does the therapeutic effect come from? What does suction have to do with the common cold or back pain? The answer depends on which era of medicine you ask. If you were able to summon people that lived in prehistoric times, they might tell you that the cups pull out evil spirits. We know from the times that traditional medicines of China and Greece were being put into writing around two thousand years ago that they believed the cups were having an effect on the meteorological causes of diseases such as wind and/or cold, and that they helped to move bad, old or stagnant blood. In modern times, researchers also say that cups help to increase circulation, though some people today will tell you the cups have no effect at all and that the benefit is an illusion in the imagination.

One of my favorite stories from the class was from over a century ago when a recent graduate of medical school was doing his apprenticeship with an experienced doctor. They were doing a house call in a rural area of Australia and the patient had a severe case of lumbago (back pain). The doctor asked the apprentice what to do, and the apprentice just shook his head while fumbling over his words trying to remember what he learned in school. So the doctor applied cups and soon after the patient was walking freely without pain. The apprentice was amazed, especially in light of the fact that his professors in medical school had pounded the nail into the coffin of cupping practice, saying it was a useless form of treatment.

There were many other anecdotes in class, one about a lady who got relief from the common cold, saying that she would not believe the benefit of cupping unless she had experienced it herself. Another story of a German spy who had been exposed to radiation who said that the only relief he could find was from a cupping treatment. There was a story of a cupping practitioner from Russia who emigrated to Australia who was so worried that she would not be able to buy cups where she was going that she filled up the only suitcase she could bring with cupping vessels!

One of the nights after my class, I was talking to the host of the AirBnB where I was staying. He was from Tunisia and was very excited to to find out I was learning about cupping. He was Muslim and did not know the cupping existed outside his religion. He did not know a lot about that part of his religion, so we started watching videos on YouTube and he translated them for me. In the Muslim religion, it is called hijama and it is slightly different than the cupping I have described above. They create an small incision in the skin before applying the cups so that the cups fill up with blood, it is usually only done during certain parts of the moon’s phase. It is believed to help to purify the body and mind. Hijama is a revelation of their religion. Their prophet does not claim to invent it, but rather became aware of the benefits and says it is a very valuable thing to do so he recommends it to his followers. The next day I mentioned this in class and many people were surprised to know that Muslims practiced cupping.

On the last day of class, the teacher was showing us a particular method of cupping that focused on knee pain that he had learned from a teacher in Taiwan. He said that once when he was teaching this method, one of the students said he had learned the same method from a teacher in Egypt. Before taking this class I had primarily thought of cupping as one of the many conjunctive therapies to Chinese medicine, but afterwards I’m starting to see it as an integral part to a much bigger picture than I was aware of.

On the way back from Canada the border patrol asked me what I was doing in Vancouver. I told her cupping, and she said she knew about it because of Gwyneth Paltrow. I’ve got to say I am happy that celebrities and Olympic athletes have rekindled the awareness among the public of cupping, but I also want remind people that cupping is not a passing fad like jazzercise or the south beach diet. Cupping is a timeless medicine for the wellness of everyday people.

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Why am I so cold?

Everyone feels cold sometimes, but some people are perpetually chilled to a point where it interferes with their lives.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, there are two different kinds of cold in the body: full cold and empty cold. Full cold refers to a condition where there is an excess of cold-type energy in the body leading to a feeling of cold, and most likely other health problems, as well. The other kind of cold is empty cold. This means there is not an abundance of cold energy but rather a weakness of the warm fiery energy. When there isn’t enough warmth in the body, you will feel cold – not because the cold is so strong, but because you don’t have enough fire to balance it out.

Full cold

As mentioned, a full cold condition refers to an over-abundance of cold type energy in the body. This is often an acute case and may relate to being outside on cold weather, or exposing a certain area of your body to cold water, cold wind or cold weather. Symptoms really depend on the location of the cold in the body.

For instance, you might feel really cold when you are coming down with a cold virus. From a TCM perspective, this is cold being trapped under the skin or in certain channels on the back of the neck. Other associated symptoms may be a stiff neck, a runny nose or an occipital headache.

Full cold can also lodge itself in the digestive system – this may happen following a meal of cold food, drinking cold beverages in a cold environment or following exposure to very cold temperatures. Full cold in the digestive system can lead to a feeling of cold, as well as painful cramping, diarrhea or loose stools and pain in the abdomen.

Another common site of a full-cold condition is the uterus. This can be from exposure to cold temperatures such as swimming in cold water or sitting on a cold surface. Certain gynecological procedures can also introduce cold into the uterus. This type of cold manifests as a feeling of cold, particularly with the period and very painful cramping before and during the period. There will likely also be clots and possible problems with fertility.

All of these full-cold conditions can be avoided by limiting exposure to cold environments and cold foods. Also introducing heat internally through teas, soups and warming herbs can help.

Empty cold

In TCM, health is a state of balance between yin and yang. Yin refers to the cool, watery, passive parts of our physiology, whereas yang refers to the hot, fiery, active parts. When the yang energy is weakened, there isn’t enough fire to balance out the cool and watery yin. This leads to a pervasive feeling of cold that is hard to shake, even with lots of blankets and warm drinks. This is someone who always feels chilled, no matter what. There may be other symptoms, as well, such as loose stools, a lack of energy or motivation, wanting to sleep all the time or fluid accumulation. Yang deficiency cold often requires use of herbal medicine, acupuncture, and moxa to treat appropriately.

While these are the main reasons for feeling cold, there are two other energetic imbalances that can also lead to feeling cold – Qi stagnation and blood deficiency.  When Qi is stuck, circulation is impaired and heat can’t get to our extremities effectively. This kind of cold often manifests as very cold hands and feet. It can be helped by regular exercise, reducing stress and limiting heavy foods. A weakness in the blood energy of the body leads to a low-grade constant feeling of cold less severe than a yang deficiency cold, but still pervasive and consistent. It can be helped with getting enough sleep, reducing stressors and eating a well-balanced diet of blood-nourishing foods.

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The Bladder in Chinese Medicine

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the bladder is one of the six yang organs, paired with one of the six yin organs. The yin organs store vital substances (such as Qi, blood, yin, and yang), whereas the yang organs are more active and have a function of constantly filling and emptying. The bladder is a perfect example of a yang organ. Its main physiological function is to remove water from the body in the form of urine. To do this, the bladder uses Qi (energy) and heat from its paired yin organ, the kidneys. continue reading »

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