Author: Eric Grey

The Watershed Healthbooks project and working with the dregs of Winter

watershed wellness acupuncture winterI feel privileged to introduce you to a new initiative from Watershed Wellness. It’s something we’ve been planning for a long time, and now finally have the personnel and energy to get it going.

We are going to be creating something we call Watershed Healthbooks. These are team created, multi-disciplinary sources of information on health related topics that are highly relevant to you. We will be organizing ourselves around a particular seasonally appropriate theme, and sharing with you information on that theme from different perspectives available within the Watershed community of practitioners.

This will result in a rich, grounded and immediately useful nexus of background info, reflections, and action steps that you can use as you go about living your most vital life.

Logistically, we will be releasing a portion of each Healthbook about once per week in the form of a blog post. You can be notified of each post either through RSS, by watching our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, or by subscribing to our newsletter. Since our newsletter only comes out once a month, if you want to be notified of each individual post, you’ll want to try one of the other methods.

We will take all of these individual blog posts and collect them together for you. That forms the guts of the Healthbook. But we’ll add even more engaging content, plus beautiful imagery and design, and generally make them the kind of thing you will want to look at over and over again.

We’ll offer these completed books in a digital format for free to our patients and newsletter subscribers when they are finished.

You can keep them on your computer or mobile device and begin to create a library of health information from the practitioners you know and love. Eventually, if there is enough interest, we may even print these as small booklets that you can keep around, give to friends and family, or whatever else you like.

We’ll be creating approximately 4-5 of these per year, and depending on the topic and our abilities, we may be adding multi media content like audio and video, and sometimes even creating live classes to support your exploration of the information within.

Our hope is that these Healthbooks will help you sink more fully into your wellness journey.

Seeing practitioners is wonderful, of course, and often the quickest way to healing. Still, that process can be significantly enhanced by information and tools for reflection and action that are hard to acquire in other ways. Eventually, we hope you’ll come to see the Watershed website and our clinic as a place where you can not just receive top quality healthcare, but also as a learning center that helps you come into greater balance. With a combination like that – how can you go wrong?

So – what’s our first topic?

For the next 8 weeks, we are going to be working with a problem that many people encounter – particularly those of us in the Northwestern US. Once the holiday season and optimism of the New Year’s celebration recedes, the reality of another couple of months (at least) of sometimes brutal and depressing winter weather begins to set in.

Even for a person like me, who loves our extended cold rainy season, I can begin to lose hope that days of picnics on the lawn and easy strolls without bundling up will ever come.

There are multiple factors at work here – of course! There are physiological realities, social aspects, problems related to the holidays, the lack of movement, and even end of year (and beginning of tax season) financial difficulties that can all contribute. For the most part, we are a heat seeking and sun loving species, with many cultural idiosyncrasies that interrupt an easy descent into the cold and dark.

If you struggle at times in the later winter months – know that you’re not alone.

Even more importantly – there are answers for the questions that vex you. Actually, even for those of us who have a generally easier time in the winter, it can be nice to learn ways to maximally adapt to the season. To take advantage of its positive qualities, to use the energy to help us to be healthier in every respect – these things are desirable and possible.

In the next several blog posts, you’ll become oriented around ways of looking at this special time from Chinese medicine, psycho-spiritual, movement, nutritional, bodywork and other perspectives. You’ll receive inspiration and information, sure, but also concrete action steps, resources for additional engagement, and encouragement to build a plan to help you work with the deep winter in a way that uplifts you.

We look forward to sharing and interacting – stay tuned!

10 things to expect at your acupuncture appointment

High Resolution -7For most people, going to see a Chinese medicine (CM) practitioner is a new experience. Because of this there is often a degree of trepidation as the day of the appointment approaches. What will happen? What should you expect?

Before I attempt to answer some of the most common questions, a caveat. Each acupuncturist is different just as every patient is different. The interaction between practitioner and patient has a lot to do with the way the appointment proceeds and whether it turns out to be a mutually agreeable experience or not. However, there are some basic elements that really should be present in every case. Hopefully, my brief explanation of these will be helpful to you as you pursue Chinese medicine treatment.

Prior to the appointment

1. A pleasant experience in setting up your appointment and getting your questions answered.

You should be able to expect an effortless appointment set-up process, possibly the mailing of pre-appointment paperwork and related informational materials and a kind reception with plenty of willingness to answer questions. You may even be referred to a website for more information and for downloading paperwork – that’s a sign of someone who’s been doing their business homework!

You should also feel free to ask questions of your practitioner to help alleviate concerns or prepare the practitioner for any special needs you may have. This may be done by phone, email, or if you live in the neighborhood, by a quick stop by the office. Of course CM practitioners are busy people, like most of us, but the needs of the patient are always primary in our minds.

During the appointment

2. A lengthly interview process including questions that you may have never been asked before!

Although every practitioner has a slightly different interviewing process based on their training and personality, there are standard questions that most every practitioner will ask. She will begin with learning more about your chief complaint and possibly more detail about your health history. If you are on medication or under the supervision of other physicians, she will likely ask you questions about this. Then she may begin to ask you questions that may appear to be irrelevant to your chief complaint.

These questions may address your sleeping patterns, digestive and urinary function, level and location of pain in your body, emotional health and basic level of stress.  You may be asked about your thirst, hunger, typical daily diet, and seemingly strange questions like whether your body temperature tends to fluctuate or if you have any funny tastes in your mouth. Most practitioners will also ask about sexual function and, if you have or have had menses, about their quality.

Rest assured that these questions are not meant to make you feel uncomfortable! Many conditions that manifest in a non-digestive/urinary/menstrual way (such as skin conditions) may have a basis in your basic digestive function or other apparently unrelated system. Answering these questions honestly will increase the accuracy of diagnosis and help your practitioner to craft an excellent treatment. Believe me, it won’t be anything your practitioner hasn’t heard. She is used to it. 🙂

3. Diagnostic modalities you may not have heard of before including a very detailed taking of the pulse, looking at your tongue, and other palpation techniques including abdominal palpation.

The cornerstone of most Chinese medicine practitioners’ diagnosis is the pulse. This, combined with the other diagnostic modalities and the patient questioning, fine tunes the decision about what acupuncture points and Chinese herbal formulas to use. The process is simple. Generally, the pulse is taken while you are sitting, but some acupuncturists prefer the patient to lie on the treatment table for pulse taking. Pulses on both sides are felt, often for several minutes. Your practitioner is feeling for rate, rhythm, strength and other qualities – not just counting beats per minute. Just relax and follow the practitioner’s lead.

Another very important diagnostic technique is the observation of the tongue. In CM, the tongue is thought to be a “microcosm” of the entire body. This means that the entire body is reflected onto the tongue in such a way that observing the quality of the tongue in particular areas tells the practitioner something about the corresponding area of the body. They will look at the color of the tongue body, the quality and color of the “fur” on the tongue as well as the general shape and any deviations in form. It can be a little embarrassing to show your tongue to someone you don’t know – but it is important and the practitioner will appreciate your cooperation.

As a quick note – it is important not to scrape or brush your tongue on the day of your treatment. Additionally, eating highly colored foods or drinking highly colored drinks (like orange soft drinks or coffee) can impede diagnosis.

4. The treatment itself including a variety of modalities that will be best for your particular situation.

Treatment will consist of the use of needles or pressure (with hand or other implement) to access the Qi of the channels, usually at specific points along the body. It may also involve the use of moxibustion (the burning of a medicinal herb either directly on the body or indirectly from an inch or so away), cupping (glass cups placed on the skin with a negative pressure, producing suction) or other techniques specific to the practitioner’s training. Many practitioners combine various bodywork/massage methods into their treatments as well.

You may feel discomfort during the insertion of the needles – this is normal. The discomfort should not be severe, and should not feel like shooting pins and needles. Your practitioner will be very attuned to your experience, and if you ever want a needle removed, you need only ask. You should breathe gently through the treatment and follow your practitioner’s instructions as to any visualizations that will help the treatment efficacy.

5. A variety of reactions during treatment

People have a variety of reactions to acupuncture treatment. Particularly in the first treatment, or after a particularly stressful or otherwise difficult time in your life – the emotional reaction can be very intense. You may feel like crying, laughing hysterically or expressing yourself in another way. So long as you stay as still as possible (so as not to bend the needles – this can be uncomfortable) please feel free to let your emotions flow out of you. This is part of the treatment. You may also have strange or uncomfortable thoughts, see shapes/colors as if in a semi-dreaming state, or go into a true dreaming state by falling asleep!

All of these reactions are just fine and you shouldn’t stop them unless they cause you an unreasonable amount of discomfort. Your practitioner may help you through these reactions, but most often they will simply leave you to process what is coming up. If you feel that you need help – just ask your practitioner. He will be happy to help you.

6. Possible restimulation of the needles and eventual removal of the needles (if used).

Sometimes the practitioner will come back to restimulate the needle, producing more sensation and more Qi movement. They may use specialized techniques during this time to further encourage your body’s Qi to help in your healing process. The final removal of the needles is usually painless. A little bit of blood at the needle site is not unexpected, but you are equally likely to see none. There will usually be no mark from the needle, and if there is any mark at all, it should disappear within a few hours.

Rarely, there may be a little bruising at the site of a needle. Contact your practitioner if you have any concerns at all.

7. Discussion of the treatment, delivery of herbal formula or other recommended supplements.

After your treatment, the practitioner will probably discuss your future treatment options with you as well as providing you with any recommended supplements or herbal formulas. It is very important that you understand what your practitioner is explaining to you – if you have ANY questions at all, inform her immediately. This is particularly the case if you are being asked to use bulk/crude herbs, boiled at home and drunk over a period of time. There are many important things you should pay attention to, such as: how to boil the herbs (with how much water, in what kind of container), how to drink the herbs (when? what temperature? with food or without?) and how to store the herbs (at room temperature or in the refrigerator?).

Your supplements and herbal formula are an extremely important part of your treatment and they MUST NOT be neglected. IMG_3414If you find the herbs too distasteful, contact your practitioner and ask him about other possibilities. But remember, though the herbs may not always taste the best they are very powerful and will help you immensely in your healing journey.

8. Scheduling of follow-up, possible contact mid-stream if the appointment is far away.

If your practitioner does not talk to you about your treatment plan, solicit the information. Find out when you should come back and if there is anything you should do in the meantime. In some areas, “group acupuncture” may be available, which can be a helpful way to keep the treatment progressing between your more intensive appointments.

Your practitioner may also want to see you briefly if your next appointment is several weeks away in order to take your pulse and observe your tounge and possibly make modifications to your herbal formula.

After the treatment

9. Ongoing shifts and changes in your experience in the time after treatment

People sometimes report feeling a bit spacey after an acupuncture treatment, and for this reason you should give yourself time to relax before driving or jumping straight into work or other duties. The work of acupuncture and related treatment usually continues for several days after the treatment as your body realigns around this “new information.” If you are concerned about your reactions, feel absolutely free to contact your practitioner. In the unlikely situation that the reaction is unanticipated by your practitioner or causing you much distress your practitioner may ask you to come back to the office so she can rectify the situation.

This actually did happen to me once. I received a particularly intense treatment that was meant to “shake up” my body’s energy in the hopes that some long standing negative patterns would release. I was fully informed of the purpose of the treatment and its possible uncomfortable aftereffects. I consented, but found that the resulting emotional and physical sensations were too intense. I called my practitioner and she was more than happy to see me briefly – take my pulse and tongue readings – and retreat me. I felt much better afterwards and actually the original intent of the treatment did occur – freeing me to begin some very important work that has had lasting effects to this day.

10. Availability of your practitioner for questions whenever you have them.

As with the time before your treatment, you should feel free to contact your practitioner with any questions you have between appointments. We are here to help you! If you have questions about your herbal formula, your symptoms or general experience, or anything else related to your treatment – call or email and your practitioner should get back to you as soon as he can.

I hope this has helped you feel more at ease with coming in for your first Chinese medicine appointment. If you have further questions – please don’t hesitate to ask!

Local food + drink to share, a free raffle and experiential learning at our open house celebration

72296 Watershed postcard proof b_Page_1As we’ve been discussing on our Facebook page for the upcoming open house, we have received several really kind donations from local companies. Each one enhances the event, and we’ve been able to build a really great flow for the night based around them.

We’ll be offering:

  • Gluten free bread by New Cascadia Bakery paired with various cheeses

  • Brew Dr. kombucha and Portland juice, as well as a variety of Smith teas

  • Cocktails made with fine spirits by Vinn Distillery, as well as wine

  • A full mediterranean spread by local favorite Nicholas’, including their famous gluten free pitas

We’ll of course have music, opportunities to meet the whole Watershed Wellness team (including some BRAND NEW additions that we’ve not even talked about on the site yet). You’ll of course have a great time connecting with other Watershed Wellness enthusiasts, but we’re trying to take the fun a step further by developing experiential stations where you can learn a little more about Chinese medicine, massage therapy and other aspects of our medicine, and have fun doing it.

Look forward to diving into the five elements, tasting Chinese herbal teas, and getting hands on with the massage lotions and essential oils we feature here at Watershed.

Finally, we’re having an absolutely free raffle for Watershed services and more. Every person who comes to the open house gets a free ticket – and you do not have to stay for the whole event in order to be eligible. Just stop in, grab some literature and a bite to eat, check out the new space, and go on your merry way into the chilly autumn night! We’ll get in touch with the winners by email a couple of days after the event.

We really hope you will come and celebrate our new location and our new refreshed focus and spirit this Thursday, November 13, 2014 from 5-9pm.

Tell your friends, and if you have a minute and find yourself on Facebook, please check-in at the event page.

See you then!

5 Ways the New Watershed Wellness Clinic Space is Going to Make You Smile

1990 se ladd new watershed clinicAs I write this, I can hear walls coming down in the building adjacent to ours. That destruction is going to be followed by some construction, some beautification, and eventually, a full scale moving event. It will all culminate in the move of Watershed Wellness to the space right next door – 1990 SE Ladd Ave!

We’re really excited to introduce you to the new space, and will be sharing all kinds of information, photos and deals with you through our newsletter (click here to sign up) and our Facebook page (have you “liked” us yet?). But for now, I wanted to share with you five things you should be excited about with this move.

1. More space means more practitioners (and more options)

We’ve been in our current space for almost five years. It’s been very good to us. However, with the two of us as busy as we can be, it’s time to hire more practitioners and our current place just isn’t big enough for that! So, we’re doubling our space and beginning the process of finding new practitioners that are perfect for our team. This means more options for you both in terms of the people providing your care and the days and hours available for appointments. All good things!

2. More space also means that group classes and other offerings are finally possible

We’ve been wanting to teach classes that support your wellness for years – but our current space just hasn’t been able to support even small groups. While we don’t have a huge open space, the front room (half of which is shown in the photo on this post) will readily convert into a space where 8-10 people can come together for learning and mutual support. We’ll probably start classes in early 2015 – we’re really looking forward to it! Some classes will be free, others will have a small fee which may be lessened or waived for current patients. Maybe good encouragement to make an appointment today?

3. More openness and access for everyone

We love Ladd’s Addition and our central location within it. Up until now, we’ve been tucked around the corner – on the big traffic circle in the center of the neighborhood – yet not quite visible from it. Now we’ll be the dominant presence on the circle along with Palio. This means that we have to step up our game in terms of being available for questions and such – since more people will be dropping by. We’re hoping to hire a full time front desk superstar relatively soon, and until then will be doing our best to keep the front door open. This means you can drop by and say hi, grab some literature or have a cup of tea, and otherwise take advantage of the space.

We also now have a ramp area that will make it easier for folks with mobility challenges to come into the space. While it’s unfortunately not quite 100% officially ADA accessible from the outside (the inside is, of course) it is a big improvement from our current space.

4. Gorgeous treatment rooms to relax in

Our current space has been a cozy incubator for our clinic. However, sometimes those treatment rooms have been a little TOO cozy, and sometimes stuffy (particularly in the summer). Now we have air conditioning, ventilation in the rooms, and the rooms themselves are about twice as big as the current ones. More space for you to enjoy your treatments and more space for our practitioners to do the work they need to do. We’ll also be updating our equipment and all the little things we put into making your experience a comfortable and enjoyable one.

5. New products to help you live your best life

Over the last few years, we’ve offered topical products for treatment of muscle aches and pains and a few supplements. But, many of you have asked for us to have a wider selection of products to help you support your healing and transformation. We’ve got space for that now, and have been busy investigating what we want to offer. We’ll have more topicals, more supplements, custom tea and soup blends, essential oils and literature all for sale. We’re also hoping to develop a lending library of books about Chinese medicine, massage therapy and related fields.

We think you’ll agree that this is a great opportunity for the whole Watershed Wellness community. We have quite a bit of work to finish before we get there, but hope to open on October 27 in the new space. We’ll have plenty more to share in the coming weeks – so please stay tuned here on the blog, on Facebook, and also join the client newsletter if you haven’t already. 

10 Things You Should Expect from your First Acupuncture Appointment

High Resolution -110Every Chinese medicine practitioner is different just as every patient is different. The interaction between doctor and patient has a lot to do with the way the appointment proceeds and whether it turns out to be a mutually agreeable experience or not. However, there are some basic elements that will be present in every appointment. In this article, I’d like to detail the most important of these. I hope that it will help set your mind at ease prior to your first appointment, or if this isn’t your first appointment, help you to be an advocate for your own excellent care!

Prior to arrival

1. A pleasant experience in setting up your appointment and getting your questions answered.

It has been my experience that otherwise great Chinese medicine physicians don’t have a lot of basic business skills. This can result in frustrating experiences for patients. This is not always the case, however. You should be able to expect an effortless appointment set-up process, possibly the mailing of pre-appointment paperwork and related informational materials and a kind reception with plenty of willingness to answer questions. You may even be referred to a website for more information and for downloading paperwork – that’s a sign of someone who’s been doing their business homework! 😉

After arrival

2. A lengthly interview process including questions that you may have never been asked before!

Although every doctor has a slightly different interviewing process based on their training and personality, there are standard questions that most every doctor will ask. She will begin with learning more about your chief complaint and possibly more detail about your health history. If you are on medication or under the supervision of other physicians, she will likely ask you questions about this. Then she may begin to ask you questions that may appear to be irrelevant to your chief complaint.

Questions about your sleeping patterns, digestive and urinary function, sexual function, emotional quality and basic level of stress are typical. Be prepared to disclose the frequency and quality of your urine, feces, and if you are a woman, your menstrual period. Rest assured that these questions are not meant to make you feel uncomfortable. Many conditions that manifest in a non-digestive/urinary/menstrual way (such as skin conditions) may have a basis in your basic digestive function or other apparently unrelated system. Answering these questions completely honestly will increase the accuracy of diagnosis and help your doctor to craft an excellent treatment. Believe me, it won’t be anything your doctor hasn’t heard. She is used to it.

3. Insightful questioning and the sense that the doctor is already hot on the trail of a spot-on diagnosis.

You will probably notice that the doctor will ask you questions that you had not anticipated. Often, however, when you answer them you will see that there was an unusual finding that you hadn’t thought about. For example, the doctor may ask you about your sleep though you came in for shoulder pain. Though you weren’t prepared to talk about your sleep and perhaps hadn’t thought about it, upon considering the question you may find that your sleep has been restless and interrupted recently.

This, along with other cues, will probably give you the sense that the doctor has a real idea of what is going on with your body. This should set you at ease, although some people experience it as being a little disconcerting! We’re not used to doctors with answers!

4. Taking of the pulse and observing the tongue.

The cornerstone of any Chinese medicine diagnosis is the pulse. While patients descriptions are certainly important, it is the more objective information available to the skilled practitioner that really cements the diagnosis. They will have you relax your arms and will feel your radial pulse for a minute or more on each side. Sometimes they will return to a pulse they have already felt. Every doctor has a slightly different technique, and some doctors are more skilled in pulse taking than others. This art has been practiced in some form in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It gives the practitioner information about your entire body and everything in it.

Another very important diagnostic technique is the observation of the tongue. In CM, the tongue is thought to be a “microcosm” of the entire body. This means that the entire body is reflected onto the tongue in such a way that observing the quality of the tongue in particular areas tells the practitioner something about the corresponding area of the body. They will look at the color of the tongue body, the quality and color of the “fur” on the tongue as well as the general shape and any deviations in form. It can be a little embarrassing to show your tongue to someone you don’t know – but it is important and the doctor will appreciate your cooperation.

As a quick note – it is important not to scrape or brush your tongue on the day of your treatment. Additionally, eating highly colored foods or drinking highly colored drinks (like orange soft drinks or coffee) may impede diagnosis.

5. Treatment

Treatment will consist of the use of needles or pressure (with hand or other implement) to access the Qi of the channels, usually at specific points along the body. It may also involve the use of moxibustion (the burning of a medicinal herb either directly on the body or indirectly from an inch or so away), cupping (glass cups placed on the skin with a negative pressure, producing suction) or other techniques specific to the doctor’s training.

You may feel some discomfort during the insertion of the needles – this is normal. For a rundown of some of my thoughts about acupuncture, you might want to check out our page on acupuncture.

6. A variety of reactions during treatment

People have a variety of reactions to acupuncture treatment. Particularly in the first treatment, or after a particularly stressful or otherwise difficult time in your life – the emotional reaction can be very intense. You may feel like crying, laughing hysterically or expressing yourself in another way. So long as you stay as still as possible (so as not to bend the needles – this can be uncomfortable) please feel free to let your emotions flow out of you. This is part of the treatment. You may also have strange or uncomfortable thoughts, see shapes/colors as if in a semi-dreaming state, or go into a true dreaming state by falling asleep!

All of these reactions are just fine and you shouldn’t stop them unless they cause you an unreasonable amount of discomfort. Your doctor may help you through these reactions, but most often they will simply leave you to process what is coming up. If you feel that you need help – just ask your doctor. He will be happy to help you.

7. Possible restimulation of the needles and eventual removal of the needles (if used).

Sometimes the doctor will come back to restimulate the needle, producing more sensation and more Qi movement. They may use specialized techniques during this time to further encourage your body’s Qi to help in your healing process. The final removal of the needles is usually painless.

8. Discussion of the treatment, delivery of herbal formula or other recommended supplements.

After your treatment, the doctor will probably discuss your future treatment options with you as well as providing you with any recommended supplements or herbal formulas. It is very important that you understand what your doctor is explaining to you – if you have ANY questions at all, inform her immediately. This is particularly the case if you are being asked to use bulk/crude herbs, boiled at home and drunk over a period of time. There are many important things you should pay attention to, such as: how to boil the herbs (with how much water, in what kind of container), how to drink the herbs (when? what temperature? with food or without?) and how to store the herbs (at room temperature or in the refrigerator?).

Your supplements and herbal formula are an extremely important part of your treatment and they MUST NOT be neglected. If you find the herbs too distasteful, contact your doctor and ask him about other possibilities. But remember, though the herbs may not always taste the best they are very powerful and will help you immensely in your healing journey.

9. Scheduling of follow-up, possible contact mid-stream if the appointment is far away.

If your doctor does not talk to you about your treatment plan, solicit the information. Find out when you should come back and if there is anything you should do in the meantime. In some areas, “group acupuncture” may be available. This is a form of acupuncture where you will be treated – usually fully clothed – in a room with several others. It is typically very affordable and some doctors recommend it to their patients in between “regular” appointments. It will keep your Qi moving and continue the treatment you are receiving. Your doctor may also want to see you briefly if your next appointment is several weeks away in order to take your pulse and observe your tounge and possibly make modifications to your herbal formula.

10. After the treatment.

People sometimes report feeling a bit spacey after an acupuncture treatment, and for this reason you should give yourself time to relax before driving or jumping straight into work or other duties. The work of acupuncture and related treatment usually continues for several days after the treatment as your body realigns around this “new information.” If you are concerned about your reactions, feel absolutely free to contact your doctor. In the unlikely situation that the reaction is unanticipated by your doctor or causing you much distress your doctor may ask you to come back to the office so she can rectify the situation.

 

I hope this information is useful to you as you find the right treatment fit for you!

Chinese Medicine and the Treatment of “Weird Diseases”

IMG_6602Many patients who come through the Watershed clinic are plagued by complexes of symptoms that Conventional Western medicine cannot explain.

After many years in the conventional medical system, they are typically given a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome or chronic fatigue syndrome.  Unfortunately, this diagnosis rarely gives them viable treatment nor any hope for lasting improvement.  Depression, anxiety, endless Internet searches and similar behaviors are often the result.

At some point, people in this situation learn that alternative medicine, particularly Chinese medicine, may have treatments for the symptoms they are experiencing.  This dicovery is often why they are seeking Chinese medicine or Naturopathic medicine services, particularly around Portland.  Portland is a place where these services are more readily available, so patients know they have options.

When I sit down to work with a person with a diagnosis like this, the first thing I try to do is get them away from thinking too much about the diagnosis.  Instead, I ask them to focus on the symptoms they are currently experiencing and how their daily life is different from the one they would like to live.  This gets them back in touch with their bodies (good even if the body isn’t feeling so good) as well as focused on a better future.

It can sometimes take two or three appointments before my patients begin to feel that real hope that comes from knowing an illness is time limited.  During those first three appointments, we’re getting to know eachother, doing simple, clearing acupuncture treatments, and doing the work necessary to find the perfect Chinese herbal formula.

What’s amazing is that once they get this – once they really start to understand that their bodies are capable of feeling differently – symptoms begin to shift.

They’re not cured, of course, but they get their first “wins” and start to believe that winning is possible!  As a Chinese medicine practitioner, that’s honestly one of the most gratifying moments in treatment – even more gratifying than the eventual cessation of symptoms.

We then start to work on the most vexing, life altering symptoms one by one.  We don’t focus solely on symptoms, however.  As we work on the “branches” (the symptoms) we are striking deep at the “root” (cause) of the symptoms.  Fortunately, with Chinese medicine, this isn’t too difficult to achieve in most cases.

We can readily incorporate the treatment of symptoms into the fundamental shifting of the pattern.  This brings relief without neglecting the long term picture.

There are always ups and downs in treatment of this kind.  Sometimes, a patient will not experience a symptom for a long while and suddenly it comes back.  About half of the time, this is a random, temporary occurrence and we don’t have to work with it very much.  The other half of the time, there is some definable reason that the symptom has popped back up.  We address this reason, and move on.

Never do we get bogged down in the details – and always we stay focused on the hope of that life they want to live.

In my next few articles on the Watershed Community Wellness blog, I’d like to talk about some of these “weird diseases” in detail.  I will offer case studies, treatment ideas and home care tips for readers who may be struggling with one of these symptom complexes, but for whatever reason cannot come in for treatment at Watershed.  I hope this will be helpful!

Chinese Herbal Medicine & Endangered Animals

rhino_on_blackNote: Edited on 2015-01-06 for clarity.

You have probably heard various news stories about the discovery and confiscation of various types of endangered animal ingredients, presumably for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) preparations. From tiger penises to rhino horns to bear bile, these happenings never fail to make sensational news.

The use of endangered animal ingredients is rare in the US and not tolerated at Watershed

All of the herbal formulas compounded at Watershed Wellness are 100% verified to be endangered animal free. We do not use patent medicines or other remedies that are available over the counter at many healthfood stores – which are more difficult to verify.

That out of the way – it is important to understand that practically no licensed US practitioner of Chinese herbalism is taught how to use these endangered animal ingredients, they are flagged as unethical in our herbal texts, and they are not available through reputable distributors. So, this position isn’t unique to Watershed.

There are other animal based herbs – from un-endangered species – used in limited Chinese herbal formulas

The vast majority of Chinese herbs are plant based. Less than 1% of regularly used Chinese herbs have an animal origin. Most of these are discarded materials (such as antler and dung) or materials left when an animal dies (as in oyster shell and fossilized bone). Some of these materials are available at Watershed, but are used on a very limited basis in our herbal formulas.

As a practitioner of Chinese medicine who is a lover of animals and was vegan for the better part of two decades, I am VERY sensitive to the varying beliefs and needs of my patients. That is why I always seek consent when I am going to use an herb of animal origin in a formula, and find an alternative when needed. You can always feel free to make a blanket statement about your desire to have animal ingredients in formulas at the outset of your treatment and I will abide by that absolutely.

But rest assured, regardless, no endangered animals are ever used in any herbal formula or other product available at Watershed Wellness!

 

7 Ways to Ensure You NEVER Sleep Well Again (or, Chinese Medicine and Insomnia)

IMG_0007Sitting here up after tossing and turning for an hour, I find that I have a fair degree of clarity concerning a topic on many people’s minds – sleep. Or, more properly, the lack of it. Insomnia, anyone?

Insomnia and other sleep disorders are a growing problem, particularly in Western nations. Because insomnia makes me rather negative – I’ll point out seven things that people do wrong to keep themselves awake and indicate what Chinese medicine has to say about them.

1. Work too late Work, especially knowledge work, burns blood. Blood is necessary to house the Shen. This will be a repetitive theme in this post. You may not understand what Blood or Shen are – I will surely blog about them sometime in the near future. To keep it simple, let’s say that Blood is the heavier, more Yin sister to Qi. It’s a nourishing fluid in your body and the concept is closely associated with what Western medicine talks about when they talk about blood. Shen is, roughly, the Spirit. But it’s a nuanced concept – it includes Western ideas about Mind, consciousness, soul and purpose. The “big fish” with sleeping is that your Shen, which is awake when you are and interacting with the world, needs to nestle into something cool and protecting while you’re asleep. That’s where Blood comes in. If your blood is damaged by overwork or is otherwise compromised, you won’t sleep well – if at all.

Solution: Set a bed time and promise yourself to stop any work at least an hour before that time. Your work can wait.

2. Eat too late: In this situation, it is as if you’ve got construction going on next to your bedroom. Your Shen is trying to get some rest after a long day of work but the Stomach (adjacent to the Heart) is busy grinding away, doing its work, making a racket and generally making it impossible for anyone to settle down.

Solution: Eat earlier. If you must eat late, eat a simple nourishing meal and eat until you’re only about 3/4 full.

3. Think too much/worry: A leading cause of sleeping problems. This activity can be harmful whether you do it during the day, right before you go to sleep, or as you try to fall asleep. Aside from burning up your blood (see #1) you’re also agitating your Heart and impacting the movement of Heart Qi. This poor movement can result in stagnation Heat or a number of other scenarios that have one end result: difficulty sleeping.

Solution: This is going to require a general lifestyle change – moving away from thinking/worrying so much in general. But in an acute situation, knowing that you need to change your lifestyle isn’t going to help. Instead, sit up in bed – relax your muscles – and breathe deeply into your belly. Let your belly expand completely as you fill your lungs with air, but try not to strain too much. Then let it relax. Do this while focusing on a space maybe 3-5 inches into your abdomen, below your bellybutton an inch or two. Do a cycle of ten breaths then let yourself breathe normally for ten breaths and repeat. Think as little as possible while you do this. This almost always puts me to sleep if I let it.

4. Sleep in uncomfortable situations, especially in the heat: If you are uncomfortable, you can’t sleep. What about your sleeping situation isn’t working for you? Maybe you need a new pillow? A firmer or softer mattress? Windows open or closed? Some white noise? Darker curtains? This isn’t so much a Chinese medicine issue, but it is common sense. You could do some evaluation of your space using Feng Shui principles, but as I don’t know much about it – I’ll stick with the common sense approach.

Solution: Lie quietly in your sleeping space and try to figure out what is distracting you from what you need – calm, uninterrupted shut-eye. Mentally resolve to fix the situation as soon as possible and use one of the techniques listed here to get you to sleep for now. Sometimes just figuring out what’s bothering you is enough to render it impotent.

5. Eat poorly: If you’re not eating plenty of whole foods, providing your body with the nutrition it needs to have good Qi and Blood you will not be able to do much of anything, including sleep. In particular, the big blood building foods: dark, leafy greens, seaweeds, some meats, whole grains, will assist in creating a rich and thick blood-filled space that your Shen will be more than happy to hang out in. As unappetizing as that just sounded, it works.

Solution: Eat your spinach. Really! Any of the foods listed above will be helpful. Avoid the usual suspects – refined carbohydrates, overly sweet foods, etc…

6. Neglect cultivation/practice: Whatever it is that you do to soothe your soul, if you don’t do it on a regular basis your soul will fail to be soothed. Make sense? Maybe you do yoga, or nightly walks, or play with your dog, or go to church, or all of these. Maybe you have an extremely eclectic practice involving howling at the moon and eating yogurt with a fork. Chances are, if you are having sleeping problems you have been neglecting the things that make you feel the most complete. Even if your favored activities don’t seem to be “cultivation” or “spiritual practice” in the way the media defines those terms, if they bring you a sense of peace and joy, if they don’t violate any of the other rules on this page – they’re cultivation for you.

Solution: Whatever it is that you have found that gives you that feeling of well-being and connectedness, you need to do it regularly. It may seem unrelated to your sleeping patterns, but I guarantee you if you do your practice on a regular basis, so long as there is no other major deficiency in your life routine, you will sleep.

7. Drink caffeine/alcohol in large amounts: We know why these interrupt sleep from a Western perspective – but what about the Chinese medicine perspective? These substances are almost invariably hot in nature. What this means is that they introduce heat into the body, which can accumulate easily in organs susceptible to heat-borne insult. The Liver and Heart are both easily irritated by heat. The Heart, via its association with the Shen and the Liver, via its association with the Hun spirits, are both important in healthy sleep. We’ve already briefly discussed Shen. The Hun spirits are sometimes associated with the human subconscious, and they are responsible for our dreaming life. If your Liver or Heart (whether via Blood or through direct insult) are damaged by heat, the Hun and Shen will fail to rest – possibly causing insomnia.

Solution: Drink these things in moderation, or not at all if you tend towards heat conditions. You could also try to keep balance by being sure to take plenty of cooling food and drink throughout your day – though I haven’t had much luck with this strategy.

What has helped you to get to sleep?