“Am I ever going to feel better?”
If you’ve struggled with a long-term illness, you may have asked yourself this question.
Maybe you’ve suffered with chronic pain, or a challenging digestive disorder, or a recurrent skin problem or some other ailment for so long, you’ve forgotten what it feels like to be well. To be ‘normal.’ Maybe somebody has told you your condition is permanent. Perhaps you’ve been given a diagnosis and told it will be with you for life. Maybe you’ve even stopped asking yourself the question if you can be well again.
There is a lot I could say about Chinese Medicine’s perspective on chronic illness. I could tell stories of miraculous cures I’ve heard from my teachers and mentors, or discuss my own successes as an acupuncturist and herbalist in treating complex diseases.
I could even talk about my own experiences as a patient, suffering from disorders that were never supposed to get better, but which did with regular treatment. But I’m not going to do any of that here.
Instead, I would like to let the tradition of this medicine speak for itself.
Here is what it says on the subject of chronic illness:
“Now, when any of the five major organ systems has an illness, it’s as if one was pierced by a thorn, or soiled by dirt, as if there were a knot, or something closed. A thorn may have pierced one for long, and yet it can be pulled out. A stain may have existed for long, ad yet it can be cleansed. A knot may have been tied for long, and yet it can be untied. A closure may have lasted for long, and yet it can be opened. If someone says an illness with a long duration cannot be removed, then that is an erroneous statement.
“Now, those who are experts in the use of acupuncture needles, when they remove an illness, that is as if they pulled out a thorn, as if they cleansed a stain, as if they untied a knot, as if they opened a closure. The illness may have lasted for long, and still it can be brought to an end. Those who state that it cannot be cured, they simply have not acquired the necessary skill.” 2
If you’re feeling hopeless about your health problems, I want you to take a minute and read those paragraphs again. Really let them sink in.
If you are suffering from a chronic illness, I want you to save that passage, and take it out and read it whenever you feel like things will never get better. Health is a journey, and sometimes, it is a long and winding one. The terrain can be rough. It may seem you are moving backwards. There may be moments when you feel lost. But progress is always possible.
As a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I am here to walk that journey with you, every step of the way. I am completely committed to restoring your well-being, and I invite you to commit to the possibility of your own recovery yourself.
1 This text is called the Ling Shu (靈樞). It’s the second half of a medical treatise called the Huang Di Nei Jing (黃帝內經 ), or the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.
2 This is a paraphrased version of Paul Unschuld’s translation of the Ling Shu. The original text in Classical Chinese is:
If you’re dealing with chronic pain, you‘re not alone.
Over 25 million Americans experience pain on a daily basis, and over 23 million report suffering from severe pain, according to the latest data from the National Institutes of Health.
Pain is not well managed in many cases by conventional biomedicine, which has led to a national opioid crisis among other problems.
Dealing with constant pain is tiring on its own, but throw in the challenge of trying to navigate a healthcare system that seems stacked against you, and a society that demands you justify the validity of your symptoms, and the experience becomes downright demoralizing. Let me assure you though that Chinese Medicine will never ask you to prove the credibility of your experience of pain.
Our first task as practitioners is to listen to you, because it is precisely your own lived experience that will ultimately guide us to proper diagnosis and treatment. Your body has its own innate intelligence, and while pain can be overwhelming, it is also meaningful. All symptoms are messages, and when we experience pain we are experiencing the body trying to communicate something vital to us about the state of our health.
This is easy enough to understand in acute pain (which Chinese Medicine is also very successful in treating): there is damage to body structures and tissues, which makes the nervous system produce the sensation of pain. Pain is also associated with acute inflammation, part of the healing response to injuries. So we can understand pain as an alarm system for the body, warning us of danger or damage. In doing so it, our body is trying to get us to adopt behaviors that will avoid further damage and facilitate healing. If I sprain my ankle, pain should prevent me from using it, which will both prevent additional trauma and allow the injury to heal.
But in chronic pain, the relationship between tissue damage and the sensation of pain is less clear.
Pain can persist long after an initial injury when we would expect the body to have finished healing. And by itself, structural issues and tissue damage often aren’t enough to explain chronic pain. For example, recent studies of medical imaging reveal that many people who have no symptoms of back pain still have degenerative changes in their spine that show up on MRI or CT scans. This implies that structural changes and tissue damage are not in themselves sufficient to cause pain (if they were, nearly everybody over the age of forty would have debilitating back pain). So what causes chronic pain?
From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, health is a dynamic balance between the organ systems within your body, your mental and emotional life (which are intimately tied to the activity of your physiology), and the synchronization of your activity and bodily rhythms with the cycles of the natural world.
In other words, pain is an experience that emerges from complex feedback loops within our bodies and the way our bodies interact with our environment.
When the relationships between these different aspects of your life are in harmony, Chinese Medicine describes this as a state of flow. When these relationships become imbalanced, Chinese Medicine describes this as a state of blockage or obstruction. It’s a common Chinese Medicine saying that where there is obstruction, there is pain. If you suffer from chronic pain, then you understand that this isn’t just a poetic way of speaking. Pain blocks your ability to take part in the activities you enjoy. It obstructs your freedom to move through life on your own terms.
Pain can put your life on hold.
But no matter how long you’ve felt trapped by pain, we have confidence in the body’s inherent self-healing ability. In particular, acupuncture provides us with sophisticated ways of determining where these blockages are occurring within the body, and to provide the proper stimulus for your body to overcome them, restoring a state of harmonious flow. In more biomedical language, we would describe the same process as restoring homeostasis by regulating the nervous system, optimizing the circulatory system, and modulating the immune system.
Regular acupuncture treatment results in lasting changes, and when combined with the full spectrum of Chinese Medicine, profound transformation is possible.
It’s also important to realize that symptoms of pain cannot be considered in isolation from the full context of your life. If pain is an alarm system, then trying to override it (for example, with medications or surgery) is akin to taking the batteries out of a fire alarm without trying to determine why the alarm is going off. As challenging as it can be, we must view chronic pain as an invitation to examine our lives, and ask if some part of our activity is at odds with our own well-being.
In the case of chronic pain, this is not an obviously dangerous activity, like touching a hot stove, and more likely to involve the activities that make up the rhythm of life – our habits of work and sleep, of movement and rest, our diet and even our patterns of thought and emotion. Pain is an attempt by our body to redirect our awareness toward these areas of our life, so we can make appropriate changes in support of health.
Chinese Medicine is not just a set of techniques, but a comprehensive system for attaining and maintaining health, rooted in an ecological perspective. In addition to guiding the healing process within your body, it can also offer advice and suggestions for how to synchronize our activity with the larger activity of nature. Healing from chronic pain with Chinese Medicine then is a twofold process.
With acupuncture, herbal medicine and our other tools, we can help shift how your body processes pain. And in the same way we restore flow within your body, we aim also to restore the way you flow through your life. I look forward to being your partner in that process!
Having a chronic skin condition might sound like nothing more than a cosmetic issue, but if you’ve ever suffered from skin issues, you know their effects are anything but superficial. Skin problems can be heartbreaking, and they affect every aspect of your health.
Worst of all, chronic skin conditions rob you of so much…
- Itching, burning, and other unpleasant sensations rob you of sleep and peace of mind.
- Visible changes to your skin rob of your confidence.
- Avoiding foods that might trigger a flare rob you of the joy of eating what you want.
- Avoiding environmental triggers can rob you of the ease of not worrying if a common product will cause a flare up.
Conventional treatment options aren’t very encouraging.
We have antihistamines (basically ineffective), topical steroids (thin your skin over time), immunosuppressants (expensive, and with potential side effects that include cancer). And that’s pretty much it! Even if some of these therapies help control your symptoms, they’re unlikely to full resolve your problem. Stopping any of them typically cause your skin problems to flare up again, sometimes worse than before.
This isn’t surprising because none of the conventional treatments for chronic skin conditions are fixing the root of the problem. They are just suppressing your symptoms.
But what if there was another way? A natural way to heal your skin from the inside out? What if somebody could offer you a treatment that isn’t just “skin deep”, but really gets at the root of your skin issues?
Chinese Medicine offers this kind of alternative.
We don’t take a one-size fits all approach to health. We are interested in uncovering the specific causes behind your unique presentation and developing a custom treatment plan to help you achieve clear skin and optimum wellness.
Understanding your experience and symptoms are what will ultimately guide us to a proper differential diagnosis. Our treatment approach for somebody suffers from a lot of itching, for example, might differ dramatically from somebody who doesn‘t have itching. The same is true of somebody who has dry skin vs wet or weeping skin, or somebody whose skin flares up with stress vs somebody whose skin flares up in response to food.
We treat these problems differently because the different symptoms show different imbalances within your body.
One of the basic principles of Chinese Medicine is that problems deep within the body manifest at the surface—the state of the outside reflects the state of the inside. That’s why your Chinese Medicine practitioner takes your pulse, looks at your tongue, and performs other kinds of exams to make a differential diagnosis. Understanding the specific way your chronic skin condition has developed, using the science that underlies Chinese medicine, will help us craft the best treatment to help you resolve your problems.
Not just holistic, but collaborative – the Watershed Wellness approach
Amanda Koennecke, Licensed Esthetician, can work with your skin directly, providing services like detoxification, facials, microdermabrasion, and a range of high quality natural products from Eminence Organics to help keep you looking your best. She can also provide a range of suggestions to improve your diet and lifestyle to support this work. Ultimately – the message of this approach to skin health is simple…
Beauty and health are intertwined. When things are balanced internally, that balance will be reflected externally.
When you have serious digestive problems, it can disrupt your whole life!
- Maybe health problems have forced you to rearrange your daily routine and schedule to suit the symptoms.
- Perhaps you dread social events centered on eating and food, because you can only tolerate certain foods, making things socially challenging.
- Most of us hear the message that diet is the ultimate foundation of digestive health. There is always some new diet promising relief – you’ve likely tried them all. You might have gotten some relief from cutting out certain foods, but you feel like this hasn’t really solved your problem.
- Despite your efforts, you find that you still have a very restricted list of foods. On the other hand, your friends seem to thrive on diets including all kinds of foods you’d never be able to touch!
- Perhaps you are taking a laundry list of supplements and probiotics, but it’s not clear how much of an effect these are having.
- Maybe you have an official medical diagnosis and you were told you will have to struggle with these issues for the rest of your life
If you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions, then you know well how damaging chronic digestive problems can be to the enjoyment and flow of everyday life. Having to manage all of this is exhausting, and doesn’t give you time for much else. Fortunately, there are solutions beyond just tinkering with your diet and adding another supplement.
For thousands of years, Chinese Medicine has understood the importance of the digestive system to human health. Chinese medical theory refers to the digestive organs as “the center” around which the rest of your body’s systems operate. As Chinese Medicine practitioners, we understand that when your center is strong, the rest of you is strong. When the center suffers, so does everything else. And we have time-tested methods of improving your digestive system, methods that go immediately to the source of your health issues.
Allow me to explain how our approach to digestive problems is different
Chinese Medicine likens the digestive system’s role within the body to the Earth or Soil in the natural world. Just as soil can take in fluid and seeds and transform them into verdant plant life, the digestive system can receive and transform food and drink into energy and nourishment for the body.
Let’s run with this metaphor of the digestive system as soil.
Consider planting some special heirloom seeds. You get the perfect seed, plant it, tend to the seeds carefully – a lot of work! Consider then discovering that the quality of the soil itself is poor, or has been overwhelmed by a series of droughts or floods, or was damaged through misuse of chemical fertilizers and aggressive farming techniques. Then, it doesn’t matter how potent our seeds are, or even how much we water them. They won’t be able to take root!
If we want to grow anything, we need to address the quality of the soil.
Making clearer the metaphor, planting seeds, tending and watering to them represent following a balanced whole foods diet. Taking probiotics when needed and learning more about practices like mindful eating can also relate to this tending principle. We can relate the idea of chemical fertilizers to the impacts of antibiotics or other stressors on gut microflora. We can understand the droughts and floods as the effects of other organ systems on the digestion, such as the nervous system.
What you eat does play a critical role in digestive health, but the digestive system itself needs to be functioning well enough for what you consume to be properly received. You can eat an extremely clean and healthy diet, but if you aren’t processing nutrients efficiently, this isn’t going to make much of a difference.
This is where Chinese Medicine comes in!
Regular acupuncture treatment and herbal medicine are treating your terrain, improving the quality of your soil. Another way of putting this is that optimizing your body’s ability to better assimilate what it takes in, making your gut a more inviting place for beneficial microflora, and helping to make sure that your digestive organs are working in harmony with the rest of your body by regulating the nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system.
And while, yes, you should avoid triggers to your digestive system, we also want to make it so that if your body does encounter the occasional stressor, it can respond more gracefully – without setting off a cascade of uncomfortable or debilitating reactions.
Fall – it’s a splendid time. The leaves express the most outrageous color palate; the rain highlights and magnifies our experience of the colors. A stark contrast from summer, fall insists that we put on layers and protect ourselves from the change in the forecast.
Some of us just do not want to listen. We insist on wearing sandals or flip-flops; we stare reluctantly at our socks until the bitter end. Putting away our “summer gear” means that the inordinately beautiful summer months in the Pacific Northwest are over.
Others play by the rules; we bundle up immediately! Despite our practices, sometimes we are simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Amidst all its glory, fall is a time in which the variability of environmental stimuli impacts the terrain of our body – a time when we all catch colds! We do not call it “flu season” for nothing, folks!
Fall is a great time to come see your acupuncturist — whether you’re not feeling well, or if you are and want to stay that way.
Before I went to school to become an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner, I managed an acupuncture clinic. Come fall, people would inevitably call the clinic and say, “I am far too sick to make it into my acupuncture appointment today! I am sorry but I need to cancel!” I always loved these calls, because it gave me the opportunity to talk to the patient about just how important their visit was that day.
I was 99.9% sure they would leave the clinic feeling far better than when they walked in.
I often said, “You can take it up with me personally, if you don’t feel better on the way out.”
I am motivated to write this blog post in the attempt to set the record straight on just how important it is for that patient to make their appointment.
Coming in for treatment when you are sick is one of the best times to get acupuncture! Here’s why.
One of the most established herbal canons in Chinese medicine is titled the Treatise on Cold Damage, or the Shang Han Lun (傷寒論). One of my dear teacher’s once told me, “there are as many opinions about Chinese medicine as there are people who think about it.” That said, I will spare you specifics of this very well known herbal cannon, here. I will, however, boldly state that the Shang Han Lun is truly the premiere authority on the discussion of the each and every body’s response to external stimuli. What I mean to say is: practitioners of Chinese medicine know what to do when you’re not feeling well!
Not convinced? Let me give you some more details on colds. NOT every cold looks the same! You may know someone (yourself, or someone else) who gets colds in the same place each time. Does the cold go to the throat, or to the lungs? Does your neck hurt? Do you have body aches, fever, or both? Do you feel foggy in the head? Do you have trouble thinking? Do you notice changes in your bowel patterns? What about feeling restless? The author of this text described almost every symptom you can manifest and then clearly told us (the practitioners) what to do! Those of us who study this text, thank him regularly – I assure you.
Not only is acupuncture phenomenal for getting rid of colds, it is also remarkable at staving them off.
In fact, we can often feel a cold coming on a patient’s pulse (taken at the radial artery) long before it arrives! The point is, we will take care of your cold. We want to take care of your cold. Let us!
Fall is a great time to come see your acupuncturist — whether you’re not feeling well, or if you are and want to stay that way. We look forward to seeing you around the clinic. We wish you the best during this auspicious fall season.
Ready to fend off the flu and cold season with Chinese Medicine? Check out the schedule to make your appointment.
This Sunday, May 31, 2015 from 11am-noon, please join Watershed practitioner Dr. DeAun Nelson for a conversation about a weight neutral approach to health and wellness. The approach is called Health at Every Size, and is a passion for DeAun in her practice.
From the Health At Every Size website,
“Health at Every Size is the new peace movement.
Very simply, it acknowledges that good health can best be realized independent from considerations of size. It supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors.”
You can come learn more about this approach, talk about issues related to weight and healthcare, and get to know DeAun and Watershed. The talk is free for everyone, and will be held at our clinic at 1990 SE Ladd Ave in Ladd’s Addition in Portland, OR. If you have any questions, feel free to ask on our Facebook page, or by email!
For the last month, we at Watershed Wellness have been working extremely hard to move to our new clinic space at 1990 SE Ladd Ave – right next door to the old location. While the move wasn’t much in terms of distance, what it has done for our capacity to provide a first class healing space to all of you cannot be overstated. The place is beautiful – even if we do say so ourselves.
So far, the most common feedback from clients has been, “Wow!”
One of the things we’ve learned over the years that a big output of energy is worthy of great celebration. When we take the time to see what has been created in its fullness, and really embrace it, good things tend to happen.
Instead of doing all this celebrating on our own – we’d like to invite you!
Thursday, November 13, from 5-9pm we will be having an Open House!
- Seasonally appropriate and delicious food (what would a celebration be without food?)
- Beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic
(including lots and lots of tea)
- Chinese Herb Investigation Station for those of you curious about Chinese herbs
- Five Element Learning fun and games
- Plenty of experiential information related to massage therapy and other forms of bodywork
- A raffle with free tickets for everyone who shows up to the open house
- Special discounts and take-away prizes for participants
- A golden opportunity to see the beautiful new space, ask questions, and interact with the vibrant Watershed community