Dreams and Your Health

September 27th, 2013

Ever since ancient times, the meanings of our dreams have been the subject of much pondering. In some of the classical texts of Chinese medicine, specific images appearing in the context of dreams indicate health imbalances. For instance, from the Huang Di Nei Jing (220AD): “People’s dreams will often reflect their state of energy. When the Lung is out of balance, one will dream of white objects, or battles in action. When the Kidney is out of balance, one will dream of drowning, or hiding underwater in fear. When the Liver is out of balance, one will dream of flowers, or hiding behind a large tree. When the Heart is out of balance, one will dream of fire. When the Spleen is out of balance, one will dream of starvation, or construction of a wall. These dreams can be useful as diagnostic clues.”

Every dream has many layers of meaning. We seem to be most familiar with trying to interpret the psychological or emotional content of our dreams. However, there is very often a layer of meaning in the dream which reports on the physical condition and health of the dreamer at the time of the dream.

When a house or a building appears in your dream, it may be interpreted as the physicality of your body. The upper floors reflect the upper part of your body, including the head and the chest, while the middle floors reflect the middle part, or the abdomen. The lower floors or basement can be a reflection of the lower abdomen, pelvic region, and legs. Jeremy Taylor, in his book The Wisdom of Your Dreams, tells a story of a woman who recalls a nightmare where she opened up her purse in her basement, and was horrified to find that her purse was full of rotting meat.

Later that week in real life, her oncologist found a recurrence of a metastasizing (spreading) cancer in her uterus. In this case, the basement represents the lower part of the body, or the pelvic region, and the rotting meat represents the cancer. This is not to say that rotting meat in any dream represents cancer, because everyone’s subconscious expresses differently. Understanding the basic idea of the building or house can help to guide you towards unlocking some of the hidden meaning, especially as it relates to your health. Recurrent dreams, and nightmares, often are the most important dreams to try to decipher. The fact that they stay with us, or that they shake us emotionally, are the subconscious trying to tell us that “This is important! Pay attention!”

If you have a recurrent or puzzling dream you wish to share with your acupuncturist, he or she may be able to work with you to decipher some of the health concerns which may be buried in the dream content. Reporting colors, emotions within the dream, images relating to wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, may be a good place to start. These types of images point us toward specific imbalances in the body.

For more information about dream work, I would recommend reading Jeremy Taylor’s book. While he does not include the layer of Chinese medicine, what he has written will inspire you to examine your dreams more deeply, to make waking life more insightful and deliberate. One last point – if you wish to examine your dreams, I would recommend writing them down as soon as you wake up, even if it is in the middle of the night. Details will be much easier to remember, and it is often the details which point us towards specific meanings.

Happy dreams!

Meridians and Points II

November 12th, 2012

Another of the most commonly used points in acupuncture is the 11th point on the Large Intestine Channel, LI 11, also known as Quchi (pronounced “Chi Cher”). If you bend your elbow to a 90 degree position, and look for the end of the skin fold at the outside of the elbow.

This point has many uses in acupuncture. It can be used to “clear heat”, for symptoms like fever, red face, sore throat, and toothache – symptoms that sometimes feel “hot”. Because this point is located on the Large Intestine channel, it can also be used to normalize bowel movements, in cases of diarrhea or constipation, and also for indigestion. A third traditional function is to relieve itching and skin rashes.

According to a pediatric acupuncture master in China, LI 11 is one of the first points that become active in an infant after birth. The meridian system and the activity at each acupuncture points take some time to develop as the baby gains his/her strength and coordination. It is quite useful as a point for infants, as treatment on this point can help with some of the most common pediatric complaints (for instance, colic, fever, and eczema/itching).

Some sources say that it is helpful to regulate the immune system, but I prefer to use a point from the Japanese acupuncture tradition, which is a couple of inches down towards the wrist from this point. This point, the green point near LI 10, can be very sore and a bit bumpy, in people with weaker immune systems (allergies, asthma, catching colds often) and also in people with autoimmune disease. Check the green point on yourself to see if you have a spot which is tender or bumpy. If it is, you can improve your immune system by massaging this point.

LI 11 connects with the shoulder through the Large Intestine meridian, and is very commonly used to relieve shoulder pain. This was the very first point I ever put a needle into. When I was in high school, my father taught me how to insert a needle, and shortly thereafter my younger brother was having some shoulder pain and stiffness after a tennis game. My brother was a bit apprehensive, but finally agreed to let me put a needle in his elbow at this point, and then at one point in his shoulder. When we took the needles out 30 minutes later, he felt much better and played a great game the next day!

Meridians and Points

March 7th, 2012

In ancient times, the acupuncture points were discovered one by one as the best places to treat specific imbalances. As time went on and more and more points were found, acupuncturists found that points with similar functions could be connected by lines, rather than grouped together by area. So instead of grouping the points by region, for instance, ankle points and knee points, they were organized into meridians, or pathways where the qi would flow. For example, the Gall Bladder channel, which starts from the eye and meanders all the way down to the fourth toe, has 44 related points. One point which has historically been used for eye pain (at the start of the channel) is actually the last point on the channel.

One of the most commonly used points in acupuncture is the 36th point on the Stomach channel, known internationally as ST 36. Its Chinese name is Zu San Li, which means “Three miles on the leg”. Imagine a Chinese herbalist in ancient times walking for hours and hours in the mountains, looking for herbs. He gets tired, sits on a rock, and starts to massage this point on his leg, and when he gets up, feels a boost in energy that allows him to carry on for three more miles.

As you can imagine, this point is used for endurance, and to increase stamina. Because it is on the Stomach meridian, it can also be used to regulate the digestion, so that the food that you eat can be better transformed into the energy you will need throughout the day. It’s said that using moxibustion (a type of heat therapy) on this point every day will allow you to live 100 years.

According to the textbooks, this point can be used to treat fatigue, dizziness, leg pain and weakness (boosting the energy). It can also be used to treat stomach pain, nausea/vomiting, or diarrhea (to normalize the digestion). Interestingly enough, it is also used for either excessive hunger or lack of appetite. A research study has shown that the ST 36 point, combined with two other points (PC 6 and CV 12), can decrease the stomach acid level in people whose acid level is too high. However, for people whose stomach acid level is too low, it has the opposite effect, raising the level of stomach acid. This type of effect leads us to think about an acupuncture point not as a ‘switch’ to be turned on or off, but rather an activation site to normalize the physiology, or to bring things back into balance.

I hope to introduce you to more points in the near future!

The Root of the Problem

January 17th, 2012

Cold season is upon us. Increasingly, patients have been asking me what they can do to keep from catching colds this season. Some feel like they catch every cold that comes around, and as soon as they have recovered, it seems they are hit with another one. Others find that the one cold they do catch each year develops into a sinus infection or bronchitis that frustratingly lingers for weeks.

When you catch a cold, what is the root of the problem? From the point of view of biomedicine, the root of the problem is the virus or bacteria. If the symptoms are caused by bacteria, then the biomedical approach would be to eliminate the bacteria by using antibiotics. Recently, however, physicians are prescribing fewer antibiotics because widespread overuse of antibiotics is resulting in new stronger bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. The current western medicine approach to most colds and flus is to recommend medicines which will alleviate the symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, cough, phlegm, headache) while the weak immune system struggles to catch up. This approach may offer some relief, but it does not seem to get at the root of the problem.

In Chinese medicine, the root of the problem is not the virus or bacteria. It is the weak immune system, and its failure to mount a proper defense against the outside. The goals of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in this type of case would be to strengthen the immune system, and the overall vitality to support the immune system. The points and herbs to be chosen depend on where the imbalance is. Is there fever, or chills? Is there phlegm, and for how long? Is the person sweating constantly, or is there no sweat at all? Is the pulse superficial or deep? Is there congestion in the chest, or in the sinuses? All of these are important considerations in determining proper treatment.

In the meantime, here are three things you can do to avoid catching colds. Bundle up – wind, cold, and dampness are three external influences which make one more susceptible to getting sick. Eat to stay warm – soups and root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, beets), which are warming to the body, are better than uncooked salads and ice cream (which causes congestion in a lot of people whether or not they have a cold). And get good sleep – the less sleep you have, the less energy you’ll have to spend on fighting off the bacteria and viruses.

Stay healthy, and happy new year!

Autumn

October 20th, 2011

“In autumn, all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and harvesting occurs. The heavenly energy cools, as does the weather. The wind begins to stir. This is the changing or pivoting point when the yang, or active, phase turns into its opposite, the yin, or passive, phase. One should retire with the sunset and arise with the dawn. Just as the weather in autumn turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from depression so that one can make the transition to winter smoothly. This is the time to gather one’s spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild. In the fall it is important to conserve.” Huang Di Nei Jing, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine

Following the ideas of Chinese medicine, living in harmony with nature leads to good health. The external world is a metaphor for the internal landscape. Autumn is a time where the trees burst into brilliant flame, before the world goes dormant in winter. In agriculture, the summer is a time of production, of fruitfulness, but now in the fall, it is time to gather in, to stock up, and to conserve. We can take this metaphor into how we spend our energies at this time of year – it is not the time to take up new projects and to work long hours, but rather to get a bit more rest, to eat more warming foods and reflect a little bit before the winter sets in.

The Lung is the organ associated with the autumn season. In the autumn, the wind picks up, and in Chinese medicine, wind is the cause of many different diseases. It is interesting to note that the bacteria and viruses that we know of in biomedicine actually exist all year round, but for some reason, colds and flus tend to affect us most in the fall and winter. Acupuncturists have long observed that when the wind and the cold increase, we are more susceptible to catching colds. If we spend too much of our energy at this time of year staying up late and working on projects, we don’t have enough energy to fight off the wind and the cold. In ancient times, a lot of attention was paid to living in harmony with the seasons, but in modern life, adjusting to these natural rhythms has fallen by the wayside. Get good rest and eat good foods. Lifestyle changes can for the most part keep us healthy, but if you do need an immune boost, using acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help to stave off a developing cold, or a series of treatments can help you get through the cold and flu season!

I hope you’ve been making the best of these beautiful days of fall!

Reading the body

September 7th, 2010

Many people who have experienced acupuncture have noticed sensations in the body that arise during treatment, such as movement or heat, which travel from the site of the needle. Acupuncture points tend to lie along these lines or pathways where the sensations travel.

Points that are on the same pathway often have similar functions to each other, and these pathways are also called meridians. These meridians arise on the surface of the body, but connect to the deeper tissues and organs. Scientists are still trying to find physical structures along meridian pathways, but there has been no widely accepted biological explanation for meridians, although they have been well established through time and experience. The acupuncture meridian map was created thousands of years ago through the combined experience of many acupuncturists. In Chinese medicine theory, needling into points along the meridians will be able to affect these deeper levels, as well as areas at distant places on the body which may be connected by these meridians.

For example, when a person has a stomachache, an acupuncture point commonly used is known as ST 36, which is located just below the knee on a pathway which connects with the stomach. When a person has a headache at the forehead, one point commonly used is LI 4, located on the hand between the thumb and first finger, because the Large Intestine pathway goes to the forehead.

Modern biomedicine today tends to approach a patient by asking him or her questions about their symptoms, then doing relevant lab tests to diagnose illness. Acupuncture in recent years has begun to follow this model, relying more on the process of asking questions to understand the cause of a patient’s symptoms. However, one key tool acupuncturists can use to understand the dynamics of a person’s health is palpation – pressing on specific acupuncture points and meridians to discover where a person’s imbalances are. Bumps on your shin bone might mean that the digestion is not regulated well. Puffiness on the back of the neck might mean your immune system is weak. Tenderness on a specific spot on the palm of the hand could indicate troubled emotions.

In checking in with specific acupuncture points, an acupuncturist can determine which meridians are out of balance, even before symptoms may appear. During acupuncture treatments, I use this information also to determine which points are the best ones to correct the imbalances as they appear. The art of palpation (diagnosis by using the sense of touch) is unfortunately not something that is taught in all acupuncture schools, although reading the body for its clues is incredibly useful for understanding a person’s health, and for determining the best direction for treatment.

The Evolution of Acupuncture

August 18th, 2010

Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years. One fairly common question I hear in my practice is “How did acupuncture start? How did people figure out that putting needles into the body would cause all of these remarkable health changes?” Because acupuncture began before people began to write things down, it is difficult to say how exactly acupuncture began. The first written record of acupuncture was the Huang Di Nei Jing, or Yellow Emperor’s classic of medicine, which dates back to about 200 BC. The earliest archeological evidence of acupuncture was a stone needle found in Inner Mongolia which is estimated at between 4,000 and 10,000 years old. In modern times, we use sterile surgical-grade stainless steel needles, but before this technology was developed, ancient practitioners were using stone, bone, bamboo, bronze, and other materials.

Some believe that acupuncture began as an offshoot of massage techniques – using an instrument to exert pressure on specific points on the body, to produce specific effects. At some point, it may be that the instrument pierced the skin, resulting in more effective therapy, and new tools were developed to pierce the skin. New points were discovered, increasing the breadth of the range of effects of acupuncture. These were written down and passed from generation to generation to the present day.

As acupuncture spread throughout Asia and the world, a vast number of influences changed how it was practiced. The oldest texts left out a lot of specifics on technique, and everyone seemed to have their own interpretation on how to practice. Successful practitioners wrote books with new ideas on how acupuncture should be performed. Translations of these books sometimes put a spin on the original ideas. Sometimes wars and political turmoil resulted in burning of books and information, and acupuncture fell out of favor many times, forcing acupuncturists to practice secretly. Within the last 30 to 40 years, the practice of acupuncture has begun to flourish in many parts of the world.

Acupuncture grows and spreads as people who have had treatment tell others about their successes. Quite a bit of research has been done to understand the effects of acupuncture, which has begun to verify some of the specific effects written about in the ancient literature, from the modern scientific perspective. Researchers are continuing their efforts to understand how acupuncture works physiologically. Even though we don’t have the complete picture yet from a scientific point of view, acupuncture is growing and spreading because people are finding that it works.

Fire and Ice

August 5th, 2010

There is an interesting theory in Chinese medicine that our common practice of using ice to reduce inflammation may not be helpful for injury in the long run. When an injury occurs, the body responds with inflammation – swelling, redness, heat, and pain. These are all natural reactions which start the healing process, sending healing biochemicals to the location where they are needed. Using ice to counteract the natural heat which the body produces will slow the circulation by constricting blood vessels and capillaries, thereby limiting the healing process.

Icing may result in less pain and more function for the short term, but can create a lower level of inflammation for the long term, because the area never got the chance to heal properly in the first place. This results in a weak area which may develop symptoms later on in life. For most of the patients I see with arthritis, the painful joint which is often a joint which has been injured in the past, even many years before. Even though it may seem that arthritis develops very slowly over time without a specific cause, it may be that the old injury makes the joint weak, and that the ice impedes the healing.

In Chinese medicine theory, the cold from the ice can be “trapped” in the joint. Those with more robust body types may have the strength to counteract this cold, but as we get older, the balance shifts and we are not strong enough, resulting in discomfort, dysfunction, and even visible change. It is interesting to note that for many people the arthritis pains get worse with cold and damp weather, which is exactly the type of environment which began the problem. (Think about the qualities of ice – cold, and damp.)

In my practice, I use a lot of heat in conjunction with the needles to help the healing response. One traditional method is moxibustion, or the burning of a specific herb, near the needles so that the heat penetrates into the acupuncture point. Special infrared heating lamps are also commonly used by practitioners to cover a larger area. Heating specific areas of the body can increase blood flow and promote healing.

Think twice about ice: If it’s an acute injury, consider alternatives like arnica and other herbs. If it’s a chronic problem, consider a heating pad or a hot bath/shower. And of course, for either acute or chronic – to decrease pain and speed up healing – consider acupuncture!

Acupuncture as Complementary Medicine

July 20th, 2010

In the changing world of medicine, the world “alternative” as it applies to acupuncture as a type of medicine, is starting to fall out of favor. Acupuncture is being described more and more as a “complementary” medicine. A complementary therapy could be defined as a healing technique used simultaneously with western medicine to treat a specific patient. For instance, treating the consequences of stroke with acupuncture is most effective if begun soon after the stroke stabilizes. If a person in Taiwan has a stroke, acupuncture is performed in the hospital before the patient goes home, alongside regular medical care. Although it may be quite some time before we see acupuncturists on staff at the hospital setting in the US, there are a number of examples where acupuncture as complementary medicine is already taking place.

One category of patients who could really benefit from acupuncture include those with borderline conditions. If tests show that you “almost” have a condition like diabetes or abnormal thyroid levels, but your disease is not advanced enough to warrant medication, why simply wait for the disease to develop into a more serious state? Medical testing can alert us to impending health problems. In the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing ~ 200AD), it says “If someone digs a well when thirsty, or forges weapons after being engaged in battle, are these actions not too late?” Using Chinese medicine to modify the physiology before a condition becomes established, and before the moment where western medicine might be recommended, is an example of complementary care.

Acupuncture is used along with Chinese medicine already by many people undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer, both in China and in the US. These intensive treatments can result in a number of grueling side effects, which can be effectively alleviated by acupuncture and Chinese herbs.

In the late 1960’s, one of the first widely publicized reports of acupuncture in the US was the New York Times story of reporter James Reston receiving acupuncture treatment after a surgery he had in China. Here in the US, patients are now starting to take advantage of the benefits of acupuncture before and after surgery. I have done acupuncture for patients wishing to prepare themselves for surgery, dealing with anxiety-related issues but also building up their stamina to speed up recovery time. After the surgery, acupuncture can be very effective at healing scar tissue and rebuilding strength.

Acupuncture can help to prevent a beginning condition from getting worse, it can help to reduce severe side effects, and can help speed up recovery time after surgery. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is not only an alternative – it can also be considered complementary health care, and used alongside your regular biomedical care.

Acupuncture as Alternative Medicine

June 28th, 2010

For many years, acupuncture has been considered to be an “alternative” medicine. The word alternative is used to indicate that after exploring all biomedical options, if the results are not good enough, that alternatives are explored. Many patients come in saying “I’ve tried everything that my doctor has to offer, and I’m not feeling any better, so I’ve come to see you as an alternative.” This is certainly one reason to seek out acupuncture – if what you have tried is not working.

For patients who take any long-term medication, acupuncture may be very helpful as Mac recovery software. Many of these have unwanted side effects which can be immediate or can build up over time. For example, while pain medications can sometimes offer instant and substantial relief, a number of these medications may be addictive, may lose their effectiveness over time, or may have other side effects such as GI distress, drowsiness, or heightened risk of heart disease, to name a few. Some other conditions which also require long term medications, which can benefit from acupuncture treatment, include asthma, allergies, menstrual symptoms, menopausal symptoms, acid reflux, among others. With any medication, it is important to consult with your doctor before decreasing or discontinuing any long term medication. If you can manage your symptoms and condition without needing to take a daily medication, why take a medicine if you don’t have to?

Surgery is another situation when it may be beneficial to consider acupuncture as an alternative. Of course, there are cases where surgery is really the only or best option to solve specific health issues. If the problem is not urgent, however, it may be wise to consider acupuncture as an alternative to surgery, before committing to a procedure. Surgeries can be considered as a type of medicine with their own possible side effects, such as scar tissue, lingering pain or risk of possibly decreased function. Depending on your response to acupuncture, you may be able to postpone or even eliminate the need for a surgery, such as carpal tunnel surgery, knee surgery, and even certain types of abdominal surgery.

If you are looking for a new solution to old problems – try acupuncture!


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