Sleep, the mysterious phenomenon that well all do, affects everything. Sleep affects managing stress levels , weight loss, mental acuity and focus, mood, sociability, ability to learn
, bowel movements, hormone production, clearing out waste from brain cells
, everything. I mentioned once
that the only thing that is more important than breakfast is sleep, which is saying a lot. The quality of sleep is as important as how long you sleep. You can sleep 12 hours or more in a night, but not be getting restful sleep. The average amount of time an adult should sleep per night to get good sleep is more than 6 hours and less than 10—it depends on what works for you. Studies have shown that the amount of sleep you get can change your risk for coronary heart disease
, diabetes, anxiety, and obesity. There should be a normal sleep range that your body gets used to, so too much sleep for your cycle can diminish the good affects of sleep. While there is no clear answer to why animals need to sleep, it is clear that restful sleep enhances everything else about our lives.
Instead of worrying about these things while you drift off to your dreamland, it is better to manage your sleep cycle while you’re awake to get the maximum benefit from the hours you spend behind your eyelids. Worry can often keep you from falling asleep when you want to. I have eight fantastic tips you can use in any combination to help you rest easy.
1. Essential oils & aromatherapy
Being aware of your sensory surroundings can help with falling asleep easily. Along with sight and hearing, a tranquil olfactory space helps put your body at rest. With your sleep space as dark as possible and at the sound level you prefer, tranquil and calming aromas such as lavender, valerian, and sandalwood will help release chemicals into your blood stream that aid in relaxation and calmness. I like to spray my blanket and pillow with lavender essential oils
after I make my bed in the morning, so when I go to sleep at night it’s not too strong, but creates a soothing atmosphere.
While you do not want to burn a candle all night, aromatherapy candles can be used before sleep during your evening wind-down. Also, there are some scented epsom salt baths that can help you relax your body and mind. My favorite is cedar, sandalwood, and myrrh.
This gentle modification can be the nudge you need to make your sleep space more tranquil. As we’ll see, your space can either enhance or detract from you quality of sleep, so it is wise to make your surroundings as peaceful as possible.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes the individual to have an irregular breathing pattern while sleeping. There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive apnea, which is caused a soft palate obstruction, temporarily stops respirations and then is resumed with a snoring or choking sound. Central sleep apnea, caused by the brain not sending the correct signal for inspiration. Obstructive sleep apnea is made worse by weight gain.
By incorporating exercise into your daily routine, you can not only control for weight issues that could lead to sleep disorders, but also keep your body running within a good metabolic range so when you do go to sleep, it is restful. Keeping your heart healthy isn't just about maintaining a good weight range, but also keeping all your other body functions in check. Even a 20-30 minute walk every day can help your body regain some normal function. Exercise releases hormones that elevate the mood and mental alertness, so it is best to exercise during the day, rather than right before sleeping.
After working out and just before bed, my favorite thing to do is roll out the soles of my feet. You can either do this with a tennis ball or I like to use the tiger tail, which is a hard foam stick that you can roll over sore muscles. The foot contains points that correspond to the entire body, so these nerve endings help the whole body relax. If you are on your feet all day or do exercises that take a toll on the feet, it is a nice way to help you relax.
3. Eat good
While many of us feel sleepy following a big meal, the increase in blood glucose levels and metabolic processes does not help with restful sleep. What you eat and when makes a big difference on how well you fall asleep and how restful the sleep is. Not only is melatonin good for helping you sleep, but also the molecules that help melatonin production, such as vitamin b6. This helpful mineral can be found in fish, potatoes, bananas, sunflower seeds, and cremini/shitake mushrooms. Keeping a well-rounded diet in mind helps facilitate the body’s normal production of chemical messengers that naturally help you sleep.
Some general guidelines for what to especially avoid before sleeping are TACOs: tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, and over-the-counter sleep aids, especially medicines that have other purposes like cold medicine. Avoid alcoholic beverages, especially in excess, before going to sleep, as they will leave you with less restful and make you prone to apneic sleep. Try not to consume caffeine in the afternoon or with dinner, as that will also disrupt your ability to sleep by evening. If you are in the habit of an afternoon pick-me-up, consider gradually changing your caffeine intake to a cup of green tea. I used to drink 2-3 cups of strong, black coffee a day, now one cup of coffee will have me buzzing and busy. Remember you can build up a tolerance to caffeine very quickly, so practicing moderation can keep the effects of caffeine helpful rather than making your body crash.
Perhaps it is a no-brainer that an acupuncture blog endorses acupuncture to help with your woes. It might not be so obvious, as not all of our clients who have trouble sleeping come in for just sleep problems. Whether the treatment is for insomnia or relieving symptoms of pain or stress that can cause difficulty sleeping, acupuncture will help you feel more relaxed and can improve overall wellbeing. Even improving other disruptive areas of your life seemingly unrelated to sleep could help you get a good night’s rest.
Often, the prescription for healing is a good night’s rest. I was surprised to find after I injured my IT band from running, the best thing I could do to speed up recovery was to sleep like a champ. The 7-8 hours a night I spend in healthy brain waves helps my body rest and regenerate. Acupuncture naturally pushes my body to do what’s right for it: sleep. Recent studies have also shown that sleep helps your brain do its three basic nutritional functions: take in glucose and oxygen and take out waste from metabolic processes. Eating, breathing and pooping for the brain, basically. The amount of waste in the brain’s fluid (known as cerebrospinal fluid, CSF) before sleep and after sleep went from very high levels to almost completely cleaned by the time participants woke up.
According to Chinese medicine, the body cycles through different energetic phases for each organ. The systems that are most active during the hours of 9pm-5am are responsible for detoxing and cleansing the body as well as replenishing and storing qi and other vitals energies for the next day. While there is not a qi clock in the sky regulating this, everyone’s body follows a similar pattern that undergoes regeneration somewhere during that time frame. It is best to maximize sleep during these hours to really revitalize your qi and energy reserves, which work to help all of your other organ systems function normally throughout the day. Acupuncture can really get the qi flowing by opening up blockages and maximizing the effectiveness and restfulness of sleep.
5. Melatonin my home screen with twilight off & with twilight on
The body runs on 24 hour circadian rhythms that tell our brain when to produce certain hormones for sleeping, for eating, and for being active. A naturally occurring hormone that prepares the body for sleep is melatonin. The production of this essential hormone takes place in the pineal gland in the midbrain. Its production can be limited by exposure to blue lights, which I will talk about more in-depth tomorrow. Since we spend our days in front of many blue lights and screens, it is easy for this essential hormone to gradually stop being produced and slowly change our body’s natural signal to go to sleep. Also, if you work in a profession that requires you to work a night shift, your body’s natural melatonin production can disrupt your circadian rhythms, which can keep you from sleeping when you want to (which might be when you get home at 7am).
The natural way of getting your brain to make melatonin is by ensuring your sleep space is as dark as possible. Stay away from blue lights and screens before you get to sleep, wear sunglasses on your drive home in the morning if necessary. If you have a television or computer in your room, make sure it is turned off. Another easy solution is to take melatonin supplements, which produce a natural sleep response in the body. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements to learn if there would be any drug interactions with medications you may already take.
6. Stay away from screens hold each pose for approx. 10 seconds
It’s pretty hard to avoid a screen these days. When I take a break from working on my computer, I find myself looking at my smart phone or even my e-reader. For some it’s just the television, for others, it’s every type of device imaginable. Even though these items help with our everyday tasks and productivity, they can have serious effects on your mood, ability to concentrate, and how restful your sleep is. The constant engagement of your prefrontal cortex and other neurologic pathways can over-stimulate the brain making it harder to ‘turn off’ at night. Further, these devices operate mostly on blue light wavelengths, which is a signal for the brain to stop melatonin production. Melatonin, as I mentioned is the signal for sleep.
There are various smart phone, computer, and tablet apps that help get your brain ready for sleep. I use twilight for Android, which adjusts your phone to red light as the day gets darker. You can see the difference in the screen intensity around 7pm when it's dark out in the photo above. For Mac products and desktop PCs, there is f.lux. For teens using e-readers, including the iPad or Surface, it is better to stop usage before sleeping and stick to paper books, as the brain from age 12-19 undergoes rapid growth and change in its connectivity. When these negative pathways are reinforced, they stay into adulthood and get harder and harder to change back to good habits, which may have never developed neurologically in the first place.
According to feng shui, it may be better to keep your devices outside of the bedroom to begin with. I used to have a rule that I would not look at a screen an hour before going to bed, which simply turned into a habit for me. The bedroom should be used for only sleep and sex, which means professional and personal use of devices should be kept separate. If you watch TV before going to sleep, do it in another room. This physical division prepares your body for sleep.
7. gentle yoga/breathing
There are some forms of yoga that will really wake you up, which typically include sun salutations. It’s a good way to get your heart pumping and to get your workout in for the day. But yoga can also be a gentle, relaxing practice as well. I once had a yoga instructor say, “If you’re not breathing, you’re just doing acrobatics.” Some gentle stretches along with deliberate, deep breathing techniques can ease tension and pull you into a meditative state. Consider some relaxing stretches before going to bed, especially poses like a forward fold, that send blood to the head and the head below the heart to relax your whole body.
Also, on the other side of sleep, stretching when you wake up helps you really wake up. If you’ve ever seen a cat or dog wake up from a nap, the first thing it does is to stretch out its legs. These poses help to promote blood circulation and to lubricate your joints with fluid. It is important for restful sleep to wake up at the right time in your sleep cycle. Just like the wind down before going to bed, it is a good idea to wake up gradually and follow a ritual.
8. Sleep ritual
There is no way to avoid sleeping. It works to clean out toxins that are byproducts of normal cellular processes in the brain, so you really need it to stay healthy (and to live). Since this is part of your daily routine, it is best to make habits that reinforce good sleep. I mentioned that I spray essential oils on my pillows when I make my bed in the morning, that’s one part of my sleep routine. It is best to start winding down an hour to 20 minutes before getting in bed. By mentally preparing for sleep, you can avoid intrusive thoughts that may emerge when you go from 100 mph to shut eye. Before getting under the covers, you might hold a few different relaxing yoga poses for ten seconds each, have a room-temperature glass of water, or read a book. Putting together all the tips over the past week: making an idea environment, eating and exercising well, ensuring great melatonin production, and winding down with stretches, you have a sleep ritual plan practically already in place.
According to feng shui, the Chinese concept of physical arrangement of your living space affecting the good and bad energy available to you, the bedroom should be reserved for sleep or sex. That means no work, food, etc. should be taken to the bed. By creating a distinct personal zone for yourself, you create another physical layer to the sleep ritual. This will also add vigor to your work or professional life, as these domains should get their own spaces as well.
As important and necessary sleep is to a good quality of life, you must accept that there will be times when you cannot sleep properly. If you are stressed or in pain, it will not be easy to sleep. If you are tired and worried, it may seem like torture that all you want to do is sleep. And other times, it may seem impossible to wake up. Sometimes when a big life event hits or no life event has hit in a while, all you’ll want to do is sleep and sleep. Both extremes of fitful sleep and over-sleeping are not good for your overall wellbeing, but can be tolerated occasionally. When irregular sleep patterns become regular, you should become proactive about changing your sleep ritual to benefit your waking life. If you’re looking for more tips or information about sleep, check out our Pinterest board, which has some information from all over the internet.
by Tanvi Avasthi
A few years ago, while I was preparing for the MCAT, I walked into my student health center because I was having trouble breathing. I have a history of asthma, so this was a familiar struggle. The doctor relied on my history of asthma and began a stimulant therapy (nebulizer) and later prescribed another stimulant, a steroid, to help keep my lungs clear and open. If I had been more forthcoming about my stress with my doctor or, even better, if he had asked about my mental status, he would have learned that I had been suffering from acute anxiety, which contributed to my respiratory issues. He would have recognized that a a stimulant medication, including the prednisone (oral steroid) I was prescribed, would give me panic attacks* (and they did). My history of asthma made things worse, but was ultimately not the underlying cause of my symptoms.
What is so striking about my experience is how differently the medical community treats the mind and the body. If you have a headache, it is caused by the blood vessels in and around your brain constricting or dilating too much causing pain and sometimes nausea and fatigue (body), which can lead to irritability and insomnia (mind). Neither set of symptoms is more or less severe, but they are viewed differently. Even the symptom of fatigue is ambiguously physical rather than mental—it really affects both aspects of general wellbeing. There is no way to measure mental processes with a numbered amount, so it is viewed as 100% subjective and variable from person to person. I can speak definitively about my anxiety contributing to my breathing problems now, as I know more about the human body and my own psychology. Then, I was scared and in pain.
It is more acceptable to call off work for a cold or the flu than for anxiety or stress. The fear, stigma, and shame can deter even the strongest people from seeking the proper help they need. Ironically, what most don’t realize is that speaking up is the boldest thing that you can do when you are having issues with mental health, which I argue is not distinct from overall health. While you know the difference between having a cold and not having a cold, it is difficult to delineate the differences between “sick” and “well” in terms of mental health
. Perhaps mental 'illness' is a misnomer, as mental health interventions are made to move toward wellness, rather than a 'cure'. There are so many contributing dimensions that affect wellness that dividing it between mental and physical seems to be the source of failure in our mental health system. As stated in the linked article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, mental health outcomes have not progressed in the past 20 years as other treatments have and there isn’t even a public health measure for the prevention
of certain mental health disorders.
A year after I slowly fizzled and burned out, I decided to check into yoga therapy. I went to the yoga studio by my apartment every day for a month. I still remained secretive about my anxiety, but took other measures that worked for me. Now, I won’t shut up about positive mental health attitudes. I can’t be sure when I transformed into this Pollyannaish, half-marathon-running, acupuncture-loving optimist, but I know it’s for the better. I still have my days (or weeks or months) that seem to be shrouded by a black cloud. The hardest part about public health and mental health is that it is an ongoing and lifelong struggle.
The chronic aspect of mental health disorders is difficult for most people to reconcile with what they know about good health. Part of the appeal of forms of medicine that emerged from the East is that they do not dishtinguish the mind and body as separate
. Compartmentalizing the mind vs. the body makes it difficult to understand how treatment of one module affects the other. A great number of our patients seek treatment
for anxiety, depression, stress, issues with focus and attention, along with other mood disorders. Sometimes these complaints get added to other more ‘medical-sounding’ problems, such as lower back pain, but hold the same importance to the patient. As I have written about in the past
, the things we put in our body, like food and medicine have not only nutritional effects, but whole mind-body effects as well. This principle is not wholly absent from conventional medicine (also called allopathy or Western medicine), but the approach is blunt and outdated.
The questions you, the patient, are asked when you sit down for treatment in an acupuncture clinic are different than the questions your primary care physician will ask you. Patients are more likely
to come to non-conventional forms of intervention (yoga, acupuncture, naturopathy, etc) for chronic ailments because the conventional system of cure is to prescribe and forget about it
. What is implicit about throwing pills at mental imbalance is that this system views mental illness as only
an chemical imbalance that can be corrected physically. In this scenario, the social imbalances still affect the patient if there are no further interventions beyond prescriptions; it simply manages the symptoms without curing them.
With holistic treatments, whether they are Western, Eastern, or some combination of the two, there is focused treatment for each specific imbalance. What is implicit about Eastern diagnostic procedures is that even emotions that are not explicitly expressed are still
medical signs and symptoms that are embedded in other observations. For example, certain pulse qualities indicate physical symptoms that have general emotional issues attached to them. Each physical presentation of illness has a coupled emotional/mental indication as well.
Perhaps talking about emotions is too close to talking about cosmological or existential issues that makes some people uncomfortable. It is easier to internalize these difficult to understand emotions by localizing it to chest pain. Over time, this internalization can result in chronic pain or worry. Or the opposite effect can occur. Chronic pain can lead to depression and anxiety as we have seen with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or back pain. More often than not, the resolution of one problem, such as lower back pain, will result in the resolution of another problem, such as depression. The underlying issue can be as lofty as existential crisis or as basic as our culture of management
for mental illness that influences the emotional struggles we all face.
When aspects of mental wellbeing are so embedded in the way we view the world morally and socially, it becomes difficult to extract that from how we seek treatment. The way mental illness is socially constructed influences how people feel comfortable seeking treatment. However, what has become increasingly evident is that the dominant system is flawed. While a great number of individuals are satisfied with their treatment options, a greater number in most major cities have been pushed out of good care and onto the streets or into the prison system
. It is difficult to find care that works for you, know when to seek help, and where to go. When the focus of healthcare becomes toward wellness, rather than a cure, I believe that must include all aspects of health. To quote Dr. Eliot Sorel, there is no health without mental health.
*for the sake of clarity, panic attacks have a specific definition: “Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack.”
by Tanvi Avasthi
The first time I ran thirteen miles was three weeks ago with my two running friends, the Rebeccas, I felt sick and sore. One of the Rebeccas ended her run at eight miles and the other was running twelve that week. So, at 9pm, I was running alone in the dark for about a mile on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. My guts churned as I turned around to join the remaining Rebecca for the rest of her run. I felt like I wouldn’t make it back the four miles to my car. While I finished, it was in the slowest time I had ever run and the worst pain I had put my calves through yet. I wondered how I could possibly finish my half marathon without crying or vomiting after such a demoralizing run.
This past Saturday, I ran 13.1 miles with a huge smile, the sun on my face, and the wind in my hair. When I crossed the finish line, my mom said it didn’t look like I had been running for just over two hours. My friends asked me if I was sore that night and I just grinned and shrugged my shoulders. It didn’t really matter if I was, I felt great.
Running along the C&O Canal with over 200 people was the opposite of running alone in the dark, praying not to get hit by cars, hoping I wasn’t going to throw up. The day was beautiful and the sun shone to greet every runner through the leaves of trees. I ran alongside veteran runners and first timers like myself. I thought of people I had lost and the changes I had made to my life to be in those pink sneakers.
I find running to be a joyous experience. It’s a celebration of what you can push yourself to and how you interact with the environment around you. When my breathing becomes labored, I remind myself that my heart has been my most dedicated companion, keeping me alive and never stopping for a moment after all these years. I remember the air I take in is a gift from the trees to my lungs. Running forces you to talk to yourself and encourage yourself to keep going forward. I know other runners do this too and that’s what keeps us all moving forward.
by Tanvi Avasthi
In my previous post, I discussed how the gut and the brain are connected and the often-overlooked aspects of this connection. The gut is so neurologically complex; it has been referred to as the “second brain” in some neuroenterologic literature
The need to understand nutrition has been a long-held pillar of Eastern medicine. Chinese and Indian medicines both have food and herbal prescriptions to balance the energies of the body. The basis of both systems relies on looking at deficiencies, stagnations, and excesses of certain types of food or flavors. In a simplified example, foods that cause heat in the body can possibly contribute to skin problems or increase irritability according to Chinese medicine. While this provides a simple one-to-one relationship of heat to skin, often, there is a combination of issues that underlie any problem that results in an imbalance in Qi, dampness, heating/cooling, or Yin and Yang in general.
Using food to balance the body requires a look at a number of factors. While you may use this as a basic guideline of what foods to consume or cut back on, there are a number of elements behind every ailment that require sensitive analysis. This is a simple, introductory guide to Chinese food energetics. One should consult a practitioner of Chinese medicine or other holistic food therapy for details: BALANCE OF QI
Qi is the basic unit of energy for the body. It helps keep us alert and moving. Qi can be either deficient, causing lethargy and weakened immune system or stagnant, causing emotional outbursts and impulsive behavior.
For Qi deficiency, the following foods (which are often sweet and warm) help to restore Qi: Cherries, ginseng, potato, squash, yam, tofu, rabbit, lentil, microalgae, fig, coconut, oats, grapes, chicken, beef, goose, rice
For Qi stagnation, the following foods (which avoid sugar, stimulants, and heavy foods) help keep Qi flowing: Basil, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, orange peel, garlic, cloves, radishes, mustard leaf, carrots BALANCE OF YIN AND YANG
The balance of yin and yang also deals with heating and cooling effects of food. Deficiency of yin can lead to exhaustion. The best cure is rest. Lowered states of yang can result in a slow metabolism and becoming sluggish.
Yin tonics are sweet and cool and Yang tonics are sweet, pungent and warming. Here are a few foods for each:
Yin : honey, cheese, pork, tofu, yam, oyster, kidney beans, peas, asparagus, apples, tomatoes, milk, mangoes, string beans, and pomegranates
Yang : chestnuts, shrimp, cloves, thyme, pistachios, garlic, lamb, lobster, ginger, rosemary, basil, cinnamon bark, cassio fruit, fenugreek seed, and walnuts
If any of the pairings of symptoms sounds similar to Western maladies, it is no coincidence. The basis for these blockages result in issues that are all linked. For example, lethargy and weakened immune response can both be symptoms of depression. In Chinese terms, that means Qi deficiency. Often, Eastern and Western practitioners are saying the same thing, but in a different medical language. For a Western patient, that can be confusing, but empowering at the same time. As often these problems make us feel like there is no solution, but in reality, there is another way to go about it that we haven’t even thought of.
This article should give a general outline of what kinds of foods may be missing from your diet or what has been in excess. Qi, Yin, and Yang deficiencies or stagnations often apply to a specific organ or system, so any food prescriptions should be looked at in relation to different aspects of our bodies.
All information about food and Chinese medicine from: Helping Ourselves: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics
by Daverick Leggett (http://www.amazon.com/Helping-Ourselves-Traditional-Chinese-Energetics/dp/0952464004)
One of the most striking features of the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract is the amount of neurons (nerve cells) it has. There are more neurons in the gut
than in the entire peripheral nervous system. The evolution of the human brain over the past 6 million years or so has made it the most important organ in the body, but the gut has undergone its own evolution as well to support our large noodles. While the gut is smaller than our ancient ancestors, it has a strong neurological link to the brain, which can affect common disorders such as anxiety, depression, and chronic fatigue
. The major connection between the brain and the gut is through cranial nerve X, the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system
, a subdivision of the autonomic nervous system. If you know your anatomy, a massage of this nerve at the temples can lower your heart rate and relax your body.
So how can food affect mood? A number of ways. At the most basic, cellular level, food provides glucose, which is used as energy for all of your cells, from your skin to your blood to your bones. The brain cells use this energy to function happily and normally. No glucose means you can get tired and fatigued, which leads to angst, anger, and even anxiety. Your gut, which starts with the esophagus and ends with the colon, may send signals to the brain to ask for more food (hunger) or to stop eating (fullness). Because your gut has this direct connection to delivering energy and information, it has evolved to become quite sensitive to what you put in it.
In Chinese medicine, the balance of food that enters the gut is can have heating or cooling effect, a moistening or dampening effect, or more broadly, affect your yin and yang energies. The types of energies are split into five tastes
: sweet, bitter, spicy, sour, and salty, which correspond to needs of a balanced Qi.
In Western science, the microflora of the gut has similar demands for balance. Microflora are the bacteria and other microbes that naturally live in your GI from the moment you are born. Recently, scientists are able to estimate that there are more bacteria that live in your body
than your own cells with your own DNA. So, these guys are really the ones in charge. Depending on what you eat, whether it is a balance of the five tastes, dampness and dryness, or hot and cold, the digestion of the food itself provides a response back up to the brain. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, is increased with the use of antidepressant or other mood-elevating drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). However, many of these drugs lead to stomach and digestion issues, such as nausea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and others, as the gut releases 95% of the body’s serotonin
. This unintentional side effect comes from the lack of understanding of how the mind is connected to the body—in this case the GI tract.
In a recent study at Vanderbilt University, chronic stomachaches through childhood indicate a later predisposition to anxiety and depression in adolescence
into adulthood. The imbalance of the stomach and subsequent chronic pain is linked to anxiety and depression. Regardless of yin/yang balance, the chronic pain in the gut seems to be a precursor to more defined mental imbalances.
A remedy to microflora imbalances is supplementing your diet with probiotic bacteria. These can be found in pill form
, or naturally in cultured yogurt and fermented foods. The most common supplementary bacteria is Lactobacillus acidophilus
, commonly referred to as just lactobacillus or just acidophilus. A study on mice reveals that mice fed with L. rhamnosus demonstrated lower effects of stress and anxiety, which was measured by lower levels of corticosterone, a hormone related to stress and weight gain. The absence of bacteria led to increased stress in the mice. In another study, “daring” and more adventurous mice had their microflora swapped with shy and timid mice
, changing each group of mice from daring to anxious and shy to bold. This provides evidence that what happens in your gut directly affects your psychological state. Conversely, altering your mood can help reduce inflammation in the gut, providing a feedback loop to better overall wellness.
Like in all things in life, what you eat and how you feel depend mostly on balance. Whether you need to relax more or eat more, what you put in your body needs to be in balance with your mental state.
Today’s American healthcare system involves many individuals beyond the simple doctor-patient relationship. An everyday medical interaction includes a relationship with a nurse, doctor, receptionist, and insurance company or some entity in regards to cost. The type of care an individual receives depends on how much she can pay, which, in turn, affects the type of relationship she can have with her health care provider. The economic transaction that occurs goes beyond a simple financial transaction: it is not as straightforward as purchasing milk from the grocery store.
Economy, as a system of exchanges for goods and services, can include the exchange of monetary or social commodities such as good will, money, health/wellness, and pharmaceuticals. As a ‘transaction’ that involves providing good quality of life for an individual and community, this exchange can be part of a larger moral economy that exists at the basic unit of the relationship, all the way to the overall community level. Even in the busiest clinics, you are not simply purchasing good health.
I recently had a full physical at a conventional biomedical clinic, which included providing a urine and blood sample, monitoring my ECG, examining my body fat percentage, my lung capacity, vision, hearing, what my hazards I was exposed to through my job and hobbies, and other tests of “good health”. Without much social interaction with my nurses and doctor, I provided the most personal details about my body from the microscopic level to the social level. Ostensibly, all of these tests, samples, and biographic information will provide some overall picture of me as an organism, while remaining purely transactional and mostly anonymous. I may have engaged in casual conversation with my providers, but out of my own friendliness, rather than out of necessity for the physical.
The absence of relationships in this health interaction reveals an attitude in medicine that is quick, invasive, and nearly entirely quantitative. However, there are subjective experiences of the patient that also need to be taken into account that are part of the larger moral economy that governs healthcare. As an individual, the patient has a physiological reaction to the mere presence of a healthcare provider, known as the white coat effect. His treatment begins with just the utterance of a diagnosis by the doctor
. That is to say, there is a physiological change in the body by way of endorphins being released into the brain, which in turn promotes healing.
In the context of community healthcare, and especially community acupuncture clinics, the one-on-one relationship is the most important part of the process and is the basic unit of the community. As we've seen, the mere interaction with a healthcare provider can elicit a response in the body. The economic transaction that occurs includes the exchange of social goods and services by providing a space for the community to heal together. When you walk into a community clinic, often the staff and practitioners know you by name and what you have been treated for. You may see the same set of patients every Saturday morning, sit in the same chair, and chat with your acupuncturist briefly before resting for an hour. This routine solidifies social bonds, which helps with the healing process.
The moral economy of the exchange of a social experience includes a smaller financial input and greater input of your time. The practitioner may not gather samples or take tests (beyond pulse and viewing the tongue), but instead builds confidence. The moral economy still exists at the large-scale clinical level, but is muted, magnifying other components of care such as quality and cost of care. While these two models are not entirely incompatible, there is room for improvement to include more of the community-building aspects of health and healthcare. Tanvi Avasthi is a writer and administrative assistant at OurSpace Acupuncture. Her passion is exploring plural forms of medicine in our current healthcare environment.
All days are not created equal. Some mornings, you wake up full of energy and joy. We call these days Saturdays. Other days, it seems like it’s been 3pm for at least two full hours. No matter how fantastic or sluggish your day is set up to be, there are a few things you can do to bring that weekend warrior spirit to the weekday.1. EAT BREAKFAST As a dedicated breakfast enthusiast, I don’t understand skipping breakfast. It doesn’t have to complicated, I have been eating a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich every morning for years. It doesn’t even have to be breakfast food, as long as you eat to start your day.Beyond helping you lose weight, getting blood to your most important organ, helps you avoid high calorie foods during your day, and helps you focus all day; breakfast helps create a habit or routine for yourself. Also, food keeps you from getting hangsty or hangry by getting some glucose in your blood and waking you up.2. SMILE LIKE A MANIACI read on a blog a few years ago about a girl who would start her morning by smiling like a crazy person into the mirror for five minutes after she did her makeup. This includes a big, fake smile, keeping your eyes wide, and letting your whole face smile. I do this in the car when I drive because I like to entertain my fellow commuters. Or I have a list of go-to youtube videos that do the trick. When you relieve your face of stress and worry, you are allowing positive energy to take over, releasing some endorphins to your brain. Smiling, laughing, or positive face movements all work to reduce stress and make your day a little better.3. SCHEDULE WORRY TIMEIndividuals tend to spend their time thinking about past events and how they could have gone better or thinking about the future. While both are positive, when they become obsessive and take over our day-to-day dealings, they can become intrusive to remaining present. For now, just acknowledge your worries, put them in a bubble, and let them float away. An old school technique of cognitive behavior therapy advises us to set aside some time to worry, rather than letting it dominate your life or forcing yourself to ignore your problems. Sit down for 15-30 minutes at some point in the day and write a list of what you need to do and how. This gives you some control over parts of your life that seem to be out of your grasp. While we are not just faucets of backed up negative thinking that can be drained all at once, it helps manage stress and allows you to make better decisions than ignoring problems and letting them pile up, adding to your worries.4. MAKE TIME FOR LOVED ONESAt our worst, it is easy to take your network of friends and families for granted. The more you isolate yourself, the only company you keep is your negative thoughts. Take your daughter out for ice cream, go get acupuncture with your mom, or offer to babysit your nephew. Social ties are kind of like a home base. Even a quick text message or phone call can make you feel more bonded and grounded in your social community. If all these suggestions are making you feel more anxious, take yourself out on a date. After all, you better be on your list of loved ones!It is easy to be cynical and pessimistic. It’s fashionable, even. If you begin to manage your stress and anxiety in simple, everyday ways, you will see long term results. Many of these techniques can help you sleep better, which is the biggest key to improving your day. It goes without saying that acupuncture can help you smile more, forget your worries, and feel like you’re part of a community.
Acupuncture is no longer an exotic form of care in the United States. Most Americans know about it, even at the basic level: it involves the use of needles or pins and hails from East Asia. For most Americans, this minimal awareness seems to suffice. However, when an individual is affected by chronic back pain, escalating allergies, anxiety, asthma, or other chronic ailments with no cure, the sense of hopelessness when her healthcare providers tells her that the “pain is in her head” will not do.
The space that acupuncture provides for the modern patient involves using different sources of medical care to fulfill particular needs. Rather than a retreat from conventional forms of medicine, using non-Western systems to complement care seems to be the driving force for American patients. As non-conventional standards begin to emerge, such as acupuncture, reikhi, naturopathy, and yoga, it becomes necessary to manage illness and work on healing through more than one system of medicine. While these forms of medicine are not natural to the American patient, they provide relief by approaching the human body in different ways.
For me, I grew up with a great reverence for Western medicine, but the concepts of Indian systems of medicine, specifically Ayurveda, as a part of how I think about healing. My mom would tell me not to eat too many dates in the summer time because they have a heating effect in the body. Sometimes, I would just respond with an adolescent mah-oooom! But as I grew older, I learned to take her advice in stride with other ideas I had about health and healing.
Every time I have left a doctor’s office feeling like a hypochondriac and not feeling much better about my health, I find value in this sea of different medical practices that can keep me afloat. The sense of hopelessness itself can block healing and make the body respond poorly to treatments. I think de-mystifying acupuncture is something that will help patients gain confidence and reject fear.Tanvi Avasthi is an GWU grad OurSpace's first summer intern. Read more about her here.
My girlfriend forwarded me an article entitled, "Got Snot? Top 3 Reasons (And Solutions) From Ayurveda", wondering if it would be a good solution to her Spring allergies. Now, with the wacky titles and topics I choose to ramble about on this blog, I should've been all over this. Not so - that snot silliness sat in my inbox unopened for two days! When grumpy asked me why I hadn't read her email, I asked her for a summary. My brain tuned out at the mention of "Boo Candy", which is what the author of the article calls turmeric honey at home around her kid. After another tongue lashing, I finally checked it out.
I must say this stuff seems awesome! It's pretty much just a crazy-staining yellow spice called turmeric (a natural anti-inflammatory) mixed with raw honey. You can think of local raw honey like a flu shot for your eyes, nose and sinuses against allergies - it contains small amounts of the allergens, allowing your body to build up it defenses against whatever is causes it to go buck wild in that awful sneezy, itchy way.
I figured if I was gonna mix up vat of the stuff for my girlfriend, I should give it a whirl myself. The turmeric takes a little getting used to, but once I did I kinda started looking forward to my daily dosage of "the boo stuff". I can't fairly evaluate the effectiveness against allergies since I don't have them (yet... DMV area transplants seems to magically manifest allergies after being in the area for awhile). However, I did notice something else. Even with just a tiny 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric honey a couple times a day, my sugar cravings went down significantly! Often when one has a craving for sugar, it's the body's signal that it is seeking nourishing food. This quest is not only for calories; it is an attempt to get all the vitamins, minerals, and qi necessary for optimal functioning. Is boo candy the perfect dessert? You be the judge.
I get a little sad when I notice that a client that I've been seeing for a few weeks drops off the radar; they are nowhere to be found on the schedule for the foreseeable future. As acupuncturists, we are trained in a medicine that is very effective, but also very natural. As such, in many cases it takes a considerable amount of time and stick-to-it-ness for most ailments to resolve, just like you're not going to lose those 20 pounds after two weeks at the gym. Whether it's anxiety, back pain, digestive issues, or an irregular menstrual cycle, the struggles we face were not created overnight. Our bodies, minds, and emotions have been locked into no-so-great patterns often for years before the issue starts screaming loud enough for us to decide it's time to do something about it. The last ditch effort that many turn to, acupuncture, may be a concept better grasped as "acu-cise":
- Isn't this supposed to be fun? Maybe, but most times not right out of the gate. Just like exercise is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to your body in the beginning, acupuncture is foreign to the mind in the early stages. Lying still for half an hour with acupuncture pins and running on a treadmill can both be a boring chore until you get used to it.
- I don't think it's working... Human beings are simultaneously very complex and very simple. Often if exercise isn't working, it's because there are numerous other factors involved. However, you don't need Scooby Doo to solve the mystery - sleep, diet, and lifestyle are often just as important to getting into shape. The same applies to acupuncture, literally. Acupuncture sets the stage for appropriate changes to sleep, diet, and lifestyle (including exercise) to help your body and mind heal.
- [Fill in the blank] hurts! When you are working out to increase muscle mass, you are literally exercising to the point where the muscle fibers tear on a microscopic level. Take solace in knowing the pain and soreness is going to be repaired by your body shortly, and when it does it'll be stronger than it was before. In additional to any brief physical discomfort acupuncture pins can cause, sometimes they bring up deeper physical and emotional pain that's impeding progress. If you stick with the process long enough, the storm passes and sunny days lie ahead.
- Finally! Now I can get on with my life... It took hard work to get that Hollywood body - don't you want to keep it? That's why the gym is home to "the fit of the fit" and "those struggling to get with it" alike. Exercise works best when done regularly, even if you don't feel like you need it. Acupuncture is very similar, and often even more life-changing if done over time. Not only will regular acupuncture help you maintain your calm, clear-headed, pain-free self, it can help boost the immune system and help you negotiate life better. Little things that you thought were "just the way I am" will also begin to change, and insights to some of your life-long recurring troubles begin to bubble to the surface.
Dianne Connelly, one of the founders of what is now called the Maryland University of Integrative Health, used to always say to us, "Life is not a one-walk dog." It was her clever and poetic way of impressing upon us that the "work" is never over, and we must choose to practice the things that bring us health and happiness over and over again. So whether it is a healthy diet, regular exercise, daily meditation, consistent acupuncture, or ideally a combination of all of the above, settle on your own personal health recipe and stick to it.