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Your water element

by Stacey Kaplan LAc, LMT

I am currently reviewing in depth the five elements in Chinese medicine and would love to share with you some ways to incorporate these theories into your daily lives.

The five elements are water, wood, fire, earth and metal. These elements house each of the meridian systems, along which are the acupuncture points, and correspond to all of our internal functions and interactions with the outside world. I'll talk briefly today and during subsequent entries about some of the attributes that correspond to each element so we can recognize when they are in dysfunction. Then, I will offer tips on what we can do to get back on track.

These are huge, complex topics but I will try to simplify the major concepts to convey the gist of each elemental function to help you incorporate them into your life right now. I'm always happy to discuss any of these topics in greater depth during our sessions.

We'll begin with the water element because we are currently in the season associated with it: Winter.

In the Winter, living things need to live off the resources they have stored up through the year. We need to conserve our energy so that we can reemerge and start growing and producing again in the Spring.

The systems related to water are kidney and bladder.
Kidneys control what we do with our resources and give us the potency to be in the world and be ourselves.
Bladder controls the storage of water. It is the body's energetic savings account. It controls how we use our resources.

Our water element is our connection to our origin and our path. It allows us to define our existence and connect to where we come from and where we are going. It roots us in knowing who we are.

One way to gauge how our water element is doing is to take a look at how we use our resources. Ask ourselves questions like:
Am I spending more than I make?
Am I saving more than I need to live comfortably?
Do I overwork myself because I am afraid I might not have enough, or it may not last?
Am I expending my resources by pushing myself too hard physically?

If you're spending more than you have, or saving too much out of fear, then your water element may need to be addressed.

A nice way to nourish your water element is to develop a plan for you financial present and future, a plan that is in alignment with keeping healthy and happy. 
Check in with your pace at work and make sure that pace is in alignment with your goals and overall health.

Winter is a great time to take stock of how we are doing in all aspects of our lives and determine ways to best use our energy and resources. Eat warm, hearty soups and stews, whole grains, dried foods, small dark beans, seaweeds and steamed winter greens are a great way to fortify the kidneys in the Winter.
Activity and exercise should also be geared toward conserving our resources. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, meditation are great year round, but especially important in Winter. 
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine will help support you through any imbalances that come up through the year. We can discuss one on one about exactly what is going on for you and develop a plan to equalize the body's systems to get you on track to feeling your best.

Stay tuned for the next newsletter where we'll discuss the wood element, the element associated with Spring. It's just around the corner, polar vortex or not! 

And, as always;

Whatever your injury, Chinese medicine advocates immediate treatment. Treat minor problems promptly and they are much less likely to develop into larger, chronic conditions.

New Year 2014

by Stacey Kaplan LAc, LMT

Happy New Year! Kung Hei Fat Choi!
Today marks the first day of a new lunar year, the year of the Wood Horse. Each year has it's connection to an animal and an element. There are twelve animals and five elements that cycle through and give each year it's own individual characteristics. 

The horse is a dynamic, powerful, determined and loyal animal with the potential for rapid movement and changing directions. With this enthusiastic motivation behind us, it seems like a great time to check in with our goals and objectives and plan for a productive year achieving what's important to us.

The wood element is associated with growth, strength, flexibility and something fresh and new coming out or breaking through. This year harbors huge potential for change. Change can be turbulent at times, but a strong wood element is flexible and sturdy through the turmoil.

This year carries huge potential for creation and growth. Good luck to everyone in this coming year!

Stay healthy this winter

by Stacey Kaplan LAc, LMT

2014 has started off with a polar vortex bang. This kind of cold doesn't visit the tri-state area too often, so it seems like a good time to discuss some ways we can keep ourselves warm and healthy this winter.

Other than bundling up when we're outside, here are some tips for staying warm from the inside, out.

Eat more soup.
Bone broth soups made with chicken, beef, lamb, pork bones help boost vitality and tonify our stored energy reserves in the body. It can also help with joint pain and body aches that are worse in cold weather. Here's a link to making bone broth soup at home: http://mindfulmealsblog.com/2013/11/06/guide-bone-broth/
Vegetable broths are great too, and super easy to make. Just throw a bunch of your favorite vegetables in a pot with some water, or veggie broth, and simmer for an hour or two. Add in your favorite spices to taste. 

Cook with warming herbs.
Herbs such as cinnamon, garlic, ginger, horseradish, cayenne, cardamon can help warm us up. Onions are also warming and nourishing, they're not herbs, but good to remember to add these in when cooking.

Drink warm beverages.
Keep water at room temperature and drink warm teas instead of iced drinks.

Cold has a way of contracting and constricting, which often makes it tougher to get moving and exercise. We want to conserve our energy in the winter, so workouts don't have to be strenuous right now. We do, however, need to keep moving and get our blood flowing through this time. Activities like yoga, tai chi, qi gong, stretching are really beneficial this time of year.

Keep your neck and low back warm.
Wearing a scarf can help protect us from contracting colds and look European while doing it. We also want to keep our low back covered up and warm, so maybe wear an extra undershirt, tucked in.

Get lots of sleep.
We tend to need a little extra sleep during the winter. Since it gets dark so early, try to get to bed a little earlier. Sneak in an extra hour or so of sleep this season.

And, as always;

Whatever your injury, Chinese medicine advocates immediate treatment. Treat minor problems promptly and they are much less likely to develop into larger, chronic conditions.

Self care between acupuncture treatments

by Stacey Kaplan LAc, LMT

"So, now what?" is a common concern after an acupuncture treatment. During a session things can shift profoundly in many different ways and we are sometimes left wondering what the best way to keep the healing going is. As part of an ongoing series, How To Care For Your Injuries; let's discuss how best to care for ourselves between acupuncture treatments.

Here are some suggestions for what to do post-treatment and between treatments.

In the hours directly following an acupuncture treatment:

Drink plenty of water.
Eat warm, nutritious food.
Avoid carrying heavy bags, especially on one shoulder. This is especially important when being treated for back, neck, shoulder pain and headaches.
Try to take it easy; do not work-out directly after a treatment and try not to do any big heavy lifting or excessive standing.
Do pay attention to any changes that happen post-treatment. This can include; increased range of motion, decreased pain level or frequency of pain, postural ease (feeling like it doesn't take as much effort to hold correct posture), an overall sense of well being, better sleep, things like that. How long do these sensations last for you?
Use some heat on any soreness that comes up. This can mean using a heat pad, hot shower, warm bath. Unless an area is already inflamed (hot, painful to light touch, swollen), heat will keep things moving and reduce soreness.
Walking, without heavy bags, can help your body integrate and adjust to any changes that happened in the session.

In the time between treatments:

Drink plenty of water.
Stay away from processed foods.
Resume any physical activity that is part of your daily life. Walking is always great.
Keep up with any corrective exercises and lifestyle changes we discussed in treatment.
Use heat with sore, tired muscles.
Get lots of sleep.
Make sure you are breathing deeply into your belly throughout the day.
Stretch a little before bed and take your big joints (neck, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles) through their range of motion upon waking.
Take breaks throughout the day when you are at a computer; close tour eyes, move your neck and shoulders around, take a walk around the office.

Keep each treatment going by listening to your body and taking care of it, no matter how long it is between sessions. Our body will tell us what it needs. We just need to cultivate ways to listen to it and incorporate self care into our daily lives. 

Whatever your injury, Chinese medicine advocates immediate treatment. Treat minor problems promptly and they are much less likely to develop into larger, chronic conditions.

Self care treatment of injuries using food

by Stacey Kaplan LAc, LMT

As part of an ongoing series, How To Care For Your Injuries; let's discuss how our diet can aid, or impede, our healing process. I've mentioned dietary guidelines to many of you when recovering from injuries; lets examine these recommendations so you have them for the future.

The following suggestions are foods that will optimize your healing potential and shorten recovery time, mostly by keeping inflammation under control in the body.

Food to avoid while healing:
Spicy food can heat you up and encourage inflammation in the body.Fried food and preservative rich foods tax your digestive system which inhibits your healing process.Shellfish can create an inflammatory response in the body. If you already have inflammation because of an injury, it's best to avoid anything that might create more.Alcohol may dull the pain for a short time but will impede recovery.Raw food also taxes your digestive system which will inhibit your healing process.

Food to enjoy while healing:
Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Incorporate turmeric in lots of your dishes.Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, chard, collard greens, are jam-packed with most of the vitamins we need for healing and for health in general.Cook your food while healing; it's easier on your digestive system. Saute, steam, grill, whatever you like, just so your food's not raw.

Using food as medicine can be a powerful tool in your healing process. Enjoy a varied diet including spicy food, shellfish, alcohol and raw food when you're not healing from an injury; there's nothing wrong with these choices in general. Fried food and anything with lots of preservatives should be avoided as often as possible to promote over all health.
Take good care of yourself while recovering from injuries. Get lots of sleep, manage your stress levels and eat well to support your body in doing what it does so well.

Whatever your injury, Chinese medicine advocates immediate treatment. Treat minor problems promptly and they are much less likely to develop into larger, chronic conditions.

Self care for your injuries, part 2

by Stacey Kaplan LAc, LMT

As part of an ongoing series, How To Care For Your Injuries, I'd like to introduce some helpful acupuncture points you can use to help relieve pain and stimulate recovery. 

No need for needles here, just applying pressure to these points will stimulate them into action.

How to stimulate acupoints:
The following points can be stimulated with finger pressure. Direct pressure with the thumb, finger, or knuckles is one of the simplest and most effective methods of stimulating acupoints.
Press the point lightly and shallowly, progressing slowly deeper until you feel a sensation around the point. This could feel like a distending sensation around the point or a dull ache that spreads or travels outward from the point. Even if you feel no sensation, you are benefiting from simply pressing these points.

LI 4, He Gu:  This point is found between the 1st & 2nd fingers, at the midpoint of the muscle that connects those 2 fingers.

This is a great point to relieve headaches. It can also be used for facial pain, toothaches and pain in the front of the shoulder.

St36, Zusanli:  This a point below your knee. Place your index finger in the indent just below your kneecap, let the rest of your 3 fingers fall in line underneath that. The point is at the level of your pinky finger just outside of your tibia bone (the shinbone). In the picture below, she is showing how to measure for the point on her left side and the actual point location on her right side.

Stimulate this point for any pain in your lower limb. It can reduce swelling and pain of the knee, ankle and foot. It is also used to energize the lower limb for fatigue in your legs.

Luo Zhen: This point is on the back of the hand, between the bones of the forefinger & middle finger, in the depression just behind the knuckles.

This is the stiff neck point. Press this point for pain or immobility in your neck.

Yao Tong Xue: There are 2 of these points on each hand, located on the back of the hand. The first one is in the depression between the bones of the forefinger & middle finger and the other one is between the ring and pinky finger. They are further up the hand, toward the arm, then the stiff neck point discussed above.

Stimulate these points for low back pain and stiffness.

Whatever your injury, Chinese medicine advocates immediate treatment. Treat minor problems promptly and they are much less likely to develop into larger, chronic conditions.

These tips and so much more are discussed in detail in A Tooth From A Tiger's Mouth, by Tom Bisio. This is an invaluable resource for athletes of any kind and anyone who is interested in learning more about how to care for your injuries and prevent chronic conditions.

Self Care Treatment of Injuries, part 1

by Stacey Kaplan LAc, LMT

What do you do when you think you've sprained an ankle?  Why isn't the swelling going away after an injury?  How can you make that bruise disappear?
Often times we are unclear what to do when we sustain an injury.  Sometimes RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) just doesn't do the trick.

Over the next few newsletters I will be discussing various ways you can effectively identify an injury, the best first aid choices and how to treat chronic injuries. 

This month, I'll begin by detailing how to examine an injury. A critical first step in figuring out which therapies need to be applied.

How to examine an injury:

PAIN is usually the first sign that something is wrong. Is the pain;
Mild- Can disappear with activity, does not prevent you from exercising, does not keep you awake at night, and massage and application of liniments are enough to keep the pain from getting worse. It is not uncommon for the pain of early stage tendinitis to lessen or disappear with activity. If mild pain is chronic it may be worth getting it checked out to prevent further damage.
Moderate- Does not disappear with activity, can impede performance, and does not prevent sleep. Often mild pain increases to moderate over time.
Severe- Stops activity, is not alleviated with over the counter painkillers, interrupts sleep, and may feel nauseating. This should be examined immediately by a physician. This is the type of pain often associated with bone breaks or torn tendons or ligaments.
Radiating- Pain that spreads out to other areas or down the leg or arm. This means that there is an impingement on a nerve. This can come from muscular tension or from a more direct pressure on a nerve such as a bulging disc. Often the radiating pain of sciatica is caused by muscular tension in the back or of the piriformis muscle. Radiating pain can be serious. It is worth checking in with your doctor.

Deformity- look for obvious deformity.
Compare sides; are the bony landmarks, joint creases and muscles on the affected side in the same place as the unaffected. Marked deformity accompanied by pain is a good indication of a serious problem. Don't risk moving the injured part; immobilize and seek help immediately.
Find out exactly where it hurts. Sometimes X-rays do not reveal obvious difference that can be seen with the naked eye.
Bruising- Bruising is a sign of ruptured blood vessels in a local area. It may be black, blue, green, yellow or a combination of colors. It is best to treat bruises right away to restore proper blood flow.
Swelling- Swelling indicates stagnation of blood and/or fluid and the possible presence of inflammation.
Pitting swelling: A swollen area with depressions in it, especially after applying slight pressure. This can indicate a deeper level of swelling often associated with fractures or severe sprains, although sometimes can result from an internal imbalance that causes water retention.
Swelling that pushes outward on a contained area: Common in sprains where blood and fluids from ruptured vessels have accumulated in the local area.
Hot, red swelling: Indicates inflammation and accumulation of fluids and qi.
Cotton-like swelling: Looks and feels mushy or cottony. Often indicates a fracture.
Body symmetry- Look at the symmetry of both sides of your body.
Look at relative shoulder and hip heights. A raised hip can indicate that your back is tighter on one side which can contribute to ankle, knee and hip problems.
Do your knees roughly line up with the shinbone and ankle. or do they fall inward or outward? Imbalances in the musculature of the legs can cause pain and lead to injury.
Is your range of motion equal on both sides? Decreased range of motion can indicate a problem.

Touch the injured area gently and lightly, gradually go deeper.
If there is a specific area of tenderness on the bone and swelling, there may be a fracture.
If the area feels hot to the touch, there is probably inflammation.
If the area feels cold, there is probably reduced circulation in the local area.

Does the pain increase or decrease with movement?
What kind of movements hurt; do stretching or contracting the muscles cause pain? Torn or pulled muscles often hurt when stretched.
Check range of motion of the injured limb and compare it to the uninjured side. If you know what movements help or aggravate the problem, you can narrow down what structures are involved.
Does the area pop or crack when moved? If you move and touch the area you may feel that something slips or clunks in one part of the range of motion. Often we assume this means we have arthritis. Instead, it can be a misalignment in the musculature that causes tendons to slip in and out the the track they operate on in the joint. Gentle manipulation and corrective exercises are used to treat this.
Immobilize the area if there is massive swelling and deformity and seek medical help.

Specific treatment strategies will be discussed in future issues.

Whatever your injury, Chinese medicine advocates immediate treatment. Treat minor problems promptly and they are much less likely to develop into larger, chronic conditions.