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Yin, Yang, & You

Do you know why acupuncture can help restore harmonious balance?

Westerners often use the term yin & yang to loosely describe masculine and feminine energy. It gets used a lot on tattoos and logos but I don’t think a lot of people actually know what it means,” says Daniel Katz, co-founder of Wildwood, a holistic, integrative health practice on India Street in downtown Portland, Maine. People think it means balance, connectedness, or things like that.”

Yet, the written characters for yin and yang are literally translated as follows:

Yin means the shady side of a hill.

Yang means the sunny side of a hill.

The iconic black and white symbol is representative of a dynamic balance that happens in nature, within humans, and within our universe, explains Daniel. As a way to understand and even to visualize this further, consider:

  • The summer solstice is the most yang time of year
  • The winter solstice is most yin time of year
  • Midday has the most yang
  • Midnight the most yin
  • Heat is yang in nature
  • Cold is yin in nature

To fully grasp this as it relates to human nature, stop to consider the waxing and waning of your own life, just as the sunlight waxes and wanes on a hill. In our ever-changing lives, sometimes you achieve perfect balance and harmony; other times there is too much shadow or too much light.

The job of an acupuncturist is to assess the human body and help restore harmony.

Assessing Qi

Before the 1920s and the discovery of penicillin and focus on biomedicine, doctors did not focus on what was happening inside the human body on a cellular level. At that time, medicine was more observational in nature, and Chinese medicine tended to look at things from a big (non-microscopic) perspective in order to determine a person’s health. Specifically, acupuncturists assessed a person’s Qi (pronounced Chi).

Over thousands of years, Chinese medicine has become a highly evolved system of medicine that employs a series of techniques to break down and diagnose patients. A variety of treatments are then used to help restore the body’s balance. These treatments are often referred to as the three pillars of Chinese medicine:

  1. Acupuncture / Manual Therapies
  2. Internal Medicine/Herbal Formulas/Diet
  3. Qi Gong/Movement/Exercise

Acupuncturists today use precisely the same points on the body that were used thousands of years ago in China. And amazingly, “the 365 acupuncture points on the human body – one for each day of the year – relate directly to yin and yang,” says Daniel.

If you are seeking a harmonious balance for your life on a hill, consider incorporating the three pillars of health, and allow your life to achieve a dynamic balance. And while you’re at it, why not think about how you and your loved ones can contribute to more a balanced and healthy universe!

To learn more about Wildwood or to schedule an appointment, visit our home page.


Attacking Seasonal Allergies with Acupuncture and Herbs

Ahhhh Choo!

At long last, spring has sprung! For many of us, the tender spring flowers, leaves and grasses blossom in tandem with runny noses, sneezing, itchy, red and watery eyes, headaches, brain fog, fatigue and scratchy throats. If spring is an enigmatic harbinger of long-awaited beauty as well as debilitating seasonal allergy symptoms for you and your loved ones, you’re in luck! Acupuncture and herbal medicine can be effective therapies when it comes to battling the pollen and keeping you feeling healthy enough to get outside and enjoy all that spring has to offer.

Invading Allergies

According to Chinese medicine theory, allergy symptoms arise when your body’s wei qi (protective barrier or immune system) is weak. The wei qi is connected to the Lung meridian, which is in charge of opening and closing the pores to release toxins from inside of the body and keep immune-compromising pathogens out. Imagine your wei qi as the first line of defense against an enemy attack! If the wei qi/ immune system is weak, the lungs cannot properly close the pores of the skin to protect the body from pathogens. Pathogens that cause allergies – like pollen – ride into battle on spring winds and easily invade weak immune systems, causing the combination of symptoms we know as “seasonal allergies.”

Counter-attack and Strength Building

If you seek help for allergies from an acupuncturist, they will choose acupuncture points that not only help alleviate allergy symptoms but also work to re-balance and build up your immune system so it is not as susceptible to invasion. Acupuncture can effectively help clear sinuses, soothe irritated throats and boost energy. When it comes to chronic allergies, however, it is best to receive regular acupuncture treatments for several months prior to the season when your symptoms flare. That way, you and your acupuncturist can ensure your body’s immune system and wei qi is strong enough to withstand allergens.

The Story of the Jade Screen

Chinese herbal remedies can also be effective when it comes to building up your body’s immune system and treating allergy symptoms. One of the most popular formulas for seasonal allergies is called Yu Ping Feng San or Jade Screen Formula. Just like acupuncture, this formula contains herbs that help expel seasonal pathogens from your body and bolster your immune system against future allergy attacks.

A teacher of mine once told me that the story behind the name of Jade Screen Formula stems from a tradition in ancient China. In the springtime, people used to put screens carved out of jade in front of their doors when they opened them to let fresh spring air into their homes. The screens were supposed to protect the household and its inhabitants from “evil wind pathogens” … otherwise known as seasonal allergens.

It is best to take this and other similar formulas for at least a month prior to allergy season.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, speak with an acupuncturist today! You may be stopping to smell the roses this year after all!

 

 


Welcoming the Earth Pig – A Year of Contentment and Kindness

Today, February 5th, is the Lunar New Year, and with the new moon we welcome a new year under the Earth Pig sign of the Chinese Zodiac. While this may not seem like the most elegant emblem, a year filled with greater contentment, success and friendship is aligning in the stars!

The Earth in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine and five element theory, the Earth element is at our center; it is in charge of healthy digestion and nourishment of our bodies. When we are well-nourished and our digestive systems are functioning seamlessly, we experience enhanced energy and sensations of contentment, which is what the Earth Pig is all about!

To magnify these feelings of well-being and ease in 2019, strive to be extra mindful of what you are eating. Try to eat plenty of fruits, veggies and whole foods and avoid over-indulgence in sweets, which can throw our Earth systems off center.

Gentle, balanced forms of exercise, like yoga, Tai Chi, and taking long walks, are perfect for the year of the Earth Pig. If you tend to exercise until you hit a point of exhaustion, consider trading in a few of your high-intensity workouts for more nourishing activities.

Forging Friendships

In the Chinese zodiac, pigs are sociable, kind and sincere. They make friends easily and are often referred to as “peace-keepers.” Just what the world needs in 2019!

Embrace your inner social butterfly this year. You might just find a friend in someone unexpected.

Here’s to 2019, the Earth Pig, contentment and friendship!


5 Quotes About Mindfulness by the Dalai Lama

 

 

There are days when the words of wise teachers can remind us to return to a state of mindfulness. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is one such teacher! As the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama has studied buddhism and mindfulness his entire life and now leads followers from around the globe by his own example. If you ever feel like you are losing sight of what it means to be mindful or why you should practice mindfulness meditation, here are 5 quotes by the Dalai Lama to bring you back to your practice and to a calm and peaceful mind.

  1. Having a calm or peaceful state of mind doesn’t mean being spaced out or completely empty. Peace of mind or a calm state of mind is rooted in affection and compassion and is sensitive and responsive to others.
  2. The inner peace of an alert and calm mind are the source of real happiness and good health.
  3. Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.
  4. We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
  5. Whatever forms of meditation you practice, the most important point is to apply mindfulness continuously, and make a sustained effort. It is unrealistic to expect results from meditation within a short period of time. What is required is continuous sustained effort.

 


A Mindfulness Meditation Practice for Beginners


“What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.

-Shunryu Suzuki; Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind


What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as: “the practice of maintaining a non-judgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (merriamwebster.com). It seems simple, right? Now think about your daily life. How often are you able to orient yourself in the present moment with attention and awareness? The modern world moves along at an increasingly fast pace, and if you struggle to remain in the present, you are not alone!

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that is meant to guide you gently back into the present moment. Over time, this can help you regain balance and experience less stress, without becoming overwhelmed by emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or uncertainty. You do this by focusing on the breath and letting go of judgement and attachment.

This January, we will ring in the New Year with posts exploring the shallows and depths of mindfulness, beginning with a simple mindfulness meditation practice that you can try at home. Even if you sit for 5 minutes a day, that will be a great step forward on your mindfulness meditation journey!

A Simple Practice in 6 Steps

Step One: Prepare. Find a quiet place to sit. You can either sit on a pillow or blanket on the floor, or you can sit in a chair if that works better for you. If you are on the floor, try to sit cross-legged. If you are in a chair, allow your feet to connect with the floor.

Step Two: Adjust your posture. Lay your hands gently in your lap; they can rest either palm-up or palm-down. Straighten your spine as if a string is gently tugging upward from the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest.

Step Three: Soften your gaze. Allow your gaze to rest about a foot in front of you on the floor. Try to keep your eyes open if you can, as this will heighten your sensory awareness. Let your gaze soften.

Step Four: Focus on your breath. Begin to focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale naturally. Feel the soft breath of air beneath your nose as you exhale and the way the cool air feels as it passes into your nostrils. Can you feel it travel all the way down to your belly? Follow these sensations through several breath cycles.

Step Five: Let thoughts and emotions come. It is natural that thoughts, emotions and images will begin to pass through your mind at this time, and it is okay to let them! The trick is to not get attached to any thread of thought or feeling. Simply observe the thoughts as they pass, and let them go as they leave your consciousness. Return to observing your breath.

Step Six: Don’t Panic. All kinds of uncomfortable physical and mental sensations might come up during your practice, which is why it is perfectly fine to only sit for a short time at first. If your back aches, acknowledge it, and let it go. If anger arises, do the same. Always return to your breath to stay in the moment, and watch how the pain recedes and the anger fizzles. Repeat often!

 

Happy New Year, and happy sitting!


Movement for the Mind: How Exercise Impacts our Mental Health

“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” 
― Martha Graham (American dancer)

Get Moving in 2019

Here we are at the end of another year, and the time has come when many people reflect on the past and make plans for a healthier or happier future. If your New Year’s resolution includes getting moving with an exercise plan, research suggests that your physical and your mental health will benefit!

Your Brain on Exercise

If you have ever experienced sadness or depression, you have probably also noticed that going for a walk or getting some exercise helps lift your spirits. Did you know that there is a scientific explanation for this phenomenon? 

According to research, exercising triggers the release of chemicals called endorphins into your body. Endorphins not only interact with receptors in your brain to reduce your body’s perception of pain, but also contribute to a mental “euphoria” or “runner’s high” sensation, resulting in an uplifted mood and an enhanced sense of overall well-being.1 Exercise also increases blood flow and neuronal activity in certain areas of the brain including the hippocampus, the area of the brain directly related to memory, emotional regulation and learning.2

Enhancing our physique can be one powerful motivator for committing to regular exercise in the New Year, which, in turn, can boost self-confidence. In addition to relieving stress and producing feelings of euphoria, regular movement can raise levels of self-confidence, according to some studies. 3

Mind-Body Medicine

When you hear the word “mind-body medicine”, you might immediately think of sweaty yoga studios or groups of people practicing tai chi in the park. If you are not a yoga aficionado or a martial artist, have no fear! As you can see from the data above, all exercise is, in essence, beneficial for the mind and body. If you love running, commit to jogging three times a week. If you are a swimmer or a dancer, try to hit the pools or the dance studio more often in 2019.

When we consider the body and mind as integrated, holistic entities, it is easy to see how physical exercise can have a profound impact on mental health. In a recent article published in Psychology Today, the author writes, In fact, increasingly robust evidence suggests that exercise is not only necessary for the maintenance of good mental health, but it can be used to treat even chronic mental illness.”4

The moral of the story? Exercise in ways that make you happy, and be prepared to reap the physical and mental benefits in 2019!

Happy New Year!

 

 

1https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1

2https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise

3https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise

4https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1


3 Ways to Greet Winter

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” 
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

As the sun sets and the longest night of the year begins,  take a quiet moment to greet the darkness not with trepidation but with acceptance and gratitude. Allow the early nighttime to envelop you in warm, dark arms, and permit yourself the space to rest, to conserve, to nourish and to prepare for growth. 

In Chinese medicine, winter is the season to root down and to store. The growth that comes with the springtime requires a lot of energy and focused attention. By resting and nourishing our bodies throughout the dark and cold winter months, we will have the energy to blossom in the spring.

During the time of the druids, the Winter Solstice was marked by celebration. Here are three ways to greet the winter gracefully and without fear of the dark or cold. 

  1. Light candles or a fire: As the sun sets, light a candle or a fire and turn down the electric lighting. Pull your favorite book off of the shelf or simply sit in silence, letting the warm light wash over you. 
  2. Permit yourself to rest: Tonight, put away the cell phone and computer and treat yourself to a nourishing ritual, like taking a ginger bath or a bubble bath with calming essential oils. Then, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” Or, at least for 8 solid hours!
  3. Make an altar: It might feel nice to make an altar in honor of the Winter Solstice. This can be as simple as putting some winter greens in a vase and lighting a white candle. Let yourself sit for awhile in front of the altar, reflecting on the year and feeling the warmth that surrounds you. 
A simple Winter Solstice altar

Holidays with a Heart Series: 3 ethical clothing brands that do not use sweatshop labor

The holiday season has officially begun! Do you love giving gifts to friends and family at this time of year? For the fashionista on your list, check out these fairtrade and ethical fashion brands that refuse to use sweatshop labor. While this is only a short list, there are many more ethical clothing companies out there to choose from – just check a company’s website for more information about their production and labor practices.

Fast fashion and the Human Cost

In the fashion world, there is a term called “fast fashion,” which, according to the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, “refers to the shift in the fashion industry that has resulted in faster production with lower costs.”1 While this may seem like a good thing on paper, it means that only about 3% of the clothes we buy in the US are made here (versus in the 1960’s, when 90% of the clothes we purchased in the US were made here).2

The majority of the clothing we purchase from US clothing retailers are made using sweatshop labor in countries that have fewer and more lax labor laws. These sweatshops often have unsafe working conditions and unfair wages, creating environments that seriously compromise the health and well-being of laborers. This holiday season, let’s all make choices with our wallets to ensure we are contributing to a healthier, happier and more sustainable world. By refusing to shop in stores that use sweatshop labor, together we can reduce the demand for unethically produced clothing.

Happy gifting! And check back Friday for more sustainable gift ideas. 

LL Bean– This favorite local Maine retailer is committed to fair trade and ethical production. According to their website, their “in-house monitoring team coordinates with third-party organizations to ensure our strict standards for working conditions and human rights are met everywhere we do business.”This means that you can buy high-quality gear and clothing for your outdoorsy loved ones while shopping locally and ethically! Check out llbean.com for more info!

Everlane – This UK-based retailer illustrates their ethos in their tag line:Exceptional quality. Ethical factories. Radical transparency. As part of their commitment to transparency, Everlane breaks down the “true cost” of their products, including the cost of labor. They claim to use only the most ethical factories in the world and to monitor these factories frequently for fair wages and safe workplace environments.

Read more about Everlane here: https://www.everlane.com/about

Reformation – This Los Angeles clothing company is committed to sustainability on many levels, from the materials it chooses to its carbon footprint to ethical labor.According to their website, they “currently require that suppliers meet our standards for: social responsibility, safe & non-toxic, and better materials.”They also hold tours of their factories so that the public can meet factory workers and see working conditions for themselves.

Read more about Reformation here: https://www.thereformation.com/pages/sustainable-practices

1https://cas.uab.edu/humanrights/2018/04/26/fast-fashion-unethical-and-unsustainable/

2Ibid.

3Www.llbean.com/about

4Www.thereformation.com/pages/sustainable-practices


Soak Away the Cold with a Ginger Bath

Even if you love the romance of wintry weather, winters in Maine have the tendency to chill you right to the bone! If you can’t seem to get warm lately, or if you have pain that is exacerbated by the cold and damp, why not try soaking in an herbal ginger bath?

Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing traditions, refers to ginger as vishwabhesaj, or the Universal Medicine.1 In Ayurveda as well as Chinese herbal medicine, ginger is considered to be warming in nature, good for digestion and have a positive effect on circulation. With this ginger bath recipe, you are advised to drink a cup of the ginger tea as well as add a few cups to your bath water – so you benefit from the external and internal benefits of the herb!

Happy soaking!

Ingredients:

2 Tbs. roughly chopped fresh ginger root (no need to peel)

3 cups of water

Instructions: Bring the 3 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped ginger root to a boil in a saucepan. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes (you should achieve a rich golden liquor). Remove from heat and strain ginger root from the tea. Set aside one cup to drink while drawing your bath. Add the remaining 2 cups of tea to your hot bath water. Soak for as long as you’d like! Repeat often.

1Ayurveda and Ginger; the Universal Medicine. http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/blog/ayurveda-ginger-%E2%80%9Cuniversal-medicine%E2%80%9D


The Iceman, Modern Medicine and Ancient Acupuncture

Have you ever heard of Ötzi the Iceman? If not, this is the perfect story to explore as glacial winter weather settles upon us here in Portland, Maine.

Preserved in the Ice

Ötzi’s well-preserved, naturally mummified remains were found accidentally by hikers in 1991 on the Schnalstal/Val Senales Valley glacier in South Tyrol, Italy, where researchers believe he was shot in the back by an arrow more than five thousand years ago! This means that the Copper Age mummy, whose tools and clothing were preserved alongside him in the ice, predates ancient sites such as Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.

 

Otzi’s remains (Wikimedia Commons)

Medical Mysteries

The Iceman’s body was so well-preserved in the mountains that researchers have painted an incredibly clear picture of Otzi’s life and death – they were even able to discern that his final meal was one of fresh or dried ibex twelve hours before he was killed! Along with ibex, the bacteria H. pylori was found in his intestines. While modern research has linked this bacteria, which is present in 50% of humans, to ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues, scientists studying the Iceman believe H. pylori may have aided in the digestion of raw meat. Another interesting digestive discovery was that the Iceman was lactose intolerant. 1

Connection to Acupuncture

The origins of the ancient healing art of acupuncture have generally been traced to China during the Warring State period, about 770-221 B.C.E.2 Stone tools and ancient texts that reference a system of meridians from that era had previously supported this claim – until Ötzi, that is. One of the most interesting discoveries associated with the Iceman is a series mysterious tattoos, sixty-one in total, located near points that correspond with modern acupuncture points. Researchers consider these tattoos to be medicinal, in particular to help alleviate pain associated with degeneration in Ötzi’s lumbar spine (if you have ever seen an acupuncturist for low back pain, you most likely have been needled near your ankle – similar to some of Ötzi’s tattoos!) If researchers’ suspicions are correct, a system of acupuncture may have been known to inhabitants of the Alps thousands of years before acupuncture can be traced to China.

More Questions than Answers

Studying Ötzi has opened a doorway into the mysterious ancient world in which he lived, providing scientists with as many questions as answers. What do you think about the Iceman?

1Sturdee, Simon. Stone Age mummy still revealing secrets, 25 years on. September 2016.

https://phys.org/news/2016-09-stone-age-mummy-revealing-secrets.html

2Run Ming, Yan. The Origin and Development of Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3331519/pdf/ASL-4-224.pdf