What Herb Do You Use For. . .?

Photo Credit: Teresa Y Green

“I want to get some herbs for my headaches. What do you suggest?” When I am in the health food store buying groceries, I hear customers aiming these kinds of questions at the staff. The staff usually does not answer them, because they are not legally allowed to diagnose or treat health conditions.

I don’t answer such questions, either, even though I have an acupuncture license and herbal treatment falls within my scope of practice. I am an herbalist who uses Chinese herbs, and we don’t prescribe herbs that way. Here’s a short primer on using Chinese herbs.

1. Chinese herbs are prescribed by syndrome, not symptom. We see the body as a complex grouping of activities, and see illness as a hiccup in the organization of those activities. We have names for the system breakdowns that cause problems. Sometimes a body runs too hot, or too cold, or doesn’t handle food or humidity or stress well. Sometimes energy gets stuck in one place, or because of overwork or poor sleep there is not enough energy. We use herbs, as well as acupuncture, meditation techniques, and other tools, to restore balance in the system. For headaches, some are caused by fatigue, some by frustration and stress. Still others are caused by becoming overheated, or because of old trauma or hormone shifts. Each of these causes might need completely different herbal treatment. To give someone the wrong herbs could aggravate the system breakdown and make the headaches worse instead of better.

Chinese herbs are primarily used in formulas. When patients ask me for herbs, they usually expect me to give them one name, like a TV talk show doctor might. Feverfew for headaches! St John’s wort for depression! Black cohash for hot flashes! But Chinese herbalism has developed over thousands of years. Herbalists have learned that using just one herb for a person is not the most effective way to treat the whole person. I have treated many people who have not had good results with the one herb treatment. The one herb they chose may not have addressed their syndrome properly, or it may have aggravated another condition, or it may simply have not been strong enough on its own. 

In a Chinese herbal formula, some herbs are for the underlying syndrome causing the symptoms that are uncomfortable. Some ingredients help with digesting the overall formula. Others are added to minimize the chance of any side effects. Still others are used to strengthen general health to prevent the problem from happening again once it is resolved.When I look at a bottle of herbs from a health food store or a multi-level company that sells herbs, even if they are in a formula, almost all the herbs are for the same symptom. There is rarely an attempt to make the formula address the whole body (except when the company uses a Chinese medicine formula–but even then, they market it as being used for a symptom, not the underlying cause). We consider putting every herb that treats a given symptom into one formula as overkill in most cases. 

Chinese herbs are ideally custom prescribed for the individual. Sometimes companies sell a “one size fits all” formula because the people creating the formulas are not trained herbalists; often it is because they are mass marketing a formula to the general public, and know the average person with a headache doesn’t know what causes it. Chinese medicine has fallen into this trap, too. Go into most Asian markets, and you’ll find formulas for fertility, for PMS, or for headache. These formulas may be frequently used formulas developed over hundreds or years or more, and may work for the majority of the people who try them.  But they are still not aimed at the the exact syndrome affecting the individual buying them. The ideal way to purchase Chinese herbs is from an herbalist trained in Chinese medicine. We will talk with you about all your health problems, and make you a formula that will begin the process of re-balancing all of your systems. 

If you only treat the one symptom that is bothering you the most, it is like taking someone spinning 5 plates and only keeping one balanced. While even a master herbalist cannot always treat every problem at once, we can usually trace a common cause for most of the problems and treat that first. As that system failure is fixed, more than one symptom will begin to improve. If you have headaches, you may find that not only do they get better, but your sleep improves too. Or your digestion is better. Or you catch fewer colds. Treating the underlying cause of health problems has the effect of improving how you feel overall. 

Holistic medicine in general takes the long view. We don’t treat you just so you feel better next week, but have side effects from treatment that will cause you problems in a few years. We look to your future, and correct as many of the system faults as possible, so that your health continues to improve over the long term. Not every problem can be cured, but with good health practices and herbs that balance your body rather than simply try to mask a symptom, we can help you to feel better overll.
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It’s That Time of Year: The Anniversary Reaction

Anniversary Reaction” is a term that describes an emotional reaction to the memory of an event on or near the calendar date of a trauma, or when the surrounding circumstances are similar to the “feel” of the time a trauma occurred.

Photo Credit: lindagr
The idea of the anniversary reaction is relevant to me this time of year. Both my parents died in February, six years and one day apart. This time of year is a nostalgic, sometimes troubled one for me, often involving strangely emotional days with no immediate explanation. 
Since it’s been decades since either of my parents’ deaths, it is odd to still feel the sting of loss so profoundly. It’s not that I am deeply grieving; rather, the season just leaves me melancholy. I’ve bounced back and forth in coping strategies for my emotional response–some years I take the days off work entirely, listen to sad music and loll around or read all day. Others I try to “buck up” and get on with my life. I rarely succeed with the “soldier on” mentality–usually my body makes the decision to grieve for me, and I catch a cold or in some other way become physically incapacitated.
So I now try to honor this feeling. I give myself time. If I cannot schedule a whole day of reflection, I take half days several times throughout my “season of grief.” I’ve given up fighting the intermittent eruptions of tears, though I sometimes forget why they come up for a day or two. 
I’ve also stopped trying to decide what the emotion means. A quick search of “Anniversary Reaction” on the internet shows different approaches to dealing with it. Some define it as an individual’s response to unresolved grief resulting from significant losses.” Until it is gone you should consider your grief unresolved. Others take a more peacefully resigned approach, seeing the anniversary reaction as a natural part of grieving for some people, and suggests using each year’s emotional upheaval as a chance to remember your loss, reflect on your life, and allow yourself to grow emotionally. Of course, if an anniversary of a traumatic event or loss leaves you incapacitated or hopeless to the point of severe depression, all professionals say that getting some form of professional help is critical to your well-being. But for people like me, who have a long wave of nostalgic, not-entirely-unpleasant grief around a loss, an anniversary reaction can be a chance to reconnect with your history, with your family memories, and with your life outside of work and daily responsibilities. These “time-outs” from day-to-day struggle are important in our culture of constant distraction and busyness.  Honoring milestones and touchstones helps us to stay connected to what makes each of us unique.
If you have a special anniversary of an event in your life, I invite you to treasure that memory, even its tears. Embracing the hard times in your life allows you to grow from them. If the event is the loss of a loved one, going over the good and bad of your time with the person will help you be kinder to the people dear to you now. If the event was a horrible trauma, remembering your survival can give you strength in your present trials and remind you that you have a life to use in whatever way you feel reflects you and your values. And if you survived something that others did not, it gives you a chance to honor those memories and those people. Each person must find his own way to approach the anniversary reactions in his life. What has worked for me is a gentle homage to people very important in making me who I am today, and a resolve to treat the remaining people I love as the dear treasures they are.
Articles referenced for this post: 

"I Don’t Like To Complain"

Photo credit: nzks

I read a lot about positivity, and training your mind to see the brighter aspect of any situation. But when I get down, I do not have a lot of experience with realistic evaluation of experiences. I tend to see any experience as either good or bad, as my fault if it is negative, and in spite of me if it is positive. I absorbed a futilistic mind set from childhood, without my family’s or my realization it was happening. So when I do finally give up and embrace the depressing side of a problem, I go overboard. I throw out any good things as I focus on the bad–no one called me today, I lost income, I made a mistake, something bad is happening to someone I love and I can’t help it, there are good things I want to do, but x, y, or z stands in the way. It’s all hopeless, and I should just eat worms and die.


When I keep my pain locked away in myself, a stray negative thought can blossom into a full depression hurricane, where I denigrate my accomplishments, ignore happy things around me, and sacrifice my energy and health in bouts of crying, anger, and blaming those around me for perceived slights. Why don’t I reach out to someone else in these bad times? “I don’t like to complain.” “I don’t want to be negative.” “If other people knew I had this problem, I would be lessened in their eyes.”


Recently I tried to encourage a friend who was down. In a feat of tremendous hyprocrisy, I urged him to confide his problems in others, to “get the pain out.” And he used my line. “I don’t like to complain.” As often happens, being of the receiving end of my words opened my eyes to a new viewpoint.


Why is it helpful to share our burdens with each other? If I am sad, and I tell you I am sad and why, won’t I just make you sad, too? Sometimes, yes. I have heard conversations where two people get together and focus on all the bad in themselves and in the world. The conversation often becomes cruel, cyncial, and cutting. I get depressed hearing it second-hand, and the people involved do not seem uplifted at all while they are together. But I don’t usually have such conversations. When I share a problem with a friend, my friends react differently. I have been blessed with proactive friends who help me turn problems around.


How do these wonderful people help me? They are first caring, then try to help me see the problem realistically, and then we try to solve it together.

  • Caring. Letting someone know your dark places or failures is scary stuff. In a society built on projecting a positive, successful, happy persona, admitting that you ate a box of cookies and spent the day hiding from people because conversation was too taxing is an exercise in vulnerability–and is not something you find recommended in a Tony Robbins seminar. But everyone has down times. Grief and sadness are natural stages in life. They can come on from events big or small, from events such as death or illness bringing loss into our lives, or when our current situation is not where we want to be, or we hit one too many red lights on the way to work on a rainy day. The brooding nature of sadness can, when expressed and used correctly, give us time to look at problems, see what we want or need to change, and move toward a happier future. But most of us need someone to accept us at our saddest in order to properly process our emotions and reach that proactive stage. Being a friend who can say “I am so sorry you are dealing with this problem! Tell me about it,” gives the troubled person room to feel their emotions and begin the job of working through to a better state.

  • See the Problem Realistically. For me, this is the stage I need a trusted friend to accomplish. When I face a problem, it is all I can see. Only the bad sides of the equation. I don’t see opportunities, I don’t see my skills I bring to solving it, I don’t see any of my past successes or the support networks I have all around me. I see a problem–big and scary and proof, in my eyes, of my utter incompetence and lack of worth. My husband and my friends are lifesavers in these moments. I trust them to honestly assess a problem with me, and help me put it in perspective in the larger mosaic of my life. They are the ones to remind me of past successes, of the power of faith, of the good things that can come from the current challenge, and that even if I do fail to solve this problem, I am still loved and worthwhile. This help is the hardest to be without, and the step I close off the most severely when I refuse to share my burden with someone I can trust.

  • Solving the Problem. This step, which seems so crucial when I am bewailing my predicament, is actually the least important. Most problems get solved. Mostly by doing things I already know how to do. For the rare times I need help–either in the form of practical help or simply expert advice, my support group of friends, family, and experts I trust will usually get me on track quickly. I am still surprised at how simple solutions can be, especially after I’ve spent weeks obsessing over a situation. Often one conversation, or mentioning one need that is overwhelming to me, will result in just the right advice, or someone having a spare whatsit that they want to be rid of that is exactly what I need. Problem solving, while crucial to life, is much less difficult than letting someone care and help you put your problem into perspective.

So why do we constantly hoard our problems when sharing them helps us and allows our friends to see into our lives in ways that strengthen our relationships? Why must pride and a desire to appear invincible rather than vulnerable make us suffer alone? Think about how good it feels to help someone else, and especially how good it feels to be trusted with someone’s tender, scary places. Why not give that gift to the friend you value the most? Chances are good he or she will help you solve your problem, you’ll feel better, and your friend will feel valued and useful. Share a problem today!

Chinese Medicine and Your Emotions

Photo by Teresa Y Green
Emotional or mental problems affect many people.  Even mild symptoms can lower your enjoyment of life, and severe symptoms can be debilitating. 
Acupuncture together with other components of Chinese Medicine can help.
Diagnosis and Treatment: Different From “Western” Medicine

Many patients are surprised to find that Chinese medicine’s diagnostic process is very different from what they find at their doctor’s office.  Two people with the same “western” diagnosis, such as clinical depression, may have completely different Chinese medicine diagnoses.

To make the right diagnosis for you, your acupuncturist will ask questions during the interview that may seem to have nothing to do with your emotions.  Questions about digestion, your reaction to stress, and your sleep give information that will help her to give you the correct treatment.

While many people think of acupuncture for treatment, a complete treatment usually uses acupuncture, herbal, and dietary treatments.   Using all of the resources of Chinese medicine brings quicker and longer lasting results.
Some Possible Diagnoses

There are many different diagnoses related to emotions.  Here are a few different diagnoses, with the primary symptoms associated with each:
  • Qi Stagnation:  Crying or depression, especially with restlessness,  becoming easily frustrated, irritability, wandering pain, alternating diarrhea and constipation, irregular menses, and any symptom that is worse with stress.
  • Blood stagnation:  Severe emotional distress, usually rage, accompanied by severe, stabbing pain in a fixed location.  Also menstrual problems, purple color on the nails or tongue, and symptoms that improve with exercise.
  • Phlegm misting the mind:  Irrational thoughts, extreme paranoia, hallucination, can be accompanied by either mania and rage or terror, or apathy and withdrawal.
  • Liver Yang Rising/Liver Fire: Anger or rage accompanied with red face, irritability, dizziness, and headache, worse with stress.
  • Dampness / Phlegm Stagnation: Depression marked by apathy; difficulty concentrating; foggy, unclear, or irrational thinking; dizziness; feeling achy and sore, often with tender points; a heavy feeling in the limbs; fatigue; chest congestion or diarrhea.
  • Heart Fire: Rage, red face, red tongue, insomnia, restlessness, mania.
  • Qi deficiency: Depression or anxiety worse when tired, lack of interest in life, soft voice, gas and bloating, low energy.
  • Blood Deficiency: Apathy, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, difficulty thinking or concentrating, poor vision, low energy, dizziness,  dull pain, worse when fatigued, muscle spasms, numbness and tingling, pale skin, dry skin, nails, or hair;, scanty menses or missing periods.
  • Heart or Gallbladder deficiency:  Difficulty making decisions, apathy, anxiety, insomnia, shortness of breath.
  • Yin Deficiency:  Irritability or anxiety, worse in the afternoon and evening, accompanied by night sweats, hot flashes, any symptom worse in the afternoon or evening.
  • Yang Deficiency: Extremely low energy, listlessness, apathy; difficulty staying warm; edema, frequent urination and diarrhea; dull pain improved by warmth, especially in the back, knee, or foot, worse when tired; urinary or sexual dysfunction.

Quick Tips to Balance Emotions

Here are some ideas to improve your emotional equilibrium today: 
  • Make a moderate exercise program and stick with it.  Consider tai chi, qi gong, yoga, or other gentle qi exercises with fluid movements or gentle stretching.
  • Work on experiencing your emotions as they occur.  Set aside time each day to review your feelings and write about them, share them with a friend, or take action to make your life better.
  • Keep a food diary, and note if you experience emotional episodes after eating certain foods.  Some people find specific foods that trigger depression, anxiety, or apathy.
  • Take steps to lower your stress level.  Any health problem worsens with high stress levels.

Of course, if you are experiencing symptoms that severely interfere with your day-to-day life, please seek professional psychiatric help.  Once your condition is stabilized, you can discuss adding Chinese medicine to your treatment strategy with your doctor or therapist.

Three Tips to Living with Low Energy or Chronic Pain

 

Photo Credit: Stock.xchng photo


I have a secret. I am not an energetic person. Never have been–even as a kid, I got tired before everyone else. I was the one who was relieved when parents came to break up sleepover shenanigans so I could get some much-needed sleep. I was in a car accident years ago, and the residual pain taps my energy further while adding its own problems.

My practice focuses on the chronically ill, so I see a lot of people like me. Many of them have trouble mentally dealing with their health issues.  They feel like they’re missing out on life, or that all they can do is get the daily requirements done, then drag off for as much sleep as possible before doing it all again. They are constantly tired, and usually depressed.

I get frustrated at my energy levels, but all-in-all I handle them pretty well. I look at my life, and it is full–I go out with friends, I have a career that uses my talents, and a husband and cat who love me. I get a fair amount done most days, and stay better rested than I have been at any earlier point in my life. How do I do it? I’m glad you ask!

  • I accepted there were limitations. This idea is anathema to many. They want to fight with everything they have to get one more thing done, add one more activity, one more commitment, one more accomplishment. For those whose personality fits this lifestyle, it is great–the constant challenge energizes them, so fighting their limitations is a great coping strategy. Most of the people I see day-to-day don’t have this personality–they just wish they did. I stopped wishing for it a long time ago, and made a few policies: I rarely commit to extra responsibilities because I know I can’t be reliable at them.  If I get so little sleep that I cry when it’s time to get up, I cancel my day. I avoid places, other than my office, where sick people are likely to congregate–no trips to the drugstore during flu season, and no unnecessary gatherings with a gaggle of small children. Being sick takes a lot out of me, and since setting up this policy I have a lot less illness than I used to.
  • I eat well. As much as I used to like soft drinks and french fries, I almost never eat them now. I don’t digest either of them well, and the “hangover” of eating any kind of junk food gets in the way of the things I want to do. My husband and I invest a lot of our income on healthy food that tastes great. We both enjoy food, and both know how important it is to give our bodies good things. It was a lesson we have only really committed to in the past five years or so, but now that we have we get reap great dividends–a clear mind, better moods, and a gradual improvement in health all-around. My pain levels are usually very low, and my energy improves the better I eat.
  • I try to have only positive things in my life. Lest you think I live my life focused on what I can’t do and cannot eat, let me tell you my philosophy: I am a valuable commodity, I have a lot to give, and like any precious thing or entity, I must receive excellent care to be at my best. So I put as many good things into my life as I can. The lesson of positivity is relatively new for me–I used to feel that saying my life was going well was a form of bragging. Now I see it as a way to improve the world around me by not adding to the complaints that burden society. I try to look at my life with a positive perspective (“change your story, change your life“). I seek out positive people to read and emulate, like Michael Hyatt, Marc and Angel Chernoff, Chris Guillebeau, and others. Putting upbeat, can-do, honest words into my mind each day helps fight discouragement and gives me the raw materials to create my own positive creations. Taking care of my mind also gives me a safe place to deal with hard things. When I’m tired, cultivating a positive outlook means I don’t bow to discouragement as often, and dark days when I see only the negative are easier to turn around.

These are just three tips for dealing with fatigue and stress. They are simple, but not always easy. Do you have any tips you use for dealing with the issues in your life?

    Hitting The Problem From All Angles–Using Multiple Modalites

    Photo Credit: Stock.xchng


    For the past four months, I have been in pain. An old back injury got aggravated, then aggravated some more. As an acupuncturist, this situation has hurt my pride. I treat back pain all the time, and one of the reasons I got into acupuncture is because of the pain relief it gave me. I’ve tried lots of different things–acupuncture, of course, but also stretching, acupressure, massage, and chiropractic. Each one seemed to help, but after a day or two the pain returned. And I was discouraged.

    In the past two weeks, I decided to play “what would I do for a patient in the same situation?” The answer was easy–I would suggest a slew of treatments all at once–throw everything we had at the problem in hopes of subduing it.

    So that’s what I did. This week, I’ve had two acupuncture treatments, two chiropractic adjustments, and one massage. I have also had better improvement than I have in months. I believed I couldn’t spare the time to make these treatments a reality. But now I see that the time I wasted feeling bad led to reduced productivity, reduced creativity, and certainly did not help me be an example of the benefits of natural living.

    Natural remedies, while often quite effective, are also often quite gentle. They guide your body back into balance instead of dragging it, kicking and screaming, to a level of forced functioning. Building health sometimes takes many layers of effort–a little adjustment to diet, some slight changes to exercise, and maybe a few forms of treatment to address all areas that affected by a health problem. So if you’re dealing with depression, therapy or herbs or diet changes or exercise alone may not be enough to solve the problem–they may need to be used together. If allergies are your issue, you may need to avoid known allergens, build your system with health food and supplements, and deal with stress, which compromises your immune system.

    Going the natural path sometimes requires more effort than filling a prescription and popping a pill. (And, of course, there are some things in our modern age that require doing that in addition to healthy life changes.) Layering therapies is a way to get more out of your natural living strategy.

    I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I am hopeful that slow and creaky is not my new normal. Sometimes when you have a problem, you have to attack it head-on and throw all your resources at it. Have you had a similar health experience? Tell me about it in the comments!

    Defeat Depression

    Photo Credit: Neadeau

    I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood depressed. Some of that time, seriously depressed. I didn’t know it; depression runs in my family. I thought it was normal to have a few weeks or months every year that I just toiled through, barely functioning. I didn’t realize that apathy, hopelessness, tears, aches, pains, and difficulty making decisions should not be constants in life.  I was not suicidal; I just wished–often and without telling anyone–that I could go to sleep and never wake up. I was so tired of fighting.

    I’m not depressed now. I get down, and there are tendencies I may always fight, but I want to live. I have goals, things to do–and people I want to help. I’m not on any medication, and have used a multi-faceted approach to deal with depression at the first sign of trouble.

    If you are depressed, do whatever it takes to get out of it. If your road to mental health involves medication, do it.  For some people it will be a temporary choice, for others a permanent one. Do whatever will let you share your gifts with the world.

    Here are the things I have done and continue to do to fight depression:

    • Nutrition: It seems like common sense to me that you must have the right raw materials for your body to function properly. I specifically have targeted blood sugar as my problem area, with a special focus on my sensitivities–artificial ingredients and starches, especially corn. Other people have found that a lack of minerals can contribute to anxiety, or that nutrition related to brain or hormone function can be crucial. Everyone is different, so I’m not giving out a specific list of supplements–I suggest investing the time in reading on your own and finding a trusted healthcare provider who shares your view of nutrition to guide you.
    • Emotion / Mental balance:  I once heard a TV pop-psych guy tell a guest that she had a choice in how she responded to the things life threw at her. That idea–that I control my response to life–has been life-changing. Sometimes I don’t know how I can change my response, but knowing I can gives me the will to search for the tools I need. I use prayer to ask God for the insight to know how to respond as a mature adult, meditation to calm my mind so I take time to think things through, and work on my self-talk so I don’t tear myself apart for no reason. I also keep a “garbage in/garbage out” mentality. I monitor what I read, watch, and listen to, and try to only expose myself to things that are uplifting in some way.
    • Exercise: I am still perfecting this one, but I try to get outside and walk around as much as I can.  I also lift light weights, because the feeling of being able to pick up progressively heavier objects gives me a sense of power way out of proportion to the size of the things I lift. Feeling powerful and in control of life is a great antidote to depression.
    • Immediate triage: On the rare occasion when I fall into a depressive state, I act quickly. The beginning of February is always a hard time for me. My parents died on February 4th and 5th, six years apart. Every year, I get melancholy and go inward for a few weeks. Each year, I try harder to manage the emotions better. I allow myself a certain amount of wallowing–losing your family hurts, and it is natural to revisit that grief each year. I listen to sad music, reminisce, and take an afternoon or two to cry. But I also make sure I eat healthfully, get plenty of rest, and do nice things for myself. Because of my history, a short, natural cycle of feeling down can become a major depression, and I choose not to allow that to happen.

    These steps have become part of my life. I don’t think of them as My Depression Prescription, at least not until I’m short a blog post for the week. Whether you struggle with depression, or have never had to deal with it, these are good activities to add into your life. Do you have any tips to keep an upbeat, emotionally mature attitude in your life?