alpenglow acupuncture

Delivering high-quality, personalized acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine services to the awesome people of Wheat Ridge, Golden, Arvada and Lakewood, Colorado with flexible appointment options to fit your lifestyle and budget.

5 Common Headache Causes And How To Fix Them

One of the issues we see more frequently here in the clinic is headaches. While there are many causes and treatments for this ailment, here are my top five:

Dehydration

Well, it would seem obvious that the way to treat dehydration is to drink water, but there are some things that can hinder getting that done:

Remembering to drink. This is one of those times I like to use technology for assistance. You can set a regular reminder or use the timer on your smartphone or computer (or even use a kitchen timer if you don’t have those!) every 30-60 minutes to help you remember to take a drink.

Not liking the taste. I hear this one a lot, so I say spruce it up! Add some fresh lemon or lime juice, cut fruit, or get fancy with cucumber and mint or some ginger. Or get yourself a Soda Stream to make your own bubbly water at home. (I would just stay away from their artificial flavors.)

Needing electrolytes. Sometimes, you need to add some electrolytes to help you absorb better. I don’t recommend drinking electrolyte replacement drinks all day, but 8-12oz a day could be helpful. I like plain coconut water or a Skratch Labs mix, or to make my own:

  • 8 ounces water (warm or at room temperature)

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • a pinch of salt

  • 2 tablespoons or more of honey or maple syrup

  • A little lemon juice to taste

Sinus Headaches

This is a time of year when many people experience sinus headaches. Between allergies, the tail end of cold season and weather changes, sinus pain can be a doozy. Here are a few things that can help:

Sinus rinses. Either with a Neti pot or bottle, getting those sinuses rinsed out and hydrated can go a long way to reducing headaches.

Eating right. What you eat can have a strong effect on the health of your sinuses. Both dairy and sugar are big contributors to sinus problems.

Acupuncture and herbs. This is an area where our medicine really excels. We can look for and address underlying causes, such as allergies or a gut imbalance, while treating the symptom of the headache. Often, we will also use some moxa with this type of headache to help treat those underlying causes.

Tension/Stress Headaches

Our current lifestyle can wreak havoc on our bodies, often leading to headaches. Here are a couple of ideas to reduce that tension and stress:

Stretching. Gentle stretching of the upper back and shoulders can reduce the tension in those areas, reducing the referral pain that can go into the back of your head, or up and over into your forehead.

Meditation. Starting a meditation practice, even just a few minutes a day, can help bring down your stress levels and reduce headaches.

Trigger Point Acupuncture. Also known as dry needling, we can address knots and tightness in the neck and shoulders that contribute to headaches. We follow up this type of needling with a complete acupuncture treatment to address the underlying stress as well.

Hormone Related Headaches

Hormones can be a complicated matter, but there are a few things you can do right off the bat to get things back in order:

Eating right. Too much processed foods, sugar or soy can really throw your hormones out of whack. Filling up on vegetables and organic/free range animal protein can help your body get back into balance.

Exercise. Getting that body moving, especially before your typical trigger time (but throughout the whole month, ideally) can help regulate hormones and reduce headaches.

Acupuncture and herbs. Again, TCM can address the underlying issue (hormone imbalance) while also relieving the symptom (hormones).

Hangovers

I’m afraid to admit that I treated this a lot while I was in acupuncture school. I certainly had some friends who liked to have fun. Anyway, here are a few tools:

Water. Drink lots of water during your night (or day) out - a glass for each alcoholic drink you consume.

Electrolyte replacement. Use any of the options listed above - coconut water, skratch labs or make your own. Drink at bedtime and when you wake up.

Curcumin. This is a great natural anti-inflammatory  that may reduce the elevated number of cytokines released after drinking too much. Take a dose at bedtime and another upon waking.

Acupuncture. Make sure to do your partying on Friday and come see us Saturday morning!

Herbs. TCM formulas such as Curing Pills and Bao He Wan can make a dent in that hangover headache. Take them before bed and again in the morning.

Headaches can have all kinds of causes, but the good news is that most of them can be treated or avoided. As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or if you need some help!

Headaches According to Chinese Medicine

Headaches are incredibly common and affect millions of people every year. To be exact, 45 million nationwide (according to ihateheadaches.org). That’s a staggering number! I also read on migraine.com that out of that many people, 18% of sufferers are women and 6% are men which is quite interesting. There could be tons of reasons why you have headaches, and it’s just a matter of getting to the bottom of what’s going on.

Like many ailments, our approach is similar: we do a full intake to try and understand where the headache is coming from. We ask questions like: Where is the pain? How long does it last? When does it happen? What helps or hurts? Etc, etc. There are two things going on when someone suffers from headaches: the root and the branch. The root refers to the reason WHY the headache is occuring. The branch refers to the actual pain you experience. From there, we treat based on what the imbalance is that we see happening in your system.

Below are some common Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnosis for each of Karen’s top 5 headache causes, along with treatments that usually help! That being said, not everyone fits into a cookie cutter diagnosis.  This is why we encourage you to get a full intake to see what might be most effective when treating your headaches specifically. We want to get to the bottom of what YOUR “root” diagnosis is and treat it appropriately! Here’s a few examples of the diagnoses we see with each main type:

  • Dehydration could be a “Qi Deficiency” or meaning there’s just not enough energy circulating through the body (because you haven’t had enough water) and its affecting the head! Surprise, surprise. In cases like this, we usually add in moxibustion (that smokey herb we burn) because it nourishes the system more.

  • Sinus headaches are usually aggravated by allergies, colds, the flu, things of that nature. Most of the time with sinus headaches, people usually experience pressure and fullness. We call this “damp” in TCM. Just as it sounds, there’s an accumulation of dampness, or phlegm, boogers, etc that won’t come out. In this sort of condition, we use needles in the face to help disperse that inflammation and fullness.

  • Tension Headaches are mostly related to what we call “Qi Stagnation” or when the energy flow in the body is getting stuck! Usually this occurs mostly in the neck and shoulders and can pull on the base of the skull, thus causing pain at the back of the head or temples. We use a lot of “trigger point therapy” for this type of headache. Meaning: when Karen and I get a muscle to twitch and release the hold its got on your body! Cupping is a great way to help with tension headaches as well.

  • Hormonal headaches. This one is so tricky to pin down just one diagnosis or even two. This is one of those headache categories that could easily have 10 or more different reasons they’re happening according to TCM. At the most basic level, we have to determine if your headaches are coming from a stagnant place or depleted place, so we know how to best to treat them! Rest assured, needles and/or moxa are involved. Or both!

  • Hangovers!! Hmm… can’t say that I treat this THAT often anymore. Usually people aren’t super pumped to come to acupuncture when they’re hungover, but if they did, it would help!! Treatment for hangovers definitely falls under the “stagnation” or “damp” category, so just your average needling will do! Added bonus: you get an acupuncture nap to help sleep it off.

  • Is there a headache for wedding planning??? Just kidding. But for the record that falls under “Qi stagnation!”

If you suffer from headaches, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor or Naturopath if they are moderate to severe in nature - just to rule out anything serious. In the meantime, schedule an appointment if headaches are a problem for you or a family member or friend! We can help with the pain and eventually harmonize the pattern to make them go away completely.

The Face-off : Liver and Spleen

If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you might be (probably are) frustrated that western medicine doesn’t have much for you in terms of treatment. In this case, hooray for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)! In TCM, we take your specific symptoms and try to find what the pattern is, or WHY it’s happening. There are many ways the body can present digestive symptoms and a million ways to treat it in Chinese medicine. I’ll be going over why your digestion might be feeling a little wonky in this season specifically: spring time!

Quite often in the spring, digestion can be off for anyone, not just people with IBS. Normally in Chinese medicine, the spring is the time of waking up! We all start to move and stretch after winter. There’s more heat in the universe to warm us up, get things moving, and we all feel the dynamics of the body going through those energetic changes - from the inside out. The liver organ, specifically, is in charge of the flow of qi (or energy) and sometimes as we’re going through a transitional season, it can be hard for the body to have a smooth flow on its own. Insert: needles!! (Hehe, acupuncture joke).

One of the most common patterns we see is called “liver overacting on spleen” when the liver energy encroaches on the spleen and stomach, the most important organs for digestion, according to TCM.  Different kinds of constraint and inconsistencies in the way qi is moving can cause the typical IBS symptoms like constipation, intermittent diarrhea, gas and bloating, etc. When you throw extra stress in the mix as well, people can experience more severity of those symptoms, stomach pains, and digestive upset immediately following a stressful event. Yikes! Acupuncture can be extremely beneficial to help MOVE the qi and get it to flow correctly. We also use moxibustion, or mugwort, to help nourish the spleen and stomach. When you burn mugwort on certain acupuncture points, it boosts the ability of the spleen and stomach to function correctly. Therefore, those organs aren’t as vulnerable under the liver’s attack! We often use both together, or separately based on what your needs are specifically.

Other ways you can soothe the liver qi are taking out the things that are causing you stress! Also, exercise more, get outside, breathe fresh air and get your extra vitamin D from natural sunlight. To naturally boost the spleen and stomach, make sure you’re eating well (as always), warm, cooked nourishing foods and rest well! For IBS, you want to bump up your probiotic use and potentially incorporate prebiotics as well. Ask us about what might be right for you next time you’re in the office! Happy spring!

5 Natural Ways to Alleviate IBS Symptoms

April is National IBS Awareness Month and I love talking about poop, so let’s get started! Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is often called a “trash can” diagnosis, or a diagnosis of exclusion. Basically, when you have been through a battery of tests and no one can see anything wrong with the structures of your digestive tract, IBS is a label that often gets used. Essentially, “Um...We don’t know exactly what’s going on, but your bowels sure do seem irritable. Let’s call it ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome.’ There. Doesn’t it feel nice to label things?” Sheesh. There are so many things that contribute to the function (or dysfunction) of your digestion that it can be hard to pinpoint the culprit, but here are 5 things you can do at home to help things go more smoothly:

De-Stress

Stress is one of the most common triggers for digestive disorders. It is estimated that 90% of serotonin (a major neurotransmitter) is made in the gut. If this gets disrupted it can have a big impact on your digestion.

Try meditation, yoga, chatting with friends, journaling or acupuncture to relieve your stress.

Address Gut Dysbiosis

An imbalance in the microbes found in your intestines can have an ill effect on digestion as well. To help balance things out, avoid foods that can contribute to the overpopulation of the bad bugs - sugar, grains, alcohol and fried foods (basically the foods we tend to crave), and add in the good bugs by eating fermented foods or taking a good probiotic.

Stop Overeating

Eating too much can overload your digestive system and trigger symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

Try eating mindfully, paying attention to hunger and satiety signals. Enjoy each bite so that you aren’t tempted to keep shoveling it in!

Reduce Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can activate bowel movements, causing loose stool and diarrhea. In the long term, it can also cause dehydration which can contribute to constipation. After a while, you can get stuck in a nasty cycle where you get dependant on caffeine just to go!

Try herbal teas or good plain water instead to keep hydrated and get that digestive tract moving properly.

Get Moving

Movement is very important in keeping all our organs functioning well, and can have the added benefit of reducing stress.

Go for a walk or a hike with friends, do a little yoga at home, or try something completely new to keep yourself interested in exercise. A little physical movement can do wonders for your, ahem, movements.

And, of course, here’s a bonus tip - we can always help you get that digestion back on track. There’s a good reason I have one patient that calls me “the poop whisperer” - acupuncture can really get things moving along!

As always, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about how to improve your digestion.

Treating Allergies with NAET

We’re coming up on that time of year again. I feel like I’m always saying this, but the seasons really do affect our health! With spring approaching, it’s time to talk about allergies.

You may have seen NAET listed among our treatment options, and you may have asked yourself, “What the heck is that?” Well, NAET stands for “Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques.” Now, isn’t that a mouthful?

Dr. Devi Nambudripad developed this approach in the 1980’s when she herself was dealing with some severe allergies, and it has become a successful treatment modality used around the world.

The treatment is designed to desensitize a patient to a substance using kinesiology, acupressure and acupuncture so that they will not experience hypersensitive symptoms when coming into contact with that substance in the future. These symptoms may vary from the ones you usually associate with allergies, such as sneezing, nasal congestion and itching, to those you may not, such as headaches and digestive issues.

The treatments start with a set series of food/nutritional items, and then can move on to environmental substances. It begins at the basic nutritional level because when we take in something we are even mildly sensitive to, it can make our other allergies much more severe. I always give myself as an example for this – when I first went through the treatment series, my seasonal allergies went away after treating for wheat/grains. This makes a lot of sense to me, since wheat/grains are plants that are related to things in my environment. My experience with this really opened my eyes!

For best results, we treat one substance at a time. For less severe reactions, it may only take one session to clear the sensitivity to each item, but for more severe problems, it may take several sessions to clear just one substance. Mild to moderate allergies often take 15-20 treatments, as we work our way through the different substances you are sensitive to.

When people ask me about the treatment, I honestly reply “it’s weird” or “it’s kinda woo-woo,” since the kinesiology we use is a little foreign to a lot of us, but it can really be effective! I love having this option to help people with allergies.

Please feel free to contact us for more information on this innovative allergy treatment.

Spring – Season of the Liver

As we move into Spring, we enter the season of the Liver. The color associated with the season of the Liver is green, and the sound related to the Liver is shouting. This makes me think of little green seedlings, popping out if the ground, excited that winter is over. It is like they are shouting, “Hey, look at me, I’m here now!” as they seem to declare that it is the time for them to vigorously grow.  

The Liver has some very important roles in Chinese Medicine, which include storing the blood, ensuring the smooth flow of qi (qi in this case can be defined as an energy that manifests on both our physical and emotional level), and controlling the sinews. The Liver also manifests in the nails, opens into the eye, controls the tears, and is affected by anger. Additionally, the Liver also houses our Ethereal Soul. The Ethereal Soul plays a very important role in our mental and spiritual life on a psychic level. It supplies our minds with inspiration and creativity. It is involved with our life dreams and our sense of direction in life.  

This spring, you can nourish your liver by staying calm and taking things slow. Do not let anger or frustration get the best of you in trying situations. Try doing some mental or physical exercises to keep your body and spirit relaxed and calm. Meditation or some gentle stretching and yoga can be a good place to start. Pick something that is relaxing for you. Let go of as many stressful situations as you can this spring. If this is not possible, try to reduce the stress involved in the stressful situations that you are exposed to.

If you need help doing this, let us know! We can give you some ideas to get you started.  Acupuncture, massage, and reflex therapy can all help with stress. Not only can they help calm your physical body, but putting the time aside to come in and visit us for a session can be like a mini vacation for your mind as well. When you let your mind relax and allow it to settle in to the sensations and energy it feels during a treatment, it helps you to become more self-aware and aids in supplying the energy needed for the body to function calmly and effectively. Let’s make this Spring one that is filled with life, new beginnings, and creativity, with room to grow ourselves without the stress!

 

Spring Break

Raise your hand if you get spring fever! Me, me - I do! Traditionally spring has always been the perfect time for change and to do something different from the routine you had during the dreary winter (even though our winter has been pretty mild). The energy around spring is moving and dynamic; becoming alive again and stretching out after a long hibernation. In Chinese medicine, the spring correlates with the liver meridian, which ensures a healthy and smooth flow of qi in the body. The liver also detoxifies the blood, a similar characteristic to what it does Western medicine as well. Of course there are plenty of ways to detox the body in the spring, but I’ll be talking about a few ways to detox the mind! When you sit down and think about it: what makes you feel alive and new?

For me, there are two major ways for me to feel my best when transitioning seasons. First, travel - getting away from anything in my norm has always been at the top of my list of ways to rejuvenate myself. February is one of the toughest, coldest month to get through during winter and I so look forward to March. Some years it’s because it’s so dang cold, some years it’s just because it’s ONLY the 2nd month of the year and sometimes it’s because as soon as someone says “March,” the mindset changes and I get excited about more sunshine.

So, my advice (that I’m taking myself) if you need to get out from under the rock of winter and do something spontaneous, is to take your adult Spring Break!! That’s right - I’m giving you permission to take some time, no matter if you’re in school or not, to give yourself a break. Whether it be just a weekend away or random trip to Mexico that popped up, take it! I’m counting down the days until I get to take a break myself and enjoy sunny Sedona for a weekend in April. There’s nothing better than letting yourself check out for a few days, sip on a cocktail, read trashy romance novels, and stare into the sunset.

Secondly, I like to shift gears for spring by purging all of my STUFF. We’re about to move into our new house and we’re literally getting rid of everything! I’m convinced that the more things we keep in our house, the more mental clutter there is. My fiance and I have been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and I agree with so much of what Marie Kondo says. We’re only keeping the things we absolutely love because it brings us joy, not for any other reason. So going through clothes, trinkets, home decor, shoes….whatever we don’t love, must go!! What a great feeling to donate lots of stuff and sell things to someone who might think your old couch is THEIR new favorite thing!

So, this spring, take some time to give your brain a stretch as well as your body! Go on spring break, get rid of some clutter, go out and move! I love to hear about all of the travels you do, so be sure to update me on your adventures next time you’re in for a tune up!

Self Love in 2018

If you guys are reeling from the last two years of chaos (because the year of the monkey and fire rooster were crazy!), then you’re definitely looking forward to the calmer qualities from the year of the earth dog-- just like I am!

What a better time to integrate some of the qualities of the dog as we take care of ourselves in 2018. When I think about dogs, loyalty is the most prominent attributes they exhibit (besides cuteness obviously). Once they’re yours, they follow you around, protect you, want to be with you all the time! What if we thought about ourselves in the same way? Usually loyalty relates to how you treat others; however, what if we flipped the script and vowed to protect ourselves more, spend time with ourselves, and love ourselves just like your dog loves you.

That is a VERY foreign thought for most of us. Usually everyday life is more complicated than that. We get distracted with how much we are involved at work or how much time we spend with other people. Rarely do we make time to be alone to reflect and recharge the batteries a little bit.

Recently, I was super inspired by a good girlfriend who told me that she takes “solo trips” about once a quarter. Basically, she packs a bag of books and magazines, face masks, turns off the social media and goes off on her own to be with herself and catch up on rest and relaxation for a weekend. How amazing does that sound?? I made it a goal of 2018 to give myself at least a night or two a month of just that-- me, myself, and I-- alone to do what I need to rejuvenate.

Other forms of self care can look different to different people. That could be more frequent massage or acupuncture, a night in with a glass of wine, soaking in the tub, a solo hike (with your dog- double loyalty points!), or shutting off the news to protect ourselves from the negativity or comparing ourselves to others. Whatever self care looks like to you… integrate it!

Happy Chinese New Year!!

On February 16th, we will welcome the year of the earth dog. All indications point toward this being a more settled, calm year, as long as we all take good care of ourselves and each other.

Just like a dog that has been chained up outside for a long time, the loyalty and kindness that is inherent to canines can be absent in a time where we neglect ourselves and our relationships.

The earth element in Chinese Medicine is all about what we take in - food, drink, ideas and information. We will do especially well this year if we are careful in choosing what we consume; good, nutrient-dense foods, clean water and positive messages as opposed to eating junk, getting drunk and obsessing over “those idiots” in the news.

Focusing on relationships and lifting each other up are also a good way to take advantage of the energy of the earth dog year. Dogs are pack animals and we would do well to emulate that this year. Reconnect with old friends, make some new friends and spend time with your family.

Being kind to the environment and taking care of the earth is also a great way to honor the year of the earth dog. Spending time in nature, gardening and generally connecting with the earth are all great activities.

All in all, after the craziness of last year - the year of the fire rooster - this year will definitely seem more settled and manageable.

Self-Love and Self-Care

Why I Did Not Understand Self-Love

Growing up, I did not really understand the concept of “self-love.” In fact, not only did I not understand it, but I thought of it as something along the lines of narcissism or conceit.  Coincidentally, the first definition of self-love on merriam-webster.com is:  love of self: a.) conceit.  However, conceit is not what we are talking about here.  We are talking about self-love as a regard for one’s own well being and happiness, (chiefly considered a desirable rather than narcissistic characteristic)-as the dictionary on google defines it.  Growing up, I felt like I was always taught to care for others, not myself, so I am still working on the concept of self-love in my own life.  

How I Came to Understand that Self-Love is a Good Thing

Right now, I practice self-love by caring for myself better than I used to.  I think of this sort of self-love as self-care.  For example, if my body is sore, I may stretch it, take a warm bubble bath, or both.  I also receive regular massages to help my body to stay loose, relaxed, and pain-free.  This is a bit of a stark contrast to my earlier life as a college student.  With a large amount of classes and extracurriculars combined with little sleep, I ended up at the student health center frequently, with various complaints.  If I would have continued with that type of lifestyle and resulting stress with no self-care, I may still be plagued with the same problems today as I was then.  

Luckily, I realized that not only could taking care of myself and showing myself some self-love help with my ailments, but it also helped me to be able to better help others.  When I feel good, I have more energy to help others, and am much more pleasant to be around.  So, not only can I help myself by practicing self-love, I can help others as well, which I see as a win-win situation.  When I care for myself, I feel balanced and more rested.  Therefore, I feel like I have more resources within myself to make conscious, healthy decisions for both me and those that I love.  Thus, caring for myself helps me to better spread love and care to others.  

How Do I Even Begin to Practice Self-Love?

Now that I gave a few examples of how I practice self-love and self-care, you may be thinking, how can I practice self-love?  Well, here is another definition of self-love from psychology today that may help: “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth.”  It further explains: “Self-love is dynamic; it grows by actions that mature us.  When we act on ways that expand self-love in us, we begin to accept much better our weaknesses as well as our strengths, have less need to explain away our shortcomings, have compassion for ourselves as human beings struggling to find personal meaning, are more centered in our life purpose and values, and expect living fulfillment through our own efforts.”

Deborah Khoshaba, Psy.D, outlines a seven-step prescription for self-love, and it includes becoming mindful, acting on what you need rather than what you want, practicing good self-care, setting boundaries, protecting yourself, forgiving yourself, and living intentionally.  Rather than commenting extensively on them all here, you can read what she has to say about each here.

How Can I Look at These 7 Steps for Self-Love Holistically?

When I read the details on the seven-step prescription, each step brought my mind back to the concept of balance.  Really, each of her steps illustrates an example of balance within its category.  The concepts of balance that they bring up include both the physical and mental realm.  This idea of balance brings me back to Chinese Medicine, which was developed at a time when people lived in harmony with the world around them.  The seasons and activities that went along with them flowed, and there was more of an aim to balance life.  This balance of life went along with the thought of health also being a balance.  Acupuncture, massage, reflex therapy and ortho-bionomy can all aid in helping the body to balance itself.  Alpenglow’s Integrative Massage is the newest edition to our family, and is 25% off through the month of February, so now is a great time to give it a try!  If you do not see a time that works for you, please call or email and we will do our best to accommodate you.

All I Really Have to Do is Listen to my Heart?

All this talk about self-love leads us to the subject of the Heart.  February is American Heart month.  In Chinese medicine, the Heart is the organ of joy, and thus joy nourishes the heart.  So, if you love dancing, running, rock climbing, singing, meditating, collecting rocks, or drawing, go ahead and do it!  Doing what you love is a great way to help your self-love grow.  The Chinese Heart is a beautiful organ to help us to learn about self-love, because it houses our Shen, or Spirit. The Shen includes consciousness, emotions, and mental health.  Our Chinese Heart can help us to get in touch with how we are feeling if we just become present by listening to what our body and mind are telling us.  When we access our Chinese Heart by becoming more aware of our physical and mental selves-basically becoming aware of what makes us the unique individual human being that we are-it will open us up to self-love by allowing us to detect where we need more conscious effort for balance in our lives.

So, now that I am armed with a seven-step prescription for self-love, as well as my own heart as a guide, I can’t go wrong.  If I forget one (or all) of the seven steps, I can look in at myself, into the unique aspects of my own Chinese Heart, and see what aspect of self-love I need to work on.  Our Chinese Heart serves as a reminder that perhaps the needed tools for self-love have really been within us all along.  Rather than looking at the outside world for answers to what should make us happy, perhaps we should look within.

Gratitude in the New Year

One of my goals for 2018 is to focus on gratitude. Even though in the midst of stressful times it can be easy to forget, there are SO many things in my life to be grateful for and I really want to focus on that. My family is loving and supportive (and darn cute, if you ask me!). I live in a beautiful state with lots of fun activities available, like hiking, climbing and skiing. I have an amazing job where I get to see wonderful people all day long. I mean, come on, I get paid to stick needles in people! How great is that?!

As I thought about focusing more on gratitude, I decided to look into the research on it to see what kind of benefits there are besides just improving happiness. One of the resources I came across was this great article from Harvard Medical School. Here’s some of what it said:

Research on gratitude

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week's assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month.

Of course, studies such as this one cannot prove cause and effect. But most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being.

Other studies have looked at how gratitude can improve relationships. For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.

Ways to cultivate gratitude

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis:

Write a thank-you note.

You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself.

Thank someone mentally.

No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.

Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day.

Count your blessings.

Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.

Pray.

People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.

Meditate.

Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).***

I’m looking forward to enjoying these extra health benefits of gratitude in the new year! What are you grateful for?

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Goal Setting in 2018

Happy 2018 to our Alpenglow family! As exciting as this fresh, new time can be, it can also be quite daunting. The year is a blank slate and the question arises: what are we going to do with it? This is usually the time that people set lofty goals and new year’s resolutions; some that are unattainable or unrealistic. Guilty as charged. So, I’m taking a new approach to goal-setting this year and I hope you might find the same inspiration!

I found this great article that outlines exactly what I’ve been trying to wrap my head around: the pitfalls of goal setting. Goals should bring you new inspiration and happiness instead of dread and disappointment. Often, when we set goals that are a little too far out of our reach, we lose steam early and it’s a slippery slope to letting them go completely. For me, in the past, I’ve set high goals for myself (usually around fitness and weight loss) and by March or April, they’ve gone right out the window. This year, I’m doing something different-- setting goals that are smaller and more achievable in order to keep my sanity. For example, I want to create a healthy workout regimen without completely killing myself- so setting a goal of 3 hard workouts a week rather than working out 6 days a week and trying to lose 15 pounds. I don’t want to set myself up for failure - those numbers are not necessarily attainable for me.

The feeling of accomplishment and reward when achieving something small helps motivate towards the other bigger goals you set. They start to build momentum and give you the confidence to keep going! The article also talks about the difference in your quality of life when you’re still able to live in the moment and be present while still working towards your intentions. So, if weight loss and fitness is part of your 2018 goals list, focus on them only WHILE you’re doing it. Schedule the time to go to the gym, show up, work hard, and then the rest of the time you can live your life and not be thinking about it! The same goes for other goals, no matter what they are, such as getting better about flossing teeth, reading books, and meditating. As long as you are organized and set aside some dedicated time to work toward them, it shouldn’t be too overwhelming.

Remember to grant yourself grace and understanding that goals are meant to be a challenge, but not impossible! I’m very curious what all of your 2018 goals are, so when you’re in for your next treatment, be sure to tell me or Karen and we can work to tweak your health care plan around what you want to achieve! Good luck and happy new year!

Just Say YES

The word YES has had some serious significance in my life as of late! The last month and a half of being engaged has been completely surreal. I’ve been saying yes to everything!! The proposal (obviously), the champagne, the dinners, the parties, the champagne (Oh, already said that, oops). Usually I’m in the same boat as Karen, really learning to say no to going out too much or over-dedicating myself. I’m very attached to my sleep and baths and yoga classes, which are typically part of my self-care routine; however, because of the surprises and excitement, I’ve really been leaning into accepting any reason to celebrate over the last few weeks.

That being said, I think there should be a balance of how much you say “yes” and how much you say “no.” Actually, I JUST hit my limit of how much rich food from dinners out and how many celebratory cocktails I could say yes to before really needing to buckle down and get back to my norm, ESPECIALLY before the holidays. Enter: November challenge - clean eating, no alcohol, and Liver DTX(a great herbal detox we carry here). Aka. wedding diet is on.

Moral of the story is, you can waiver from your comfort zone occasionally without getting totally derailed. Sometimes you NEED a break from being good, you need to say yes to some sweets, naughty food, and treats, to feel human and for your sanity. I know that all of my “YESes” over the last 2 months have felt totally rejuvenating for so many reasons. I’m happy to break my own rules from time to time when it’s worth it, and you should too! Enjoy the balance of “yes” and “no” and be sure to tell us how you’re incorporating some self care into your weekly routine next time you’re in for a tune-up!

Just Say NO

One of my favorite (and most personally challenging) self-care tips is saying “no.” As most of us are stretched thinner and thinner, the holidays can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So as we go into this holiday season, watch out for those times that you know you shouldn’t do something, and….don’t do it!

I know, easier said than done. I’ve been there - when someone asks you to do something and in the moment it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as whatever it is creeps closer you start to dread it, or feel resentment, or want to crawl under your big down comforter and hide.

Fortunately, I’ve found a few ways around this. One is to say no right away - that’s the hard one, especially for the people pleasers. But it can feel really good once you’ve given it a try a few times.

Of course, the invitation might be something you really feel you want to do. Even in those times, I like to say, “let me think about it” or “let me check my schedule.” This way I can check in with myself, and my family, and think about whether I’m already overbooked for that time frame. Already have 2 parties that weekend? Will we have family in town? Do I just need to rest for no reason other than I need to rest?

Another option is the “fly-by.” Especially useful for parties, this lets you attend but bail if you aren’t having a great time. Early in the event, I like to do a check in - am I having fun? Is this nourishing my soul or is it wearing me out? I think it’s no big secret that I’m more of an introvert, so these are important questions for me to ask at social events. Sometimes I can just hide out in a corner and recharge, and sometimes I travel separately from my social-butterfly husband so I can go home if needed.

Lastly, I’ve given up on worrying about whether people think I’m weird for these behaviors. That’s just one more energy drain that I don’t need.

So, this holiday season, be sure to put yourself first, check in, and when it feels right, just say NO!

"Balancing" Hormones


If you have ever come in to see me and asked me to balance your hormones, you know what I’m going to say - what does that even mean?! Do you want a special acupuncture point that will supercharge certain hormones, cut off others, and magically makes all your symptoms go away? Do you think “hormone imbalance” looks the same for everyone? And if we could just “balance” these poorly behaved home wreckers, life would be rainbows and puppies?

I feel like we have been led to believe that there is a way for our hormones to stay constant and even and we will just sail through life. But that’s not how hormones work! They aren’t static - they ebb and flow, just like anything else in nature. Look at the ocean, look at the seasons, look at pretty much anything in the environment and you’ll see; nature (and humans) are always changing.

Let’s think of it more as getting our hormones coordinated in a delicate dance. In general, they respond to what is going on in our body and act accordingly. Do they go all wacko on their own? Rarely. Instead, we have to look at possible triggers. Here are a few, along with their fixes:

  1. Dietary triggers and gut imbalance.
    Hidden food sensitivities and a lack of good bacteria in our intestinal lining have been linked to hormonal issues like diabetes. Avoiding common allergens for a period of time, as well as cutting out sugar and refined foods, can go a long way to rebuilding your gut health. Adding in a probiotic and good spices such as garlic and turmeric can help in the repair. Also, make sure you aren’t skimping on healthy fat - it is an important building block for many hormones.

  2. Environmental triggers.
    There are over 80,000 chemicals in our environment, and some of them are well-known contributors to disease. The scary thing is that tens of thousands of them have not been competently studied. The best you can do is do your best (hey, that sounds like Yoda, or Yogi Bear): go organic as much as possible, switch out your cosmetics and cleaning supplies for greener versions, drink filtered water out of glass or stainless steel, eat a lot of cruciferous veggies and add organic lemon to your water to help your liver detox.

  3. Stress and lack of sleep.
    Time and time again, I see this play out in clinic. When we are able to get stress levels down and sleep quantity and quality up, symptoms such as hot flashes, moodiness, skin issues and more are resolved. Just do it!

  4. High levels of inflammation.
    Most often caused by a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, inflammation wreaks havoc on all body systems. Eating a whole foods diet with a concentration on vegetables and fruit can help bring that inflammation down and put out the hormonal fires (literally - we often see hot flashes as part of this pattern). Getting moving can help muscles take up extra blood sugar and over time can help to lower insulin resistance as well as inflammation.

Sometimes these lifestyle interventions don’t work quickly enough or well enough on their own. That’s where acupuncture and herbal medicine can help to get things moving in the right direction again. Most often, these modalities are only needed for a period of time to help the body heal more quickly while we work on modifying the lifestyle behaviors to stop contributing to the symptoms.

Now, don’t worry. It’s okay if you come in and ask me to balance your hormones. Just don’t be surprised when I ask for more detail in terms of symptoms so that we can get to the bottom of what’s going on and treat your pattern accordingly. And you can bet I’m going to make you get more sleep and eat more veggies!

The Yin and Yang of Hormones

As we all know, hormones are an extremely complicated system in the human body. They relate to weight fluctuations, sleep patterns, growth and development, all of our metabolic processes, digestive patterns, and our moods! Like Karen was saying, hormones should ebb and flow like the ocean; or have a fluid movement throughout a person’s everyday life. It’s a very delicate balance of what should be high and what should be low at any given time- hour to hour, or day to day (like insulin and cortisol), or month to month (like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc). You want the body to cycle through all of its functions with as much ease as possible. From eating to sleeping to digestion-- hormones are the key that make everything work properly!

This patterning of hormones relates to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) very well. At the most basic level, TCM is based on the theory of yin and yang. Both of these entities are completely separate, but they also rely on each other to function. Yin being the nourishing aspects of the body: blood/ body fluids and the yang being the movement or how well things move in the system, like circulation. If there’s too little or too much of either, symptoms might pop up.

For females, the month to month flow of hormones can be a tricky balance. Certain hormones spike to trigger ovulation, some drop in levels to trigger the start of a menstrual cycle and some maintain throughout the month to ensure neither of those are happening! One example of a hormone imbalance (known as a yin deficiency in TCM terms) is low progesterone or estrogen that can manifest as hot flashes and/or night sweats. Women typically experience this specific issue around menopause; however, it could happen at any time. Those hormones can also be out of whack in males as well, but because they don’t have a menstrual cycle, symptoms show up a little differently. It can be linked to low sex drive, increased body fat, fatigue, hair loss, etc. Another hormone-related issue we see is when people have adrenal fatigue. They burn themselves out early in life and later down the line they have no energy. This is referred to as a yang deficiency in TCM. In practice, we use a lot of moxabustion (that herb we burn occasionally) to help boost the yang of the body and give people more energy. Click here to read more about the yin and yang connection to hormones.

Luckily LOTS of hormone-related symptoms are treatable with acupuncture and Chinese herbs! The first thing I do when people feel like they’re hormones are out of balance is put them on a formula we love called “Liver DTX.” Along with cleaning up the diet, this formula helps detox the liver, an organ responsible for processing all hormones of the body. From there, we work subsequently to make sure the flow of yin and yang are behaving properly! Other dietary and lifestyle changes are applicable too. If you’re curious what might benefit you specifically, ask Karen or me next time you’re in for a tune up!

Your Immune System And Sleep

When it comes to keeping our immune systems healthy, one of the most important factors is also one of the most overlooked: sleep. This has been a big factor in my health since we started sending the kiddo to daycare. Sure, he’s bringing home bugs left and right, but admittedly, my biggest failure is not getting enough sleep to combat those meanies.

Quantity and quality of sleep are both important when it comes to keeping those bugs at bay. Why? There are a number of factors. First of all, your body produces certain sleep-enhancing cytokines as part of a whole concert of physiological actions that help you fall asleep. Some of these cytokines are also beneficial in fighting infections. So when you sleep less, you produce less of these helpers and are at higher risk of getting sick.

In addition to a decrease in beneficial cytokine production, sleep deprivation also reduces the total number of antibodies produced. This creates the perfect storm - just introduce a virus and you’re toast.

Experts recommend at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night for adults, and more if you feel like you might be coming down with something.

Luckily, research has shown that acupuncture is beneficial for both the immune system (read the research here) and sleep (read the research here).

We also have herbal formulas that we can individualize for you - whether you need help with sleep, your immune system, or both!

As we talked about back in February, there are other things you can do to improve your sleep:

  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. If you can't escape a noisy environment, invest in a white noise machine, humidifier or fan to mask the offending sounds.

  • Stick to the same bedtime and wake time. Yes, even on the weekends! When your body has a consistent rhythm it is easier to wind down.

  • As part of your bedtime routine, shut off your electronics and dim the lights at least one hour before bed. Do some light stretching, read an old-fashioned book with real pages to turn, or listen to some relaxing music.

  • Try a hot bath with epsom salts and essential oils. The cooling of the body after a bath can help to induce sleep. Some experts suggest doing this about 2 hours before bed.

  • Exercise can help, but try not to do it in the evening, as it can have a rousing effect on your mind and body.

  • Avoid napping, if possible, especially in the afternoon, as this has been shown to disrupt nighttime sleep in some individuals.

  • Download the Relax into Sleep Meditation (#50 on the page) from the Meditation Oasis podcast page and listen in bed.
    ***This is the one exception to the no electronics rule. Get it cued up before you start your bedtime routine, and then just hit play and look away quickly!

    A good night's rest is an important piece of your immune system health, as well as your overall health. Don't skimp - make it a priority!
    Please feel free to talk with us about any sleep or immune system trouble you may be experiencing, we’re here to help!

Boosting Immunity With Acupuncture and TCM

What is the immune system exactly? It’s not an organ or a meridian like we use in Chinese Medicine. So what is it? In Western medicine, it’s described as a group of specific cells that act together in order to protect the body from foreign viral or bacterial invaders. These immune cells live all over the body. That’s why you feel it EVERYWHERE when you start to get sick. Typical symptoms are the headache, body aches, chills and fever, sinus issues, digestive problems, etc etc. Those are your troops rallying together to wage in the war against foreign attack! This immune response is actually a really good thing. Without this response, we would be susceptible to ALL of the foreign invaders ALL the time (that sounds horrible), as opposed to just the biggies.

When talking about boosting the immune system, we really want to make sure your first and second lines of defense are working optimally. If your first defense mechanism isn’t strong enough to kill or remove the virus/bacteria from the equation, your body will bring in the big guns-- the adaptive immune system to finish up the job. This part of your immune system is what vaccines are based off of. The body forms a “memory” of what antibodies it needs when a particular strain of disease attacks again. This is how it has the ability to fight it off faster in the future.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we focus on all systems working together to form the strongest immunity for your body, with an emphasis on a few meridians in particular. We look at sleep, gut health, mental and emotional stressors, and other illnesses affecting the system.

Coined the “wei qi” of the body in TCM terms, the immune system is boosted by ensuring that protective layer is stabilized in each individual. This begins with with lung meridian. Known as the meridian that’s the most affected by external factors, the lung meridian controls both the breath (obviously), but also the skin. If you’ve been around someone that has sneezed in your face, touched you after wiping their nose, been around you while they had the flu or a cold, etc, that might make you more susceptible to whatever they’ve got! Make sure you keep your hands clean and ask someone who is coughing or sneezing to potentially wear a mask if they’re in your environment. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

The second most prominent organ system we look at with immunity is the gut! Would you believe that our immune system STARTS here? More and more research is coming out saying that our digestive health is one of the most influential systems in how we fight off inflammatory agents-- whether that’s allergies, the flu, autoimmune disease, or general colds. The more inflammation your body is trying to reduce in your gut, based on what you feed yourself, the harder it’s going to have to work to reduce inflammation elsewhere.

For example, I had pizza the other night (Yes, I eat pizza sometimes!) and the next 2 days my allergies were terrible. My body was working overtime to digest the inflammatory gut-bomb that I dropped on it and in the meantime, my first lines of defense weren’t able to do its job keeping my allergies at bay. If you eat correctly, and feed yourself well, you’re giving your body the best chance to maintain health on all fronts.

Remember, our immune systems are as unique to each individual as a fingerprint! Not one system is the same, so that’s why things like acupuncture and Chinese herbs are especially helpful when treating the immunity. We can customize every treatment and formula to fit your specific set of issues - whatever they might be. Ask us about how to boost your immunity next time you’re in for a tune-up!

Finding Focus with Chinese Medicine

Most of the time in practice we focus on how to treat the heavy hitters like digestion, immunity, pain, stress, etc. because they’re incredibly common. Flying under the radar are all of the cognitive (or mental) functions that can be improved by Chinese medicine too. Things like focus, mental clarity, absent mindedness, being scatter brained, mental fatigue, poor memory or brain fog. These issues are also common (we’ve all experienced them from time to time), but are rarely the chief complaint of people that come through the door. Usually it’s a secondary side effect of other more prominent problems like stress. So how do we explain what brain function translates to in Chinese medicine? This is where it gets a little tricky.

In Western terms, the brain is responsible for all emotional and mental capabilities. In Chinese medicine, it is a little more complicated than just one organ. First off, the brain houses the “shen” or mind, which is obviously important in one’s presence in the world; meaning our vitality, mental health, and consciousness as we walk through life. A function all on it’s own! However, there are other organs that contribute to how well the brain works. Those organs are the spleen, kidneys, and heart according to Chinese theory. The spleen is in charge of the intellect of the brain or a person’s ability to concentrate, study and learn, and have deliberate focus. The kidneys are responsible for will power and memory; like remembering people’s names, faces, places, etc. And the heart contributes to the mix by shunting the qi (energy) and blood to the brain for optimal function. This piece isn’t that far fetched from western medicine. If the qi and blood are flush, a person’s ability to think clearer, sleep better, focus more, and maintain a healthy emotional state go way up!

Our job as practitioners is to identify which organ system might be out of whack when it comes to how the brain operates. If someone is having brain fog, that might be related to the spleen energy. If they can’t focus, that could be related to the heart energy. Or if someone’s memory is poor, the kidney energy might be at play. Along with taking the tongue and pulse, we would be able to identify what is happening in the system and choose how to optimize mental health with certain acupuncture points, the use of moxibustion and Chinese herbs.

Other ways to power up in the brain department are to make sure you stay hydrated, get your omega 3’s and drop some bad habits like smoking and drinking alcohol. For any other ideas, be sure to ask Karen or me in your next appointment!

Hacking Your Ultradian Rhythm - Taking Breaks For Greater Productivity

Here is one of those truths that always seems like a contradiction - in order to boost productivity we need to take breaks. I think that many of us have realized that vacations benefit us in this way - when you get back from a nice, restful holiday you have more energy and focus and feel interested in your work again.

However, more and more research is showing that we need shorter breaks during the day as well.

You have probably heard of your circadian rhythm - a daily rhythm that our body follows over a 24 hour period, most notably our sleep/wake patterns. This is the one that gets out of whack when we have jetlag.

We also have a shorter rhythm that occurs every 90-120 minutes, where our bodies and minds move from intense focus to needing to recharge. You might have noticed the shift at work - this is the time that you want to reach for that caffeine, sugar or refined carbs just to push through whatever it is that you are working on. You get fidgety, hungry, possibly uneasy and often “tired but wired” - a sign that your body is pumping out adrenaline and cortisol to keep your nervous system in sympathetic arousal, also know as “fight or flight,” just to keep going. Your focus starts to lag and facebook looks more and more appealing. This is your body telling you it needs a break, and if you pay attention to it you will notice that it happens on a regular basis - usually in the 90-120 minute time frame.

What will happen if you just keep pushing through? In the short term, relying on those stress hormones probably isn’t too big of a problem. Your body will adjust once you dial it back and find some rest. But for long term use, it’s not a good idea. Overstimulation of these hormones can lead to a decline in prefrontal cortex activity in the brain. This is the area that is responsible for clear thinking, reflection, creativity, and imagination. These stress hormones also have negative effects in the rest of your body when they are continuously overstimulated. Weight gain, digestive issues, insomnia and anxiety are just a few.

So, instead of pushing through, try taking a 15-20 minute break instead. Your body will be able to better regulate the balance of your hormones. You will be much more focused and productive, and your boss will love you! You might also notice an improvement in your overall health and wellbeing.

Here are a few ideas of what to do during the breaks:

  • Go to the bathroom. It seems silly, but many people don’t even listen to their bladder, and this can cause all kinds of problems in the long run.

  • Drink some water or herbal tea. Keeping hydrated is important and can also help with focus.

  • Take a walk. Bonus points if you can get out in nature. Some of my best brainstorming occurs during my morning walks. If it’s something really good, I’ll stop and take notes on my phone, then put it away and keep going.

  • Stretch. Especially if you work at a computer, getting up and stretching all those sitting muscles can also go a long way to preventing injuries.

  • Meditate. Check out some meditation apps to find a quickie that’s right for you.

  • Take a nap. Close your door, crawl under your desk and turn off for 20 minutes. Don’t go any longer, or it might make you more tired.

Now, if you are that person who just can’t seem to remember to take a break, try using technology to help you. Set an alarm on your phone or computer for 90 minutes from when you start your work. Check in with yourself when it goes off. How are you feeling? Are you truly still focused? If so, keep working for another 30 minutes, but get up for sure after that. After a couple of weeks of using technology to help you, you will probably be set in the new habit of listening to your own body.

Try it out and see just how much better and more effective you are!

 

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