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.

Filtering by Tag: mental health

Missed Connections

Our human (and non-human) connections are never black and white, so talking about relationships is a tricky one. Depending on your personality type, where you fall on the Myer’s Briggs test, or the Enneagram, connection could come easy for you or not at all. What we DO know concretely, is that friendship and connection to others is essential to our health and overall happiness in life. For proof: see Karen’s article on all the health benefits on friendship.

To no one’s surprise, I’m an extrovert and a 4 (yes, I have a dark side for all of you Enneagram fanatics). Because of that, connection to others comes semi-naturally to me. I am happy to have small talk with a stranger or a stump in the ground, no problem. However, there have been times in my life where I have been absolutely terrified to meet new people and figure out how to cultivate a connection with them. The most notable example of this was when I was in college and about to leave for my semester abroad. I was signed up for Semester at Sea, which was a group of 700 students traveling the world by ship. I should mention, I knew no one else that was going. Leading up to the trip, I was SO excited, couldn’t wait, ready to leave and start my adventure… then WHAM. The night before I left I had a full-blown panic attack. Questions were running through my head: Who will I be friends with? Will they like me? What if they don’t? What is my exit strategy? The truth was, there was no exit strategy. I was forced to put myself out there and find friendships that were worth having. There was no cell phone service in the middle of the ocean, no computers, just good old fashioned conversation and fun! I was forced to make friends or else I would be stuck in my room for 4 months. And that doesn’t work so well for an extrovert. Fast forward: I met an amazing group of people that are still a huge part of my life 12 years later. And even better, a few of them are responsible for introducing me to my husband! 

There are a few things I want to point out from this particular scenario that seem important when talking about ways to cultivate connection with others. First, we are ruled by technology in this modern day in age and the chains that comes along with it. We are over-stimulated and under-connected in a really big way. Yes, we have “friends” on Facebook and Instagram, but that will not nourish you in ways like having human contact will. In fact, I would argue that it does the complete opposite. So all of my recommendations are coming from a place where you should put the phone down, and engage with intention. 

The second thing I want to note is the idea of taking a risk. I knew in my core that that trip would define the rest of my life, and I was right. The reward was well worth all of the discomfort I experienced. For our introverts or people who struggle finding connection with others, some of the recommendations I’ll have will be out of your comfort zone. Know that we ALL have lines that we avoid crossing in order to feel “safe”. My opinion is, to grow as individuals, we must push our boundaries a bit! 

Here are a few ways to connect with others: 

  1. First and foremost: to find connection with anyone, put the cell phone or tablet down. There is nothing more distracting than someone on their smart device, so pair this first rec with any of the following ones!

  2. Hug someone. Physical touch has incredible benefits for the body and mind. It helps reset our nervous systems and makes us feel loved. 

  3. Volunteer with animals. I believe that connection can come from all sorts of places. If animals bring you more joy than humans, go volunteer at a local shelter or foster program and find the connection you’re craving. 

  4. Along the same lines as #3, find some time to help with the homeless or the elderly in a nursing home. It can be incredibly nourishing to my spirit when I’m able to go and help with those who don’t typically have much connection with others. It brings them joy, and brings me joy. Double boost! 

  5. Try something new with a friend. Putting yourself in an unfamiliar situation with someone builds a bond. You both don’t know what to expect, so you have to get through it together. Think of the stories and conversations that will come from that. 

  6. Have some deep, thought-provoking conversations. It challenges your mind and skills to listen, observe, and develop your empathy and dive deeper into a connection with someone. 

  7. Make eye contact with people. Whether you’re having a deep conversation or passing someone in the street, eye connection is key. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, so connect with everyone you see! And don’t forget to smile. 

  8. Be your genuine self. There are enough people in this world, but only one YOU. People want to know who you are and what you stand for. The more genuine you can be, the better. 


What are the ways you have gotten out of your comfort zone or connected with others? Do you have a favorite way to unplug and recalibrate? Share your stories next time you’re in the office!


Closeness, Connection, and Boundaries

In East Asian medicine, certain emotions are correlated with different organ systems. For quite some time while in graduate school studying acupuncture and for quite a bit longer after, I didn’t fully understand these relationships. I thought they were fairly arbitrary, made-up, and full of woo-woo nonsense. I even spent a few years studying a branch of East Asian medicine that takes these correspondences very seriously called Five Element Acupuncture, and I still was not all that convinced. 

But I had a very interesting experience in a training not long ago that convinced me to reconsider my thinking in a very deep way. In this training we spent time fine-tuning our ability to use our hands and feel the visceral organs of the body. Doing this requires the person palpating to have a soft, non-judgemental presence and to engage the tissues of the body in a way that doesn’t cause them to guard or go into defensive mode. While my partner was practicing on me, I could feel the resonance of certain emotions reverberate through my body as my partner was gently making contact with that organ. 

Does that sound weird? Yes, it is kind of weird. But where else do we experience emotions but in our own body? Our body is the arena where our whole emotional experience plays out - the good and the bad. 

In East Asian medicine, grief and sadness are the emotions associated with the Lungs. In the Five Element tradition, the experience of awe and reverence are also associated with the Lungs. For me, that gives meaning to the expression that something “takes your breath away.” In this particular training I was taking, while my partner was placing their hands on the lobes of my lungs, I could feel this particular resonance of sadness. This made a lot of sense, because I had been ruminating over a certain relationship issue that caused me a great deal of sadness to think about. While feeling into this strong emotional experience in my body, I was able to acknowledge it, honor it, and give it space to be. 

Excessive worry and empathy are associated with the digestive system (also known as the Spleen and Stomach in East Asian medicine). Excessively worrying and fretting about an interpersonal issue can deplete the energy of this organ system, leading to digestive upset, diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, and susceptibility to catching colds and other bugs. 

Joyfulness, compassion, as well as feeling emotionally shutdown are associated with the Heart and Pericardium. The Heart is considered “The Supreme Controller” in East Asian Medicine - the seat of compassion and joyfulness. While structurally the Pericardium is a fibrous membrane that encloses and protects the Heart, it is also thought to have a larger psycho-emotional role in terms of protecting the Heart’s capacity to experience joy and vulnerability in relationships. Very often I have seen patients who have had protracted interpersonal distress in their life - with their partner, a coworker, or a friend or family member - lead to a very particular kind of burnout and exhaustion that is indicative of Pericardium pathology - neck pain, headaches, feelings of tightness in the chest, and a recurring feeling of anxiety. 

Anger, irritability, and the ability to set clear boundaries are all emotions that correlate to the Liver and Gall Bladder. Individuals who are healthy and balanced with this organ system are able to set boundaries in relationships without being overly reactive or responding with a disproportionate level of anger. 

And finally, fear is associated with the Kidneys and Bladder. This gives credence to why people feel like they are going to pee their pants when they get really scared. Deep fear, especially traumatic fear, energetically depletes the Kidney system in East Asian Medicine. 

In East Asian medicine, emotional health isn’t separate from physical health. It’s all connected, just as we are connected to other people and to each other. When we are taking care of our wellbeing and in a healthy relationship with our own interior emotional world, this has the ability to reverberate out and affect our relationships with other people and our world. 

The Health Benefits of Friendship

Did you know that National Friendship Day is coming up on August 4th? Are you wondering why I even care? Because social connection is one of, if not THE most important factors in health and longevity. Good old face-to-face hanging out and socializing. You know, friendship. Here are some of the ways that spending time with our friends benefits our health:

Lowers Stress

Spending time with friends has been shown to decrease your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Whether it is sharing the burden of your troubles or just relaxing and having fun, social connection helps to lower stress and improve mood. 

Sharpens Your Mind

A feeling of loneliness may be associated with increased risk of Alzhiemer’s disease. In a 2012 study in the Netherlands, researchers found that those who reported feeling lonely at the beginning of the study period were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. It is interesting to note that it was the perception of loneliness that was the factor here, not necessarily the reality of being isolated. 

Strengthens Immunity

People with strong friendships tend to have better immune systems and inflammatory responses than those who don’t. This reduces the risk of acute illness, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and even helps wounds to heal more quickly. 

Increases Happiness

This one seems obvious, but you can really ramp up the benefits by hanging out with people who are quite happy themselves. It really does rub off! So does spending time with those who are less happy, so you may want to avoid those Debbie Downers. 

Improves Overall Health

Friends make us happy, happy people tend to make better lifestyle choices, and having a good circle of friends can help keep you “on the wagon,” whatever that wagon may be. Friends can also lead you down the path of destruction, but are those really your friends? Stick with those who lift you up and help make you a better person and you’ll see the benefits!

Extends Your Life

You may have heard of the research on “Blue Zones,” the areas in the world with the highest concentration of people who live to be 100+ years old. There have been many reports on the foods they eat (and don’t eat), and the types of exercise they tend to do. But perhaps the most important factor in these centenarian’s lives is that they have surrounded themselves with friends and family who share the same values. They often offer and receive help from those around them, and take good care of each other. They are also more able to express their feelings to their friends and family. 


These are just a few of the benefits of spending time with your good friends. Next time you are hanging out with your friends, see what other benefits you find. I’d love to hear what they are.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go improve my health. My friends are waiting.

PS. If you were wondering, social media has not been shown to have the same benefits. So get out there and spend time with your friends in the real world!


Mindset Matters

A few months back, I was fascinated by a story I heard on the radio while I was driving around town. They were talking about the increase in accessibility of genetic testing and the ability to learn about our genetic risks for certain diseases. The problem with getting this kind of information is that just because you have a certain gene, it doesn’t mean that you will 100% for sure develop the condition that is associated with it.

A serious concern they discussed on the program is that there have been studies showing that mindset may affect gene expression, so finding out you have genetics for a certain condition may actually lead you to develop that condition.

They cited a recent study on mindset and exercise. In the study, the researchers told participants that they had genes that set them up to respond poorly to exercise. In subsequent testing, the subjects did do worse than before - they got tired sooner and even had decreased lung capacity. The thing is, they didn’t actually have those genes. It was all mindset that created those changes.

In another study, researchers were testing exercise and the “placebo effect” (which also translates to “mindset.”) Here’s the abstract from the study:

“In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one's mind-set, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General's recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.”

The effect that the brain’s beliefs and emotions can have on physiology isn’t exactly news. In 1988, the New York Times published an article about a man with multiple personality disorder. When he drank orange juice, most of the time he would have an allergic reaction, breaking out into hives. However, one of his personalities could drink orange juice and have no allergic reaction at all. This phenomenon was supported by clinical experience - medicating people with multiple personalities can be extremely difficult because the different personalities can react differently to a medication.

Our thoughts and emotions can change the physical structure of our brain, which in turn can change the physiology within our entire body. They say that “neurons that fire together wire together.” By firing new sets of neurons with new thought patterns, we can actually rewire our brains.

What does that mean for us? It is great news! In addition to what we are doing to physically heal our bodies, like acupuncture, supplements and a clean diet, we can harness the power of the brain to have an even greater effect. Here are a few examples of ways I reframe thoughts to my advantage:

Thought: “My back is so messed up.”
Reframe: “My body has the ability to heal this pain.”
Thought: “I need to watch my weight.”
Reframe: “I eat and move to fuel my health.”
Thought: “I am so stressed.”
Reframe: “Whoops! I did it again. What can I cut out? I got this!”

One of my latest experiences with mindset was when I decided to try intermittent fasting. I used to think that if I didn’t eat every couple of hours, I would experience a blood sugar crash and turn into a raging you-know-what. After reading research into the benefits of fasting, I decided to give it a shot. After all, another one of my beliefs is that if I think there is no way I can do something, I had better give it a try. :-)

So after a couple of days of cutting down my eating hours (for more info on this topic, stay tuned...I think I just found what I’m going to write about next…) I found that I can actually be just fine without stuffing food in my face all day long. All because I read research that told me so.

Your turn! Think about any deeply held beliefs you have that may be holding you back. Is there a way to turn them around to create new pathways in your brain? It takes commitment, but the results can be amazing. All you have to do is believe.

Self-Talk

Self-talk is kind of a funny subject, and if it makes you roll your eyes or cringe on some level to think about reciting positive affirmations to yourself, and the cheesy factor is just too high, you’re not alone on this one. But it’s a worthy topic of exploration for many reasons.

Self-talk is about how you talk to yourself about yourself. It’s the always running internal monologue, the voice in our head, the constant commentary that is ever present between our ears. It may be something you’re aware of, or it may be something you’re not very conscious of, just like background chatter that we barely perceive. But it can have a very strong impact on how we think about ourselves and how we move about in the world, and it is closely linked with our perception of our self.

It’s especially easy to become familiar with your self-talk when you do something you perceive to be a mistake or embarrassing - if you berate yourself for messing up, being clumsy, foolish, being too loud, being too quiet, too shy, or “too much.” We may even lapse into calling ourselves names that we would never think to call someone that we cared for and loved.

Why become familiar with your inner monologue? Because it can exert a pretty big influence on our lives. It can really run the show. If you spend your time looking at Facebook or Instagram, and before you know it your self-talk is a raging dumpster fire of jealousy, self-loathing, and compare-and-despair - that’s an altogether very unpleasant and painful experience. Negative, painful, and critical self-talk can be a catalyst for depression, anxiety, and feelings of low self-worth. It can feed into and perpetuate feelings of helplessness and despair. It can perpetuate personal suffering and color the way we see the world and our place in it.

Just becoming aware of what you are saying to yourself is the first step. And it’s huge. You’ve got to give yourself credit for doing this. One of the ways to start to become familiar with your inner monologue is to engage in a meditation practice. You have a front row seat to that little voice that is constantly chattering all day long. You could also go to therapy. Or journal. Or look at yourself in the mirror and see what you start to tell yourself about yourself. There are many ways to start the process.

By doing this you are not at the mercy of this constantly chattering little voice in the background, always running the show. You can choose to listen to it when and if you want. You can disengage from it. You can see how it operates, what it is triggered by, what sets it off and what calms it down. You can even laugh at it. And most importantly, you can also work with it, influence it, and sculpt it to become more compassionate, clear, and wise.

Becoming aware of and reflecting on how we talk to ourselves is a fascinating journey into what it means to be a human being. It’s always interesting. And it’s a relief to know that we can make a better and wiser relationship with it.

Visualization

Happy spring everyone! I’m feeling the pull of the season change in a big way. Time to stretch, move, cleanse, re-focus and repeat. Anyone else? This is the part of the year I get really motivated to get things done and set some new goals. Recently, I sat down and tried to think on what motivates me and how I want to achieve it. I realized that it all starts with my mindset. I am a visual person, so I know I have to get my head in the right place in order to achieve anything else physically or emotionally. This is referred to as “mental training” and scientists and doctors are discovering it can be a game-changer when it comes to success.

Published in Psychology Today, you can find studies that prove that using your mind to visualize goals is almost as good as doing them! In one specific study of weight lifters, they saw significant data that the brain was activated in the SAME way when lifting hundreds of pounds vs. when they were just visualizing it. Say whaaaat??!  In the same vein, there have been other studies that show statistical increase in muscle tone for those who visualize a muscle being used while working out vs. those who don’t. Incredible! Note to self: picture 6-pack abs anytime I’m exercising and maybe one day I’ll have some!

There are tons of ways to use visualization and even more ways it applies to our productivity. I recently listened to a podcast on the Goop channel (Gweneth Paltrow’s health-conscious company) and she interviewed a woman named Bonnie St. John. I had never heard about her before, but as the podcast continued, I learned that Bonnie was the first African American to win medals at the Olympics in 1984…with one leg! She also graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and had a number of other incredible life achievements. Talk about motivating. During the interview, she was going through a few of her favorite “life hacks” for her listeners in order to have a big impact on their focus, drive and goals.

The one tip that really stuck with me was an exercise to help push you through the mindset of limiting factors. She calls it “reversing.” This is a good one for all of you visual people out there. Here’s how it works: take a note card and write a limiting factor or obstacle that you’re facing on one side of the card. Then on the other side of the card, write the complete opposite. One of the examples she uses was writing “I need a higher degree, but I don’t have time or money to go back to school” and then on the other side write the opposite: “I have time and money to go back to school.” Her point is that writing the complete opposite statement suspends your brain’s belief in the negative obstacle that you THINK is true, but it doesn’t have to be. If you stop that pattern, you make room for ideas or ways to make the opposite come true. Very, very fascinating stuff. To learn more about her ideas and work, Bonnie’s book is called Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy.  Check it out or find the podcast for more inspiration!

Other random ideas of how I use visualization in my daily life/goal setting:

  • Making a vision board using pictures and quotes

  • Write out a to-do list of things you want to get done during the day and check them off

  • Write out a goal list that includes the who, what, when, where, why and how you’re going to do it. Turns out, the more specific you get, the better. Paint the picture for yourself so it’s easier to move through the steps to get there.

  • Make a list of 10-20 things that you want to do before you die (must have a big picture, right?)

  • And now I’ll be visualizing my muscles working at the gym so I can burn more fat :)

Are you a visual person? How do you visualize goals and put that into motion? I would love to hear how you achieve this. Let me know next time you’re in for a tune up!

The Winter Blues and Blahs

Someone recently mentioned to me that they felt like this past January has felt like one long, continual Monday. This time of year can be tough for many of us. Even though we live in a very sunny state with mild days and warm temperatures even in the winter months, it is not uncommon for many individuals to experience a lower mood this time of year.

For some people this may warrant a clinical diagnosis by a primary care doctor or mental health professional of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder that is characterized by depressive symptoms that occur at the same time each year during the fall and winter months. Symptoms can also include low energy, fatigue, feeling sluggish, intense irritability, having trouble sleeping, a marked increase or decrease in appetite, and a loss of interest in activities that typically bring enjoyment.

Feelings of low mood during the winter months can take us by surprise. Some people describe it as a feeling of “the veil coming down.” Life can start to feel very grey. For other people, they might experience symptoms of irritability or pervasive negativity. If feelings of hopelessness crop up, it’s very important to speak with your doctor or a mental health professional.

For those of us who struggle with a lower mood during the colder months, or just an overall sense of lower motivation and general unease, there are some things that can definitely help:

Light Therapy

Light therapy (also called phototherapy) is considered a first-line treatment for low mood that starts in the fall months. It involves purchasing a special light box that mimics the light found in nature, and sitting in front of it for an hour upon waking in the morning. The light positively supports chemicals in our brain that our linked to positive mood.

Check in With Your Doctor

Your doctor can run tests to rule out whether or not the pervasive low mood is linked to an issue with your thyroid, and can also check your Vitamin D levels. Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin D levels can even be low for those of us in sunny Colorado.

Exercise

You don’t need to blow it out everyday at a Crossfit class to get the benefits out of exercise. Moderate and gentle exercise will do. Moderate exercise has consistently been shown to improve the symptoms of low mood.

Herbs and Supplements

A licensed herbalist and acupuncturist can give you some great suggestions for supplements as well as herbal formulas that will support mood, energy levels, and balanced sleep.

Support the Mind-Body Connection and Manage Stress

Deep breathing and gentle yoga can help you get back into your body and lift your mood. Take downtime for yourself. Try to keep some space in your schedule. Recognize that this is the darkest and coldest time of the year and respect your need for quietude and deep rest.

Get A Course of Acupuncture Treatments

Weekly acupuncture treatments over the course of 8 to 12 weeks can not only help you make this time of year more manageable, it can dramatically improve your overall sense of well-being, boost your energy levels, improve your sleep, and lift your mood. Consistency is key in conjunction with lifestyle support.

Connecting With Your Bigger WHY

It’s a new year and another chance to approach life with a fresh perspective. This is commonly the time of year when we start taking stock of how we are living our day-to-day lives, and whether the habits, attitudes, and practices we are cultivating serve our larger values as well as how we want to show up in our lives.

At the beginning of this new year, if you have larger goals or habits you are wanting to implement in relation to any aspect of your health - your physical, emotional, psychological, or even spiritual health - I think it’s useful to consider your larger why in relationship to your short-term and even longer-term goals.

Oftentimes we set out with the intention of reaching a goal or changing some kind of behavior or habit without really fully understanding all of the underlying whys. Let’s use eating healthy as an example. Why do you want to start eating healthier? Is it because your doctor recommended you need to, or because of something you read in a magazine, or something Oprah said? Is your partner or spouse wanting you to eat healthier? Are you wanting to eat healthier in order to reach an ideal body weight or self-image? Do you even really want to eat healthier?

There are many reasons to consider and reflect on the larger why as it relates to our health and wellness goals. Sometimes the people in our lives (partners, loved ones, medical professionals) may want us to have certain goals for our health for their own particular reasons, but they might not be our own reasons. Oftentimes our larger health and wellness goals rely on some kind of external acknowledgement or reward. Many times we set goals because we think we should be doing certain things, or because we are trying to avoid or outrun a sense of shame or unworthiness we feel about ourselves.

Why does this all matter? There are a few reasons. If you are setting out to change a habit, implement a practice, or make any important change in your life, it takes a lot of work - planning, thoughtfulness, self-reflection, fortitude, anticipating future obstacles. Intuitively we all know this. So when circumstances get tough and there is every reason to give up, you need to connect with your larger why to carry you on through those rough patches, otherwise you are more likely to set the whole thing down and give up. And as much as we may love and want the respect of those around us, oftentimes other people’s whys are not always enough to carry us on through. We need to connect with the larger values, reasons, and visions in our own hearts and minds.

Ultimately you want to live your own life and not someone else’s life. Give yourself time and space to reflect on these topics. It can take a lot of self-reflectiveness patience in order to connect with these larger answers. Talk about these things with other people you trust and can thoughtfully engage with you around this. You will most likely surprise yourself. Your own personal why may be incredibly unique, thoughtful, and eccentric. If you can make a strong personal connection with your own internal values and your own internal why, it will serve as a powerful ally and motivator in living the kind of life you want for yourself.

New Year's Intentions

I hope everyone had a great holiday season and are in the midst of beginning a happy new year! You did it – You made it through the most chaotic time of the year, and are on your way to a new and exciting 2019! Does anyone else get excited about setting intentions and goals, or is it just me? I try not to overload myself with too many, but I do love the idea of a fresh canvas to paint my story on. Cue: Bob Ross and all of his happy trees. 

So, what intentions did I set for the new year? In the wake of a crazy 2018, I’m vowing to slow down. My only true intention is to pick up my meditation practice again. It’s been too long since I’ve spent actual time during my day (other than during a yoga class) practicing meditation. This will be hard for me! Considering I like to burn the candle at both ends and I thrive on being busy, taking some down time will be much needed.

Other things I’m excited to incorporate in 2019: 

  • Darkness detox: in January, I’m taking a break from listening and watching dark documentaries or podcasts. Embarrassingly, I have a horrible addiction to anything related to true crime or dark stories. So in order to keep my sanity, I am breaking up with them for a month and potentially longer. Deliberately letting the light in! 

  • Dietary balance: I had some serious ups and downs with my diet this year and I’m still feeling the reverberations. This year, I’m going to worry less about being super strict or giving myself “treats” when I think I deserve them. I feel like it set me up with some bad habits that I need to break. Instead I’m going to try and stay consistent with what my body craves and makes me feel the best.

  • Try 5 new things this year. This could be a new experience, a new genre of book, a new style of food, or travel to a new place. I’m interested in the unknown and how to experience it to the fullest. We’ll see what they end up being! Stay tuned..

What are you looking forward to in 2019? Do you have plans or resolutions? I cannot wait to hear about them! Sharing your goals with others is a great way to hold yourself and others accountable, so let us know what they are next time you’re in. 

Finishing Up the Holidays and Setting Intentions For the New Year

I’m keeping it short and sweet again this month, but look out for some long nerdy articles coming your way soon!

First of all, I promised an update on our holiday experiences so here are a few highlights:

  • The kiddo’s favorite part of the Golden Christmas Parade was the Colorado School of Mines marching band. And I have to agree - they were good!!

  • We went to a tuba Christmas concert in Olde Town Arvada where he told me “I want to do that when I’m bigger.” Yay!

  • Then he said he liked his school’s holiday program better than the Colorado Symphony Orchestra because he was was on stage. Hmmm...

I think we have a musician on our hands, folks.

When we had an impromptu visit with Santa, the kiddo shyly asked for a strawberry, and Santa replied “I’ll see what I can do” in the softest, sweetest voice.  Then, on Christmas morning, there was a 10” strawberry stuffie under the tree. He was so thrilled, it has not left his arms since. (It even rates way higher than the remote controlled car and the hot wheels track!) I’m kind of a proud mama...

So, yeah, all in all it was so fun!

Now, on to the new year.

I love this time of transition. We just had some good family time, and perhaps some indulgences, and it’s time to reflect on this past year and set our intentions for the new year.

As I look back at last year, my biggest intention was to slow down and create space in my life. For someone who likes to go! go! go! and may suffer a bit from FOMO (fear of missing out), this intention definitely was one I had to work at, and while I didn’t always make it happen, I did find some space.

As I look forward to the new year, I am craving a little more excitement. I’m feeling more energetic and I want to start doing more. I’ll still keep some of the space I created last year, but will also find more interesting things to occupy me as well. Travel is on my mind, as well as returning to running (actually at this point we’ll call it “joggling” now, a fabulous term coined by a good friend of mine - it’s jogging, but mostly jiggling). I’ve also had some good ideas on how to make Alpenglow even better, too - stay tuned! But most of all, I want to honor my most important intention that I keep from year to year - to fully live my life and truly enjoy what I have.

What about you? What are you looking forward to in the new year? Have you set any new intentions or made resolutions? I’d love to hear!

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine For Emotional Stress

Those who have tried acupuncture to manage emotional stress find that receiving a course of treatments is incredibly helpful for discharging and relaxing the accumulated tension and nervousness that can build up in our body over time. Prolonged emotional stress, whether stemming from relationship discord, occupational stress, major life transitions, and many other contributing factors can wreak havoc on our health and sense of personal well-being. Common effects of stress that we see here at Alpenglow include fatigue, muscular tension and pain, headaches, digestive upset, sleep problems, headaches, restlessness, and feelings of irritability, overwhelm, and depression.

One of the theories put forward to explain the effectiveness of acupuncture is that it is believed that by inserting acupuncture needles into the body we are stimulating the body’s endogenous opioid system, which is a scientific-way of saying that we are stimulating the body to release its’ own highly potent, healing, feel-good neurochemicals that play a role in everything from sleep to mood to how we experience sensations of pain in our body. This is part of the reason why acupuncture is thought to be so effective in addressing the pain and distress that detrimentally impacts both our mind and body, and why after regular treatments for a period of time, patients often remark on a global and systemic improvement in their overall health, including their pain levels, mood, energy level, and overall sense of wellbeing.

For patients looking to use acupuncture to help ease the symptoms of emotional stress in their lives, very often we will recommend Chinese herbal formulas in conjunction with a course of acupuncture treatments. When prescribed by a qualified practitioner, Chinese herbal medicine can improve the effectiveness and response to treatment. Leaves, stems, roots, tubers, flowers, and seeds comprise a majority of the herbs we use in the Chinese herbal tradition. For convenience, the primarily delivery method we use here at Alpenglow includes patent herbal formulas that come in pill form, as well as tinctured herbs in liquid form.

Evergreen Herbs is a company we use here at the clinic because it is an industry leader in its use of quality control and Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) in its acquisition and testing processes for their herbal formulas, as well as the extensive pharmacological and clinical research they do on their formulas. A great formula in particular is CALM ZZZ. The formula’s anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), muscle-relaxant, and antidepressant qualities make it a really great formula for individuals looking to address the symptoms of chronic and constant stress, insomnia with difficulty falling asleep, and those with a hard-driving but possibly overly-ruminating and restless personality style.

Another formula commonly used here at the clinic is called Augmented Rambling Powder. This combination of cooling, moving, and nourishing herbs makes it a really great formula for those of us who struggle with irritability, headaches that get worse under stress, night sweats, and the kind of PMS symptoms (moodiness, irritability, anger)  that makes your loved ones want to run and hide.

Finally, another herbal formula commonly prescribed here at the clinic is good one but it’s also a mouthful -  Emperor of Heaven’s Special Pill To Tonify The Heart. This is a great formula for those of us who are easily unsettled and sensitive to stress, which can then throw us into a pattern of sleeping poorly, difficulty staying asleep during the night, a sensation of fluttery feelings and anxiety in the chest, feeling ungrounded, and feeling overall very anxious and uneasy in body and mind.

Finally, oftentimes there are certain lifestyle modifications and daily practices that can help to ease the fallout from some of the stress that we have to manage in our lives. Lifestyle counseling is a huge cornerstone of Chinese medicine practice and including it along with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine further increases the likelihood of a good clinical outcome. Decreasing and even eliminating caffeine and alcohol for a time can be very helpful, because both increase the stress hormone cortisol and can leave us feeling both tired and wired at the same time. Exercise and deep breathing practices can help to ease stress and both nervous and muscular tension. Certain teas and aromatherapy oils can have a really positive impact on mood and energy levels. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. There is so much in life we don’t have control over, and it doesn’t help to give ourselves a hard time over it. If you have any questions about your own unique circumstances and symptoms, or more questions about how acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help ease emotional stress, please reach out to the clinic and we will be happy to answer your questions.


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!

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.

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!

Anxiety

Raise your hand if you've ever experienced anxiety. *Insert every person's hand raised here!* Anxiety is a funny thing, mainly because it shows up differently for so many people. I'm sure lots of you have heard us ask you HOW or WHERE you feel it in your body when you get stressed or feel anxious. Typically, it's because we use the body as a road map to tell us what systems are out of whack! 

Some experience anxiety as a nagging pit in the stomach, while others feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest. Anxiety can also show up in the form of panic where the fight or flight mechanism is triggered, IE: racing heartbeat, increased breath rate, and all the blood draining from the head to the arms and legs, so you can run from the BEAR THAT'S CHASING YOU!! Not realistic in this day in age, but that's the physiological response that is triggered when your anxiety goes up. High anxiety can also trigger the release of cortisol - the stress hormone. High cortisol levels over time can lead to poor sleep patterns, weight gain, even more anxiety, major fatigue and eventually adrenal burn out. No bueno. 

According to Chinese medicine, there are a couple of systems that are notorious for being out of whack when a person has anxiety. First is the heart meridian. (Remember we're not talking about your actual heart, just the energy it's responsible for according to our Chinese medicine theories). When a person struggles with nervousness, irritability, heaviness felt in the chest, hot flashes, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, racing heart rate, etc. this is a tell-tale sign the heart meridian is involved. 

On the other side of the spectrum, a person can present completely different and still suffer from anxiety. The kidney energy is supposed to be the most grounding of the energy of the whole body. Think: our deepest rooted Qi that connects us to earth. Quite often when that energy isn't functioning properly, a person can have an irrational amount of fear, usually felt in the pit of the stomach, digestive issues worsen with anxiety, unresolved grief, nervousness/obsessive thoughts/worry, depression, etc.

As practitioners, it's our job to identify where the disruption is in the system and treat it! Acupuncture is a great way to control anxiety levels over time. Auricular acupuncture (acupuncture in the ear) specifically taps into the brain chemistry to help change a person's experience with stress. And if that's not enough, we have great Chinese herbal formulas to help take the edge off even more. We're also huge fans of yoga or yoga-like breathing to help control anxiety levels. If you or a loved one struggles with stress and anxiety, don't wait- come in soon and get it managed. We'll work with you to find the best combination of tricks and tools to help you feel your best! 

Crabby In The Spring

It's spring. The flowers are coming up, the trees are budding out and the birds and frogs are back, singing their happy little songs. The days are longer, the nights aren't so cold and we are seeing a lot of beautiful weather.
So why in the heck are so many of us so darn crabby?
That, my friend, we can blame on your Liver. Not necessarily that sweet little organ that filters toxins out of your blood (although that may be struggling too), but your Liver energy. 
Spring is the season that in which the Liver's energy is most robust, and when imbalances can really show up. These imbalances can manifest as excessive frustration and irritation or they can sometimes show up as trouble making decisions, feeling stuck and having trouble moving forward. 
Any of this ringing a bell?
Thankfully, there are things you can do to get back in balance, such as:

  • Moderate physical exercise, especially in nature, such as walking, hiking, cycling and yoga.

  • Sipping warm lemon water, especially in the morning.

  • Avoiding excess alcohol intake.

  • Acupuncture or massage.

  • Herbal formulas such as Free and Easy Wanderer (of course, the best thing to do is see your acupuncturist for a personalized diagnosis to find a perfect formula for you).

Take care of yourself in these ways, and in no time you'll be singing just like those birds and frogs.

Here's to a happy spring! 

Learning About Flexibility

I don't think it's a secret that I can't touch my toes. And I don't think that it comes as a surprise that this is also symbolic of the way I like to live my life. I love schedules, lists, spreadsheets and calendars - whatever it takes to bring a sense of organization to my life.
Lately, however, my super-scheduler self has been quite challenged. It seems as though nothing really happens in the way I think it's going to when I start my day. And this is very frustrating and hard for me. So, in the spirit of, well, honestly, not going crazy, I've decided to learn about flexibility. How can I continue to be productive and successful within a looser framework?
My good friend Google hasn't been super helpful in researching this, so I've reached out to others who are in the same boat. Here are some of the things I have learned:

1) Chill out!! - If it takes me 2 days to do a load of laundry, so be it. The clothes will still be clean, even if they have to be put on the 'wrinkle release' setting of the dryer a couple times before I remember to get them out and fold them. Coming from a history of completing a project/task as soon as possible, this can be a tough one. 

2) Prioritize prioritize prioritize!! - What REALLY has to be done today? What can wait? What will I never notice if it never gets done?
One thing that has been said over and over from those in the know is that I need to be sure to schedule in my own self care. I can see how this is one of the first things to go for new moms, and I struggle with it myself. However, in doing my best to walk the talk of good health, I am dedicated to taking care of me.

3) Delegate!! - Um, this one is still a little (LOT!!!) hard for me. But instead of trying to fix our broken desk drawer after the break-in, I was able to pass if off to someone with more know-how, skill and time. 

Now, along with working on this flexibility, I have scheduled some regular yoga/stretching into my calendar as well. I think that in addition to checking off my self-care item on the to-do list, this focus on physical flexibility may help transform my mental/emotional/order-obsessed self into a more flexible version. We'll see.

How do you do it? How do you stay productive in the face of life's ups and downs? How do you maintain flexibility in your life? 
I'd love to hear!

Sarah's Top Ten Stress Reducers

1. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a wonderful way to improve circulation within the body. It has been shown to be an effective solution for treating systems associated with stress. Stress tends to tighten up the muscles, leading to several aches and pains.

2. Foot Massage/ Reflexology

The feet are our connection to Earth and major conductors of energy for our heart, liver, kidneys and other internal organs so it's important to take care of them!

3. Tui Na Massage

Chinese Medicine uses a unique form of massage that focuses not only the muscle but on the Qi circulation in the body. By opening up the meridian channels in the body, the muscle will naturally relax. This form of movement is also great to relieve several aches and pains in the muscles brought on by stress.

4. Chinese Herbs

There are hundreds of herbs in Chinese Medicine specifically designed to work on balancing the body to reduce stress. For Example: Xiao Yao San - a very popular formula known for soothing the Liver and moving Qi to induce relaxation and reduce tension.

5. Meditation: (Outside!)

The doctors in China encourage people to meditate because of its value on reducing stress and promoting health and well-being. There are many forms of meditation- Tai Qi, Qi Gong, Yoga, or a seated meditation. Doing it outside allows us to breath in fresh air instead of circulated AC. It's especially nice when the sun is out!

6. Chrysanthemum Tea or Lemon Water

Chrysanthemum is a light yellowish flower that has been used for thousands of years to relax and maintain a healthy liver. Lemon water is another great drink to soothe the liver. The sour taste helps relax the ligaments and connective tissue.

7. Jujube Seeds

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Jujube seeds are used to reduce stress and produce a calm state of mind because they travel to the Heart and Pericardium meridians. They can also be brewed into a tea to help aid with sleep.

8. Valerian Root

Valerian Root has been used for several thousand years in China as a way to relax. The Greeks also used it as a natural remedy for stress. It's most commonly found as an ingredient in teas.

9. Stretching: Qi Gong/ Yoga

When you're feeling overwhelmed, light stretching and energy work, like yoga or Qi Gong, can help move your body in a way that isn't intrusive or too intense. These types of fluid movements and simple postures help open up all of the major joints, muscles, tendons and meridians so that energy can flow uninhibited to all parts of the body.

10. Exercise

Exercising helps to physically move the qi of the body. Whether we're just going for a walk or doing something more blood-pumping, like a run or weight training, exercise increases endorphins (aka. the "happy" chemicals in the brain) which make us feel better by decreasing our anxiety and stress levels.

 

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