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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Stress and Fertility

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Since stress has become such an important figure in today’s modern society, it’s no wonder that an abundance of it can have an impact on your ability to conceive. You may have been told to ‘just relax and let it happen’, assuming stress is the culprit, but that’s easier said than done. Especially when the stresses of life don’t just go away – it’s one thing to try and adapt, but more often than not it takes a rather different approach to what you’re doing to get things working. So here is a little background on what stress is, how it may be affecting your fertility, and what you can possibly do to counteract its effects.

Stress 101: When you’re ‘under stress’, you’re really experiencing the ‘fight or flight’ response, which is a built-in system left over from times when humans had to worry about predators attacking. Back then, this mechanism was very handy, because it causes your body to increase your heart rate and ramp up cortisol levels, which increase blood pressure. All of this, in the short term, is great because it makes you respond more quickly – a necessary advantage when being chased or attacked. But in today’s fast-paced, high-stress world this mechanism can get triggered hourly, and since you’re not built to be ‘attacked’ so frequently, your body suffers. Sure, give it a few thousand years and humanity will learn to adapt, but right now a frequently triggered alarm system causes hormone levels to be out of whack, causing various kinds of illness, including high blood pressure.

So how does stress affect fertility? Scientifically-speaking, when you’re under stress your sex hormone GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) gets suppressed, thus affecting ovulation, implantation, libido, and sperm count. This makes sense in evolutionary terms, since a stressed-out human would be unlikely to be able to care for a baby. If only your body knew the advances we’ve made! And stress gets even worse when you’ve had trouble conceiving, so of course the added stress makes conceiving even more difficult.

If you are trying to conceive and are having trouble, you should definitely look at ways to reduce the stress in your life, no matter what conventional methods (e.g. IVF) you’re already trying. Here are some ways that you can lower the stress in your life naturally, and thus improve your chances of conception:

1. Quit. That is, consider changing positions within your company, or getting a new job altogether. This may seem drastic, but if you are taking fertility seriously, you have to ask yourself some tough questions. How far are you willing to go? If you’re on the fence about leaving your current job versus having a baby, then also consider your own personal health. Stress has untold effects on other parts of your body besides fertility, so making a career move could very well be adding years to your life in addition to a little bundle of joy.

2. Talk to a psychotherapist. Actually, anyone trained in helping you get your feelings out can help – so consider talking to someone who can help you get to the root of some of your stresses, and possibly also help you find ways to cope with them better.

3. Try some massage therapy, salt baths or anything natural to relax your muscles. Getting your blood flowing and releasing some toxins as a result can have a tremendous effect on your well-being and fertility.

4. Acupuncture. This ancient modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used for thousands of years for fertility, and still with great results. It can be used in conjunction with any drug therapy you might be on, and it may only take a couple of months of acupuncture to get your hormones back on track.

5. Exercise and eat right. You just can’t say it enough: a proper diet with some exercise thrown in will help you manage your hormone levels, lowering your stress and helping increase your chances of conceiving.

There are really many, many ways to learn to relax. Choose what feels right for you – don’t force yourself to do something because everyone else likes it. If making mud pies in the park is your thing, go for it. It’s all for a good cause.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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5 Ways to Cope With Stress During Pregnancy

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Being pregnant causes all kinds of physical and emotional changes inside of you, and the thought of an impending labour, not to mention a dramatic life-change, can certainly cause even the most relaxed person at least a little bit of stress. And so you focus on doing things like eating well, exercising, and following the advice of your doctor or midwife. But being able to cope with the stress of it all often lands on just you, and it can be hard to know what to do.

Remember that stress is caused by that lizard-brain reaction to what you perceive as a threat, be it an actual threat or a tiny, innocent, completely safe thing in your belly. Even though you know logically that most of the time things turn out perfectly fine for mom and baby, once that ‘fight or flight response’ kicks in, your adrenaline and cortisol levels rise, leading to a cycle that’s hard to break. But if you can learn some effective ways to cope with the stresses that come at you during pregnancy, you just might be able to get by a little easier, and make the whole process a little more smooth. Sitting down with a psychotherapist for a few sessions can do wonders, for example. Here are some other good ways to alleviate that stress during pregnancy:

1. Get prepared. Channel that energy you’re using about worrying into something productive – the results will make you feel less stressed. It’s normal to be concerned about what labour will be like, in regards to the pain, your partner, and so on. Take some time to join a prenatal class, and be sure to ask lots of questions. Also, draw up a birth plan that includes things like how you want the pain handled and what kind of music (if any) you want to be there. Go overboard, it’s okay. And in terms of preparing for your family life after, try joining a mommie’s group, either online or in person. Again, it’s okay to ask lots of questions, especially to moms who’ve been there. In fact, they’ll be more than happy to help because they went through almost exactly what you’re experiencing!

2. Put your money into perspective. Very few babies make it onto television and become money earners. More than likely, yours will be one of the 99% who cost money, and often a fair bit at that. To ease your stress on this issue, make a list of everything you’re going to need when the baby comes, and then make a list of all the income you can expect. Before you get overwhelmed here, start crossing things off the first list. Those are things you’re going to find second-hand, or get to borrow from friends. Certain things like strollers can’t be used for more than a year or two, and people are often more than happy to pass them along to someone who will use them. Finally, check around on the internet for local services who can give you money-saving tips and might even have some free resources to help with daycare or other costly elements that the little munchkin brings.

3. Talk about it with your loved ones. Everyone has an opinion, and when you’re pregnant you get much more than you’d like, especially from your loved ones, who think that they’re helping. For the loved ones that help a little too much, be prepared to say ‘thanks, I’ve heard you, and I’ll consider what you’ve said’, and then leave it. Be firm if need be – they’ll understand or they won’t. Regardless, because they love you it will all work out in the end. The important thing is that you put up the boundaries you need to. You’re in charge of growing this baby, and that requires that you decide when to yes, and when to say no. And for the rest of your loved ones, keep lines of communication open to them as well. Let everyone know how you’re feeling, even if what you’re feeling is worried. This will help them figure out with you ways that they can help make your life a little easier during this whole process. Bottom line: lean on your loved ones as much as possible – they’ll even be grateful that you did.

4. Spoil yourself a little. It can be tough to treat yourself when you’ve been doing so well – exercising, eating right and doing everything you can think of that’s healthy for your growing baby. But taking a little time to reward/thank/encourage yourself to help you through your pregnancy can only be a good thing – for you and for your baby. So be sure to help keep your stress levels in check by taking the time to have a massage with a Registered Massage Therapist, meet with friends for a movie or coffee, or go and get your nails done (if you’re getting close to the end, you may need some help reaching those little piggies!). And above all, be easy on yourself – you’re only one person. Okay, right now you’re one and a half people, but you know what I mean.

5. Eat well. I know what I just said about treating yourself, but avoiding refined sugar and other junk can really help your stress levels stay in check. A diet high in calories and processed food takes energy to break down, and this extra work can leave you feeling tired and sluggish, which can make you feel more stressed. In addition, a diet lacking in the right nutrients can make it difficult for your brain functioning and hormone regulation to work properly, which as you can imagine, can be frustrating during pregnancy. Be sure to eat at least 6-7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (a serving is one of your own handfuls), as well as lean meats and whole grains. Get your little bit of extra calories from nuts and seeds, avocados, and higher-fat yogurt. That’s right – I said ‘higher fat’! Fat-free dairy has been shown to supply only a limited amount of calcium to your body, which you probably know you need more of during these times. Apparently it has something to do with the fat helping your body absorb the calcium. So enjoy – just enjoy the right foods.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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5 Calming Scents

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Sometimes all you can do to relax is sit down and do… nothing. Well, when you’re doing that, here are a few scents you can perhaps partake in – either in essential oil form, food form, or otherwise. The more natural, the better, so avoid chemically-created scents that mimic what you’re after. And be sure when using essential oils to start with very small amounts – some can be dangerous when inhaled to excessive degrees. Children, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid using essential oils.

1. Floral. This scent refers to such flowers and oils as rose, jasmine, neroli, geranium, and lotus. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is the Spleen (capitalized to differentiate from the scientific definition) that is most affected by stress, and since each of the major organs corresponds to a scent, it is by applying a floral scent that we assist the Spleen, and thus reduce stress. Lucky for you, as the scent to calm the Liver is rancidity!

2. Lavender. This little shrub of the mint family is one of the most commonly used essential oils for calming, especially just before sleep. In addition, lavender has been used extensively in treating sore muscles, urinary disorders, breathing problems, and in hair care.

3. Chamomile tea. You may know that drinking the tea is good for digestion and soothing anxiety, but it may surprise you to learn that the very smell of chamomile is also good on its own for inducing a calm state. It’s been said that chamomile might reduce cortisol levels, which tend to rise in stressful situations. Chamomile may also have some anti-inflammatory effects, and so may help to reduce some of that pain causing you stress.

4. Coconut. Studies show that the very scent of coconut may slow your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure. Since it’s a common scent added to suntan lotions, candles, and so on, it may be calming just because it reminds you of better times. Whatever makes coconut scent work, just use it. But do (as was said above) try to get products with as little chemical addition as possible.  And try drinking coconut water, as it has proven benefits for stress-busting as well.

5. Sandalwood. Perhaps the ‘king of calm’, sandalwood has long been used to assist with meditation. Its warm, woody scent has been used in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines for many disorders, including nervous disorders, and also those associated with depression or anxiety. It’s also great for your skin, so apply some to your lotion or shampoo for extra benefit.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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6 Calming Foods for Stress

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You might respond to stress by eating more, eating less, or eating the same but poorly. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try to incorporate these foods, and see how they make you feel!

1. Avocados. Incidentally very low in pesticides, these creamy beauties are a great source for good fats as well as a good source for fighting stress. Avocados are high in vitamin E, folate, and glutathione, an antioxidant. Good advice is sticking to smaller amounts because they do contain a lot of calories, but throw 1/4 of an avocado into a sandwich or a salad and you’re golden. Or in this case, green.

2. Asparagus. Springtime isn’t the only time to eat asparagus. This lovely vegetable is high in antioxidants, vitamin B, and tryptophan, an essential amino acid in making serotonin, which helps elevate your mood. Try steaming some and using them to replace an English muffin with your Eggs Benedict. Seriously, try it.

3. Salmon. This fish is loaded with good things to calm a stressed-out soul. The omega fatty acids it contains help decrease inflammation, which will help your brain work better and ultimately help you cope. Salmon also contains vitamin D, tryptophan (see ‘Asparagus’), and selenium, which aids in immune system function (but should be ingested in foods only and not in supplements as high doses may be harmful). Try salmon grilled to medium-rare – if you buy good quality salmon you don’t have to cook it all the way through, and medium-rare will help preserve more of the important proteins and nutrients in the fish.

4. Coconut water. All the hype over coconut water might have some reason for being. This great fruit produces water that is high in electrolytes, magnesium, and is full of healthful things such as plant hormones, enzymes, and amino acids. Studies have shown that coconut water can lower high blood pressure, and is great for re-hydrating after a workout. Be sure to buy coconut water that is not sweetened with added sugar, and contains no added preservatives or flavours.

5. Eggs. Feared by many as artery-clogging, these gifts of nature have actually been proven to do nothing bad for your heart. In fact, their stress-lowering benefits probably help more than anything. Eggs contain large amounts of minerals, good fats, and both vitamins D and B-12, which can help to elevate your mood. See above suggestion (under ‘Asparagus’) for a yummy Eggs Benny.

6. Berries. These super-fruits contain tons of anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that protect against several stress-related diseases and can help with cognition. In addition, berries are high in vitamin C, which helps lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. Try frozen berries in the summer instead of popsicles, or throw some into a bowl of steel-cut oats.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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10 Tips for Relaxing Your Muscles

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Have muscle tension that you need some help with?  Try some of these tips:

1. Breathing. Whether you’ve just finished working out or are stuck in a traffic jam, a few deep breaths can go a long way. First, try to become aware of tense spots in your body, how you’re sitting/standing, and generally how you feel all over. Next, take a slow, long breath in through your nostrils, allowing your breath to oxygenate your whole body, down to your toes. Hold for 3 seconds, and then exhale. Repeat two more times, making sure that you send breath into those sore spots.

2. Stretching. One of the most neglected ways of relaxing muscles, stretching can help improve your circulation, decrease low-back pain, and lower your risk of injury. To get the most out of stretching, try holding your stretch for only 3-5 seconds, then release. Repeat this ten times.

3. Sleeping. You may think that a longer workout is better than getting a good night’s sleep, but that’s not really true. In fact, while you sleep your muscles get a much-needed chance to repair themselves, which goes a long way in helping you achieve your exercise goals. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night, and if time permits, even try taking a nap in the afternoon.

4. Meditation. You may think that a nap is just as helpful, but meditation can have great benefits too. In addition to helping quiet those negative thoughts, meditation can help release the tension from your muscles. Try to do meditation in a quiet, dark area, and don’t worry about whether you’re sitting or laying down. Just relax and breath into all the various parts of your body. Falling asleep is normal with untrained meditators, but practice can give you excellent results.

5. Massage. Getting a weekly massage can make all the difference in your muscle tension. Make sure that you visit a registered massage therapist (RMT) and tell him/her which spots on your body hurt the most. Finally, try to schedule a treatment that’s long enough – no massage therapist is capable of massaging your whole body in only 30 minutes. Aim for 60 or 90 minutes if you want something extensive and worthwhile.

6. Acupuncture. This ancient medicine works on relaxing your muscles in a deep and profound way. Acupuncture can improve your blood flow, nerve conduction and lymph drainage, all of which are essential in muscle repair. In addition, it can help you with other issues that may be contributing to your muscle tension, e.g. sleep issues, stress, low energy, and so on. Make sure that the acupuncturist you choose is trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your treatment.

7. Supplements. While natural approaches are usually the best, it sometimes doesn’t hurt to add a supplement or two. For example, fish oil can help reduce inflammation in your muscles. Magnesium aids in nerve signalling as well muscle contraction and relaxation. Vitamin C can aid in tissue repair. Above all, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and don’t over-do it on the supplements. And make sure that you cycle them: take the supplement for up to 3 months, then take at least 3 weeks off to give your liver and kidneys a rest.

8. Epsom salts bath. Speaking of magnesium, Epsom salt is very high in magnesium, and a bath using these wondrous salts can be very good for your muscles. Benefits include improved circulation, improved insulin uptake, flushing toxins from your cells, and more. If you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking Epsom salts baths, just in case.

9. Drinking water. Staying hydrated is important for many reasons, but few people are aware of the benefits it has on muscles. In fact, water may be the most important nutrient you can think of taking in to help relax your muscles. Water helps with nerve conduction and muscle contraction, helping your muscles get the electrolytes they need to function properly. Water also helps lubricate your joints and prevents cramping. In addition to getting at least 8 glasses of water each day, be sure to eat a minimum of six servings of fruits and vegetables, as these wonder-foods also contain a lot of water.

10. Taking a day off. You may want to work seven days a week, or more likely, you may want to exercise seven days a week. Doing this might seem like a good idea, but not giving your muscles a rest is a sure way to minimize their health. Just like with sleep, time off gives your muscles a chance to recuperate and grow, so be sure to rest at least one day a week. If you’re really eager, just do some simple stretching and/or light cardio. And if you’re not such an eager exerciser but do experience a lot of stress in your life, take a day once a week to just do nothing. And I mean nothing. One of the healthiest people I ever met exercised 5 or 6 days a week, and worked six days a week as well, but always took one day to just rest. He wouldn’t sleep in, but would get up and have a healthy breakfast, then go back to bed. He’d get up again a little later and just do some light housework or have lunch with friends. But his main intention on that day was rest – and that should be something you should try as well. You muscles as well as your mind will thank you.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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Working Out While Sick – Good Idea or No?

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If you exercise regularly, you know what it’s like to wake up and feel sick, then immediately wonder if working out that day is a good idea or not. If bed rest and fluids are a generally prescribed plan, how can exercise make sense? And yet, some doctors say that it won’t have any effect on the severity or duration of your cold symptoms. Some will tell you yes, go exercise, but others will say no – what’s the right answer?

Exercise is commonly known to be good for boosting your immune system, and certainly when you’re sick it’s your immune system that needs boosting. However, there are times when a workout might have a negative effect on your body. When you exercise, your heart rate increases, no matter what type of exercise you’re doing, i.e. yoga, weights, cardio and so on. Your core body temperature also increases, causing you to sweat more, thus depleting you of water. When you’re healthy this is all right, of course, but when you’re sick it can have a negative impact. Fluids when you’re sick help you to flush out the toxins, to cool down a fever, and to carry away other germs that might cause a future illness (remember that when you’re sick you’re even more vulnerable to other germs!). Plus, increasing your core body temperature when you’re already running a fever can be dangerous – even deadly.

But if you’re clearly not running a fever, it might be okay to do a light workout, according to some. If you’re merely congested and sneezing, light exercise might help you feel a little better, but be sure not to over-exert yourself. And if you think you might be contagious, consider others around you – sneezing on your fellow yogis might not be appreciated! And this is a good time to get in the habit of wiping down the machines you’re using at the gym – before AND after you use them. Decreasing the spread of germs helps everyone.

And certainly if you have symptoms such as chest congestion, muscle aches, chills, and abdominal upset, you may have the flu. In this case it is definitely advisable to rest until your symptoms disappear – exercising while you have the flu can prolong the illness or even make it worse. Skipping a workout or two might get you better faster than if you were to workout with the flu.

If you’re not sure how bad your symptoms are, whether or not you have a fever or think you might be contagious, just take some time off. It could be better for you in the long run. Pun intended.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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Stress and Tension Headaches

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With stress such a common issue in life today, it’s no wonder that more and more people are complaining of tension headaches. In fact, what you may know of as ‘tension headaches’ are frequently being referred to now as ‘stress headaches’. But what causes these headaches, and how can they be treated naturally?

Tension headaches are indeed the most common type of headaches, and may appear only once or twice a month, daily, or anywhere in between. The majority of people experience these headaches as mild and short-lived, but they may last for several days. The pain tends to be throbbing, affecting the front, top, and sides of your head, as well as the back of your neck and possibly the muscles in between your shoulder blades as well. Irritability, trouble sleeping, and mild sensitivity to light are also common. Tension headaches often appear during the day, and do not affect your vision, balance, or strength, and so usually you are still able to perform normal daily activities.

Stress appears to be the leading cause of tension headaches, but scientists have yet to specifically determine why. Most likely, it’s because when you’re stressed, the muscles around your neck, head and eyes get tighter. In addition, it’s believed that the following may play a role in the formation of tension headaches:

Conventional medical treatment usually involves over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and various combinations of drugs that may also include caffeine and/or codeine. Unfortunately, over-use of these medications can sometimes trigger tension headaches, and so use of them is suggested only with monitoring by your doctor.

Acupuncture is excellent for treating tension headaches, as it helps your body in a variety of ways. For example, acupuncture has been shown to help decrease pain levels, as well as lowering the tension in your muscles. Plus, your hormone levels can be balanced (increased or decreased where needed) and stress levels can be greatly diminished through acupuncture treatment.

Massage therapy can help reduce the tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Your trapezius muscles, for example, are often quite tight when you experience tension headaches regularly. Furthermore, massage therapy can help stimulate endorphins, thus assisting in making you feel better.

There are indeed many other natural therapies that might help your tension headaches. Yoga, for example, can help you to improve your posture and tone your muscles. Psychotherapy can help you learn to handle stress better, and perhaps reduce the number of tension headaches that you experience.

On your own, try closing your eyes and gently rubbing your temples for a few minutes. This may relieve some of the pressure. Also, try taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, and make sure that you are drinking plenty of water on a regular basis. Finally, try adding some fish oil supplements to your diet, as this may help reduce some of the inflammation in your muscles.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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Stress and High Blood Pressure

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You won’t necessarily develop long-term high blood pressure from chronic stress, but reducing your stress levels can certainly help to prevent many disease states, including one with blood pressure issues.  In addition to feelings of emotional discomfort when you’re under stress, your body produces extra stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.  These are the hormones released during the ‘fight or flight’ response, and in short intervals are harmless (in fact, they’re necessary to help us get away from or fight off would-be attackers).  But since you’re not built to be under stress for long periods (like high-stress work or home environments), your body isn’t built to deal with long periods of exposure to adrenaline and cortisol.  The result?  While there’s no direct link to chronic stress and high blood pressure, it’s thought that over-exposure to stress hormones may cause damage to your blood vessels, leading to heart disease.

Another more obvious contributing factor may be lifestyle choices that you make when you’re under stress.  When overwhelmed, it’s easy to ignore a salad and ‘reward’ yourself with a meal consisting of a burger, fries and beer instead.  You may think that you’re dealing with stress by eating and drinking away your worries, but you’re really compounding the problem.  Excessive caloric intake leads to fat storage, which puts a real strain on your heart. And it affects the way you think too, making it more difficult to deal with your stress, putting you into a vicious stress-eat-stress cycle.

In addition, lack of sleep and exercise put even greater pressure on your heart.  Sleep issues have been linked to a poorly pumping heart, and you probably already know that an under-exercised heart won’t work as well either.

To help relieve some of the stress on your heart, try making sure that your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables – at least six or seven servings a day (a serving, by the way, is about handful).  Whole grains can help too, as well as lean meats. Reward yourself with some high fat yogurt if you like something rich – it’s tasty and it’s still good for you, in moderation.

Also focus on getting some regular exercise, even if it’s just walking around while you’re on that important call!  And get some sleep.  Above all, turning your brain off for eight hours  day will help you feel rejuvenated, and better equipped to handle a busy day. Sometimes the most important part of getting ahead is knowing when to let things rest for a bit. It’s easy to plan vacations, but an eight hour vacation every day will do wonders for your heart.

Sometimes time management is the issue, so take a look at how you’re scheduling your day, if you’re even scheduling things at all. Writing down your tasks and planning them out, along with adding in some time to tune down, will help you deal with the potential stressors coming at you. And add in some humour – a funny movie or a trip a comedy club can lower your stress levels dramatically. Laughing truly is a great therapy!

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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How Acupuncture Works

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You may have heard that acupuncture is great for relieving stress, pain, sleep issues, digestive disorders, breathing problems, headaches, fertility concerns, and so on… but do you know how it actually does all these things? Well, the answer is both complicated and simple. Confused yet? Keep reading.

Remember that acupuncture (a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine, aka TCM) is not based on scientific, but rather clinical evidence. That is to say, 5000 years ago when people first started figuring out what worked and what didn’t when they pressed certain points, there were no fancy machines to measure current, blood flow, and so on. What worked… worked… and since science did not yet exist anyway, it didn’t matter why it worked. So people just kept doing what worked and never worried about a scientific explanation. They devised theories of medicine that helped them explain to each other what was happening, but none of this was based on science. It was based on theories that were based on clinical evidence, and since people kept getting positive results, over generations of use, no one thought anything of it. Then nearly 5000 years later, along came science.

Since we’ve all grown up with science, we expect it to explain everything for us. In this age of information, we constantly hear about tests and studies that seem to prove or disprove one thing or another. Eventually (surely in another 5000 years!) science will explain most things to us, one of which will likely be acupuncture. But where are we so far? Well, science has so far deduced that the element Qi (defined most closely as ‘energy’) cannot be measured quantitatively. That is, there is evidence subjectively that Qi exists (it can be felt), but there has not yet been a study that can measure Qi. Since Qi is a very important part of TCM, this presents a problem. Nonetheless, enough scientific studies have been done to show evidence that acupuncture does something, even if we can’t yet measure Qi.

So what happens when you poke someone with an acupuncture needle? (More correctly, it’s actually the combination of the right points that has the most dramatic effect most of the time, but a single point can still activate some things.) Well, neuroimaging studies have shown that acupuncture can relax certain areas of the brain responsible for pain reception. Ultrasounds show that acupuncture improves blood flow. And thermal imaging shows that acupuncture reduces inflammation where needed. Beyond this, many acupuncture meridians (pathways of energy) correspond to nerve pathways or arteries. Some of the major points, like one in your hand, sit where a few different nerves and blood vessels pass by. So although many are still sceptical about acupuncture, the evidence is growing in its favour, and more than likely science will ‘catch up’. Since acupuncture can help in so many ways, let’s just hope it doesn’t take 5000 years.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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3 Easy Stress Relief Exercises

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Need something quick and easy to do so that you can just relax a little?  And maybe you also need something that you can do in the car or where your computer is not available (or perhaps ‘not wanted’ for that matter!)?  Well, here are 3 easy exercises that you can do on your own (or with a friend, if that helps) to enable you the ability to let go of some of the stress weighing you down.  Rule #1: these exercises only work if you give them a chance!  Rule #2: each of these exercises can be done lying down with your eyes closed in a dark room, or wide awake in your car driving.  They’ll have some effect even in the most active of your states.

1. Good Air, Bad Air.  One of the harmful effects stress has on us is that it virtually fills us with toxic elements (essentially the residue of our ‘fight or flight’ system going for too long).  This exercise will help you rid yourself of that toxicity.

First of all, take in a deep breath, imagining that the air you’re inhaling is clean, pure air – the best you could ever find.  Let this pristine air fill your whole body, from your feet to your head, and imagine it cleaning out your body’s cells.  Hold it in for a few seconds to let it do it’s cleaning, and then slowly exhale.  While you’re exhaling, imagine that the air you’re releasing is all the dirty, toxic air that the ‘good’ air has cleaned out from your cells.  Repeat two more times.

2.  Squeeze and Release.  We hold a lot of tension in our muscles when we’re stressed.  Much of this tension we’re not even aware of, which is why this exercise is so good.  Think of it almost as a self-massage – something to tide you over until you can get the real thing!

Imagine squeezing all of the muscles in your left foot, and hold this for a few seconds.  Then slowly release the squeeze, imagining that all the tension you’ve just created is being released.  Do this for your right foot as well, and then slowly work your way up your body, squeezing and releasing your calf muscles, your thighs, glutes, back, abdominal muscles, chest, shoulders, neck and even your scalp.  Then, if you’re so inclined, work your way back down to your feet.  Be careful not to over-squeeze!

3.  Energy Cycling.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s believed that your energy runs down your front and up your back.  Of course energy runs to and from your arms and legs aswell, but for the purposes of this exercise let’s just focus on your torso and head.

Do your best to imagine a warm energy traveling from the top of your head, down your face, and then down the midline of the front of your torso.  The energy should feel comfortable, possibly warm and gentle, passing through you without effort.  Don’t worry if you only feel it in certain parts of your body – this is normal and may change with practice.  As the energy reaches your perineum (the space between your genitals and anus), gently give the muscles here a gentle squeeze, and then imagine the energy shooting up your spine to the top of your head.  Repeat this cycle ten times if possible, ensuring that the energy is comfortable and easy down your front, and fast and energetic up your spine.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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