Last week's spring equinox was highly celebrated by yours truly. I've officially survived my first year away from Hawaii - where constant sunshine and blooming flowers were the norm. Here in Oregon, I am appreciating the return of spring with cherry blossoms and leaf buds, merciful moments of returning sun, and an atmosphere full of pollen. The resulting sinus congestion, sneezing, post nasal drip, and what seemed like buckets of mucus prompted me to pull out my old friend: the neti pot.
If you are like me and the other 50 million Americans that suffer from seasonal allergies I urge you to consider this natural method. It works just as well or better than prescription medication and has no side effects. I've personally found quick relief from my symptoms by using my neti pot each morning, a few strategic acupuncture points, and a simple Chinese herbal formula for sinus congestion. Now despite the rising pollen levels, I feel terrific and can fearlessly enjoy watching the plants, flowers, and trees return to life!
You can buy a neti pot at most health food stores, and if you still need extra support, give me a call and we can find a natural remedy for your specific symptoms.
Afraid of Needles?
Getting acupuncture might not be what you think... If visions of a torture chamber come to mind when you hear the word needle, you might want to check out this article from the Huffington Post to put your mind at ease. Receiving acupuncture is in fact very relaxing and sometimes euphoric due to the endorphins released during treatment. I've had the pleasure to "convert" many a needle-phobe, and some people actually prefer acupuncture over massage due to the health benefits and the way it makes them feel - but a word of caution, once you get poked, you might get hooked!
Many years ago, before I became an acupuncturist I was in Honolulu riding the bus and saw an elderly Chinese man vigorously rubbing and pressing on the outside of both of his legs just below the knee.
He was stimulating this point: Stomach 36 or Zusanli, which translates as "leg 3 miles". The meaning implies that if you treat this point you will be able to walk 3 more miles, even if exhausted.
The importance of the this point in Chinese medicine cannot be underestimated. One of the most widely used, Stomach 36 is indicated for any kind of digestive problem, lack of energy, and for overall health.
You can stimulate this point yourself by pressing on the outside of your lower leg about 3 fingers width below the knee cap and just to the outside of the tibia (the pointy bone felt in the front of your lower leg). You should feel a depression there. Just press and rub that spot (you should feel a little tenderness there) to relieve digestive symptoms as needed, or stimulate a few minutes daily for good health!
By now you should have heard of the health benefits of eating good fats like those found in avocadoes, olive oil, and wild salmon. But did you know that recent reviews of many earlier studies are now concluding that saturated fats are not associated with heart disease?
Animal fats like those in bacon and steak, while high in calories, may be healthy if eaten in moderation. Turns out that sugar and refined carbohydrate intake are much more significant in raising heart disease risk than saturated fat.
Check out this informative article about which fats you should increase and which fats to avoid. In general streer clear of all trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils like margarine, many vegetable oils, and most restaurants' fried foods - they are the worst for your health. I also recommend avoiding corn oil all together - even if it's not partially hydrogenated, as it is almost certainly GMO. I'll explain the dangers of GMO foods in a future post. Thanks!
Are you taking more than one medication, vitamin, or herb? Are you sure that they're safe to take together? The button below has a link to a great "Drug Interaction Checker". Simply enter all your medications, vitamins, and herbs (espescially if you take St. John's Wort which has many interactions) to see what possible interactions to watch out for.
Talk to your doctor about any interactions you discover and use natural remedies whenever appropriate to avoid adding more medications to your list. Acupuncture and safe natural herbal remedies are available for most ailments. Have any questions? Give me a call at (503) 855-9429 to discuss any of your concerns.
No-Nightshade Borscht Soup Recipe
Here's another recipe in my Winter Healthy Soup Series... this borscht contains no tomatoes or potatoes, which are from the Solanaceae family. Commonly known as nightshades, this family of plants can cause inflammation in some people. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, stay clear of the whole nightshade family which includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, tobacco, & goji berries. Mercifully, sweet potatoes are not nightshades and can be eaten.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
1 lb grass fed free range beef, stew meat with good marbling
1 Tbsp salt
2 large or 3 medium beets, cut into small cubes
5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, cut into small cubes
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into small cubes
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped roughly
2 Tbsp umeboshi plum paste
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
4 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
4 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup plain full fat greek yogurt
Cube meat and sear in a pan with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Place in a large soup pot with 10 cups cold water and 1 Tbsp salt and bay leaves. Bring to a low boil and remove foam that rises to the top. Lower heat and simmer for 2 hours or more until meat is tender.
Cube the beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes and sauté in olive oil in a large cast iron pan. Add ½ cup of the beef broth from the soup pot, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and umeboshi paste. Set aside. Using the same pan, sauté cabbage, onions, and garlic on low heat with a little more olive oil until the cabbage is softened.
After the stew meat has been slow cooking for about 2 hours, add the root vegetables, onions, garlic, and cabbage to the pot. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the roots are tender. Salt & pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add dill and parsley. Stir well. Serve in bowls topped with a dollop of greek yogurt and dill sprigs.
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Dairy Free Chai Tea Recipe
Joy’s Dairy-Free Holiday Chai Tea Recipe
Great to sip with cookies or just to warm up on cold winter nights!
What you will need:
3 cinnamon sticks
20 whole cardamom pods, crushed
20 whole cloves
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
2 inch piece of fresh ginger
4 organic oolong tea bags
4 cups coconut milk beverage (found in the refrigerator section of your health food store)
4 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
In a medium sized pot add cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods (lightly crushed), cloves, peppercorns, and the peeled piece of fresh ginger (sliced thinly) along with 4 cups water. Boil covered for 5 minutes stirring occasionally, and then lower to a simmer for another 10 minutes to steep and release the flavor of the spices.
Next, bring the pot back to a boil and add the 4 tea bags. Simmer for 5 more minutes and then shut off the heat. Finally add 4 cups of dairy-free coconut milk and vanilla extract. Sweeten with brown sugar, strain, and serve hot. If the chai doesn’t seem strong enough, simply simmer a bit longer.
Cinnamon: warming, good for blood circulation, joint pain, vitality
Cardamom: good for warming digestion
Cloves: good for upset stomach
Pepper: warms and calms abdominal cramps
Ginger: used for nausea and indigestion
Coconut Milk: high in medium chain fatty acids, good for the skin, brain, immune system, etc.
Oolong tea: contains antioxidants
Enjoy! And let me know how you like it.
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Squash Roasted Garlic & Leek Soup
Joy’s Butternut Squash Roasted Garlic and Leek Soup
1 large butternut squash, chopped into cubes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoon olive oil...
4 large leeks, white and tender green parts, coarsely chopped
1 bulb of garlic
7 fresh thyme sprigs
4 cups organic free range chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white cooking wine
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup plain full fat Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped chives
Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the cubed squash (I leave the skin on) in a covered baking dish with a drizzle of olive oil & some salt & pepper and place in the center of the oven. Pop out all the garlic cloves from the bulb and place in a small bake-proof dish. Cover with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and stir to coat. Place next to the squash in the center shelf of the oven. Bake for 40-50 minutes until soft when poked with a knife (stirring half way through). The garlic is done when it is slightly toasty brown on the outside and soft in the middle.
For an extra treat: I like to mix the separated squash seeds with a little olive oil & salt, lay them flat on a baking sheet & add to the oven for about 10-15 minutes until lightly golden, then remove and snack on while cooking
Remove outer leaves from the leeks and slice in half lengthwise. Soak in cold water and clean between leaves to remove all grit. Trim off the root ends and dark green tops. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks to the pan and arrange cut side down in a single layer and add thyme sprigs. Cook until softened and light golden, about 4 minutes. Turn the leeks and cook on the other side until softened, moving them around gently with a spatula to separate. Season them with salt and pepper. Turn the leeks again and peel off any papery outer layers and discard. Add ½ cup chicken stock and ½ cup white wine, bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer covered for another couple of minutes. When the leeks are tender and translucent looking, they are done. Set them aside and chop them coarsely once they are cool enough to handle. Scrape off the thyme leaves from the tough stems and set aside to add to the soup pot.
In a large pot add baked squash, finished leeks (chopped up), thyme, roasted garlic cloves, and the rest of the chicken stock. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend all the ingredients into a smooth consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of chopped chives.
Let me know how you like it!
Natural Headache Relief
Traditional Chinese medicine treatments for chronic headaches focus on both symptom relief as well as finding and treating the underlying cause. The following article will provide you with some self care suggestions as well as a brief understanding of some of the most common headache patterns seen.
Acupuncture is great at treating both chronic and acute headaches! It's safe, natural, and effective for most types of headache, but there's also some self-help remedies you can try at home until you can get in for an appointment:
Common Headache Patterns
For those interested in more specific TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) patterns of headache, I have outlined the 3 most common types below:
If the cause of your headaches are due to an imbalance in the Liver system, trigger points are usually found in the trapezius & muscles on the sides of the neck. The headache will generally be located either at the temples (sometimes on one side of the head only), behind the eyes, or on the top of the head. These headaches tend to be more splitting or throbbing and a sensation of heat in the upper body is also indicative of this pattern. Anger or high blood pressure can sometimes trigger a Liver headache.
Patterns associated with the SPLEEN/PANCREAS system can be triggered by food allergies or intolerances, dampness, and sinus congestion (as phlegm can form from poor digestion). Trigger points are typically located in the face & neck muscles and the pain is generally felt on the forehead or sinuses. These types of headaches can be triggered after overeating or after eating a rich meal.
This pattern includes headaches from external conditions such as exposure to prolonged cold or wind. In addition, headaches affecting these channels (pathways of energy) can occur when the body is run down, such as after a long illness or stress. Usually located on the back of the head in the occipital region/base of the skull, these headaches typically cause a dull pain. Trigger points are found in the trapezius or occipital muscles. These headaches can come on after working a long day or when fatigued.
In addition, it's possible to have a combination of these patterns happening simultaneously.
How Chinese medicine can help
Your observations along with an assessment of your health history and tongue and pulse diagnosis will help determine your particular pattern of headache. Then specific acupuncture points will be selected to balance the body and shift the underlying mechanism. Herbal formulas will help facilitate the process by moving blood, anchoring ascending heat, tonifying any underlying weakness, and balancing hormones as needed. Trigger point therapy can also be helpful to release knots in the muscles of the back, neck & head which may be referring pain to other areas. A technique called gua sha may also be used to move fresh blood into the muscles and deeper tissues thus clearing any stagnant qi or blood which could be contributing to the pain of headaches.
If you are interested in receiving acupuncture for chronic headaches or other health concern,
please contact Joy Blais at Blue Buddha Acupuncture Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Joy Blais L.Ac.
Working With Anxiety
In general, anxiety develops when we are triggered to anticipate future events which we perceive will be negative. It is a construct of our mind's ability to predict danger and evolutionarily it has served us well by allowing us to imagine a perceived threat and avoid it. Unfortunately sometimes these projections go on overdrive and do us more harm than good. The mind-body connection allows for the transfer of this anticipation back and forth between the physical and mental states manifesting with varying symptoms including intense fear or worry, muscle tension, a rushing of upward energy sometimes perceived as a stuckness in the throat or chest, heart palpitations, panic attacks, and overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Often there are other symptoms which accompany the anxiety including poor memory or dulled mental functioning, headaches, body pain, depression or irritability, insomnia, headaches, digestive upset, and others. Causes of anxiety vary and can include having a history of trauma such as an abusive past, stressful life circumstances, or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It can also develop after heart surgery, external physical trauma to the body, recent significant blood loss, excessive coffee consumption, excessive sweating and subsequent dehydration, or high fever. In some cases a genetic predisposition may be involved and in nearly all cases an imbalance in the Heart, Liver, Kidney or Spleen systems will be present.
CHINESE PERSPECTIVE OF ANXIETY
Chinese medicine associates specific organ systems & meridians (energy pathways) to specific emotional states. For example the Shen or "mind" is said to reside in the Heart which is associated with joy. When the Heart is deficient, a lack of joy is seen. When the Heart is overstimulated nervousness and mania can result. In almost all cases of anxiety a Heart system imbalance is present and must be corrected. In addition the Liver, Kidneys & Spleen systems may also be involved and are associated with anger, fear & worry respectively. Tongue and pulse changes assessed by a Chinese medicine practitioner will indicate which of these systems are affected. Based on a correct diagnosis of cause, appropriate acupuncture points and herbal medicine can be prescribed to correct the imbalance. Furthermore, scientific studies have proven that receiving acupuncture releases neurochemicals such as endorphins which help relax the body and mind.
FOODS & HERBAL MEDICINE FOR ANXIETY
In addition to the Chinese herbal formulas often prescribed for anxiety, many herbs and foods can be added to the diet to help calm the mind. Oyster shell calcium can be taken to anchor the floating heat caused by an overstimulated Heart. Magnesium relaxes muscle tension. Grains such as whole wheat, brown rice and oats can help calm the mind. Mushrooms of any kind but especially reishi mushrooms can also be added to the diet with similar mind calming action. Goji berries can be taken if anxiety is caused by a Liver or Kidney fluid imbalance (often dryness and heat signs predominate in these cases). Other helpful foods include mulberries, chia seeds, dill, basil, chamomile, catnip, valerian, and kava kava.
WORKING WITH THE MIND & BODY
The Buddhist view of samsara can be helpful to explore when we are seeking liberation from our suffering. Samsara can literally be a cycle, a rut our mind develops that continues a habitual pattern which leads us down the same old road. Beginning to recognize the pattern and interrupting it through conscious choice is a good starting place to working with our anxiety. It is hard work to break old cycles, so we must become dedicated to the task, get creative in our methodology, and seek help when we get stuck. Acupuncture, psychotherapy, body work & energy work are resources that can all be integrated into the healing process.
Acupuncture works by accessing opening in our energy system and harmonize the imbalances found there. If we are holding on, it can be used to help release. If we are depleted, it can direct the body to restore energy to the areas of weakness. If we are confused, it can draw our attention inward to the source of the problem and help us get in touch with what's there. Once a shift in energy occurs, through whatever means, the benefits will be felt simultaneously in body, mind & spirit.
The beneficial effects of deep breathing and meditation cannot be underestimated in cases of anxiety. Learning to stay present with uncomfortable feelings rather than attempting to avoid them is a difficult but rewarding practice. Breathing mindfully during periods of anxiety and consciously relaxing the tense muscles of the body on each exhale can help move uncomfortable feelings outward rather than repress them back inward where they are sure to resurface again. Guided imagery exercises can help focus the mind on this goal further. With regular practice you can train your mind to respond to anxiety more effectively without feeding or escalating the intensity of the energy.