Giagia was a Chinese Doctor…

Among all the old world wisdom my giagia (Greek for grandmother) imparted on me, I have this one distinct memory of her admonishing me for something rooted in traditional Chinese Medicine. We were in Greece, specifically in the village of my mother’s childhood home, in the mid-1990’s. I was about 15 years old and had just returned from a full day at the beach. I sat on this cement block that was in the yard to wait for a late lunch to be prepared. Suddenly, giagia stormed at me, with dish towel flailing, screaming to get off the cement. I hadn’t a clue why, but obeyed immediately. Of course, when I went to sit on a rug near the front door, more screaming and flailing ensued. I gave up and just stood. During lunch, when she was calmer, she explained that sitting on stone, whether it be cement, marble or a rock in the front yard, could make a woman lose her period and her fertility. She explained that the chill of the stone would penetrate my bum up into my girly parts and then, the rest of the body.  She proceeded to detail a story in which she and another friend had gotten “colds” in their privates and ended up losing their periods for more than a year,  all because they leaned and sat on stone. Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat????? I took it in politely, but it sounded like an old wives tale woven to prevent me from looking unladylike or something etiquette oriented.

I don’t think this dog has anything to worry about!
(Original URL: http://jdombstravels.com/dogs-santorini/)

Fast forward fifteen years later to the Eastern portion of my studies in Massage. Suddenly, giagia’s tale didn’t sound as far fetched. I learned that things like “wind” and “cold” can penetrate the body at key points. One of the popular ones is GV14, a point at the C7 level of your cervical vertebrae or in layman’s, the bony bump at the base of your neck where it meets your upper back. Think about when an insidious draft hits the back of your neck and all of a sudden, you can’t move or turn your head. I can’t tell you how many clients come in with a so-called “crick” thinking that they slept funny. After a few minutes of creating some “heat” in the area, the crick always dissipates. Through conversation, I learn that they slept with either a window open or a fan facing them or if it’s in summer, the AC is to blame. The GV14 point is the meeting area of all the YANG meridians in the body. YANG being defensive energy, it makes sense that this is where pathogens, fevers and excess heat are expelled. This is also the vulnerable point for exterior conditions, like say a chill to invite itself in and wreak havoc. And just so we are clear, when the Chinese speak of “wind” they mean any pernicious influence getting into the body and doing its sneaky damage. Can you hear that authoritative voice yelling at you to wear a scarf before you go outside? That strip of cloth covers GV14 ever so perfectly. Backing up those matriarchal commands is many an acupuncture text noting that the GV14 point should be kept warm and supple at all times.

I was super curious to see if she was spot on about the way cold penetrates one’s privates . The body itself is separated into three burners, each with their own ideal climate and temperature to ensure proper function. The lower burner is where you would find the reproductive and alimentary systems of the body. It is considered a swampy environment i.e. damp and warm, but this kind of environment has a tendency to fester and combine with pathogenic factors like, oh…say COLD or heat, which are generated by both internal and EXTERNAL factors. In the case of cold, the factors are almost always from external exposure; therefore, the possibility of prolonged sitting on stone conducting cold into the “drainage ditch” that is the lower burner is a very likely one. Let’s proceed. With respect to the genitalia and reproductive function, COLD mixed with dampness really taxes the Kidney YANG. The Kidneys have a special role in fertility, as I had noted in my previous posts on baby making. It houses the JING or life force of the parent. It is one part of the pre-natal Qi necessary to conceive a baby. If the mother’s JING is weak and/or her Kidneys taxed, it will be all that much more difficult to conceive and things like miscarriage or spontaneous abortion are very likely to occur. Excessive dampness in general manifests symptoms in women like vaginal discharge and painful, copious periods. Mixed with the pathogenic factor of heat and there is burning, itching and excess. Mixed with the pathogenic factor of COLD and things stagnate, congeal in the environment and make everything heavy and static. Blood stasis equals a loss of one’s period, known as amenorrhea or extremely painful periods; i.e. dysmenorrhea.

Thinking back to my giagia’s cautionary tale, you would think that she had access to some Traditional Chinese Medical text. What supposedly had happened to her and her friend after sitting and leaning on stones reads like an invasion of damp-COLD in their lower burners. Ironically enough, the manner in which she got her period to come back was by drinking Cinnamon and clove tea. A popular herbal treatment for clearing COLD is the use of cinnamon bark, which has a warming affect internally. Well, then. The fifteen year old skeptic in me has been silenced. My giagia must have been a Chinese Doctor in some former life. God rest her incredibly wise little 4′ foot 9″ soul.

Additional Sources:

http://www.yinyanghouse.com/acupuncturepoints

http://www.acupuncture.com/newsletters/m_aug07/m_dec03/main2.htm

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The Energetics of Making Baby

This is an addendum to my previous post about Fertility Massage.

Keeping that bun in its oven is harder than most people think!

Chinese medicine teaches that in order for a woman to conceive and maintain a pregnancy, a combination of organs need to work in harmony. Any weakness in either one or all of these organs makes baby making all that much harder, if not impossible. However, unlike the fertility treatments of the Western medical world, the Eastern approach is much more cost effective, easily accessed and non-invasive. One of these approaches is the acupressure massage known as Shiatsu, which is performed by yours truly and a host of massage therapists in this hemisphere of the world.

Much like acupuncture, acupressure massage addresses specific points along meridians that form pathways of energy or Qi (Chi). These pathways correspond to twelve vital organs in the body, as defined by Chinese medicine. The organs, represented by their meridians, serve a particular physiological and spiritual function. Any state of disease or imbalance can be explained by either an excess or a deficiency. In order to understand how Shiatsu can help with fertility and beyond, here is a brief overview of the energetics of making baby.

One word – JING. This is your life force; the Qi that you have stored up from birth given to you by both parents. The organ responsible for storing this prenatal energy reserve is the Kidney. As we age, our JING begins to deplete naturally, but those who live hard and abuse their bodies deplete it faster. In general, any lifestyle or chronic condition that taxes your body, depletes your life force. When a person dies, the Chinese say it is because their JING has run out. Hence, when a woman has a depleted or weak JING, there is simply not enough to provide for the prenatal Qi necessary to conceive a baby. If she is able to conceive, JING is necessary to consolidate the pregnancy; therefore, the fertilized egg would have trouble planting itself in place.

Speaking of baby staying in place, the womb-home needs to be in tip top shape and position in order for the fetus to develop and grow those 9 months. The organ that is responsible for holding things in their proper form is the Spleen. The additional role of this organ, according to Chinese medicine, is to create blood. The walls of the womb are a dense network of bloody tissue (i.e. the placenta) which both cushions the fetus and feeds it by way of the umbilical chord. If the Spleen is weak, the womb and food source will be compromised making a miscarriage all that more likely.

While the baby develops physically, it is necessary for it to also do so spiritually. The baby’s consciousness comes from the Heart, the organ responsible for housing the spiritual soul. The Chinese believe that the soul comes into the body on the 81st day of life, which would be around the tail end of the 1st trimester. If we take Judeo-Christian debate out of this, essentially the first trimester is almost like a trial period; make it out of that third month and your risk of miscarriage drops significantly. I found that most women I know were reluctant to announce their pregnancies until they were out of their 1st trimester, so as not to “jinx” them. This mentality is rooted in medical fact. Miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) with most occurring within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. (http://www.americanpregnancy.org)

Lastly, pregnancy can be very stressful on the body. Not only does blood and nourishment need to flow freely to the developing baby, but the musculo-skeletal system of the mother needs to be able to adapt to its growth. The Liver is the organ the Chinese say governs the muscles and sinews of the body. It regulates the flow of blood/Qi to wherever it is needed, as it is needed. The ever changing state that is pregnancy demands a lot of the Liver. Therefore, this organ needs to be kept strong. A difficult pregnancy (i.e. limited mobility, muscular insufficiency, structural deformities, etc.) and even more difficult delivery are usually associated with weakness in the Liver.

Unlike other forms of massage, Shiatsu is performed with the client clothed in comfortable attire that does not restrict movement. The work can occur on either a mat or a table, depending on the client’s comfort and needs. The main goal is to tonify or strengthen the above organs involved in conception, maintenance of pregnancy and the health of the mother. Should you have a history of infertility and/or chronic miscarriage, the Spleen and Kidney would be the main focus of treatment. Their pathways of energy run along the lower limbs. So does that of the Liver. To tonify, the therapist would likely employ slow, deep and broad pressure to these points along with various stretches to unblock any stuck energy. Of course, each session would be customized to the client based on a detailed assessment and re-evaluation post treatment. The price range for a Shiatsu session varies depending on where you live, but expect that most will be priced between $65 and $120 US for a 60 min session. If this seems like a lot, know that many practitioners provide packages at a discounted rate or sometimes even sliding scale. In addition, many schools of acupuncture and massage have student clinics where treatment is offered at a heavily discounted rate. There is an application process involved and sometimes there can be a waiting list, but once you are accepted into the clinic, the quality of treatment is held to a super high standard. Students have to keep detailed records and write treatment plans, all the while consulting with supervisors on client cases. This option is a great learning experience for them and a cost effective opportunity for you.

 

 

 

Fertility Massage: You + Me = Baby

Loving that procreative vessel!
(Copyright Linnea Lenkus Studio)

Within the past few weeks, I found that the majority of my new female clients are trying to get pregnant. Most are going about it the natural way, but a few have begun fertility treatments after that route didn’t produce any result. Their ages range from as young as 25 all the way to 43. Some have had children before; others are trying for the first time. They span multiple nationalities and economic brackets, but despite their differences, these women do have one thing in common – STRESS. Their bodies are experiencing and storing the physical and emotional strain of wanting to get pregnant, which if you have read any of my previous posts, wreaks havoc on your muscles, tissues and overall health. When in STRESS mode, one of the best things you can do is get a massage, as it is extremely effective at managing and reducing the negative effects that stress hormones like cortisol have on the body. However, there is a less obvious reason why a woman wanting to get pregnant should be getting massaged and it’s Doctor recommended.

Standard massage turns on the “rest and digest” switch in the body, sending feel good hormones coursing through your system that bring down blood pressure, flush toxins and increase circulation to tense areas of the body you wouldn’t be able to reach yourself. This is the stress reduction factor. Naturally, with a more restful state promoted in the body and nourishing blood flooding to all regions above and below, the ability for one to conceive could be increased physiologically. However, what M.D.’s and case studies have found to really prepare the “womb” is a more direct approach. Currently, there are two forms of massage that deal with fertility issues and both address the uterus and surrounding abdominal muscles and organs, specifically.

The first form of fertility massage is Mayan Abdominal Therapy, a form of abdominal massage brought to North America and Europe by herbalist and respected authority on Mayan healing techniques, Dr. Rosita Arvigo. It is an external, non invasive manipulation that repositions internal organs that have shifted, thereby restricting the flow of blood, lymph fluid, nerves and chi. Its founding principle is that when a women’s uterus is out of “balance” so is she. Centuries of Central American midwives and healers have found this to be the number one impediment for conception. Dr. Arvigo’s technique is focused on the position and health of the pelvic and abdominal organs. The work corrects a prolapsed, fallen, or tilted uterus and structurally realigns the spine from the thoracic to sacral regions. The practitioner will also prescribe herbal remedies to support the treatment and teach self-care methods that the client can practice at home. More information on session specifics and locating a practitioner near you can be found here: https://www.arvigotherapy.com/practitioners

The second method is called the Wurn Technique. This unique type of massage was developed more than 15 years ago at Clear Passage Therapies, a physical therapy network by a massage and physical therapist husband and wife team, Larry and Belinda Wurn. While treating an infertile woman for low-back and pelvic pain, the therapists discovered their client became pregnant, after seven years of unsuccessful attempts. This client had been diagnosed with two blocked fallopian tubes and had been sexually active the entire time. Intrigued, they tried the same technique on eight other infertile women. Half of them became pregnant following treatment. The therapy itself combines site specific abdominal massage with elements of physical therapy.  It addresses adhesions, spasms and mechanical factors that cause almost half of all female infertility. Most of their clients shared a history of inflammation, trauma and/or surgery of the structures involved in conception. The Wurn Technique is patent protected by the U.S. government and practiced all over the country. A 2004 case study that followed 22 women who had completed the treatment program, indicated 16 (73%)  became pregnant and carried to term.  On average, the women that were able to conceive had received between 20-25 hours worth of treatment before becoming pregnant. Ongoing studies are being conducted on the efficacy of the technique, but the results look promising.

Overall, conventional treatments for infertility are extremely expensive and oftentimes invasive, both physically and emotionally.  I have seen it first hand with my clients. It’s nice to know that there are forms of massage that are an affordable option for couples dealing with this frustrating and painful reality. They are slow, methodically deep and client centered with little to no side effects. It’s my belief that anything done to the body with love, promotes love. And if you are just a smidgen sentimental, the ultimate act of love between 2 people is the creation of a life.

The fruits of your labor…