Light Therapy: Baking the pain away

Let the sun’s rays bake my pain away…

I am FINALLY on vacation after a long, hard year of doing what a New Yorker does best – hustling! Gratuitous amounts of massage meant that business has been very good, but inevitably that overwork had its downside a.k.a tendonitis. My workouts helped me push through and past my ¨magic number¨ of massages per day, but with all that repetative movement it was inevitable that I would develop an overuse injury. Nevertheless, in the weeks that led up to my Mediterranean vacay, I had been laying out in the sun every morning before work to both settle my mind and develop a ¨starter¨ tan. The added bonus was the heat of the sun hitting directly onto my upper back and shoulders really dissipated a lot of the pain and tension I felt from the previous day´s physical demands. Unbeknownst to me this heliotherapy I was giving myself is actually a therapeutic technique dating back to antiquity. A number of ancient cultures had an idea of the healing properties of light. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, prescribed sitting in the sun to heal a variety of illnesses. Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, preached that the sun could help heal nerves and muscles. Many ancient Greeks built roofless buildings for the purpose of exposing themselves to the sun´s rays. Outside of ancient Greece, the Egyptians took it a step further and practiced bathing themselves in various colored light to cure diseases. Thousands of miles away in India, medical texts dating back to 1,500 BC also note the healing properties of light for skin disorders. Go even further to China and their medical texts from over 2000 years ago detail a range of color and light therapies for skin and mental illness.

A woman receiving light from a modern light therapy i.e. phototherapy box

So, seeing that the ancients had an inkling of what the sun could do for one´s health, modern medicine didn´t get the memo until the early 19th century, where Niels Ryberg Finsen, a Danish doctor of Icelandic decent, studied the medicinal affects of light rays. His impetus was the severe metabolic disease he suffered from whose symptoms  he experimented with sunbathing to relieve. He died a year after winning the Nobel for a phototherapeutic device he created that simulated sun light to treat several skin conditions. Thirty years later, scientists realized a lack of Vitamin D produced in the body by exposure to sunlight, was the main cause of a disease known as ¨Rickets¨ which leads to the weakening and softening of bones. Twenty years after that, researchers in Hungary used soft laser light to relieve arthritis pain. In later years, NASA scientists did a plethora of research on the manner that LED light affects plant biology in an effort to understand how to grow plants in space. What they found was a very small spectrum of light provided most of the energy needed to grow plants. From this research, more strides were made in the understanding of the healing properties of light within animal and human cells. Currently, two forms of phototherapy exist; Non targeted light therapy that comes from a box, like in the image of the woman above and targeted light therapy, which is administered by a laser. These forms are used with much success in the treatment of such skin disorders as psoriasis, non-severe acne, vitiligo, eczema, atopic dermatitis, polymorphous light eruption and lichen planus. They have also been effective at treating mood and sleep disorders like SAD (seasonal affective disorder), non seasonal depression and circadian rhythm disorders like delayed sleep phase disorder. Further medical research is being done with light therapy to address accelerated wound healing and pain management, which brings me back to my tendonitis. My experimentation with light therapy from its natural source (the sun) elicited the following note. On the days that I did not lay out because weather did not permit me to, I found that the pain and weakness in my anterior shoulder and neck would become mildly worse and last the full work day. The days that I did get about 45 mins of sun exposure, it felt more like a dull ache and only after doing 6 hours of massage at the end of my day. It is clear to me that the sun does heal. In the two weeks I will be bathing in its Mediterranean glory, my hope is to eradicate most of the pain and heal those weary tendons. I am looking forward to the day when the medical community finally approves its use for pain management. We need more natural and ancient approved manners to heal our bodies and minds.

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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

Anger Management

Even the most balanced person in the world, when triggered, can completely lose it. Anger is a strong, uncomfortable emotional response to something or someone that has provoked you. It is how we psychologically interpret an offense, wrongdoing or denial that is often met with a desire to retaliate. It is our immediate response to stop a threatening behavior or situation that many psychologists believe has a primal function to ensure survival. However, in excess, anger can have many physical and mental consequences. Think of a pressure cooker. You can only let the steam inside build up for so long before the whole thing explodes.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…a pressure cooker meltdown in action.

For the last few weeks I have been functioning in a fog of anger resulting from an unfortunate series of events outside of my control. All attempts to go with the flow are challenged on a daily basis as I try to weather this Category 5 Super Cell ravaging my life. With my blood already boiling in its channels, add the 90 plus degree weather and humidity here in NYC, and I feel like I am being cooked from the inside out/outside in. Therefore, it is no surprise that my digestion, skin and sleep have all gone awry. In Chinese medicine, emotions and physical illness are closely tied. Anger causes excess heat in the body, so my feeling of being cooked is spot on. The emotion itself is tied into the Wood element, whose governing organs are the Liver and Gall Bladder per Chinese 5 Element Theory. Physiological functions aside, these organs function to drive us forward in life, set goals and get things done. Despite my best efforts though, I have been feeling like all my attempts at forward movement and reasoning are met by impenetrable brick walls that hit back. The buildup of anger causes an imbalance of excess manifesting in digestive dysfunction, headaches (especially behind the eyes, as is the case with a migraine), muscle tension and tendonitis especially in the pathways of the organs (lateral leg, flanks of the torso, shoulders and neck). These are just some defining symptoms for these organs, but as we all know, when one thing is out of whack, other areas of the body will be affected.

All the elements in Chinese 5 Element Theory have a generational and controlling/controller relationship. This means that each element and its organs have the capacity to nurture and be nurtured by other elements. They also have the ability to pull energy back from other elements and vice-versa as a sort of system of checks and balances to keep everything harmonious. In the case of Wood, the Liver and Gallbladder are nurturers of Fire (there’s the HEAT again) which is comprised of the Heart, Pericardium (the bodyguard of your Heart), Triple Energizer (your Immune system and temperature regulator) and Small Intestine (the almighty discerning organ of what should stay and what should be eliminated both in your body and in your life). So you see, if there is an imbalance in Wood, some of that excess is going to visit the child. The best way to address this would be to make the nurturer of Wood stronger, in order to suck some of the energy out. That would be the Water element, comprised of Bladder and Kidney. These meridians run from the head down the spine into the back of the legs and then up the interior legs starting from the middle of the sole of your foot all the way up to your clavicle. It’s a good amount of somatic topography to cover and has a major role in all our life functions. What do you need most if faced with adversity? A good strong back bone and inner resilience. What do you need if there is a FIRE a-brewing internally? A whole lot of WATER.

The excess of anger in Wood has the potential of over controlling the Earth element, which includes the Stomach and Spleen. Appetite and digestion would be affected, as I am seeing in myself. What is typical is a feeling of fullness which translates to a lack of appetite and a total aversion to hot food. In my case, despite the excess heat in my system, all my body craves is spice. This, I learned recently, is a huge no-no because it will only serve to feed the overheated beast. When in doubt, food should be lightly cooked and no extreme of temperatures should be entering one’s mouth. There are many “cooling” foods that aren’t necessarily cold. If anything, they are more water rich, which quells the fire and also detoxifies. Some examples are lemon, orange, watermelon, celery, Daikon (Chinese radish), kelp, tomato, chrysanthemum tea and seaweed. The Metal element consisting of Lung and Large Intestine are the controllers of Wood and are greatly affected by the buildup of heat, which rises. My normally clear complexion has seen some eruptions and with the skin being the 3rd Lung of the body, it is clear how the heat is trying to escape. Hello, inflammation! Large Intestine, the great eliminator of waste in the body, can’t do such a great job under these circumstances. Bouts of constipation and poop with undigested bits demonstrate this. Hence, why it is important to adjust your diet. And apparently, some of the biggest builders of heat in the body aside from spice are caffeine, certain vitamin B supplements, sugar, alcohol and adrenaline (stress hormone produced in times of high alert, kind of like now).

So what do I do with all this HEAT? Aside from the adjustments to my diet, I sought out some bodywork to bring my nervous system down. Two hours of point work and muscle release specific to the organs involved in my excess heat and I finally felt a still point in the madness. A day later, I was boiling again over yet another uncontrollable situation. In my mind I tried to go back to the still feeling I had when my practitioner’s hands came off of my head, but it was hard. There were moments during our work together, where he had me breathe with a deep long “oooooo” sound which tied into the release of my Large Intestine. I channeled that sound, thought of a song that I could sing under my breath as I walked the streets of NY and much later, at work between clients that would settle me down. And, it kind of worked. Sort of ironic that therapeutic touch and music, my two loves in life, were exactly what smoothed my feathers out.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

“Between Heaven and Earth – A Guide to Chinese Medicine” by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. & Efrem Korngold, L.Ac. O.M.D (c) 1991 Ballantine/Wellspring

“Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies” by Leon Hammer, M.D. revised version (c) 2010 Eastland Press

http://www.pingminghealth.com/article/581/warming-and-cooling-characteristics-of-common-foods/