One of the most valuable skills anyone can possess is the ability to temporarily fix things with whatever is available to you in the moment. There was a whole television series in the 80’s based on this skill, which I watched religiously. “MacGyver” was the perfect mixture of adventure and science to my young little mind and Richard Dean Anderson was so, so believable in his role. He cracked eggs from a chicken coup in South America over his car radiator to stop its leaking, so he could drive and escape the bad guys. Turned a coffin he was placed in, into a makeshift jet ski to escape “za Germans” — my hero!
In classic American fashion, we use the term jerry rigto denote a patch job or temporary construction, which is incorrect. The proper term is jury rig, which is a nautical term stemming from makeshift masts and yards made in case of damage or the loss of the original mast. It’s a weak and temporary method; basically enough to help you steer your ship into the nearest port and get properly fixed. Same idea applies in everyday life. Jury rigged problems buy you time, but end up being a lot worse down the line if they aren’t addressed sooner than later.
In these precarious economic times, it’s understandable that jury rigging may be the only manner in which to address issues. However, keep in mind that a home is only as strong as its foundation. If the leg of your massage table is starting to come loose, it’s only a matter of time before the putty you used to secure it wears off and your client ends up on the floor. It may be worth investing in a new table. Believe it or not, there are affordable options out there, if you take the time to look. $108 dollars spent is better than a lawsuit. With respect to injury, trying to work through the pain of muscle spasms in your back by jury rigging your office chair is only going to get you out of work faster than if you take a personal day to get a massage, see the chiropractor and/or doctor to deal with it. Energetically speaking, if everything in your life is a patch job, you can never really move forward. Eastern theory indicates that the inability to think, plan and execute relates to the Liver and Gallbladder being out of balance. They present with the following symptoms: muscular weakness in the limbs and back, irritability, sudden bursts of anger, migraines, indigestion, sinus issues and depression to name a few. For a more comprehensive list of symptoms, pick up a copy of Korngold’s “Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide To Chinese Medicine.” Acupuncture and Shiatsu massage both effectively address this type of imbalance and your practitioner can give you aftercare in the way of dietary modifications and stretches to support the work they have done. This is especially good if you cannot afford to do more than a few sessions. Life is too short and precious to be jury rigged. Do all that you can to permanently fix your problems, internally and externally.
This is an addendum to my previous post about Fertility Massage.
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.
The practice of Haruspicy is common amongst African tribes. It is the practice of studying the entrails of a freshly sacrificed animal to tell the future – wealth, health and many cattle being the optimal reading. Of course, when it comes to Western society, all matters of the intestinal kind are barely discussed unless within the framework of a crude joke or when pressed by one’s gastroenterologist. Forget about looking into the toilet after the deed is done. All we want to do is flush.
Thankfully, in my family, all we ever did was examine and discuss. There is a saying in Greek that a person either dies by way of their head (i.e. mind) or their ass (i.e. intestines). Hence, the daily dose of TMI over breakfast and/or dinner. Based on my experiences and research, here are some of the things you should ask of your bowels followed by a cautionary tale.
Did you go today?
A human being should defecate at least once a day, but if your track record is less than 3 movements per week, you are officially constipated. Since the bulk of water absorption happens in the large intestine, the longer your poop stays in there the more water gets absorbed out of it and the tougher it will be to pass. Dietary issues that may cause constipation can include inadequate water intake; inadequate fiber intake; overuse of coffee, tea, or alcohol; a recent change in your diet; and ignoring the urge to defecate. Reduced levels of exercise may play a role as well. Other factors to consider are psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders as well as medications whose side effects mess with the natural flow of things.
What should it look like?
Reference the amazing Bristol Stool Chart, a medical aid created by a doctor at the University of Bristol, England to classify human poop into 7 types. Types 1 through 3 indicate constipation. Normal poops are classified as Type 4 and 5. Types 6 and 7 indicate diarrhea and its precursor, respectively.
Frequent bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea can be a warning sign/symptom of a number of conditions, such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Celiac Disease. If diarrhea lasts for more than a week, it can cause an electrolyte imbalance due to all the potassium and sodium loss. If not treated properly, that imbalance can lead to death. Listen to your poop and see your general practitioner if any of the above is the case.
What color is it?
The stool color spectrum is even more informative than the Bristol Chart. Heaps of information on one’s health habits can be gleaned from the color of their poop. Here are the notable ones.
Brown = Normal
You want your poop to be within the middle of the brown shade spectrum. This normal shade comes from bilirubin, the yellow biproduct of broken down blood cells, that enters the intestine by way of the liver and helps color the poop. It also makes our pee yellow in color. Darker brown poops can be a result of excess salt in one’s diet or from constipation.
Black and Tarry, better safe than sorry! Blood, when digested, looks black and has the consistency of tar. The bleeding could be an indication of a stomach ulcer, a bleed somewhere in the upper GI tract or even cancer. Certain ingredients in medications and vitamins containing heavy doses of iron can also produce such poops. Best to visit your MD as soon as you become aware of this ominous color.
The Anemic Poop
If your movement is very light, almost grey in color and you didn’t just have a colonoscopy, then you may be experiencing some kind of blockage of a bile duct, gall bladder dysfunction and/or even liver disease.
Yellow like a newborn babe
Newborn babies that are breast feeding tend to have frequent poops that are yellow and slick in color because their bowel system is so fast and the content of their meal so fatty. Poop of this color and nature in adults can mean a few things. Assuming you haven’t consumed a whole lot of beta carotene rich foods or candy dyed with artificial yellow coloring, it could mean fat is not being properly absorbed and therefore, is getting excreted through the bowel. The poop will also stink to high heaven and float on the water’s surface like an oil slick. If you have recently traveled to a developing area of the world, it can also signify an infection known as Giardiasis, caused by a parasite that gives you yellow diarrhea. Another condition that causes poop to come out yellow is Gilbert’s Syndrome which is an excess of bilirubin, also making the person look jaundiced.
If you are a person who loves their leafy vegetables, your poops will obviously represent that. But if your body is moving food too quickly through your system, as in the case when you have diarrhea, bile does not have sufficient time to breakdown and stays in the poop, dying it green. Also iron supplements can stain poop green (in higher concentrations, black) too. If you are going green consistently, you may want to get your liver/gallbladder checked out.
Now where things get a little serious…A Cautionary Tale of Colon Cancer:
For years my father dealt with bouts of constipation stemming from what he self diagnosed as a “bad stomach.” In his youth, he had very poor nutrition, as his family lived in abject poverty. Upon his 12th birthday, he left to work on the cargo ships where he ate whatever was canned and salted amidst dank conditions and constant stress. In his early twenties, he came to the U.S. and ate one meal a day while working 12 hour shifts at a restaurant. He worked like an animal going from dishwasher, to busboy, to food runner, to line cook and finally, head cook of a high end Greek eatery. Then he bought his own restaurant along with two other friends. The workload should have been divided by three, but my dad ended up working 24 hours shifts. He lived on black coffee and inhaled meals on the go. When he got married to my mom, issues with his partners ended up forcing him to carry the restaurant himself. He had to be everywhere at one time. He was always under slept, stressed and constipated. When he did poop, it would be very hard to pass or would come out in ribbon like pieces. He dropped to 125 lbs. He looked scary. Solution: my parents sold the business and moved to Greece. He ate well. He basked in the sun. He gained weight and pooped like clockwork. Everything was great, except for one detail. Island life in Greece circa 1980 was something my mother could not handle with two babies. There was only one phone in each village, no indoor plumbing and limited access to the things needed to take care of us. She wanted to go back. My father listened. In the years that followed, my father worked from scratch again, since the restaurant was sold before we moved. He learned he had an ulcer in his stomach. He had kidney stones. He was constipated. He put himself on special “diets” to cleanse his bowels and calm his sour stomach. He was angry and stressed all the time. Life was not pleasant. Then he retired from all work when he turned 50. Despite the lack of work related stress, he was still angry and preoccupied. The patterns of constipation continued throughout the rest of the 90’s and in the first decade of 2000’s. This past December, after experiencing some intense pain on his left side and being unable to eat, he went for his first colonoscopy. It indicated adenocarcinoma, the cancer that typically occurs in the colon. Thankfully, it was still in stage 2 and operable. He is now doing chemo, eating super well, and gaining back weight and energy. The doctors feel optimistic that he beat it. My point of outlining his whole story is that had he paid attention to what his colon was telling him all along with the bouts of constipation and digestive issues, he would have changed his lifestyle and eating habits for the better. He is lucky. Had he refused, as many old school European types tend to do, to go for that colonoscopy, he probably would have been well into stage 4 before it was detected. It would have been too late.