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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Psychosomatic Medicine

Acupuncture chart from Chinese medical text circa 1340s A.D.

There is nothing worse than going to a doctor with a host of symptoms and being told there is nothing wrong with you. Many people who appear on the program, Mystery Diagnosis, (my second Discovery Health obsession next to the The Food MD) have had this experience. I recall one particularly disturbing episode, where a young woman complaining of extreme gastrointestinal distress was prescribed an anti-depressant by one of the many doctors she sought answers from. Confused, she asked how these would help her to which the doctor responded that her condition was basically all in her head. When a physical illness or condition is caused by or aggravated by a mental factor it is termed psychosomatic. Essentially, that is how this young woman’s doctor viewed her illness. Many years later, she was properly diagnosed with severe endometriosis, a condition where the cells of the uterus grow in other places of the body causing cramping, severe bleeding and infertility to name a few. In her case, the cells had grown into and over parts of her GI tract. She had a full hysterectomy and a section of her large intestine removed in order to reclaim some quality of life. Take that, anti-depressants!

As you can glean from the above story, defining an illness as psychosomatic carries with it an intense social stigma here in the west, even though almost all physical illnesses have mental factors that determine their onset, presentation, maintenance, susceptibility to treatment and resolution. When doctors dismiss symptoms like in the case of this young woman, the rest of the world follows suit. The person who is suffering internally and externally is labeled “dramatic” or even worse, a liar. For thousands of years, Chinese medicine viewed the psychosomatic as the greatest key to diagnosing deeper illness and imbalance in the body. The strength of the nervous system and physical state of the individual (including their environment) is assessed in order to understand the degree in which an organ or a system is affected. Every symptom is taken into account and treated seriously, with the objective being to restore balance. Moreover, the eastern approach considers how interconnected the body and mind are.

The biggest physical bully is emotional stress, which can infiltrate suddenly or slowly, over a long period of time. Even from a western perspective, stress can be incredibly destructive, wreaking havoc on connective tissues, digestion, vascular integrity and the body’s restorative sleep cycles if not managed properly i.e. not just a script for anti-depressants. In Chinese medicine, if the nervous system of the individual is weak, the symptoms of illness will be more psychological. On a physical level, the organ most affected by the emotional stress will be the weakest/dysfunctional one. Whatever the natural emotions associated with this organ are, they will become stronger and more destructive to the nervous system overall. As the organ breaks down, it takes the system it is associated with along for the ride, leading ultimately to disease. If the emotional stress comes on suddenly, it will affect the Heart and the Lungs. If it is gradual and long term, it will take a toll on the Liver, Spleen and Kidneys. Even more specific is the type of emotional stress broken down into these 5 categories: tense/chronic, shock/sudden, sadness, rumination and fearful emotion. This gives an even more precise view of the affected organs/systems in the body, further honing the treatment approach.

Our young woman with endometriosis would have been assessed as having a strong nervous system in the beginning, as her symptoms were predominantly physical. By the time she had gone to see the doctor who prescribed the anti-depressants, she was exhibiting a combination of physical and mental symptoms. This would signify that her nervous system was deteriorating. If she had also gone to see an eastern doctor from the get go, much of her later suffering might have been alleviated, as the weakest organ, her large intestine would have been addressed immediately with herbs and acupuncture/bodywork. Since organs are partnered in the Chinese system of yin/yang (solid/hollow), the untreated large intestinal dysfunction would have affected her lungs. This woman developed an eczema like rash all over her trunk and extremities that would get worse every time she had a violent bout of diarrhea. The skin is considered the 3rd lung of the body in Chinese medicine. This symptom developed 5 years after her initial bout of gastrointestinal distress. After ten years, she began to bleed copiously during her period, which lasted over two weeks. Initial blood tests had already indicated she was mildly anemic, but this massive blood loss rendered her immobile. Ironically, during this time, her large intestine dysfunction seemed to dissipate; however, as soon as the period would end, the violent diarrhea would return. At this point in her illness, the Spleen had become involved. Responsible for creating Blood/Qi and keeping things upright and in their proper place, it’s no wonder that when she finally got her diagnosis 15 years in the making, this was the most affected organ. (Note: One could even argue that the Spleen could have been the weakest organ overall, but I won’t complicate things for the reader) The cells of the uterus growing out of control outside of their proper place is demonstrative of Spleen weakness. The uncontrollable bleeding led to a massive loss of Qi that just couldn’t be replaced by her depleted system. The only solution, at that point, was to remove the uterus and large intestine to prevent the out of control cell growth from migrating elsewhere. While organ removal can have detrimental affects on the Spleen, it proved more harmful to keep the stagnation in there than to remove it. If I were this young woman, I would seek out an acupuncturist to help me keep my nervous system strong and balance the loss of the organs that were surgically removed. They would be able to recommend herbs and dietary changes to support her treatment. After watching this episode, it made me all the more fired up about Integrating Eastern and Western medicine. If East met West from the beginning, she and others like her would have been spared a lifetime of suffering. We would all have a better understanding of our body-mind relationship and keep the stigmatic tongue wagging at bay.

SOURCES & ADDITIONAL READING:

http://www.dragonrises.edu/learning-opportunities/articles-books/

http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/

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.

 

 

 

The skinny on Detox treatments

On almost every spa menu you encounter, there is at least one or more treatments offered that promise to detox the body. Often these treatments are also listed as “slimming.”  They run the gamut of simple to downright high tech in their descriptions and promises. In order to really understand how these treatments work, or don’t in some cases, it’s important to clearly define what toxicity is and how our bodies naturally deal with it.

The lymphatic system is your body’s sewage drainage system. It’s a complicated network of small vessels that run alongside your veins, ferrying fluid laden with cellular waste products and toxins into nodes that filter the fluid and eventually dumping into an enormous vessel that brings everything back into the heart for re-use. Any part of this network goes awry and your body gets backed up in its own toilet water. The physical repercussions of minor back ups are bloating and swelling in the extremities, usually caused by diet and lifestyle (i.e. too much salt and sitting). Major back ups can manifest in a condition known as lymphedema, most commonly occurring when lymph nodes have been removed or blocked by infection. The system fails in such a way that the extremity swells to incredible proportions. Often the skin around the area will begin to break down and get infected if the lymph fluid is not manually moved by highly trained professionals specializing in a form of massage called MLD . Really scary. Really toxic. See below for a tame example:

A typical case of Lymphedema

Detoxification treatments deal with the minor backups. In Chinese medicine, the skin is referred to as the third Lung, as it is a living breathing organ, drawing in Qi (energy) from the air through its pores. Issues with one’s skin were often indicators of a systemic condition that would be treated with tonifying, detoxifying herbs and heat. In keeping with this theory of outside manifests inside, detoxification treatments are applied to the skin in order to draw out internal toxicity. The application of “sea” mud or clay is used to assist in this process. What is interesting about these mineral rich organic compounds is that they have a negative charge. To spare you all the chemistry lesson on the quick, toxins including viruses and other impurities have a positive ionic charge. The negative attracts the positive up to the surface. When they meet, a reaction takes place that neutralizes the toxin. Tingling of the skin and warmth are byproducts of this reaction. Apparently the medicinal property of clay/mud has been known since the time of the ancient Egyptians and even prior. Clay was used by the ancients as an anti-inflammatory/anti-septic both topically and internally, where it had a laxative affect on the GI tract. It was also found that the presence of clay chokes the air out of Candida (yeast infections) and dries out boils, acne and other skin eruptions. Most spa treatments involving a mud or clay application are followed by a wrap in some kind of heat sealing foil, which promotes sweating. Sweat combined with the ionic neutralization of toxins really double teams the release of impurities for what can be a more thorough detox through the skin. There is a nominal amount of water weight lost from the detox wrap, which is where the “slimming” effect comes into play, but you will need to hydrate in order to replace lost electrolytes after the treatment. Will your skin feel taut and brighter? Yes, temporarily. Will you need to do this every week? Depends on your lifestyle. I believe a clay/mud wrap detox can be done once every 6 weeks, much like a facial, to help eliminate impurities if you actively upkeep your system between treatments. Hydration, exercise and a diet rich with enzymes from fresh fruits and vegetables are what I would suggest to keep things on track. If you know you are the type that is prone to excess (too much of anything is never a good thing), perhaps the detox should be done more often; however the more you do on your own to restore balance to your body and keep the drainage system working well, the more effective these treatments will be for you.

Here are the things to be wary of when choosing a Detox or Slimming Treatment:

  • Promises of ridding your body of fat/cellulite: You are born with a certain amount of fat cells that can get bigger if you gain weight or shrink in size when you lose. They can pucker close to the surface of the skin, which is what we call cellulite, with the loss of collagen associated with age and/or lack of muscle tone. Only liposuction, an invasive treatment performed by a surgeon, removes fat cells. At best, the look of the puckering might be smoothed out by the drawing up and out of fluids in the spaces between the cells. Also, there may be a small reduction in weight, which we know is water loss, that can make the client feel lighter and tighter, but only temporarily….
  • Promises of  permanence: Any loss of inches, weight and/or tightness of the body is only temporary. Once you drink or eat anything post treatment, the “weight” will be back on. Diet, proper hydration and exercise can build up muscle tone  and shrink fat cells for a permanent result, if maintained.
  • Any detox treatment that encourages the purchase of supplements and/or diet packs: There is a commercial incentive here. They are selling the product more so than the detox. There are plenty of dubious supplements on the market that are not subject to FDA regulation for fat burning, weight loss and detoxification. If you have such an interest in the internal detox, consult a nutritionist or Chinese herbalist who will assess your diet and lifestyle in order to recommend what is best for your individual systemic needs.
  • Detox treatments that involve anything other than a clay/mud application: Some places will advertise applications of coffee, chocolate, honey and herbs, etc. None of these have the ionic relationship that the mineral clay/mud has with impurities; therefore, scientifically speaking, how can they effectively detox? They may feel nice, even luxurious, when rubbed onto the skin, but actually pulling toxins and water out? Not so good.