Embracing the Darkness, Nourishing Your Winter Light

Chinese medicine takes its cues from nature, and the responses seen during the cyclical changes in weather hold a number of truths for our health and wellness.  With the dwindling warmth and light of Autumn, the natural world begins letting go and drawing inward.  Trees sense the changes in day length and begin breaking down chlorophyll in their leaves; the very structures that gave the plants life and abundance are sacrificed to the approaching harshness of winter.  Much the same, the arrival of winter allows us to take stock and adjust priorities- appraising what patterns have developed during the chaotic busyness of the year, letting go of what no longer serves a purpose, and holding closer to that which is essential.  Winter speaks of fear, isolation, and the bravery and stubbornness to survive the darkness and cold.  It is a time of quiet contemplation; a delving into our own inner darkness to nurture the seeds of growth for the new year.

Lifestyle Advice

  • Increase quiet activities- journaling, meditating, reading, yoga.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Appreciate what it is you have accomplished, and nourish the visions for what you want to achieve in the coming year.

Related Organs and Emotions

The Kidneys are the deepest and most basic energetic stores of the body; literally the final gasp of survival.  When everyday life is in balance (proper sleep, diet, exercise, etc.), our bodies can function with minimal need to tap these reserves.  But how many of us fall into the pattern of overwork, putting off sleep, and skipping meals or just grabbing whatever is convenient?  Burning the candle from both ends creates a deficit lifestyle, robbing the strength needed for weathering true emergencies.  Think of the Kidneys as your body's savings account.  If you are living beyond your means day to day, then you will not have the financial buffer to deal with any unexpected expenses.

In Western terms, adrenaline serves as a clear example.  Adrenaline is an evolutionary adaptation to dealing with stress; specifically, it is what sends us into the fight or flight response when we perceive a threat.  In simpler times, it was often a very extreme danger that set this off.  "Oh, look, a bear... I can either try to wrestle it to the ground or run like hell."  This flood of hormones primes the body for a short burst of intense activity- emphasis on short.  Those stories of people who were able to lift a car off of a child or carry someone twice their size to safety are testament to the amazing energy of the Kidneys.

However, our modern reality finds us dealing with a more constant stream of low level stressors: never-ending news feeds, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, social obligations, the barrage of stimuli inherent in city living, that extra cup or two of coffee.  We rarely are afforded the luxury of quiet rest that helps to replenish our Kidneys.  This kind of pattern leaves us tapped out.  You experience this reality when you wake up from a solid night of sleep and no amount of coffee can get you moving.  That is why we must regularly carve out the time to unplug, re-asses, and let go of what is no longer serving our best interests.  Winter is the natural time to create these habits; to go through a hibernation that strengthens our reserves, and allows us to accumulate the energy needed to greet the coming spring.  

Dietary Advice

  • What to eat- winter squash, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, grass-fed red meat, dark leafy vegetables, soups, stews.  
  • How to prepare it- slow cooking at low temperatures. 
  • What to avoid- cold, raw, and sour foods, as these can tax the decreased digestive fire available in this season, and constrict the flow of energy in the body.  

 

Waxing Poetic

Against Winter 

Charles Simic

The truth is dark under your eyelids.

What are you going to do about it?

The birds are silent; there's no one to ask.

All day long you'll squint at the gray sky.

When the wind blows you'll shiver like straw.

 

A meek little lamb you grew your wool

Till they came after you with huge shears.

Flies hovered over open mouth,

Then they, too, flew off like the leaves,

The bare branches reached after them in vain.

 

Winter coming. Like the last heroic soldier

Of a defeated army, you'll stay at your post,

Head bared to the first snow flake.

Till a neighbor comes to yell at you,

You're crazier than the weather, Charlie.

Dealing with Dermatomes: spinal health and it's role in body pain.

It seems like a no-brainer... My shoulder hurts, so the issue must be in the shoulder.  I see so many patients who come in for various forms of body pain where the pain actually has nothing to do with the area of the body where they feel the sensation.  This is due to the wonderful world of dermatomes; the areas of the tissue/skin that are supplied by a single nerve root of the spinal cord.  

At the base of each vertebra are two nerves, one on each side, that leave the spinal cord and innervate a specific portion of the body.  These nerves pass through a small opening called a foramen, which is kept open by the thickness of the spongy disc between the two vertebrae.  The figure below shows the dermatomes and their vertebral origination.  

As you can see, the majority of the arms are innervated by the cervical spine, the trunk of the body by the thoracic spine, and the waist and legs by the lumbar and sacral spine.  As long as enough space exists between the vertebrae, the nerve will be healthy and happy.  The trouble starts when narrowing of the foramen happens and the nerve becomes impinged.  Narrowing can happen naturally through the normal wear and tear of the discs with aging, by some sort of trauma to the spine, with disc herniation, or through abnormal wear of the discs due to bad posture, arthritis, or any number of other degenerative diseases.  

If the impingement is acute, due to an injury or compression from tense connective tissue, you will feel pain in the subsequent region, but resolution can be fairly quick.  Let's say that the issue is with the nerve at the base of the 7th cervical vertebra. One quick note on the numbering of the cervical roots- since there is a nerve that exists above the 1st cervical vertebra, there are actually 8 cervical nerves for the 7 vertebrae of the cervical spine.  So the nerve in question at the base of the 7th cervical vertebra is labeled C-8.  Ok, if C-8 is being impinged on a relatively healthy individual, they will experience acute pain that can be in the shoulder, the ulnar (inner) side of the arm, and down into the pinky and ring finger.  This pain will worsen with movements that further squish and aggravate the nerve, and will be relieved when pressure is removed. Acupuncture, tuina, and chiropractic can quickly and effectively relieve pain of this sort by targeting the muscles and ligaments surrounding the vertebrae, thereby releasing the compression, and by helping to calm the inflammation of the nerve. 

With chronic degeneration, there will often be changes to the bone in the form of abnormal growth around the foramen or the development of bone spurs.  These bony abnormalities will compress and irritate the nerve, often causing severe pain that will not let up.  When the problem has progressed to this level, there are still some treatment options that will help to minimize the amount of pain that is felt, but nothing outside of surgery can remove the extra growth on the vertebrae.  Patients will often notice a vast improvement of symptoms with a series of treatments, but full resolution is often not possible.  

This is why spinal health is so important for longterm quality of life.  Regular treatments by a quality acupuncturist or chiropractor, along with proper posture and exercise, will help to keep your spine (and its nerves) operating at an optimal level.  

Anniversary party and clinic shout-outs!

Yesterday was the 1 year anniversary for the clinic space, so I joined Dr. Sarah and RE: Chiropractic in throwing a hell of a party... beer, wine, tacos.  Very good times. I wanted to give a big thank you to Uncommon Ground and Greenstar brewing for their wonderful donations of farm tours and a keg of Kolsch beer, as well as to David Sutton Studios for the pet photography package.  

The clinic space also just got a major nod on Crain's 2015 Coolest Office list... check it out!

 

A warm welcome from RE: Chiropractic and Wellness, part 1

I can't say enough about how thrilled I am to be working with RE: Chiropractic and Wellness.  Dr. Sarah is not only an amazing clinician, but an all around awesome person.  I could not be happier to be a part of her team.  I need to give a big thank you for the warm welcome on the RE: blog. Part 1 focuses a little on me and my journey with Chinese medicine, along with how my services translate into the community at large.  Part 2 will deal with some of the common misconceptions regarding acupuncture and Chinese medicine.  

Rebrand complete!

Well, it's been a month of way too much computer time, but the rebrand and relaunch are complete.  So very humbled and thrilled to be working in the office of RE: Chiropractic, and sharing the space with some truly phenomenal healers and all-around awesome folks.  Let the treatments commence!