Category Archives: Self-Care Tools

A Recipe for Lasting Change

by Satya (Tricia) Hurley, M.Ed.
Co-Founder, Cup of Life Healing Center

Do you struggle to make and hold onto lasting change?  Do life’s circumstances seem to hold you back?  

A little history:  My parents separated when I was 4 years old.  My brother and I grew up splitting our time between two households. While our parents loved us and always did the best they could with the tools they had at the time, life was tricky.

As a teenager, I made a pact with myself—my adult life and my family’s life would NOT look anything like the one I grew up in.  I did not know what that meant at the time, nor did I have a clear picture what that entailed. However, to this day, I can easily recall an ultra-clear knowing from the depths of my Soul, a contract to transform my world.

It took many, many years before the spiritual part of that pact began to unfold and the journey still continues.  When I look back on my life and on other’s journeys, a clear pattern emerges. There are 6 KEY ingredients for creating lasting change. We’ll look at each in more detail.

6 KEY INGREDIENTS TO LASTING CHANGE:

  1. Take an Active Role
  2. Introspection
  3. Feel What You’re Feeling
  4. Letting Go
  5. Stick-To-Itiveness
  6. Trust

TAKE AN ACTIVE ROLE:

This is the first and most important step.  I’ll use myself as an example to illustrate the point.  For many years, my path of personal change was a passive one.  Until well into my 30’s I looked for the answers outside of myself placing lots of blame on my parents and other circumstances outside of my control for what was “wrong” with me and the world.  I spent many years trying to force everything to look different.

I avoided.  I numbed.  I worked 60-90 hours a week so I didn’t have time to feel.  I moved 3,000 miles from home.  I climbed the corporate ladder and had “a big important job”.  On the outside, things had changed.  My life certainly didn’t look anything like that of my childhood—I had a wonderful husband, a fantastic salary, and a townhouse in Southern California less than a mile from the beach.

Yet, the inside hadn’t changed.  On the inside, I was miserable. The shroud over my core Self was thick.  Then, something happened—I got fed up.  By some act of Grace, I started to see that there had to be a better way to be.  I quit my job. I did yoga and meditated a lot.  I took action.  For the first time ever, I began to take responsibility for changing the way I felt and how I viewed and responded to the world.  And, that was just the beginning.  The true purpose of my teenage pact began to reveal itself.  I am thankful to say that the wonderful husband still remains in my world, but the rest has been nothing short of a miraculous journey.

INTROSPECTION:

Introspection is a courageous act.  It is the willingness to look INSIDE and an essential part of taking an active role.  In introspection, you look deeply within yourself and are honest with what’s really there.  For many, this is a terrifying proposition. The inner voices might sound something like,  “What will I find?”  “What if all I find out is that a horrible, worthless person is in there?”  “If I were truly honest with myself, I’d have to start taking responsibility and I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.”   “If I stop being angry at ‘them’, ‘they’ would win.”  Introspection is a crucial step to STOP shifting the blame on everyone and everything else.

This was a HUGE shift for me.  Instead of automatically getting mad at what was on the outside, I began to first ask things like, “What is this situation pushing on?”, “Why is this here for me?”, or “Even though this is uncomfortable, what spiritual lesson can I learn here?”  While there were and still are outer circumstances to navigate, the act of feeling and taking my power back, playing that active role in my process has made all the difference.

FEEL WHAT YOU’RE FEELING:

If I am being truly honest, this was the hardest part for me and it took the longest to embrace.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I’ve met over the years that struggle with this too.  We’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that if we somehow stop, ignore, or pretend our feelings not there that they’ll magically go disappear. Yet, often we justify continuing in this way out of fear—“If I let myself feel it, I might end up out of control and ruin my life or others’ lives.

Yet, there is nothing that could be further from the truth.  It takes a TREMENDOUS amount of energy to “keep everything in check.”  Every time we block our feelings, we block our creative energies and we cover over our True Self.  To this I ask—what is it costing you to hold onto that old fear, that old story? What is it costing you every time you deny your feelings and yourself?  It’s probably costing more than you’re willing to admit.

Give yourself permission to feel your feelings—all of them.  Let them all wash through your awareness. The good, the bad, and the ugly feelings are all fair game. Because, when you stop denying yourself, and you stop pushing things down, things will begin to shift. Energy will begin to flow.

LETTING GO:

When I finally gave myself permission to feel and process what I was feeling, old issues that previously seemed impossible to release, no matter how much other spiritual work I did, began to resolve.  The newfound inner peace and freedom have been nothing short of life-altering in a positive way.

Be willing to really look inside. Take a good look at your core beliefs, the things you tell yourself, your habits, your patterns, your tendencies, your gut reactions.  Be willing to let go of the parts of these things that do not serve you and call into your being all the tools you need to create new habits, to form new beliefs, to love and believe in yourself to make the effort worth it.

STICK-TO-ITIVENESS:

We’ve become accustomed to an “instant-fix” for everything.  Self-healing and self-reclamation in the most spiritual sense are far from an easy path. It takes an active, continuous, and concerted effort to let go of all of the things that hold you back, all of the excuses, all of the blame, shame, guilt and anger that keeps responsibility for change away.

Be willing to stay the course, even when it seems impossible. Be willing to trust that all the resources you need to align yourself with the Divine purpose for your life are already in place and they will show up on time.  Be patient with apparent setbacks. They might not be setbacks at all.  Instead, they just might be the very fuel you need to fulfill your purpose and path.

TRUST:

Above all, TRUST. Trust that within the core of your being is everything you need to heal and grow. There is no one being, nor anything that you need outside of yourself that you don’t already have. You are already your own perfect Divine being. You just don’t realize it at this moment because the shroud over your core has you caught in a false illusion that says otherwise.

IN SUMMARY:

  • Take an active role.
  • Look inside and be honest with yourself.
  • Give yourself permission to feel and heal.
  • Let go.
  • Make a continuous concerted effort.
  • Trust. Trust. Trust.

When I stay focused and dedicated to this, all that I need for my continued healing and continued path of dedication to being in complete and total alignment with my Souls’ purpose unfolds. All the people, places, and circumstances I need fall easily into place in my life and I continue to grow and heal. How might you incorporate these ingredients into your world?

Make a Choice in How You Start Your Day

by Michael Hurley L.Ac.

Do you struggle with staying on track with your day and keeping motivated? Do you sometimes get stuck or simply feel lazy all day long?  It’s true we have many stressors in our lives today between work and family, holidays, relationships, political climate, social media, television, etc.  It’s also true that concerning ourselves with these issues is unhealthy if done too intensely.  Deep down inside, we all know this.  However, the day tends to get away from us as these individual items add up.  Before we know it, we are overwhelmed and are not really sure how it happened.

So, in this month’s article, we’ll explore one of my most relied upon practices to move out of a funk and back into the flow of life. The most effective way I know is to begin your day is with a daily routine or practice.  I define a daily practice as an activity or group of activities that can help you set the tone for your day.  These are things you do for yourself to establish your physical and emotional well-being.  This is important to do before anyone else in the world has any influence over youYou choose your mindset independent of distractions or worries going on around you.

Many who read this will immediately say, “But, I don’t have time to add anything more to my day!”  Here’s the thing about time—when you really want to do something, the time always shows up.  Every day, Americans find lots of time to check emails, Facebook, and Twitter to find out what bad things are happening in the world.  We find time to fantasize about arguing with the person who cut us off in the parking lot or the center of town.  We find time to feel sorry for ourselves about our health, jobs, or relationships.  This isn’t five or ten minutes out of the day that I am talking about.

The average American spends hours per day wasting their thoughts and energy on these activities without even being aware of it.  This lack of awareness is a trap of the mind.  If we stay numb to our habits, then we don’t have to change. The mind is perfectly happy to keep you occupied all day long and stagnant in your ways.  Our mind makes us believe that other people’s opinions are more important than how we feel about ourselves or the beautiful lives that we actually live.

By doing a set of activities when you wake up, you set yourself up with a win for the day instead of getting caught up in negativity.  You can literally begin to retrain your brain and your thinking with this one simple practice. Now, I am not talking about spending hours meditating, doing CrossFit, or anything like that.  Those are great activities but the commitment to them can be stressful and is usually why we think we don’t have any time.  The mind is great at setting us up for self-sabotage, so instead, I am advocating to KEEP IT SIMPLE and BE CONSISTENT.

My favorite daily practice looks something like this:

  1. When your alarm first goes off in the morning, PRESS SNOOZE.
  2. Spend the next several minutes reviewing how you feel in that moment.
  3. Acknowledge 2 or 3 things that you are grateful for in that moment.
  4. Proceed with your day in a more positive and uplifted mood!

For example, after hitting the snooze button, let’s say you notice that your neck is aching.  You can start by simply being grateful for the fact that you actually woke up another day.  You can be grateful that you have feeling in your neck.  No matter what it is, make a conscious effort to notice something about your surroundings and be grateful for it.  Say it to yourself.  “I am grateful for this nice warm blanket.  I am grateful for my nice soft pillow.  I am grateful for …”

If you find yourself thinking you have nothing to be grateful for, and some people do at first, fake it.  Just say it anyway.  You may be discouraged with some life challenge, but instead of letting the mind derail the moment, “fake it till you make it.”  In the process, you will be teaching your mind to naturally seek out the good even if you do not fully believe it as you say it.

It’s even okay to be cynical at first, if that’s what it takes to get you started.  You might initially find yourself saying things like, “I am grateful for my partner who never takes out the trash or feeds the animals.”  After a couple of days of getting that out of your system, your mind will start omitting the negative part (which is simply your own ego).  Your mind will then it turn this into something like, “I am grateful for my partner.”

Genuine gratitude feels great. After a few days of doing this, your mind will start adding on by saying something like, “I am grateful for my partner who earns money for us to pay the rent or mortgage.”  Or, “I am grateful for my partner who is an incredible caretaker for my children.”  With consistent practice, your thoughts and the depth of your gratitude will deepen and grow.  In fact, as you practice, you may find that your gratitude can go on forever which is another great reason for hitting snooze as opposed to turning the alarm off.

I cannot emphasize enough, the key is consistency.  That is why I say to start smallSet yourself up with small wins every day.  Once you have those, you will want to do more, but do more ONLY if you really feel you want to.  If you do something because you feel you need to, your motivation will fizzle and cause more stress.

After you are successful at adding a gratefulness practice, try meditating by just concentrating on your breath.  Again, start with 5 minutes and add-on because you want to.  After that, maybe add some movement.  This can be a short walk outside, a short asana (yoga) practice, or a short calisthenics workout.  For those of you that head out for the gym in the morning or feel that you already have a great physical morning routine, just try adding the gratefulness practice when you first wake up.  You will be amazed at how your morning workouts will be transformed.

So, if I am asking you to do something, what am I doing, right?  Below is a typical everyday practice for me.  Take note, I had to work up to this. If this is new to you, take it in stages and add things in gradually.

  1. My alarm goes off at 5 and I hit snooze:). I could just get right out of bed but that initial gratefulness practice is really beneficial to do when you are just out of your dream state.  Also, sometimes I fall back to sleep, so hitting snooze ensures that I don’t oversleep.  I do my 5 or 10 minutes of just discovering all the things that I am grateful for right off the top of my head.
  2. From there, I start my morning coffee and while that is brewing, I do a 10 or 15-minute calisthenics workout.
  3. Then, I get my coffee ready. Before I drink any or even check my phone (It is important to add that I have not exposed myself to the outside world yet), I meditate for 15 minutes (which as of late has been more gratefulness awareness because it just feels so good).
  4. Then I am ready to start my day.

It is not necessary to do all of this to make a positive impact on your day.  I just wanted to give an example of what I am currently doing so you could see how easy this could be.  Remember, I have been building up to this slowly for quite some time now.  Truthfully, I used to complain that I did not have time to do these things.  By adding on slowly I was able to gradually increase what I do.  The more mindfully I added things, the more my commitment grew to maintain these simple yet profoundly beneficial practices for my health and wellness.

So, please give the 5-minute morning gratefulness practice a try for a couple of weeks and let me know how it goes.  Remember, keep it simple and be consistentAlso, if you ever catch me in a bad or stressed mood, ask me if I am still doing mine.  More than likely, I have gotten lazy about one or more of my daily practices and I will appreciate the reminder:).

Acupuncture for Depression

by Michael Hurley L.Ac.

Do you suffer from depression either occasionally or chronically? Depression is highly individual.  From just feeling a little down to feeling high strung with their minds racing, to finding it very difficult to function normally, depression affects people in a wide variety of ways.

Additionally, there can be many reasons why depression hits ranging from external (relationships, weather, political stress, etc.) to internal (hormonal imbalances, psycho-emotional disorders).  Chinese Medicine recognizes that there are individualized ways depression affects the overall balance on an individual.

Diagnosis and treatment are never “one size fits most.” Instead, Chinese Medicine looks at the underlying patterns that may be appearing in the person.  Is it a deficient pattern?  Is it an excess pattern?  Is it a combination of both? What meridian or organ system are the imbalances appearing in?  Depression will usually show up as a deficient or an excess pattern.

Some symptoms that your Acupuncturist may be looking for include tongue color, colors in various parts of the face, achiness or distension in various parts of the body, emotions that are more prevalent than others recently, and many more.  With this information, which the Acupuncturist will obtain from feeling the pulse and viewing the tongue, they will know how to customize the treatment to promote healing and balance.

Both the presenting symptoms and the patterns that the acupuncturist reads in the tongue and pulse inform the course of treatment. This includes which areas of the body acupuncture needles will be placed and frequency of treatment. In addition to the acupuncture treatment, your Acupuncturist may also prescribe a Chinese herbal formula to help treat the imbalance along with some nutritional changes that can be made to support your healing.

Acupuncture is a technique used by practitioners of Chinese medicine where hair-thin needles are strategically inserted just under the skin to promote the flow of Qi throughout the body.  The single most common thing that my patients tell me they experience during an acupuncture treatment is a distinct calming of the mind.  Under the regular care of a licensed acupuncturist, you can expect to increase energy, calm your moods, fight off illness more efficiently, sleep more regularly, reduce cravings(food, drugs, and alcohol), digest your food more efficiently, and gain an overall balance in your body, mind, and spirit.  Regular care is 1 to 3 acupuncture treatments per week depending on the severity of your symptoms.

In addition to following the course of treatment prescribed by your acupuncturist, there are things you can to do to help as well.  Things that you can do for yourself to lift your mood include meditation, use of uplifting essential oils (sage, bergamot, sandalwood, mandarin, lemongrass, and grapefruit), exercise (20-30 minutes a day), quit smoking,  receive Reiki, and visit your local acupuncturist.

Depression is not something to take lightly.  If you experience deep bouts of depression, do not hesitate to seek out professional psychiatric help.  I hope you find this information helpful and I hope that you try some of the tips listed earlier in this article.  If you have not done so already, be sure to call and book an appointment with an Acupuncturist so they can help you return to a balanced state.

  • This article was written by Michael Hurley L.Ac. Michael is the co-owner and acupuncturist at Cup of Life Healing Center located at 82 Washington Street Suite 2 in Keene, NH. (603) 352-3625

Perfect Timing

by Michael Hurley, L.Ac., co-founder, Cup of Life Healing Center

Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing. -Lao TzuHave you ever had a goal in mind, yet it seemed so far off?  Have you ever been so fixated on accomplishing something that you found yourself impatient, irritable, or frustrated when someone or something seemed to get in the way of what you wanted?

I see so many people, myself included, rushing around trying to get somewhere on time or forcing something to happen on some kind of schedule.  We create a lot of undue stress.  Often, we blame the stress on others like our boss, kids, spouse, or even a circumstance.  However, if we look at the situation more deeply, we will see, we are the ones putting the stress on ourselves.  We do this by setting unrealistic expectations or timelines and by getting attached to things being exactly the way we want it, exactly when we want it. When we don’t get the instant gratification that we desire, or we think someone or something is getting in our way, we get frustrated.

Often, we’re not even aware that it is we who are creating our own stress. What I find to be true is that our frustration is simply our ego tricking us into thinking we’re in control, that we have the ability to force things to happen in our timing. Yet, ironically, this is frequently the exact thing that keeps us from seeing a clear way to attaining the thing we desire.

This leads me to the reason I shared the Lao Tzu quote at the top of this article, “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing. Some may read this and think it’s advocating for laziness and doing nothing. I have a different interpretation. If either way, you’ll accomplish nothing, doing so without the busyness is a much more pleasant option. The same amount gets done, but you are not stressed out in the process and are able to enjoy it. Life is meant to be enjoyed now, not later. 

Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” Also encourages us to consider our attitude and perspective when setting out to accomplish a goal. It is good to have goals to strive toward. Yet, HOW we arrive at the goal is incredibly important. There’s a big difference between rushing to our goal, angrily bowling everyone over along the way to get to our desired outcome and navigating the journey with ease and patience for the twists, turns, and hiccups that might happen along the way. With the latter mindset, seeming obstacles may turn into valuable lessons and redirect us to something even better than we imagined. This is a difference we need to realize. And, we are the only ones who can do this for ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect.  I get caught up in the drama of my own ego just like everyone else. But, I can usually bring myself out of it or at least allow someone else to remind me of what I truly believe. We need to enjoy the journey.  When we slow down long enough to truly be present, we are able to see the gifts every situation brings.

So, the next time you find yourself rushing to the goal or worried that you’re somehow missing out; I encourage you to pause, breathe, and take inventory of the moment.  What is working? Where can you let go a little and give yourself the space to go with the flow of what is happening right now? If you can give yourself the space to step back and see the big picture, you just might realize, everything is actually in perfect timing!

Spring Clutter Cleaning

by Michael Hurley, L.Ac., Co-Founder, Cup of Life Healing Center

Spring is a great time for cleaning, a time where we take the opportunity to clear out the old things that we do not need anymore and make room for freshness. In less than a couple of months, we will be opening up the windows and letting the fresh air and sun into our homes.

In the past, I’ve written about how to live in tune with the winter and the spring in accordance with Chinese Medicine. Today, I want to focus on the significance of clearing clutter from our lives. Cleaning and clutter clearing can mean a number of things to a number of people. But, ultimately it means moving energy. Spring is a time where it is imperative to move energy mentally, physically, and spiritually.

If we do not clean up and organize, we may not be able to fully appreciate the rejuvenating and energizing flow of Qi that comes with the season of spring. This refreshing and revitalizing flow of energy is our gift from the universe for enduring a long winter and for giving ourselves with time to stop and reflect.

On a physical level, people will start improving their diets and get started on fitness activities, if they did not start in January with the New Year. They will also start seeing a brighter outlook on life and personal/professional endeavors. All of this is perfect. Keep the Qi moving. That should be everyone’s mantra for spring.

Much like cleaning out the vents in our homes, we need to clean out the dirt, the junk, and the things that are not serving us in our bodies and minds. This means “cleaning” our unwholesome thought patterns and habits.  These are considered clutter too, just in a different form. Clutter, in all forms, will only slow you down and make your life more confusing and stressful.

There are many resources on the internet, in bookstores and libraries, and possibly on your own bookshelf that can help with some of this decluttering and cleaning. Find something that will help you ease into it so that it is not too stressful. A few books our family has found useful are Spark Joy by Marie Kondo and Declutter Your Mind by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself and appreciate the things you have kept and the experiences, feelings, and memories that you have accumulated. And then, take some time to evaluate. Does this bring me joy?  Is this serving my current purpose in life? If the answer to these questions is “no”, then it is time to thank them for their service and return them to the universe. You can think of that as literal or figurative recycling.

In regards to decluttering of the mind, there is no better way than meditation to achieve this. Meditation gives us the opportunity to break free from and clear away negative thought patterns and habitual thinking. It literally helps clear the dust and cobwebs in our mind and in our thinking. Sometimes we find ways to do this on our own and sometimes group support can be a fantastic way to get started.

Fortunately, we have several group meditation resources available to us in the Keene, NH area.

Some of my readers may be tired of me continuously suggesting meditation but don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. I firmly believe that if everyone had a regular meditation practice, I and every other medical practitioner would need to close our doors because of lack of patients. It is that effective.

So, let’s make a pact to ourselves to take time each day to declutter a piece of our lives to help us continue to make this a transformative year.

Finally, for a little extra help and another point of view, you can also check out a nice article Tricia wrote several years ago about putting spring cleaning into a spiritual perspective.

Improve Your Life with Qi Gong

by Michael Hurley L.Ac.

Are you looking for a gentle, efficient practice to improve your health, clear your mind, improve your mood, and give you lasting energy throughout your day?  If so, I invite you to learn about Qi Gong.  Developed in China thousands of years ago, the people of China have practiced Qi Gong for its health benefits ranging from general relaxation to improving their martial arts practice.

Qi Gong is an integral part of my daily practice.  It helps me stay both calm and energetic in my personal and professional life.  In this article, we explore the benefits and practice of this ancient Chinese art.

Qi (“chee” ) is our life-force or vital energy.  It is the energy that flows through all things in the universe.  Gong (“gung”) means accomplishment or skill through practice.  If we put them together, we get Qi Gong or the cultivation of life-force through practice.  This may seem esoteric but it is actually very practical.  If we want to get better at something, we practice it.  The same goes for being relaxed, breathing, and keeping ourselves in balance all of which can be easy to forget in our busy lives.

Qi Gong is used to unite the body, breath, and mind.  Knowing that we can almost envision how a Qi Gong practice is done.  It is a series of movements done in conjunction with our breath.  The mind piece comes in when we talk about focus.  We clear our minds and remain in the present moment.  During the practice, we only think about the movements and the breath.

Qi Gong can be used for various purposes by adapting the speed and intention.  For relaxation and general health, we may practice slowly and softly like in Tai Chi.  If we are practicing Qi Gong for martial arts training, we may practice in a faster and harder manner like in Kung Fu.  Both Tai Chi and Kung Fu are forms of Qi Gong.

Everyone can benefit from a Qi Gong practice regardless of age, spiritual belief, or physical differences.  Children can increase focus in school.  Office workers can reduce stress to avoid burnout.  Seniors can promote balance and improve their quality of life.  People with physical handicaps can increase strength and improve circulation regardless of limitations of movement.  Medical professionals and caregivers can improve their ability to heal their patients.

When I was in school studying Chinese Medicine, two of the required courses were Qi Gong and Tai Chi.  I took these during the first couple of trimesters and fell in Love.  I was working 40-60 hours a week as a software engineer and maintaining a family while going to school most nights at a full-time status. These practices kept me strong, healthy, and peaceful (mostly) throughout the entire process, which lasted 5 years.  I would like to emphasize that it is not required to keep a schedule like that in order to have Qi Gong be useful.  In fact, I would highly recommend not doing that and simply making Qi Gong part of your everyday life.

It is very easy to start practicing Qi Gong. Many of us have access to the internet and can search for Qi Gong instructional videos.  The local bookstores and libraries have books and DVDs about Qi Gong.  You can search for local Qi Gong instructors or meet-up groups.  Looking into these is a good way to start.  Cup of Life Healing Center does not currently have an offering but we plan to begin a regular class or a series of classes sometime in 2018.  Please inquire if you would be interested.

If you decide that Qi Gong is something that you want to continue, get more training.  The best way to choose your instructor is to trust your intuition.  Some criteria to keep in mind when choosing a qualified instructor would be:  what is their background and experience; are they of good character; do they treat people fairly and with respect; do they live what they teach; do they refrain from making unsubstantiated claims; do they encourage and bring out a student’s highest potential?

  • This article was written by Michael Hurley L.Ac. Michael is the co-owner and acupuncturist at Cup of Life Healing Center located at 82 Washington Street Suite 2 in Keene, NH.

Fall and Your Health

by Michael Hurley, L.Ac. – Co-founder and acupuncturist at Cup of Life Healing Center

As the fall season comes around the corner, we must be aware of what the change of season means for our health.   Our bodies have become used to the summer warmth and freedom to express ourselves.  Just as the weather and sunlight changes at this time of year, so must our focus and attention.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the fall is a time to start buckling down and completing the projects we started in the spring.  The fall harvest is a perfect example.  While this is a tangible external expression of our food growing cycles coming to completion, there is more to look at.  Completion also applies to the projects that we have going on internally—personal changes we are making within ourselves.  By drawing our awareness to season change, we become conscious of the Qi that flows within us and the cyclical patterns that it reveals.

In TCM, the body is made up of various channels or pathways that Qi flows.  These correspond to organ systems and have, over the years, been associated with certain characteristics.  For instance, the Lung and Large Intestine systems are associated with the fall.  The emotion of the Lung/Large Intestine is grief or “letting go”.  Many times people complain of a depression that comes at the end of the summer or beginning of fall as the air gets a little cooler and the days begin to get noticeably shorter.  We have trouble “letting go” of the summer and we have a small grief process that goes along with that.  Supplementing and caring for our Lungs is very important to combat this grief.

The proper flow of Qi from the Lungs is a downward direction.  In the fall, the Lung Qi is instable.  This may cause the Lung Qi to ascend or become “rebellious”.  If the Qi is not descending, we see symptoms like coughing or wheezing.  The Lungs are the uppermost organ and in being so, are the most vulnerable to Wind and Cold.  This is why it is so important to start dressing warmer in the fall.  The Lungs also control the Wei-Qi, a protective barrier that we have to protect us from colds and flu.  It resides between the skin and the muscles and serves to keep us warm.

Some things to consider during the fall months in order to support the Lungs so they can do their job to protect us include:

  • Getting more sleep
  • Avoiding foods that may cause phlegm
  • Dressing in layers
  • Using a netti pot or some type of sinus wash to keep the nasal passages clear of mucus
  • Practicing some type of self cultivation exercise like Qi Gong or yoga that focuses on pranayama or breathwork.

Getting more sleep conserves Lung Qi which helps keep the Lungs healthy and increases energy.  Striving to avoid phlegm producing foods is essential because excess phlegm will cause the Lungs to become blocked. When the lungs are blocked, the body will have difficulty using Lung Qi efficiently.  This could lead to heat which can manifest into a sore throat, sinusitis, and even bronchitis.

Phlegm producing foods are foods such as milk, cheese, creams, and sugar.  Also, raw foods should be avoided because they tax the Spleen.  A weak Spleen will not transform phlegm properly.  Improperly transformed phlegm will be stored in the Lungs.

Instead, try adding foods that will benefit the lungs such as: ginger, garlic, horseradish, onions, and mustard.  These should be consumed in moderation.  Also, taking advantage of the many wonderful local farms in our area is a fantastic way to eat seasonally.  If it grows this time of year, you can bet that it will benefit your body.

Above and beyond doing what I have already explained, it is a good idea to seek professional help in strengthening the Lungs.  In addition to the things you do at home, regular acupuncture treatments during the fall can keep your Qi balanced and curb illnesses before they become severe.

Remember, a good immune system does not mean you never get sick.  It means you overcome illnesses more quickly thus preventing them from being more serious.  A perfect example is getting over a simple cold before it becomes bronchitis or pneumonia.

I hope that this article has been interesting to you and I also hope that some of this information serves to help keep you healthy this fall.

Summer and Your Health: Put Your Plan into Action

by Michael Hurley L.Ac. – Co-founder and acupuncturist at Cup of Life Healing Center

Ahh! Finally!  Summer is almost here!  While spring is a time to start planting seeds for our plan for this year and to start to see them grow, summer is about abundance and happiness.  We see the fruits of our labor flourish.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at the summer season. How does the season affect your overall well-being? What can you do to ensure good health in the summer?

According to TCM, the element of summer is fire.  Our organ systems most affected are the heart and small Intestine systems. The emotion associated with these organs and therefore summer, is joy.  While these are the areas that are ripe to be nurtured and flourish in the summer, they are also the ones that can end up falling out of balance the most easily during the season.  Just as gardens must be weeded with care if our fruits and vegetables are to grow well, we must also give extra attention and care to the parts of ourselves most affected by the season.

First, let’s look at the element of Fire.  Fire is the most Yang of the elements.  When we think of Fire, we think of heat, outgoingness, and expression.  We want to cultivate this fire within us, but not to excess. We should keep this in mind when we think of how we are taking care of ourselves.

As opposed to winter where we hibernate and rest, summer is a time of going out and having funThe key for good health in the summer is connection.  We should be meeting with friends and family because that love connection nourishes our hearts.  Like the spring, this is an exciting time, and staying indoors will suffocate the heart and promote depression.

When the heart is balanced, the mind is calm and we enjoy peaceful sleep. A balanced heart is also more motivated to engage in cardiovascular activity.  So, if you’re feeling unmotivated or experiencing restless nights, these may be indications of imbalance. Agitation, nervousness and insomnia are also indicators that the heart may be imbalanced.  In this state, making a few key changes can make all the difference.

Another thing to keep in mind is summer’s effect on existing conditions. One thing that my patients will hear me say often is that our bodies, and minds, are a microcosm of the world we see around us. People will complain of aches and pains being more pronounced when it is cold and rainy outside.  They are often disappointed when I tell them it is because the weather is exacerbating the already present dampness in their bodies.  In the summer, it gets hot.  That heat is also can also show up within our bodies and minds as rashes and agitation.  So, we need to be proactive to keep that in balance.

Below are some recommendations to help you achieve or maintain summer time balance:

To nourish the Heart, we want to clean up our diet.  In regards to foods, eat lots of red foods as red is the color of the fire element.  The taste of the fire element is bitter.  Bitter foods stimulate the Heart Qi so try adding bitter foods into your diet.  Examples of bitter foods are dandelion greens, coffee, wild cucumber, and asparagus.

Some examples of other foods that are good for the summertime but may or may not necessarily be specifically beneficial to the heart include: watermelon, cucumber, corn, mint, dill, watercress, lemon, and green leafy vegetables.  It is not coincidence that many of us have always enjoyed these foods during the summer.  They keep you cool by releasing excess heat from your body and nourishing your Yin.  Drink from a glass of lemon, mint, or cucumber infused water by you as much as you can.  Try to avoid greasy and heavy foods.  Eat in moderation and try not to become too full, especially if you still have daytime activities to perform.

We require less sleep in the summer, so don’t be afraid to stay out with friends a little later.  At the same time, try not to sleep in so late in the morning.  This may be a good time to try introducing early morning exercise especially since it will start getting hotter as the day goes on.

If you get tired, try to take a rest in the middle of the day.  Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.  Remember that Fire is heat so you may be more susceptible to dehydration.  Also, try to avoid conflict that would make you angry.  Stay even-tempered.  Don’t worry, be happy should be your mantra.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and I hope you enjoy the new season.  Remember to visit your acupuncturist regularly to prevent illness and injury.  Please try to eat locally.  It not only helps out local farmers but the food will be in season and in tune to you and your surroundings.

Taking Charge of Your Health with Acupuncture

by Michael Hurley, L.Ac.

In last month’s article, I discussed the steps you can take, as an acupuncture patient, to ensure the optimal results from your treatments.  This month, I will focus on what actions and changes you can make in between acupuncture treatments.  These are actions that will empower you to take charge of your own health so that therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and even western medicine become supportive to your health as opposed to paramount.

To put it another way, a large majority of people’s health issues can be traced back to habits in their current lifestyle.  While everyone will receive some benefit from regular acupuncture, the greatest, most long-lasting benefit will occur when you play an equal role and take responsibility to begin changing the key factors in your life that are causing or exacerbating your condition.

So, in the days around your treatments, you will want to be working on making the necessary lifestyle changes to optimize your health and well-being. While there are many factors, the most essential are sleep, diet (I do not mean fad dieting), and exercise.

Sleep:
Many people tell me that their bodies only need four hours of sleep per night, as if they are super-human.  Yet, these are the same folks coming to me with chronic pain or depression or the ones who get a sinus infection every time the season changes.

Getting enough sleep is essential to your overall health and well-being. During restful sleep, our bodies are busy actively restoring and rejuvenating, growing muscles, repairing tissue, and even synthesizing hormones. During this time your brain is also sorting and storing information, replacing naturally occurring chemicals needed for our functioning, and solving problems.

On a mental/emotional level, studies show sleep deficiency can cause difficulty with decision making, problem solving, controlling emotions and coping with change.  Studies have also linked lack of sleep to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.

Sleep affects the physical body too.  Chronic sleep deprivation is connected to increased risk of disease such as: heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke as well as increased risk of obesity.  Last, but not least, lack of sleep can also lead to a depleted immune system, making it more difficult to ward-off and/or fight common infections.

Sleep is essential. Every adult human needs 6 to 8 hours of sleep on the norm per night. Children need even more. If you are having difficulty sleeping at night, consider implementing a relaxing nighttime routine; avoid heavy meals in the evening; and avoid electronics right before bed.

Diet:
Your diet is very important as well.  While it is okay for most to indulge themselves around holidays or special events, it is important to keep things in moderation.

You will want to limit sugar, especially added sugar.  While it may be obvious to limit sodas, cookies, and well-known sugary items, it is easy to forget that manufacturers add sugar many items. Get in the habit of checking the ingredient labels. You’ll be surprised to find how many everyday items have high amounts of sugar, fructose or other sweeteners added.  This is especially true of highly processed and fast foods.  It is also common in foods we tend to think of as “healthy” such as protein bars or yogurt.

Eat lots of vegetables.  It is virtually impossible to eat too many vegetables.  Try to keep a balance of colors with you vegetables too.  This will ensure you are getting a good variety of nutrients.  Vegetables will also help add more water to your diet which is, of course, my next point.

You should try to drink at least 64 ounces of water per day.  That is water, not tea or any other beverage.  Any other beverage should not count toward your 64 ounces.  Some people say that you should drink even more water than that depending on your size or activity.  I say, if you normally drink 24 ounces per day and you bump it up to 64, you will be doing much better.  Remember that water is going to help everything in your body work better.  For coffee drinkers, you should add an 8 ounce glass of water to that 64 for every 6 ounces of coffee or caffeinated tea that you consume.  Caffeine is a diuretic which will cause you to lose water so it must be replaced.

Exercise:
People should be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.  However, this is another area that needs to be kept in moderation.  This 30 minutes could be a post-dinner walk or an intense athletic workout.  If you tend toward the latter, you absolutely need to be sure to increase your sleep as well as your food and water intake to support this.

Remember that your goal is to be balanced.  Exercise is a Yang activity so the more Yang activity you perform, the more Yin activity you need to perform to balance that out.  When I talk about Yin activity, I am referring to sleep, meditation, etc.

I know that not everyone is accustomed to exercising intentionally so I will list out a few forms of exercise to get you started.  Some forms that you can safely do on your own are walking, running, hiking, and riding your bike.  The following forms of exercise I recommend seeking instruction to ensure your safety and optimal benefit.  These are weightlifting, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga, and martial arts.

Of course, these are not the only forms of exercise that exist but I wanted to give you some options to start you off.  The key is to pick something that you will enjoy doing and do it safely because otherwise it will simply be another stress in your life.

This concludes this series about what acupuncture is and how you can use it to your benefit.  I do hope that you found it useful.  Please do not be afraid to ask me questions.  I may not have time to go in depth at the time of your appointment but we can certainly schedule a time to talk on the phone or email.

Acupuncturists love what they do and we also love educating people about what they can do to help themselves.  It truly is a People’s medicine and the more empowered you are as a patient, the more successful we consider ourselves as practitioners.  If you have not already, please read the previous two articles in this series, Understanding the Goal of Acupuncture and Get the Most from Your Acupuncture Treatments, to catch up on any information you may have missed.

Next month, I will start a series of articles about common western health conditions and how Chinese Medicine looks at these as well as what I do or would do to treat a patient with that condition.  I will start off with some common conditions but if you have a condition that you are curious about, common or uncommon, tell me and I will certainly write an article about it in the future.

Get the Most from Your Acupuncture Treatments

by Michael Hurley, L.Ac.

In last month’s article, I discussed the proactive approach acupuncture takes to managing overall health as well as some components I look at in my patients when they come in for treatment.  This month, we’ll focus on how to get the greatest benefit from acupuncture and what to do the day of an acupuncture treatment to help optimize its effectiveness.

Understanding Your Treatment Plan:

Simply put, you will get out of acupuncture what you put in to acupuncture.  What I mean is: If you follow your treatment plan given to you by your acupuncturist and concentrate on one or two issues at a time, you will most likely be very happy with your results.  If you only seek a couple of treatments for an issue that requires several treatments or come in for treatment too infrequently, you will very likely be disappointed in your results.

One analogy many people can relate to is to think of your acupuncture treatment plan in the same way you would consider prescribed medication.  If your western medical doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics for an infection and you took it only one or two times, likely the infection would not go away or may even get worse.  The same goes for acupuncture, which is most effective when it is received regularly and as prescribed by your acupuncturist.

It is very common for a treatment plan to include two or more treatments per week for several weeks.  While this varies based on an individual’s condition, in my practice, I typically ask patients to come in twice per week for four weeks to start.  Often, this is all a patient needs provide relief for the condition they originally came in for. However, in many cases, conditions require much more.  A general rule of thumb is that younger patients and more acute conditions require less treatment than older patients and more chronic conditions.

Role of Healing Phases and Treatment Frequency:

We often share the above image explain how we approach treatment frequency.  Remember, acupuncture is always working to address the underlying cause of issue.  So, we look at treatment in terms of phases in a healing process and the frequency of treatment is directly related.

  • Relief Stage: In the initial treatment of an issue, the goal is to provide relief. During the relief stage of healing, treatments are most frequent and often spaced relatively close together.
  • Healing Stage: Once symptoms are relieved, acupuncture treatments focus more deeply on healing the underlying cause of the issue. At the healing stage, the treatment plan often includes tapering back on the frequency of visits.  Patients should still come in at the frequency recommended by their acupuncturist to bring healing and balance to underlying causes.
  • Maintenance Stage: This stage is where the proactive nature of Chinese medicine makes a big difference! When you are in this stage of healing, you are overall relatively healthy.  During this phase of treatment, the goal is to continue to optimize your overall health and balance.  The treatment plan includes regular, but usually much less frequent visits to help proactively bolster the immune system.  Our patients who receive regular acupuncture at this phase often tell us that they are amazed that their immune system is strong enough to prevent illness or find the duration of an illness is limited.

Optimal Post Treatment Practices:

How you care for yourself both immediately following treatment and in your overall lifestyle can make an important difference.  Here are few things you can do after your appointment to increase the benefits of your acupuncture treatment.

It is important to rest.  After acupuncture, you will want to avoid vigorous exercise or other strenuous activities.  While naps or spending the rest of the day in bed are not necessary afterward, you will want to take it easy.  So, putting some thought into scheduling your treatments is helpful.

You will also want to make an effort to avoid stressful situations.  I realize that sometimes this cannot be avoided.  However, I also realize that often times it can.  What I mean is that it is helpful to become aware of and learn how to work with your own energy boundaries.  Doing so can help you deflect and/or release any negative energy you may take on during difficult moments.  This becomes especially important if you tend to take on negative energy when spending time with certain individuals or in certain situations.

Temperature is another factor to consider.  Temperatures can get extreme here in the Northeast.  You will want to dress accordingly and try to plan your day so that you are not exposed to extreme temperatures after an acupuncture treatment.  When it is very hot or very cold outside, these are stresses that your body will need to deal with and may throw off the balance that we have attained.  It is best to try to avoid prolonged exposure to either right after an acupuncture treatment.  It’s not something to panic over but rather something to be aware of.

I am also often asked about timing other self-care appointments. I will hear, “It is alright to get a massage or go to a chiropractor before or after an acupuncture treatment?”  I always say yes.  In fact, if you were to do all three in one day, in my opinion, it should be acupuncture, massage, and then chiropractic.  The acupuncture will make the massage therapist’s job easier and then the chiropractor will be able to make adjustments that he or she may normally not be able to do.

I hope the above helps you more fully understand what you can do to attain the greatest benefit from acupuncture.  In my next article, I will discuss things you can do to help yourself in between treatments, especially if you are in the maintenance phase of treatment.