Five Reasons to Eat a Pumpkin!

It’s peak pumpkin season, folks. This month many of you will carve faces into them, decorate your home with them, put your babies into pumpkin costumes (so cute!), and eat pumpkin spice everything. (Although I saw a picture of pumpkin spice hummus the other day and that’s going TOO FAR.)

But how often do you think to eat a pumpkin? You should, because they’re full of amazing benefits!

 

 

  1. Pumpkins (nan gua in Chinese) correspond to the Earth element in Chinese medicine, which represents the digestive system. They’re the perfect thing to eat as the weather changes and cold/flu season begins. Pumpkin is considered warming and deeply nourishing to the body.
  2. When pumpkin is cooked into soups or stews with warming spices like ginger, garlic, cinnamon, or cloves, the effect is even stronger.
  3. Because it strengthens our digestive system, pumpkin also has a beneficial effect on the lungs and can offer an immunity boost.
  4. Pumpkin is high in antioxidants, vitamin A, and fiber and low in calories.
  5. Let’s not forget pumpkin seeds! In Chinese medicine, the seeds (nan gua zi) are a traditional remedy for parasites and low milk supply. But even if those issues don’t apply to you, they can also lower cholesterol and help you sleep better. In my house, we always roast the seeds from our jack o’lanterns with a bit of olive oil or butter, some salt, and whatever spices sound delicious.

Note from the cook:

  • Smaller pie pumpkins will often taste sweeter and more tender than large carving pumpkins.
  • If you do try one of the big ones, buy one just for eating. Once they’ve been carved, unsafe bacteria and molds can grow.
  • The same health benefits apply to all yellow/orange fall squashes.

Happy Halloween and happy pumpkin eating!

Acupuncture as a Catalyst for Labor

It’s a common story: a woman reaches 40 weeks of pregnancy and finds herself facing a deadline to go into spontaneous labor. If she’d like to avoid a medical induction, there’s often a mountain of advice telling her what to do to kickstart the process. It can feel overwhelming, especially at a time that’s already tiring and full of heightened emotions.

Fortunately, there are safe, effective options available. Routine acupuncture treatments in the last weeks of pregnancy are often extremely helpful in encouraging a productive, timely labor and delivery…(click here to read the rest of this blog post!)

 

Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck

image_6483441So, it’s January 11. How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Your answer is probably one of these three:

  1. Great!
  2. Um, well…
  3. I didn’t make any because I never accomplish them anyway, so whatever.

If you answered #1, rock on and have fun. How about the other two? If you’re struggling, or if you don’t bother with our culture’s January ritual, I have one thing to say: New Year’s resolutions suck.

That’s right, I said they suck. But why? Isn’t it good to have a fresh start, to look at your life and decide how you can live it better?

YES! I love fresh starts. I love taking a step back and seeing what might need changing. We all fall into patterns of thinking, behaving, and choosing. Over time those patterns can get stagnant, or maybe they never served us in the first place. Stagnation causes pain, both physical and emotional, so shaking things up is often energizing and inspiring.

Why do resolutions suck, then? Because they’re so rarely about how we want to feel. Instead, we choose them based on the messages we receive about who we’re supposed to be. We’re supposed to be people who eat vegetables at every meal. We’re supposed to exercise daily. We’re supposed to be organized and productive. We’re supposed to be kind and loving.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with those messages. But if you’re someone who’s ever made a resolution that sounds like the above, did you do it because eating vegetables at every meal is something that will align your life with how you want to feel? Or did you do it because you absorbed a finger-wagging message that not eating vegetables makes you, somehow, a slightly lesser person?

One of those motivations is way more likely to lead to success than the other. Change is hard, and it’s normal to have an adjustment period when we shift our habits. However, if we try to shift because we think we’re supposed to, we set ourselves up for shame and failure. I made lists of resolutions for many years. I’d do fine for a week, maybe a month. By February the “new me” was always starting to fall apart, and by springtime I’d forgotten about her completely.

So I don’t make resolutions anymore. I make intentions, and these days that usually looks like a single word. It starts with several words, but over time one yells at me louder than any of the others. That’s the one I choose, because it’s the one my intuition knows I need the most.

What’s my word for 2017? Selfishness.

Yeah, I said selfishness. I know. I resisted it for weeks, and even looked in the thesaurus for a more palatable synonym (there isn’t one).

In reality, my inner vision of selfishness looks a lot like self-care. I don’t have a grand 2017 plan to be a total jerk. But it’s easy to put off self-care. We all think “I’ll do that nice thing for myself later, when I’ve ‘earned’ it by being productive enough, when I’m not in the middle of doing this other thing, when I’m not in such a rush to get out the door, when I’ve had more sleep, when I’m in a better mood…”

What does this pattern look like? It looks like skipping that nice thing way too often, which is one way we wordlessly tell ourselves our needs aren’t actually all that important.

Hence: selfishness. The word shocks me. It makes me laugh. Because it’s a word nobody is EVER supposed to apply to themselves, I don’t tune it out easily. Instead I wonder what selfish means in any given moment, and if that thing really will make me a jerk or will instead nourish me.

Every time I remind myself that selfishness is my chosen intention for the year, it acts as a reminder of how I actually want to feel: genuinely respectful of myself. And that’s what I think helps achieve other goals, things that might be New Year’s resolutions if I made them. If I live each day respecting my own needs, kindness follows. Healthy productivity follows. Vegetables follow. Love follows.

Happy 2017 to you all.

Yoga and Chinese Medicine, Plus My Favorite Yoga Resource

Sixteen years ago I bought a set of beginner yoga classes (on VHS!) out of curiosity. I was recently unemployed, battling stress-related digestive issues, and needing some new resources in life.

So I popped tape #1 in the VCR. An hour later, I felt calm but energized, my back didn’t hurt anymore, and I even felt taller. (Feeling taller is a big deal when you’re 5’2”.) I was hooked.

This cat loves to hang on my yoga mat. She's super enlightened, I guess.

This cat loves to hang on my yoga mat. She’s super enlightened, I guess. 

Finding the right exercise is challenging. Running is fun, but it’s 90 degrees and humid half the year in central Texas. Gyms and high-impact movements are not my jam. I often return to walking, with or without my dog, but a walk doesn’t always get at everything that needs stretching, strengthening, or calming.

Yoga has been my constant, even when I abandon my mat for months. This morning I woke up tired, after a long day and a night of restless sleep. I didn’t want to skip yoga, but I also wanted to respect being tired. I’ve learned that really energetic yoga sometimes has the paradoxical effect of making me even more tired.

Why is this? Chinese medicine explains it well, through the simple concept of yin and yang. When we feel still or tired, that’s yin. If your tiredness is just a temporary slump, sometimes adding a burst of active, warming yang activity works well to balance you out.

But what happens if you’ve been tired for a long time? This happens to many of us: people with stressful jobs, mothers juggling too many balls, Type A personalities who find it hard to slow down. In those circumstances, we get tired at a deeper level, and pushing ourselves to be very yang might not be what we need. Instead, we need to nourish our yin, to grant ourselves the gift of true rest.

This is what I love about yoga: it offers yin and yang. This morning I chose a simple yin practice: seated postures held for a longer time. It’s been a leap to keep my practice slow most of the time, because I live in this active, fast culture. Exercise is supposed to make you sweat, right?

But since I’ve made that leap, I enjoy yoga more. Despite taking it slow, I get off my mat with more energy, not less. And on days when I wake up ready to move more, I choose an active practice, one that really does get my heart rate up, and that feels good too.

This is the most fundamental concept in Chinese medicine. Yin and yang exist in everything and are constantly shifting to achieve the most balance possible. When we honor that, we honor what our bodies deeply need. You don’t have to do yoga: just move through whatever activities you choose with the recognition that yang requires yin to exist, and yin requires yang. We can’t exist with only one side of the coin. Namaste and shalom, y’all.

(Bonus! My favorite yoga resource: if it’s hard to get to a local studio, I love the classes at doyogawithme.com, a donation-based online resource. They offer short classes, long classes, classes for beginners or more advanced practitioners, and a nice mix of yin vs. yang options. Plus, all the teachers have lovely Canadian accents. I have no affiliation with them and get nothing from recommending the site: it just makes me happy.)

October News: Expanded Hours and Services

Happy October! If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you got the latest Songbird news a couple of days ago. But if you’re not, I want to include all those goodies here too! (Want to subscribe? Just go to my home page and add your email address at the bottom of the page.)

Expanded hours…

First of all, beginning this month, I’ll be available for appointments during evening and weekend hours. I know it’s hard to prioritize self-care when we lead busy lives, and I hope these expanded hours add a little bit of ease for you. Effective October 10, my new office hours are as follows:

Mondays: 1:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Wednesdays: 10:00 am – 7:30 pm
Fridays: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Saturdays: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm (1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month)

Housecalls (for 37+ weeks of pregnancy and first three months postpartum only): please contact me to schedule a treatment in your home.

As always, you can schedule your appointment online anytime. If you don’t see a time that works for you, please call 512.782.4880 or email arden@songbirdacupuncture.com.

Expanded pregnancy and labor services…

Ever since the first day of my master’s program in Chinese medicine, I’ve known I wanted to help women thrive during pregnancy and after giving birth. It’s been a delight to attend occasional births as well, and I’m SO excited to announce that I’m formally expanding my services to offer labor acupuncture for out-of-hospital births.

Acupuncture during labor can help contractions progress productively, help ease labor pain, and calm any stress or anxiety. If you’re planning to birth at your home or in one of Austin’s birth centers, I’d be honored to join your support team!

Please note: labor services are subject to availability during any given month. Whenever possible, I require at least one in-office intake and treatment prior to your birth so that we can get to know each other and I have your full medical history prior to your birth. Contact me to find out more!

p.s. I love feedback…

Your positive reviews are the highest compliment I can receive. They’re also the best way for me to help more people feel better! If you’ve received benefit from your treatments at Songbird Acupuncture, please consider writing me a brief review on YelpGoogle+, or Facebook. Thank you so much!

September Self-Care Challenge: Week 1

self-careOkay, time to get real about my September self-care challenge. Despite my simple “just two acupuncture points daily” plan, I only managed to give myself a mini treatment 4 days out of 7.

It’s interesting how I reacted once I realized I’d missed a few days in a row. Despite knowing that would probably happen, my ego went straight to failure. I thought “Maybe I should pretend I never committed to doing this. Nobody will remember!”

But that’s silly. The point of any challenge is to push yourself, and when we push ourselves we usually fall short of perfection. In Chinese medicine, yin and yang are seen as always shifting, always working toward balance dynamically, because there is no such thing as static perfection. The benefit comes from learning how we fall short, how we react to that, and how we choose to continue.

With that in mind, here’s what I experienced this week:

  • For my first treatment, I chose two points known for powerfully relaxing the nervous system. I was at my clinic, and afterward I drove home in heavy rush hour traffic feeling peaceful and entirely unruffled by the slow trip home and the, ah, challenging drivers around me. I hate driving and get impatient in traffic. This shift was welcome!
  • The third treatment was on a day I’d been wheezing and coughing quite a bit. I have asthma, and our recent beautiful summer rain has created not-so-beautiful mold levels. I chose points to relieve acute lung symptoms as well as to support the respiratory system. After the treatment, my breathing was improved, and continued to be better for four days afterward.
  • Most interesting is how a focus on self-care is seeping into my consciousness. In the past week I’ve done more yoga than I usually do (even if just a few poses), written in my journal, started re-reading a nourishing book, and found the beginnings of a shift perspective on some thorny life issues.

So I only did 57% of what I planned, but that’s 57% more than I might have done otherwise. I think instead of failure, this is actually success. Onward to week 2…

September Self-Care Challenge

self-care

One of my two points for today! The other is hidden in my hair. 🙂

For me, and for many of you, September is about restarting. New school year, new season approaching, new energy. It’s my favorite time of year, but it can also be tiring, stretching ourselves after a slower summer.

So I wanted to share my September self-care challenge (which I totally made up). The idea is for this to be quick and easy. I freely admit I’m a perfectionist. Because I’m a healthcare professional, I run across LOTS of great health tips. That can feel overwhelming, and when you pair too much information with perfectionism, it’s easy to get into an all or nothing mindset. I must do a full yoga practice every day! I must meditate for an hour at 5 am! I must eat only organic local greens grown under a full moon! And if I fail at those huge goals, I must quit.

That kind of thinking goes nowhere. So I’m rejecting all or nothing this month, and going for just a little bit instead. For the month of September, I’m going to give myself acupuncture every day. I know, doing anything every day sounds like too much. But the other part of the challenge is “two points.”

So I only have to do two acupuncture points, and that can be in bed if I want. Or I can sit with needles in while I work on the computer. If I’m motivated to do more, great, but two points is enough. (And, if I miss a day, that’s cool. I keep going.)

This is new for me. Acupuncturists are notorious for not getting nearly enough care (including acupuncture) for ourselves. And when I work with clients in my private practice, two points would rarely feel like enough to address that individual’s needs in the moment. But I’m really curious to see what shifts with small steps. Will I feel physically different? Emotionally different? Will a tiny bit of acupuncture also spur me to do a tiny bit of something else? I’ll be checking back in here on the blog and on my Facebook page to talk about how it’s going.

Want to do this for yourself? If you like yoga, try two poses a day. Want to meditate? Try two minutes. Choose whatever feels nourishing to you, whatever you’re drawn to having more of in your life, and remember, keep it quick and easy. Take a walk around the block. Write one paragraph in a journal. Small changes can be big if they mean we’re prioritizing ourselves, even if that’s only happening for a few minutes a day.

Let me know if you decide to join in, and either way, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Wishing you a wonderful September.

Rice Congee for Healthy Digestion

healthy digestionMy stomach has been feeling off lately – a combination of indulgent meals plus life stress has taken a toll on my usually healthy digestion. So last night I made myself a giant pot of ginger-turmeric rice congee. Congee is a classic restorative food in Chinese medicine. It’s warming, easy to digest, and eating it is a bit like getting a comfy hug in food form. It usually contains fresh ginger (sheng jiang) to harmonize the stomach, and I added fresh turmeric (jiang huang) for extra oomph.

Congee is a wonderful choice if your digestion is off for any reason, if you’re recovering from a virus and still feeling weak, if you’re a newly postpartum mama, and for kids of all ages. Plus, it’s super easy to make and you probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen right now.

Did I mention the pot I made was giant? I looked at it and thought “Oops, that might have been too much.” But when my daughter saw it, she said “Yay! I love that stuff!” She ate a big bowl for dinner, asked for it in her school lunch today, and I had it for dinner and lunch as well. Now I’m glad I cooked so much!

Here’s my recipe so you can try your own giant pot at home.

Big Pot o’ Congee

  • 1 ½ cups long grain white or brown rice
  • 7-8 cups water (for more flavor, sub a good quality broth for all or part of the liquid)
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces *(see below for veggie version)
  • 1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, cut into a few pieces
  • Salt to taste

Put the rice, water, ginger, and 1 tsp salt in a large heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add more water/broth if it looks dry – brown rice will require more liquid than white and will take longer to cook.

After 30 minutes, add the chicken. Continue to cook, adding liquid as needed, until the chicken is cooked and the rice is almost falling apart. The congee should be slightly soupy and have a very soft consistency. This isn’t food you need to chew very much!

Taste and add salt as needed. Garnish with one or more of the following:

  • Additional fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • Grated fresh turmeric
  • Cilantro
  • Green onions
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil

For a vegetarian version, make a broth by simmering a few dried mushrooms in several cups of water for 30-45 minutes (shiitake or porcini are great). Use this as the cooking liquid and add chopped fresh mushrooms (any kind you like, or a mix) halfway through the cooking time.

Postpartum Depression: I Didn’t Know I Had It

IMG_9077May 4 was World Maternal Mental Health Day. In Texas, the month of May has recently been designated Postpartum Depression Awareness Month. Did you know an estimated fifteen to twenty percent of mothers suffer from a postpartum mood disorder? I was one of them, but for a long time I didn’t realize it. This is what the story looked like for me.

Looking back, I see a perfect storm of risk factors for a postpartum mood disorder:

  • I had pregnancy-induced hypertension, which resulted in many late-term hospital visits
  • Our baby was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)
  • Due to low birthweight, she spent her first week in the NICU
  • When she came home, I was instructed to breastfeed her, bottlefeed her if necessary, and pump every 3 hours around the clock, a process that went on for 2 months and left little time for sleep or self-care
  • My husband was laid off from his job when our daughter was 4 months old
  • When our daughter was 8 months old, we moved 1700 miles back home to Austin in order to find work and more affordable housing

That’s a lot, isn’t it? Along with figuring out how to care for a tiny human? At the time, it just felt like life. I belonged to some mother’s groups, but I didn’t like to ask for help. I appreciated the company of other new moms, but I told them I was fine.

Warning signs

I wasn’t fine, actually. Nobody had taught me to recognize the symptoms I experienced, but I know them now:

  • I suffered from insomnia, despite the fact that I was beyond exhausted
  • I kept obsessive logs of sleep and feeding times
  • I was sometimes afraid to leave our home
  • I had anxiety-induced dizziness and shortness of breath that made it hard to breastfeed
  • I sometimes looked at my baby and felt angry or wanted to run away

I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t recognize myself in what I’d always heard about postpartum depression. My mental picture was of a woman who wouldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t stop crying, never got dressed, and hated her baby.

Me? I knew I was taking good care of my daughter and I loved her deeply, despite occasional uncomfortable feelings. I got dressed every day and I wasn’t crying (much). I laughed, I visited friends, sometimes I even cooked dinner.

Still, I went to a lactation consultant and a doctor. They told me to stop worrying, but the doctor gave me a referral to a social worker without saying why. That confused me, but I went anyway. The social worker also told me to relax and said I was fine. She didn’t give me any kind of formal assessment. She never mentioned the words “postpartum depression” or “postpartum anxiety.” I left her office still knowing something was wrong, but even more confused as to what it could be.

Everything was fine until it wasn’t

I fell apart ten months postpartum, after we’d moved back home to Austin. One morning I woke up and knew I couldn’t get through the day. I found myself sobbing, begging my husband to stay home with us instead of going to work. Alarmed, he stayed, and I made an appointment with a family doctor I’d never met before. The doctor talked to me for five minutes and gave me a prescription for Zoloft.

Because I’ve become an acupuncturist since then, maybe you’d expect me to say Zoloft didn’t work. But it did. It wasn’t a magic pill and there were side effects, but it brought me back to a place where I could cope, and I’m grateful for that. However, I struggled with ongoing anxiety and went on and off medication for a couple of years afterward. I learned from a kind nurse practitioner that untreated postpartum mood issues can linger for much longer than they would have if addressed more promptly.

 Eventually, I felt better, but the first year of my amazing daughter’s life is a haze in many ways. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if I’d gotten better help and gotten it sooner.

And I’ll be honest, this is a painful story to share, even twelve years later. So why share it? Because:

  • Postpartum depression and anxiety don’t always look like what you’d expect
  • Due to a lack of awareness, cultural stigmas surrounding mental health, and inconsistent postpartum screening, too many mothers suffer silently and alone
  • I believe one of the best ways we can change things is to speak up!

Today, I’m fortunate to be able to use acupuncture and Chinese medicine as tools to work with mothers and their children in the Austin community, and I hope I can be a resource for any woman who’s having a hard time getting through the day. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to your family, your friends, or a health care provider.

Austin Area Postpartum Resources

Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas
http://www.pphatx.org

Any Baby Can Parent Hotline
512.334.4444

Postpartum Support International
http://www.postpartum.net/

Sick Begone! (Treating Kids With Pediatric Chinese Medicine, Part 2)

Babies and kids get sick. Sometimes a lot. Even when they’re not sick, they can struggle with some of the same imbalances adults do, issues that cause nagging problems.

Headache Treatment!

Headache Treatment!

Imagine these scenarios:

  • Your daughter has her fourth ear infection in as many months and you don’t feel comfortable with another round of antibiotics.
  • Your baby has red, itchy eczema that seems to be spreading.
  • Your toddler is waking six times a night for no apparent reason.
  • Your son just doesn’t feel good, complaining of being tired and having a stomachache, but the pediatrician says everything is fine.

Any of that sound all too familiar and frustrating? Pediatric Chinese medicine can safely resolve each of these issues without medications or side effects. It can also help with the following common childhood issues:

  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Colds and flu
  • Coughs
  • Ear infections
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Skin rashes
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Teething pain

What’s more, because the root cause of your child’s illness is treated in addition to symptom relief, they’re less likely to keep having the same problem in the future. You’ll also learn more about your child’s individual constitution and how that can affect them, in addition to being given nutritional and acupressure tips for use in home care. Win win!

Tired of the sickness merry-go-round? Give a licensed pediatric acupuncturist a call!