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!

 

You Do WHAT? (Treating Kids With Chinese Medicine, Part 1)

google eye cupsWhen I tell people I’m an acupuncturist who treats kids, I get a lot of surprised looks. Some people back away a little bit. Most are too polite to say what they’re thinking, which is usually along the lines of “You do WHAT?”

So before I talk about the many ways Chinese medicine can help the kids in your life, let’s address the elephant in the room. Kids. Acupuncture needles. Doesn’t compute, right?

Well, consider this: my 12-year old daughter, who still asks me to take off her bandaids because she’s scared it’ll hurt, came to me the other day and said “Mom, I have a headache and my ears are stuffy. Will you do some acupuncture on me?” I put in a few points, none of which she could feel, and she happily sat on her bed for ten minutes while the needles did their work.

Fine, you say, but that’s a 12-year old. She’s sort of a grownup. What about little kids? What about babies? Yep. They love acupuncture too.

Here’s what you need to know:

1) Kids think acupuncture is FUN! I treat children with the same respect I do adults, and if a child is nervous about getting acupuncture, we take it slowly. But you know what? Once kids get over their initial apprehension and see that acupuncture needles are tiny and don’t hurt, they think it’s a blast to have a unicorn horn or kitty whiskers. Plus, they feel better!

2) There are LOTS of kid-friendly treatment options. In addition to acupuncture, at my office I use tuina (a form of acupressure), cupping, guasha, or laser stimulation of acupuncture points. All of these are painless and non-invasive, and are chosen based on the condition being treated and the age and personality of the child. Food therapy and herbal prescriptions are also awesome for kids, and are often recommended to help extend the effects of in-office treatments.

3) They DON’T have to sit still! Acupuncture for babies and young children involves a very quick in-out technique in which the needles are not retained at all. They can get treated while snuggled in a parent’s lap, breastfeeding, or playing in our kid’s corner. Older children may sit quietly for a few minutes with their points in, but only when they feel comfortable and happy about doing so.

Okay, so if an adult receiving acupuncture rests for 20-40 minutes, why doesn’t a kid need to do so? Children’s bodies are incredibly dynamic. They’re constantly growing and changing, their nervous systems are very adaptable, and unhealthy patterns have not had years to take root. This means that most kids respond really quickly to treatment, whether using acupuncture needles or one of the other tools available.

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to treat kids with Chinese medicine, stay tuned for part 2 of this series, where we’ll get into common pediatric conditions it can help with. Questions? As always, feel free to comment here, call, or email!

Why My First Acupuncturist Fired Me

IMG_7422Here’s a little story about stress. Twenty years ago, I had my first acupuncture treatment. I’d been suffering from heartburn and stomach pain for months, so I went to the doctor and she gave me some pills. They helped a little. I went to another doctor and had an endoscopy. He said everything looked good in there. I went to a (very expensive) holistic doctor who suggested I take baths with lavender oil.

Frustrated, I called an acupuncturist. I was living in San Francisco, so there were plenty to choose from. The man I saw was soft-spoken and kind. His clinic was paneled in golden wood, and each treatment table had a different rainbow-colored sheet on it. I liked acupuncture a lot. After that first visit, I took the bus back to work, where my boss did a double take and exclaimed “What did they do to you?” I asked him what he meant, and he said “I’ve never seen you so relaxed! What is that? Drugs?”

I hadn’t taken any drugs, just an acupuncture nap, but I did feel profoundly relaxed and open-hearted. Watching the city through the bus window, it looked like everything was sparkling. I was hooked, and went back every week.

Here’s the problem. My stomach never stopped hurting. So I was prescribed some herbs, and dutifully swallowed the funky-tasting powder three times a day, but still no change.

After a few weeks of little progress, my acupuncturist started asking more questions. Was anything bothering me? Was I happy? I was startled to be asked about my feelings when it was my stomach that felt bad. I smiled and told him everything was great. And it was: I lived in a beautiful city, I had a loving partner and great friends, I had a pretty good job.

Still, my belly was angry. I’d been getting treatment weekly for two months when my acupuncturist sat me down and said something shocking: “I can’t help you right now. Something’s making you unable to heal, and you need to figure that out. Until you do, you’re wasting your money with me. I’m sorry.”

His words echoed in my head for a long time, but I was confused. It was five years later that I finally understood what he was saying. That’s when I realized how scared I often felt, how insecure, how I didn’t know where I was headed in life. I started practicing yoga, and I noticed how I held my stomach muscles tight most of the time, how I kept my breath shallow and locked up high in my chest. I started breathing deeper. I started telling the pain in my stomach that things would be okay.

And it went away. Not immediately, but it went away, and I no longer have major problems unless I find myself storing stress inside instead of finding ways to acknowledge and handle it.

In gently dismissing me from his care, that long-ago acupuncturist taught me a hugely valuable lesson. I learned that my body responds to my mind, and that often you can’t separate the two. (These days, mainstream medicine believes the same thing!) I learned to be more honest with myself about my worries. And, now that I’ve become an acupuncturist myself, I learned that sometimes the most important thing I can do for people is to help them find that body/mind connection in themselves.

So thank you to that San Francisco acupuncturist in 1995. You didn’t cure me, except for the part where you did. And thank you to the people who sit in my treatment room and trust me with their stresses and fears. I’m honored to figure things out with you.

 

 

Three Easy Tips for Fall Health

IMG_6886Early this morning I grabbed a fleece jacket before walking the dog, and my husband turned on the heater in our bathroom for the first time since March. Sure, now that it’s past lunchtime it’s 80 degrees again, but I say when jackets come out, fall has arrived in Central Texas. Finally. Chilly mornings coordinate so much better with pumpkin.

The flip side of gorgeous weather is that we’re about to get on the viral merry-go-round again. Many Austinites deal with allergies year round, but when you add colds and flu to the mix, things get extra challenging. It’s not too late to boost your immune system, though, so you can fight off those germs when they find you. Here are three easy tips (I mean it, they really are easy) for fall health.

  1. Eat well! With both summer and fall produce still available, it’s a great time to enjoy cooking. Limit dairy products, which are cold and create phlegm. Focus on a rainbow of lightly cooked vegetables, fresh fruits, and lean proteins. If you haven’t visited one of Austin’s awesome farmer’s markets lately, fall is one of my favorite times to go.
  2. Watch out for chilly winds! In Chinese medicine, it’s believed that pathogens enter the body through the neck and upper back. Recent research studies confirm that you really can catch a cold from being cold. So keep a light scarf handy to cover your neck! They’re also helpful for those frigid office air conditioners. (If I’ve just helped to justify your mild scarf addiction, you’re welcome.)
  3. Take herbs! If you or your kids always have a rough time during cold and flu season, consider taking preventive Chinese herbs. The classic formula Yu Ping Feng San (Jade Windscreen) is safe for all ages and effective at bolstering immunity over time.

Considering acupuncture or herbs for an immune boost this fall? Contact me to learn more or schedule an appointment anytime.

 

 

Top 5 Myths About Acupuncture

Lots of people have heard myths about acupuncture. That’s no surprise, because not as many people have gotten past them and on to the benefits of the medicine. So, in the interest of clearing a few things up, let’s talk about the top 5 myths about acupuncture.

Myth #1: Acupuncture hurts! (Otherwise known as “There’s no way I’m letting you stick needles in my body.”)

Acupuncture needles are teeeeeny tiny. I often tell people that I wish I had a different word for them, because many people hear “needle” and freeze up. I don’t blame you! If your frame of reference is the hypodermic needles used when giving blood or getting a vaccination, those aren’t tiny, and yep – they hurt.

In the hands of a skilled, gentle acupuncturist, you’ll feel little to no discomfort. This doesn’t mean you won’t feel anything. Lots of people notice heaviness or a radiating sensation from points, but they usually say “Cool!” and take a relaxing nap.

Myth #2: Acupuncture doesn’t work.

Acupuncture has been helping people for thousands of years. But just as people have different responses to medication or surgery, people have different responses to acupuncture. Some people see quick, dramatic changes. Others experience more gradual, subtle effects.

Occasionally, people find that acupuncture doesn’t help them, and in those cases, I work to find a referral to another type of health care provider. My end goal is always, always for you to feel better.

Myth #3: But I tried it once, and it didn’t work.

I believe you. The problem is, acupuncture isn’t much like taking an Advil when something hurts. It’s more like watering grass that’s gone brown. You have to keep watering the grass for it to turn green again, right?

Acupuncture works in a similar way. Some people do feel completely better after one visit, but it usually takes longer, especially for chronic conditions. Communication is key here: I want you to know what to expect. I always tell you how many initial treatments I feel are necessary for your condition, and we’ll reassess together as needed.

Myth #4: I can’t get acupuncture because I’m already taking medications for my condition or seeing another kind of practitioner.

In almost all cases, acupuncture is a very safe therapy to use if you’re taking pharmaceutical medications. Combining different types of treatment works well too. For example, chiropractic adjustments can be easier and hold longer when paired with acupuncture.

If you’re unsure, talk with an acupuncturist and your other health care providers about a coordinated treatment plan.

Myth #5: Acupuncture treats pain, right? Nothing hurts right now.

Acupuncture’s great at treating pain. As a matter of fact, the military uses it in battlefield situations. But that’s definitely not all it can do.

Because acupuncture affects so many of our bodies’ systems – the nervous system, the immune system, the digestive system – it can treat many things. Trouble sleeping? Chronic stress or fatigue? Morning sickness? A kid who keeps getting ear infections? The list goes on, and you might be surprised!

Bonus (non-myth!) #6: I’m still not really sure about this.

That’s okay! Acupuncture is an ancient system of medicine, but it’s still pretty new in this part of the world, and lots of people have questions. I’m happy to answer yours, and I invite you to experience the awesome benefits of acupuncture for yourself.

Welcome!

Hi! Welcome to the Songbird Acupuncture blog. I’ll be posting here about how Chinese medicine works, when you might want to visit an acupuncturist, how to keep yourself and your family healthy seasonally, and much much more. Curious about anything in particular? Got a topic you’d like to read about? Contact me! Thanks for stopping by.