When East Meets West

I often find myself pondering on the little nuances of my practice. Those little subtleties that signal you to the next revelation or lead you onto another level of awareness.

My recent pondering takes me down both the reflexology and the acupuncture avenues and meets to bring another level or dimension to my understanding.

I have been using the Reflexology Lymph Drainage (RLD) technique a lot lately, and really focussing a lot of attention on this sequence; looking at the particular reflexes and how the areas of the body represented by these points actually function. One of the key points of the RLD sequence is the reflex point for the Subclavian Vein (SV). This point is on the dorsal of both feet and is situated exactly at the same acupoint Liver 3.

The SV is an important point for the RLD sequence, as this is where the lymphatic system, once finished cleaning and transporting lymph through the body, will return it back into the cardiovascular system i.e. the blood. This point gets used A LOT during the RLD sequence; after every sweep and general movement, we ask the body to deposit the lymph back to the cardiovascular system via the techniques of reflexology. It is gently stimulated a minimum of 18 times on each foot, plus additional linking at the end.

From an acupuncture point of view, this point is known as Liver 3. The energy of the Liver is to govern “spreading and draining”. By this we mean that it is responsible for maintaining the free flow of Qi (energy). Liver Qi can be restricted emotionally by anger, and physically by damp-heat. “When Liver Qi stagnates, it gives rise to sensations of pressure, distention and pain”. So these are the same symptoms that we are addressing in the RLD sequence; pressure and distention from oedema, and subsequent pain that this causes. Oedema is a “damp” symptom; fluid starts to stagnate and that is what is known as “damp”. If it stagnates for long enough it can start to warm up which is known as “damp-heat”.

On each acupuncture meridian, there is a principal or “source” point which is known as the most powerful point of that particular channel. Liver 3 is the source point for the Liver channel and it is the main point we would chose to promote free-flowing Qi. In addition, this point (or points if we are thinking bilaterally) combined with Large Intestine 4 (Li4) on the hands, make up the “four gates” which are used for the relief of pain. What is interesting to me is that Li4 is the exact same point we would use for the SV in RLD on the hands!

We might ask what this all means? It just consolidates for me that what we do from either angle, whether its from a western medical viewpoint or whether it is from a Traditional Chinese Medicine viewpoint, it all slots together. The two approaches fit neatly together side by side. They both make sense.

The Internal Seasons

I’ve had this blog idea on my “to-do” list for ages, but I’ve not been inspired to write it until today. Do you ever have that? Where something is there to be done but you’re just not inspired to do it until one day, ping! the inspiration comes.

This blog is about outlining the menstrual cycle from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) point of view, and how are cycles are similar to the seasons. By becoming more aware of our internal cycles we can really look after ourselves in understanding when times of rest, nourishment and calm are needed (Winter) and when times of high energy can bring us productivity and rejuvenation (Spring and Summer). And those times of preparation (Autumn). A bringing together of the physical and the mental/emotional.

However I feel that there is more to this blog than I originally thought. This is because it is becoming more and more apparent to me that we are not just similar to the seasons, we ARE the seasons. We don’t just live here on this planet, we ARE part of the fabric of creation itself. There is no coincidence that our cycles move in time with the moon; that the tides are pushed and pulled by the forces of the lunar cycle, that so many animals, sea creatures and insects follow the phases of the moon for their own reproduction. Everything in nature includes us. There is no separation. When we talk about “connecting with nature” I think what we are actually doing is “reconnecting with who we are”. We are nature. We don’t walk in nature, or spend time in nature; we ARE nature. This is why these times make us feel so good, because there is a sense of coming home, of becoming one, of belonging, of lessening the grips of the idea that we are seperate from the world and from each other. I find I have more and more of these moments of inner knowing, connectedness and understanding of life, and this is the first time I have been able to grab it and get it down into words.

When we discuss the theory of TCM we often mention the seasons and the weather when we talk about particular energies and meridians. TCM philosophy really harnesses the idea of connectedness with our environment and with nature. I really appreciate this concept in my own understandings of life and of health and wellbeing. I also like the idea of likening the menstrual cycle to the ebb and flow of the tides; the tides of Yin and Yang. Understanding these tides and the transitional points between the two can offer huge benefits of understanding to support one’s own monthly cycles:

Phase 1 (days 1-5) is about Blood as we menstruate, it is a restful Yin phase focusing on nourishing ourselves and taking care of ourselves. Honour this time and avoid sexual intercourse and strenuous exercise. The external pathogenic factor of Cold can penetrate particularly at this time so take note of this in the activities you pursue. Remember that Blood is flowing downwards so sanitary items such as tampons obstruct this downward movement. Better to use pads or a menstrual cup.

Phase 2 (days 6-13) is focusing on Yin as increased amounts of oestrogen cause the lining of the uterus to thicken. Eating protein and mineral-rich foods in this phase will help to replenish Blood and Yin. This phase is building towards Yang.

Day 14 is when ovulation happens, and some cramping or spotting can occur as the body prepares to move from Yin to Yang. Get to know your cycles and allow your body and mind space to transition.

Phase 3 (days 15-21) is very Yang focussed; the body is building and nourishing the uterus ready for implantation if fertilization occurs, or shedding the lining if it doesn’t. This segment of the cycle is very energetic. Remember to support yourself during this energetic time with nutrient dense foods and adequate hydration.

Phase 4 (days 22-28) focusses on Qi. As oestrogen levels drop, serotonin levels can also drop and this can affect our mood and emotions. PMS can occur, tears, frustration, anger, as well as physical symptoms such as bloating or breast tenderness. All of these symptoms are based on the lack of free flowing Qi and result in Qi stagnation. So this segment of the cycle it is important to eat clean, take gentle exercise and avoid stimulants in order to support the Liver energy to keep Qi gently flowing freely. It might be a time where you might want to reach for those sugary snacks, so try to substitute those with better choices. We can also choose to eat warming foods because Qi needs heat to keep the fluids moving. Avoiding cold foods and drinks, and exposure to cold weather, swimming and sitting on cold surfaces can all help to support this phase of the cycle.

Self Help for Constipation

Constipation can vary from being an irritating problem that flares up from time to time, to a debilitating chronic condition causing abdominal pain and other complications.

Physically, constipation can be caused by all sorts of things including a lack of fluid and healthy fats and oils, a diet lacking in fibre, medication and food intolerances. 

Mentally and emotionally it can be triggered by stress, inability to let go of things such as the events from the past, and unwillingness to take in new life, new things, change. 

If there is a lot of faecal compaction the laxatives will only soften the newer stool; the compacted stool will remain. The best way to move stool is to bulk it out with insoluble fibre. This will create a larger stool to push everything through, without absorbing water which would make the stool very hard, difficult and painful to pass. Good sources of insoluble fibre are flax seeds soaked in water, or porridge oats. Both will form a “gloopiness” which is known as mucilage. This is an oily lubricant which will help assist the intestinal tract.

Both reflexology and acupuncture would be beneficial for constipation as both will offer space and time to deeply relax which will switch on the “rest and digest” and break the cycle of “fight or flight”.

Below are some self help tips you can try if you’re are suffering with constipation. These can be tried alongside the general advice of increasing water intake, increasing fibre intake, increasing healthy fats and oils and reducing white refined carbohydrates, sugary foods, caffiene, alcohol and stress.

Look up the following acupuncture points using the internet and gently massage these twice a day for 2 minutes. Do both left and right sides. San Jiao 6 (lower arm) and Gall Bladder 34 (lower leg below the knee).

Ask a friend or family member to gently massage the lower half of the soles of your feet. This general guidance will cover the small and large intestine reflexes. Here is a foot map as a general guide.

Ear points for the intestines (large circle) and rectum (smaller circle) can be gently massaged. Please see the diagram here. Add gentle pressure using finger and thumb, rotate and release. Do this no more than once to begin with, covering the whole area. Then wait as the body digests the action. Note that over stimulation can create feelings of nausia and dizziness, so “less is more” in this case. If any point is sensitive, this is a good indication of imbalance. Treat both ears.

When using the toilet, use a stool to raise up your feet so that you are replicating the squatting position, which is the best position to pass stools. For more information see Squatty Potty.

Ask a friend or family member to massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction. You could also include hips and lower back. Essential oils could also be used. A recommended book would be The Fragrant Pharmacy by Valerie Woomwood. As I’m not a qualified aromatherapist I won’t make suggestions here.

Take a table of flax seeds, cover in water, and soak. Once softened add more water and a small amount of good honey and drink. Do this twice a day. If this is completely undesirable then an alternative option would be to make up porridge using organic oats and water (no milk or sugar). Sweeten lightly with good honey.

Deep breathing exercises. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the Lung and Large Intestine channels are paired; the Lung is the Yin breathing in our essential life Qi, and the Large Intestine is letting go of waste, and the old. Spend a few minutes focusing on taking deep breaths, through the nose and into the belly, and then release. 

As with all self-help information, use at your own risk and do not substitite for prescribed medication or consultation with your GP/medical practitioner.

Ear Points for Headache

Headaches and migraines can be painful at best and debilitating at worst. There are so many triggers for headaches including food, stress, hypertension, hormonal surges, bright lights, and strong smells (to name but a few). To ease a headache, many of us will reach for the painkillers to get through the day.

In this post, I’d like to share 3 ear points to use for the symptom of headache. Find each point, add gentle pressure using finger and thumb, rotate and release. Do this no more than once to begin with, and then wait as the body digests the action. Note that over stimulation can create feelings of nausia and dizziness, so “less is more” in this case. If any point is sensitive, this is a good indication of imbalance.

Point 1: Liver Yang

This is on the outer edge of the ear known as the Helix. Gently palpate in this area to see if there is a sensitive spot. Then gently add pressure, rotate and release.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Liver energy is responsible for the smooth flow of Blood and Qi, as well as emotions. If you are feeling angry or frustrated then Liver Yang might be accumilating in the upper body and head, causing symptom of headache.

Point 2: Subcortex.

The area marked here includes the Brain and Head. Gently squeeze this area placing the forefinger inside of this flap (known as the Antitragus) and the thumb on the outside. Add pressure, rotate and release.

As the symptom we are addressing is located in this body part, it is a straightforward action of stimulating the reflex point to have a corresponding effect on the body.

Point 3: Ear Shenmen.

This point is great for regulation and calm, and also used for the relief of pain. Place forefinger on the point, and support with thumb behind the ear. Add pressure, rotate and release.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shenmen translates to “door of the mind”. By using this point we not only aim to calm the mind, but we also look to calm the heart.

By using these points, the intention is to provide rapid pain relief, or reduction of pain, from the symptom of headache. As with all self-help information, use at your own risk and do not substitite for prescribed medication or consultation with your GP/medical practitioner.

Acupoints for Self Help

This short article outlines some key point prescriptions for common ailments that can be used at home with gentle acupressure or stick-on magnets. Use all the points within each combination bi-laterally.

These points are fairly easy to find via a search engine in order for you to see the locations. Massage each point gently for approximately 2 minutes, at least once a day but more often if you can. Notice a difference straight away or after a few sessions.

Inflammation

Any ailments caused by an excess of heat and inflammation, use Large Intestine 11 and 4, as well as Spleen 6. Magnets would be an excellent choice for this point combination as they are naturally cooling.

Pain

As a general prescription for pain, use Stomach 36, Large Intestine 4 and Liver 3.

Anxiety

For any anxiety related symptoms especially nausea, use Pericardium 6 and Heart 7, found on the wrists.

Toothache

To reduce pain and discomfort from toothache, use Stomach 44 and Large Intestine 4.

Sore Throat

To ease a sore throat use Kidney 6 and Lung 7 together.

What are you shouldering?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Large Intestine channel starts at the tip of the radial side (thumb side) of the second finger and runs up along the arm to the elbow crease then up to the anterior (front) shoulder,a cross to the neck and ending at the nose. It is a primary channel to be affected when it comes to shoulder and elbow problems.

I have recently treated many clients with acupoints on the shoulder, elbow and arm. One client in particular presented with debilitating hip and sciatic pain on the left. After assessing her feet for foot-reading and reflexology based markers it was plain to see that the right shoulder was not happy. This reflex point was screaming red and presenting with a lot of heat; it was particularly eye-catching. After discussing my findings we agreed to use acupuncture moving forward. Palpating particular points around the shoulder and into the arm indicated tenderness and a desire to be “worked” and released. After two sessions the client is enjoying significant pain reduction and improved sleep patterns.

Mentally and emotionally we can “shoulder” a lot of emotion, burden and responsibility. If we don’t address this then physical pain can manifest. What I find interesting is that the Large Intestine channel runs along here, and if we consider what it does as a physical functioning organ; to process and eliminate waste, then mentally and emotionally we have to work on “letting go” of the burdens and responsibilities that we unnecessarily place on our (metaphorical) shoulders.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the Large Intestine is paired with the Lung. We breathe in new life force (Qi) with the Lungs and eliminate the old (waste) through the Large Intestine. In many clients I have seen with issues affecting the shoulder and/or elbow is that there is often an imbalance in the chest too (smokers, COPD, grief). If we continue to hold on to things that do not serve us, it will start backing up and impacting on how much new energy we can let in.

As a therapist I have experienced my own health issues (and continue to) as well as observed health issues in others. I can help my clients feel better but ultimately it is down to them to go away and do the work. We cannot treat the physical without looking at the mental/emotional aspect too. I share what I learn with them in clinic and through this blog in the hope that I live a life from which others can benefit by realising or recognising aspects in themselves.

Liver Season

Within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Spring is the season to support the Liver and Gallbladder.

You might think that we are a little early for talk about Spring in early February, however although it may feel very wintery still, and there may be snow on the ground or snow still yet to come, new life is already rising up from the ground with the sight of new shoots and buds, and the arrival of crocus and snowdrops.

The colour associated with the Liver is Green, and the element is Wood. If we consider what Wood is, we can see that it is both being and becoming; it is consistent yet it is always growing steadily, gently, persistently. As the tree moves into Spring we visualise it flowing and spreading its branches ready for new growth and the warmer seasons ahead.

So with Spring we feel a new surge of energy rising up, we can feel a creative impulse. We can feel on the edge of new beginnings. Yet we are only in February! So be aware that this can create a sense of irritability and impatience.

The Liver is responsible for maintaining the smooth flow of Qi and blood. This isn’t just in a physical form, but also emotionally, helping our emotions to flow smoothly. Mood swings, bad moods and anger can come from unbalanced Liver Qi. Insomnia can also be another indicator of imbalanced Liver Qi, as it’s most active time is between 1am and 3am, a period where we should be experiencing deep sleep. Other symptoms might include:

  • Headaches
  • Tendon problems
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Eye issues
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • PMS

There are many things you can do to support your Liver energy at this time. But if you choose to do any of these things, do them gently! Remember the steady way the tree grows. We want to support ourselves in a kind and nurturing way, so make small changes over a period of time, and choose changes that resonate with you and where you are in your life at this moment:

  • Move. If you don’t already exercise then start doing something gentle now.
  • Tidy up your diet. Cut down on fried and fatty foods and replace them with healthy fats and oils, reduce sugar and processed foods, manage portion sizes and snacking, enjoy fresh foods, eat slowly.
  • Hydrate with plenty of water and perhaps a squeeze of lemon or some apple cider vinegar, which nourish the Liver.
  • Recreate order out of chaos: declutter emotionally/mentally as well as physically. Let go of old resentments and practice forgiveness. Make a start on your inner self.
  • Sew your seeds! Try something new, and be a little daring.
  • Book in for some acupuncture.
  • Buy yourself a new scarf!

We have talked about Liver season and it’s element of Wood and it’s colour Green, but one final aspect to point out is it’s climate: Wind. So although we feel that Spring is just around the corner, make sure you continue to wrap up warm particularly around the neck, shoulders and ears. This is known as your “Wind Gate” area and will be vulnerable to Wind invasion as we go through periods of temperamental weather, adjusting from Winter through to the warmer part of the year.

Have a great Spring!

Understanding puberty in girls from a TCM perspective

We can all remember the struggles of our teenage years; problems such as acne, the start of our periods, breasts forming, getting used to wearing bras, peer pressure, increasing levels of school work and home work, not being able to get out of bed in the mornings.

As a parent, I want my own daughters to have an easier time than I did. As a therapist, I am more aware of the strains put upon children and teenagers, and how this can effect them physically, psychologically and emotionally.

In my previous blog post, I explained in general terms about our Kidney energy being responsible for our growth and development, and reproductive health. If we experience a painful puberty it is likely that we will experience a more difficult menopause. We also want to optimise fertility, pregnancy and childbirth in between these two milestones, as well as general health and wellness, and they are all interlinked.

The following behaviours can have a significant impact on a young woman’s health:

  1. Early sexual activity. This can have an impact on uterine health at such a vulnerable time, causing imbalances such as blood stasis.
  2. Excessive physical work and exercise, During puberty, this may cause weakness and deficiency in the developing body (Spleen and Kidney), which in turn can lead to stagnation. Of course this depends on the individual constitution, but it is important to be aware of as a parent.
  3. Exposure to external cold. Young women are vulnerable to invasion of external cold, particularly during puberty. Social pressure to wear clothes that reveal the lower back and abdomen, going out without a coat and scarf, prioritising their physical appearance over their well-being can leave them prone to being attacked by the external pathogen of cold. If cold attacks the uterus, it will contract and cause stagnation.
  4. The use of tampons blocks the natural downward flow of blood and can cause stagnation. There are also many other health risks associated with tampons including the exposure to environmental oestrogens which is covered in a different blog post.
  5. Emotional stress and anxiety will have a massive impact on energy levels, depleting the Kidneys and creating excess Heart energy. If it is held onto then this can cause stagnation.

Taking care during this sensitive time will have a massive impact on our young women’s health as they get older. Common problems such as period pain, irregular periods, heavy/scanty periods, infertility, endometriosis, anxiety and depression, fatigue can all be improved through gentle communication, education and sensitivity around these issues at a young age.

If you are interested in receiving some acupuncture or reflexology sessions please contact me directly for an initial chat.

Jackie Marsden is a Reflexologist, Acupuncturist and Foot Reading Practitioner, based at Elder Cottage Clinic, Warton, Preston, PR4. She is a full member of the Association of Reflexologists.

A healthy mid-life means an easier menopause

The most important thing to know about the menopause is prevention, so if you are a woman in your midlife, getting the support and balance you need will help you in your menopausal years. This blog aims to explains the menopause in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms, and gives indicators on how you can support yourself as well as receiving treatments in-clinic.

As a therapist with a predominantly female clientele, and a 40-something woman myself, I have a particular interest in this subject. Many women suffer with the two main symptoms of menopause: hot flushes and dryness (an excess of heat and a lack of moisture). In addition to these symptoms, women can also feel emotionally unstable, have difficultly sleeping and concentrating, experience frequent headaches, feel lethargic and tired, irritable, anxious, depressed and nervous.

Although the menopause usually comes at around the age of 50, the decline in the ovarian follicles and in oestrogen occurs throughout our lives. The number of follicles at birth has already halved by puberty, and continues to decline up to the menopause. Thus the menopausal symptoms can start to appear at an earlier stage in life, so we are never too young to take notice.

In TCM, from our conception, our Kidneys store our vital life essence (Jing). Jing circulates over long periods, dominating our developmental stages (usually 7 year cycles in women and 8 year cycles in men). Our Kidneys dominate growth and reproduction. They also dominate water metabolism and bone, and produce marrow (brain). So you can see that our Kidney energy is very important in not only giving us our life force and will-power, it also governs our reproductive systems, and works closely with the lungs to moisten the body, as well as strengthens our skeletal system. These are all closely linked to common health problems in women (osteoporosis, dryness, infertility, irregular menstrual cycles and fatigue to name a few).

Thinking about menopause, anything that will weaken our Kidney energy is going to have an impact on our menopause. Our busy modern day lives seem to dictate a very stressful way of living. For example, parents going out to work as well as looking after children will often feel overwhelmed and unrested, causing tiredness, fatigue and irritability. Tobacco smoking will “burn fluids” and dry out moisture. Irregular diets high in beige carbs, processed foods and sugars will create “phlegm” (this is a TCM term for thick stagnation). Too much tea, coffee and alcohol is very “yang” in nature and therefore will add heat to the body and thus aggravate symptoms such as hot flushes. Not enough fluid/water intake will have an effect on moisture levels. Emotional stress will also deplete Kidney energy.

As women, we need to create space in our lives to allow balance. We need to replenish our Kidney energy with enough rest between busy times, we need to eat and drink in moderation and eat well; foods that are nutrient dense and foods that add moisture. Drink enough fluids. Only do what we can comfortably do and don’t over stretch ourselves. If we do all of this then we will naturally regulate our day-to-day emotional stresses, but anything lying deeper should be dealt with and not “carried” as this will also deplete the Kidneys, as well as create excess Heart energy adding fire/heat, exacerbating hot flushes, irritability and dryness.

If you are interested in receiving some acupuncture or reflexology sessions please contact me directly for an initial chat.

Jackie Marsden is a Reflexologist, Acupuncturist and Foot Reading Practitioner, based at Elder Cottage Clinic, Warton, Preston, PR4. She is a full member of the Association of Reflexologists.

Lung Season

As summer draws to a close we start to move away from the relaxed and carefree attitudes of the warmer and longer days, and move into more serious and introspective energies of autumn. This is the season of the Lung.

Create Space

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the season of the Lung is all about organisation, setting limits and protecting boundaries. It’s element is metal (air); clean, pure and purposeful. It is a great time to have a clear out, get organised and tidy up, creating space. It is important to be letting go of any strong attachments you have to people, objects and experiences: attachment can hinder opportunities to learn and for growth.

Breathe in, Breathe out

The Lung is all about breathing in the new, and letting go of the old or the waste. It is no surprise then to find that the Lung (yin) is paired with the Large Intestine (yang). Yin is fluid and yang is flow. We must have fluid in order to flow. If the fluid becomes depleted, or stagnated, or in excess, then this will consequently effect the flow. Traditional Chinese Medicine understands that life is all about balance: if the body and mind are out of balance then this is where dis-ease can occur.

Grief

The emotion of the Lung is sadness (grief). If we spend a lot of time re-living the past in our minds, or having strong attachments, this can deplete our Lung energy and create deficiency. Of course it is only natural and healthy to experience sadness and loss, but it must be resolved and not prolonged. It must be experienced and learned from, not perpetually endured. Grief cleanses us of what is not needed in our lives. Chronic deficiencies in Lung energy lead to depletion and consequently to depression and other issues.

Things we can do

The Lung is the only yin organ with direct contact to the exterior, and therefore we must take care of this delicate organ by protecting our wind gates and wrapping up warm with collars and scarves as the colder weather prevails.

The climate of Lung season is dryness. We can eat warm and foods that are cooked for longer; nourishing and moisturising, supporting the body and the immune system.

If we live in balance with nature, Autumn is about contracting and slowing down, looking inwards, getting ready to rest (for the winter).

Spend time deep breathing and visualising letting go of everything that no longer serves you.

These are just some simple things we can pay attention to during the season of the Lung. The element of metal gives us our sense of self worth, our own self-value. We must look inside ourselves for that.

Next up: winter – season of the Kidneys.

 

Jackie Marsden is a Reflexologist, Acupuncturist and Foot Reading Practitioner, based at Elder Cottage Clinic, Warton, Preston.

Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse at FreeDigitalPhotos.net