When someone comes to me with back pain, I'm always interested in finding out exactly what they are referring to. Did they pull a muscle shoveling snow or lifting a heavy object? Have they recently had surgery? Do they have scoliosis or another structural problem? Do they have a weak immune system? Have they been spending many hours in front of the computer? Is the pain sharp and stabbing or dull and achy? Does the pain radiate into the legs?
The answer to each of these questions is important because back pain isn't one specific thing. My treatments vary depending on exactly where the pain is, what is causing it and what acupuncture points each person responds to. So I take time to listen to what each patient is experiencing. I then palpate the body carefully so I know exactly where the discomfort is. Patients who are receiving treatments from other medical professionals at the same time they are receiving acupuncture treatments tell me that these practitioners are pleasantly surprised at how quickly they recover.
Likewise, patients are often surprised that I can offer them relief without putting needles into painful areas. Instead, I pick points that release pain but are located far away from where the injury is. When the body is relaxed it is better able to receive treatment and heal.
A great acupuncture point to massage if you have lower back pain is Japanese Lung 10, which is pictured below.
One of the great strengths of Eastern thought is its ability to allow for the existence of two opposing forces or ideas at the same time. With this in mind, I offer you some suggestions for maintaining balance throughout the holiday season. My suggestions embrace the notion that the yang side of the holidays – the parties, eating, gift-giving, decorations and commercialism – can be balance by the yin side – the soul, the heart and the connections we have with ourselves, our memories and the people we care about. By slowing down a little and paying attention to our inner, yin side, we can find and create special meaning at this time of year. Here are some ideas to help you explore ways of doing this. These are only my ideas. Please take them, mutate them and transform them into your own.
Expectations run high over the holiday season. We try hard and mean well. Often the fruits of our labors pay off. The table looks beautiful. We purchased the perfect gift. Our children/spouses/friends are happy. But once in awhile, we say or do the wrong thing. We arrive late. We forget someone’s name. We become entrenched in old emotions that shadow a present situation. We become depressed. We feel inadequate. We run from our darker sides.
By acknowledging our imperfections we uncover our humanity. The notion of perfection is a human construct designed to cover up our truest selves. In accepting the self as imperfect we give others the room to be imperfect as well. We allow for forgiveness and healing. We bring light to our darker, murkier sides.
Eat for the Soul
Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, your grandmother’s pumpkin pie, Hanukah latkes, Christmas cookies, eggnog…. Add your own favorites. These are foods we wait an entire year for. They contain the tastes joyously stored in memories of years gone by. These are the foods that speak to our souls. There is room in our stomachs for the comfort foods of our youth during the holiday season. The saturated fats, sugars and calories are balanced by the joy these foods bring. Happy souls can make for happy bodies when these foods are eaten in moderation. Keep the following in mind:
B. Resist the candy jar.
C. Give or throw away excess foods.
Remember to eat slowly and relish the special tastes of the season. This is what holiday food and meals are all about.
Shop from the Heart
Gifts are expressions of love and gratitude. They needn’t be flashy or expensive but they do require some thought about the person you are giving them to.
Whether giving or receiving a gift, connect with the heartfelt thought that goes along with the present (both the gift and the moment in time.)
Slow Down and Listen
It’s a busy and emotionally laden time of year. It’s easy to hear words and make choices without really listening. Our yin side is a receptive one. Learn the value of taking in and making space for what someone else is saying. Learn the value of checking in and making space for what you are feeling.
As we come together in times of celebration, it is the connections that we make with each other that are the foundations of the memories of years to come. By listening more carefully we can create strong foundations and a lifetime of memories.
To this season of darkness, cold and winter the holidays bring light and warmth. Yin is balanced by yang. May we all find this balance within ourselves.
Take a look at the National Alliance of Mental Health's list of symptoms of depression:
If you are experiencing five or more of these symptoms, it's time to contact a healthcare professional. Acupuncture on its own can help alleviate mild to moderate depression. For severe depression, a multi-disciplinary approach is necessary. This may include counseling and medication.
When I work with patients suffering from depression, I offer these suggestions:
The most important thing is not to suffer in silence. We, each of us, have an enormous capacity to heal. Depression is a disease as real as high blood pressure and diabetes. It can be treated.
In Oriental Medicine, each of the seasons corresponds an emotion. The fall is associated with grief. It's a good time to process and let go of any sadness you may be feeling.
Take stock. Has this year's metaphorical harvest been a good one for you? Think of the things that you have reaped and sowed. What do you want more of in your life? What no longer serves you? As you notice the seasonal change outside, take a moment to reflect on what inner changes you would like to make. Write down your thoughts in a journal and look over them each week.
Advice for all Seasons
Practice gratitude. At the end of each day, write something you are grateful for. This is one of the simplest and most powerful exercises. A shift in focus can create a richer and more fulfilling life.
Life pulls us in many different directions. We have job and family demands. We can become slaves to our “to-do” list and be overwhelmed by obligations. We may eat erratically and get too little sleep. We may get bogged down in constant errands that need to be run. We may over commit and feel ourselves being run ragged. We may use caffeine to keep us awake and alcohol to help us relax. We may find ourselves feeling stressed, angry and resentful.
Or, perhaps we have too much time on our hands. We let hours pass by filling with mindless activities. We watch too much television and sit around waiting for the phone to ring. We feel lost, bored with our surroundings and discontented.
Both of these scenarios can take a toll on our health, relationships and work lives. Caught in vicious cycles, we find it easy to feel completely powerless and unable to change. Often we feel that we must simply do more to gain control of our lives. We put ourselves on rigid schedules, diets and self-improvement plans. But these don’t address the core issue at hand – that we are letting our lives run us.
If you have fallen into any of these patterns, I urge you to take a breath, step back, slow down and find your rhythm. Each day we wake up, eat, expend energy and sleep. If we live to be eighty, these days add up to 700,800 hours of life. Start to think about how you want to spend this time. What do you treasure or value you the most in life? What moments do you want more of? What books do you want to read? What tasks do you want to accomplish? What people do you want to meet? What is it that you absolutely want to do before you die?
If I were to tell you that you had $700,800 to spend, my guess is that immediately images of houses, cars, vacations or beautiful new clothes would come to mind. We live in a society that focuses on money and we are inundated with images about how to spend it. We think about money constantly and worry about not having enough of it. There are financial advisors, stockbrokers, banks and accountants to help us figure out how to invest and save. We are told to put money away for retirement and for our children’s education. The more altruistic of us may think about how to help others with our money and may donate to charities. There is even a whole season each year dedicated to figuring out how much money we have earned and how much we have to give to the government. And, we are told there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes.
Conscious management of our finances can be powerful and rewarding. But it seems to me that time is a more valuable resource. It is also a more challenging one. We can’t take out a time loan or store up time. We can’t add extra hours to our busy days. We can, however, develop a healthy rhythm that helps us move through life. Our rhythm can be a guide when our lives gets busy and stressful or when we feel we have too much time on our hands. Rhythm can help us deal with loss and change. We don’t have to constantly be making decisions about what to do next or what is most important to us. But how do we develop and nurture a rhythm that feels comfortable and authentic?
Oriental Medicine offers advice. It describes the way energy moves through our bodies over the course of the day. It describes the changes in seasons and how these changes affect us. It speaks of the life cycle and the changes the body goes through as we develop and age. It describes different personality types and the challenges people of each type face while going through life.
My newsletter series for this year is about the rhythms of our lives. If nothing else, it will get you to think differently about time. It will get you to respect time as your most valuable resource. It will make you think about how to best make use of the natural rhythms of the universe and the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of time.
I have no magic answer about how to make the best use of our days here on planet Earth. But I can offer ideas, suggestions and exercises to practice and different perspectives about viewing life. I’ll talk about how to become in touch with our own individual rhythms and how to bring these rhythms into sync with the rhythms of the universe and the rhythms of those we come into contact with. I’ll talk about how to more fully experience the moments that we have.
The beginning of this exploration starts with connecting with our most basic rhythm, the rhythm of the breath. Take a moment, right now, to breathe in and breathe out. Put aside any worries. Let go of thoughts. Just for a moment, be fully present and feel the rhythm, your rhythm. Just breathe.
Have you found yourself waiting for the perfect moment for life to begin? Are you putting off the things that truly matter to you for the day you lose 10 lbs, you get that new job, you meet the perfect partner? Here’s the secret: we only have this moment.
I learned this over twenty years ago when I was diagnosed with the not-so-well understood illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had a sore throat, low-grade fever, muscle aches and fatigue like nothing I had ever known before. A walk across a room became an exercise in exhaustion. Yet, the illness turned out to be one of the greatest gifts I was ever given.
Let me be clear. This was not the type of gift that you ask for, for Christmas or your birthday. It’s not the type of gift you excitingly rip the wrapping paper off of thrilled that somehow your life – a least for the moment – is complete. It’s not tickets to the theatre or a night out on the town. It’s the type of gift you curse for ever having been given to you. All the same, chronic fatigue syndrome changed my life for the better, in ways I still can’t completely comprehend.
My journey began when an acquaintance suggested that I try acupuncture. I went for treatments and was blown away by this ancient, healing tradition. While it wasn’t a cure, I could feel energy moving in my body. I became more interested in Oriental Medicine and went back to school to get my Masters Degree. At the same time, I tried every treatment that I could get my hands on: herbs, homeopathy, nitroglycerin, shots of vitamin B12, intravenous vitamin C, special diets and nutritional supplements. The illness waxed and waned. Finally, I noticed that the illness had a seasonal component to it. It was worse during the winter. I invested in a 10,000 lux bright light and started taking a supplement called NADH. After using these for several months, the illness subsided and has never returned.
Even before this happy ending, my life had changed. I learned the following lessons, which I want to share with you:
• set limits on your time and energy
• rest when you need to rest
• listen to your body – it is always speaking to you
• ask for and accept help
• eat foods that sustain you
• get an appropriate amount of exercise
• choose the things in life that are important to you
• set simple, achievable goals
The most important lesson is to start living the life you want now. This doesn’t mean running a marathon, traveling to a Greek island or finding your dream job. It means being creative in bringing positive experiences and people into your life. It means finding joy in life. I love to cook and I love to ice-skate. So when all I had the energy to do was to lie on the couch I was sure be watching PBS’s cooking shows and figure skating competitions. The tools that I learned while I was dealing with chronic illness are the tools that I share with my patients and those I meet who are on the path to a healthier life.
Let me know about your positive experiences — the ways that you’ve made this day better for yourself. Be inspired to live the life you want now!
Bonnie Diamond, Licensed Acupuncturist