Chinese medicine dates back over three thousand years. The oldest book on Chinese medical theory, The Nei Jing, was written between 300 and 100 BC. It describes the theory and application of yin and yang and the five organ, element system. It teaches the causes of disease, explains how to diagnose illness, and tells how energy flows through the body. It still serves as the theoretical basis of acupuncture which today is one of the most widely used forms of medicine in the world.
Although acupuncture is ancient, it has only been practiced in this country for about 50 years. In 1972, a New York Times reporter, James Reston, accompanied Henry Kissinger to China. While there he had emergency appendectomy surgery and was so impressed by the post-surgery acupuncture he received, he wrote about his experience. This created interest in the modality in the US. In 1974, the first acupuncture school in this country, the New England School of the Acupuncture (NESA), was opened. I studied there, graduating and receiving my license in 1998.
Most folks don’t know this, but there are several different styles of acupuncture. These styles that evolved as Chinese medicine spread to different countries. Acupuncture arrived in Japan in 562 AD. Schools were established during the 8th century. Acupuncture was considered an appropriate vocation for the blind, and as a result, acupuncturists in Japan developed extremely sensitive kinesthetic skills. They learned to get information by feeling the pulse and palpating the abdomen. In Japan, acupuncturists apprenticed with masters and learned by observing their work.
At NESA, after the first year of training, students have to choose to study between a Chinese or Japanese acupuncture track. I chose Japanese and began studying the style of a well-known acupuncturist from Japan, Kiiko Matsumoto. Kiiko, to this day, studies with the masters in Japan and brings their teachings to the US, carrying on a several thousand year old tradition.
I continue to study with her and feel honored to be a part of this ancient way of healing.
Ever find yourself going through life when, seemingly all of a sudden, you find yourself a little too busy? Stress levels go up, you can't find a common household object, you don't remember what you did just yesterday? You seem annoyed a the smallest of incidents.
Pay attention. These are warning signs. Wake up calls. Your life has become unmanageable and it's time to take stock.
I recently felt this way. I thought, “Yikes. I'm a healer. How did this happen to me?” The truth is it happens to all of us. Turns out since January in addition to my work there have been travel plans, family visits, a continuing ed class, house projects….all neatly posted on my calendar. All things that brought me joy. But I hadn't factored in enough time for me.
It made me think about the wisdom of Eastern medicine and the yin and yang diagram.
This diagram and paradigm makes clear that our active (yang) side must be balanced my our restful (yin) side. After activity there must be rest. We either have a sustainable activity/rest cycle OR we go, go, go until we collapse.
What often happens when we start to feel stress is that we try to do more. We frantically go through our to-do list. It may not be intuitive, but the best thing to do when you are overly busy and overwhelmed is to slow down, take stock, meditate or take a walk for 10 minutes. Get into a relaxed state.
Then take a look at what you need to do. See if you can separate the urgent from everything else. Cross things off your list. Get clear on what is most important to you.
Hyperactivity breeds more hyperactivity. We often convince ourselves that things that can wait until tomorrow or next week or even next year need to be done immediately. We enter a state of constantly putting out fires. And the only way to truly disengage is to step away.
Here are my suggestions to combat stress and exhaustion:
It's no accident that my practice is called "Staying in Balance." Keeping our bodies and our lives in balance is the cornerstone to health.
It’s springtime! It’s been a long winter, but one of the things that I like most about living in New England is the feeling of sheer joy and excitement as the weather gets warmer, and we take a collective sigh of relief that the snow and cold are gone.
In Eastern Medicine, it is the time of the liver. We speak about organ functionality, rather than the physical organs, and the liver in Chinese Medicine is responsible for the smooth movement of energy in the body. It is associated with the color green, the emotions of anger and kindness, sour taste and tendons. (For more on this, see five elements/organs).
Liver energy is upward moving. The sap rises in trees. Buds appear. Flowers start to bloom. Here in the Valley gardeners are planting seeds in the soil. Watching as green shoots spring up from the ground.
Just as nature is affected by this energy, we are too! Do you feel the seasonal change? Take a moment to notice how you have been affected by longer days and warmer weather.
Springtime is a time a new beginnings. Take this to heart. Use the energy of the season to plant what I call “life seeds.” These are the seeds of your hopes and dreams. The best way that I know of doing this is to write down an intention. I know it’s scary. It is. To write down something that you want. What if you don’t get it? What if you are asking for too much? And all the other “what ifs” that we tell ourselves.
Here’s the thing. If you don’t plant a seed, you will never reap a harvest. And there is nothing sweeter than reaping the rewards of “life seeds” planted. Need some help with this? Take a look at my blogs on creating one new habit and following your dreams.
If you need an “acupuncture tune-up,” this is a great time for it. Let my needles do their magic.
I write this with my heartfelt wishes for your new beginnings!
I traveled to New Orleans a few weeks ago. I knew I had truly arrived when our Lyft driver said "How ya doing, Miss Bonnie?" I had made a lunch reservation and when we arrived I was greeted with "Welcome, Miss Bonnie." On a shuttle bus to Mardi Gras World the driver asked if this was my first time in New Orleans. When I said it was my second, he replied "Welcome Home."
New Orleans is a great place to travel to. The food, music, warm weather, welcoming people make it so special. Being there feels like getting a big hug.
But I want to tap into something deeper. The importance of social connection. Not just because it makes us feel good -- although this is important. But because it makes us healthier.
Here's what the experts have to say:
Here is "Miss Bonnie's" take on all this:
One of the reasons that I love Eastern Medicine is because of its emphasis on connection. In the 5 element/5 organ system that we use no one organ/element exists on its own. The energy of the liver feeds the heart, the heart energy feeds the spleen, the spleen energy feeds the lungs, the lung energy feeds the kidneys, the kidney energy feeds the liver. The cycle is completed and begins again.
As people we may feel isolated, but we never exist in true isolation.
With you in spirit…
February is almost here, and I’m thinking about Valentine’s Day! For me it’s a day not just about romantic love, but about all forms of love and how love is expressed.
I want to share with you an exercise that I've done over the past month. It's called "Where Does Love Live?" Each night I wrote a sentence or two about where love lives that day. It's been a great way to check in about what I'm doing, thinking and feeling.
Here are notes from my first few days writing about where love lives.
12/21 On a dark night, driving on the highway from Massachusetts to Cleveland, remembering my first road trip with Dan 14 years ago. (We met carpooling to Bethel, Maine for a ski trip & we’ve been together ever since.)
12/22 Sitting between my tall, beautiful nieces on the way to lunch at Stone Oven. Watching the way they connect with each other.
12/23 Staying at my mother-in-law’s condo. Being able to relax, read, study...no responsibility.
I'm realizing how often I jump from task to task without reflecting on what truly brings me joy. Don't get me wrong, I live a good life -- I love my work, my husband, my home. But it's easy to get into routines and wake up day after day thinking that there is a little something missing.
By reflecting on where my heart is at the end of each day, I feel a kind of awakening. I get the realization of what is working in my life, as well as where I want to be heading. You may too!
Roses and chocolate may be symbols of love, but why not look into you heart and see what it has to say. You may be surprised.
If you try this exercise, feel free to share your thoughts with me.
Sending loving and healing energy…
I love this article from my colleague, Katherine Golub, career / business / leadership coach and consultant in Western Mass. She teaches us how to focus on the postitive! To learn more about her work, visit www.CoreBrillianceAcademy.com
What are you dreaming of for the new year? Did you make a resolution, set an intention, choose a word?
At the beginning of every year, I like to choose one word to focus my attention for the year. This year, my word is "Foundation."
No matter how you set your intentions, January is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings for many people. Do you want to learn how to be more confident, more present, or more creative? Perhaps you want to take better care of yourself. Whatever it is, if you’re like most people, I'm guessing that there's probably some new habit that you’d like to develop this year.
Most of us aren’t taught how we form habits or how we can change them, and because of that, developing new habits can feel daunting. I'm happy to tell you that, in fact, developing new habits and strengths can be simple.
Instead of working super hard to fight against old behaviors, it can be much more useful to just take in the good.
What do I mean by “taking in the good?”
In Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson writes that the most effective path to developing emotional habits or strengths such as gratitude, presence, and confidence is to notice when you're already engaged in these habits and then to feel how you feel in your body. He calls this process “taking in the good.”
With repeated, intense, and prolonged mental focus on what’s working, you grow new synapses and change how your DNA functions so that you literally experience more of what works. For example, by noticing when you feel confident, you strengthen your ability to feel confident. When you notice yourself feeling focused, you increase your ability to focus. When you allow yourself to feel really good when you practice self-care (even if it’s just for five minutes), you increase the likelihood that you'll practice self-care again soon.
As human beings, we too often focus on what we don’t want to do or to feel.
Unfortunately, focusing on what you don’t want makes it harder to develop the habits you do want. For example, trying to figure out how to be "not stressed" can stress you out, even more.
The brain can't think in negatives. Don't think of a pink elephant. You can't do it, right? Every time you think about what you don't want, your focus goes to the negative, and you're more likely to replicate that. Instead, when you think about what you do want, you send your energy in that new, more generative direction.
So, what are the steps to taking in the good and building new habits?
Your first step to cultivating new habits or strengths is to choose one or two to focus on.
Rather than focusing on the habit you want to let go of, focus on the habit you want to cultivate. Keep in mind that your problem requires a matched solution. For example, if you struggle with the state in the left column, consider focusing on the habit or strength in the right column--
• Exhaustion… Energy
• Stagnation… Movement
• Anxiety… Ease
• Fear… Courage
• Shame… Self-Compassion
• Resistance… Curiosity
• Withdrawal… Engagement
• Scarcity… Gratitude
• Frustration… Fulfillment
• Stuckness… Forward Movement
• Drivenness… Pleasure
• Rejection… Belonging
• Isolation… Connection
• Grief… Love
Your next step is to notice moments in which you experience the habit or strength you desire.
To develop the habits and strengths we desire—such as trust, humor, and ease—we need to notice when we experience these positive states. Often, we’re already engaging in the actions or experiencing the states that we want to make habitual, but we’re not paying attention. By paying attention to when we are acting and feeling the ways we want, we strengthen our ability to act or feel this way even more.
If you don’t naturally find yourself experiencing your desired emotions, you can remember past experiences, imagine the future you desire, or celebrate the good in the lives of others.
Once you create a positive experience, allow yourself to really savor the moment and experience it in your body.
Sense the experience fully in your body, taking in as many sensory aspects as possible—sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, feeling, and thinking. Feeling the experience in your body helps it to sink in and create new connections in your brain.
Like any new strength, your ability to focus your attention is like a muscle. It gets stronger the more you exercise it. Taking in positive experiences makes your brain “stickier” for them, which in turn increases the likelihood that you'll notice more positive experiences. That makes your brain even more sticky so that you notice positive experiences more. It's a feedback loop of positivity. This cycle makes it less and less likely for negative experiences to slip into your mind and affect your brain.
From now on, any time you experience a small win, seize the opportunity to celebrate.
When you receive a compliment, take a deep breath, let it really soak in, and say thank you. Or cross off items off your to-do list as you complete them so that you have a picture of accomplishment. Or, at the beginning or end of each day, think of three things that you’re proud of, that you appreciate about yourself, or that brought you joy.
Focusing on what brings you joy ten times a day, fifteen seconds at a time only, takes a total of two and a half minutes. But it's one of the most powerful ways to change your brain and your life.
Whatever your hopes for the new year may be, I encourage you to gift yourself a few moments each day to take in the good. Not only is this a very effective way to cultivate new habits, but it’s also fun. I wish you all the best on your journey to building the habits you want!
What started out as an idea for a pre-Thanksgiving newsletter turned into a gratitude practice. It was one of those “aha” moments when I realized that I needed to follow the advice I was giving.
And so I started a gratitude list. I suggesting that you do this as well. It’s a powerful exercise in becoming aware of the connections that exist between you and the rest of the world.
Be true to the essence of the holiday. Give thanks...
Do you feel like you’re on go all the time? Do you feel the pressure of work, family and social obligations? We live in over-scheduled times. We have busy calendars and long to-do lists. You may be doing more and it may feel good for a little while. But take a moment to ask yourself if you are leading a truly meaningful and productive life.
From an Eastern perspective our culture focuses on the Yang side of life. Yang energy corresponds to activity, light, heat and daytime. It’s opposite, yin, corresponds to rest, darkness, sleep, cold, and nighttime.
These two types of energy are found in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the system that operates mostly unconsciously and regulates many body functions such as heartbeat, respiration and digestion. The ANS consists of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (your Yang energy) prepares your body for action when it senses danger by pumping adrenaline into your blood stream. During this “fight or flight” response, the following occurs:
The Parasympathetic Nervous System (your Yin energy) serves as a brake to this revved up energy. This “rest and digest” response slows things down in these ways:
Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are important. They are needed to balance one another as they perform opposite but necessary functions. However, we live in a stressful culture. Each stressor activates the sympathetic nervous system keeping our bodies in sympathetic overdrive. For many of us there is too much go, go, go and not enough rest.
Acupuncture treatments regulate the autonomic nervous system by releasing neurotransmitters and hormones, or in Eastern terms, balancing yin and yang. I find that patients go into a deeply relaxed state and report sleeping better after treatments. Over time pain decreases, digestion improves, anxiety is diminished. This leads to improved health, relationships and life choices.
"One of the great things about a treatment with Bonnie is afterwards I feel very focused, clear and centered. Each treatment also has a calming effect and allows me to sleep better."
Pat P. - Sunderland
Nutrition is a part of the tradition of acupuncture. A balanced diet is considered essential to good health. Eastern nutrition focuses on the energetic qualities of food. Certain foods (like dairy products) cause cold and dampness in the body – both of which weaken the digestive system. Certain foods (like ginger) are warming and help strengthen digestion.
When I work with patients around nutrition and weight loss, my approach is fivefold:
I’ll share a weight-loss secret that has helped me take and keep off those few extra pounds. Eating well and obtaining and maintaining your ideal weight is within your reach. The wisdom of acupuncture can give you the tools that you need to love and nourish your body for life.
Halloween candy reminds me of a theory that I have been pondering over the last few months. I call it the "Twizzler effect:"
It goes back to the Twizzler licorice that I ate as a kid -- those strands of licorice twisted around each other. In my mind, they represent two aspects of any situation. One strand represents the aspects of life that you cannot change. If it's raining outside, you can't stop the rain.
But, there is also another factor – your relationship to the first aspect. This is the second strand.
You can’t stop the rain, but you can open an umbrella and stay dry. You can appreciate that the rain helps to grow the fruits and vegetables that you eat. You can jump in puddles or curl up with a good book. You can look for rainbows.
The Twizzler effect applies to your health. You are aging. At some point in your life, you are bound to feel the effects of illness and disease. (I say this so you don’t feel bad or blame yourself when this happens.) But, this is only the first strand. It’s not the whole picture. There is hope.
Hope exists in the second strand, the things that you do to care for yourself. This includes the foods you fill your body with, the thoughts you fill your mind with, the people you surround yourself with and the healers you go to. It’s this second strand that you have control over.
By focusing your energy on the things you can change, you can create a space of health and well-being. You can find deep acceptance of who you are AND make conscious shifts to become the person you want to be.
Bonnie Diamond, Licensed Acupuncturist