Headaches come in a variety of forms from tension headaches to migraines. Causes include structural, hormonal and immune system imbalances, sinus congestion and one of the most common culprits – stress.
Whatever the cause, headaches can be debilitating – wrecking havoc with the best of lives.
Here are some simple suggestions to get relief:
The most important thing is to begin to find relief. On your calendar, write down the day and time of day when you have a headache. See if you notice any patterns. Start practicing the above suggestions. See if they make a difference. Keep track of how you are doing. By paying attention, YOU can become a healthier, happier person!
Oriental Medicine teaches us that we need to rest. Our active yang side needs to be balanced by our receptive yin side. Just as day turns into night, activity gives way to rest. This is one of the primary rhythms of our lives. Western science is finding evidence that this can be verified by studying the brain.
Scientists have known that memories are formed and consolidated during sleep. In addition, a study published in the journal, Science, provides evidence that waste products that accumulate in the brain are removed to a much greater extend during sleep. Those zzzzs are truly important.
Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. For some of us, we just don’t allocate that much time. In our fast-paced culture, it’s easy to burn both sides of the candle. So it’s important to ask, “Am I allowing myself to get sufficient rest?” If not, it’s time to take a look at your calendar and make some adjustments.
Other people are in bed at a reasonable hour, but have problems falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Here are some suggestions.
Here's to sweet dreams!
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.
When we are living a life that reflects our core values and are moving with ease through the day, we can’t help but bring other people into our lives. When we find our own rhythm, we connect to the rhythms of others. The most amazing thing about the rhythm of connection is that it reminds us that we are not alone. It allows us to be with, to learn from and to teach others.
As miraculous as this connection may be, it also presents certain challenges. How can we stay true to our own rhythm and also allow for the rhythms of others? How can we maintain autonomy and control of our own lives while we seek out community and connection?
Here are 12 suggestions for facilitating the rhythm of connection:
None of these ideas are new. Yet they all come alive again and again as we make them part of our lives. In Oriental Medicine, the summer is the season of the heart and the corresponding emotion is joy. As you go through the next few warm weather months, remember the heart, feel the joy and practice the rhythm of connection.
A healthy rhythm helps you to move in the direction of your dreams. This takes commitment, intention and a certain amount of effort. In the short-term this process may seem time-consuming and anxiety-provoking. But, what if you began living a life that supported your core values? What if it became easier to set and incorporate new goals? Here are some ideas for you to try out:
• Make use of natural rhythms and listen to your body. Get enough sleep. Rest when you feel tired. If you’re a morning person, start your day with the things that are most important to you. Alternatively, set aside time in the evening if that’s when you work best.
• Each week make a list of things that you want to accomplish. Review the list each morning and schedule in the most important items. This will help you stay focused and on track.
• Keep things that are important to you on your list, even if you have trouble getting them completed. It can take time to incorporate new activities. Keep reminding yourself of the things that you want to do.
• Fifteen minutes is better than none. My life revolves around this. I never have enough time to do everything – particularly exercise. Instead I fill in 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there. It adds up. Beginning is 90 percent of life.
• Learn to choose wisely. There is never enough time to do all the things you might want to. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do everything. As you add things to your life that you truly love, let the less essential things fall by the wayside.
• Learn to say no. It’s important to honor commitments that you have made, but you needn’t feel obligated to do things simply because others would like you to. Unschedule the things on your calendar that are not so important to you.
• Create rituals that incorporate your favorite activities. Schedule them at regular times. This way you’ll know that every Monday at 7, for example, you’ll swim or listen to your favorite music.
As with growing a garden, cultivating a healthy rhythm takes place over time. We wouldn’t expect an apple tree to bear fruit right after we plant the seeds. Be patient with yourself. Remember that there are outside forces that affect our lives. Some seasons the weather cooperates and there is sufficient rain and sun. Other times we are less fortunate. Part of being a successful farmer, is the ability to survive the lean seasons. It’s important not to get discouraged if life events wreak havoc with the best laid plans.
Find joy in the planting and cultivating. Keep a certain healthy detachment from the results of your endeavors. Finding your rhythm gives you something even greater than accomplishing goals. It gives you the courage and strength to get through whatever life throws your way. It provides you with a safe harbor during unexpected storms. Most importantly it puts you in touch with your truest self. And so I encourage you to look for your rhythm, to practice living in connection with it and to be the person you were brought into this world to be.
If you threw away your computer, Iphone, calendar, would you still know how to live? Talk to any baby boomer and you will find memories of a childhood without play dates and arranged activities. We reminisce about simpler days when we played out in the street and knew to be home for dinner.
So, am I suggesting we turn back the clock and surrender to a simpler past? No, not at all. We can use technology to help us live in sync with ourselves, as long as we view technology as a tool. We needn’t be slaves to our computers and hi-tech gadgets.
For a moment put aside the messages to be more productive. Toss aside expectations that don’t suit you. Life is a journey and the journey, the path is uniquely yours. Lao Tze Tung wrote, “When the shoe fits the foot is forgotten, when the belt fits the belly is forgotten.” By living in harmony with who we are, life becomes easier.
Here are some exercises to help you get in touch with your rhythm.
Spend the next few weeks putting this information together. In the next newsletter in this series I’ll talk about how to begin to integrate the data you’ve collected with your current life. For the moment, focus only on the exercises themselves. The process of thinking about what you want is in and of itself a powerful one. Give your mind room to explore and contemplate new experiences. Relish your proudest and most complete moments. Think of memories that you created. Witness your power. Treasure the person you are. Find your “why”.
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.
Bonnie Diamond, Licensed Acupuncturist