Traditional Chinese Medicine: Nutrition

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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Nutritionists, under the teachings of Traditional Asian Medicine, believe that all foods retain, and produce, energy.  They also believe that there are direct correlations between what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat.  Traditional Asian Medicine views the energy contained in foods as either yin (cool/cold), or yang (warm/hot).  There are also five elements, or factors, which inter-relate and must be kept in balance to achieve optimal health.  These elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood.

nutrition_foodAn example of the ways in which the elements may correlate with one another, and how the nutritionist might help correct the problem, would be that of shallow breath.  Shallow breath corresponds to a Metal (lung) condition which may, or may not, have various underlying psychological conditions.  The Nutritionist might then suggest that the Earth element (spleen) is weak and prescribe foods that nourish and strengthen the Earth element which would, in turn, strengthen the Metal element (lungs).  Asian nutrition teaches that it is best to eat foods which support the element you are trying to strengthen and avoid those foods which may weaken it.

Brown rice, almonds, mustard greens, onions and pears all benefit the lungs and spleen which help eliminate phlegm, while soothing inflammation and improving energy circulation.  By the same token, the nutritionist would suggest avoiding all dairy, meat, and sweeteners which tend to weaken the spleen and contribute to mucus accumulation.

There are many therapeutic interpretations that the nutritionist would factor in when providing a diagnosis.  Foods are seen as bitter, sweet, pungent, salty, or sour and each have either cooling or warming properties.  These are not to be confused with the actual temperature of the food in question.  The warmth or coolness of the food energy either encourages contraction or expansion of that energy. The food’s temperature and season also factor in to the diagnosis.  Fruits are cooling and would be discouraged if a person had a common cold (metal/lung). However in the summer cooling foods, such as fruits, would be encouraged to balance out the heat of the actual season.  By contrast, the winter months would require warming, nourishing foods such as walnuts, chicken, and cinnamon.

The Nutritionist uses these factors along with various other categorizations to determine a diagnosis.  Other preferences such as whether or not one eats meat, or whether or not one chooses organically grown local foods over regularly mass-produced goods, are all taken into consideration before a diagnosis is given.  Asian Nutrition is a complex and sometimes confusing theory for the layperson, so it is best to seek help from a trained Nutritionist.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Bodywork

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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Bodywork is an important part of Traditional Asian medicine and deals with the principle of healing touch. Practiced in conjunction with other holistic ideologies, bodywork can provide deep relaxation as well as relief from chronic pain. It speaks to the correlation shiatsubetween muscle tension, or improper alignment, and their contribution to physical, mental, and internal imbalance. When tension is released within the body, the body is better equipped to naturally heal and promote improved health and well-being. Many use the terms bodywork and massage interchangeably, but their philosophies are vastly different. What sets bodywork apart from “massage” is its relationship with Traditional Asian Medicine and healing through touch. There are many types of bodywork practiced today: massage therapy, Shiatsu, Tuina, rolfing, and reflexology. Each of these therapies bring the body to a state of relaxation in order to facilitate its improved functioning.

Massage therapy is a western term that encompasses many styles and techniques such as deep‑tissue massage, scalp massage, and tendo-muscular massage. These will either focus on particular areas of the body or influence various levels of the body.

Shiatsu is a traditional Japanese therapy based on anatomical and physiological theory. It comes from the Japanese “shi” (finger) and “atsu” (pressure). The practitioner uses touch, comfortable pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance its energy flow. The application of the shiatsu technique is holistic in that it seeks to treat the whole person. Finger pressure is applied to specific areas of the body in order to alleviate discomfort, treat disease, and maintain physical and mental health.

Tuina (Tui Na) uses the traditional Chinese medical theory of the flow of Qi. Through the practice of soft tissue massage and manipulation techniques, Tuina helps unblock the flow of Qi that is causing discomfort. It is often used in tandem with herbal compresses and salves to enhance its therapeutic advantages.

Rolfing focuses on the connective tissue in the body, working to correct posture and structural misalignments. It is believed that improving the physical structure of the body allows better health both mentally and physically. The rolfer works systematically to manipulate and align the entire body. Usually several sessions are required to accomplish this.

Reflexology theory states that the entire body is represented in the hands and feet. A condition occurring anywhere in the body may be healed by treating the corresponding area on the hand or foot. Reflexology may be used alone or as a part of other bodywork and acupuncture treatments.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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Acupuncture is one of the best known, least understood, and most popular of the Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM) therapies. Practiced for thousands of years by many different cultures, these holistic therapies encompass not only acupuncture but also meditation, qigong or breathing exercises, nutrition, tai chi or mindful movement, Fengshui, herbology, and bodywork. Acupuncture is merely a part of the whole of holistic medicine.

acupunctureHolistic medicine differs from Western medicine in many different ways. A western doctor may prescribe a potent pain killer for chronic headaches and send them on their way. The symptom is eased during the time the patient takes their pill, but it does not address why the patient is having chronic headaches in the first place. And, the pill the doctor prescribes will likely be the same pill he prescribes for all of his patients with similar complaints. A holistic practitioner will likely ask the patient questions about their lifestyle, familial support, stress levels, dietary habits, and sleep patterns before delving deeper into what might be the root cause of their discomfort. A practitioner will search for root causes of the pain and prescribe a unique, personalized treatment plan to restore the body to a condition of health, balance and harmony. Asian medicine teaches us that what happens to one part of the body has an influence on all other parts of the body. Similarly, the mind and body are viewed as being one where the mind influences the body and the body influences the mind.

Our bodies are made up of energy, or Qi (chee). Qi is constantly changing and shifting as it flows in channels throughout the body. When Qi becomes blocked, the practitioner simply manipulates it back into balance. This is accomplished using their knowledge of the 12 meridians that travel through precise areas of the body, and the corresponding acupoints. The lungs, bladder, stomach, and liver are just four of the 12 meridians. But, each of these organs have a profound influence on other organs of the body. The practitioner places needles into certain acupoints based upon their understanding of your root cause of pain. Patients often report little to no discomfort, as the needles are exceedingly thin. The needles are used to open up blocked areas of Qi and allow the body to begin healing itself.

Acupuncture has been used to treat headaches, carpal tunnel, sports injuries, high blood pressure, arthritis, depression, anxiety and a host of other disorders. It is a part of a “whole body” approach used by holistic practitioners to induce energy, reduce stress, increase mental clarity, and most of all, encourage the mind / body balance.

A professional acupuncturist will be licensed by the state and have the title of Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc).

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Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

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Balance. Energy. Simplicity. Calmness. Oneness. Relaxation. Wholeness. Harmony.

Any of these words could describe the effect the application of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can have on the typical stressed-out American.  TCM is rooted in a distinctive, inclusive and systematic theoretical structure and is based on the flow of energy, or chi, throughout the body. Chi flows through the body via pathways which are called meridians.  There are a total of twelve meridians in the body which correspond to specific organs, organ systems, or functions.  This flow of energy is responsible for controlling the functions of the human mind and body.  An imbalance of chi causes illness and a correction to this flow restores the body’s balances, and therefore, health.

TCM is based, in part, on the Taoist belief that humankind is part of the universe and we, and the universe, are interconnected.  Chinese medicine teaches us that what happens to one part of the body has an influence on all other parts of the body.  Similarly, the mind and body are viewed as being one where the mind influences the body and the body influences the mind. Because Chinese medical philosophy and theory make up the base of TCM, many of these concepts have no true counterpart in Western medicine.  TCM is a systematic and holistic approach that links the mind, body, and spirit to identify imbalance in the body.

There are eight “branches” of Chinese medicine. This system of practice coordinates a variety of therapeutic techniques: meditation, qigong or breathing exercises, nutrition, tai chi or mindful movement, Feng shui, herbology, bodywork and acupuncture.  A practitioner will systematically move through these branches with you, depending upon your unique needs, in order to restore your health.

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Feng Shui

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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What is Feng Shui?
Feng Shui comes from the Chinese Feng (wind) and Shui (water), and is based on the Taoist belief that nature and land are both alive and filled with Chi (energy). The ancient Chinese believed that the energy and health of the land was in direct correlation to the energy and health of the kingdom. A Feng Shui practitioner uses an energy map, or bagua, to begin their analysis. Once the energy is read and evaluated, the practitioner can begin suggesting ways to balance the chi. The practitioner uses the five Feng Shui elements in their analysis:

  • Fire – activates personal energy, brings support in career efforts, helps bring recognition. Its colors are red, orange, purple and pink.
  • Earth – creates stability and harmony. Its colors are light yellow, all sand colors and brown.
  • Metal – brings the energy of clarity, preciseness, and focus. Its colors are white, grey, and all metallic surfaces.
  • Water – allows calm, purity, trust, renewal. Its colors are black and blue.
  • Wood – brings vibrant health and abundance. Its colors are brown and green.

simplified-bagua-mapA clutter free space is best in the practice of Feng Shui. Clutter interferes with chi and upsets the balance of harmonious energy. Lighting and ventilation are also very important. Air flow is crucial to Feng Shui as it helps move energy through space; light is a very strong expression of energy. Human beings react to their surroundings and are either nourished or drained by the energy surrounding them, so it makes good sense to fill ones’ personal space with as much energy as possible.

The practice of Feng Shui goes much deeper than just decluttering your home and opening the windows. To do it properly requires a deeper understanding of its foundation and principles and requires extensive training. The application of Feng Shui is multifaceted and involves the use of color, balance, and location. It is also unique to each individual. There is no “one size fits all” mentality because each person has his or her own special energy and life experiences.

Debby Barry is our Feng Shui Consultant and is an interior designer trained in Instinctive Feng Shui and space clearing. She specializes in integrating Feng Shui principles into design choices to enhance your life, support personal growth and create beautiful spaces. She is a Certified Practitioner of Interior Alignment™, Certified Space Clearing and Syncro-Alignment™, and is an expert in organization methods. Debby Barry may be reached by phone at 240-293-4701, by email debby@debbybarrydesigns.com, or on her website http://debbybarrydesigns.com.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Meditation

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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meditationSo, what is meditation?
At its most basic level, meditation is simply a practice in mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a conscious effort to be aware of yourself, your breathing, and your thoughts.  In any given day, you will be inundated with information; television, the internet, billboards, your Twitter feed, even the cashier at the grocery store.  It’s unavoidable and unstoppable.  Unbidden, thoughts come up as you put out the light at night.  Sleep eludes you as you try and keep up with all of the things you need to remember to do.  Quieting the mind, through meditation, lessens the effects all of these thoughts can have on your physical and emotional state.  Meditation costs nothing, is easy to do, and can work wonders for the overstressed mind and body.

Take a moment to close your eyes and focus on what is happening at this very moment.  When thoughts arise about something that has happened in the past or may happen in the future, notice them but gently bring your mind back to the present.  Mindfulness is an emotionally neutral state.  Experiences are not judged as either good or bad – they simply are.  Notice them as you would a cloud passing by, but give them no more weight than that.  Accept whatever it is that arises, let it pass through you, then let it go. It no longer exists.

There is no right way or wrong way to practice meditation. There are not set time limits for it either. You can meditate with your eyes open or closed, which ever is easiest for you.  You can use mental imagery, play music softly in the background, or even chant a word or mantra.  You can spend as much or as little time meditating as you need. The key is to be consistent in your practice. Over time, you will begin to notice that you are less stressed and angry, that you have more energy, your mind is clearer, you are sleeping better, you have lower blood pressure, and you experience an overall feeling of peace and contentment.  That’s a pretty terrific return on a small daily investment!

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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Tai Chi

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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taichiTai chi is a gentle and effective way to reduce everyday stress while becoming stronger and more flexible.  Originally developed as a method of self-defense, tai chi has transformed over the years to a gentle, graceful, form of exercise accompanied by deep, purposeful breathing.  It promotes tranquility of the mind and body through slow, flowing movements and is a self-paced system of exercise with many variations and styles.  Some styles place greater importance on health while others stress the martial art aspect of tai chi.  Regardless of style, tai chi focuses on the grace of bodily movement and attention to form.

This ancient Chinese practice brings with it many health benefits when learned correctly and practiced regularly.  Tai chi helps increase aerobic capacity, energy, muscle strength, balance, and stamina.  It can enhance quality of sleep while bolstering the immune system, and even lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  The movements are easy on the joints and may help reduce the fall risks in older adults.  Another huge benefit is that due to its low impact and gentleness it is, more often than not, safe for all ages and fitness levels.  It is also inexpensive, can be done alone or in a group, requires no particular equipment, and may be done indoors or out.

While tai chi is gentle and relatively easy to learn, consider finding a qualified instructor from your local fitness center, health club or senior center as opposed to buying a DVD on the subject.  An instructor can teach you the correct positions and how to breathe correctly.  Also, if you have specific injuries, balance or coordination issues, an instructor can teach variations on positions in order to practice tai chi more safely.  There are numerous benefits to this practice, especially when done consistently.  If possible, try practicing tai chi each day at the same time and same place. Developing a routine will help you master the movements and achieve a greater sense of overall calm. If your schedule is unpredictable, remember to practice the mind-body concepts without the movements when you are in stressful situations.  Tai chi, in its many forms, is a wonderful, holistic way to release mental and physical stress.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Qigong

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

Read articles on all of the 8 branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine!
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QigongWhat is Qigong, or breath awareness?
Qigong is actually made up of two Chinese words. Qi (chee) is translated to mean “the life force or vital-energy that flows through all things in the universe.”  The second word, gong (gung) means skill attained through practice.  Qigong integrates breathing, physicality, and focus.  Its techniques are designed to improve and enhance the body’s qi.   Breath is life, and life is breath.  But to say that qigong is “just breathing” is far too simplistic.  It underscores the importance of controlled breathing and mindful intent to complement physical movement.  When physical movement is combined with proper breathing and focus, the benefit of exercise is increased significantly.

People who regularly practice qigong do so to maintain their health, clear their minds, and reunite with their spirit.  It is an essential part of the mind, body, and spirit’s connection.  Qigong promotes better health regardless of a person’s age, life circumstance, disability, or spiritual beliefs.  It can be practiced anywhere and needs no special equipment.  Practiced regularly it will help to: channel energy, improve physical balance, develop better concentration, reduce stress, and bring to one’s life an overall sense of calm.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine: Herbology

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

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herbologyHerbology uses plants, animals, and minerals to help the body restore its state of balance.

The twelve meridians are directional pathways in the energy flow of qi through the body.  The meridians are named according to their corresponding organs, limb positions, and yin and yang properties.  There are three arm yin meridians and three arm yang meridians which include the lung, heart, large and small intestines.  The three leg yin and three leg yang meridians include the stomach, bladder, spleen and kidney.  The goal of herbal therapy is to open the energy flow in the 12 meridians, releasing stagnancy and improving health.

Herbs treat disorders or diseases through internal or external absorption.  Their application may be in powder, pills, teas, or topical form.  Because Chinese herbs have different properties, natures, and functions, and because they enter various channels, they affect the flow of qi (chi) as well as the body’s natural balance.  Herbology is a precise science that uses a number of classifications in order to ascertain which herbs are appropriate for use in treating a particular condition.  Each herb, plant, or spice corresponds to a meridian within the body.  Astragalus Root is used for immune deficiencies and allergies and effects the lung and spleen meridians.  Hare’s Ear Root, believed to treat liver diseases, arthritis, and mental disorders effects the gallbladder and liver meridians.  But simply knowing which herbs may treat which diseases is not enough. Chinese herbal medicine has been used and perfected over many centuries.  Herbology is a highly refined and individualized practice, dependent upon a client’s needs and current health condition.

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Discover Shiatsu!

by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist

dee_shiatsuShiatsu is a traditional Japanese therapy based on anatomical and physiological theory.  It comes from the Japanese “shi” (finger) and “atsu” (pressure).  A practitioner uses touch, comfortable pressure and manipulative techniques to adjust the body’s physical structure and balance its energy flow. The application of the shiatsu technique is holistic in that it seeks to treat the whole person.  Finger pressure is applied to specific areas of the body in order to alleviate discomfort, treat disease, and maintain physical and mental health.

Before treatment begins, the practitioner evaluates the client’s general health by asking about their recent and past medical history, and Continue reading

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