Archive | Bodywork RSS for this section

TCM Spring Training

Almost Spring at Zilker Botanical Gardens, Aus...

Image by DigiDragon via Flickr

Spring is the season of the Wood element and is characterized by reawakening and outward expansion. It is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder energetic systems, which when balanced are known for Qi that flows smoothly, initiative and good decision-making. Physical associations manifest in the eyes, tendons, ligaments and sinews which are nourished and maintained by the Liver. Just as the expansiveness of Spring can be seen in nature, emotional and physical energies associated with the Liver can be directed outward. Just like a sprout beginning to rise, energy is still fragile and can easily be damaged. Outbursts or projections of excess energy can best be put to good use with activities or projects that can utilize it.

Climactically Spring is associated with wind. The wind which can carry other pathogens also tends to aggravate the wood element. In the body it can cause allergies, itchy skin and pain patterns that tend to move from place to place. Symptoms may present as fever, slight aversion to wind or cold, cough, or mild thirst with burning pain in local areas. Sensitive people should enjoy windy outdoor time in minimal doses.

Injuries may present as:

  • Wind:  marked by a decrease in range of motion and pain that changes location.
  • Heat:  local inflammation and/or redness in the joints or extremities, and may be aggravated by heat.
  • Damp:  fixed and intense pain with a feeling of heaviness, numb skin and muscles that wet conditions may aggravate.

Movement in the Spring
To prevent injuries and improve performance in the Spring, consider the following:

Warm up properly utilizing dynamic stabilization exercises to ensure that postural muscles are activated prior to regular training.

As a stand-alone program or as an adjunct to another endeavor or sport, take advantage of strength training with slower to moderate speed movements. Strength guidelines state using 70%-85% of your estimated 1 repetition maximum, at a moderate to high volume (up to 25 sets when your main activity is weight training), with up to 60 seconds rest between sets. Incorporate this into your program for about four to six weeks to allow ligamentous tissues, which have a poor circulatory system, time to adapt. The nervous system and muscles characteristically adapt more quickly, which is part of the strength continuum but does not take all tissues into consideration. Transitioning into ballistic movements too soon, especially after a lay off due to injury or from sedentary life will predispose a person to further injury. Beginners should spend more of their workout doing stability exercises with a strength component.

As part of a post workout cool down, emphasize static flexibility to bring the body back into a more parasympathetic (normal) state. This will allow tendons to relax and circulation of metabolites in the muscles to move more smoothly.

Proper maintenance such as Tui Na, bodywork, acupuncture and meditative movements assist in recovery from exercise and injuries and boost the immune system.

Spring Time Nutrition
Food that assists in balancing the nature of the Liver and Wood element should nourish, soothe and keep the Liver clean, tonify the Spleen, nourish Yin, & strengthen Yang. Enjoy plenty of young plants, fresh greens, sprouts, and yellow to red veggies nutrient-dense and low in calories. These include tomatoes, loquat, beets, mint, onion, green beans, broccoli, chives and leeks. Flavor meals sparingly with vinaigrettes and pickled foods.

Keep high-calorie, refined, greasy or fried foods, sugars and alcohol that overtax the Liver and Gallbladder to a minimum.

Fasting will over tax the Liver and create more disharmonies in the body. A better way to cleanse the Liver is via sound nutrition, herbs that support Liver function and simply sweating from exercise.

Seasonal Recipes:
Ju Hua (chrysanthemum) congee: 100g white rice, 50g chrysanthemum.
Soak chrysanthemum separately for 30 minutes. Then combine with rice over heat for 5 minutes. Soothes the Liver and brightens the eyes.

An Chun (‘animal ginseng,’ quail) dish: 100g quail, asparagus 100g, mushrooms 5g, cucumbers 15g, egg whites.
Slice quail and mix with egg whites then sauté. Add asparagus, cucumber & mushrooms later. Sea salt to taste. Nourishes and soothes Liver.

Spring Herbal Considerations
This year has brought much change in the world and continuous perceptions of disharmony which sound nutrition and lifestyle may not relieve quickly. Strong emotions may affect digestion, causing stomach butterflies or bloating, acid regurgitation diarrhea and/or stomach pain. A Chinese formula that has made its way into  Western use is called Xiao Yao San or “Free and Easy Wanderer”. This formula profoundly soothes the Liver, thereby reducing the effects of stress on the body and helps prevent digestive symptoms. For those with enteric brains, this is quite a find. (For a thorough diagnosis, consult a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.)

Climate and physiological change affect the natural tendency of the Liver to spread and grow. By nourishing and maintaining the Wood element, the outward momentum of Spring will segue nicely into the warmer months of Summer.

Read about the coming Summer

Advertisements

Oriental Medicine Winter

Winter, tree and birds

Image by mirsasha via Flickr

This year winter begins with the solstice, which is the shortest day and longest night of the year. In Oriental Medicine (OM), winter is the season associated with the water element and is yin in nature (dark, cold, moist and still). Just as nature is sleeping and resting in anticipation of warmer days, the season urges us to rest, conserve and replenish our energies until the coming spring. The change in season may bring about abundant allergies, while colds and flus take advantage of the stresses only the end of the year can bring. The emotion associated with the water element is fear and it contains the spirit of will power. An imbalanced water element may present as fearful, which depletes vital energies. Just as water provides fluidity for movement and lubricates every joint, the water element’s spirit guides us to smoothly overcome fear and difficulties.

By supporting positive qualities, the most stressful time of the year can be the most joyous time of the year. To make the most of this winter, enrich Kidney essence (jing) or constitution and maintain your immune system (wei qi) by following these lifestyle changes until spring.

1. Go to bed early and wake up later, stay warm and expend minimal amounts of energy.

2. Avoid raw or cold foods as they tend to cool the body further. Do consume warm foods such as soups, lamb, pork, chicken, peanuts, beans, walnuts (hu tao ren), Chinese dates (da zao), longan fruit (long yan rou), cinnamon (gui zhi), ginger (sheng jiang) and garlic (da suan).

3. Wear warmer clothing to protection your yin qi, but do not make your home or workplace so warm that your body does not adapt to the outside environment.

4. Continue to exercise to keep your pulse and qi strong, but do not exercise to the point of exhaustion.

5. As reinforcement of your lifestyle, acupuncture and Tuina relieve stress and improves digestion. Applied to specific areas such as the abdomen or Stomach 36 (Zu san li area on the lower leg), they  also boosts immunity by increasing white blood cell counts.

By adopting an OM lifestyle, embracing the change of season and nostalgia for the year gone by, we can fuel the energies to create new memories in the coming year.

To see how athletes can optimize their success in winter, see Journey Inward for Outward Movement.

Self Myofacial Release

Self Myofacial Release (SMR) is a technique used to assist in the alleviation of muscle, fascial and joint imbalances. Imbalances such as tightness, trigger points or muscular weakness or one-sided dominance tend to happen due to a multitude of reasons such as sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time, overuse, activities dominated by one side of the body and/or injury. They may eventually lead to complications and potentially pain or further injury. There are various tools used to prevent and treat imbalances in conjunction with proper form, stretches, bodywork and other therapies. Foam rollers, tennis or lacrosse balls and other specialty items are usually found in gyms, sports shops, yoga studios or therapist’s offices.

Utilize SMR techniques before and after your workouts. Pre-workout 5 to 10 total minutes is adequate while post-workout longer SMR sessions are beneficial.

SMR procedures:

  1. Place the area of concern over a foam roller or similar tool. Remember to incorporate appropriate posture even while lying on your side. Foam Roll
  2. Roll back and forth over the area to increase circulation and “feel for” tight spots.
  3. Some points will stand out as ‘tender’ or tight; allow your body to breath and sink onto the foam roller in those spots. Hold this position for 20 to 60 sec. (some conditions allow for 120 sec. under supervision). If it is too tender with direct pressure work above and below the area  of discomfort. [Remember this should not normally hurt but some areas may be more noticeable than others]
  4. Reassess the area you worked on. Repeat as necessary.
  5. ‘Roll’ on the opposite limb and compare.

Common areas that benefit from using this techniques include but are not limited to the calves, hip flexors (quads), iliotibial (IT) band, piriformis (glute area), paraspinals (parallel to the spine) latissimus dorsi (lats/”wings”…), rotator cuff and pectoral muscles.

Avoid rolling directly on joints, bones and especially your spine.

By regularly incorporating SMR techniques into your daily routine you will become more limber, recover from workouts more efficiently and reduce your chances of injuries due to tight fascia.

OM Winter: Journey Inward for Outward Movement

In Oriental Medicine (OM) winter is the time to turn inward with meditative thoughts and conserve one’s energy. The winter’s energetic system is found in the Kidneys and manifests physically in the ears, lumbar spine and knees. Positive energy in this season reflects in a calm ability to handle stress with consistent focus and moderate energy throughout the day. Hearing can be more acute in the winter months, but the lower back and knees may experience more discomfort than in other times of the year. Some aspects of the Chinese medicine Kidney energetic can be seen in the biomedical kidney’s water metabolism, adrenal, reproductive and excretory functions . Through self-neglect or from prolonged stressors, people may find themselves anxious, irritable, fatigued and in some ways fearful or insecure. Since the cold slows the flow of blood and warmth to our extremities, activity should maintain continued circulation of the body’s fluids and proper joint relationships, as well as build our resources rather than deplete them.

Beneficial activities include Qi Gong, Tai Chi, low intensity movement or corrective exercises. Pre-workout exercises designed to warm the body up should be done for longer duration than in the hotter times of the year. Outdoor activities should be during the warmer, sunnier parts of the day and kept at a shorter length of time.

The weather can creep into the body and aggravate old injuries, arthritis and other aches and pains. This is especially true for outdoor athletes such as runners, bikers and hikers who spend a lot of time exposed to the elements as well as our aging populations and younger children. Pain patterns manifest in different ways.

  • Wind:  marked by a decrease in range of motion and pain that changes location.
  • Cold: fixed stabbing pain with spasms that does not usually have inflammation, is aggravated by cold and relieved by warmth.
  • Damp: fixed and intense pain with a feeling of heaviness, numb skin and muscles that wet conditions may aggravate.
  • Heat: not so common in the winter; characterized by local inflammation and/or redness in the joints or extremities, and may be aggravated by heat.

The wind is a carrier of other pathogens such as cold and dampness. Adequate clothing or protection is imperative. The yang parts of the body where most external pathogens enter and cause problems, such as the back and nape, should be covered. Normally our immune system (wei qi) is ample protection but chronic exposure, poor food choices and weaker or overworked constitutions create susceptibility. Enjoy foods that nourish the Kidneys and warm the interior of the body. Choices should include nourishing soups, broths and stocks, moderate spices and congees or porridge.

  • Foods that nourish the Kidneys: black beans, grapes, bone broth, eel, quail, walnuts (hu tao ren), black sesame (hei zhi ma), Chinese yam (shan yao), goji berries (gou qi zi), seaweeds: sargassum (hai zao), kelp (kun bu) or other varieties
  • Warm foods:  lamb, deer, beef, chicken
  • Warm spices and herbs: mild peppers, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger (sheng jiang)
  • Although salt guides to and nourishes the Kidneys, it is unnecessary to add copious amounts to our modern diets. Instead utilize seaweed, which is rich in iodine, and sea salts for cooking.
  • Raw and cold foods make the body weaker by disrupting digestive processes. They include:  iced drinks, ice cream, and excessive raw vegetables and fruits.

Overtraining or overworking in the winter will greatly affect your performance in the following season. Be aware of early signs and adjust your activities accordingly. Signs include – but are not limited to – a higher resting heart rate, decreased focus, mental fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, chronic muscle soreness, frequent injuries, delayed recovery, sensitive digestion, and/or unwanted weight loss or gain. Athletes and exercise enthusiasts who continue through the colder months of the year should follow these guidelines.

  • Regular acupuncture and tui na treatments restore balance to the body and speed recovery.
  • Warm up sufficiently. Include the use of a foam roller and dynamic stretching.
  • Avoid prolonged static or deep stretching at the beginning of workouts as this will cool the body down further, increasing the chance of injury.
  • Stay hydrated and maintain adequate nutrition. The body sweats less in the cold and relies more on exhalation and urination to expel water and waste, which creates the illusion of hydration.
  • Rest and be aware of signs of over-training.

By conserving energy, exercising moderately and eating well you can enjoy the season and ready yourself for a smooth transition and expansion into Spring.

For other articles on winter, see Oriental Medicine Winter.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Summer

Summer is a time filled with joy and laughter, warmth, and an upward moving energy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this season is associated with the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Burner organ systems and they are represented by the fire element. Much like Spring, Summer is considered to be yang in nature as is reflected in hotter temperatures and increased daylight. Yang Qi is on the surface of the body and is associated with increased energy and productivity. States such as Texas have longer summers, which changes the ways we eat, exercise and live in our environment.

The Heart controls blood circulation, blood vessels, nourishment of the five sense organs and sweat. An unbalanced Heart may result in Heart fire manifesting as irritability, insomnia, excessive dreams and sometimes even inappropriate laughter.

The Small Intestine “separates the turbid from the clear”. This means it pulls nutrients from the food we eat and refers to differentiation in clarity of mind and thoughts. An imbalance in the Small Intestine may present as digestive difficulties or a foggy mind.

Cold in or around the body can cause many pathological conditions for which heat brings relief. External heat, however, may cause its own slew of problems for a person who already has internal heat. It may aggravate moods in the form of irritability, hot flashes for some, excess sweating for others or combinations of symptoms. Poor digestion, feelings of heaviness and fatigue, and headaches are common.

Chinese medicine practitioners historically categorized foods according to their temperature and tastes. The temperature does not refer to the cooking temperature, but to the food’s effect on body temperature.

Suitable summer foods should clear heat (bitter, cool) and generate jin ye/body fluids (sour, sweet sparingly, cool) to prevent summer-heat conditions in the body. Summer time foods that alleviate heat include xi gua/watermelon, lu dou/mung beans or mung bean juice, ku gua/bitter gourd, bo he/mint, bo cai/spinach, fish; steamed veggies such as bok choy, bamboo, Chinese cabbage, seaweed, broccoli, corn, cucumber, snow peas, summer squash, cilantro, dill, cantaloupe, asparagus; fruits like lemon, peach, orange, egg plant; and sprouts.

Here is an expansion on some of the foods just mentioned:

Lu dou (Mung Bean) is sweet, cool, and assists the heart and stomach. Mung beans clear heat and summer-heat from the body via diuresis and assist in detoxification. They can be eaten as soup or congee. Mung beans are not suitable for people with simultaneous poor digestion, fatigue and diarrhea.

Ku Gua (Bitter Melon) is very good in the summertime. It is bitter, cold and assists the Heart, Spleen and Stomach. It clears summer-heat, brightens the eyes, clears toxins, can reduce blood sugar and help with weight reduction. Bitter melon can be prepared with food or as a preventative for sunstroke when dried and prepared as a tea.

Avoid excessive amounts of greasy, hot, spicy foods, especially if a person has characteristic signs of yin xu/yin deficiency (night sweats, hot palms/feet, inappropriate sweating, or excessive dryness in the body). Do not eat ice cream or consume alcohol (typical imbibers will have a thick yellow coat on their tongues).

Some tasty and easy to prepare recipes are as follows:

Watermelon Tomato Juice

  • Ingredients: Watermelon 500g (1.10 lbs.), Tomato 300g (0.6 lbs.), sweeten to taste
  • Prep: Squeeze watermelon and tomato to get juice.
  • Actions: Clears summer-heat, promotes urination, and induces body fluid. Used for summer time heat with thirst and sweating. Also good for overindulgence in alcohol.

Lian Zi Lu Dou Zhou (Lotus Seed & Mung Bean Congee)

  • Ingredients: lotus seeds 20g (.04 lbs.), mung beans 50g (~1/4 cup), jing mi/long grain rice 100g (~1/2 cup)
  • Prep: Cook as congee.
  • Actions: Reduces summer-heat and strengthens digestion.

Exercise in the summer should be done late morning and emphasize the heart and cardiovascular system. Of course your region should also determine the best time, as some mornings may be stifling.

As always recovery is key to enjoying your season and promoting longevity. Sleep should revolve around waking up earlier and staying up later to help fit into the season, with naps or meditations during the hottest part of the day. Don’t forget the importance of hydration.

Regular TCM treatments such as Acupuncture, Tui Na, herbal formulas, cupping and gua sha are all methods that restore vital functions to our health. In summer they can cool the body off and relieve stress.

“In the spring and summer when food is plentiful and humans tend to become lazy and slothful, finger pressure is used to increase digestion, fire and restore vigor.” Qi Bo – Yellow Emperor’s Classic

For more information on summer, see TCM Summer: Keeping Cool in Hot Times.

%d bloggers like this: