Most people are very curious about acupuncture when they first hear about it. Sticking needles in people, not injecting medicine, and yet expecting to see improvement in disease is an odd concept to the Western mind. For people like me who aren’t fond of needles in the first place – the idea can seem downright preposterous!
So, it’s very natural to wonder what it is and how it works!
In this article, I’ll first just give an overview of Chinese medicine treatment and what it involves. Some of this you’ll know, and some will be new to you. Then, I’ll attempt to help you understand exactly what the heck is going on when you’re lying on the table with needles in various places on your body. Here, we’ll look chiefly at the perspective of Chinese medicine theory, as opposed to a more modern biomedical perspective.
First – what's included in Chinese medicine treatment?
If you're reading this, you've most likely had acupuncture or a similar therapy at least once. So, you probably have a sense of what treatment involves. But, “Chinese medicine” and even the narrower “acupuncture” is a broad group of treatment modalities and approaches, some of which you may never have experienced.
A Chinese medicine treatment can involve any of the following activities – not all are utilized by all practitioners at all times. Some of these may not be currently practiced by WW practitioners, but it’s good for you to know what is possible!
Over time, each one of these items will have linked articles so you can dive more deeply into that topic. In this article, we focus mostly on the first item in the list.
- Acupuncture, including electroacupuncture
- Acupressure, tool assisted or with the hands
- Tuina and other forms of SE Asian massage
- Cupping and Guasha
- Micro bloodletting
- Qigong healing or teaching
- Lifestyle guidance including Chinese dietary therapy
- Topical herbal applications
- Heat applications including moxibustion
- Prescription of herbal formulas or herbal teas
- Some practitioners may incorporate modalities and tools that are not explicitly included in Chinese medicine such as Western forms of massage, various types of energy work and the use of Western herbs or dietary supplements
Despite the diversity of treatment types, all of these things fall under the same Chinese medicine umbrella. That’s because they are all rooted in the same way of understanding the body, the world, and the interaction between them. Different therapies are chosen based on patient goals, practitioner skills & the suitability of treatment for the presenting condition.
In the rest of this article, we’ll be focusing mostly on acupuncture since it’s the most well-known and well-researched aspect of Chinese medicine. However, much of what I discuss is relevant to most of what is listed above.
Before we proceed – it’s important to understand that there is no totally unified “Chinese medicine theory.”
As Chinese medicine has developed – moving through different nations and different time periods – it has been changed as a result. Further, the nature of classical Chinese scholarship allows for a diversity of opinions to coexist, making finding any one “true” explanation nearly impossible. That said, there ARE many things we can state with some confidence, and that's what I'll be sharing here.
The acupuncture channels & points
One of the most important things to understand is that most Chinese medicine practitioners are using an entirely different understanding of the body than your conventional biomedical doctors utilize. While of course we are trained in the fundamentals of modern Western anatomical and physiological science, it is typically not the basis of our clinical reasoning nor our treatments. Instead, we utilize traditional anatomical understanding as our guide. While a fuller explanation will unfold during this entire email series, I’d like to give you the fundamentals now to enhance your understanding.
The ancient Chinese, over generations, intuited and then further developed a system of channels running through every part of the body that are responsible for the energetic regulation of every facet of our physiology. These channels, sometimes erroneously called “meridians,” can be used both for diagnosis (through palpation and observation) and of course for various types of treatment.
The channels are roughly divided into two groups. The primary channels, named after organ systems you would recognize, and the extraordinary channels, which are less frequently needled. Check out this image for an overview of the channel system. You’ll see that there are very few parts of the body that aren’t reached by one channel or another! The system of channels is like a system of rivers in a watershed – they are all hooked up together and have particular flows, eddies and tendencies, just like bodies of water.
It’s likely that originally, the channels were the only or primary way of understanding the flow of energy through the body. The “points” that modern practitioners use probably came much later in the development of the medicine.
The points are concentrations of the body’s energy that are roughly at the same places on everyone. By using these points rather than other places on the channels, a practitioner can more efficiently and powerfully impact the patient’s physiology. Despite this, practitioners in certain lineages do use places on the channel other than the pre-defined points. And some therapies, like moxibustion and tuina, work on broader areas of the channel than the point can encompass.
What’s up with qi?
So far, I’ve used the word “energy” quite a bit. I’m actually not a huge fan of this word, as it can be used to describe almost anything, and everyone understands it a bit differently! What I was attempting to do is avoid the use of the word “Qi” as much as possible. But now let’s face it head on!
Qi is probably the most unique concept in Chinese medicine that most people have heard about. The character for qi – 氣 – depicts steam or vapor coming off of cooking rice. What does this tell us about qi? Steam is moist and can be thought of the union between water, air and fire. Coming off of rice tells us that it could be nourishing. Beyond that we could guess that it is somewhat insubstantial, moving, dynamic, and that it is created and so must also be possible to be destroyed.
There are many types of qi in the body, from more substantial / material to less so. Qi is responsible for the majority of the body’s functions, in concert with other substances and structures. Acupuncture has a direct impact on qi – either moving it or gathering & concentrating it, depending on what the practitioner intends.
Qi can be felt, both by the practitioner and the patient. If you’ve had many treatments, you may have experienced sensations in your body that couldn’t readily be explained by the simple reality of a stainless steel needle being stuck in your skin.
Sometimes you feel a sensation far away from a needle, or you might feel movement all along a channel or other part of your body. This is the movement of qi. On the practitioner side, we can often feel a kind of pulling or tugging on the needle that indicates we’ve interfaced appropriately with the qi – and some very sensitive practitioners can feel more.
Ok, so how does acupuncture work, then?
At the simplest level, acupuncture works through impacting the patient’s qi. That’s it!
But, of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. Through the pulse, tongue and other diagnostic techniques, the practitioner utilizes aspects of Chinese medicine theory like the five phases and the twelve organ systems to understand what imbalance or disharmony is creating the symptoms the patient is experiencing. The rest of this email series will help you understand more about these parts of the process.
Then, by utilizing this information, they determine the channels and points that must be used in order to restore balance to the body. Using various techniques, the practitioner can “ask” the qi to go from one place to another, to build up the body’s qi or to reduce places where it’s become inappropriately blocked. The practitioner may focus on just one channel or organ system, or may work to improve interaction between several. The qi can be moved up, down, deeper into the body, or more towards the surface, depending on the need.
But, in the end, the effect in acupuncture is actually done chiefly by the body’s own qi! It just needs a little help from the practitioner to know what to do. While this is an intentionally simple explanation, that simplicity actually reflects the true reality of Chinese medicine treatment. It’s really nothing more fancy than assisted self-healing in a certain way of thinking about it.
This is just the beginning
As I hope I've made clear, there is MUCH more to Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, than this brief article can hope to explain. Future articles will help fill in some of the blanks, and complicate some of what I've described here. The deep complexity and sometimes contradiction of Chinese medicine can be a bit frustrating, but is also part of why it's so fun to learn about.
If you have questions about what I've shared here, don't hesitate to reach out!
If you are new to acupuncture and the other modalities of Classical Chinese medicine, you will probably have a lot of questions come up as you proceed through treatment. I encourage you always to ask these questions of your practitioners, but as a supplemental resource I'd like to offer these thoughts taken from my observations through clinical experience.
In this article, first I'll explain four ways you can participate in increasing the efficacy of your treatment through simple actions you can take at home after an appointment. I'll follow this up with a short exploration of four things you may notice after treatment, and what they mean. I hope by the end of the article, you feel empowered to understand and benefit from your Classical Chinese medicine treatment.
DO : Rest & respond to your body's signals
Above all, especially early in treatment, you should rest as much as possible after you get acupuncture. This isn't because acupuncture “makes you tired” but because acupuncture relies on your body's innate capacity to heal in order to do its work. In short, acupuncture isn't doing anything TO your body, it is working in concert with your body to help it remember how to return to a state of balance. And the more you can rest, the more likely your body is to have the energy to respond positively.
Particularly in the United States, we do not rest as we should. Some of this is by necessity due to economic and social circumstances. Some of it is by choice due to a relentless urge to produce more, to accumulate more, to provide more powerfully for those we love and care for. Regardless, we should do our best to ensure that we are getting the rest we so deeply need. Acupuncture treatment can be a helpful “excuse” to rest more deeply more often.
DO : Follow aftercare instructions
Your practitioner may provide you with aftercare instructions specific to your treatment plan. You may be sent home with press tacks or moxa kits to use on body areas or even acupuncture points your practitioner teaches you. You may get qigong, stretching or other movement instruction. Your practitioner may ask you to do a diet diary, or catalog your supplements, or record your activities for a period of time to look for patterns.
Whatever it is, do your utmost to engage in those activities that have been prescribed to you. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be very potent medicines. However, you are only in the treatment room for a very limited period of time – you are out in the world all the rest of the time. If you can bring principles of treatment from the treatment room and into your regular life, you will be expanding on and enhancing the investment you've made in your health.
So engage with your whole heart!
DO : Record and share your experiences
I've mentioned already the changes that can happen after treatment. The truth is that many of these changes can be subtle. And we're all dealing with so much all the time, it can be difficult to “hear” these small shifts as they happen. If you're not careful, you might miss the transformation taking place in your mind and body simply because you are too busy to notice it! This might lead you to abandoning treatment before it's had a chance to help you unlock deep wellness.
One way to avoid this is to keep a treatment journal of some kind.
This can be as simple as a small pocket notebook and pencil, or as robust as an electronic database intended for collection of data. You want to start with one or more factors to track that are important to you – such as pain levels, sleep hours or quality, the number of times you have to use an OTC medication for a symptom, the amount of extra steps you're able to take on your walk, or even specifics about your bowel movements, urination pattern or sexual activity. It's entirely up to you and should be based on the kinds of things you are wanting to see change over time.
It's good to both write a narrative description of your experience as well as giving some kind of objective number, generally from 1-10, with defined ranges. Then, develop a routine for when you write in your journal. I suggest you write the night before treatment, the morning after treatment, and 3 days after treatment. But you can record as often and whenever you like.
Over time, this regular recording of defined information will help you to have a bit more of an objective way of understanding how treatment is progressing. While it can still be problematic due to an overly pessimistic or optimistic point of view, it is a powerful tool in longer term treatment plans.
DO : Contact your practitioner with questions
Above all, stay in contact with your practitioner, particularly early in treatment when things are changing more rapidly. If you're having a tough experience after treatment, your practitioner may have tips to help mitigate it. We also like to hear your excitement and celebration when things go well! And I know I always appreciate when a patient writes in to let me know something about their experience that they might otherwise forget to tell me at the next appointment.
While most practitioners are quite busy, and may not be able to get back right away, rest assured that they are paying attention to your communications. Some practitioners may choose to put these notes in your chart and discuss at your appointment, so always be sure to differentiate URGENT communications for your provider in some way.
If you are worried your emails aren't getting through, feel free to reach out to the front desk at 503-974-0914 or firstname.lastname@example.org and they will help you connect with your practitioner to find out. Above all – reach out – we are here for you!
Now that you have some idea of what you can do at home to benefit most from your acupuncture treatment, I want to give you some idea of the kinds of experiences you might have after treatment and how to think about those experiences.
POSSIBLE EXPERIENCE : Changes in energy
The night after your first few acupuncture treatments you will likely fall asleep a little faster and stay asleep a little more deeply. You may feel tired or at least relaxed for up to 24 hours afterwards, and if the treatment was particularly strong, even a little spacey. In general, people experience less of this as treatment progresses. I encourage you to listen to your body, if possible, if it is asking for rest. This isn't a “bad thing” even though it may be inconvenient. Rest is absolutely critical to normal function and most of us do not get the rest we need, either when we're sleeping, or when we're trying to relax.
If the energy drain is extreme, or interferes with your responsibilities, get in touch with your practitioner.
POSSIBLE EXPERIENCE : Emotional movement
Particularly if you are being seen for stress, anxiety, insomnia, trauma recovery or any other mental-emotional concern, it is likely that you will experience some changes in your emotional balance as a result of treatment. Ultimately there will be increased balance, but there can be a period of time where you feel an increased urge to cry, feel less social than normal, or even irritable. As with energy & rest, it's best not to view this as a problem, but as the body dealing with things that need to be dealt with. A response from this frame of reference will usually be more helpful to your well being.
As with energy, if this is extreme or becomes bothersome in your daily life, get in touch with your practitioner. We recommend that if you are seeking support for a significant mental-emotional condition that you seek concurrent help from a qualified therapist or other mental health professional. This will ensure that the movement happening as a result of acupuncture does not result in any exacerbations of challenging underlying conditions.
POSSIBLE EXPERIENCE : Moving and changing pain
The majority of our patients come to see us initially to deal with some type of physical pain. How you respond to treatment can vary, and not always in ways that are entirely predictable. Sometimes, pain can change or disappear during the course of a single session, or soon after. Sometimes, there isn't a discernible effect on pain for many sessions.
In rare instances, there can be temporary aggravations of pain after treatment. This will usually show up as a focused pain on the same side, but in a different location, as the pain you came in to treat. For instance, if you came in to treat right hip pain, you may experience some focused pain in the right knee after treatment. If this is the case, some self massage above, below and on that site of pain can be helpful.
If the pain is quite bothersome or impacts your daily activities, reach out to your practitioner!
POSSIBLE EXPERIENCE : Nothing in particular
For some people, and for all people at certain times, there isn't much of an experience at all after treatment. Your treatable symptoms may remain more or less the same, you don't experience any big pain or energy changes – you may forget that you had treatment at all! Does this mean that treatment hasn't worked? No!
There are many reasons you may not be feeling much after your treatment. First, the treatment style or plan of your practitioner may call for gentle adjustments over time – which would only be experienced over time due to the gradualness of the changes. Second, some people's nervous systems don't deliver predictable or even perceivable feedback in response to treatment. Despite this, people still find that their symptoms change over time – they just cannot often directly feel that it is connected with treatment.
Finally, if you are very weak, tired or deficient, your body may not be able to send the kinds of feedback to you that it might otherwise. Again, this doesn't mean you're not benefitting from treatment, it just may only become apparent after many treatments over time. In cases like these, moxibustion treatment in addition to needles can be helpful.
There are of course many more experiences you may have during and after treatment. We are each unique, each treatment is unique, so it's no surprise that the felt effects may vary from person to person, from treatment to treatment. However, the points I've touched on in this article represent the majority of post-treatment questions and concerns that have come up for my patients. I hope you've found it helpful!
Chinese herbal treatment is not the conventional choice for treating disease among most people in the United States. Since it is not the mainstream option, the average American doesn't have much basis of understanding Chinese herbalism. With more conventional therapies, such as pharmaceuticals, we are taught both informally and formally about what they are and how we are supposed to take them. We learn these things in school and by doing research, of course, but also absorb a lot through everyday media, conversations with practitioners & social cues.
For most of us, that's not true for Chinese medicine. The lack of familiarity can present problems in Chinese herbal treatment in a variety of ways. In my private practice, I try to educate my patients as much as possible during the appointment, as well as in follow-up emails, so they can benefit from their herbal formulas. The following four points are the most common advice I share with patients and represents a simple roadmap for best benefitting from Chinese herbs.
#1 – Be consistent in taking your herbs
The majority of my advice in this article is designed to deal with one central feature of herbal treatment – it is fundamentally gentle medicine. This does not mean it cannot be powerful – it can be! This does not mean it can never hurt you – it can! But it does mean that the effects overall tend to be gentle and subtle over the short term. Chinese herbal treatment largely acts in an almost sedimentary fashion, layers of accumulation that build resonant health over time.
For that reason – consistency in treatment is absolutely essential. Yes, of course, consistency is also important with many pharmaceuticals. But because the effects of herbal treatment tend to be subtle in the short term, people are more likely to forget to take their herbs due to the lack of obvious backlash from missing doses.
There is a surprisingly huge difference between being, say, 80% consistent and being 100% consistent. This is frustrating for patients! We all hate to be bound by medical routines – but my clinical experience is clear. Consistency matters – a LOT. When you take your herbs as directed, if they are properly prescribed, you will see results over time.
#2 – Be patient with your Chinese herbal treatment course
For the same reason – the medicine's fundamental gentleness – you need to be patient. Some formulas are fairly fast acting, especially those designed to treat acute problems. But many of my patients are on formulas that may take 3-6 months to fully manifest their effects. Reasons for this include the intensity or depth of the presenting pathology, or due to some feature of the formula itself. Regardless of reason, rushing treatment that is meant to be done slowly rarely yields positive effects.
There's another reason for taking it slow and easy. The VAST majority of my patients need more than herbal treatment to find their way to lasting health. Herbs are a piece of the puzzle, as are other medical modalities. But lasting lifestyle adjustments and new approaches to life and work are often critical for full healing to take place. The long, slow, intentional method of herbal treatment gives patients opportunities to discover what adjustments might need to be made in their lives, and to make them.
One important note – in the kind of herbalism I practice we tend to change the precise composition of the formula quite a bit. This is particularly true when we're treating something like a cold or the flu, as well as during the early stages of any treatment. So, patience has to manifest not only in taking the herbs as prescribed over a long period of time, but also coming in for re-checks as requested in order to ensure your treatment is perfect for you.
#3 – Pay careful attention to your experience while being treated
As you are being treated – consider keeping a journal and recording your physical and mental experience daily. This journaling can be simple or complex, analog or digital, and never needs to be shared word-for-word with anyone. The journal should really just be a tool or a reminder to pay careful attention to your experience as you are being treated. This will help you spot both positive effects that may otherwise be too subtle to notice over time, as well as tracing any aggravation of symptoms or other challenges.
At minimum, tracking the nature and intensity of the primary symptoms you are hoping to treat will be helpful. But, listing any range of your experiences may also yield important information. Even if you're not a journaler, simply find a way to increase your awareness of your experience so that you can notice the changes as they are happening.
If you are a person with a lot of health anxiety or body dysmorphia you may find being more aware of your experience to be uncomfortable. You should talk to your practitioner, as well as any mental health support you have, about these challenges. Above all, don't engage in any activity that increases your own distress or pushes you to disengage with treatment.
#4 – Report your experience in detail to your practitioner
Part of the role of increasing your awareness is so that you can make more detailed reports to your practitioner when you come in for check-ups. Because Chinese herbalists typically do not use blood tests, radiological imaging and other conventional testing methods in our diagnosis, we rely on self-reporting of signs and symptoms from the patient more heavily than other practitioners.
It can be frustrating to figure out how to describe vague or confusing feelings to your practitioner! However, trying to develop increased awareness and working to articulate that awareness to someone you trust can be a valuable part of the healing experience. With time, you will find it easier to explain the movement of the interior landscape of your body.
These four simple interrelated pieces of advice will help you to get the most from your Chinese herbal treatment, whether you see me or another practitioner. If you are an herbalist, or an experienced herbs patient, is there any other advice you would pass on to folks new to herbalism? What has helped you get the best results in your own treatment?
After a lot of research and discernment, we have made significant updates to our cancellation and no-show policy, and as of February 1, 2021, we will be making a concerted effort to enforce it. This marks a big change for us because, while we've always had a cancellation policy, we've frankly struggled to know when and how to enforce it. After a lot of discernment and research, we feel ready to move forward.
Because change is hard, and we're all amid a whirlwind of change in other ways, we wanted to lay out the reasons behind the change in hopes it will ease the transition. If, after reading this, you still have questions or concerns – please don't hesitate to reach out to us.
The basics of the new policy
- AS ALWAYS – We ask for notification of your intent to cancel or reschedule 24 hours or more before your appointment. If you cancel/reschedule within 24 hours, that's a late cancellation. If you just don't show up, that's a no-show.
- Always always call to cancel as soon as you can if you believe you are sick with a viral illness. Particularly during this era of the pandemic's ongoing spread, we want to give a wide latitude to cancellation due to illness. You will not be charged even if this is within 24 hours of your appointment.
- Likewise, if a close contact has been diagnosed with COVID-19, please call to cancel as soon as you can, and you will not be charged if this is within the 24 hour cancellation window.
- You will be charged $50 for violations of our late cancellation policy. There are additional penalties for repeated violations.
- You can read all the details on our cancellation policy page.
The purpose of the cancellation policy
We have a cancellation and no-show policy in place because we have limited resources, and want to use them to best help the community. When a person cancels late, it is often impossible to fill the slot they vacated. This creates a chain reaction of lost opportunities that have real impacts on real people's lives. Our intent is NOT to make others' lives more difficult or to create a punitive environment. Our concerns about finding the right balance are why we've taken a while to craft our approach.
When there is an appointment on the books, our practitioners and staff are here, ready to serve you. The
clinic has been prepared for your arrival and the flow of practitioners through rooms and other resources is determined. Usually, your practitioner will have done some preliminary research appropriate for the upcoming appointment, and their understanding of how their day will unfold includes your appointment.
Repeated interruptions here cause a lack of easy flow through the day and week, as practitioners scramble to figure out what to do with a new window of time. Further, of course, the practitioner loses income when the appointment fee is not paid. Like anybody, practitioners need reliable income to live. The stress of frequent income loss impacts practitioners the same way it would impact anyone.
Our primary purpose in enforcing our policy is to ensure that practitioner time, skill and energy is respected.
Respecting other patients' needs
In Clatsop county, as in many rural counties, healthcare resources are limited. This, combined with the high skill level of our practitioners and our robust in-house insurance billing, means that our practitioners are very busy. In the case of our massage therapists, they are often booked months out. It's unfortunate, but there's just not enough supply to meet the demand.
When a person late cancels or doesn't show up, that potential appointment is lost. For some patients, massage is critical to their regular functioning, and it's hard for them to not be able to get in regularly. By not showing up for an appointment, a late canceller misuses a limited resource that could have been used by someone else. Nobody wants that!
The precariousness of small business
The last year has been hard on everyone. Small businesses like ours have been hit on multiple levels, and the fun isn't over yet. We've been very lucky to have ongoing growth and support from our patients as well as grant and loan funding from several sources – keeping us afloat during a rough time. But the expenses and challenges of operating under these circumstances are real, and every little loss takes us closer to having to reduce services or even close.
Recovering some money when a person cancels isn't going to restore that appointment lost, but it will help to ensure that the practitioner gets some of what they would have made and that the clinic can continue to pay its bills. And, hopefully, the accountability structure the fee creates will just help motivate all of us to pay a bit closer attention to our calendars and communications.
We'll be monitoring how the policy works, listening to your feedback, and adjusting as needed. Thanks for your ongoing support and your help in keeping our doors open and our practitioners happy.
The rumors are true! We are adding a location to better serve the North Coast and Southwest Washington.
Within six months of our opening in January 2017, it was apparent that we were going to quickly outgrow the space on 14th & Commercial. The demand for services has been so high that many are dismayed to learn that our first available appointments can be months away. This is largely due to space considerations – with only two rooms we can only do so much. We’ve done our best juggling shifts to maximize the number of people we can accommodate, but the time has come to take a big step forward.
We are expanding in Astoria by keeping our location and adding a new one just down the Riverwalk!
Starting Monday, December 2, 2019, all acupuncture and massage therapy appointments with Watershed Wellness practitioners will be taking place at our new Pier 1 location.
Esthetics (facials) and yoga will be remaining at the Downtown location.
The address is : 10 Pier One, Suite 308, Astoria, OR 97103 (map link).
Some mapping systems do not render the address correctly. For a time, the location will show as the “Port of Astoria administrative offices” until that all gets switched over with Google.
Map & Further Location Instructions
The building, which until very recently hosted the Port of Astoria administrative offices, is three stories, red and blue, just to the West of the Megler bridge and the marina in the West Mooring Basin. The road leading to Pier 1 is Portway Street, which turns off 101 at the light next to the Portway Tavern. There are several counselors in the building, as well as forest product companies and several Port / marine traffic related businesses you may have visited in the past.
As you go down Portway street, you will cross the Riverwalk and trolley tracks (be careful!) and pass the Astoria Riverwalk Inn on the right. You will feel like you are driving into an industrial region. Depending on time of year and economic conditions, you may see stacks of logs, cruise ships, fishing boats and trucks. But, continue down Portway St and you will come to the entrance of the parking lot and see the red and blue building. You made it.
Park in the parking lot, paying attention to any signage or striping. There are multiple wheelchair accessible spaces and a spacious elevator at the Pier 1 space, so everyone should be able to access the space with no problem. Please contact us if you have any special needs that you want to be sure we can accommodate.
Contact information and scheduling
Our phone number, email addresses and website address are all staying the same. You can find this information, an online contact form and more information about both of our locations on the locations page.
All the same touches and all the same customer service support will be available to you at the new location. We are working very hard to make sure that all you experience are improvements and ongoing healing as we make this transition.
Our scheduling system will remain the same and if you have appointments scheduled for acupuncture or massage, they will be switched over to reflect the Pier 1 Location. You may receive rescheduling emails about this change. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to verify your appointments from your calendar.
More about what's great about the new Pier 1 location
We will be releasing more articles with information about what's to come for both the Downtown and the Pier 1 locations on the blog. To stay updated, be sure you're either a subscriber to the newsletter or that you follow us on Facebook or Instagram.
For now, a little rundown of five things we're most excited about with the expansion…
- Increased space means existing practitioners can potentially take on more patients – meaning shorter wait time for appointments. Yes, expanding staff will be coming, and we have plenty of room to grow.
- Increased space also means the ability to provide a post-treatment relaxation area, expanded medicinary services and eventually classes and events in the space.
- The clinic location is quieter being far from the main roads. There are new sounds to experience, like battling seagulls and boat traffic. But overall, a more peaceful treatment experience.
- The views are fantastic, and we have new businesses and neighbors to connect with.
- Much better parking experience, while still maintaining the connection to the convenient and iconic Riverwalk!
From a Chinese medicine perspective, it is essential that we learn to live in harmony with the seasons. There is, of course, no monolithic “Chinese medicine perspective” but all lineages and even more modern interpretations of Chinese medicine theory discuss the health benefits of seasonal awareness.
The recent movement around local and seasonal foods is a nod to the importance of this timeless principle. People are recognizing that living in accordance with their immediate spatial and temporal environment is not just for hippies (although, for them too). Food tastes better, is more healthful, is less expensive and somehow just FEELS better when it is eaten at the right time for the place that one is in.
But the Chinese philosophy on living in balance with seasonal energy goes farther than food choices. In fact, most of what I have found in the Classical texts of Chinese medicine has nothing to do with food.
1. Physical/mental/spiritual activity levels and types
The guidelines regarding activity go into every realm of life, just as the seasonal energy touches us everywhere – all the time. In the Neijing one of the first practical recommendations concerning seasonal living involves activity.
“During this season [spring] it is advisable to retire early. Arise early also and go walking in order to absorb the fresh, invigorating energy” (From Maoshing Ni's translation)
2. Social activity levels
This is perhaps simply an outgrowth of #1 – but I think it is easy to overlook. We naturally gather together in the summer – although in the United States, some of our most “together” holidays are in the winter. Just as we should limit excessive physical activity in the winter, so should we ramp down our social activity.
3. The color, smell and feeling of the surrounding environment
Paying close attention to the seasonal changes is important in resonating with their energy. All of our senses should be engaged in the study of our environment. It makes sense to similarly alter our internal environment to some degree. Letting your decorations follow the ebb and flow of nature will help you to become closely in tune with seasonal energy. Of course, you will want to keep balance as well – so surrounding yourself with emblems of Metal during the Fall is not necessarily the best way to go, but there are simple, effective and gentle ways to remind yourself of the seasonal energy even when you must be inside.
All of this and much more is included in the kind of lifestyle counseling that naturally grows out of Chinese medicine theory on the energy of the seasons. We’ll be discussing more specifics about each season on the blog in articles to come.
Do you have a favorite season? Which one and why?
As an accompaniment to the movement studio's focus on the breath this month, we'll be offering articles looking at the themes surrounding the breath and the lungs through the lenses of our other practitioners, modalities and various perspectives. Enjoy!
In Chinese Medicine each anatomical organ is associated with an entire energetic channel network that runs through the body. Additionally, each organ network serves as a symbol that has resonance with the natural world. It resonates with a particular season, direction, color, emotion, sound – there are many symbols the Chinese have associated with the organs over the years. If you want to dig in a bit deeper, you can read this brief article on Eric Grey's website, Chinese Medicine Central, about the classical Chinese concept of organ systems.
Understanding our physical organs through symbol offers us the opportunity to relate to our body in a more accessible way than the mere anatomical functions that we are familiar with through textbooks.
Beginning to explore these connections within our own body can open new ways of relating to both our internal and external environment, and also be an aid in our personal healing journey. These symbol associations are based upon an intricate science developed from the wisdom of ancient Chinese civilizations who closely recorded the interaction between the human body and the seasons/cycles of planet earth and the cosmos. Just as plants go through cyclical changes each year, so do we as humans.
Learning to live in harmony with these changes are key to our health, happiness and longevity.
We can understand this concept by examining the Lung organ network. The Lungs are a symbol of harmony as seen in the ever present rhythm of our breath. The Lungs have the ability to bring in what the body needs (oxygen) and discard what no longer serves (carbon dioxide), constantly maintaining balance. The Lungs are an important organ network in the Fall and Winter as they are related to our immune system. They have a close connection to our skin and serve as a barrier for keeping harmful pathogens outside of the body.
The Lungs are also connected with the metal element, which has a downward direction, resonant with the season of fall.
During fall the energy above ground is moving down and in, preparing to enter deep within the earth for wintertime hibernation and the eventual springtime regeneration. An example of this can be seen by observing a tree in the fall, who drops its leaves down to the ground. The leaves then decompose into the soil and after a long winter, provide nourishment for the roots of the tree and new green springtime growth.
By bringing awareness to what is happening in nature, we are able to understand how our body and being can best be in alignment during particular times of the year. Thus the fall is a good time for letting go of what we do not want to carry with us into hibernation and beyond. Energetically we begin to conserve our resources, drawing the outward yang energy inside to our core, lighting our internal fire that will keep us warm and inspired throughout the dark of winter.
Developing a qigong or movement practice as well as a breathing practice during this time can greatly benefit our health.
In the early spring the tiny seed requires robust energy in order to burst through the thin frost covering the earth. We too as humans rely upon the adequate energy reserve that we intentionally stored and carefully guarded within. When the springtime comes we will be strong and fit for bringing our new creations and dreams fully to life once again.
One final thought is that the Lungs are particularly sensitive to grief.
Grief can arise due to many of life's ups and downs, including: loss of loved ones, loss of parts of self and longing for a reality other than what is. Grief is a natural part of the human experience and shall be honored as such. Just as the tree may grieve the loss of it's leaves as they fall to the ground, the human too may grieve the loss of whatever was. But both the tree and the human are constantly reminded that the future holds the steady rhythm of the untold mystery of regrowth.
Interested in learning more?
We have a weekly Qigong class instructed by Hilly Shue, LAc that incorporates theory from Chinese Medicine in a gentle and informative way. This gentle movement class is accessible to everyone. Questions? Reach out!
Interested in what Qigong looks like? Check out this short demo by Hilly.
In this episode, I sat down with Amanda to talk about judgment, and non-judgment, in the holistic healthcare environment.
In particular, we examine some of the things that commonly hold people back from getting care due to worries about judgment around:
- Body image, such as body hair, body odor or weight gain
- Social factors, such as identification as gay or trans, or having low income and so being unable to wear “fancy” clothes
- Political and intellectual factors, such as having a very conservative viewpoint when you believe your practitioner to be quite liberal
It's just a quick 20 minutes, and we hope it will provoke questions – check out the form on the main podcast page to share your thoughts.
Occasionally a patient won’t be able to come to an appointment for one reason or another, because life is complicated. However, there is one kind of cancellation that I find really strange: a patient cancels their appointment because they are sick.
Now, obviously, if someone is too sick to leave their house, then this is completely reasonable. But the prevalence of this phenomenon makes me think that I have neglected to educate my patients about how effective our medicine is at treating acute illness.
So here, dear reader, is the scoop on Chinese Medicine and common bugs.
Chinese Medicine, like all medicine, grew out of daily necessity. Over thousands of years, practitioners have learned to treat the maladies that their communities and families have suffered from. This certainly includes chronic and terminal conditions, like arthritis and cancer, but the most common afflictions that affect us are illness and injury.
While we think of illness in the modern industrialized world as mostly uncomfortable and annoying, epidemic illness was the leading cause of death in much of the ancient world. The flu virus continues to kill thousands of people a year in the US alone, even with our modern medical systems in place. Imagine the destruction it would have wrought without these systems.
Ancient physicians, then, were spending most of their time treating and curing epidemic illnesses.
In fact the vast majority of the herbal texts that have been passed down to us through the ages concern the stages that exogenous (coming from outside the body) illness pass through in the human body, and how to treat every presentation at every stage. Treating an illness early is always best, but we can’t control when a patient will come to see us, so we have intricate systems for treatment regardless of the timeline.
We also understand, based on these systems, that every person’s presentation is different, and requires a different approach.
One person’s cold may start in their chest as a hot and dry cough, while another’s manifests as profuse clear runny nose and a mild fever. Treating these two presentations differently results in a faster recovery in each case. By carefully observing your specific symptoms, we can craft an acupuncture treatment and an herbal formula that will be tailored to your exact experiences and completely resolve all of them.
We also know that proper treatment of acute problems prevents chronic ones.
This is a key concept to understand. A lingering cough from a simple cold can become a long term problem as the lungs’ ability to regulate themselves becomes more and more compromised. Such a process can predispose a person to chronic bouts of bronchitis, asthma attacks, or lung infections.
By completely treating the issue the first time, we never have to deal with any of those problems down the line. For those who already have a chronic health condition, this is doubly true. Autoimmune disease, chronic pain and depression all sap our body’s immune systems and create increased openings for acute illness to become chronic.
With this in mind, my advice is to seek out care when you first feel sick.
That woozy feeling in your head, the tickle in your throat, and the snot you woke up with this morning are telling you that you are already mounting an immune response to something. This is our opening to set you up for the shortest and least painful illness possible, and maybe even a complete avoidance of further symptoms.
And don’t worry about getting me sick; this is my job!
My Chinese herbal lineage focuses on deep understanding of the most venerated text of Chinese herbal medicine, the Shanghan za bing lun.
The first, and most well known, part of this text (often referred to simply as the Shanghan lun) contains information about treating diseases that are caused by factors outside the body. In particular, the vast majority of the formulas in the text treat the common cold, other viral respiratory infections & the secondary infections and complications that come from them. So, you could say that I spend a lot of time thinking about the topic of colds & flus!
Different types of colds?
Chinese medicine (CM) discusses various types of colds – which we call “external invasions,” to differentiate them from diseases caused by food, drink & strongly disordered emotional states. The symptoms of the external invasion, and the method for treating those symptoms, varies based on the character of each type of cold. In the simplest way of looking at it in CM, there are colds that are more “hot type” (with higher fever, yellower phlegm) versus those that are more “cold type” (with lower fever, runnier nose).
But further differentiations exist, based on the origin of the pathogen, the health status of the person invaded, and so on. The Shanghan lun differentiates the varieties of symptoms of exterior invasion into six stages, called Conformations. The conformations are a complex theoretical construct, so we can only sketch the outlines here. If you're interested in getting a bit more information, you might want to read about it on my website for students and practitioners of CM.
The conformations relate to the way a cold develops, and also helps us to see the difference between “regular colds” and more virulent & severe epidemic type invasions. The conformations themselves include physical structures, various bodily functions, acupuncture channels and other diverse parts of the human body. In other words, each conformation is not a single structure, but a mixture several structures and functions.
In a way, each conformation is like a landscape – and as a cold travels through each of the six landscapes, the way it manifests, and the way we treat it, changes.
I list and briefly describe the conformations below in order from the most superficial / exterior layer of the body all the way into the Jueyin which is the deepest level, the most interior to the body. As disease travels through the conformations, it changes character. The more exterior layers (yang layers) look more like typical cold & flu symptoms, and so it is from the chapters describing these disorders that most of my formulas come from when I treat this type of disorder.
- Taiyang – Taiyang contains the Bladder and Small Intestine channels & organ networks, as well as aspects of our immunity, our water metabolism and more. This is the most surface layer, and when struck, the typical symptoms of a mild cold are the result. Runny nose, mild congestion, an often lower grade fever, body aches, frontal headaches and low energy can all be the result. We treat this stage of cold by forcing the pathogen out & strengthening the surface to prevent reinvasion.
- Yangming – Yangming contains the Large Intestine and Stomach channels & organ networks, and thus has a lot to do with digestion, but dysfunction here can also impact mental state (anxiety, mania) and temperature regulation, among other things. We are proceeding more deeply into the body here, and if a cold or flu reaches here, the symptoms tend to be more severe. Very high fevers, even leading to bleeding, severe headaches, sinus trouble including congestion, and certain types of hot lung conditions can all be the result. We treat this stage by cooling down the body and allowing the body to release as much built up matter and energy as possible.
- Shaoyang – Shaoyang contains of the Gallbladder and mysterious Triple Burner channels & organ networks. The impacts of this conformation can be VERY diverse as befits the layer of the body that is getting so much closer to the interior (yin). As cold or flu symptoms, Shaoyang symptoms tend to be back and forth (fever AND chills), less acute and can also hang on for much longer. People who are repeatedly getting sick within one season, but never really having a fever or serious acute symptoms are often trapped in the Shaoyang stage. This can be harder to treat, and we do so by helping to “harmonize” the yin and yang aspects of this stage.
- Taiyin, Shaoyin & Jueyin – The Shanghan lun text I have been discussing goes into detail about the treatment of deeper layers of the body as they are impacted by the consequences of external invasions. However, because these look less like what we call “cold” or “flu,” I'll not discuss them here. The same goes for the next two layers..
I hope to talk more about the conformations and how understanding them can help you respond better to cold-season illnesses. But, for now, with that general idea explained – a word on customization of cold treatment.
Different types of people, different treatments – right?
So, there are different types of colds to begin with, but there are also different types of people having those colds! One of the most important things about Chinese medicine as a distinct profession in healthcare is how we focus on the customization of treatment to the uniqueness of the individual patient. If a person is very weak, with a thin and deep pulse, not having much of a fever and the cold lingers for weeks, we will treat them much differently than a person who comes in with a big fever, big pulse and very rapidly moving illness. Doesn’t that just make sense?
You may have a different herbal formula than your partner with a similar cold!
That's the outcome of true customization of treatment. But, of course, sometimes I find myself prescribing very similar formulas to a large group of people. While customization is important, it’s also true that many people react similarly to particular colds traveling through their town. And there are some types of treatment or supplementation that help most people feel better. This is why we see standardized over-the-counter remedies on the shelves in the first place – they are a convenient way to help large groups of people. So, as a practitioner, or for you as a member of the public, we have to find the best way to balance customization and convenience.
Over-the-counter remedies and Chinese herbal medicine – the case of Yin Qiao (or Yin Chiao)
For many of my patients, the first Chinese herbal formula they ever took was in the form of several small tablets called Yin Qiao San – said to be great for the common cold. Many people swear by the remedy and keep it on hand just in case. In fact, there are some Chinese medicine practitioners who ask their patients to keep it on hand for just this reason. This formula was formally written down in a book published in 1798 devoted to exploring “Warm diseases,” so those types of illnesses that are either caused by warming factors, or expresses itself through heat type symptoms, or both.
It contains cooling, lightweight herbs like honeysuckle flower and forsythia seed pod.
This formula is appropriate for people who have hotter cold symptoms such as : fever, burning sore throat and a tendency to a more rapid pulse & yellowing tongue coat (especially as the cold progresses). In the basic CM way of looking at things, a warm or hot pathogen creates these symptoms. Warm and hot pathogens are traditionally more likely to be encountered in warm climates. If a cold came from a more cold type pathogen – such as those typical in my home in Oregon – then this formula would most likely NOT be appropriate. Further, when the cold goes into the interior, causing a phlegmy cough or profuse nasal discharge, this formula wouldn’t be appropriate regardless of the nature of the exterior invasion.
In other words, Yin Qiao San can indeed be effective – for certain types of colds and not others.
What are the potential consequences of using a formula that isn’t appropriate for the type of cold or other disorder you’re experiencing? Fortunately, Chinese herbal medicine is powerful – but also very gentle. Yin Qiao San is quite cooling, but it is also relatively easy on the body and the dose typically taken is too small to do much damage. So while there are Chinese herbs that can cause serious complications if you take them when they are not indicated for your condition, this particular example is not one of those.
That said, if you need warming treatment and take cooling herbs instead, there are undoubtedly consequences for the yang of the body. Long term, a person who inappropriately takes Yin Qiao San may find lowered surface immunity or mild digestive problems. That the consequences may not be severe in this case, though, doesn't mean we shouldn't attend to always taking the right herbal formula for our situation.
How do you avoid taking the “wrong Chinese herbal formula?”
Does the highly customized nature of Chinese herbal medicine mean that there can be no on-hand remedies a patient could self prescribe? Of course not. There are general treatment strategies that assist nearly anyone who is experiencing the symptoms of a cold or flu. For instance: increasing fruits and vegetables, decreasing sugar and strenuous physical activity and staying warm and hydrated will help virtually anyone have a better time with a cold or the flu.
But, if you would like to take a more active role to treat future colds and flus, or you have developed complications from one – like a chronic painful cough – seeking out treatment from a licensed Chinese medicine practitioner may well be part of an answer. If you come in for a visit, I will use CM diagnostic techniques, including a wide ranging discussion with you, to help determine the best treatment for an existing cold – or the prevention of one in the future. While I would be unlikely to prescribe Yin Qiao San, it being outside of my lineage and climate, I could certainly recommend a group of herbal formulas to have on hand for potential situations that would be appropriate for your constitution.
This is just a brief overview of the issues involved in treating colds and flus with Chinese herbal medicine. Questions? Get in touch – maybe I’ll write a future article about your question!