welcome

Featured

  • Stressed out and exhausted?
  • Taking care of everyone except yourself?
  • Making the world a better place, but worried you might burn out?

You support so many others; I enjoy supporting you. Often caregivers and changemakers are so busy meeting the needs of family and community, our own health suffers. Let’s work together to help you manage stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, burnout, menstrual health, digestion, and trauma recovery. You’ll receive thorough, well-researched clinical care, with safe space, non-judgmental listening, and attention to your whole person.

Traditional Chinese medicine balances the whole person – your body, mind, emotions and spirit. I help you relax and sleep better, to feel calm and focused. When you nurture your own health, your work, relationships and creative projects will benefit. You’ll feel rejuvenated and have more than enough energy for the long haul.

‘Buying time’… Pre-fertility tips from Chinese medicine

cute-asian-babyAt my age, many of my friends and family are considering whether or not to start families. As more folks are waiting until later to have kids, fertility support has become an increasingly relevant topic. The Ontario government recently announced they would fund one IVF transfer. For those who are undecided, or still searching for a partner/ co-parent/ intentional community/ other support, I wrote an article (primarily for people who menstruate) about how Chinese medicine can help you manage (and perhaps prolong) your reproductive health.

Important Update: Sabbatical starting Sept 2014

Tzu Chi University in TaiwanI will be taking a sabbatical year away from Toronto from September 2014 to August 2015. I have recently received news that I will be receiving a scholarship from the Government of Taiwan. I am excited and honoured for the opportunity to live in Taiwan, deepening my understanding of the Mandarin Chinese language. I also plan to delve deeper into the cultivation and use of medicinal herbs, and the integration of Traditional Chinese Medicine with biomedical practice. For details on measures I have put in place to support my clients and patients during this time, please click here.

Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Heart Health

Chinese character for heart

Chinese character for heart

Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs are used effectively in Chinese hospitals for stroke, hypertension, atherosclerosis, angina, coronary heart disease, and more. Around the world, acupuncturists can help you lower your blood pressure, improve blood circulation, reduce fluid retention, manage diabetes, improve digestive health, promote sleep, reduce stress (balance the nervous system), reduce chronic pain, headache and numbness, or support you to reduce unwanted consumption of alcohol, cigarettes or foods.

In TCM, the body, mind, spirit and emotions have always been seen as interconnected, and are treated simultaneously. In particular, the ‘Heart’ system in TCM is closely connected to mental and emotional balance. Stress, anxiety and sleep are among the many emotional health issues we treat. Sleep and other mental-emotional issues have been linked to increased hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart failure, heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. Check out this handout I just made about TCM and Heart Health, including Self-Acupressure points and Qi Gong exercises!

Free self-care workshop

On June 3 and June 18 in downtown Toronto, I’m offering a free self-care workshop for LGBTQ immigrants and refugees, in coordination with the Griffin Centre’s reachOUT Newcomer Network, and the Centre for Women and Trans People at U of T. Free dinner, ASL interpretation, and TTC tokens are provided, and the location is wheelchair accessible. Click here for details and to register.

“Free and Happy Wanderer”: Traditional herbs for depression and stagnation

2014-04-02 10.12.16Spring is Liver time, according to Chinese medicine. Time of the Wood element, which means sometimes we can get physically and mentally ‘stiffer’ at this time.

The Liver is often out of balance in modern times. If so, we can feel emotionally depressed, stuck, lacking in vision and creativity, or prone to anger, irritability and frustration. We may experience irregular digestion, moods, and menstrual cycles.

Click here for a very traditional way to make a very traditional formula from scratch, for exactly these problems.

Emotions and Your Body: A (mostly) Traditional Chinese Medicine view

Joyeuse1What, if anything, do our emotions have to do with our physical health?  In recent years, Western medical researchers have increasingly acknowledged the links between emotions and physical symptoms. Since I first studied cognitive neuroscience, the neurobiology of emotions has become a much hotter topic (thank goodness!)1

Western science is still in the early stages of understanding how our mind and body interact. Other healing traditions, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), draw from millennia of experience and systematic observation of emotional­/physical links.2

This article on emotional health draws from my experiences with:

  • the clinical practice of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine
  • meditation that trains the mind to notice extremely subtle energy throughout the body, and
  • various forms of therapy I’ve experienced myself

The topic of how emotions affect the physical body (and vice versa) is immense, so here are just a few ideas to start with:

YOUR ENERGY FLOW

In Chinese medicine, good health results from adequate and balanced energy (‘Qi’) flow. Illness results from imbalanced or inadequate energy, or blocked circulation. Much like physical blood, energy has to flow in the right directions and amounts throughout the body for it to function well.

Feeling an emotion = feeling a certain wave of energy in the body that has physical effects. Have you noticed this? With practice, you can sit quietly and watch the wave come and go. This emotion might feel like an intense buzz, another might pull your chest in tighter, and another might make you warm. So, emotions and a change of ‘physical’ Qi flow go hand-in-hand. Chinese medicine has observed this systematically since ancient times; the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, one of the earliest medical texts (~2500 years old), states that “anger makes Qi rise, joy slows down Qi, sadness dissolves Qi, fear makes Qi descend… shock scatters Qi… pensiveness knots Qi.”

The emotional wave doesn’t have to last long, but we generally hang on. According to Buddhist psychology, we aren’t in the habit of letting go of emotional experiences. If it was a pleasant wave of energy, we tend to hang on and enjoy it. If it was unpleasant, we tend to hang on and stew in anger, hurt, or sadness about it.  This happens by automatic habit, subconsciously replaying the situation in our mind, and reacting to our reactions. Without realizing it, we compound things – feeling angry that we’re hurt, sad that we’re angry, angry that we’re sad, etc. It’s even more difficult to let go when strong residual emotions are triggered.

IMBALANCE AND ILLNESS

Prolonged, repressed or extreme emotions can cause illness. In Chinese medicine, the major causes of imbalance and illness in adults are: environmental, food/lifestyle habits, trauma, and…emotions!

Let’s use an example:
Someone says “you’re totally selfish”, and I react with anger. Immediately my chest subtly tightens, shoulders tense up, breathing becomes shallow, and face feels warm. I may not realize this, but if I can’t face, process, and let go of this mental and physical reaction, if I keep replaying the event and re­generating the same anger, the built­-up tensions and imbalances may lead to health issues. For example, it may reduce energy flow within, say, my intestines (or other internal organs) and cause constipation and/or diarrhea (or other internal problems), eventually weakening my digestion and causing food sensitivities. We see these consequences every day in the clinic.

The above is just one example of many possible consequences of chronic emotional tension. Chronic pain, for example, could be another development. Some doctors believe that most chronic pain/ health problems are caused by held, repressed emotions in the unconscious.3 I believe the causes of chronic pain/illness are more complex – injuries, repetitive strain, environmental toxins, genetic issues, etc. all play a role… but agree that emotions can be a powerful factor, as Chinese medicine understands.

Emotional memories can be held in the body and ‘re­triggered’. The above example may seem exaggerated, but what can happen is that a simple incident (like being called “selfish”) can actually trigger old emotions “held” in our body. It’s like our Qi system (think of it as our nervous system, in this situation) ‘remembers’ strong reactions from earlier life. Any stimulus that touches a similar ‘memory circuit’ can result in hugely amplified emotional reactions. This is how I believe triggers work, for those of you interested in trauma recovery. (More on trauma and triggers in a future article.)

MANAGING EMOTIONS

Affecting one’s emotions changes the Qi flow in the body.  By managing my emotions, I can also make changes in my physical Qi. So by thinking differently about the situation, letting go, confiding in a friend or counsellor, meditating, journalling, or talking things out respectfully, I can change my thoughts, emotions and the qualities of the energy flow I’m feeling.

For example, in the above situation, maybe I realize I misheard and she’d actually said “you’re totally selfless.” My anger fades, I let my breath out, my shoulders relax, my face cools down, and I might get a light feeling in my chest. Or maybe I talk things out with another friend, who reassures me that I’ve done the best I can and the offender just has their own misconceptions. I relax and feel calmer (as long as I can catch myself before going back into the ‘angry’ belief about being wronged).  If I can release my emotional tension often enough, I can avoid some of the longer­term health effects of a chronic Qi reaction pattern.

CHANGING YOUR ENERGY FLOW

Changing Qi flow also affects emotions. In Chinese medicine, cause and effect often go back and forth. That means physically manipulating Qi flow can change your emotional state. You can change your Qi flow countless ways, e.g. by: deep or conscious breathing, relaxation, yoga, exercise, food and drink, hanging out with others, taking a hot bath, getting acupuncture or a massage, etc.

For example, have you felt really angry and then gone for an intense workout, or an acupuncture treatment?  Were you ever anxious and then had a delicious meal?  Were you ever feel frustrated and tense, and then soaked in an epsom salt bath?

Once I was feeling wired, hyperactive and rushed on a long­-distance cycling trip. We’d done half of the 100 km for the day, and I was raring to finish as fast as possible. After a 15 minute massage, though, I was a completely different cyclist. I glided along serenely, gazing at ducks and flowers, drinking in the fresh air like it was my favourite summer cocktail.

Releasing body tensions can help release old, stuck emotions – as many who have experienced or given bodywork can attest to. Emotional releases during acupuncture, massage, body­-based meditation, dance and yoga, are fairly common. I’ve even had a number of people recall specific memories when massaging or needling certain areas of their bodies.

But if we don’t change our thoughts and beliefs, those tensions may recur – it’s like the tensions and physical symptoms are ‘branches’ and the thought patterns that are hurting us inside are the roots. This is why I believe bodywork is especially powerful for emotional healing, when done along with working on one’s thinking (through meditation, talk therapy, etc.). For resources on meditation and talk therapy in the Greater Toronto Area, check my More on the topic of ‘Emotions and the Body’ in future articles. Your feedback is 110% welcome, as this is a huge topic to explore!

For a free personal 20 minute consultation on how emotions may be affecting your symptoms, contact me today!

Like this article? Click here to receive free articles, resources and workshop/event announcements. My emails won’t be more often than once a month – I don’t have time to bombard you.

1. Daniel J. Siegel, The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009).
2. TCM Doctors Take on Emotions, http://www.china.org.cn/english/Life/173064.htm
3. Sarno, John E., MD, The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain (Warner Books, Inc., 1998).

Spring Health Tips and Recipes

Spring is a time of re­birth, cleansing, and renewal. In Chinese medicine, Spring is the time of the Wood element, or ‘Liver’ energy system (TCM ‘Liver’ is not the same as your physical liver organ).

The ‘Liver’ circulates energy (Qi) and blood around your body and is responsible for clear vision and direction in life, creativity, assertion, calm, and regular menstruation. A balanced Liver is pivotal to the maintenance of good health, and one of the most susceptible to emotional stress.

Taking care of it preventatively can help avoid or reduce many chronic imbalances. In the face of life’s challenges and injustices, it is common to experience “Liver Qi Stagnation”, which feels like:

Physically
•       body pains, stiffness and tension (especially neck, back and hips)
•       digestive problems, e.g. bloating, heartburn, reflux, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.
•       PMS (pre­menstrual syndrome), breast distention, painful/irregular periods
•       difficulty rising in the mornings
•       a “wiry” (tense-­feeling) pulse

Emotionally
•       feeling frustrated, irritable, angered, negative, or depressed (if we suppress our anger)
•       emotional ups and downs
•       difficulty expressing ourselves or addressing conflicts constructively
•       feeling stuck, uncreative, inflexible, or without a clear vision and purpose in life

A Quick Liver Stagnation Remedy

Liver Stagnation Recipe
If you experience many of the above signs, this recipe is great to quickly stimulate the Liver out of its stagnancy.

If you have heat signs (red face, red, dry eyes, splitting headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, dry constipation, etc.), replace the vinegar below with lemon or lime juice. This recipe is helpful in the short term but shouldn’t replace making longer-term dietary or lifestyle changes you want to make (for your Liver’s sake)

Ingredients
• 1 tsp unrefined vinegar (e.g. apple cider, brown rice, rice wine vinegar)
• 1 tsp raw honey
• 1 cup warm water

Keep a Happy Liver
The Liver is one of the most involved organs in emotional processing. How emotions affect our physical health and vice versa is an exciting area of research and exploration these days. Check out this article I wrote about emotions and your body.

So, how can we keep our ‘Liver’ (not the anatomical liver, by the way) systems happy this season?

• Laugh! Prioritize fun, relaxation, and enjoying the moment (meditation helps with this!)
• Find friends & safe spaces where we can assert and express ourselves (creatively too)
• Practice being thankful for what we have now, focusing less on what we are dissatisfied with
• Seek support/ways to let go of, move through, or find peace with old emotions. Remember that spring is a time of new beginnings, and the Liver gets stuck with holding old grudges.
• Yoga, tai chi, expressive movement, acupuncture, herbs and massage all move stuck Qi

Nutritionally, many people gravitate toward cleansing during the Spring. Speak to your TCM practitioner about what kind of cleanse would work best for your body type. Also ask about personalized herbal formulas that can help.

Eat Your Greens
ASPARAGUS
Green is the colour of the Liver and Spring (according to Chinese Five Element theory).

Enjoy plenty of young plants, greens, sprouts, mung beans, radishes, and lightly cooked foods. Use less fats, salts, processed foods, and strong spices in cooking. Honey­mint tea and herbs such as basil, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, fennel, chamomile, chrysanthemum, dandelion root, milk thistle seeds, peony root, lemon balm, peppermint, etc. are all helpful to balance the Liver.

AsparagusAsparagus is one of the first vegetables ready for harvest in the spring. See below for delicious seasonal recipes to help your Liver Qi flow:

1. Warm Asparagus Salad with Basil + Mint Pistou

2. No-Cream Pasta Primavera


Enjoy!
 For a personalized Chinese medicine assessment, nutritional and other recommendations, contact me.

Like this article? Click here to receive free articles, resources and workshop/event announcements. My emails won’t be more often than once a month – I don’t have time to bombard you.

Beating the Winter Blahs

Pauline on winter walk, in non-matching outfit

Bundle up to get some winter sun outdoors, even if your colours clash!

Winter is the season of the “Kidney-Adrenal” energy system according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. The TCM Kidney-Adrenals (not the same as your physical kidneys, please note) are the foundation of all life energy the body. So winter is a time to focus inward, conserve energy, and nurture our long-term strength through rest, reflection and gentle exercise.

Maintain your spirits and energy by layering up to get fresh air and sunshine, keeping your lower back and legs warm at all times (leggings, long johns, leg warmers, body warmers, fuzzy slippers, hot water bottles, etc!), and sleeping earlier. Dressing properly to protect your body’s Qi is vital not only to preventing colds and flus, but to preventing and healing from other chronic health imbalances. 

Seasonal nutrition is another great way to take care of yourself. Chinese medicine dietary principles consider each individual’s balance, the season, the properties of the foods themselves and how we cook them. Come in for a personalized assessment and diet plan, or click here for more general info: 5 winter food tips, and some simple winter recipes!

Sometimes aches and pains are worse in the cold, so this year might be especially painful. Some types of low back pain, for example, can worsen in the winter. If low back pain is chronic, it is also often associated with the Kidney-Adrenal energetic system. Support your low back with qi gong exercise, gentle stretching and strengthening, rest, acupuncture, moxibustion and Chinese medicine. Click here for an article I wrote about low back pain.

I spent a wonderful 10 days over the holidays volunteering at the Ontario Vipassana Meditation Centre and highly recommend the experience. Check out my meditation resource sheet, or ask me for details.

Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are excellent for maintaining your energy and immune levels, minimize aches and pains, and balance yourself emotionally. In my clinic, I like to use a lot of moxibustion (mugwort) during winter acupuncture, as it deeply warms the acupuncture meridians and gives more energy to the body that way. You can use moxibustion on your own at home. If you’re not sure how to, or want to discuss what would benefit you the most, consider getting a custom consultation or treatment. I also offer a free 15 minute phone consultation for new patients.

Got your own ideas for surviving and thriving in the winter season?  Add them in the Comments below to share with others… thanks!

Like this article? Click here to receive free articles, resources and workshop/event announcements. My emails won’t be more often than once a month – I don’t have time to bombard you.

5 Winter Food Tips

winter sceneNOTE: The info below is for general information only. It doesn’t replace a personalized assessment and a therapeutic food plan specific for your constitution (yin/yang, hot/cool, dry/moist, organ system balances, etc.).  A more personalized Chinese medicine therapeutic diet should take priority over these general seasonal suggestions, especially to address specific health concerns.

Click here for a few winter recipes!

1) How we eat is at least as important as what. Enjoyment and mindful eating (paying full attention to tastes, textures, smells, etc. while eating) is the single best ‘dietary’ change we can make. A keen ear for your body’s messages is more important than memorizing all the rules in a nutrition textbook. 

Relaxed eating is good from both the Chinese medicine and Western biomedicine point of view. When you’re stressed and in ‘sympathetic nervous system’ (i.e. ‘fight or flight’ mode), your body shifts blood circulation away from digestive functions. Stress reduces stomach acid levels, hampering digestion and absorption. In Chinese medicine, not only stress but any ‘pensiveness’ interferes with digestion (you digest ‘thoughts’ as well as the food). So, don’t stress about what you eat!  Nourish yourself with a kind, loving, accepting, and gentle attitude. Eat a slow meal while relaxing and enjoying the food – deliciousness and joy is important for nutrition too!  

2) Include the 5 flavours daily, but slightly more salty and bitter flavours in the winter.  The 5 flavours are: sweet, salty, sour, pungent (a.k.a. acrid/spicy), and bitter. The ‘sweet’ flavour means the ‘full sweet’ tastes of grains, vegetables, etc. (not ‘empty sweets’ of sugars, desserts, etc.), and this flavour should predominate in all seasons. In the winter, however, a slight increase in the salty and bitter flavours can benefit the Kidney-adrenals and the Heart (closely tied to our mental-emotional state). Some foods with bitter (and other) tastes include: kale, turnip, celery, asparagus, burdock root, carrot top, lettuce, watercress, parsley, endive, rye, oats, quinoa, chicory root, and many herbs. Salty foods include seaweeds, salt, millet, barley, miso, etc. 

3) Eat to minimize ‘Dampness. Dampness = fluid where it’s not supposed to be. This can manifest in phlegm/mucus problems, foggy thinking, edema, cysts, tumours, yeasts, low immunity, feeling heavy/sluggish/foggy (physically and mentally), etc. Dampness impairs your digestive ‘fire’ and overall warmth/energy; and it contributes to allergies, low immunity, and chronic illnesses.

Damp-causing foods include: dairy (especially cow), almost all sugars (including most fruit), wheat (sprouting helps), overly-salty food, meats and eggs, most fats and oils, yeasted breads, alcohol (i.e. liquid sugar), food that is hard to digest (raw, cold, inadequately chewed, etc.), and refined, processed, stale or rancid food (including most commercially shelled nuts and seeds, especially peanuts).

Eating excessive amounts, too quickly, overly complex meals, and late at night also contribute to Dampness, as do toxins, anxiety and worry.

4) Eat warmer and protect your digestive & life fire. In winter, it is best to cook foods longer, at lower temperatures, and using less water. These factors increase the meal’s warming qualities. Making your food “warmer” and easier to digest will preserve your ‘digestive fire’ and help you absorb more nutrients. 

Easier to digest = (1) at least slightly cooked or broken down, (2) in moderate amounts (“until 70% full”), in simple combinations (unless all cooked in the same pot like a stew or soup), (3) warm in temperature, and (4) well-chewed. 

If you have cold signs, eat warming foods such as oats, parsnips,  mustard greens, winter squash, butter, quinoa, walnuts, onion family, chicken, lamb, trout and salmon. Warming spices include dried ginger, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek seeds, fennel. Food that is too ‘hot‘ actually releases warmth and cools you (e.g. chilies, hot peppers).

5) Be Kind to your Kidneys. Eat dried foods, small dark beans (adzuki, black beans, etc.), seaweeds, steamed winter greens, millet, barley, legumes, goji berries, and black/blue foods, which are good for the Kidney-Adrenals.  Avoid toxins in food and water, intoxicants and environmentally, sleep early, don’t overwork, keep your low back, legs and feet warm, and make sure to get plenty of rest. Check out these basic Qi Gong exercises to support the Kidney-Adrenals!

Like this article? Click here to receive free articles, resources and workshop/event announcements. My emails won’t be more often than once a month – I don’t have time to bombard you.