It's time for the fifth Element - and the fifth season!
One of the most prevalent systems in Chinese Medicine is called Five Element Theory. It's the theory that there are five elements, and a season for each. Wait, well then aren't we short a season? Let me introduce you to...
Lol, no it's not really Leeloo. And it's not actually a mystical being that can save the world. BUT, it is a really interesting time of year, and if you make the right choices during it, you will definitely be healthier and happier into fall. Here's a quick chart with the seasons, and their corresponding elements:
So when exactly is Late Summer? It's usually from mid August, and goes until the Autumnal Equinox, which is on September 22nd this year (2022). It's hot. It's muggy. And it seems like it will never end! But like everything, it will end and we will move into a different season, or phase, very soon. It's a short season for sure, but a pretty important one. Times of transition - liminal spaces if you will - are points when things become more unstable.
When you go from sitting to standing, there's a greater chance of falling. When electrons move to different atoms, the exchange can be disastrous. OR you can get a new element, you increase your strength through training. It doesn't have to be a bad thing, because we cannot grow without change. The transformational power of the shortest season should not be ignored, it should be harnessed!
Okay great, but what exactly does this mean to me? Well, it means you can reframe how you think about this last part of summer. The easiest way to do that is through the concept above, and to focus on the season's element - EARTH
Now there are many ways to think about the earth element. The first is that the earth is at the center of the elements and everything builds off of it - this is known as the cosmological sequence. Another way is through the generating sequence, where the earth element is generated by the fire element. The Five Phases is a third idea that everything is constantly moving through five different phases, each represented by one of the elements above. This concept is overlaid on life cycles, harvest and growing cycles, and even the emotional cycles of dealing with trauma. This can get very complicated very quickly and will be left to another post, but suffice it to say we will talk about the earth element in multifaceted ways.
COrrespondences and phases of the earth element
So let's deep dive into the earth element. What does it relate to and why? The earth element is associated with the organs the stomach and spleen. This makes a lot of sense when you think about grouping those into the concept of digestion, and then thinking about digestion as the basis of our existence. Without sustenance we do not thrive. So the quality of of our gut microbiome, which is often indicated by the quality of stool, is a great way of thinking about and measuring the health of our earth element. That's why your acupuncturist always wants to know about your stool, it tells us a *lot* about your health. It's a little too much to get into right now, but for a deeper understanding you can read this amazing book that puts it in much better detail than I can:
But coming back to earth and digestion, the time of day associated with this element in the organ clock system is 7-9 am for the spleen, and 9-11 am for the stomach. This is why you should eat breakfast between 7-9 am, and one of the main reasons Eastern Medicine practitioners say you should never skip breakfast. We also think you should not have anything cold like cereal for breakfast, or you will douse your digestive fire. Which arguably is another way of saying it leads to gut dysbiosis. We just didn't have that language 2,000 years ago.
So in practical terms this means during late summer, we really need to focus on our gut health. We need to prepare and repair the microbiome so that we get every bit of the nutrients in our food before we enter winter. Of course, it's not as important as it once was to make sure we have enough food for winter. Globalization has led to greater food security for many of us. However, if we want to live healthier, and in accordance with the seasons and the flow of nature, it's a powerful thought. Plus science data shows that a healthier gut means a healthier and happier life in almost every sense.
EMotional Imbalances of the earth element
This leads us perfectly into the concept of the emotions associated with earth: worrying and overthinking. Evidence based medicine certainly coincides with this when we talk about the gut being the second brain, and how neurotransmitters are found in large quantities in the gut. To be fair, we're still not exactly sure what this means, but we definitely know there is a connection. Just like the ancient physicians of China knew this. An imbalance, particularly a deficiency in the earth element, can lead to lots of anxiety, worrying, and over thinking. This can lead to paralyzing indecision, leaving us stuck in a bad place.
We've talked a lot about the gut and our emotional state, but that's only part of the picture. In five element theory there are external pathogens that can throw each element out of whack. For the earth element, and for late summer, it's dampness. It's a little hard to think about since we don't talk about pathogens in this way, but it's a very helpful metaphor once you understand the reasoning. So a great way to think about dampness is in terms of pain. Barometric pressure changes, oncoming storms, these can cause old injuries and joints to flare up. Like when your knee let's you know it's gonna rain tomorrow. It's also just a much more humid during late summer. Here in South Texas we are *feeling* it. Everyone I talk to is feeling a little oppressed by the weight of the air right now.
Damp Heat is a thing
So with the final blast of summer heat, and the added humidity of late summer, we are left with a common concept in Chinese Medicine - damp heat. The main symptoms of damp heat are gastrointestinal, like we've talked about with the earth element and digestion. But it can also cause joint pain, chronic fatigue
Okay But what can we do?
I imagine you are asking yourself why even talk about Late Summer if it's all so terrible? That's because it's not! There's actually of a ton of stuff we can do to nourish the earth element, and our gut! Here's a list of my favorite things to focus on during these weeks before we head into fall:
"The mediocre practitioner treats the disease. The superior practitioner prevents it."
I hope this post will help you to prevent disease in your body, but as always this is not a replacement for medical advice. Please seek out a licensed acupuncturist to find out what is best for you. And stay tuned for Part 2 where I will talk about Qigong!
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?People always have lots of questions about acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Here are a few of the most common ones:
SO WHAT IS QI ANYWAY?
One of the central ideas in Chinese Medicine is Qi, pronounced Chi, and in Japanese - Ki. But what the hell is it, and why does it matter? This is probably the second most asked questions I get as an acupuncturist, right after "Does it Hurt?" That being said, so many people have tried to answer it over the years, I hate to rehash it again. So I'm going to quote one of my favorite books here. Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, authors Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold said of Qi:
“That which animates life is called Qi. The concept of Qi is absolutely at the heart of Chinese Medicine. Life is defined by Qi even though it is impossible to grasp, measure, quantify, see or isolate. Immaterial yet essential, the material world is formed by it. An invisible force known only by its effects, Qi is recognized indirectly by what it fosters, generates and protects.
Matter is Qi taking shape. Mountains forming, forests growing, rivers streaming, and creatures proliferating are all manifestations of Qi. In the human being, all functions of the body and mind are manifestations of Qi: sensing, cogitating, feeling, digesting, stirring, and propagating.… It is the fundamental mystery and miracle.”
This is an amazing book that can explain Chinese Medicine in everyday language, if you want to learn more grab it here:
So there you have it, lol. My mentor liked to say that "Qi is function" - and I think that gets the point across as concisely as possible. Your body's ability to do its job is fueled by qi. Honestly, the concept is so deep I could talk about it for hours, but I won't :) What I will say is that qi is not finite. Through acupuncture, herbs, lifestyle, exercise, and qigong - you can change the amount of qi in your body and increase your health and longevity! Pretty cool, huh?
Best practices for zoom classes & Workshops, & why you should care...
So you've finally signed up for that Zoom exercise class, but you're nervous, you're shy, you aren't even sure you want to be there, but on your own hasn't worked so here you are...and congrats! That's a huge step and I'm super proud of you! Hopefully I can give you some tips and pointers to make you feel a little more prepared, relaxed, and confident in your online interactions. Let's dig in!
Well. Here we are. September 2020, in the throes of pandemic and zooming more than ever, and let's be honest - Zoom classes, meetings, literally Zoom everything, isn't going away. We read those tutorials at the beginning of all this to try and do our best on these online platforms, but lately I've noticed a lot of confusion and disruption in my Zoom world. I thought I would give my two cents on how to operate in a respectful way, especially from the perspective from an instructor on Zoom.
To turn the Camera on, Or Not to Turn the Camera On?
There are plenty of reasons not to turn your camera on, and if that's what's gonna get you in the room, then by all means leave that camera off! However, I truly feel your goal should be to get comfortable enough with your online group to turn the camera on. These live online meeting spaces like Zoom are for connecting with each other, but there are still plenty of ways to connect without a live video feed of yourself going out there. If you can't or won't turn on that camera then try some of the following to connect with your teachers and fellow students:
BUT I'm really shy, Bret! I Don't want to talk to anyone!
Listen, I get it, I really do. But I am here to give you a different perspective today. As an instructor if I have someone come into class who isn't on camera, doesn't have a microphone on, and doesn't type anything in the chat - it's a little creepy. You may have no intention of creeping, but that unknown black square can become a black hole sucking in my attention and distracting me. I know, I know, you aren't hurting anyone so why am I being so dramatic?! Well, I have no idea who you are. Are you spying on someone in my class? Are you about to make an inappropriate comment or gesture? Probably not, but I *literally* have no idea because I've not gotten an iota of communication from you. Let's say that you aren't and I continue to teach class, but that everyone does the same thing and I'm teaching to a bunch of empty, soulless squares, as my qi drains into them. Lol, okay now I am being dramatic. But in all seriousness, that's exhausting to teachers. And not to be too unfair, but why are you here? Just go watch a Facebook live, or even a YouTube video because that's the level of engagement you want. And yet! Here you are! And I couldn't be more delighted. Honestly! And I totally respect if you can't/don't want to turn your camera on (unless you're my mom and then I don't care if your hair isn't done I just want to see your face <3). I totally respect that you can't/don't want to turn your mic on. But at least say hi in the chat. Let me know you aren't a creep, and I'm more than happy to teach and connect it whatever ways we can!
Okay, I get it now. But honestly, this zoom shit is confusing, where do we go from here? I don't even know what I want anymore!!!
I am so glad you asked this! Not only have I been teaching on Zoom, Facebook Live, IGTV, and YouTube - I've been taking classes on all those platforms too! And I have really become quite adept at figuring out what I want. Now, what I want is gonna be so different from what you want, but I am gonna outline some questions to ask yourself below to help you figure out what it is you actually want from this whole experience!
For real though, do not give up! Just because you don't connect to a teacher doesn't mean you can't connect online. They may just not be the right match for you. I say give every class at least 2 tries. If by the third you are dreading it, then move on this class aint for you. Don't judge yourself and say you failed. Just try something new! If ever there was a time to fail and try again - over and over and over and over - this is it!!!
I love helping people figure out what they want. If you're still confused or unsure, reach out to me directly and let me help you find a class for you!
Stay Healthy, Friends!
~The Red Raven
It appears this pandemic isn't going to be ending anytime soon, but we all still need our qigong! I miss teaching in a room with other people. I miss the community we were building centered on health and our own wellbeing. I miss a lot of things.
Some of you know, and maybe even watched my Facebook Live classes I did for a bit. Others weren't on facebook and waited for my YouTube videos to be posted. But I've been transitioning away from social media, particularly Facebook, for a while now. In my attempt to find a better platform for qigong I ran across Patreon. It offers multiple "tiers" or subscription options which I have made to let people pick what amount they can pay. Using #Patreon as my launching platform I have started using Zoom classes for the actual attendance. I love it because it lets people decide what level of visibility they want to have in the class, and lets us start to see each other and start to build community again!
There are some extremely affordable options so don't hesitate to look and find out how easy it is to become part of our community. I look forward to seeing you in class soon <3
Here's a quick FAQ to help you get started with it! If you run across any problems please feel free to comment and I'll add your question in:
How much is it?
Well depending on what you want, it ranges from $1 to $125 so there's something for everyone
How do I sign up?
Go to www.patreon.com/calmafqigong and pick which tier you'd like to sign up for. You can create and account, or login with google or facebook. Just remember which one you used because you will need it to log in and watch the replays as well as get the zoom links for class.
Will I need to download anything?
Yes, you will need to download Zoom onto your computer.
How can I access the replays?
The replays will be posted to the Patreon feed each day there is a class. You will need to log into your account there to find it.
AN INSIDERS LOOK AT HOW HOLISTIC PRACTITIONERS HANDLE THE COMMON COLD
Welp, it happened. I caught a cold over the Thanksgiving holiday. How did this happen? Two words: Wind. Points.
Wind Points are the points on your neck and shoulders that leave you vulnerable to catching cold according to Chinese medicine, and if you don't cover them up we always warn - you gonna get it! Honestly this whole topic deserves its own post to explain it, but I will save that for another time. For now, let's just focus on what happened.
I locked myself out of my house without my coat and had to walk to a friends with all my wind points exposed. I should have known what would happen. Laying in bed that night I had a tickle in my throat and started sneezing up a storm. Thinking it was just allergies I took my Pe Min Kan Wan, grabbed a big glass of water by the bed, and went to sleep. When I woke up, things were more or less the same, so I took more herbs and went to Thanksgiving.
Day 1 - Unfortunately, things were not more or less the same. I started to get a headache and had trouble regulating my temperature. I skipped out early, and spent the rest of the day resting and watching movies - taking more herbs, still trying to convince myself it was just allergies. It was not.
Day 2 - Friday morning it became clear that I was not okay as I was starting to develop a mild cough. This was my first indication that things were getting worse, but honestly that tickle in my throat the night before should have been the first warning. Why oh why don't I listen to myself?! Doctors make the worst patients. For real though.
Ok, time to buckle down and fight this thing. Luckily I had taken off for the holiday and wouldn't have any patient until Monday. I had three days to knock this cold out. My symptoms were hot flashing and sweating, cough with sputum, congestion, and fatigue. I wasn't having chills or nausea and vomiting, so feels like its something I can handle. Game plan:
Day 3 - Saturday morning I wake up. Things are both better and worse. No more congestion or sneezing, but things have moved down into my chest. The cough isn't that bad, but when I do cough, dark green crud comes out. Better out than in, though, and I spit it up all day long. I repeat steps 1-4, taking my herbs, my vitamins, drinking my herbal tea and water, loading up on soup, staying in bed and not exerting myself. Being the holidays, the sweet people in my life keep dropping by with soup and tacos, so I am well fed :) By the end of the day I feel pretty good. Black Pumas are playing tonight and I really want to go. I can totally do it. BUUUUUUUT. I don't. I send my ticket off and curl up to binge Watchmen. Le sigh.
Day 4 - Sunday. I feel pretty damn okay. Still coughing up green sh*t but it's not as much and my throat isn't as sore. I ease up on vitamins and herbs, only taking a few doses throughout the day. I still rest and stay inside. Tomorrow is a work day and got patients to treat!
Today is Day 5, Monday. And here I am at work. Still have the tiniest of coughs, but I feel great other than that. Took the dog on a long walk this morning to make sure I was up for the day. Everything is A-OK!
Moral of the story, cover your head and neck when you're outside! I hope this insight into how I handle a cold helps y'all if and when you face the same situation. I was super lucky it happened over the holiday, and not during a busy week of patients! Comment your tips below on how you either avoid a cold or knock it out as fast as possible!
Stay healthy, friends!
what's the best option for you?
In terms of tools you can use to treat your own pain through massage, not all things are created equal. Having worked in this field a long time, I've been lucky enough to find some of the ones that work best. Here's my top favorites:
The wooden back Roller
Classic design, rebranded and sold by a lot of different companies - a wooden back roller is one the best things you can do for you back. One of the original designs - The MA Roller - has a great "how to" guide. And our friend, colleague, and esteemed practitioner Robert Gardner has some incredible tutorials on using it as well. Highly recommend grabbing this baby if you're struggling with any type of back pain. The one linked in the picture above is especially good because the rubber on the ends helps prevent it from sliding around on you.
The Best Foam Roller
Ok, with literally dozens of options and many more much cheaper, why this one you ask? Well quite frankly it's got the heft that some of the other ones lack. It doesn't give when you put a fair amount of weight on it, but it's solid structure also means that it tends to last longer and not start to fall apart on ya when you're running it through the ringer so to speak. Plus the grooves offer some good trigger point options if you're into that.
The original worm
This thing is incredible! It works wonders, especially when trying to roll around tendons and ligaments in weird areas like the knee. It's also great for the neck, hamstrings, and lower legs. This is the one that works best on the shin if you're struggling with shin splints. Basically if you've ever used a lacrosse ball and loved, this is one on steroids and you'll love it!
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
How self care and acupuncture can treat and prevent your plantar fasciitis:
I didn't ever expect to specialize in foot pain and plantar fasciitis, but in hindsight it's been a long time coming. As a dancer and former martial artist, I was on my feet a lot, and punished them pretty constantly. I ended up with my own plantar fasciitis and this blog post is based on my experience. I was able to get rid of the pain and get back to doing the things I love, so have hope dear reader! Over the years I've been lucky enough to have more than a few people come in with foot pain, and my personal journey with it has helped me become pretty good at treating it. They sent me more people with foot pain, and through all the experience I was able to figure out some of the best ways to treat foot pain fast! So without further ado, here are my experiences boiled down into my top seven ways to treat foot pain and plantar fasciitis with holistic and Chinese medicine:
If you are particularly tight and struggle with a pose like this, you can simply try to walk your legs up the wall and bring your tailbone as close to wall as possible while extending the legs straight up. You will definitely feel the stretch in the hamstrings, only go as far as you can while being able to take nice long, deep breathes. It should feel good if you take it slow. Listen to your body, move lightly but intentionally.
This is my favorite foam roller for stretching out the lower legs:
So there you go, my top 7 ways to treat plantar fasciitis naturally at home and using acupuncture. Have some personal experience with it? Share your own tips for plantar fasciitis relief in the comments below!
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
It's that time of year, but here's what can you do to help alleviate and eliminate your symptoms -
Fall in Central Texas sucks if you have allergies. Yeah, I said it!
The problem is the constant change from 80 degrees to 30 degrees. You don't know if you should wear your winter coat or a tank top. Think about how the plants must feel. Is it time to die and hibernate, or is it time to pollinate?! For Texans this means our whole winter will be a constant battle with pollen and allergies. But you didn't come here for a reason why, let's get down to business. Here's a some things you can do to help with your allergies this year.
Got some other tips? Comment below and let us know what worked for you!
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
the "mini" season between summer & fall can be a game-changer if you work it right
There are five elements in Chinese Medicine, and each one is associated with a season:
In TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine) and daoist philosophies, the Earth element is the center of of the five elements and is the base everything is built upon. So this associated season can be one of the most powerful places to start to maintain your health. The earth element is also said to nourish the muscles in the body, so this is a great time to make some changes if you are dealing with stiffness, fatigue, or chronic pain related to muscle injuries.
To honor this season and your body there are a number of things you can do to harmonize with Late Summer:
So don't just let this time of year pass you by unnoticed. Take your health to heart and give yourself some nourishment as we head into fall and you'll breeze through cold and flu season easily. And to my fellow Texans, I can't wait to see y'all outside on the porch now that this brutal summer is winding down!
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
Steroid injections work great for some people, but for many people the relief is temporary. New studies are showing that long term use of steroids increases cartilage loss in knees. Acupuncture and Tai Chi provide many people with relief without any side effects. Why not try it before you and your doctor decide to do an injection?
Here's some highlight from this study on Medscape:
"Patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging at the beginning and end of the study to provide data on cartilage volume and soft-tissue structures. Among the 119 patients who completed the study, those receiving triamcinolone lost about twice as much cartilage as those in the placebo group. Specifically, the intervention group lost an average 0.21 mm in index compartment cartilage thickness compared with 0.10 mm in the control group (for a mean difference of −0.11 mm: 95% confidence interval, −0.20 to −0.03 mm)."
tldr? those taking steroids had twice as much cartilage loss in their knees.
""Also, the rate of cartilage loss in this study was commensurate with that observed in prior natural history studies, so it is likely that the difference in cartilage loss rates between groups was due to an adverse effect of intra-articular corticosteroids on cartilage rather than a benefit from intra-articular saline," the authors write."
But what's it mean? The authors thought it pertinent enough to point out - it wasn't so much that the saline injections created good outcomes, so much as the steroid injections created worsening conditions for cartilage. Damn.
Stay healthy, friends!
~The Red Raven
Bret Kyle Rogers, L.Ac.
Texas based acupuncturist, qigong teacher, and herbalist demystifying Chinese medicine. The author frequently links to Amazon.com for specific products. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases and appreciate your business!