• Meditation: Finding Silence

    If we could transpose all of our passing thoughts, feelings and images onto paper, how furious would the typing be? Would we have a discordant novel by the end of the day? Would it be joyous? Full of despair? I … Continue reading

  • What is the best diet for YOU?

    It seems that every couple of years a new diet takes over that completely rewrites how we eat. Its endless benefits are touted, as is new research that attempts to contradict the logic behind the last dietary trend. With so … Continue reading

  • Fermentation Experimentation

    My first experiment with sauerkraut did not go as planned. It was summer and I was living in Taipei, Taiwan. The temperatures were in the high 90s with humidity so high that mold was growing on my suitcases. Ignoring what … Continue reading

  • Chinese Herbs in Your Kitchen – Ginger

    Though you may not know it, your kitchen is likely home to several different Chinese herbs. In this entry we will highlight the wonderful herb, ginger. Ginger, the rhizome of the plant Zingibar Officinale, is an herb native to Southern … Continue reading

Return to Spring

The spring season will soon announce itself with bursts of green shoots dotting the landscape. The dark cold of winter will give way to the warmer longer days of spring as the yin period begins its transformation back into yang. Spring is a season of growth and transformation. It is a time to move and stretch our bodies like the new growth springing up from the earth. We may feel a surge of creativity as our desire to create mirrors the rebirth and creation around us.

Snowdrop with blossom on sunlight, revival of spring flower with bud, the awakening of nature.

To stay healthy during this season Chinese medicine teaches us to go to bed and wake-up early. The energy around us is strong during this time making early morning walks a good time to revitalize ourselves. Like the force which moves through the plants guiding them upwards our emotions should move through us unhindered so that we remain balanced and open to life. When we lose our equanimity by holding on to negative emotions like anger and frustration Chinese medicine tells us we risk injuring the liver, which is associated with this season. We must let go of the turbulent emotions that course through us and remain centered and rooted, moving with the flexibility of a young tree in the wind.

From a dietary standpoint we should eat lighter more cooling foods. We can cut back on the heavy warming cuisine of winter and incorporate more raw vegetables and sprouts.The sour taste, which is the flavor associated with spring, means it is a good time to introduce fermented foods into our diet. Leafy greens are abundant during this period and a great addition to the spring menu. And by simply eating what grows locally during this time, you are eating in line with the season.



Moving to Center: Autism and Qigong

I sit next to him and ask him how he is feeling. His eyes quickly dart around the room as he continues to repeat a line from a Disney movie he has just seen. I tap his hand in hopes of getting his attention. Finally, he looks up. He now stands across from me and is jumping up and down flapping his arms as he continues to repeat the Disney line. I place my arms on my lower abdomen and instruct him to do the same. He begins to punch and kick the air.

Breathe in.

He takes a deep breath and lets out a yawn. His arms are momentarily calm and then he starts punching the air.

Breathe out.

He yawns and kicks the air. His movements are becoming slower now. I begin moving my arms up and down with my breath and instruct him to follow me. He is now whispering the Disney line and has his eyes closed. He anticipates my next movement and starts speeding up. I tell him to slow down and follow me. His movements begin to sync up with my own. He is becoming quiet and his body more relaxed. At the end we sit down, cross-legged, on the floor. I instruct him to place his hands on his knees, palms up. Boy in a suit in lotus position

Breathe in.

He shuts his eyes tightly and leans his head back. His nostrils flare and his chest rises as his lungs fill with air.

Breathe out.

His body slumps down. He is quiet, fully relaxed and calm. He opens his eyes sleepily and then looks at me.


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Making Butter and Tasting Memories

It was basic kitchen chemistry but it felt like magic. I had never made butter as an adult, and now having just finished I was truly amazed. It seemed like it had separated in an instant, turning from a homogenous white substance into a clump of yellow butter submerged in translucent buttermilk. The taste was incredible and incomparable to any store bought butter I had ever tasted. My only thought was, why had I not done this sooner?

I had decided to attempt making the butter a few weeks prior. I kept returning to this childhood memory of churning butter at a day camp down the road from my grandmother’s home. I still remember each of u2015-01-26 21.43.44s taking turns at the butter churn, moving the cream up and down for what seemed like an eternity. When it was finished my teacher handed each of us a saltine cracker and generously spread the fresh butter onto each one. As a child raised on margarine this was likely the first time I had ever tasted real butter. I still remember biting into the cracker and tasting how fresh and creamy it was. Now, decades later I am returning to that memory and happy to say it is as good as I remember!

How to make butter (for those without a churn)

There truly is nothing simpler! Get one pint of high quality heavy whipping cream. Place it into a one quart mason jar. 2015-01-26 22.15.57Start shaking. Pass the jar to someone else, keep shaking and shaking.

At first it will turn into fluffy whipped cream, after this it will separate and you will magically be left with butterfat and buttermilk. Pull the butter from the jar, run it under cold water and carefully squeeze it, removing as much buttermilk as you can. Repeat this step until the water no longer looks milky. Salt if desired and enjoy!

If you decide to refrigerate the butter, it will be much harder than ‘normal’ butter. This is due to the higher fat content in the homemade stuff.

For more information go to: http://www.ameliedemahylac.com

Ankylosing Spondylitis: The Disease and Its Treatment

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory disease primarily affecting the joints of the spine and sacroiliac joints. It is also known as rheumatoid spondylitis as it is considered a systemic rheumatic disease. Rheumatic diseases are characterized by pain in the joints and muscles as well as inflammation and stiffness. AS initially manifests as back pain, which may progress to a limitation of spinal motion and chest expansion. Ossification of the annulus fibrosis (the outer covering of the intervertebral disc) and calcification of the anterior and lateral spinal ligaments, which are seen in late stage cases, give the appearance of a “bamboo spine”. This term describes the spines rigidity as seen through radiographic tests.

The disease is more common in males and usually begins before the age of 30. It is characterized by pain that is worse in the morning and improves with activity. There is no specific test to diagnose AS.1,833 Use of X-ray or MRI can help confirm diagnosis through the characteristic spinal changes, but reliability is limited due to varying disease progression. Blood tests can be helpful since those with AS may show an increase in C-reactive protein and a higher ESR rate in acute inflammatory periods. A high percentage of individuals with AS also possess the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) B27, though most with this surface antigen do not contract the disease. Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications are the primary drugs used in the treatment of AS. In addition, physical therapy is routinely implemented to help diminish the characteristic pain and stiffness.1,833

Chinese medicine tends to classify most rheumatic diseases as bi syndrome. The specific bi syndrome type and the etiology leading to that syndrome are largely determined on a case-by-case basis. Types of bi syndromes are wind, cold, damp, fixed and heat bi. There can also be some level of kidney deficiency due to its role in governing the bones.

I recently treated a 30-year-old male who, after years of misdiagnosis, was diagnosed with AS in the year 2006. Originally, the pain was believed to be due to a trauma suffered in 1999. During that time the patient began experiencing periods of debilitating back pain. The pain usually began in the morning when trying to walk. It was described as an intense electrical pain that shot up through the pelvis into the back. During the first few years the pain would last for weeklong periods and gradually return to normal. In 2006 the pain was constant for a 4-month period. The use of crutches or a wheelchair became necessary for mobility. A rheumatologist eventually confirmed the diagnosis with an MRI and blood test (patient tested positive for HLA B27). Pain eventually shifted to stiffness in the back.Moxa sticks

When the patient came for treatment his main complaint was pain and stiffness in the lumbar region and acute neck pain at the T1 level. He also complained of occasional back pain in the T-10 area. Lumbar pain was said to worsen in cold and damp weather. Additional symptoms included fatigue and occasional dizziness.

Patient was diagnosed with cold damp bi and kidney deficiency. The points I needled included GB20, which is effective in treating pain of the neck and upper back and, in this patient’s case, also useful in treating the dizziness he experienced; Huatuojiaji points alternating from T1 to L5, which are an effective means of treating AS locally, given the location of the disease and the primary areas affected; DU4, which is another point used to treat pain and stiffness at the lumbar spine and is also a tonifying point of the kidneys, which as mentioned earlier are often deficient in patients suffering from AS; and DU14, which has a good effect in treating spinal stiffness and assisting in expelling wind.

This combination of points makes up the dragon insertion method, a series often used for individuals with CNS disorders, like MS. Though there are minor variations in point selection they are named as a representation of their shape, with T1 to L5 representing the dragons body, DU 4 representing the dragon’s tail,GB-20 representing the dragon’s eyes and DU 14 representing the dragon’s mouth. However, in this case, given the differentiation, it is also a successful means of relieving pain and tonifying. Other options when treating AS patients include the use of moxa on the jiaji points to relieve cold.

In addition to acupuncture, herbs can also be an important part of a holistic AS treatment plan. Despite the fact that CDoctor wrapping Chinese traditional herbal medicine.hinese herbs are tailored to the specific needs of the patient there are formulas that are especially helpful for treatment of this disease. In a study published by Chinese Medical Research and later translated and summarized by Blue Poppy, Dr. Li Xian-lin found that Shen Jin Tong Bi Wan (Extend the Sinews & Free the Flow of Impediment Pills) effectively treated 91.37% of the 243 patients enrolled in his 15-to-16 year study of AS patients. The formula consisted of Ma Huang 10 grams, Gui Zhi 10 grams, Du Huo 10 grams, Qing Fei Teng 12 grams, Mu Gua 12 grams, Shen Jin Cao 15 grams, Wu Jia Pi 12 grams, Wu Shao She 15 grams, Dang Gui 15 grams, Chi Shao 15 grams, Du Zhong 15 grams, Gan Cao 10 grams. This formulation was based on his view that AS resulted from wind, damp and cold invading as the result of an overall deficiency. Patients took five grams (in pill form) three times a day.

In this patient’s case pain relief after treatment was immediate. Neck pain was resolved with lumbar pain relief initially lasting for 5 days with reported decrease in morning pain and stiffness. For three weeks the treatment was repeated with continued decrease in symptoms. Patient reported he has had no acute flare-ups 4 months after treatment and has had continued relief in overall lower back pain. Given the relief the patient experienced due to the acupuncture he was uninterested in taking herbs.

It seems from treatment that acupuncture can help relieve pain and improve flexibility. The anti-inflammatory effect of acupuncture may also play a role in the relief of symptoms. The use of traditional Chinese medicine does not appear to arrest the disease’s process but may give significant symptomatic relief.

This article was previously published in the California Journal of Oriental Medicine

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Swimming as Play, Meditation and Exercise

The dark purple scar, which divided my father’s chest in two, was still healing when he asked his cardiac surgeon, what he should do now. “Two words, start swimming,” was the response. I was at the pool when my mother called to relay this story as well as my father’s new found enthusiasm for the activity. It would mark the end of a decade long battle to get my father into the water. My mother, who I had pestered for years, had fallen in love with it. I was certain my father would as well. He had to, it was in our genes.

My grandmother was raised in Louisiana and loved to swim. She grew up in a beautiful southern home on the bayou, where her warm summer days were spent swimming with her neighborhood gang that consisted of: Woof, Weezy, Sniffy Five Rocks, and Fuzzy-who would later become her husband. Days were divided between swimming in the bayou and swimming at the country club, which could only be reached by swimming across the bayou. The country club pool was enormous with a shell filled bottom. Drained only once a year it was kept clean by ‘the sun’s powerful UV rays’. Even after 100 years of living, it was this memory that she so often returned to.

Swimming is exercise; it is play; and it is meditative. Before we can walk we can ‘swim,’ and as we get older and become burdened by our aging bodies, we can still become weightless within the water. The natural rhythm created by our body’s movements and breath become a moving meditation. Learning to swim takes understanding the water and how our bodies glide through it. It is a medium that people often try to fight against instead of learning to move with. When we become aware of this it becomes effortless, freeing and the closest thing to flying we can experience.

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In Defense of the Placebo Effect

I do a bit of traveling and every time I meet people the topic at some point turns to ‘what do you do?’ When I tell them I am an acupuncturist it is usually met with interest and perhaps a story of someone they knew who was helped with treatment. But on occasion I’ve been given the response, ‘you know it’s just placebo, right?’, as if they are letting me in on the big secret. I finally stopped my usual technique of boring them with research studies on the mechanism of action when I started thinking about what they were saying.

‘Just placebo.’

We toss around this term so casually, never really considering what we are saying. Placebo is considered a respectable word to use. It is used by ‘rational’ people to debunk all manner of quackery that ‘irrational’ people believe in. And yet the essence of the placebo effect is that our beliefs can effect change within the body; that the mind has the power to heal.

There is this deep fear within many to embrace an ideology that extends beyond the physical world as we know it, a desire to squirm when the term mind-body healing is used, yet we speak of the effects of stress, a mind-body harm, quite comfortably. We cling desperately to our current mechanistic world view because it is known and therefore safe. But, a world that extends beyond this outdated concept is a world that suddenly opens up to an infinite array of possibilities.

Trying to cultivate the power of the placebo begins with the understanding that a belief in our ability change our lives and bodies is no ‘placebo’.  There is no specific technique to be learned, it is simply knowledge of and confidence in our potential. In the end, it is with this understanding that we realize the power to change, the power to heal is an innate gift that we each have within us.

The Wonderful Goji Berry

It was over a decade ago that I first encountered Goji Berries. At the time I was friends with the owner of this lovely jazz club in Taipei. I would often go there on Fridays and at some point in the evening Gary would join me. Accompanying him was always a large warm glass filled with Chinese herbs. He said his staff often teased him but that this was the key to his health. I knew nothing of herbs at the time and was given a brief tutorial about the most abundant herb in the glass the goji berry.

It would be years later before I fully understood all that this little herb had to offer; and by then it had become the new darling amongst health aficionados. Outlandish claims propagated by aggressive marketers had inflated the cost and misled people into thinking they had found the cure to all disease. The reality, as near always, was one much simpler. It is a food and herb filled with vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. It is rich in antioxidants and its long use in Chinese medicine as improving visual acuity has been attributed to the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which protects from hypopigmentation and soft drusen accumulation in the macula. It, like all healthy foods and herbs, is a wonderful addition to the diet. It can be added to smoothies, used as a topping, as a sweet addition to stir fries or as Gary did simply tossed in a glass of hot water and drunk.

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Herbal Medicine – Health Benefits of Raspberries

I feel blessed. I moved into a place with a large garden that was tenderly loved for many years. It’s a historic home, an old farmhouse, whose rich soil now effortlessly bears fruit each year. One of the garden’s gifts are fresh raspberries. This is my first time having a raspberry pulled fresh off the vine. They are warm and full of life, full of the sun. They are a perfect mix of tangy and sweet and they taste like summer.

Fu Pen Zi – Chinese Medicine

Fu Pen Zi - Chinese Medicine

Fu Pen Zi – Chinese Medicine

 Raspberries are not just delicious, they also have numerous health benefits. According to TCM food theory raspberries benefit the liver and kidneys. They nourish blood, treating anemia, and also help with frequent urination. Their sweet flavor helps strengthen the body, especially those in a weakened state. The herb Fu Pen Zi, which is the dried unripe raspberry, has many of the functions of ripe raspberries but is more effective in its treatment of these conditions. It is used specifically for frequent urination and premature ejaculation. In addition it improves vision. And in animal studies Fu Pen Zi was seen to have estrogenic like effects and elevate testosterone levels.

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