Monthly Archives: September 2014

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 But, a world that extends beyond this outdated concept is a world that suddenly opens up to an infinite array of possibilities.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.

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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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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 feel that if any of us had access to such writing, we would likely be horrified by what we read. And yet this constant noise within our minds is almost always overlooked due to the fact that we have never known anything else. Many of us living under the supposition that nothing but this is possible. We are like functional alcoholics, seemingly maintaining our lives, all the while thoroughly unaware of what is going on inside of ourselves. We interact with the world, but with muted senses and a lack of awareness. But to move beyond this world is to enter another, that of meditation.

The essence of meditation is learning how to create silence within the constant noise. It is the art of connecting, of learning to see, hear, taste, and communicate with real awareness, and without being blocked by our minds. The thought of this silence often fills people with reservations, as if somehow ‘not thinking’ would mark the end of who we are. Nothing is further from the truth. To meditate is to discover who we are and enter a world we never knew, but that has constantly surrounded us.