acupuncture, emotional health, herbal medicine, mental health, motivational, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to stress-less: create happy habits

Stress is something that we all encounter on a daily basis.  There is good stress (eustress) that promotes us to grow and change and bad stress (distress) which is counterproductive and wears us down in the long-term.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is not so concerned with ‘stress’ as such, but more about exactly how it affects you.  Does it involve:

  • Busy, anxious mind (maybe panic attacks) with disrupted sleep?
  • Dwelling on thoughts, obsessing and then loss of appetite or change in bowel function?  Often accompanied by bingeing on sweet foods.
  • Sadness and grief.  Perhaps a decline in your immune function as you pick up every bug going around.
  • Fearful of the future.  Often this type of stress is centered around job loss, financial concerns or fertility problems.  This stress can trigger intense fatigue, premature ageing and reproductive disorders.
  • Frustration and feeling stuck in a situation.  Your stress goes straight to your neck and shoulders, with the tension resulting in headaches and grumpiness.

Your exact type of stress helps us to discern an appropriate treatment for you, and each of these types of stress will have considerably different treatment plans.

So what can you do to manage stress – here’s a general stress buster plan:

  • Get good sleep – if you don’t already sleep well, get help to make this happen
  • Eat a healthy diet – no processed or high sugar foods, focus on whole foods (colourful vegies, good quality protein, good fats and whole grains)
  • Exercise – it’s an excellent stress buster – do a form of exercise that you like.  Where possible do it in a green space (outside in nature) – studies show it will make you happier.  By just adding exercise to your routine, you’ll find you’ll automatically improve other factors in your life, so it’s a nice place to start.
  • Lose bad habits – quit smoking and recreational drugs, quit or at least reduce alcohol consumption (if you don’t know what the healthy range is click here).
  • Find pleasure daily – do something that you really enjoy every day.  This can be a creative pursuit (e.g. dancing, dreaming, painting, writing, baking, playing or appreciating music) or other nice things (e.g. massage, acupuncture, take a bath, give yourself a facial, inhale your favourite essential oil, give someone a hug, laugh, cook for someone).
  • Enhance your relationships – a support network is your safety net and your source of giving and receiving which has shown to add to your happiness.  Actively develop your relationships with family, friends and/or people within your community.
  • Meditation – People who meditate as little as twice per week have been shown to have a better state of mental health than the general population.  Find a teacher, read a book, find a site on the net like this  or this, get a CD or download an app – but whatever you do, get started on reducing your mind chatter now.  In fact why not meditate in one moment like this:

A study on acupuncture side effects discovered that major side effects were extremely uncommon from the therapy but one of the most common ‘minor’ side effects was relaxation!

Herbal medicine also has a lot to offer people who are stressed.  It’s best to see a herbalist who can make up an individualised formula for you that can help to shift the way you deal with stress.  Some herbal medicines interact with medications so getting professional advice is recommended.

If you are really not coping and need help immediately then please contact Lifeline.

So, if you need some additional stress management help, you know what to do, pick one of the above mentioned tips and start now – seize the moment and release that pressure valve!

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

exercise, fertility, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Yin and Yang of Yoga

A very great friend of mine and fellow Ashtanga yoga devotee recommended Chandra Krama:  The Moon Sequence DVD by Matthew Sweeney to me. And I have to say that I absolutely love it.

The sequence is similar in style to traditional Ashtanga practice – it begins with a salutations-type routine, flows between postures with the breath and draws on many familiar postures.  However, The Moon Sequence is different. It’s all about Yin (softer, quieter, slower and more grounded). The emphasis is on not pushing yourself too hard (although the DVD is still quite physically challenging) and has a much greater focus on the hips and lower body.  This sequence is said to be beneficial to women in promoting a healthy menstrual cycle.  It is also very good for anyone with lower back, hip, buttock and leg tension, tightness and weakness.  After doing this sequence my hip flexors feel stretched, my butt has worked hard, my lower back feels warm and relaxed, and my mind quiet and peaceful.

Many people today lead busy, stressful and fast-paced (Yang) lives.  Many of my patients find it difficult to fit in some quiet time for themselves between their other commitments.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine we value a balance of Yin and Yang for optimal health.  Restful activities nurture our Yin.  You may nurture your Yin through meditation, relaxation, massage, acupuncture, reading or taking a bath.  Some types of yoga are also beneficial for nurturing Yin.  The Moon Sequence is one of these.  Hot yoga schools may be Yin depleting (hot room with the goal of producing sweat) and should be minimised if nourishing Yin is your priority.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

acupuncture, fertility, herbal medicine, pregnancy

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): can natural medicine help?

Here’s a little summary (from my Masters literature review) of what Traditional Chinese and natural medicine has to offer women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

For those wondering what PCOS is, it’s a female reproductive condition which is diagnosed by excluding other diseases, hence it’s known as a syndrome.  To be diagnosed with PCOS according to the Rotterdam criteria, a woman needs to have any two of the following:

  1. Polycystic ovaries (that’s right, ovaries with many cysts on them).  The jury is out on how many cysts constitute PCOS, but they may be arranged in a classic black pearl necklace formation identified by ultrasound.
  2. Androgen excess.  Basically, we are talking about too much free testosterone (but other hormones may be out of balance too – including the LH FSH ratio.)  This hormonal imbalance can lead to symptoms such as hirsutism (an increase in body hair on the face, chest, nipples and lower belly), hair loss/thinning (again in the male pattern) and acne (although this is controversial as to whether it is definitely a part of the syndrome.
  3. Anovulatory menstrual cycles/amenorrhoea.  This means that either you have stopped having periods altogether (and you are not pregnant or menopausal) or that you are not ovulating during your cycle.  Women may also experience longer menstrual cycles.  (35-60 day cycles are common in PCOS).

So, what can be done if you are given this diagnosis from your doctor (aside from or complementary to the common drug protocols – OCP, Clomid, Metformin)?

  • Acupuncture.  Research suggests that acupuncture can be useful in increasing the number of menstrual cycles a woman with PCOS has (that means bringing the length of the cycle down to a healthier range).  Two randomised controlled trials have been undertaken on the topic.  The first double-blind study showed that both the control group and the sham group (who had pretend acupuncture with a special non-needle) both improved on their before trial results.  This suggests that perhaps the sham acupuncture may have worked after all.  (Pretend acupuncture is very difficult to do without making a change to the body.)  The second trial, I think used better acupuncture points (more like what I would use in my clinic), and showed that acupuncture was superior to exercise for PCOS.  The researchers pointed out that doing acupuncture and exercise would be the most beneficial treatment.
  • Paeonia and Licorice.  These herbs have both been shown to be beneficial in women with PCOS.  They have also been studied in Chinese herbal formulas for the condition.
  • Vitamin D.  Have you had your levels checked?  Researchers identified that women with PCOS are often low in Vitamin D.  This has a relationship with calcium in your body and can influence ovulation.  This makes sense from a Chinese medicine point of view as sunlight (one source of Vitamin D that we have) is a source of Yang (the warming, energetic, functional aspect of our body).  A woman needs a peak in Yang to ovulate.  (Anyone who has taken Basal Body Temperature charts knows to look for a peak in body temperature prior to ovulation.)
  • Spearmint Tea.  A month-long study on hirsutism was undertaken with participants drinking 2 cups of spearmint tea each day.  The participants experienced a decrease in androgens and a subjective decrease in male pattern body hair.
  • Weight loss and Insulin management. Most of the studies specify that the treatment is more likely to work in patients with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and without insulin resistance.  There are additional dietary, herbal and nutritional interventions that may assist in these areas, so that your PCOS treatment works more efficiently.  These areas can not be overlooked.  It’s suggested that PCOS may be an evolutionary condition allowing a small percentage of women to be able to reproduce in times of starvation (when most other women would experience infertility).

If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, I recommend discussing the condition with not only your doctor but also your acupuncturist or natural medicine practitioner (who has an interest in women’s health).  PCOS if left untreated, may be a risk factor for other metabolic disorders including diabetes and hypertension.  Every woman is different, and PCOS is notorious for presenting in many different ways so an individualised treatment plan is a must.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, emotional health, exercise, food, health, massage, mental health, motivational, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Uncategorized

The Woodford Folk Festival guide to a happy, healthy year

Teaching acupressure at the Children's Festival

Firstly, a very happy new year to you!  As many of you know, over this new year period Kathleen Murphy and I presented our popular “Herbs, health and acupressure” workshop at the Woodford Folk Festival.  We were also invited to speak on the Woodforum raw food panel which attracted a crowd that packed the impressive Blue Lotus venue.  I, of course, promoted the Traditional Chinese Medicine view-point that a little raw food is ok, but that generally speaking, a healthy diet should consist of mainly warm, cooked meals.  (It should be noted that cooked foods don’t need to be unhealthy.  For example, they don’t have to be laced with saturated fats, excessively meat or refined carbohydrate based, burnt to a carcinogenic crisp or boiled to nutritional oblivion.  But more on that topic in another blog.)  Thanks to those who came to see us speak and ask questions.  It was an absolute delight to share our knowledge with you.

Here’s some health and happiness promoting lessons I picked up at the Woodford Folk Festival to apply to your everyday life for a happy, health year ahead:

  1. Starting each morning with yoga is a great way to wake up, stretch your muscles and align your spine (particularly after several nights on an air mattress).
  2. Queues are a way of meeting new people and learning new things. (For instance, I learnt from a volunteer S-Bend Warrior that festival punters were expected to go through 15,000 rolls of toilet paper in total for the week – that equated to an eighth of a roll per person – quite interesting). And it’s nice to say hello to people you don’t know.  Just like the good ol’ days.
  3. Learn a new skill on a regular basis.  At the festival I had the pleasure of crocheting a sandal, taking a dance workshop and giving a burlesque life drawing class a bash – each activity was great fun with good company (mostly new friends) and involved lots of laughs.  If the new skill you’d like to learn is massage, I can help you.
  4. Be creative on a daily basis.  Whilst chatting to a wise friend at the festival she floated the idea that creativity involves anything that allows you to express yourself in some way.  It could be music, dance, art, sport or fitness, food, the way you dress, be computer-related or really anything at all that ignites your inner artist.  She’s right.  Grant yourself time each day to get creative, even if it’s just the way you arrange food on your plate.
  5. Be involved in your community.  Our relationships and connections within our community contribute to our level of happiness.  Communities give us a sense of belonging and provide a place for us to give and receive, and to share.  Your community could be online or offline, related to your work, hobbies, education, family or place of residence.  Volunteering might be a great way to get involved with your community, or you could join a club, take a class, support local markets or music venues, or get to know your neighbours.  Endless possibilities.

May 2012 be your happiest and healthiest year yet.

acupuncture, exercise, health, martial arts

Karate: unlock the free flow of Ki

Believe it or not, traditional karate (such as Goju Karate Australia) has a lot in common with acupuncture. Each places great importance on the breath, focus/intent and flow of Qi (or Ki or vital force). They are considered both an art form and a science, being constantly questioned, refined and developed by the practitioner and their peers and mentors.

Even the acupuncture points and meridians are used in karate.  The acupoints and channels influence the flow of qi in the body, depending on how they are stimulated determines the result of their use.  In acupuncture, the acupoints are carefully selected and manipulated for their healing influence, in karate they become strike points or reflect body positioning and movement.

I find that practising karate improves my acupuncture through experience with energy flow (e.g. posture and breathing) and that knowledge of acupuncture points and channels benefits my karate. That’s why I love immersing myself in both!

Practitioners of Kung Fu, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Aikido and other traditional martial arts all experiment with utilising this flow of Qi or Ki in their training but also in other aspects of their lives.

How do you unlock your Qi, Ki or Life Force?

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

emotional health, exercise, health, mental health, nature, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Scuba diving: extreme relaxation

Great Barrier Reef Anemone Fish, otherwise known as Nemo

Last week I took advantage of a 5-day gap in my schedule (between speaking at a midwives seminar and supervising the College Acupuncture Clinic) and headed off for a well-earned break to the warm, tropical waters of North Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.

Yes, the mini-holiday was relaxing, but it was my activity of choice that had far more to offer in tranquility than your average beach holiday.  I wanted to really slow down.  And this pastime had plenty to offer  for busy, city people who rush around, burn the candle at both ends and see the world in a blur.

I went scuba diving: three days living on a boat, ten dives, plenty of food and a few naps.  Bliss.  Not at all an extreme sport, well not the way I do it anyway.

But why was it so deeply relaxing?

  1. Go slow.  Scuba diving makes you slow down.  You can’t swim fast, and if you try to move about in a flurry, you disturb your buoyancy and end up floating towards the surface and/or stirring up the sand on the bottom.  A definite no-no.  In fast-paced modern life there aren’t many activities that are encouraged to be done slowly, diving is one of the rare few.
  2. Breathe.  Remember how to breathe slowly and deeply? As soon as most of us are stressed our breathing rate increases and becomes shallow.  When scuba diving, it’s advantageous to slow your breathing rate down to conserve air, that way you can enjoy the tranquil underwater world for longer.  Breathing slowly also encourages our blood vessels to dilate and our blood pressure to lower, which is relaxing for both the mind and the body.
  3. Enjoy the moment.  This is perhaps the most important point and one that is easily missed in normal life.  The practice of ‘mindfulness meditation’ is built on this concept.  Rather than clearing your mind of thoughts, we focus on really experiencing exactly what is around us, right at this second.  When scuba diving, as we slowly move through the water, the whole idea is to do just that, explore the surroundings – take in the big picture; the beautiful coral gardens and abundant fish life or focus in on the minute detail of a section of rock and its little ecosystem of shrimp, nudibranchs and tiny fish – the things you would ordinarily be too busy to notice (such as the anemone fish pictured above).  Time may almost stand still. (And the added bonus of that is your holiday will also seem longer!)

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, diving offers us real ‘yin’ time.  It’s not only slow and peaceful, but also involves being immersed in cool water.  You can’t get much more yin that that.

This is just one way I like to unwind.  How do you choose to spend your ‘yin’ time?

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, exercise, food, health, motivational, nature, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Spring into good health!

Finally! It’s September and spring is here. You can feel it in the air – the sun feels warmer, the days are longer and even the water dragons have emerged from hibernation to sunbake around Brisbane’s Kangaroo Point cliffs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes the change of season and its effect on your health quite seriously. We see the transition to be a time when your energy is shifting and if it is not managed well, can make you more susceptable to ill-health and picking up allergies, colds and flus, and generally not feeling at your tip-top best.

So in spring, like the water dragons, we emerge from the cold of winter.  Many of us find winter the hardest time to get motivated and active.  This is because it is natural for us to want to stay indoors wearing our ugg boots and eating casseroles to stay warm during the cold weather.  Cold contracts and has an inward nature, reflected in our winter behaviour.

But as the season changes, spring arrives and so the Yang, the aspect of our body that warms and gives us energy, rises letting us know that it’s time to get moving.  Like a seed that is sprouting we too need some sunshine (think of it as a vitamin D hit) and a clean environment with fresh air (hence the term ‘spring’ clean) to be invigorated.  Add to that some exercise and some lighter foods (think stir frys with lots of fresh seasonal vegetables).  You can even take the spring clean further and do a short detoxification diet. Spring is the best time of year for this and it may help you to shed a few extra kilos you added to keep you warm over the winter.

Spring is a great time to shift your exercise program outdoors.  Think about walking, hiking, jogging, cycling (here’s a great website for finding safe cycling routes around Brisbane), canoeing or even personal training in a park.  Research has shown that exercising outdoors and in amongst greenery is good for our mental health too.

A word of caution for spring, whilst the weather is warmer, the summer has not arrived yet, so be prepared with clothing to protect you from drafts or cold winds that may still be lurking around.

And by following this advice you should be radiant and full of vitality for enjoying the delights of summer.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.