Acupuncture is a Fantastic Alternative to Drugs for Low Back Pain

Photo by Edward Chan/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Edward Chan/iStock / Getty Images

What is one of the most frequent reasons for patients to go to the doctor?  If you said, “Low back pain” you are right!  According to an article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 25% of American adults have danced with low back pain for at least one day in the last three months. 

For some people dancing with back pain, it may be tempting to look for relief from the pharmacy.  However this February, the American College of Physicians (ACP) issued strong recommendations that patients try other non-drug methods such as acupuncture before taking a pill.   Drugs should only be used if therapies like acupuncture, tai chi, massage, chiropractic, or heat therapy don't work.  The recommendations cite research that shows that acupuncture (as well as some other therapies)  were as effective if not more effective than the drugs with fewer side effects.    These recommendations reinforce the conclusions of 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that acupuncture is effective at treating chronic pain.   These findings are similar to those in other studies cited here by the National Institute of Health.

While it is incredibly exciting to hear that the American College of Physicians recommends acupuncture as a first line treatment, it's not surprising.   I am repeatedly awed and amazed at how acupuncture supports my patients with back pain.  In my opinion, acupuncture is so effective because it doesn’t just mask the symptoms but because it helps the whole person find balance.  And when in balance, the body naturally starts to heal the root causes of the pain.  

There are many reasons why a patient's back may hurt.  Some patients with low back pain may be at a period in life where they are “going, going, going non-stop.”  The pain can be our bodies’ signal to slow down or take it down a notch.     In these cases, acupuncture not can only alleviate the pain but it may also help people feel calm, sleep better and be able to slow down.  In other cases, the low back pain may be signaling a need to for gentle exercise.  Often as we restore balance, patients not only experience reduction in pain but also find it is easier to create better habits that support their back and entire body.   What I find really exciting is that acupuncture helps patients to be more "in their body".   They begin to notice the subtle signs that proceed the onset of pain.  I work together with my patients to use these symptoms as teachers and then we uncover simple approaches they can use to to bring themselves into balance, preventing the return of pain.  In this way, my patients become empowered to take charge of their own wellness.

It is exciting that institutions such as the American College of Physicians are recognizing the value of this beautiful medicine.  If you are interested in trying acupuncture, call and we can talk to explore if this is right for you.  You can reach out to me at meg (at) megcaseyacupuncture (dot) com or call 301-408-9873.

Summertime Joy!

Summer Energy is Here!

Despite this rainy week my friends, summertime is arriving in all her glory!  The sun was out for a few minutes this afternoon and there it was--bustling, brilliant, magnificent summer!  Opening flowers, buzzing bees, everything alive & flourishing!  Lately I have been waking up at 4am to the boisterous birdsong outside my window.    This is a season of activity, opening, connection, and yes, a little bit of chaos!

Summer time means expansion, a riot of up and out and all over.  Look outside and you will see everything in nature is reaching to connect.  Nothing wants to stay in its place.  How quickly our gardens and yards get unruly! The plants are reaching for the sky, tangling with each other.  The other night I went to bed and I noticed that a vine had wormed its way into my window—reaching up toward the curtain rod and arching over my bed!    As I pruned it back, I had to laugh.  “I love you too little vine. “

In Chinese medicine we associate the energy of the summertime with Fire.  It’s an expansive energy, light and joyful, spontaneous and every changing.  Watch a fire—burning gently one moment, roaring the next, leaping and moving, jumping from log to log.  It’s a lot like watching a group of people having a good time at a party!   Laughter erupts and is suddenly contagious.  The conversation will quiet one moment, and then out of nowhere the room will buzz.  This too is the energy of summertime.  It's also the energy of joy:  Both the “cozy fire” quiet joy of sitting on a bench with an old friend and the expansive heart feeling we feel when we are surrounded with all the people we love in one place.  It’s the spark we feel when we are engaging in our passion  (“She has a fire in her belly”) and the bonfire like riotous joy we feel dancing our heart out.

The Chinese medical classics tells us that in order to live well we need to live in rhythm with nature.  This is an ancient wisdom that is embraced by many traditions.   And yet, modernization and our go-go-go cullure that often has us disconnected from the very rhythms of life.  Sometimes simply allowing your work weary heart to shift into summer time energy can do wonders for your body, mind and spirit.  Soak in the sunshine—it will fuel you through the fall and winter when it comes!  Here are 6 ways to help embrace the warmth of summer!

6 Ways to Live in Harmony with Summertime

  • Host a party or a BBQ.  If you have been quiet and less social this winter, make time for fun and being around people you enjoy!    Or at very least, make some room on your schedule for some of the fun summertime events that are being planned in your community.
  • Make time for quiet connection too.  Plan a date night with your sweetie or schedule time for a walk or dinner with a dear one.  Call up an old friend on your commute just to hear her voice.    
  • Play!  Hit a tennis ball around or throw a Frisbee with your kids or dog.  (Dogs are great at summer time energy!)  Rediscover Red Rover and Kick the Can! Pull out your favorite party game and bring it to the pool.  
  • Get your silly on!  Dance like no one is watching, sing your heart out, blow bubbles out your car window in a traffic jam
  •  Explore your passion.  Whether it is music, books,  travel or your family, cooking, politics or art--find time to do the things that make your heart sing. 
  • Reach out to others and share your gifts. Volunteer for a cause you care about or simply visit the lonely neighbor down the street.  Connection with our loved ones or strangers who are suffering, bringing your own beautiful heart to a difficult situation or simply chipping in to a community effort can do wonders for your whole sense of wellbeing. 

Don't Burn Out!  

Be careful not to “burn out” with all this summery joy!  One of the dangers of summer is we can overdo it.  Too much of even a good thing can leave us depleted or scattered.   Make sure to listen to your body, work in times for quiet, rest and peace.    Make sure you are getting adequate rest to fuel your fun!  Sip some watermelon fresca by the pool and read a good book, take a nap in the sun, or simply slow down and pay attention to your body if you notice that summer is taking its toll.  (Even the birds rest in summertime!). Scheduling an acupuncture treatment can be one way to tend your self. 

Falling Leaves

The Lesson of the Falling Leaves

the leaves believe 

such letting go is love

such love is faith

such faith is grace

such grace is god.

I agree with the leaves

--Lucille Clifton

Ahhhh….Autumn. We alternate between magnificent days when the sky is a brilliant blue, the light is golden and you can breathe deeply and the cold dreary the grey, still, heavy days.    The autumn is a time of  acknowledging the brilliance of the last year.  It’s a time of moving from the abundance of the late summer and all the growth and riotous goodness that came all through the growing season to the leaner, quieter, empty time of winter.   It’s the time of holding onto what is precious and letting the rest go.

The autumn is a time when everything in nature lets go of that which is no longer needed, when we get down to what is most essential.  Nature lets go so that it can focus on restoration.  It moves inward and goes quiet. But first there is a show of brilliance, like the changing leaves or the golden light or the magnificent sunsets that this time of year brings.   The fall is a time of acknowledging all that was beautiful before we let it go.

For many of us, the letting go in the fall evokes a quiet grief.  The abundant green leafiness of life dies. But this death is not only part of the cycle of things—its is absolutely necessary for new growth.  The dead leaves become fertile soil which brings forth new life.  

The Chinese classics tell us that living a full life starts with living in harmony with the seasons.  In Autumn, this means allowing ourselves more space, more quietude.  It means letting go of things that no longer serve us—be it old clothes, clutter or endless activity.  It means getting down to the bare essentials, focusing on what is most precious. It means trading in community BBQs for cozy family time around the fire.  And it means acknowledging the gifts we received from all that has come before.

Last week, my beloved teacher and mentor Bob Duggan died.  Bob was a force of nature and a magnificent human being.  He co-founded one of the first accredited acupuncture school in America, the Traditional Acupuncture Institute (later called Tai Sophia and now called Maryland University of Integrative Health) and was a big part of the movement to bring the gifts of eastern medicine, wisdom and philosophy to a western audience.  Bob made it possible for thousands of us acupuncturists to practice this magnificent healing art.

Bob was a profound healer who delighted in teaching.   He was fierce in the classroom and rigorous with his students.  Bob never pulled any punches and he would fearlessly perturb and push for the sake of healing.  Because of his understanding of how words impacts physiology, he demanded precision in our language.  If I was feeling small in my practice, holding back, he would admonish me, “What you have learned is a gift--how dare you hide it away!”.  If I was wallowing in stories that did not serve life he would call it out and demand I find a story “big enough to live in”.    He did this not only for me for thousands of students and patients alike.  And when we expressed gratitude for what we had received he would smile and say, “give it away…give it away…give all your gifts away.”

If I have ever asked you where you notice that in your body or if we have ever talked about setting your mood, making clean requests,  creating a bigger story, switching out the word “could” for “should”, heard me utter, “your body is wise and your symptoms are your teachers” or been urged to “take effective action or immediately let it go” or if we ever dwelled in curiosity, wondering what your body could teach you about living--that was a gift from Bob.

In the two weeks since I learned of his passing, I have been flooded with profound gratitude for the three years I studied with him, for all that I learned from him and for the transformation that I experienced in his presence.   While Bob made it clear that we each deliver the medicine in our own unique ways, I have been profoundly aware that I stand in his lineage and that I have the duty to carry on the beautiful wisdom which he taught me.   I am holding open the space and looking for more ways to “give it away.”  Stay tuned for more on this in the coming weeks and months.

If you would like a little taste of the wonder of Bob Duggan, here is a link to a talk he did at TedX MidAtlantic in 2009 and a recent interview he did with Dr Wayne Jonas.  

Everyday Bob set his mood to be one of “peace”.  Today I am also setting my mood for peace.  May you find great peace in the beauty of this autumn.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars

 

of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,

 

the long tapers

of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders

 

of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its

name is, is

 

nameless now.

Every year

everything

I have ever learned

 

in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side

 

is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

 

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

 

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it

go,

to let it go. 

 
--Mary Oliver

 

The Lazy Hazy Dog Days of Late Summer

I am writing this sitting on my front steps listening to the song of the cicadas. drinking a glass of lemonade and wishing I had a rocking chair.  This, my friends, is late summer.  This is the season of bringing in the abundant harvest. This is the season where it gets so dang hot there is nothing to do but slow—way--down. 

Mama Earth feeds us with her goodness:  farm stand corn and tomatoes and piles of juicy peaches.  The hot damp air cradles us, clings to us, like a too-close hug of our old great aunt.   The air is alive with the song of crickets, cicadas and thunderstorms--nature’s own lullabies.

At our house we are squeezing the last juicy bits out of summer, savoring the freedom and ease in our schedules before school starts up again and autumn calls us to let go.  We are lingering—on steps, by the pool, in hammocks—walking the fine line between easy and lethargic.  Sometimes feeling bogged down.  It’s OK though.   It is all OK.  

This is the season of gratitude, of taking it all in and letting it nourish you.  This is the season of digesting all the goodness in our life.   In Chinese medicine, we associate this late summer time with the Earth energy.  The great Mama.  Nourishment.  

In our modern world it’s so easy to rush through this time — to start to march through the "to-do" lists to get us ready for “back to school” or our regular fall routines. Yet late summer invites us to connect to our own earth energy, to pause and drop into the life’s sweetness, to slow down and savor all abundance around us, even if just for a moment.  Late summer calls us to harvest and digest the sweetness and integrate the lessons from the gifts and challenges that the past year has brought.  

The Chinese classics tells that us wellness and good health start with living in harmony with the season.    That's not always so easy in a go-go-go 24/7 high tech world.  So...how can you incorporate a little late summer goodness into your busy modern life?    Even if you can’t spend your afternoons in a hammock, you can experience the earthy goodness of the season in bite size pieces:

Here are some of my favorite ways to connect to the energy of this abundant season.

Living in Harmony with Late Summer

1.      Allow yourself to slow down—if only for a few minutes.  Sit outside and listen to nature’s songs.   Take 10 extra minutes to complete your morning routine.  Walk more slowly from the car, bus or metro in the morning, allowing yourself to really take in what is around you.

2.      Prepare Delicious Food.  Go to a farmer’s market or any market where the produce section is full of beautiful local food.  Take home something delicious to prepare and maybe share with family and friends.  If your are not a cook, maybe you just buy some peaches or juicy plums and savor them.

3.      Digest your day with your loved ones.  Make a practice of sharing what you loved or about your day at dinner or at bed time.  If it was a challenging day, what did you learn?  

4.      Tend your life with love.  You can transform a busy "to-do" list into the perfect expression of late summer if you frame it as a taking care of your own beautiful sweet life.   One way to do this is to turn chores into a gratitude practice.  For a long time I have struggled resentfully and not too healthily with the endless lists.  Since I couldn’t escape them, I have been on a mission to transform them.    I recently began to make my chores an embodied gratitude practice.  Washing the dishes became a prayer of thanksgiving—for the food, for the company, for simply being alive and nourished and fed.  Cleaning the house is a love letter to my home, a thank you for the shelter.   Filling up the car with gas—gratitude for having such reliable transportation.  As I approach each chore, I set the intention and then tell myself—this is how I tend the life that supports me.  I can’t even tell you how this simple practice nourishes me.

5.  Practice Self Care.  We spend so much of our energy taking care of others, allow some of that care to circle back to yourself.  Take time to nourish yourself.  Give yourself 30 minutes of "me-time", go for walk, take an hour for yoga, schedule a massage or a mani-pedi or a night out with friends.  Be sweet to yourself!  

If you are feeling out of sorts with the season, know you are not alone.  Many of us struggle with this transitional season.  We feel out of balance and maybe a bit cranky or stressed out.   Sometimes this imbalance shows up in our bodies—as fatigue or digestive problems or in our minds as an endless loop of worry. If that's the case, rest easy!  In addition to the practices above, acupuncture is another wonderful way to restore balance and feel more like yourself again.  

Meg Casey , M.Ac., L.Ac is an acupuncturist based in Silver Spring MD.   She is deeply grateful for the beauty of Chinese medicine and the privilege of treating her patients.  If you are interested in scheduling an appointment or would like to explore if  acupuncture is right for you can reach out at meg@megcaseyacupuncture.com or 301-408-9873.  You can learn more about her practice at www.megcaseyacupuncture.com.

(c) Meg Casey Acupuncture 

The Joy of Summer!

Ahhh summer…Can you feel it yet?  For my family the Memorial Day opening of the community pool we belong to marks the beginning of a very special time—the magnificent unfurling, expanding season of summer.   Its right around the corner—in fact, it may even already be here!

Look outside on a sunny day and you will notice that nature is shifting.  The plants have pushed up through the soil and they are now unfurling, blossoming, showing all their glory.  Suddenly my garden is riot.  Everything is opening.   Soon the air will be filled with the lights of fireflies calling to each other and the sound of crickets, cicadas and frogs calling out.  The air is getting warmer—living things are growing, blossoming, strutting their stuff. 

Summer is a time of joy, connection and partnership.  The weather draws out outside to parks, to pools, to the beach or simply our front yards to talk to our neighbors.  The light calls us outside much earlier and begs us to linger much longer.    We cook over open flames and gather at BBQs.  We sit around campfires and laugh.  Or we tell our stories and whisper the secrets of our hearts.   We play.  

The Chinese medical classics tell us that one important way to keep well is to follow the seasons.  We are all part of the cycle in nature and when we align with what is happening outside we set the conditions for our bodies to restore, heal, fight infection, and operate optimally.   Yet modern society, with air conditioning, office buildings and a 24-7 work culture can throw us off these natural rhythms.   Sometimes we need to be more intentional about lining up in harmony with the seasons. 

Here are 5 ways to line up with the exciting energy of the summer:

 

1.    Reach out and connect!   

Be like the birds, bugs and frogs calling out to one another! Build time in your life for relationships.  Use the warmth and weather to help propel you.  Plan an outing with a friend, organize a family get-together, or set up a special date with your sweetie.    Better yet, be spontaneous.  Spend time in the places where your community connects—the park, the pool, the library or bookstore and put away your phone!  Take a walk and greet your neighbors.  All of this is good for the heart!

2.  Play. 

Watch the animals this time of year and you will notice a great deal of play.  Summer calls us to indulge in pleasure and fun.  Whether it’s a pick up game of basketball, tennis with your best friend, a rousing game of Scrabble or Banana-grams or a game of tag with your kids allow yourself to be silly and have fun.   

3.  Laugh. 

Laughing is good for the soul and good for your health too!   While its obvious that a good laugh can relieve stress and helps us connect with each other did you know that laughter boosts your immune system, releases endorphins, supports the cardiovascular system and can even reduce pain.  (Don’t believe me, read what the Mayo Clinic says!)   A study by Oxford University found that pain thresholds become "significantly higher" after laughter.  So go ahead and tell that corny joke or ask your cousin to tell that funny story for the 38th time.  Be a little bit silly.  If you are having trouble finding the funny, check out laughter yoga—yes—it’s a THING.  

4.  Focus on your partnership. 

In a busy world it can be so easy to neglect the folks closest to us.  As human beings we are meant to connect, be in community and ultimately partnership.  Thinking about summer energy, my friend and colleague Marie Choppin, LICSW, LCSW-Cwrote a piece for my blog on 5 Ways to Builda Strong Loving Relationship.   Check it out!   

5.  Find your passion

Summer energy is excited energy and a time to explore things that bring you joy.  Give yourself permission to explore the things that feed your heart and soul:  whether its volunteering, playing, cheering for your favorite team, reading, entertaining, rich conversation,  or art—allow yourself to experience being passionate!

And of course, if you are having time shifting into summertime energy, or if your symptoms are preventing you from finding joy this season, acupuncture can help restore the natural balance and flow in our bodies and help you find your summertime bliss!

Meg Casey, M.Ac, L.Ac is a licensed acupuncturist in Silver Spring, MD.  She is passionate about Chinese medicine, really good chocolate and coffee, dancing, her fabulous kid, connecting with her community, turning her life into a musical and good books.  You can make an appointment with her online by calling 301.408.9873 or reaching out via email at meg@megcaseyacupuncture.com.  You can learn more about her practice and her approach to treatment at www.megcaseyacupuncture.com.

5 Ways To Build A Strong Loving Relationship

By Marie Choppin, MSW, LICSW, LSCW-C

Over the past 8 years, I have worked with hundreds of couples who are struggling with their relationship in various ways and have found that these 5 ways to build a strong, loving relationship are essential. The couples I work with all experience underlying concerns about not having their needs met, fears of losing their partner and/or longings for a deeper connection. Many have experienced a competing attachment (such as infidelity, alcoholism, work or even too much focus on the children) which interfered with their connection and trust with one another.

Whether a couple has been together a few years or many decades, their struggle to stay connected and feel emotionally safe with one another is most often their primary underlying reason for the distress in their relationship.  With so much research now that validates that humans are wired to connect, it's even more important to find ways to PREVENT the disconnection in your relationship. Having a loving, strong bond is good for your health, as well, and there is proof that life expectancy is longer for those in a healthy relationships.  So here are 5 ways to build a strong, loving relationship so that you can continue to thrive in love.

1.   Let your partner know what you need.

Connection is the key to feeling strong as a couple.Our society was built on the values of independence and self reliance. However, in relationships, being able to depend on one another is necessary and appropriate.   Don't be afraid to let your partner know what you need.  No one is a mind-reader, despite our wishes to the contrary! If you can share your worries, feelings of being let down, and need to be close and intimate, your partner will not have to guess what you need.  Of course, don't forget to allow time for your partner to also share their needs.

2.  Let your partner know when you are hurt.

In relationships that matter the most to us, we can often feel more hurt or disappointed when something happens that causes pain. At the same time, we often don't want to hurt the feelings of someone we love by letting them know that we are hurt. However, when you remain quiet, your partner does not know when they have said or done something that hurts you. Sharing the hurt, in a loving manner, without anger, defensiveness, or shutting down, will go a long way to opening communication and understanding. The experience of sharing your deepest feelings and being heard can actually build a deeper sense of trust. You can set the groundwork for a good conversation by letting your partner know you want to share something.  Being open to hearing their perspective will be vital to open-hearted sharing.

3.  Openly share when you feel disconnected.

Many couples have such busy lives, especially if there are children to raise.   With work and parenting responsibilities, there is a high likelihood that disconnection happens. There is often not enough time to share feelings and check in with one another. However, by not sharing, a gulf can develop.  Sometimes both partners feel it but are afraid to bring up.  Other times one person may feel it and the other is unaware.  Either way, as soon as you are aware of disconnection, raising it with your partner will prevent loneliness and isolation from happening and can go along way to building a strong, loving relationship.  Sharing opens up communication and connection which helps you both feel less alone and eases the burden. Here's a well-known video by Brene' Brown that highlights the ways that being with your partner, even in painful moments, makes the experience less lonely and develops empathy.

4.  Stay Open and Calm When Discussing Issues.

When sharing your feelings, even when you are angry, it helps to check your defensive angry tone, stay open to sharing underlying feelings and hear what the other person feels, as well.

There is a lot of new neuroscience research about the effect of facial, non-verbal cues, voice levels and body-language on partners.  Stephen Porges has found that there is an instinctive response to anger that our ears react to which puts people into a "fight or flight" response. This means that when a person hears someone who is angry with them (or even near by), the person really can't think clearly but rather goes into a place of defense (fight or flight)  to prepare for an attack. Even with our loved ones, if someone is raising their voice in anger, the other person can't really hear or take in what is being said. So it's even more important to wait until you and your partner are both calm, then share your feelings from a softer, more vulnerable place so that your partner can hear you.

5.  Carve out time every week (or daily) to check in with your partner about how the relationship feels.

Making your relationship number one on your list of priorities. Most often, partners put the relationship behind kids and work. However, not putting your relationship first is damaging in the long run.  Making sure to check in with your partner on a daily basis, is so helpful in keeping the relationship strong.

There are no guarantees when it comes to relationships but practicing these 5 Ways To Build A Strong, Loving Relationship will go a long way!

Marie Choppin, LSCW-C, LICSW is the Founder and Director of Lotus Point Wellness, a counseling and wellness practice bringing together counseling, nutrition and yoga for a holistic, integrative approach to wellbeing. She has offices in Silver Spring and Bethesda, MD and has been an Emotionally Focused (EFT) couple, family and individual therapist for over 20 years.  You can find more information about Marie and her team of therapists, nutritionists and Yoga teachers at Lotus Point Wellness by going to www.lotuspointwellness.com.

 

 

Three Ways To Spring Forward!

Spring!  The season of creativity and rebirth!  

Everything in nature is starting to shift upwards again after a season of rest and restoration.    

It sounds glorious but it is not an easy movement.   It can be hard to rise from winter’s sleepy depths.  We see this in nature in the oscillation between the glorious warm days and the return of snow and wind.  In our own bodies it can feel like an oscillation between bursts of activity (Lets clean the whole house!  Lets start that big gardening project!  Let’s start a new business project!)  and moments where we collapse, snuggled on the couch with tea and a book, a whole new season of our favorite TV show or a nap.    Its not a linear process this springing up.

If we had to push through the winter (especially if we have been fighting off colds and flus) we might not feel rested enough to fully rise.    We might even feel downright stuck.  When everything in nature starts to call us to activity this can feel like frustration or a sense that we “Just-can’t-get-it-together- damn it.”  It can also show up as tightness in the body, headaches or digestive issues or even just stress.

How can you help your spring energy to rise?  Having a small creative practice can really help get this energy moving and smooth things out.  Whether you are feeling stuck or simply trying to deepen spring’s movements, embracing creativity can help get things flowing.  Here are a few simple way to move that Qi in a creative way.

My son left me a little hint this weekend when I was buried in paperwork!

My son left me a little hint this weekend when I was buried in paperwork!

1.     Draw, color (or doodle)!  Pull out some crayons and draw the way you did when you were a kid.  Or try playing with one of those adult coloring books with amazing beautiful pictures to color.  Simply taking 10 minutes to do this when I’m feeling stuck can shift my perspective and gets me moving in the right direction.  (As you can see from the photo my son was lovingly supporting that movement in me this weekend!)

2.     Write!  Use your words to do more than write memos or to do lists.  Tell a story, write a poem or describe something beautiful or heartbreaking.  For inspiration, community and fun you can join a writer’s group (or other creative circle).  There are many wonderful ones led by talented writers.  One of my favorite poets (who I am lucky enough to call friend) Jena Schwarz is running an on-line class to celebrate National Poetry Month in April—a month of prompts to explore poetry (as a reader or a writer) and a fun safe space to share for less than $30.  If that feels too scary, you can adopt your own writing practice   Julia Cameron, who developed a program to help blocked creatives called The Artist’s Way, talks about a practice called Morning Pages.  Every morning set a timer and write stream of consciousness for 10 minutes.  It doesn’t have to be good and it can even be downright bad! The idea is just to get going.  This works even if you don’t think of yourself as a “writer”.  It can free your mind up to creatively tackle whatever the day has in store.  

3.  Sing!  In the shower, in the car, along with the radio.  Singing not only is good for the soul but it requires us to breathe deeply (without even trying!) and that I good for the spirit too!  To get really inspired, join a Community Sing like the one run by Dr. Ysaye Maria Barnwell (formely of the amazing Sweet Honey in the Rock) or explore other community sing groups.  You can find them on MeetUp or advertised through local arts groups.

And of  course, if you are feeling stuck or too tired to rise, an acupuncture treatment can help.  Working together we can identify where life energy is getting stuck and help you create that life you have been dreaming about.

Meg Casey, M.Ac.,L.Ac. is an acupuncturist in Silver Spring, MD where she helps her patients create new possibilities to thrive.    To schedule an appointment with Meg or explore if acupuncture is right for you, you can reach out to her via email at meg@megcaseyacupuncture.com, reach out via the website  or call her at 301.408.9873  For more inspiration you can like Meg Casey Acupuncture on Facebook!

Keep Your Wood Energy Flowing!

The Chinese associate the springtime energy with the natural force of wood—of growing things—plants, grass, trees rising up from earth to sky.  This is the rising pulse of creativity and the force of birth and rebirth.  It is like bamboo—growing upward—strong but flexible—able to bend in the wind.

This energy also exists in our bodies.  At a body level it helps us move during the day and detox at night.  It is responsible for energy moving smoothly.  It nourishes our tendons, eyes and our liver and gallbladder.  At a mind and spirit level, it’s this wood energy that enables us to have a vision of the future, plan, and find creative ways around the obstacles that life throws at us. 

One of the key principles of Chinese medicine is that when energy in our body is blocked we can develop pain or other symptoms.  These symptoms can be both physical and emotional.  We may feel it as tightness and constriction in our body—around our ribs or diaphragm but also in our limbs, neck, shoulder or back.   Sometimes it may be accompanied by an upward rushing of energy—headaches, flushing, feeling suddenly warm in our face  When our wood energy is stuck it may show up as a simmering feeling of irritation, frustration or resentment that build to an emotional outburst.  Or it could manifest as a crankiness, where every little thing seems to bother us.  We might feel stuck—unable to move forward in life or move through difficult emotions.  

What causes the wood energy to get stuck?  Imbalance around rest, our emotions and movement can create stagnation.  Finding balance in these areas can help keep things moving and promote wellness.  Here are 4 great ways to support the healthy movement of wood energy in your body.

Find the middle ground between work and rest.  Exhaustion and overwork can deplete our energy creating a situation where it can’t flow smoothly.  Think about a river during a drought.  With less water, it moves more slowly and it gets stagnant.  If we have depleted our own energy reserves this kind of stagnation can happen to us too.  The Chinese medical classics say that rest is critical. Staying up late (past 11 pm) or waking up very early (before 3am) puts a strain on our wood energy (as well as other parts of our energetic system) and over time can really wear on us.   

However too much leisure can be equally challenging.   As human beings we are meant to create and contribute to the world.   Lying around all day, without focus or a motivation, can stagnate our wood energy just as much as overwork.  While operating without a plan can feel like a relief on a vacation, if it becomes our norm for too long it can cause our qi to get sluggish and stuck.

Find balance in our emotional life.  Another way we can get stuck is when we repress our emotions.  If we are swallowing our feelings all day long, this can throw us our whole system out of wack.  Finding healthy ways to express and move our emotions can keep the energy flowing smoothly.    Using our emotions as a signal that we need to make a change, make a request, or  can keep things moving along.

On the flip side allowing ourselves get stuck in our anger, stewing in the feelings or stoking our rage can also hurt our ability to dance smoothly with life.  Sometimes we get stuck IN and emotion and find it hard to move through it.  When our emotions rage, doing something physical can often help to smooth things out.   Exercise, cleaning, or even a brisk walk can help unstick this energy.

Have a moderate exercise program.  This may seem obvious but not moving our bodies enough can cause our energy to get stuck.  Exercise is not only important for our cardiovascular health but it keeps our whole system flowing smoothly.   We don’t have to go to the gym and work out for hours but some movement keeps things moving.  A 15-30 minutes walk may just be enough.  On the flip side (and I am sure you are noticing a pattern here) over-exercise can be just as damaging.    Hours and hour of hard work depletes the body of resources and creates strain.  (Remember that image of the river without enough water…)

While this stuck wood energy is just one reason people  feel unwell, it is a common one in our culture.   Finding balance is no small or easy task in our “go-go-go” 24/7 culture.   It is hard for us to hit the stop button.  I used to have two speeds:  “Full speed ahead” and “full on collapse”.    Both patterns left me cranky and ultimately sick.  While my doctors all told me that in order to heal I needed to find balance, I had trouble resetting.  It was like I had forgotten what balance felt like and I needed to be reminded.

Acupuncture is a powerful tool to help reestablish balance and an easy flow of qi in the body, mind and spirit.  In the treatment room, we will work together to identify where things get stuck.   Together we will get things flowing again and I will give you practices you can do on your own to help keep things moving.  My goal is to empower you to move your qi on your own—to not only relieve the symptoms (whether it is from stuck wood energy or another issue) but to give you what you need to notice where your qi get stuck and to keep things flowing with ease.

If you have a question about whether acupuncture might be able to help you feel well in your body, mind and spirit, feel free to reach out to me at 301-408-9873 or the via the Get in Touch page.  

Living in Harmony with the Seasons: SPRING IS HERE! (Really! I promise!)

I know, I know…The blizzards just dropped over 2 feet of snow on the DC area. Spring?   Really?? YES!  My friends, really truly, spring is arriving! Now!

Little shoots rising up out of frozen soil...

Little shoots rising up out of frozen soil...

Of course, the truth of this statement really depends on what we mean by Spring.  Those 72 degree days and flowers blooming may still be a ways off.  But if we are talking about the return of the light, the season of new growth, the upward rising surge in nature--well friends--we are here!  The ancients paid attention to the land and what was happening and they realized that something creative, punchy and gobsmackingly new begins to happen right about now—the first week of February.  Even though it is still deep underground life is beginning to sprout again.

Nature is starting to wake up after her long winter’s nap.  The birds are beginning to sing.  I have noticed the light returning in the morning.  The sap in the trees is beginning to rise.  If you were to dig underneath the cold soil you would see little plants beginning to sprout-their tiny green shoots starting to push up through the frozen earth.  Even though the earth in many places is still buried in melting snow—this is the rising time.

Just a few weeks ago, my cats were content to curl up and sleep much of the day but now they are acting like loons—dashing about the house chasing each other and using every creative strategy to get out and just leap across the lawn.  We humans may be feeling that way too.  Some call it cabin fever—that feeling of needing to get out and MOVE after the long winter sleep.  If you are feeling that way--punchy, (even a bit irritated!) its not just the endless days at home with the kids while we dug out from the blizzard – it’s the spring time energy rising in you too! 

Spring (which on the Chinese calendar lasts from this first week of February through early May) is a time of action –finally making  manifest all those plans you have been sleeping on all winter.  So often this time of year we get serious about the New Years resolutions we made a few weeks ago.  Usually in February I find myself moving beyond the dreamy phase of vague hopes I muttered on New Years Eve and start sketching out step by step work plans with lists of tasks. I am suddenly ready to take on new work.    We may gain clarity on a situation.   A vision for a new project may take you by surprise or a new solution to a difficult challenge may suddenly come into crisp focus.    That’s spring for you!

This spring time rising energy can feel a bit, well, violent—especially after the restful tranquility of winter.  That’s because that fierce energy that is what is needed to shift the momentum from the quietude and stillness of winter.  It’s the  horse’s leap out of the gate, a swimmer’s explosive dive off the blocks, the leap of a hockey player off the bench as she dashes after the puck.   Fast and furious.

Spring can also be a bit sporadic—maybe even windy.  It moves in bursts and fits. As a result spring time energy is strong and fierce but not always steady.  If you are feeling frustrated with your creativity’s fits and starts, you can be reassured by walking outside and feeling the wind—strong one minute, quiet the next.  Nature is moving that way too.  You will get your groove on, don’t worry. 

The Chinese medical classics tell us that the most important thing we can do to support our wellness is to live in harmony with the seasons.   What does that mean when the roaring windy spring time energy starts moving in us?

1.     Move your body.  You don’t need to suddenly become a gym rat but finding ways to move will help keep this creative energy flowing.  Take a daily walk after lunch, try out some yoga, or simply put on some music and dance a few minutes a day.  If you are more of an exercise buff or you have been dreaming about taking on a physical challenge take care not to push yourself too much!  A classic side effect of this spring time burst of energy is that some people (you know who you are!) can push themselves too much.  Listen to your body and remember that moderation and balance are always the goals!

2.     Stretch.  Physically and Mentally.  In Chinese medicine the spring time energy “governs” the tendons and sinews.  Hence, this is a great time of year to work on your flexibility. (and help prevent injury—see above!)    This applies not only to our bodies but also our minds and our spirits.  Ask yourself—where in life can you be a bit more flexible?  Or where can you stretch yourself in an area of your life where you may be a little uncomfortable.  Embrace new possibilities!  

3.     Create.  Whether it’s something artsy, a project around the house, or a new plan at work—get visionary and create something new.    Take time to get visionary and then make plans and break it down into bite size pieces.    Take action in little bits—write for 20 minutes a day, do at least one tasks on your plan each morning.  You will create a lot of forward momentum that way.

4.     Embrace new possibilities.  Springtime is the spirit of new ideas.  In challenging areas of your life, asking yourself what you might want to try differently this year?  Try seeing things from different perspectives and see what new things get born!  It doesn’t have to be all serious—you can make it a game. 

5.     Sleep.  Wait--What? My advice to sleep may seem a bit out of sync with what I just wrote,but at this time of year it is still so important!  Our minds do their best creative work when we are sleeping—our subconscious brains need the nighttime to process so that we can be deeply creative during the waking hours.  You know that old adage—“Why don’t you sleep on it?”  It comes from the folk wisdom that we are often able to creatively solve problems or find new ways forward AFTER we have given ourselves time to rest and recharge.  When we are feeling all excited and full of energy (or maybe a little stressed out...) it may be tempting to stay up into the wee hours creating or working through to-do lists.  RESIST THE TEMPTATION! I can tell you from both thousands of years of Chinese medicine knowledge and my own personal experience there are few things that will damage the spring time energy in us  (and subsequently our health) like sleep deprivation.  While the human body is marvelous at adapting to lack of sleep in short stints (like when we have a new baby at home) as a long term chronic habit it can create trouble.  So create, be active and move forward on your plans but get thee to bed and sleep a good 7-8 hours a night!  If sleep is difficult it may be time to seek support (acupuncture is a great one!)  to protect your creativity, your ability to move through life efficiently and ultimately your health. 

A note for you if you are just too tired...

This season can be hard for people in our modern American culture.  That’s because we push push push 12 months out of the year.  After a while we run out of steam.  If we don’t allow ourselves to really rest during the winter, we may not have enough energy to really support the rising energy in us come February and it can fall a bit flat—like a a motor that’s having a hard time turning over.    This can lead to us feeling anxious, irritated, or just perpetually off or snappy.  We get started on things but have trouble getting excited about them or have difficulty finishing them.  Creative ideas can fizz out before they get started.  It also may show up as headaches or tightness in our body.  Sometimes it just feels like exhaustion—difficulty finding our motivation—a desire to let the world rise without you.

If that’s the case for you, don’t despair!  Allow yourself to take these first few weeks of spring to rejuvenate. Intersperse your activity with deeply restful  moments—work on your work plan for a few hours and then curl up by the fire with a book or give yourself the gift of a long nap.  You may also want to just continue to embrace winter for a few more weeks and leave the planning until later in the spring.  That’s OK too.  During these first few weeks of a season nature does that too.  It oscillates between the old season and the new.  Of course all this may also be the sign that its time to come in for acupuncture treatment, to get some support and find some balance.  Acupuncture is wonderful at helping people come back to true when we are feeling "off".

Because in our culture, there are so many ways this spring-time energy gets off, I am going to spend some time on the blog and in these newsletters this spring delving a little more deeply into spring energy and how it impacts the body.  Stay tuned.  

Winter is Here!

I know, I know.  According to the western calendar we are still squarely in autumn.  At least here in Maryland we are still experiencing some fleeting warm days.  But despite the warmth, something has shifted.  The light has changed from golden to blue and the darkness is descending rapidly.  I don't know about you but I am moving slower and feeling the urge to hibernate.

The Chinese calendar places the winter solstice smack in the MIDDLE of the season.  If we understand winter to be the season of darkness,  then it only makes sense that the darkest day of the year be the depth (not the start) of winter.  That would mean that the 6 weeks before and after the solstice mark the 12 weeks of winter.  

While this darkness may feel gloomy, it also offers so many gifts!  Winter is a time when nature rests.  Spend some time outdoors and you will notice how much quieter and still it suddenly is.  It is a time of deep root growth.  Winter is the time when we can go inward, practice stillness, recoup and recover, rebuild and grow strong.   In can be a time to explore the depths of ourselves.  To connect with our yin/quieter sides.

Of course, in our modern society this rhythm between yin (inward quieter energy) and yang (outward, bright and active energy) can get lost.  We live in a upper yang society focused on constant activity and ever forward motion.  We use electric lights to keep us in perpetual summer.  But all this hustle, bustle and activity does not come without a cost.  Without  the chance to give our bodies a break in the winter time, its no wonder so many of us get sick at this time!  

The Chinese classics tell us that to stay well and healthy we should live in harmony with the seasons.  Our culture really doesn't "do winter" well--so it may feel a little counter cultural but allowing yourself to sink into winter can help you get through the dark cold season and have the energy you need to flourish come spring.

5 PRACTICES TO LIVE WELL IN WINTER

1.  Slow down.  Literally move slower.  Create space once a day (or at least once a week) where you can move more slowly and gently.  This could take the form of replacing one cardio workout for some stretching or yin yoga.  Or it could mean taking a little longer with your morning routine.  It might mean allowing yourself 5 more minutes to linger over breakfast or simply adopting a slower pace while you make dinner.

2.  Create space for rest.  Nap on the weekends.  Go to bed earlier.  Sleep a little longer.  Give yourself permission to curl up on your couch with a good book, a wonderful movie or a great conversation.  If you must keep going in work mode-experiment with ways to work more restfully.  One year when I had to be up at 5am to do homework before heading into work--even in the winter--I made a fire and sat on the couch with my feet up while I worked and drank a magnificent cup of tea to start my day.  

3.  Embrace the dark.  The constant light and hum of modern society can confuse our bodies.  Make a point of limiting artificial light.  Consider eating by candlelight, dimming bright overhead lights or turning off lights you don't need on.  Turn off computers and TVs earlier.  See how your body responds.  Are you able to sleep easier?  Do you feel more rested?  

4.  Create time for "root growth".  Root growth is the quiet kind of growth that happens beneath the surface.  In our culture we are so focused on the visible growth (of our careers, our wealth, our successes) we don't often take time to cultivate the growth of the stuff that anchors us.  Consider what roots you.  Maybe it is your faith, your love of literature and art, time with your kids and/or partner, connections with your community.  Whatever it is, make time to cultivate quiet nourishing growth in this section of your life.  

5.  Take a long hot bath.  The ancient Chinese associated the winter with the cleansing, nourishing, energy of water.  One way to embrace rest and stillness is to soak in a hot bath.  While resting in the bath, allow your body to relax and let go of anything that no longer serves.

Its also especially important to nourish ourselves during the dark days of winter.  One of my favorite winter foods is bone broth and with leftover turkey bones in so many fridges now is a wonderful time to make it.  Bone broth is deeply nourishing, provides minerals and collagen and helps our bodies refill and restore at the deepest levels.

Below is a recipe for: 

BONE BROTH (A WINTER STAPLE!)

  • Roughly 2lbs of bones (turkey, chicken or beef).  You can use a leftover carcass from roasted chicken/turkey or get bones from a butcher.  If you are using raw bones from the butcher roast the bones with a little olive oil and your veggies at 450 degrees for 10-20 minutes or until deeply browned.
  • 1 onion quartered.
  • 2-3 carrots in large (2-3 inch) chunks
  • 2 stalks of celery cut up in 2-3 inh chunks.
  • A couple of garlic cloves-cut in halve
  • Enough water to cover the bones and veggies
  • A few bay leaves, 1 TB whole peppercorns
  • 1-2 TB apple cider vinegar

In a large stock pot place the roasted bones and veggies and cover with water.  Bring to boil and skim off any foam.  Add the spices and vinegar and lower heat to a low simmer and cover.  Check broth every few hours, adding water when needed to make sure bones and veggies are covered.  

Allow broth to simmer on low for 24 hours for chicken and turkey broth and 48-72 hours for beef broth, until bones are soft and start to break down.  (If you are nervous about leaving the broth on the stove overnight you can also use a crockpot to cook you broth.)

Strain out the bones and veggies, pressing gently to squeeze out all the good juices!

Allow broth to cool and skim off the fat layer that forms on top.  I usually freeze in small single or double serving batches.  Broth will last 6 months in the freezer and 4-5 days in the fridge.  You can also freeze the broth in an ice cube tray and then pop out the broth cubes into a plastic freezer bag for 1 oz servings to use in sauces.

Your broth can then be the basis for all sorts of delicious winter soups, can be used to add richness to pasta sauces or can simply be eaten or drank on its own for a nourishing snack.  I know folks who drink 8 oz of bone broth a day during the winter months to help fortify their systems!

One of my favorite winter breakfasts when I'm in a rush to get to work is my quick and easy bone broth egg drop soup.  I heat up 6-8oz of broth, add a couple of dashes of soy sauce or tamari (Gluten free soy sauce) and whisk in an egg, letting the egg cook in the hot soup.  Pour it into a thermos or travel mug, grab a spoon and I'm off to the races.  It takes less than 5 minutes to make and is deeply nourishing and surprisingly satisfying!  

Of course, acupuncture is a wonderful way to help reset your body, nourish and strengthen yourself.  If you are struggling with this shift to winter, don't hesitate to reach out for an appointment!

Meg Casey, L.Ac.  is an acupuncturist practicing in Silver Spring, MD where she works with patients to discover  courage, faith and their own innate power to heal  To make an appointment with Meg you can call her at 301-408-9873 or reach out be email at meg@megcaseyacupuncture.com.

Eat for your Qi! Warm Breakfasts Idea: Pumpkin Millet Porridge

If you have spent more than 5 minutes with me in the treatment room you know that one of my favorite pieces of advice for patients is to shift to eating a warm breakfast.  Our bodies make our qi (or energy) from the food we eat and that is especially true in the morning.  Warm nourishing breakfasts give our bodies all the raw materials it needs to maximize the amount of energy we have.  Some foods are especially good for building qi.  This recipe--which is delicious and seasonal--contains some great qi building foods.  

By the way, eating hot breakfasts does not mean having to slave over a stove every morning.  This recipe by the way is easy to make in a big batch and then save in little single container servings.  Defrost in the am, heat up and go!  

Pumpkin Millet Porridge

Makes 3 servings

Adapted slightly from Sarah Britton’s Recipe at My New Roots and  (http://mynewroots.org/site/2012/02/pumpkin-pie-amaranth-porridge-2/) Pumpkin Pie Millet Porridge at Core+ Diced (http://coreddiced.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/winter-millet-porridge/)

1/2 cup of millet or amaranth (soaked in water for 8 – 24 hours)

1/2 cup homemade (or canned) pumpkin puree 

a pinch of sea salt

1 tsp of vanilla 

1/2-1 tsp of cinnamon

a pinch-1/2 tsp of nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible) 

2 cups of almond coconut milk or almond milk

1 TBS of pure 100 % maple syrup to taste (optional)

chopped walnuts, almonds, flax meal, raisins or unsweetened coconut for topping

 

1.  Drain and rinse the soaked millet or amaranth.

2.  Combine in a medium pot with pumpkin, salt, vanilla, spices, and almond coconut milk. 

3.  Bring to a boil on medium heat while stirring frequently. Turn heat down to low and cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Texture should be rather liquidy but if not, add a bit more almond milk. 

4.  Add maple syrup according to taste. Portion into bowls and top with extra almond milk, nuts, raisins, flax, cinnamon, coconut and whatever else you’d like.

 

The Power of Maybe...A Story About Accepting What Is

 

There is an old Chinese story that goes something like this...

Once upon a time there was an old Chinese farmer who lived alone with his only son on their small farm.  One day, the farmer's one and only horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, all the neighbors came over to console the old man.  "Oh no!  What terrible luck!" they said.  The old farmer shook his head and replied, "Maybe..."
The next week, the old farmer's horse came back.  And he brought with him a pack of wild horses.  All the neighbors watched as the many horses came into the man's yard and rushed over in excitement.  "Oh wow!  What amazing fortune!" they said.  The old farmer simply smiled and said, "Maybe...."
The man's only son worked hard at training the wild horses while helping the his father run the farm.  But one day, in the midst of his work, one of the horses threw him and the son broke both legs.  He was unable to work with the horses and even worse, unable to help his elderly father run the farm.  Upon hearing the news, all the neighbors rushed over to commiserate with the farmer who might lose his crops without the help of his son.  "Oh no!" they wailed "What terrible luck!"  The old farmer just looked at them and said "Maybe..."
The next week, the army came through the village and conscripted the eldest son of every family to go to war.  Because the old man's son was in bed with two broken legs, the army passed by the old man's house. All the neighbors came running over.  "We can't believe your fortune!  Your son was spared!  How lucky are you!" And you guessed it--the old man simply said "Maybe..."

I love this tale.  It reminds me of how quick we humans are to look at the events of our lives and declare them to be either good or bad, amazing or disastrous.  How quick we are to make up stories and to label the events in our life.   

If we look at it objectively, things happen.  Some things open up flow and create ease.  Some things close down flow and make life less easy.  Something create flow one minute but shut it down the next.  None of these things are truly good or bad.  Sometimes the thing (or job or person) we thought would save us creates nothing but heartache and the break-up (or lay-off or loss) that destroys in in the moment opens up a whole new possibility we never could have imagined.  In the moment we have no way of truly knowing if something is good or bad.  In the moment all we can truly know is that is ... well...that it is.

So what does this have to do with health?  A whole lot!  The stories we tell ourselves about our lives inform our bodies.  When we tell ourselves that what is happening in our life is a "disaster!" we turn on all sorts of stress hormones to help us get through said disaster.  These stress hormones may help us if we are running from a bear or a lion--or may help us push through a really difficult moment--but in the long run they divert resources away from digestion, internal repair and healing.    Over the long haul this can really tax our systems and create fatigue, dis-ease and illness.   We have fewer and fewer resources to heal from the viruses and bacteria that come our way.  We have less resources to repair the injured shoulders, broken bones and twisted knees.  

If we are able to drop the story of "good or bad" and just greet our life exactly as it is without judgement we create the maximum conditions for healing in our life.   We also by the way, free up resources to help us through whatever life is throwing at us.

That said, this is a practice and I am a beginner at it.  Most of us are.  Even the most devoted of teachers see this as a life long practice.  Look, from the time we were all born, society has been teaching us to label everything as "good" or "bad".  We do it all the time and often unconsciously.  And while it may be easy to drop the story around some  things like the weather canceling a fun outing or losing our favorite pair of sneakers it can be really hard when the foundation of our life is shaken by life's events.  When our marriage, our homes, or financial security or the health of people we love is what is in play.  When someone we love deeply is dying how can we not wail "THIS IS TERRIBLE!"  It takes nothing but complete and utter courage to hold ourselves gently as our world is shaken and simply whisper the word "maybe.." to ourselves. 

This is not about looking on the bright side.  Trying to force a positive story or silver lining onto everything that happens can be just as  dangerous.  That's why the story of the farmer is so powerful.  He does not deny that what is happening is hard, creates heart ache and shuts down the flow of his life.  But with the simple word "Maybe" he doesn't shut down possibility that it may end differently either.  He keeps life open.  And in the openness there is room for things to shift and for suffering to dissipate.  And that is a powerful lesson for all of us.  

Acupuncture treats at the body/mind/spirit levels and is therefor really helpful when we are in a working to accept life as it is.  It is also an incredibly helpful tool to support our bodies when we are going through hard times.  If you are interested in scheduling an acupuncture appointment reach out here or by emailing megcaseyacupuncture (at) gmail (dot) com or calling 301-408-9873.  I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Living in Harmony with the Seasons: Season of Letting Go

the leaves believe such letting go is love

such love is faith

such faith is grace

such grace is god.

i agree with the leaves.

--Lucille Clifton

Dear Friends

This weekend, things here in MD seemed to shift.  Cool air and clouds moved in and it feels like the humid fruit laden late summer harvest season is coming to a close.      My yard, filled with big oaks, is now littered with the leaves that are starting to drop.

We have now entered Autumn--the season of letting go.  The trees let go of what is no longer essential, preparing for winter's rest.  The light is quickly disappearing.  What was once full is now emptying.  One by one, the perennials in my garden are turning brown and returning to the earth.  In groups big and small the birds are starting to leave.

This is the rhythm of life.  Everything must pass.  Its a law really.  Truth is every new beginning in spring starts with something that died or fell to the ground in the fall.  

I don't know about you, but I don't really love that idea.  I have a lot of resistance to letting go of anything that once had value to me.   I don't like that things have to die (either literally or figuratively) before we can begin again.  We live in a society that tells us that we should keep increasing, keep accumulating.  That we should never really have to let go of anything that once mattered.  That if we are clever, wise, smart or good enough we will never have to lose anyone or anything we care about.    Of course, deep down, we all know that it is not true but it is so easy to be seduced by the myths that tell us that life is one big upward spiral that when we are faced by the inevitable letting go it feels like highway robbery and we suffer.  

And yet, even as things pass, life is never truly empty.  The essential remains.  We may lose a loved one but the memory of their laughter lingers.  We may lose a job but the lessons we learned there and the experience we gained stay with us.  We may say goodbye to our tomato plants but we will have some canned or dried goodness to enjoy all year long.  The trees hold on to their branches, the perennials hold on to their roots and we can hold onto what is truly precious--even as life shifts, changes and we let go of the rest of it.

I have learned that the only way to truly let go  is to ultimately acknowledge all the gifts that person, time period, or thing gave us.  Often our resistance to let go stems from the fact we have never truly processed what it has given us--never said thank you or truly acknowledged how much we valued it.  Ironically, the best way to let something go is to love it fully.

Of course, the Chinese medical classics tell us that living well means embracing all the movements of life--including the letting go in Autumn.   The quieter, smaller more cozy way that Autumn calls us to be runs directly in contrast to the go-go-go Washington DC life many of us live!  We can get really sick at this time of year if we stand in resistance to slowing down in Autumn..  We can stay healthier in the fall and winter if we are able to go with the flow of this letting go time and if we too can embrace the practice of bringing our energy in, focusing it in on what matters most and letting go of anything that no longer is needed or serves us.   

So what does this mean on a practical level?  How can you move your qi this Autumn and stay in harmony with the seasons?

1.  Act like a tree and make a practice of letting go of whatever is no longer needed.  Clean out your closet.  Tackle the basement.    Sort through your office.  Practice letting go of whatever is not needed to create space for new things to grow.

2.  Recognize the value of what is in your life.  Whether you decide to put something in the "giveaway" pile or you move it to the keep pile, whether you are connected with someone or have let that person slip away, acknowledge the gifts you have received.  Say thank you to people, time periods and things that brought you joy or taught you important lessons.  

3.  Focus on the essential.  What in your life today is most precious?  Put your energy there.  Say no to anything that doesn't make that essential list.  Whether that is your family, career, or connections with friends, your health--see what happens when you allow that to come into crystal clear focus.  (What is essential need not be set in stone by the way!  It can shift from day to day--the key is allowing yourself to prioritize what you value most in the moment!)

Stay tuned this autumn for more hints on supporting yourself through the fall and winter months!    Autumn can be a hard time for many.  Some folks find that this is good time to come in for an acupuncture tune-up.  If you'd like to schedule an appointment you can reach out at 301-408-9873 or contact us here.  You also can book an appointment online here.

Overflowing Hearts And Open Hands--A Summer Gift

Our hearts are overflowing and we are looking to share it!  Read below about how we can help you and your community experience acupuncture for free!

In just a couple of days, the summer solstice will be upon us.   The days are long, the sun is shining, the flowers, trees and veggie gardens are in full bloom.  This time of year is always a time of great joy.  I love being with my people connecting--whether its at the neighborhood pool, a summer party or sitting on the front steps with a cool drink.

Earlier this week I joined with my friends Janene Borandi of Borandi Acupuncture and Nicole Asbahr of Inner Nature, two amazing acupuncturists practicing in Laurel at an event at Earth Treks in Columbia.  Over the course of 3 hours we offered free acupuncture to almost 30 people , most of who had never experienced this beautiful medicine before.  

Janene is an avid rock climber and the people at Earth Treks are part of her beloved community.  She wanted to give back to them by offering the experience of acupuncture and Nicole and I were her willing conspirators.  Back in school, the three of us had practiced together in the student clinic on Monday and Thursday nights and it was a joy to be back in their company, sharing this medicine we love so dearly, giving it away freely.

Janene Borandi, Meg Casey And Nicole AsBahr

By the end of the night we all felt exhilarated with hearts overflowing and we reflected to one another that this is what summer is all about--connection, partnership, passion and joy--sharing what we love with our beloved communities.  And we want to do it again!  And we want to offer it to you!

At its best, Chinese medicine is preventative medicine.  While acupuncture is "good for" many conditions, truth be told, its at its best when it is simply helping your body, mind and spirit come back into balance so that you are ready to face whatever stresses life throws at you.  

We love the idea of putting together these acupuncture experiences to share and teach and treat.  So let's partner together to spread the joy of wellness!   Do you belong to a group that may want to experience acupuncture or a group that could use the gift of relaxation, detoxing, de-stressing and recharging?   Maybe its at your workplace or church or gym or neighborhood pool.  Maybe you have a community of friends interested in wellness and want to gather them in your house.   Or maybe you know a bunch of teachers who just finished the year and could use a break or you work with a group of brave but exhausted first responders or are part of a community of activists fighting the good fight.  It doesn't matter.  Your people are our people!

If you can gather together your community** we can come and deliver acupuncture treatments intended to relax, restore & recharge as well as some coaching and information about magic of Chinese medicine.  And the cost is--well--free!  If you would like to collect a small donation for your favorite charity we wouldn't object as long as it was voluntary and folks were clear where the money was going.  (If you want to collect money for one of our favorite charities, groups that offer free acupuncture treatments to support recovery from addiction to the residents of North Baltimore and groups that offer free acupuncture treatment and support to veterans and their families we can connect you)  We just want to share the power of the medicine, give the world a little taste and open our hearts.

Do you want to play with us?  If so, email me at megcaseyacupuncture (at) gmail (dot) come or use the contact me section on the website here to shoot me a message.  We can see if there is a date that works for us all.  We can't wait to partner with you! 

**We would need to gather at a place in Maryland due to licensure rules and we would need to find a time that works!

The Joy of Congee

Recovering from a bad cold or stomach bug?   Training for a marathon?  Multiple sleepless nights with your newborn baby or sick child?  Supporting an aging parent?  Working through a big life transition?  All these things can leave you feeling exhausted, whooped, beaten up or just simply empty.

What you need is a little infusion of Qi (pronounced CHEE).   Lucky for you, that is as simple as heading to the kitchen.  Qi, which loosely translates as energy or “that which animates life”, is made from the food we eat and the air we breathe.    That’s why Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of eating on a regular schedule and not skipping meals.

That said, not all meals are created equal.  Some foods are better than others at helping us make Qi.  While calories are calories, the amount of Qi in food is not simply a matter of the calories.  Some foods that are high in calories are low in Qi.  That is because Qi comes from the “life energy” of the food.    Therfor, highly processed foods and foods loaded up artificial ingredients have little Qi whereas whole or minimally processed foods that are made from plants or animals tend to have much much more.

You can boost your Qi simply by eliminating or minimizing processed foods and but sometimes we need a little extra help.  Chinese medicine often looks at food as “medicine”.  That is we can heal ourselves by choosing certain kinds of foods that help bring us into balance or support our Qi.

When you are depleted—you can turn to Congee! Congee is a magical “Qi-building” porridge.  Its rich in nourishment and because it is so easy to digest, the body is able to maximize the amount of life giving “Qi” energy it can derive from the food.  Traditionally eaten at breakfast in Asia, congee can be eaten anytime. I recommend it as a healthy breakfast choice or a snack for athletes,  growing kids or anyone who could use an extra boost.

Congee is simple to make and easy to personalize.  There are thousands of kinds of congee!  Congee is even making a splash in trendy restaurants.  I recently saw congee on the menu of the acclaimed Volt restaurant in Frederick.

Its made from rice (any kind!), liquid (I recommend chicken, beef or any kind of bone broth but you can use veggie broth or even water) and then some kind of nourishing topping.  All you need is a slow cooker or a pot and a stove with a low setting.

Basic Congee Recipe

1 cup of rice (I like using “black” rice but you can use any kind of rice that you enjoy—white, jasmine, brown, wild etc)

6 cups of liquid (beef or chicken broth is best but you can use veggie broth or water)

If using a slow cooker, put the rice and liquid together in the cooker, cover and set it on a low or low-medium setting.  Let it cook together for 4-6 hours until the mixture resembles a thick porridge. 

If you are cooking on the stove, combine ingredients, cover, bring to a boil and then turn setting down to lowest setting.  Cook for several hours checking on it from time to time until the mixture resembles a thick porridge.

Top the congee with a little bit of shredded meat or fish, steamed, roasted or fresh veggies or some ginger, onions or crunchy bits.  A traditional topping might be some shredded pork, green onions, ginger and minced radish.  You can  experiment with different taste combos.  My favorite  congee topping include roasted sweet potatoes , crumbled bacon or shredded pork, and some caramelized onions.  I also like to use shredded chicken breast, sweet potatoes, pickled beets and some sliced almonds.   I have friends who top their congee with sliced eggs and pickled or preserved veggies.  Sometimes I stick to traditionally Asian flavor combinations but you don’t have to.  You can experiment.  The internet is full of different kinds of congee recipes--you can try them all! 

Living in Harmony with the Season: Early Summer Blossoming

Oh May!   Magnificent May!  You shepherd in the early summer!  I am outside as I write this—sitting on my front steps listening to a chorus of birds and insects, watching my cats frolic and lounge in the sun.

If autumn is the time that nature lets go, winter is the time of contraction and deep rest, and spring is the time of the new life pushing forth through frozen soil, summer is the time of the full blossom, the growing and expansive season .Even though the modern calendar says that summer won’t begin for another 5 or so weeks,  look outside.   What you see—well--THIS is the energy of summer!

The trees are now in full leaf.  Summer perennials are unfolding their greenery.  Last week I took a workshop out at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton and spent my lunch periods wandering in the fields.  The blueberry bushes were in full blossom, just beginning to set fruit.  Bees were buzzing everywhere.   Birds are swooping in and out, talking to each other in a constant chorus of song.  The sun is ever-present—rising earlier and earlier, setting later and later.  From now until the Summer Solstice there is a rapid lengthening of the days, more brightness, more growth, more fullness.    This is the season of growth, unfurling, connection and brightness.

You can feel it walking on the streets.  Just few weeks ago, we may have hurried along, bundled up against the wind but now we are opening up, calling out to our neighbors, stopping to chat.  We are scheduling parties, BBQs, reaching out and looking for fun.  

In Chinese medicine we associate the summer with the element of fire—the brilliant fire of the sun and the slower, more intitmate fire of the campfire  It’s a time we come together to play, laugh, tell stories.  Summer is a season of  joy and connection.  

The ancient Chinese medical classics tell us that to live well we simply need to live in harmony with the seasons.  This seems like very basic advice and for those of us who are dancing with chronic or severe symptoms it may feel like a vast oversimplification but truth be told its the very beginning of feeling better.  

For many of us in modern society, the natural rhythms of the seasons are not truly present in our work and family life.  We are equally busy all winter and summer.  We are inside all year long.  We get up at the same time whether its June or December.  But as creatures of nature, we evolved to live differently, to follow the ebb and flow of nature—to allow for cycles of rest, work and play. 

Whether you are feeling poorly or if you are feeling just fine, you can deepen your sense of health wellness by allowing your body to sink into summer.  Here are a few practices to help your body, mind and spirit unfurl this summer:

  1. Get outside.  Move out from the air conditioning and talk a walk, noticing all the activity around you. Listen to the birds and the insects,, listen to the sounds of people on the street, to kids playing in a playground.    Greet your neighbors or the strangers on the street. 
  2. Reach out and connect. If you have a friendship that has grown quiet over the long winter months, reach out and have a heart to heart or just catch up.  Schedule a game of golf.  Take a picnic to a park together or sit on a bench with a coffee.    If they are far away, schedule a phone date.
  3. Plan for fun!   Sure there is a lot of work to be done this time of year, and make sure you create space for celebration.  Whether its a trip to the beach, a summer BBQ party,  a camping trip, or day at the pool make sure there is room for joy, good times and a change of scenery
  4. Play some games—softball, Frisbee, volleyball, tennis, sharks and minnows, tag, charades—the sky is the limit.  If its raining out sit on the porch or at the table with some good old fashioned board games.    Play is the operative word. 
  5. Do something spontaneous.  Knock off work early and head out to a movie.  Make spur of the moment reservations for a romantic dinner with your sweetie.  Dance in the rain.   Dance anywhere.
  6. Have a passionate discussion about something you love--food, art, sports, music, politics, theater,gardening, books, technology--whatever floats your boat.  Tell the world what you love about it!

If you are feeling too tired to do these things, chances are you may still need a little more rest.  Many of us struggle in the beginning of spring and summer if we have not been able to adequate let go and rest in the autumn and winter.  In that case:

7.  Honor your body’s need for R&R now by swinging on a hammock or laying down in the grass to take a nap.  Sit on the porch with some lemonade and let your neighbors greet you.  Lay on a lounge chair at the pool (with proper sunscreen of course!) with a good book.   Allow yourself to rest so that you can rise up and blossom this summer.

And of course, if you re still feeling out of sync an acupuncture appointment can help you dance with whatever life is throwing at you—be it a sore back, fatigue, digestive issues or anxiety.  You can always make an appointment and we can talk further.

 

 

Living in Harmony with the Seasons: Springtime Unleash the Fury Edition

Hey YOU!  Friends!  Are you feeling a little restless, or antsy?  Are you feeling a new surge of creativity as you dust off some old projects or imagine brand new ones?  Maybe you are feeling suddenly more frustrated, annoyed and snappy?  If you are you are not alone!  This my friends is the energy of SPRING! And we are right in the thick of it!

“Wait, what?”  you may say.  “How can you tell me its spring with the cold arctic temperatures and these crazy icy winds and all this snow?”   

While our culture marks spring as the time when the days were longer than the nights, other ancient cultures saw it differently.  These ancient traditions noticed that there was a shift this time of year in nature.  Somewhere around the time that the groundhog starts peeking out of his hole, nature starts to transition out of the quiet restful space of deep winter and into the bustling more productive space.    And its a transition that packs some punch!  

If you look past the snow and cold you can see this transition starting to take place.  Trees are starting to emerge from dormancy and the sap is starting to rise in the trees, preparing to nourish the new growth and leaves.  (This time of year marks the start of maple sugar season thanks to the upwards rising energy of spring!) If you were to dig up your daffodil and crocus bulbs,  you would see green shoots beginning to push through the cold soil.  Animals outside are beginning to stir and become more active—from the squirrels to the birds to the ground hogs that are waking up to check out their shadows.  My crazy cats are begging to be let out to run laps around the yard despite how cold it is outside.  This, the ancient told us, is spring!

The energy of Spring is a rising, punchy, “up and out” kind of energy.   Just think about the kind of “umph” that the little bulbs need to have to push their tender sprouts  through frozen soil.    This energy is felt by all living beings (including us!) at one level or another.  It’s the roar of a battle cry, the fierce kind of springing forth.  When the weather (or life) doesn’t cooperate with our plans, we can feel like a little blade of grass bumping up against a rock—or like we are hitting our heads against a wall and that can produce feelings of frustration or even anger.   But spring is also inventive.  Nature always find a way to return, despite the frozen ground or rocky soil.  Like the blades of grass that find their way to the cracks in the sidewalk, spring time energy is flexible and down right creative—solving problems  and finding a way forward, channeling the energy.  If you are feeling a little extra punchy these days, or if you are suddenly awash in creative problem solving well that’s just spring energy in you.

The energy of Spring is also quite windy.  This time of year, the wind literally seems to be ever present.   Windy can also mean shifty—gorgeous and 60 degrees out one day—freezing cold and snowy the next.  We can experience this as feeling ready to go, up and Adam, creative and excited one day—and maybe not so much the next.   We may also experience it as difficulty making decisions.  While this feeling can be frustrating, its just par for the course during a transition time.

The ancient medical texts tell us that the best way to care for our body is to live in harmony with the seasons.  Our bodies will function and heal better if we are aligned with nature, not fighting it.  What does that mean for us in this crazy “spring before spring”?

  • Move your body.  Especially if you are feeling a bit antsy, frustrated or punchy.  By moving we are allowing ourselves to go with that energy and put it to good use.  Whether it’s a brisk walk around the block, or a rousing game of hockey, basketball or kick the can, movement can help us not feel like we are stuck in frozen soil.
  • Get creative.  Creativity comes in all flavors.  Whether you are an artist, a writer, a teacher or a mechanic, a lawyer or a chef, creativity is an important part of work and play.  Whether you are creating a new work of art, or trying a new strategy, allow yourself to create something different.
  • Get perspective.  See new possibilities.    Make a plan.  This is a good time of year to try new things, change it up a bit.  Its also a great time to allow yourself to get out of the weeds and see the bigger picture or to develop a vision for your health, your career, your home life, or for the year ahead. 
  • Be patient.  With yourself and with others.  Just like the weather, things may be a bit up and down.  Listen to your body.  If you need to rest, rest.  If you need to move, move.  Allow yourself to oscillate between the rest of winter and the activity of spring and summer until you are ready to spring forth!    

Here is a little visual representation of the energy of spring time.  (It may be familiar to you Washington hockey fans.)

The spring transition can be a little tough on our bodies.  If you are looking for some support, this might be a good time to try acupuncture.  Contact me via the "get in touch" page and we can discuss whether acupuncture is right for you. 

Using Chinese Nutritional Therapy to Support Your Healing

Using Chinese Nutritional Therapy to Support Your Healing

Chinese Nutritional Therapy (CNT) is one of the core pillars of Chinese Medicine.  The ancient Chinese understood that food possesses a powerful ability to help us heal and to bring us back into balance.  After all, food and the air we breathe are the building blocks of the energy that animates our body, called Qi (pronounced CHEE).  

Read More

What is Gua Sha?

Gua sha is a Chinese medical therapy that is a gentle scraping technique.  It involved using a smooth edge to apply repeated pressured strokes over lubricated skin.  Massage oil is rubbed into the skin and then a smooth edge of a ceramic or metal tool is then placed down firmly and moved along the muscle, usually following the meridian pathways.  This technique releases heat and toxins trapped in the skin and invigorates the blood flow to the area.  Gua sha can be used to help patients with pain and is also helpful when a patient is working through a bad cold or similar illness.   

Gua sha is similar to cupping but differs in some ways.  Like cupping, gua sha can result in redness on the skin and can produce a feeling of release.  The tools are different and the reasons we might chose the techniques vary.  I tend to use cupping to help move stagnation but may choose gua sha when I think the condition is related to excess heat in the body.  

What is Cupping?

Cupping (also called fire cupping) is a therapy that has been used in China (as well as other parts of the ancient world) for thousands of years.  It involves creating a vacuum inside a cup (usually class, ceramic or plastic) and placing it immediately over the skin.  The vacuum, which is usually created by placing the cup over a lit flame) will create suction on the body, lightly drawing the skin and superficial muscles tissues up (like a reverse massage).   The skin will rise up and redden a little as blood vessels expand.  Cups are usually left on the body for 5-10 minutes.  Sometimes they are gently moved along a meridian pathway in a technique called gliding or sliding cupping.  Cupping is most often done on the back, but can be used on the neck, legs or other body areas.  

Cupping therapy is used to "unstick" stuck spots and helps relieve pain.  It can increase blood flow to an area, loosen tight muscles and can relax the nervous system.  Cupping therapy is used for many conditions from muscle pain to migraine to anxiety.  A classic use of it cupping is to loosen & clear up congestion in the chest,   We also use cupping to help remove blockages that are in the pathways (called meridians) of qi that run in the body.  

Most patients enjoy cupping.  It feels like a gentle massage and they often experience as sense of release.  Cupping is a safe, effective therapy.  The flames that are used to create the suction are never lit near the body.  If you have questions about cupping, please talk to Meg at your next appointment.