Zen“Those who act with bravery and courage will overcome diseases.” ~ Inner Classic of TCM

On my recent annual trip to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, I was so thoroughly enjoying the perfect peacefulness of the early evening and the pure bounty of nature, when there was a mishap. Somehow, while walking towards my cabin, the end of a branch jammed itself into my big toe, underneath the cuticle. OwOwwOwww!!! You might not know this about me, but I’m such a baby when it comes to these things! I really don’t like pain (that’s why I’m such a good acupuncturist). I immediately started thinking the worst: I’m going to lose my nail, I’m going to be in pain, I’m going to develop an infection out here in the wilderness.

Of course, none of that happened. It was indeed an act of bravery on my part as I dislodged all the foreign matter from underneath my big toe nail (you have no idea!). My immune system took over (with a little help from soap & water, peroxide and neosporin; and later, the hot mineral baths and coconut oil). The initial pain told me that there was an invader that broke through the skin. Then the blood pushed out any bacteria from the site of the wound. The slight swelling revealed my body’s inflammatory response to the intrusion. Clotting factor quickly closed up the wound. White blood cells and fibrin went to the area and created a scab.

In the long run, all is well. Being at Tassajara helped me to be very zen about it, and the wound healed rather quickly. In fact, the branch punctured a couple of very applicable acupuncture points (Yin Bai/Spleen 1 & Da Dun/Liver 1) which helped me to chill out even more. Needless to say, I very much enjoyed my time away – as usual!

So after that long introduction, let’s look at your amazing immune system. The immune system is made up of several components, comprising your body’s natural defense system. Those components are:

  1. White blood cells
  2. The entire digestive system, including the intestines
  3. The lymphatic system
  4. Certain organs, such as the lungs, liver and spleen
  5. The endocrine system, including the pituitary, thyroid and adrenals
  6. The skin

Sometimes we think the immune system is limited to warding off colds and flu. In reality, your immune system works in a variety of scenarios:

  1. Any kind of pathogenic factor that may invade the body, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, molds, etc. In Asian medicine, these pathogenic factors include wind, cold, heat, dampness, dryness and fire.
  2. Any injury, for example surgery, accidentally slicing your finger instead of the zucchini, or getting bruised during kick-boxing class.
  3. Allergies, including environmental sensitivities – pollen, ragweed, alfalfa, dust, cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust fumes – the list is very long.
  4. Diet and poor nutrition – sensitivities to certain foods, chemicals and food colorings, preservatives, excito-toxins, packaged-fast-convenience (non)foods.
  5. Emotions and stress – anything that causes undue stress and/or unbalanced emotions can activate the immune system.

Generally, the immune system becomes “activated” or stimulated by detecting some sort of invader in the body, whether from the external or internal environment, and immediately going to work to rid the body of the offending substance. White blood cells are considered the body’s first line of defense, including granulocytes, lymphocytes, and monocytes. It is in this collection of white blood cells that normally all types of invaders are neutralized and/or destroyed. Of course, this explanation is a gross simplification of the process that the body and its immune system go through to keep the body alive and maintain balance; it’s much too complicated to go into further detail here. The idea is that the immune system makes sure the body stays healthy and maintains homeostasis.

The immune system is very sensitive in detecting detrimental invaders. In fact, it can, in some cases, go into attack mode when it seems there is nothing to attack. This is when diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can develop.

These and many others are known as auto-immune diseases, where the body’s immune system “attacks itself.” Auto-immune diseases are often caused by a combination of factors, including (but not limited to) allergies, viral infections, dietary imbalances, exposure to toxins, stress, and endocrine imbalances. Know that this is not a default of the immune system; your body is indeed very intelligent. Once you give your body what it needs (and take away what it doesn’t need), the inflammation often abates and the imbalance goes into remission.

How can you best care for your immune system as naturally as possible?

  1. Eat good food. Nutritious food, made from wholesome ingredients and balanced for your body, will help ensure a healthy immune system.
  2. Get good rest. This is critical, as your body repairs itself during periods of rest and sleep.
  3. Exercise. This circulates not only the blood and cardiovascular system, but aids the lymphatic and other waste systems to eliminate wastes from the body.
  4. Get Acupuncture treatments. This is a great therapy to balance the immune system. Because acupuncture breaks the skin in very specific sites, the body will go into self-healing mode, targeting the organs and/or meridians accessed by the acupuncture needles. Also, herbs and supplements may be prescribed at this juncture to enhance the acupuncture treatments.
  5. Detoxify Regularly. Cleansing and detoxifying your body once or twice a year not only jumpstarts weight loss and balances the body overall, this practice also keeps inflammation at a minimum and ensures a more balanced, strong immune system.
  6. Manage stress. Deep breathing, meditation, Tai Chi, and Yoga are all helpful. Notice other ways to find and/or create happiness & joy in your life.

Liver and GallbladderThe Liver, and its companion the Gallbladder, are vital in a myriad of functions.

The Liver is simply amazing!  It participates in endocrine processes, making hormones that communicate directly with and contributing in harmonizing the pancreas, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary and hypothalamus.

The Liver also participates in the digestive system processes.  Here, the Liver makes bile, a substance that is essential for the digestion of fats.  The Gallbladder is essentially a hollow sac that stores the bile made by the Liver, and sends it through the bile duct to the large intestine as needed for proper digestion.

Another major function of the Liver is that of detoxification.  Every particle of toxic substance, be it from food, the environment, man-made toxins, or the emotions, passes through the Liver, which in turn, produces enzymes and other substances to detoxify these poisons from the body in two phases.

As you can see, proper functioning and circulation of Liver/Gallbladder energy are vital in a healthy person.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a person who has balanced Liver/Gallbladder functioning exhibits the following qualities:

  • Is a good leader
  • Is courageous
  • Handles stress very easily
  • Is a good communicator
  • Has excellent digestion
  • Tolerates ingestion of healthy fats
  • Does not experience depression
  • Has a healthy self-image

By contrast, a person who has an imbalance of Liver/Gallbladder functioning may experience the following:

  • Depression
  • Easily angered, irritable
  • Hostile behavior
  • A feeling of being ‘stuck’
  • Digestive problems, including burping, gas, bloating constipation or loose stools, or       problems when eating fatty foods
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • PMS
  • Endocrine/Hormone disorders

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Liver has earned its nickname “The General.”  It does so many things to maintain homeostasis in the body that we often take it for granted.

According to Paul Pitchford, author of Healing With Whole Foods: “…In the West, the Liver and Gallbladder are the most congested organs of the whole body.  It is rare to meet someone in the industrialized West who has a balanced Liver…”

In the Five Elements of TCM, if one element is out of balance, it can throw the other elements out of balance, affecting other organ systems.  Often, decongesting and restoring proper functioning to the Wood Element, which is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder, will also bring other disharmonies back into balance.

The Importance of Liver/Gallbladder Cleansing

Periodic cleansing of the Liver and Biliary systems is the best way to decongest and restore functioning to the Liver/Gallbladder; it represents an aspect of preventive medicine at its best.

The human body is a microcosm of nature.  As such, with the change of the seasons, there is a shift that happens in nature.  This is the perfect time to make room for a similar shift in the body – to let go of that which no longer serves, and make room for the new – the re-NEWed energy that contributes to strength, vigor, health and longevity.

Cleansing the Liver requires several components, including diet, herbs and movement to name a few.  These and other components allow for the gentle, complete decongesting and cleansing of the Liver and Gallbladder while at the same time bringing all other systems into stronger alignment.

It is best to complete a detox program under the care of a health practitioner who will examine you and your needs, and then design a program with your individual needs at the forefront.

Spring is a great time of year!  It is a time of renewed energy, new growth, and yet balance.  Spring is also a time to take care of your Liver/Gallbladder through detoxification – Spring Cleansing.  You owe it to your health – your longevity.

Poppies in SpringAfter the dark, cold Winter where energy is stored and people tend toward hibernation and contraction, Spring is a welcomed time of new growth and renewed energy. Year after year, I marvel at the new buds and flowers, the birds chirping, and those bright green insects that seem to appear out of nowhere!

Spring is the time of the Vernal Equinox. Temperatures are mild – not hot or cold; daylight and darkness are in relatively equal proportion. It’s a step in the direction toward summer, and as such, it’s helpful to remember that it’s not summer yet! Sometimes we want to jump from winter lifestyle to summer lifestyle without recognizing the transition – and indeed the wonderful celebratory time of Spring.

According to the Five Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Spring is the Wood Element. Following are some of Wood’s correspondences:

  • Season: Spring
  • Direction: East
  • Color: Green
  • Taste: Sour/Astringent
  • Emotion: Anger
  • Organs: Liver/Gallbladder

These correspondences each fit into proper perspective, given the tenets of TCM and the observations of nature.

So dress moderately, wear a light scarf to protect yourself from the Spring winds, and eat simply – in fact, this is the perfect time for a Liver Cleanse – to allow your body to transition out of Winter and into Spring.

Cleansing and detoxifying your body can help jumpstart weight loss and reduce the body fat incurred during the winter months. It can also reduce allergies, enhance sleep, and balance hormones, and more, to bring your body into full harmony with the season.

Stay tuned for more information about Spring Cleansing, and keeping the Liver and Gallbladder healthy!

Laughter is the best medicineThe holidays often bring a time of great family time, tasty treats, and heartfelt giving.  This can also be a time of high stress – more so than any other time of the year.  The suicide and crime rates tend to increase, and individuals and families may seem to experience more feelings of loss during this time of year.  With so many expectations placed on us, stressors can bring joy from being with family and friends, as well as difficulty in coping with life.

Stress may manifest in our lives and society in many ways.  Whether we live in an urban or rural environment, stressors are many:

  • Making ends meet
  • Raising children
  • Meeting deadlines, imposed by work, society, nature or self
  • Being social with family friends, colleagues, etc.
  • Sitting in traffic
  • Over-booking/over-committing
  • Over-working
  • Setting proper boundaries with others
  • Worrying about loved ones who are ill or who have chosen damaging paths for themselves
  • Trauma, past or present

How can too much stress impact your health?

It has a great influence in several ways.

Being stressed out tells your body to release more of the hormones adrenaline (aka epinephrine) and cortisol.  Adrenaline is the fight-flight hormone housed in the adrenal cortex.  Designed to protect you against life-threatening attackers like bears, tigers or oncoming vehicles, adrenaline is used in very minute amounts rather infrequently as a source of pure energy.  This energy is to be used in emergency situations to keep a person alive, as opposed to the day-to-day energy that is needed to thrive.

Today, high stress can engender a constant low-grade flow of adrenaline in the body, setting it up for adrenal fatigue and inflammatory illness.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is normally released every morning to wake us up, give us energy, and allow us to move through our day with ease and grace.  Toward the evening, cortisol levels in the body drop, allowing us to naturally move into a restful, sleep state.  It is during this sleep state that the body’s immune and endocrine systems repair and balance the body.

When there is high stress, cortisol works in concert with adrenaline, continuing to release high levels of the steroid.  The problems resulting from this combination are many:

  • Insomnia
  • Palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Achy joints
  • Hormone imbalances for both women and men
  • Weight gain
  • Chronic inflammation processes, like arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes
  • Auto-Immune diseases, like Crohn’s, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

So, how do you deal with the stressors of life?

There are six ways, from this writer’s vantage point:

  • Meditation
  • Good Nutrition
  • Supplementation
  • Exercise/Movement/Deep Breathing
  • Natural treatment modalities like acupuncture
  • Laughter

Meditation – or being still – helps us to re-connect with our Source, our Higher Self on a regular basis.  This not only gives us better focus, but is also a reminder that many of today’s stresses can be controlled simply by being patient and loving with ourselves and others.

Good Nutrition gives your body natural energy, allowing it to be fully functional.  Eating high-quality food at regular intervals keeps blood sugar even.  This makes it possible to more easily handle certain stressors that might normally seem daunting.

Supplementation is vital, as many of us are missing those very nutrients in our diet that will balance the hormone and immune systems and relieve inflammatory processes caused by chronic imbalance.

Exercise, movement and deep breathing do a few things.  They:

  • Tone the body
  • Help to burn calories
  • Assist with weight loss
  • Increase oxygen levels in the body
  • Increase blood circulation
  • Release dopamine and endorphins that help stop pain and elevate the mood

Treatment with acupuncture and several other modalities of traditional Chinese medicine can do the following to jumpstart your body to heal:

  • Balance all hormones, including adrenaline & cortisol
  • Aid with sleep and relaxation
  • Reduce/manage pain
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Reduce cravings for certain substances/foods that are detrimental to health
  • Reduce weight
  • Elevate mood
  • Regulate the immune system
  • Relieve and reduce inflammation
  • Balance blood circulation

Laughter is a must.  Whether you like to watch funny movies, your favorite comedy show, or engage in an activity that engenders healthy laughter, this contributes greatly in reducing stress by making life a little bit lighter.

We will often have stressors showing up in life.  But stress is manageable and doesn’t have to impact our health.  When taking proper precautions and utilizing treatment methods outlined above, we can unplug from the matrix and manage that stress – like water off a duck’s back!

HAVE A HAPPY, HEALTHY, FUN, SAFE, STRESS-FREE HOLIDAY SEASON!

Health MatrixI consider myself an intelligent person.  Logic and rationalization of what makes sense in life have always been important to me.  I suspect you had similar experiences as well.  As a result, life has been a journey of adventures, discoveries, and yes, some hard-learned lessons.

Nutrition, especially as it relates to the U.S. food industry, is an area with which I have found myself preoccupied over the past several years.  I have attempted to use logic and rationalization in order to fully understand what it is truly all about.

There have been many “eureka” moments on the subject of nutrition.  But what I have recently become aware of is that even those “eureka” moments were fueled – partly by my own ignorance – and partly by external forces like the media, the various food industries, the FDA and the AMA, to name a few.

While one’s awareness is constantly changing and updating, a major shift in my awareness started about two years ago when I began coursework, did research and wrote a thesis on type 2 diabetes.

What I found did a few things:

  • Outlined the sheer worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes, not just isolated to certain groups of people in the U.S.
  • Virtually everyone is affected by these trends, whether they develop Diabetes or not.
  • A proverbial monster has been created in that the eradication of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases is virtually impossible without grassroots education and restructuring of nutrition and lifestyle.

My very own beliefs about health and nutrition have been turned upside-down as result.  I realized I have been “plugged into the matrix,” unconscious and unaware of many myths about nutrition that affect our health in negative ways.  I suspect the same may be true for you as well.

Some of these myths include:

  • A low-fat diet is the healthiest diet
  • A low-fat diet is best when wanting to lose weight
  • Coconut oil and butter are ‘bad’ for you
  • Multivitamins with megadoses of synthetic isolates are good for your body

On the other hand, there are certain facts that do remain true:

  • Despite decades of low-fat eating, cardiovascular disease remains the #1 cause of death in the U.S.
  • Cancer is the 2nd cause of death in the U.S.
  • Despite public health education on healthy eating, type 2 diabetes has exploded exponentially and worldwide in the past 50 years, with no sign of letting up
  • Auto-immune disease and other chronic illnesses are also increasing at a very high rate, with 1/11 Americans contracting these illnesses
  • Among industrialized nations, U.S. citizens spend the most money on pharmaceuticals, yet rank #45 in the world in terms of good health practices, with several non-industrialized nations faring better than the U.S.
  • For the first time in recorded history, it is estimated that the average lifespan of our children’s generation will actually decrease!

Please join me these next few months in a series of presentations and discussions that will explore the truth about nutrition and how it affects your health.  Unplug yourself from the matrix and begin to truly think outside the box!  Allow right-thinking to emerge for the sake of yourself and your family, your community – indeed your planet.

Doris-Owanda Johnson, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Delicious cleansing green (long) beansOne of my favorite foods is green beans (aka string beans). The Asian variety is known as long beans; these are my absolute favorite, as they have no strings to speak of, are easy to clean and prepare, and are very tender. These are excellent in stir-fries. Green beans can be used for stir-fries if they are young, or for soups or stews if they are a little tougher and stringy. For ultimate cleansing, they can be eaten raw, juiced or blended with other vegetables into a cleansing drink.

Green beans are the ultimate liver food. They have the wonderful quality of detoxifying the liver. There are carbohydrates/starches in green beans so that blood sugar doesn’t bottom out. And, they are an excellent source of fiber to help sweep out debris from the colon. For a Fall cleanse, green beans can make up an important part of the cleansing process.

According to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), green beans are warming and have a sweet taste. In addition to cleansing the liver, they can be used to help alleviate fullness in the chest, burping, cough, hernia, chronic diarrhea and back pain due to kidney weakness. Green beans are also very energizing and tonifying to the body, addressing fatigue and weakness due to deficiency.

The accompanying recipe is very adaptable. It can be used during a cleanse, as a side dish, or as a main entrée with added cubes of tofu, tempeh, chicken or other meat. It is delicious for any occasion. Enjoy!

Stir-Fried Long Beans:

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ pound mushrooms, sliced. Shiitake, Portobello or brown button mushrooms are all good.
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
½ medium onion, sliced thin
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 bunch Long Beans, rinsed and cut into 3-inch pieces (or one pound Blue Lake or French green beans, ends snapped)
2 Tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. Heat olive oil in wok or skillet. Add the mushrooms and the ginger; stir-fry for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add onion; stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add garlic and long beans. Stir-fry to mix ingredients.
  3. Add Aminos and sesame oil. Cover, lower flame, and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.