Autumn Vibes

With the equinox only a few days away, we are soon to be entering Autumn, the season of the Metal element in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Like the seasonal cycles of nature, the energy of the body also changes. As we move from a hot and sunny summer to a cool and crispy fall, our yin and yang energy begins to shift as well. This is a time when yang energy moves from a state of full expansion to a gradual state of decline  while our Yin energy increasingly begins to ripen.  

The organ systems related to metal and Fall are the Lung and Large Intestine. Similar to other modalities, the Lung system in TCM is associated with breath and Large Intestine with the elimination of waste. Thus Fall is an ideal time to breathe in new harvest and to let go of what no longer serves us.

 It is also a great time to start nourishing our Yin energy by eating more root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes.  This ensures a smooth seasonal transition from the cyclical ebb and flow of yang and yin energy; the contrasting yet complimentary pair which create the foundation of life and nature.  

Waking up in the middle of the night, perhaps your internal Bio Clock is trying to tell you something?

For thousands of years, the sleep and wake cycles of human beings have largely evolved to be in synchronistic formation with the rhythms of nature and cycles of the seasons. Before electricity, people would naturally wake up upon sunrise and fall asleep shortly after sundown.  Sleep disorders were rare hundreds of years ago and infrequently mentioned in the older classical Chinese medicinal and acupuncture texts. It wasn’t until the last hundred or so years after the advancement of modern technology that human beings started to experience more sleep issues.  Modern technology, although wonderful in its myriad of positive contributions to the human experience, is not always as conducive when it comes to natural sleep bio- rhythms. In modern times, we often find ourselves awake and overstimulated long after sundown.  This desynchronization with natural rhythms can adversely affect our capacity to indulge in a restful night of sleep and could eventually, over time, negatively impact our health. 

 As an Acupuncturist, it is part of my job to evaluate biological rhythms and patterns within the body.   When a patient comes into my clinic with specific sleep concerns, I consider many factors, including the natural flow of vital energy or Qi through the body as it corresponds to the ancient system of the Chinese Bio-Clock.  Although developed over 2000 years ago, the Chinese Bio-Clock is strikingly similar to the more modern Nobel Prize winning concept of Circadian Biology or Chronobiology as both systems explore the way in which internal clocks or circadian rhythms affect sleep and the internal organs.  The main difference being that TCM evaluates daily rhythms and imbalances through a more energetic lens based on the way in which Qi circulates through the organs within a 24-hour period and Circadian Biology assesses daily oscillations on a more molecular level.  Both perspectives are significant and add valuable insight into various physiological processes of the human body.

For Acupuncturists, understanding the energetic rhythms of the Chinese Bio-Clock is especially valuable when treating sleep disturbances, especially for those who are prone to waking up in the middle of the night at specific times and unable to fall easily back to sleep again. 

In the Chinese Bio-Clock system each meridian represents an organ system within the body. Each organ system is more strongly affected by qi flow during certain hours.  Below we will examine the Chinese Bio-Clock organ systems, the corresponding hours of predominant energetic activity and how these rhythms affect sleep.

9 PM - 11 PM / Triple Burner

In TCM theory the Triple Burner system is known to control fluid metabolism and can be closely tied to the endocrine and lymphatic systems. Most energetically active during 9pm-11pm, the Triple Burner is most efficient during what ideally would kick off the first half of the sleep cycle, initiating Slow Wave Sleep (SWS). During SWS the hormone cortisol is reduced, allowing the body to better relax and restore itself. Some of the best physiological restoration occurs during the first phase of sleep so it’s no surprise that the Triple Burner is most active during these hours.

 11 PM - 1 AM  / Gall Bladder

The gall bladder stores and secretes bile, which greatly aids in digestion and helping to break down fats. In TCM, it also responsible for tendons and sinews as well as decision making and courage. Sometimes waking up during gallbladder hours can signify a digestive issue, tendon issue or a difficult decision. If you find you are waking up between these hours it might be best to avoid fatty foods and snacking before bed. 

1 AM - 3 AM  /  Liver

In TCM, the liver is responsible for detoxification of harmful substances and emotional processing. It is associated with the emotion anger. Thus If you find that you are waking up during liver hours, than you might be in a period of high stress or have unresolved anger.  Consider constructive ways to unwind such as acupuncture, exercise, deep breathing, meditation.  It is also beneficial to stay away from unhealthy foods and alcohol as they can hinder the liver’s ability to efficiently detoxify the body.

3 AM - 5 AM  /  Lung

The lung system in TCM is related to the Immune and respiratory system and its corresponding emotion is grief. Waking up during lung hours may possibly denote feelings of depression, sadness or grief.   Other imbalances within the lung system include allergies, colds, asthma, shortness of breath, respiratory or immune conditions. If waking up during lung hours, consider yoga and deep breathing exercises to help strengthen and improve lung capacity. It is also advisable to address feelings of sadness or grief by talking to a friend, loved one or therapist or through meditation or journaling.

Realizing the connection between how energy moves through both the Bio-Clock organ system and within nature during daily and seasonal cycles can be of great benefit to our health and wellbeing.  In Chinese medicine there is an old adage “As above so below” which helps us understand congruences between the cyclical fluctuations of nature in relation to the rhythms and cycles of the human body.  In other words, it is as though the human body can be viewed as a miniature representation of the natural world.  It’s also a good reminder to better align ourselves with more natural cycles. This could be as easy as not using electronic devices an hour or two before sleep or for a more systemic whole-body approach you could realign your natural sleep rhythms through acupuncture.  Acupuncture is more than just the placement of needles; its core foundation is based on a deep understanding of complex patterns and cycles at work within the body.  It operates on both a physical and energetic level to restore the body back into its natural balance and rhythm.  Acupuncture does not only serve to improve the quality of your sleep but also greatly improves your mood and overall health.

Astra Gordon LAc. ACN

Beat the Heat, Energize Naturally!

Summer in Austin can be loads of fun, but for many of us it can also be a challenge. As temperatures climb, it is not uncommon to feel more fatigued and less motivated. Fortunately, there are many ways to naturally offset the heat and lethargy so you can enjoy all the merriment that summer has to offer.

Taking a holistic approach can be an extremely beneficial way to help give our bodies that extra boost.  The system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses acupuncture, herbal medicine and food therapy as a means of supporting health and renewing energy. According to TCM theory, there is a distinct form of vital energy called “qi” that circulates through meridian pathways within the body. When qi gets stuck within a meridian, it can create a wide array of negative symptoms including the feeling of low energy, lethargy and fatigue. When qi is flowing smoothly, one feels far more energized and motivated. Heat is one of many pathogenic factors that can obstruct the flow of qi, which is why it is common to feel an increased sense of fatigue during the summer months.  

It is not that there is a lack of energy in the body, it is more that the energy is encumbered and needs to be redistributed. Being one of the oldest forms of medicine in the world, acupuncture is a great way to balance qi, clear excess heat, restore energy and furnish the body with a renewed sense of health, vitality and momentum.  

Herbal medicine is a fine complement to acupuncture. Not only are herbs jam-packed with nutrients and minerals, they also have a profound effect on the body, on both a biological and an energetic levelAlthough generally safe, herbs work differently on different people. For example, a particular herb may have an extremely beneficial effect on one individual and very little effect on another. Every human being has their own unique physical biosphere with many distinctive factors to be taken into consideration, which is why it is important to consult with a licensed Acupuncturist or trained herbalist prior to using herbs. With that said, here are some of my favorite energy boosting herbs:

Astragalus (Radix Astragali) is an adaptogenic herb frequently used in TCM, Ayurveda and Western herbalism. Used for over 2,000 years, astragalus helps to increase the body’s basal metabolic rate, improves physical stamina and boosts the immune system. (1)

Eleuthero root, also known as Siberian Ginseng, is another potent herb used to increase energy and enhance physical endurance. A fantastic herb for people who participate in sports or high impact workouts, although you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy its benefits.

Ganoderma is a highly praised mushroom that increases energy, enhances the immune and respiratory system as well as inhibits the growth of bacteria.(2) In Chinese, its name is Ling Zhi which translates to “Spiritual Potency” and in Japan it is known as Reishi, which translates to “king of herbs. ” With its wide array of health benefits, it’s no wonder this herb has received royal commendations.

Like many energy-boosting herbs, astragalus, eleuthero and ganoderma are warm in nature, thus it’s a good idea to add cooling foods to the diet when using these herbs in the summertime. In fact, adding cooling foods to your summer diet is a great idea in general! Foods that are considered to be cold in temperature play a key role in keeping your body cool while also helping you to maintain energy and stamina during the sweltering summer months.

Here are a few delicious summertime foods that will help to keep you cool and feeling refreshed:

Cucumber is fine addition to salad or by itself, fresh cucumbers are made up mostly of water and help keep the body cool and hydrated during the hot summer months.  

Mung Beans are rich in iron and B vitamins, and are considered a top-notch champion when it comes to clearing heat in the body. These beans are also highly effective in the treatment of heat stroke and fever.

Watermelon is made up of 92% water, and besides being a favorite picnic treat and summertime staple, it is rich in Vitamin A and C. Watermelon has a powerful cooling effect on the body, helping to remove excess heat and keep the body hydrated.  

Staying energized and cool in Austin can be difficult in the summer but with the right tools it is certainly not impossible. Acupuncture, herbal medicine and nutrition are safe and effective ways to naturally kick start your energy while also providing the body with nourishment and strength so you can enjoy the summer with vigor and vitality.   

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