ACUPUNCTURE during CHEMO and RADIATION THERAPIES
Living & Being, September 2009
When facing cancer, chemotherapy and radiation are strong, aggressive medicines. If you choose these forms of treatment, you want to be equally strong and aggressive in supporting the body’s physical and emotional well-being.
While cancer care may feel like a full-time job, there are ways to make it easier on yourself. Complementary and alternative medicine and a self-care regimen will ease the body’s physical and emotional stress while undergoing cancer treatments.
Studies show that up to 80 percent of cancer patients are seeking complementary medicine, the numbers increasing over the years. Acupuncture is a perfect complement to Western medical treatment. It can address side effects of chemo and radiation and alleviate them in varying degrees. Nausea and vomiting, fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, muscle and joint aches, pain and numbness in the extremities, the burning and drying effects associated with radiation, general pain management and stress are among the areas acupuncture helps tremendously.
In 1997, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health issued a consensus statement on acupuncture that reported, “Studies of both acupuncture and electroacupuncture show that the techniques can be effective for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced acute nausea and produce few or no side effects.”
As an acupuncturist with a position at a cancer care center in Manhattan, as well as a private practice locally and in New York City, I see proof of this on a daily basis. In addition to alleviating physical side effects from chemo and radiation, acupuncture greatly reduces stress.
Dealing with cancer is extremely stressful, even if you feel you’re handling the situation in the best possible way. It’s a huge change in your daily routine – from managing many additional appointments to time away from family and work. Factor in potential side effects and emotional concerns. During a stressful life period, we get sick more often, we throw our back out, we may get headaches, our digestion may go off.
An Acupuncture Treatment
I’ll tell you about a woman who came to the clinic. She was in the middle of a six-week round of chemotherapy and was extremely nauseous, unable to sleep, frustrated and very stressed. I read her chart, had her sit down as we discussed her symptoms, her emotional state, her concerns.
Then I took her pulse. In Chinese medicine, there are 12 pulses – six on each wrist, corresponding to the 12 organ systems. This lets the practitioner know which pathway of qi, or energy, to consider needling. Upon inspecting her tongue, I noted the color, shape and quality of the tongue coat, and saw the veins under the tongue were engorged as well.
The appearance of her tongue and the quality of her pulse pointed to heat in the body, qi stagnation (energy stuck in the body, not able to move freely) and blood stasis. Her pulse was tight and wiry in one position. She said she typically reacts to stress with a sense of frustration and anger, which would explain, in part, that quality.
I had her lie on the table, and proceeded to a few gentle adjustments to her feet, a way of grounding and calming the patient. A deep sigh showed the relaxation had started.
Explaining that I was going to do a very gentle clearing treatment, I showed her the needles. Hair-thin, sterile, disposable metal needles are inserted into selected points on the body. Fairly painless, the patient often experiences a subtle rush of energy emanating from the needle site.
When all the needles were in – seven in all – I went to each one and turned it gently. I checked her pulse again, and saw the wiry pulse was softer, while the extremely deficient pulse in another location was starting to come up. I let her rest a while, returning every few minutes to check on her, reading her pulse, ensuring her comfort.
When the needles were taken out, I asked her to take a few breaths before getting off the table. “I can actually do a full inhale,” she said. “Before the treatment, I couldn’t do that!”
She looked much different – calmer, happier, the light returning to her eyes. She said she was experiencing a sense of lightness, “as if this weight were taken off me. Does that make sense to you?”
I assured her this experience was completely understandable. As human beings, we store energy in our body, which are reactions to physical and emotional trauma. Whether it’s muscle stiffness or pain, worry, anxiety or fear, this energy is not beneficial. It can deplete our resources and/or cause stagnation and blockages – all of which cause pain in some form.
The next week, she said her nausea was significantly better, she was sleeping better. “I feel like I’m more … ME , and my husband noticed that as well,” she said. Over time, we addressed other symptoms that came up and treated them accordingly.
This patient extended the effectiveness of the acupuncture – and medical treatments – by simple self-care steps as well. She continued with acupuncture treatments.
She is expecting her first child this fall.
The simplest explanation is that acupuncture unblocks energy stuck in the body. When this unblocking occurs, the body resumes its free flow of energy and blood. The practice of acupuncture has been recorded for the past 2,000 years, and archaeological findings suggest the process goes back 5,000 years. Theory and philosophy can be traced back 8,000 years. While Chinese medicine is complex with an extensive historical span, the simplicity of the system makes it timeless. With its many approaches and styles, this basic tenet of clearing blocks is applicable to each and every symptom – whether physically or emotionally induced.
For instance, a patient’s backache could result from the physical placement of a port or from stress – holding the body in a tense, rigid position. When we are tense, we tend to take shallow breaths, which do not allow the free flow of oxygen, blood and energy. The ribs do not expand to their full capacity, the muscles attached to them do not stretch adequately. Atrophy sets in, pain ensues. Nausea, for example, can be chemically induced and aggravated by tension and worry.
While acupuncture addresses mind and body pain at the same time, a practitioner may choose to take a more intentioned approach with a particular treatment. Working with patients in a cancer care center, some of the most powerful sessions had a psycho-emotional focus. While chemo and radiation are physical substances and surgery is a physical intervention -†a diagnosis of cancer is an emotional turning point in anyone’s life.
From a scientific point of view, cells have mutated incorrectly. From a psycho-emotional perspective, there is an emotional counterpart to the cancer’s genesis, progression and prognosis. We are not just body parts strung together. Physical and emotional health and well-being are connected.
Your Emotional Well-Being
When you have cancer, it is a call to change and can be a powerful teacher. Take charge of your healing. Surround yourself with people who inspire and support you.
Delegate jobs to family, friends and loved ones. Ask for assistance – most people are ready and willing to help out, but they may not know the best way to do that. If you’re too tired to prepare your daily veggies, ask a friend to come over and help wash, cut up and store them for you.
Cry, let your grief out. And then let it go and note all the things in your life for which you have gratitude.
Empower yourself by taking charge of your healing. Choose the best practitioners for you – which may not be your best friend’s practitioners. Good nutrition, sufficient sleep, reducing stress and careful exercise are all key factors.
Check in with your goals – at every opportunity. Disabling emotions will cloud that goal vision. It is up to you to act despite those depleting feelings. As you face treatments, take medicines, live with a health regimen – remember it is all for the purpose of being healthy.
Act with confidence. Be confident you are healthy. The word comes from the Latin con fidele, meaning “with faith.” Not with proof, not with a guarantee. With faith.
Proceed on your health journey with confidence, and be well.
The Importance of Self Care during Cancer Treatments
While cancer care may feel like a full-time job, there are ways to make it easier on yourself.
This article offers support suggestions for you to consider. Taking on one’s healing will augment every treatment the patient is utilizing – from medical care to any complementary or alternative therapy. You will see that a little effort initially will result in greater energy, less stress, and a more direct route to healing yourself.
360 degree Breathing
When we are stressed, or in pain, the breath almost always become more shallow and less effective. Breathing sends oxygen, qi (energy) and blood throughout the body, all necessary for the body’s healthy maintenance. Most people in pain or stress breathe shallowly, and more pain and stress result.
Try this type of breathing throughout the day and see it lessen your stress reaction, and lower your pain level:
Start with an exhale, through the mouth. Push out all the air you can, a much longer exhale than usually taken. As you do this, push your abdomen in, as if you were deflating your body.
Breathe in through the nose, and as you inhale, push out your abdomen, expanding it to accommodate a full breath. You might want to rest your hand just below your belly button and watch it move outward with the inhalation and inward as you exhale. Inhale, inhale some more, hold it to for a few counts, extending the abdomen. Do this several times.
When this is comfortable, continue with this style of breathing, but with the next inhale, feel your entire torso – back and front – expand with the breath. We have pleura of the lung located along the back – so fill them up with air. Remember to keep your shoulders down.
Breathe like this a few times, until it’s comfortable. With the next inhale, imagine your entire body filling up with air, as if you were a balloon expanding. Head, torso, arms, abdomen, legs …. everything expands 360 degrees.
Wrist Bands for Nausea
Motion sickness bands (also called Sea bands) can decrease nausea and vomiting. A small bead embedded in an elasticized wristband presses down on an acupuncture point, PC6, on the wrist. Controlled clinical trials have cited the efficacy of using this acupuncture point to control nausea and vomiting during chemo and radiation, with its effectiveness prolonged by using acupressure (meaning slight pressure applied to this point. Exploratory studies in hospitals have shown the efficacy of wrist bands for during cancer treatments.
Note: it is very important to correctly position the band – the bead should rest three thumb widths (the patient’s thumb as a measure), above the wrist crease on the palm side of the arm. There are two tendons that are there, which you can easily see by pressing all your fingers together. Place the bead between them. There is a small percentage of people who have only one tendon there (a normal aberration), so if you’re one of them, adjust the bead towards the pinky side of the one tendon.
A Simple Qi Gong Exercise
Maintaining a balance of yin and yang within the body is crucial to health maintenance. Yin is moisture, darkness, shade, cool, inward. Yang is dry, light, sunny, hot, outward. Chemo and radiation treatments are very yin depleting. This is why there may be symptoms of dry mouth, hot flashes, dry eyes, dry skin. One way to restore the body’s yin is with this simple qi gong exercise. “Qi” means energy and “gong” means skill. Qi gong is the skill of attracting vital energy, a self-healing art that combines movement and meditation.
Sit in a comfortable position. Draw up saliva in your mouth, as if you were going to spit. On a scientific level, there are many enzymes in saliva that initiate digestion long before the food reaches the digestive tract. Most of eat so rapidly, on the run, that we do not take advantage of these valuable enzymes.
As the saliva increases in your mouth, imagine an opening in the top of your head, in the area of the fontanelle. Picture a stream of light entering that opening and slowly streaming throughout your body. Swish the saliva around your mouth – as if it were a mouthwash. Rub your tongue over the front, back and sides of your teeth and mouth. Then swallow your saliva. Repeat this three times.
As stated above, qi gong combines movement and meditation and this pairing is important. There is an intention of increasing the saliva, moving it around the mouth, swallowing – combined with the light visualization. All of that gives this simple exercise its power.
While this exercise at first may sound a little off-putting, try it for a few days and see an alleviation of your body’s dryness.
Foods to help cool off from radiation
If you are undergoing radiation, add in some cooling foods – not cold foods, which can be too much for the system. Our bodies register a temperature of 98.6 F normally, and when you add frozen or cold foods or iced drinks, the body must work harder to regain its normal temperature. The digestive system is adversely affected by too-cold foods as well, and during this time in particular, you want to make everything easiest for the body, as it is already stressed enough.
Here are some food tips to consider:
Watermelon is extremely cooling (consider not having it ice cold from the fridge).
All melons (the white of the melons is very cooling, so don’t throw that away).
Asparagus (clears heat).
All fruits and vegetables as they are cooling.
Gently poached pears aid digestion and are very tonifying for the lung.
Cooked sweet potatoes, yams, yucca, carrots are great when you’re feeling energy deficient.
Go easy on the raw foods, as they are harder to digest, and you want to make everything easier for the body at this time. Juicing is one method you can use – watermelon and cucumbers are nice to juice together. Don’t roast or BBQ too much, steaming or light sauteeing is preferable
Honeysuckle tea – very cooling and anti-inflammatory.
These teas are found at Asian markets and some health food stores
You could add honey to the tea, which is soothing to the throat.
Drinking nettles infusions (like a tea, but steeped four hours minimum) will restore balance, as it is blood-building and yin-restorative. It is also excellent for adrenal fatigue. The herb leaves are used – not the tea bags, which are not strong enough. The entire household benefits from drinking nettles.
To make an infusion, you will need:
– Nettles in bulk – not tea bags.
– A large glass jar with a tight lid. Ball jars are best; the half of full gallon-sized iced tea jars work well, too.
Fill the jar with a few inches of nettles and fill to the brim with boiling water. Cover and let steep 4-8 hours.
Strain and drink. Refrigerate what’s not used. May be reheated gently. Add honey or sweetener if desired.
To keep the glass from breaking when filling with boiling water:
- Make sure the glass jar is at room temperature.
- Don’t have the glass jar sit on cold surface
- Don’t let the kettle touch the edge of the glass.
A Visualization Technique to help Hot Flashes
Heat rises, so when you’re feeling waves of heat, ground yourself and send that heat downwards. When an acupuncturist is needling a patient, he or she can help the person send the qi, or energy, in different directions. With a little practice, you can do this yourself. One way is to visualize your feet in a cool stream. Feel the water flow over your feet, put your attention and focus on grounding your feet.
You can from time to time, literally run your feet under cool running tap water, or even soak them in a room temperature / slightly warm footbath. Maybe add in an essential oil, such as lavender. (You could add the oils to some baking soda or epsom salts and then disperse them in the water to slow down the oils’ evaporation rate).
I have seen patients deter an oncoming hot flash using the visualization technique. Over time, it has been reported to me this was an extremely useful tool to reduce them all around. It’s pretty simple, not very time-consuming and costs nothing.
This is a homeopathic remedy, which can be taken internally (tablets) or applied topically in gel form. The gel or cream may be applied to bruises (on unbroken skin only). The tablets could be taken before an operation or medical procedure to help reduce post-operative bruising and swelling.
Since homeopathic preparations contain extremely small or undetectable amounts; they are safe and without undesirable side-effects. They can be purchased at any health food store and many drugstores. Follow the package directions for dosages. If taking arnica homeopathic tablets before an operation, take it 2-3x a day before, then frequently following the procedure – every hour to start, then decreasing the dosage. If you have been advised to fast before a procedure, do not take anything during the fasting parameters.
For best results, do not eat or drink for 15 minutes before or after taking this homeopathic remedy. Also note: this is a homeopathic preparation of arnica, not an herbal extract.
Herbs and Supplements
Err on the side of caution when taking any supplement or herb. Some of them may interact adversely with the Western biomedical treatments you are undergoing. Let your doctor know what you are doing to support the Western medicine. You want a partner, not an adversary, in your healing approach. It’s also important to let your complementary and alternative medicine practitioner know what medications and procedures you are using.
interesting blog sections, see Susanne Dixon
–> Read the 7 Levels of Healing article – all parts of it. Incredibly inspiring!
–> This is a subscription site – your doctor or cancer care center may subscribe to it
Living & Being, January 2009
BE PROACTIVE TO STAY WELL
It’s January -the depths of winter. The holiday rush is over, life returns to normal. But if your normal is a winter filled with colds, flu and fatigue, you might want to consider some alternative ways to remedy your health.
One reason we get sick so often during the colder months is we are not in alignment with the environment. Look around you – animals hibernate, trees and plants are in a dormant state, the nights are long, activity is minimal. Nature is resting in preparation for the outburst of spring.
So how does that apply to your busy life?
If you look at your schedule, most likely there are too many events and activities and not enough rest. The holidays were stressful and activity-filled – an antithesis to the inward retreat nature undergoes.
If this pattern continues, fatigue, burnout, illness may progress. See what you can cut from your schedule. Look at your calendar and write in some time to simply regenerate. Make sure you and your family have enough sleep. Simplify. It’s better for you to choose your schedule than leaving it up to a cold or flu to make the choices for you.
Take out some of the events, but add in a few simple health remedies to support the immune system during the winter months:
Drink water -even if you think you’re not thirsty. You should drink enough fluids that when you go to the bathroom, the urine comes out a light yellow. And leave out the ice – drink warm or room-temperature fluids. Your body is already working overtime keeping itself warm – it’s 98.6 degrees in there – adding in freezing water only wastes energy the body could better use to maintain the immune system.
Use a neti pot
When the mucous membranes dry out, they become more susceptible to germs and viruses. A neti pot flushes the nasal passages with warm salt water and is an invaluable tool for sinus health. Sold at most health food stores, a neti pot looks like a ceramic Aladdin’s lamp.
If you’re feeling congested of if you tend to have sinus, nasal or upper respiratory infections, use a neti pot daily – or use it weekly as a preventive measure.
ere are some tips on using on proper nasal rinsing with a neti pot:
1. The easiest way to use a neti pot is in the shower, but it can also be done over the sink.
2. Fill the pot with warm water and add a quarter-teaspoon of finely ground sea salt.
3. Turn your head to one side over the sink, keeping the forehead at the same height as the chin, or slightly higher.
4. Gently insert the spout in the upper nostril so it forms a seal. Raise the neti pot so the saline solution flows out the lower nostril. If it drains out of your mouth, lower your forehead in relation to your chin. Some solution may travel to the back of your throat. Try not to swallow it – spit it out.
5. When the neti pot is empty, gently blow your nose.
6. Refill the neti pot and repeat on the other side.
** If the nasal rinsing causes a burning sensation, lower the amount of salt and adjust water temperature.
Install humidifiers in the home
Drinking water and using a neti pot are two solutions for hydrating, but if we’re constantly breathing in desert-dry air, we need to add in moisture. Investing in a humidifier – either one that connects to the heating system or the small portable ones easily available at any hardware store is a must.
If you have a wood-burning stove, you’ll need to be particularly mindful of the moisture you’re putting back into the house. Usually this requires more than a single pot of water on the stove.
Baths with salts and essential oils
Take baths – perhaps replacing some or all of your daily showers – and add in Epsom salts and/or Dead Sea salts. The minerals in both, when absorbed through the skin by bathing draw toxins from the body, sedate the nervous system, reduce swelling, relax muscles and are natural emollients and exfoliators.
Using essential oils in addition offers other health benefits. Lavender, rosemary, peppermint, spearmint, black spruce, eucalyptus are possible choices for winter bathing. See what appeals to you and make your choice based on that.
Lavender is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It is also relaxing and calming.
Eucalyptus is best known for its respiratory effects, fighting viruses and bacteria, while easing congestion. It also eases muscle and joint aches and pains.
Rosemary is antibacterial and uplifting, for body and spirit.
Spruce eases body pains as well, is great for mental and physical exhaustion. It is grounding as well as stimulating. And it smells like the essence of winter.
Spearmint and peppermint essential oils are antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. Peppermint oil is more stimulating – a good morning bath addition – while spearmint oil is more calming and relaxing. Both are uplifting.
When adding essential oils to the bath, the idea is to have them penetrate the salts and not immediately evaporate. You can do this in two ways. One, take a container, put in the salts and add a generous amount of essential oils. Cap and use as needed. Or simply put the salts in the bath before you run the bath water, sprinkle on the oil(s) and then run the water.
EAT WARMING FOODS
Eat warm foods, especially for breakfast. Slow-cooked foods help the body retain its warmth. A slow cooker is a perfect investment for the season, if you don’t already own one. Bone broth soups are the perfect winter nourishment – add in a tablespoon of cider vinegar to extract added calcium from the bones.
Cold cereal with ice cold milk is not a good way top start your day in winter. Hot cereal, with added ground flaxseed, which gives it a slightly nutty flavor, is much better. Add in frozen blueberries, and heat gently – they’re loaded with antioxidants.
Or try warm apples with cinnamon: Slice the applies (no need to peel), add a tiny bit of water, cinnamon (sticks or ground), some cloves or allspice if you want the apple pie flavor. Cook slowly until soft and serve. You could cook the apples the night before and just reheat. Can be eaten alone or with yogurt. Granola and/or milk can be added.
EXERCISE – Body And Mind
Brisk walks outside in nature
If you get moving in the cold, the cold doesn’t enter your body the same way. The best way to start your day? The night before, lay out your warm, outdoor clothes by the door, slip them on first thing upon rising and take a brisk walk outdoors. Think of investing in snowshoes for those snow-covered days.
Walking outside in nature, your body will warm up. This flow of qi and blood, as the Chinese term it, moves around your body, providing a natural protective immunity against disease. Just make sure you’re bundled well – particularly the back of the neck.
Notice what is going on in nature. This time of year, it’s so silent, there are no crickets, no squirrels chattering. It’s an incredibly beautiful hush. The silence can be deafening, particularly on a morning after snow falls. Take all of this to heart -where do you need to go, to replenish, nurture and restore? This is the season to pay attention to that quiet, inward energy.
Our minds go 24/7, 10,000 thoughts a day: Is there anything else we would dare attempt to do so constantly? While at first, meditation may seem an impossible achievement – I’m so busy, I never stop, I’m so hyper, I can’t sit still – this is one action that will change your life. Take one month – or better yet, 40 days – and commit to meditating only seven minutes a day (pick a number, but start small). The same time is best – whatever moment in your day works for you, upon rising, before going to bed, during a mid-day break.
Find a comfortable seated position. Set your cell phone alarm as a timer – turning it to “Alarm Only.” Relax. Breathe deep, listen to your breath, say a word over and over, count backward from 100.
Basically, just sit and be – not doing anything. If thoughts come up, let them pass by, as if you were watching leaves floating down a stream. Don’t engage, just observe with a non-critical, open-minded wonder: Oh, there’s my mind conjuring up that detail, how interesting … Let it go.
What you will find after a period of consistent meditating is you’ll have moments in your hectic life when you’re not bombarded with conflicting thoughts. You’ll notice you feel more clear-headed, more open and less stressed.
For prevention - Acupuncture can prevent colds and flu by building up the immune system. Needling key points can strengthen the circulation of blood and energy, fortifying the outer defense layers of skin and muscle (wei qi) so germs and viruses cannot enter through them. Seasonal acupuncture treatments only four times a year also serve to strengthen the inner organ systems, correcting minor annoyances before they become serious problems.
To get better faster - If you’ve already succumbed to that cold or flu, acupuncture can also help with symptoms in a safe, non-toxic way.
Take the time now to rest and renew with a few simple remedies, so the time won’t overtake you later with illness. If you do start to feel sick, make feeling better your priority. In the long run, you’ll find this approach will save you time and energy-and guarantee healthier living during our cold winter season.
HERBS FOR HEALTH
Drink an infusion of nettles (tea brewed for several hours) to maintain a healthy immune system and good energy. Stinging nettles — considered a pesky garden weed — is a great all-year tonic and easily prepared using the dried plant. Its many qualities include blood-building and cleansing. You can drink it every day.
1. To make an infusion, you will need:
– Nettles in bulk – dried, cut, sifted (not the tea bags).
– A large glass jar with a tight lid. Ball jars are best; the half-gallon size, gallon-sized iced tea jars work well, too.
2. Fill the jar with a few inches of nettles and fill to the brim with boiling water. (See precautions below.) Let sit a minute or so, stir and then add more boiling water to refill it, as the herb will soak up the water. Cover and let steep 4-8 hours.
3. Strain and drink. Refrigerate what’s not used. May be reheated gently. Add honey or sweetener if desired.
Precautions: When filling jar with boiling water: Make sure the glass jar is at room temperature; don’t have the jar sit on cold stone or metal, as the difference in temperature could cause it to crack; don’t let the kettle touch the edge of the glass.
There are several herbs particularly good to treat cold and flu. While tinctures may be purchased at health food stores or online, a more economical choice is to make your own. Below I’ve described four herbs to consider as well as directions on how to make your own tinctures.
This herb you most likely won’t find in health food stores, but you can easily order the dried herb and make your own. (See Resource list) Usnea is a moss that grows on the sides of trees. It’s invaluable for throat ailments — if you have a red, scratchy throat, think usnea. It’s a gentle expectorant as well.
Echinacea root (Angustifolia or Purpurea)
Also called American coneflower, echinacea is used for treating and preventing the common cold and other upper respiratory infections, and for treating urinary infections. It aids the immune system by increasing lymphoctye activity and has anti-inflammatory qualities. Echinacea also has anti-fungal effects.
Barberry OR goldenseal
Barberry and goldenseal are often used for similar medicinal purposes because both herbs contain the chemical berberine. Use one or the other for the common cold and other upper respiratory tract infections, in additions to various ailments, including urinary tract infections, constipation and diarrhea. They’re both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial and boost immune system function.
You may be able to do go out into your yard and find some wild barberry. Barberry is an invasive shrub with gray, thorny branches that can grow to about 9 feet tall. Bright yellow flowers bloom between April and June and become dark, drooping bunches of red berries in the fall. For medicinal purposes, use the root, which you may be able to dig up if the ground is not completely frozen. Both goldenseal and barberry have deep yellow roots.
Since wildcrafted goldenseal has been seriously diminished in this country, substituting barberry is good medicine for self and planet.
Precautions: Pregnant women should not take goldenseal or barberry, as the herbs could stimulate uterine contractions. If you are taking prescription medications, consult your health care provider about any possible interactions. As with any food product, there is the possibility of an allergic reaction.
MAKE YOUR OWN: Tinctures
Herbal tinctures are made using fresh or dried plant material and a liquid base (called the menstruum), such as grain alcohol, vodka, brandy, apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin. Tinctures remain potent for many years. The small dropper bottles are convenient to carry. While teas and infusions can be a very effective way of taking herbs, there are some herbal compounds that can only be extracted with alcohol.
Choosing the solvent for tinctures
A simple and effective choice for homemade remedies is 100 proof vodka. You can substitute apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin. Alcohol is a more effective solvent and has a longer shelf life: six months for the vinegar, several years for alcohol. *Never use rubbing, isopropyl or wood alcohol.
How to make herbal tinctures
Fresh: 1 part herb to 2 parts menstruum.
Dried: 1 part dried herb to 5 parts menstruum (NOT powdered).
– If using fresh barberry root, for example, pick through the roots, cut out any damaged parts, brush off well and gently wash the roots (don’t soak). If they’re particularly dirt-filled, you might want to let them dry overnight after the rinse.
– Coarsely chop the roots. If using a plant — then coarsely chop the stems and leaves as well. You can leave the flowers whole.
– Put your herbs (dried or fresh) in a clean, dry glass jar, with a tight-fitting lid and fill with the liquid of your choice: either vodka, organic apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin mix (mix 50 percent glycerin with 50 percent distilled water). *If using vinegar, heat it slightly before pouring. It should be warm, not hot.
– The herbs need to be completely immersed in liquid. Cap the jar tightly.
– You may need to add more vodka or vinegar over the next day or two as the herbs absorb and expand.
– Label your creation with the ingredients and date and store in a dark place for 2-8 weeks, shaking occasionally. Six weeks is optimal, but if you need to use some of the tincture before that time passes, do so after a minimum of two weeks. Cap and let sit the remaining time.
– Strain out the herbs, squeezing the saturated herbs dry and pour tincture into clean, dry bottles. Label with the date and ingredients used.
– Vinegar tinctures should be refrigerated after straining.
How to take
Dosing varies from person to person. For an adult, two droppers of each herb, two to four times a day. (1 dropper = 20 drops, approximately.) A child would take half that amount two to four times a day. The tincture can be diluted in tea, juice or water.
You can take these herbs when you feel your immune system is vulnerable or when you start to get sick. Take the herbs for a regular course a week to 10 days at least. Lessen the number of times per day as you near the end of the course.
Living & Being, June 2008
Rushing off to work, dropping the kids off at school, you get stuck at a red light. You notice a bumper sticker on the car in front of you: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” You think about contemplating that idea, one day. But right now the mortgage has to be paid, the gas is guzzling your paycheck, and spirit is on the back burner. Or is it?
In western cultures, spirit and matter are thought of as separate entities. We cut our finger – matter – we put a disinfectant and a band-aid on it. But what heals our spirit? It’s not considered part of the body. It is certainly not a cut finger. The ancient Chinese never distinguished body from mind or spirit, believing that disease affected all these areas, and could originate in one arena while manifesting in another. It’s all connected. Allergies, low back ache, PMS – while they manifest as physical symptoms, there will always be some aspect of “spirit” trauma as well- on a mental, spiritual or energetic level.
Our thoughts, our experiences – cumulative stress, emotional shock or trauma, grief – are all stored in our body, as energy. If we are mired in depression, anxiety, grief, anger, worry, fear – daily living can feel overwhelming. We may develop physical symptoms, or be more prone to developing illness due to the energetic stress.
For thousands of years, acupuncture has been healing diseases of the mind, body and spirit utilizing patterns of energy in the body. There are thought to be 12 of these energy patterns, or meridians, with hundreds of points where the body’s energy can be accessed. These points are located by anatomical landmarks and energetic distinctions. Illness – with its concomitant physical and energetic symptoms, occurs when these meridians are blocked, or stuck.
By treating specific points with needles, the body has access to the power of these pathways, with these unseen patterns of energy. Mysteriously (or not so) you can needle a point on the left shin that will ameliorate gastrointestinal problems. It’s the pathway that is blocked. There is a Chinese dictum: “If there is pain, there is no free flow. If there is no free flow, there is pain.” Think of a stream flowing – at one end it gets clogged by leaves and twigs. One side is dried out, the other side is flooded. Only when these blocks are removed will the stream act in its true nature – flowing smoothly and gracefully through the land.
It is in our true nature to be a free-flowing being of energy, utilizing that energy to our highest and best potential. There are many tools to access that state of being. Acupuncture can be a powerful catalyst for this change, as it can unblock these meridian pathways. This, in turn, moves energy – that spirit within you that in turn moves you through each day.
An early patient taught me an invaluable lesson. He was coming to me for shoulder pain, which resulted from some of his work activities. After each treatment, there was a decrease in pain and an increase in range of movement, but at one moment improvement seemed to have plateaued. During one of his sessions, I discovered my client had witnessed a traumatic accident involving the death of a family member. Shortly after, the shoulder problems started. While my primary focus had been physical – a gentle release of muscle tightness, an opening of meridian blockages – with the next session I focused primarily on spirit healing. The shoulder problem cleared up.
Presently I treat all patients who come to me for a series of treatments with at least one of these focused spirit energy sessions – even if they’re coming just for a physical ailment. I don’t need to know the details. There may not be a direct, cause-and-affect reaction to events – sometimes the patient may not even remember any specific situation. He or she may simply sense an uneasiness in the body – a “just not feeling right” sensation. Patterns of symptoms, including a careful reading of wrist pulse rhythms, tongue appearance and a careful listening to the patient’s complaints all guide the acupuncturist to choosing the best healing protocol.
Life will bring us its sorrows, its tragedies, its challenges. No acupuncture session will ever change that. But if we can move through life’s events, less encumbered by the energetic resonance that our bodies that can store, the journey is eased. Healing – of body, mind and spirit – is possible.