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Springtime is Liver Cleanse Time

Spring begins this year on Saturday, March 20th. This is the equinox, when there is equal day and night, with the light continuing to increase a little bit every day until its peak in June at the summer solstice. In Chinese medicine spring is nature's official new year, with plants rising from the earth, awakening from the slumber of winter to bloom and be nourished by the sun. You may feel this rising energy too. Perhaps you want to do some spring cleaning, begin a new project, start a garden, or get out and move more after the semi-hibernation of winter. You might even be thinking about a new diet or health plan. This is the time to flourish and blossom, a fresh new start.

Salad Weeds

Spring means the color green everywhere you look. As they come up to say hello all sorts of sprouts and tender young leaves are available once again after winter's diet of canned goods, preserves, and heavy foods like meats, stews, and roots. Edible medicinal weeds are suddenly growing wild all over our gardens and yards: bitter cress, dandelion, chickweed, yellow dock, violet, nettles, wood sorrel, and more. As wild plants these greens are especially high in chi, the vital force that powers everything in the universe including you. As local and seasonal foods, eating them is an excellent way to help us adapt to the changes in our regional climate and promote the seasonal physiological shifts we undergo as winter turns to spring. Like all leafy greens they are low in calories but high in nutrients like minerals and chlorophyll, which is almost identical to our hemoglobin so it helps refresh our blood. Greens are also alkalizing, loaded with antioxidants like A and D, and high in fiber, helping your body neutralize and eliminate excess waste and toxins. The bitterness of greens is especially effective at countering what we call heat in Chinese medicine: fever, infections, inflammation, and toxicity.

In Chinese medicine the energy peaks in different organ systems at different times of the year and spring is the season of the wood element, the system that is governed by the liver. Just as this is nature's season of rejuvenation, the liver has an amazing capacity to do so as well, with the ability to regrow even when over half of it is injured, diseased, or removed. The liver carries out many metabolic functions, including the filtering of toxins from the blood and the processing of fats. It is able to safely neutralize all sorts of harmful substances and, just as the color of spring is green, the liver produces bile, a green emulsifying liquid that helps us metabolize fats. When we take in a lot of heavy foods, eat too much, don't eat enough fresh foods, and don't exercise enough, as we do in winter, the liver can get overloaded and sluggish. Between the onset of spring and its opportunity for a fresh start, the wide availability of leafy greens, and the energy peaking in the wood element system right now, this is the perfect time to do a liver cleanse. Isn't it amazing how nature gives us exactly what we need to be healthy exactly when we need it?

The Liver

Following are my suggestions for a liver cleanse. If you want to keep it simple just focus on eating some leafy greens every day and reducing your intake of toxins and intoxicants. A recommended period of time for you to cleanse is five to ten days.

  • start on or around the equinox, March 20th
  • eat some sprouts or fresh leafy greens every day, wild if possible
  • stick to unprocessed foods like vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, and lean meats
  • eliminate deep fried foods, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils since they compromise the liver's ability to process fats
  • limit high salt foods like soy sauce, canned soups, chips, miso, jerky, and cured meats as they cause the body to retain fluids
  • cut out toxins and intoxicants like alcohol, white sugar, highly processed foods, coffee, and recreational drugs
  • instead of eating a lot of high fat foods like dairy, nuts, and meat, give your liver a break by eating more vegetables
  • help your liver regenerate with high chlorophyll foods like wheat grass juice and spirulina
  • lemons are very astringent, pulling toxins out from deep within your tissues, so drink water with fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • cleanse your liver by drinking a glass of water with one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and one teaspoon of honey every day
  • enhance your liver's detoxification function with bitter herbal teas like dandelion root, milk thistle, oregon grape root, or chamomile
  • if needed, stimulate the elimination function of the large intestine by drinking herbal laxative teas
  • try dry skin brushing to move the lymph and assist toxin elimination
  • do 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise every day: yoga, walk, tai chi, bike, hike, dance

Happy Chinese New Year 2021!

Happy Chinese New Year 2021

Friday, February 12th marks the first day of the 2021 Chinese New Year. The date of Chinese New Year changes annually since it is based on their ancient calendar, typically falling on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice. This means it can occur in January or February depending on the year. In Chinese culture your animal zodiac sign is determined by your birth year, not your birth month. Because of this, those of you who were born in these two months need to check the date of the New Year when you were born before determining your zodiac sign.

There are twelve Chinese zodiac signs and they are cycled through one by one in the same order every twelve years. The Rat is the first of the twelve. As the story goes, the Jade Emperor decreed that the order of the zodiac signs would be determined by the order in which the animals arrived at his party. Rat tricked Ox into giving him a ride but just as they arrived at the door Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first. In Chinese culture, people born in the year of the Ox are strong, reliable, fair and conscientious, inspiring confidence in others. They are also calm, patient, methodical and can be trusted. Although they say little they can be very opinionated. They believe strongly in themselves, but are also stubborn and hate to fail or be challenged.

Since the Ox is hardworking and methodical, 2021 is a year when hard work will be rewarded. However, it will also be a year in which we will fully feel the weight of our responsibilities, a year in which it will be necessary to double our efforts to accomplish anything at all. No explosive or catastrophic events are predicted to occur so it is a favorable year for economic recovery, saving, and long-term investments. This year is predicted to be a perfect time to focus on relationships of all kinds, a year in which discipline and organization will be successful at solving problems, especially in family life.

Chinese Zodiac

There are many traditions surrounding the New Year. In preparation for the upcoming holiday it is important to sweep your house out to get rid of any bad luck left over from the previous year. Never sweep or dust on New Year’s Day, however, or all of your good luck will be cleared away. On New Year’s Eve you should open all of your doors and windows at the stroke of midnight to allow the old year to escape and the good luck of the New Year to enter. Firecrackers are set off to scare away evil spirits, send off the old year, and welcome the new.

For New Year’s Day itself there are many considerations. It is thought that on this day precedents are set for the entire year. In particular, it is important to not lend anything out on this day or you will find yourself lending things out all year. Also, never spank a mischievous child on this day to avoid tears that will last the whole year through. It is taboo on New Year’s Day to refer to death or the past, to use foul language or unlucky words, or to tell ghost stories. In general, knives and scissors may not be used because they may cut off your good fortune. Do not wash your hair on New Year’s Day or you will wash away good luck and do not get your hair cut during the first lunar month of the year because it places a curse on your maternal uncles.

How you dress is also important as are the types of gifts that are given. On New Year’s Day it is thought that you should wear red because it scares away evil spirits and bad fortune and ensures a bright future. Black and white should not be worn as black symbolizes bad luck, and white is a Chinese funeral color. People also dress in all new clothes and shoes to symbolize a new beginning. Children are given red packets or envelopes containing even numbered amounts of money since odd numbered amounts of money are traditionally given during funerals. However, $4 is never given since it is an unlucky number (because the Chinese word for “four” sounds like the Chinese word for “death”).


5 Myths of Community Acupuncture

Since 2006 there has been a new style of medical clinic popping up all over the country that goes by the name “community acupuncture.” Practitioners at these clinics treat multiple patients at the same time in the same room, dividing their overhead costs among a higher volume of patients. This allows them to charge a lower rate per treatment, which makes their services accessible to more people. However, this system requires that they divide their time and attention among that many more patients and it significantly limits which acupuncture points can be used. While I agree that healthcare in our country is overpriced, and that the more people receiving acupuncture the better, imitating the high volume model of mainstream medicine negatively affects quality of care. Paradoxically, those who practice community acupuncture advertise their services as more traditional and more effective than private one-on-one sessions. Below are five points that are commonly found on the websites of community acupuncture clinics and a refutation of each.

1. "Acupuncture has been a community based medicine for most of its long history. In Asia, acupuncture has traditionally been practiced in group rather than individual settings."

In the long history of medicine in Asia, acupuncture has been practiced in many different ways. For example, there were the traveling healers (the famous "barefoot doctors") who made a living doing the rounds of nearby villages on foot. Then there were the practitioners who worked for the upper class and royal families, who offered private treatments on a strict one-on-one basis, considered to be the optimal ratio for the highest quality health care. Often, these highly skilled acupuncturists would be hired exclusively by a wealthy family to be their personal physician. Yes, there were also clinics where patients were seen together in large rooms.

Even today in China practitioners work in a variety of settings, including community clinics, just as they do here in America. However, there are two very important distinctions between Chinese and American community clinics. First, in China it is not considered taboo to disrobe in front of strangers like it is here in America, especially in a medical setting. Because of this, Chinese patients may completely undress, even if there are others around. Since this is not done in America, it means that community acupuncture here is limited to the points that can be accessed only while fully clothed. Second, in China clinics use regular examination tables for treatments while here community acupuncture is usually done with patients reclining in armchairs. This means that in America community acupuncture is typically limited by the inability to access any of the points on the back of the body. So in community acupuncture, as it is practiced in America, over half of the total acupuncture points are inaccessible. This is especially problematic when dealing with chronic conditions, which respond best when the area is treated directly.

2. "For acupuncture to be most effective, patients need to receive it frequently and regularly."

In Chinese medicine there is no frequency of treatment that is considered to be ideal for all conditions. This is actually determined in many ways, especially by how long you have had your condition and by your overall state of health. For example, the longer you have had something, usually the less often you will need treatments. This is because chronic conditions tend to both develop and resolve more slowly, gradually shifting over time. Also, if your health is poor your ability to heal can be compromised, so your condition will resolve more slowly. On the other hand, conditions that come on fast, like acute injuries or viral infections, will definitely respond and change faster, so more frequent treatments are ideal. Other factors that can influence the frequency and regularity of treatment include your age, the severity of your symptoms, and your compliance with taking herbs and making dietary and lifestyle changes. So, for some conditions frequent treatments may be ideal, while for others treatments every other week would be better. If the patient's goal is to utilize acupuncture for preventive medicine or to maintain wellness, they will need treatments even less often, say once per month to once per season.

3. "As acupuncture has moved toward the mainstream, it has been forced into a paradigm of one-on-one treatments and high prices, which has decreased not only patient access but treatment efficacy."

While I agree that the high price of health care needs to be addressed so that more people can afford it, there is no absolute correspondence between cost and treatment efficacy. Efficacy has much more to do with the skill of the practitioner, especially their ability to make an accurate diagnosis. On the contrary, I would argue that the limitations of community acupuncture have a greater potential to negatively affect treatment efficacy. First is the limitation on time. Optimally, a proper initial appointment will include questions not only about the patient's chief complaint, but also about other systems and functions, as well as a physical exam, dietary and lifestyle counseling, and a discussion of the treatment plan. In addition, there should be time allotted to answer the patient's questions and, especially in the case of pain, to do some of the other traditional therapies that practitioners of Chinese medicine are also trained in, like acupressure and cupping. There is simply no way to complete all of this when you are seeing multiple patients per hour. Second is the significant limitation on which acupuncture points can be used, as mentioned above.

I don't think the best way to address the high cost of healthcare is for the practitioner to increase patient volume, especially if this means sacrificing quality of care. More effective solutions include simply charging less per patient, reserving a certain number of appointments per week for low-income individuals, or volunteering a certain amount of your time for free as a practitioner.

4. "Community acupuncture clinics represent a return to tradition."

Actually, throughout the centuries, this medicine has been practiced in many different cultures and in many different ways. In China there has been everything from traveling doctors to court physicians, from integrative hospital practitioners to guarded family lineages. In India there is an ancient form of acupuncture that is part of Ayurvedic medicine that is based upon the Suchi Veda, a 3,000 year old text that predates the written record of Chinese medicine. In this tradition the needles were dipped in herbal liquids before insertion. In Japan traditional acupuncturists use needles that are much thinner than those used by the Chinese and there is one particular style in which only one point is needled per treatment. The Japanese also developed shoni-shin, a type of pediatric treatment in which various metal tools are used to stimulate the acupuncture channel system without piercing the skin. They even have a 400-year old tradition of blind acupuncturists, representing about a third of all acupuncturists in that country today. In Korea there is a focus on needling the hands only. This is a kind of "microsystem" acupuncture in which the different areas on the hands are said to have a one-to-one correspondence with other specific areas of the body. Another microsystem form is auricular (ear) acupuncture, which is used extensively in America by members of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association to help patients break drug addictions. There are also separate traditions in other countries like Vietnam and Tibet. In truth, there have been many different ways in which this medicine has been practiced, and community acupuncture actually represents something totally new.

5. “As with any kind of intentional group endeavor—such as meditation or prayer, for example—when you do something with other people it raises the energy for everyone. It’s the same with acupuncture: receiving treatment in a room with others raises the Qi dynamic and healing is enhanced.”

I agree that receiving a treatment in a group can raise the qi dynamic and enhance healing, but it can also lower it. For example, I have heard from multiple people who have tried community acupuncture that being in a room where people are constantly coming and going, snoring, listening to music on headphones, and having emotional releases can be very distracting. While I do agree that under certain circumstances group endeavors can raise the energy, I think it is important to acknowledge that this is not the only circumstance under which this can happen. In my experience, the more deeply we can rest during a healing session, the better. A private, quite room free of distractions, with soft music and low lighting can also be very effective at raising the qi dynamic. The qi dynamic also depends on the practitioner's approach, especially their intention, skill, and bedside manner. If the room you are in has a peaceful ambiance, if you are comfortable and warm, and if you really feel like the practitioner is attentive and caring, healing will also undoubtedly be enhanced.


Finding Balance in Imbalanced Times

What a strange year it has been, paradoxically both speeding by and slogging on. A year full of stress, anxiety, political division, a pandemic, and a future unknown. Though it has been hard for me to find balance in these times I have found much solace in the ideas behind Chinese medicine. For example, in the theory of yin and yang the universe is made of two opposing forces that are always moving toward balance. This can be seen in the yin yang symbol below in which there are two equal halves, black and white. This process of balance is dynamic, not static, so that when things swing too far in either direction, it is guaranteed that they will eventually swing back. So, if things feel imbalanced now please know that balance will be retuned once again.

Yin Yang

Yin and yang are also interdependent and cannot exist without each other. This is why both halves of the yin yang symbol contain a dot of color of the other. For example, there cannot be day without night, expansion without contraction, or activity without rest. Basically, yin and yang are really just two different aspects of the same singular unity that is constantly shifting from one form to another. In this time of great political division it is important to remember that we are all interdependent, too, and cannot exist without each other. Hopefully one day we too shall be unified.

The concept of chi symbolizes this unity as well. In this theory everything has a common denominator, everything in the universe is a different manifestation of chi. Chi is an ancient Daoist concept that refers to the primary force that forms, connects, and governs the interplay of everything in existence. It is the basic power of the universe that enables things to go, move, change, shift, and transform. The theory of chi is very similar to the theory of energy as it is understood in physics; everything is chi and chi can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred or converted to another form. This theory is an important reminder that we are all one, that we are all in this together we will get through this together. It is also a reminder that everything is in a constant state of change and that nothing lasts forever; the universe is always in a process of transformation. By their nature major transformations can be bumpy so hang in there. I'm looking forward to the next phase, aren't you?


Adapting to the Pandemic: 23 Healthy Coping Mechanisms

1. Garden - Gardening is an excellent way to ground yourself, grow some healthy food, and get fresh air and sunshine.
2. Walk - This is a simple way to unwind, connect with neighbors, and get the chi flow going. No driving, monthly memberships, or special gear required, just walk out the door!
3. Hike - Not only is it nice to to get out in the woods for a little shinrin-yoku, it's also nice to make a day of it, to get out of town and have a mini vacation. Bonus points if the hike includes a dip in a purifying waterfall or some overnight camping.
4. Chill Outside - A lot of people have recently gotten into bird watching. Or, have a beer on the porch with your neighbor! Lay on the grass for a spell! Wade in a mountain stream! Take a nap in a hammock!
5. Do Some Stretching - This is good for both body and soul, freeing stuck energy wherever it is blocked.
6. Rest More - It's okay if you don't feel like being productive or want to just lay down for a while. There is a constant baseline of generalized stress right now that can be very draining so we all need more rest, sleep, and naps.
7. Eat Well - When we eat better we feel better both physically and emotionally. Plus it makes us more resilient to stress and illness. Support your local farmers market for the freshest food!
8. Clean and Clear - The general mood is so subdued, restrained, and stagnant right now. Doing things like dusting and clearing out the closets in our homes helps us to simplify and keep the energy flowing.
Healthy Coling Skills
9. Home Projects - In times of stress and anxiety, having a project to focus on can help us get out of our heads. If it's been on the list for a while, or if we're not officially working, it can also help us feel more productive.
10. Giving to Others - Some of my patients have been giving away their excess produce to neighbors or volunteering for organizations like Meals on Wheels. When we are feeling down it always helps to help others.
11. Plan a Trip - Even if we can't really travel right now it can be helpful to plan a trip for the future. Watching travel shows is another form of healthy escapism that you can do right from your living room.
12. Gratitude - Many of my patients have expressed their gratitude that we get to live this pandemic out in our lovely little town. People are especially grateful that they can get out to the woods.
13. Media Blackout - It's okay to stop watching the news for a while or to take a break from scrolling the internet. The media definitely has a negative focus and it's totally okay to take a break.
14. Set Boundaries - It's okay to say no to doing more right now, whether it be for work, family, or friends. It is absolutely essential right now that we guard our energy and don't get run down or exhausted.
15. Socialize - It is still possible to connect with our family and friends. People are talking on the phone more, meeting for meals outdoors, having a chat on the porch, or going canoeing with their friends.
16. Express Your Feelings - Holding our emotions in can interfere with the flow of chi. Over time the chi can become blocked and constrained, leading to low energy and depression. One way to counter this is to express your emotions through things like talking, writing, and singing.
17. Establish a Routine - The universe runs on rhythms. Things run more smoothly and we feel more in sync when we have regular schedules, too. This especially true for our sleeping, eating, work, and exercise habits.
18. Take a Day Off - Even if you are not working right now it's important to take a day or two off every week. You still need time for rest and relaxation.
19. Music - Music is so beautiful; just listening to it can lift our mood and help us process emotions. Some of my patients who play instruments have continued to create by collaborating on digital recordings or doing live streaming shows.
20. Read - Like watching travel shows, reading is another healthy form of escapism. My patients have been reporting that they are reading more fiction these days and I can see why.
21. Art - Are you a creative person? Some of my patients have been intentionally reserving time for arts and crafts, ensuring that they can express themselves in this way.
22. Write - Whether you write poems, blog, or journal, writing is an excellent way to clarify and process emotions and thoughts.
23. Meditation - Meditation is both restorative and calming. Many of my patients have recently started meditating for the first time or have recommitted to a practice they used to have.
"Nancy is thorough and very knowledgeable. She really takes the time to dig in and help you battle any medical issues you are having. She explains the Eastern reasons behind certain remedies and has helped me with several issues in the past few years. She was recommended to me from a friend and I am so glad she surpassed my expectations." ~Stacey H.
Dr. Nancy Hyton
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
By Appointment M to F, 9:30 to 6:00
26 Fairfax Avenue, West Asheville, NC 28806
Text or Call (828) 606-6791
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