Joyful Movement

I had to contend with the question of how to get enough exercise only in the last few years (Photo: Stephen Texeira for LINES Dance Center)

For most of my life if you asked me to describe myself some of the first words out of my mouth would be, "I'm a dancer." I danced consistently from age 7 into my 30s, first jazz, then contemporary. As much as possible I arranged my work and graduate school schedules around dance. I joined a local company and performed to a paying audience. Then suddenly I couldn't anymore. Or not the way I had, anyway. Thanks to incorrect repetitive movements and a loss in the genetic lottery now sometimes dancing hurts (honestly, sometimes walking hurts too). And even though I've learned to adapt with better body mechanics and supportive footwear, even though most of the time it doesn't hurt anymore because of those changes (and of course regular acupuncture and moxibustion), I feel as though I'm always having to evaluate how I'm doing. I'm in my head instead of my body, thinking, "Is today an okay day? Should I be doing this step this way?" I can't just let go and move the way I used to.

The point of all of this is to say that I had to contend with the challenge of how to get enough exercise only in the last few years. And after trying a wide variety of activities I finally found my new movement obsession that I can complement with occasional yoga, dance, or weights: choreographed lightsaber combat.

Learning reverse grip combat with Saber Guild (Photo: Bianca Hernandez / KQED)

Yes, for those of you who don't yet know me well, I am a big giant nerd, which serves me well in collecting and reading a ton of relevant medical literature as well as adoring Star Wars maybe more than is healthy sometimes. I have been obsessed with the galaxy far, far away since I was assigned homework by my seventh grade science teacher to watch at least two of the original trilogy (what were then the only) films over the Halloween weekend. All three movies were on repeat on a TV channel all weekend and right away I was hooked. Thus a love affair with Star Wars, but also with astronomy and physics took hold. My awe and excitement in my teacher's follow-up lesson on binary star systems was just the beginning; it was one of the main reasons I took a summer trading off between mission control and space flight simulations at the Advanced Space Academy (the high school version of Space Camp) and why I wanted desperately to be an astronaut. Though that's unlikely now, I still maintain it's possible (NASA, call me. We need to study the beneficial effects of acupuncture in space)!

But back to exercise.

Enter an offhand comment this summer by a friend mentioning that there are Jedi exercise classes in San Francisco and my immediate decision to sign up. I was nervous to join a new community, but found them very welcoming and equally passionate. Finally a new form of choreographed exercise that builds on my love of dance, the acting, costumes, and character work I was missing from my days as a drama kid, exploring martial arts (something I'd always thought I would enjoy but never got around to), and of course getting to play around with a big glowing sword. And all this with that element I'd been missing at the gym and local yoga classes - a community. Having people who will be happy to see me when I arrive (light and fun, friendship) and bug me if I don't show up to practice (accountability) is essential. A major bonus has been getting to perform for audiences again as well! Perhaps you saw me as Finn at the California Academy of Sciences in December. My 2018 goal is to perform as Rey!

So why am I talking about this here? How does this relate to medicine and wellness?

Back in the day I had long hair and danced every chance I got. (photo: Paula Chang)

Our qi is vital energy. When our qi stagnates (gets stuck), that's when we get pain. At first it might be a dull pain and we feel just a bit tight, but eventually it sets in further and that's what we want to prevent with daily movement. Many of my active patients feel terrible when they haven't had their regular level of exercise. That dragging feeling is early stage qi stagnation. To make matters worse, stress also stagnates the qi. So when we're so busy we don't have time to exercise, you're in double trouble. All the more excuse to have a spontaneous dance party at your desk or at least do a few gentle breathing qigong exercises, which I can teach you.

My suggestion is to do something you love that happens to be good for you rather than forcing yourself to do what you think you’re “supposed” to do.

Finding the right form of exercise can be hard. My suggestion is to do something you love that happens to be good for you rather than forcing yourself to do what you think you're "supposed" to do. If you love going to gym and lifting weights because of how it makes you feel and also you get to listen to a pump up the jams mix on your phone go for it! But if you loathe it and can barely get yourself out of bed on gym days, it's time to find something else. Go for a long walk with a friend and use it as catch up time. Bonus if it's in a beautiful green location where the color of spring leaves can help soothe your Liver and promote the free-flow of qi. Walk the long way around your block to drop off a package, giving yourself more time with your favorite podcast. Find a YouTube yoga channel with a personality and pace that suits you. Throw on your favorite song and air guitar and jump around for 2 minutes. Save your knees and punch the air in as many directions as your range of motion allows. Maybe do those arm exercises your trainer gave you years ago, but skip the weights if it's too much (or use cans). My point is simply that you have to figure out what level of activity is sustainable, enjoyable, and effective for meeting the goals you have set for yourself. Think outside the box because exercise can and should be fun.

After you make movement a regular habit, then you'll find you want to slowly increase the difficulty, duration, and intensity. The most important part is doing something active regularly and having it become a seamless part of your lifestyle. So if getting more exercise is on your list of resolutions, think about what brings you joy, breathe, and let it move you. Every step toward better health counts.

Curious about joining a class?

Shawna is featured in a recent KQED news article about lightsaber choreography groups in the Bay Area. From Fitness to Fencing: Fans Learn How to Fight Star Wars Style

Lightsaber photos courtesy of Bianca Hernandez / KQED.

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California-licensed and nationally-certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include musculoskeletal pain and chronic pain management, breaking the cycle of stress, anxiety, and depression, and promoting women’s health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients both in her private practice in San Francisco and in a collaborative practice in Temescal, Oakland. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, read her blog A Cuppa Qi and make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com.

How to Survive and Thrive in the First Trimester

How to Survive and Thrive in the First Trimester

A NOTE FROM SHAWNA: When I find a good article I would like to share with you, I will (if the rights for the source allow it), reprint it here for you to enjoy. This does not necessarily indicate a relationship with the source and is not paid content. This post was written by acupuncturist Katherine Altneu, originally posted on the blog for her Denver practice, and is reposted here with her permission.

Pregnancy is different for every woman. Some women get debilitating fatigue, others get incapacitating nausea, others get leg cramps or insomnia. I don’t think there’s one foolproof way to make it through the symptoms that often accompany pregnancy, but here’s what I learned about managing and minimizing many of those symptoms.

To be honest, so far I haven’t been terribly impressed with the level of prenatal care I’ve experienced. I’ve seen both an OB and a Midwife group, and while I like the doctors I’ve worked with, believe they really do care about me and feel safe and that I’m in good hands, I also feel like a LOT is missing from the conversation.

Prenatal care feels basically like emergency prevention & management. Going to see them makes me feel relieved to hear the heartbeat or see the baby via ultrasound. But other than that, they pretty much just check my blood pressure as if to say “Well, you don’t have preeclampsia yet!” and then they basically just tell me: “Wear your seatbelt, and don’t get Listeria”. Um, thanks. Got it.

Yeah, all their nutritional advice is all about avoiding Listeria. It’s NOT about getting adequate or even optimal nutrition for the baby or mama. My goals are more than simply averting a medical crisis after all. Can’t we avert medical crises AND talk about optimal health and nutrition for BABY and helping ME feel my best as well?

So many doctors just tell you that it’s “normal”. Morning sickness is normal. Fatigue is normal. Bloating and gas are normal. And yes, all of these symptoms are very common, and it can be nice to hear that. But common doesn’t make them NORMAL or necessary or mean that they’re not AVOIDABLE or a sign of an underlying imbalance or deficiency.

In fact, many common pregnancy complaints and complications are associated with vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. Which means they can also be rectified pretty easily!

Often, we don’t need to just accept these symptoms as NORMAL. For many of these common pregnancy symptoms, there are strategies and tools we can use to prevent them, minimize them and alleviate them.

So, without further ado, here are the tricks I’ve learned and what I really want more women to know:

Chronic Stress and How Acupuncture Can Help

A NOTE FROM SHAWNA: When I find a good article I would like to share with you, I will (if the rights of the source allow it), reprint it here for you to enjoy. This does not necessarily indicate a relationship with the source and is not paid content. This post was written by acupuncturist Sai Jurawanichkul, originally posted on Medium, and is reposted here with her permission.

Is stress good or bad? How does it affect our minds and bodies? How can acupuncture and lifestyle / nutritional modifications help?

Good Stress

When we are exposed to an acute, distressful situation, our sympathetic system amps up — what is famously called “fight or flight.” Our adrenal glands release corticosteroids that make our blood vessels constrict and our heart rate increase. Cortisol also increases our blood glucose level. Glucose is the main source of energy that powers our overactive cells during stressful events. This is called “good stress” because it empowers us to handle an acute situation.

Bad Stress

But, more often than not, our stress lasts longer than a few minutes or a few hours. It extends to days, weeks, months, and even years. This has very detrimental physical and emotional effects.

Our modern lifestyle

The modern lifestyle can be very harmful to our emotional and physical health. Our culture praises working and hustling, while ignoring the importance of introversion, resting and relaxation. Clearly, this way of living is not working. Research shows that stress can cause many problems (Figure 1: An interactive infographic to learn more about the symptoms of stress on your body).

Studies show that less stress = success

In fact, research shows that people who are happier and less stressed are also more successful. A long-term study was conducted on high school students [and] found that those who experienced less stress were more likely to achieve their career goals.

Balancing Stress in Life

Figure 2: Tai Ji symbol Yang (white) represents movement, action, stress. Yin (black) represents relaxation, mindfulness, calm. (Credit: Pixabay).

Figure 2: Tai Ji symbol

Yang (white) represents movement, action, stress. Yin (black) represents relaxation, mindfulness, calm.

(Credit: Pixabay).

We cannot live entirely with or without stress, and we cannot live entirely with or without relaxation either, so we must balance the two.

The yin yang / tai ji symbol (Figure 2) illustrates the idea of balance between the yin and yang energies.

How can acupuncture help?

So how can acupuncture help with stress? A study showed that rats receiving acupuncture had lower cortisol levels and less anxiety, depression, and hopelessness through behavioral tests, compared to those who didn’t receive acupuncture. Acupuncture blunts activity in the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which is in charge of the stress response.

Other studies also show that acupuncture can help treat anxiety and depression in human subjects.

A word of advice

Keep in mind that acupuncture is a spoke in the wheel of the East Asian medical system. This means that when you work with a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac), he or she may also prescribe herbs / supplements, and offer lifestyle and nutritional counseling.

A good acupuncturist will treat you, not your symptoms. So not only will your stress improve, but all aspects of your life such as sleep, digestion, pain, and energy.

About the Author

Sai Jurawanichkul is a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac) in California and New York, and is currently practicing at the Many Lives Chinese Medicine clinic in Redwood City, California. She helps her patients live a fulfilling life by overcoming obstacles (whether that be pain, physical or emotional disorders) by introducing effective, individualized treatment plans. Learn more about Sai here.

References

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California-licensed and nationally-certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include musculoskeletal pain and chronic pain management, breaking the cycle of stress, anxiety, and depression, and promoting women’s health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients both in her private practice in San Francisco and in a collaborative practice in Temescal, Oakland. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, read her blog A Cuppa Qi and make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com.

Photo by PICSELI on Unsplash

Put a Seed on It: Earseeds and Needle-Free Acupuncture

Many people think acupuncture and immediately think needles, but there are a wide variety of tools at our disposal, many of which stem from Eastern medicine’s herbal traditions. Earseeds, for example, are a popular form of herbal treatment which gently press on acupuncture points versus needle insertion.

Vaccaria seeds (Latin name: Semen Vaccariae; Chinese name: wang bu liu xing) can be prescribed for internal use to reduce breast and testicular swelling and move blood to promote lactation or menstruation. They are also handy little round seeds that can gently stimulate acupuncture points on the ear or body to provide treatment that lasts several hours to days. This treatment is safe for all patients and, like most acupuncture treatment, has only a low risk of minor side effects.

Vaccaria seeds are commonly referred to as “earseeds” since we often use the microcosm of the ear to treat conditions throughout the body. The seeds, gently pressed against the skin by a very small bandage adhesive, stay particularly well on the ear, but earseeds can be applied to any acupuncture point. Magnets or other metals are sometimes used instead of the seed. This makes them a versatile and minimally visible way of extending treatment beyond a visit to your acupuncturist. I prefer to use the gentlest possible form of effective treatment, a hallmark of Japanese medicine, and to make sure my patients are empowered to treat themselves with the knowledge they glean from our sessions. I love giving out earseeds so symptoms like insomnia, nausea, headaches, jetlag, neck and shoulder pain, and anxiety are continually improving or being prevented between sessions. That way we don’t lose ground, patients have a new appreciation for what their body is capable of doing with little assistance, and they have more freedom to travel.

Free Earseed Treatments Sunday July 16

I will be giving free earseed treatments at the Herbal Medicine (and then some!) Fair on July 16, sharing a booth with my San Francisco officemates Back to Life Physical Therapy. There are many other ways to treat without needle insertion in an acupuncture session as well, including moxibustion, contact needles, and a variety of diagnostic massage techniques including cupping. Come feel how earseeds can treat a wide variety of symptoms and conditions and ask any questions in person!

5th Annual Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair
Sunday July 16, 2017 10am – 5pm
Temescal Alley (486 49th St in Oakland)

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California-licensed and nationally-certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include musculoskeletal pain and chronic pain management, breaking the cycle of stress, anxiety, and depression, and promoting women’s health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients both in her private practice in San Francisco and in a collaborative practice in Temescal, Oakland. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, read her blog A Cuppa Qi and make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com.

This write-up was originally written for Homestead Apothecary's July 2017 newsletter.

July 16, 2017: Herbal Medicine (And Then Some!) Fair

Come join me at the Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair on Sunday, July 16 from 10am – 5pm. I'll be applying and educating on earseeds, the fantastic way to extend your acupuncture sessions' effectiveness at home, in addition to answering questions about Japanese medicine, how acupuncture can treat a variety of conditions, and my practice in San Francisco and Oakland. If we haven't met yet please come by to say hello!

I'll be sharing a booth with Back to Life Physical Therapy, my officemates in SF who also have a community-oriented treatment and classroom space just down 49th St from Temescal Alley. They'll be doing movement analysis at the fair so come sign up for an assessment of your gait or posture along with your earseed treatment.

5th Annual Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair
Temescal Alley (486 49th St Oakland)
Sun July 16 10am – 5pm
Details: www.HomesteadApothecary.com/herbal-medicine-fair/