sports medicine

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 state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Spring Gleaning: Education Update

One of my favorite aspects of the acupuncture profession is its requirement that you be a lifelong student. And because I get excited when I start looking at potential classes, I've somehow found myself anticipating the remainder of my required classes (continuing education units) for the year all in the next month! Of course that doesn't mean I won't take more just for fun...

Last week I attended a lecture on Working With the Heavy Cannabis User with medical herbalist Paul Bergner as there is so much to learn about the effects and side effects of cannabis whether used for medical or recreational use. We set politics and legality aside and just dealt with the cases. I now have a much better understanding of the effects of cannabis on body systems, side effects to watch for and make patients aware of before they consider using it for a given condition, and how to approach weaning off of medical use if side effects become unmanageable. As an acupuncturist I can't prescribe cannabis, but I did feel it was essential that I expand my understanding of the way its use as a medication or recreational substance might affect my patients so we can do our best work together.

Next up this weekend at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland is a hands on course with renowned sports medicine practitioner Matt Callison, L.Ac. I'll be learning and practicing new techniques for Assessment and Treatment of Lower Leg Injuries: knee, foot, and ankle. This is perfect for my athlete patients and for anyone with chronic pain or past injuries. I think it's only fitting that we're starting with the roots of our upright bodies. I plan on continuing this orthopedic-focused training and look forward to future learning to expand my treatment toolbox for the spine, hips, neck, and shoulders. I'm especially excited to seek out classes like this one that integrate the best of Western and Eastern medicine with orthopedic tests, anatomy reviews, and herbal and acupuncture treatment.

And lastly, in late March I'm taking a practical course on The Ancient Art of Cupping with Susan Johnson, L.Ac. here in Oakland. Cupping is such a wonderful modality to both diagnose and address pain and stiffness. It feels like a massage, but works by giving your tense muscles more room to be flushed with fluids rather than compressing them. I can't wait to share new insights and techniques from this class with you!

If there are topics you'd like to see me explore either on the blog or in a continuing education class, I'm always open to suggestions. And if you hear of a great class or webinar coming up, do let me know! I also post community focused classes and webinars in addition to articles about acupuncture and healthcare on Twitter. Please join me there!

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Image credit: Death to the Stock Photo