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What Autumn Holds for You

Seasonal change isn’t instant. Especially here in the Bay Area, it’s gradual. 1 step forward, 2 steps back, until it isn’t. It takes a special focus to notice it as it shifts. We may yet get our warm Late Summer days that often show up in late September/ October, but Autumn has already been happening. There’s that chill in the air. A certain crispness. A lot of complaints of dry throats.

 My favorite tree on the Vassar Farm (Oct 2003)

My favorite tree on the Vassar Farm (Oct 2003)

Eastern Medicine takes its cues from the natural world. As it is in nature, so is it in our bodies and emotional landscapes. Spring and Summer both have an energy of new growth and expansion. There’s a fullness and flourishing. In Autumn, we start to draw back into the interior.

There are five elements (sometimes also called Five Phases) in Eastern Medicine: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. The Five Elements have corresponding seasons, tastes, channels, energies, diseases, and so much more that there is an entire school of thought in Chinese Medicine defined by this focus.

Autumn is the Metal season. Metal cuts like a knife and holds like a copper cup, dividing and separating, creating boundaries. This season we ask, What do you need that you should keep hold of? What is not yours that you can release?

Classically in cultures around the world this is the season for harvesting. It’s a time to take stock of and appreciate the bounty the year has brought you. What have you accomplished? Be grateful and take pride.



The Metal meridians: Lung and Large Intestine

The emotion of the Lungs is Grief.
As we take stock in this season of our year and our lives, certain goals and accomplishments we may have set no longer serve us. They may be inaccessible or simply no longer appropriate. It’s ok to grieve that loss or change before moving forward. Once you’ve allowed yourself space to grieve, you can become clear and focused, paring back to the essentials to figure out what the new or important goals are and get them done. You can do it! There’s still time!

If you have lost someone or something this year or in this season, you may find that the grief feels larger or has resurfaced. That’s natural, but it doesn’t mean you have to feel it alone or that there isn’t a supportive therapy you can reach to, from speaking that grief with friends and family, to working with a trusted therapist, to seeking acupuncture to balance the emotions and meridians. Grief is a natural emotion, but it also shouldn’t be overwhelming forever. If it’s feeling unmanageable, please ask for help.

The corresponding emotion of the Large Intestine is Letting Go.
Don’t keep it in. Let that sh*t go!

Autumn’s climate is Dryness, which injures the Lungs.
There’s a danger of holding too much in, in that it can dry out and get stuck (sometimes literally, as constipation or dry phlegm). It’s important to keep your Lungs hydrated and strong as they govern your immune system. Lily bulb and pears are wonderful supporters of the Lungs.


My Fall recommendations:

  • Make sure your favorite sweater is within reach and put the kettle on

  • Always carry a scarf (aka make sure your neck is covered)

  • Stock up on pears (amazing just as they are or steamed, baked, or poached with ginger and honey)

  • Come in for acupuncture to address your emotional health and strengthen your immune system before you feel yourself coming down with a cold!


FOUND THIS INTERESTING? RELATED POSTS ON A CUPPA QI:

Treating Stress, Anxiety, and Depression with Acupuncture

Why is Chicken Soup Good for a Cold?

Stress Relief and the Pantone Color of the Year


ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California-licensed and nationally-certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include promoting women’s health and fertility and breaking the cycles of stress, anxiety, and depression. 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.

Header and Pear Images: Unsplash

Treating Stress, Anxiety, and Depression with Acupuncture

Forest of Feelings (Figure out what what you’re feeling)

Positive Vibes Only? Definitely not. Negative emotions are natural and can signal a need to change our relationships, environment, or behavior. It’s when negative emotions become chronic and feel like they arise without cause, that you turn to guiding practitioners like therapists and acupuncturists who can help you figure out what forest of feelings you've wandered into and how you can find your way back out again.

Whether your depression, anxiety, and stress are chronic or not, tamping down negative feelings or denying them in favor of only positive feelings is neither realistic nor helpful. What is helpful and what acupuncture helps facilitate is giving all your feelings a space and distance from yourself to be acknowledged, fully felt, and then allowed to pass. That can be an extended grieving period and or as short as a few minutes to recognize that you're getting frustrated and need to breathe deeper and take a walk.

Understanding what you're feeling, giving that feeling space, and then letting it go is essential in our modern world. With these skills, you can begin to move past the thicket of a bad stretch. And when you have one bad day, you'll realize that's part of being human, not a sign that you're broken.

Negative emotions are natural and can signal a need to change our relationships, environment, or behavior.

A First Step

Simply being aware of what it is that you're feeling is a good first step. Rather than putting a label on it (I have depression, I'm an angry person, that's just who I am), try, "What is this that I'm feeling? Am I angry right now? Is it sadness and frustration at the same time?" Then you can take a step back and say, "that sadness and frustration are not who I am. I am not a sad and frustrated person. I just feel those things right now and there's got to be a reason for it."

Next, ideally with the help of a guide, you can put on your detective hat and figure out why those feelings are coming up so the signal doesn't keep coming regularly while you don't understand what it's trying to tell you (a real recipe for frustration).

Acupuncture and Therapy Work Well Together

I am not a therapist. What I am is an acupuncturist and Japanese medicine practitioner.

I recommend that my patients who find themselves in these patterns for longer periods of time or with frequency see a good therapist. Many of you often are in therapy already when you seek my care. Acupuncture works really well in combination with therapy, especially talk (cognitive behavior therapy and other methods) and somatic therapies. The way I tend to explain it is that acupuncture helps you become more centered and clear – more aware of what it is that you're feeling so you can express it in therapy and to yourself.

What acupuncture helps facilitate is giving all your feelings a space and distance from yourself to be acknowledged, fully felt, and then allowed to pass.

Acupuncture also helps protect against those feelings settling in and becoming something more (pain, stiffness, adrenal fatigue, cardiopulmonary symptoms, etc). Plus, we can treat the already existing symptomatic expression of your anxiety, depression, and/or stress, whether physical (like headaches, insomnia, and palpitations) or mental/emotional (like a racing or foggy mental state).

Japanese and Chinese medicine look at our emotions as expressions of imbalance in the relationships of our different systems (sometimes called channels, meridians, or organs). So the questions above are the same sorts of diagnostic questions I ask in the office to figure out what channels are out of harmony. That information allows us to help them back into their proper relationship so you feel more centered, grounded, balanced, and clear. And this also gives you the opportunity to make small or large changes that might put you in a healthier space and thus treat that signal/feeling at the root of its expression.
 

What kind of treatments do you offer?

Acupuncture: Gentle correction of the relationships of your physical and energetic body. Using the traditional functions of the points and channels plus modern understandings of physiology, acupuncture helps to regulate the nervous system so that the parasympathetic (rest, digest, heal) outweighs the sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze). Patients report feeling more at ease, rested, calm, and grounded after treatment. Many patients fall asleep on the table during in-office treatment and often sleep better at home as well.

Acupressure: Earseeds and self-massage as coping mechanisms between treatments and as regular care for treatment and prevention of symptoms. These methods are often subtle enough to be performed in the workplace or social gatherings without attracting attention.

Qigong: Breathing exercises and gentle movements. Ranging from short and sweet visualizations and meditative practices to healing sounds and simple movements that target the organ systems and channels that are out of balance. Most of the movements can be done while seated or standing and we can adapt them for your body's range of motion.

Herbal Medicine: Personalized prescriptions for herbal formulas and supplements for symptomatic and deep cause treatment. Protect your system against physical effects of emotions on the body (adrenal fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations) and amplify the benefits of treatment. Taking a herbal formula regularly can decrease the frequency of recommended in-office visits.

Moxa/ Moxibustion: Depending on the causes and symptoms of your emotional patterns, this herbal heat therapy can be very helpful to increase motivation, combat fatigue, and reawaken interest in activities. Patients have described it as feeling like painful or tight spots are melting or unwinding, that they can breathe deeper, and that they feel more awake. If applicable, I instruct my patients on how to do moxibustion safely at home as well as perform moxibustion in the clinic with you.

Essential Oils: Recommendations for home care to combine with acupressure points. Especially helpful for travel and nighttime symptoms.

How long does treatment take? When will I be better?

My treatment plans are personalized for each patient. I see people at various stages of their emotional journeys. Some people come in soon after a crisis (important to note that I am not a substitute for emergency services such as hotlines or the ER - please see information below if you are in crisis). But the short and honest answer is it depends on you - where you are in your relationship to your emotional health and how much farther you have to go to come to terms with what balance is going to look like for you.

Acupuncture is not here to "fix" you. It's medicine, not magic. I often tell patients when they praise my touch that I'm just getting stuff out of the way so your body can do the work it is already trying to do. Our bodies want to get back to homeostasis. Balance.

You are doing the work and the work can take some time. But it's a lot easier when you surround yourself with experts who can guide and support you, and that's where I see myself on your team.

If you are in crisis

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

If your depression is leading to suicidal thoughts, please call the National Hopeline to connect with a treatment center in your area. Includes live chat feature for anyone who doesn't want to or is unable to call. This hotline can dispatch emergency services to you if needed.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Another resource for anyone dealing with suicidal or other harmful thoughts is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They also offer a chat service1-800-799-4889.

Acupuncture is not an emergency service. When you need the tools I can provide and a new member of your cheering squad, please be in touch. You are worthwhile and cared for.

Additional resources

About Shawna

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include promoting women’s health, fertility, and breaking the cycles of stress, anxiety, and depression. 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: Death to the Stock Photo

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 promoting women’s health and fertility and breaking the cycles of stress, anxiety, and depression. 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

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.