Ginger

Herbal Spotlight: Ginger

Patients often ask me about the role of ginger in our overall health, circulation and in generally keeping our body’s Yin and Yang in balance.

Ginger is incredibly valuable for promoting health and wellness because it naturally stimulates good digestion and is often used to “fire up” a congested, clogged, sluggish or weakened digestion in patients.

In an earlier post this month, I wrote about the Water element. Ginger is also incredibly useful in drying dampness (Water) during the winter months as it helps the body to dispel cold.
Traditional Chinese Medicine considers ginger to have warm characteristics that help to improve the spleen and digestive systems to increase Spleen Qi and yang. Especially during winter, eating a little of ginger can help raise your Qi and yang energy. In Western term these functions may be called “boosting the Immune system”.

For those patients that I may have described as naturally having a warm constitution, be careful how much ginger you eat since you’re already warm and don’t want to overheat unnecessarily. A ginger tea taken once or twice daily should be fine for those constitutions.

Ginger root, in both its fresh form “Sheng Jiang” and its dried form, “Gan Jiang” stimulate our digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, a process that is part of stimulating the transformation and transportation of the solids and fluids in Chinese Medicine. So its not just that ginger stimulates digestion, but that it aids in assimilation of nutrients making them more “bioavailable” in the blood stream, and with its warm, pungent nature helps to ignite the ministerial fire in Chinese Medicine.

Ginger’s fibrous rhizome is spicy and is also said to neutralize poisons in food, ventilate the lungs, and warm the circulation to the limbs. Today, many Chinese medicine practitioners use ginger in the treatment of cough (it acts as an expectorant) and common cold.

Ginger is typically also used in making teas as the powder is encapsulated for easy consumption. Personally I like to add smashed or sliced ginger to tea (as opposed to powdered ginger) and I will often dice it up to add to soups.

Here is one of my favorite recipes using this wonderful herb … give it a try some time!

Ginger and Spring Onion Porridge

(This is a very traditional porridge, cooked at home and also available for dim sum or yum cha. It will definitely help warm your circulation.)

Ingredients:
Small handful of rice (if you like oats, you may use these instead)

2 cups of water

1 inch of ginger chopped very finely

2tblsp spring onion

Instructions:
Boil the rice and water until the rice is soft. Add the ginger and spring onion and cook for another minute. You can add soy sauce to taste. Yup it’s that simple!

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The Water Element

San Francisco might be experiencing it’s annual burst of early Spring, but for all intents and purposes it is still Winter with so much of the country still blanketed in snow.

Winter is the season where nature ‘rests’ in preparation for the upcoming Spring and Summer months. While nature is hibernating, Winter encourages us to acknowledge both the coldness and darkness around us and the deeper and perhaps darker parts within us.

For many of us, it has been an emotionally challenging few months causing people to feel anxious and ungrounded. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the darkness and fear we might be experiencing are directly associated with the Water Element (the most Yin of all the five elements) and therefore the Kidneys which rule water metabolism and maintain homeostasis, a dynamic continual rebalancing. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that excess fear injures the Kidney energy while a dysfunction in the Kidney energy, in turn, increases our fear.

As the most yielding of all the elements, Water will break down even the hardest rock over time and find the path of least resistance to move around any obstacle. So Winter is a good time to learn to “flow” which means when uncomfortable feelings come up, try to breathe with them and allow them to naturally move through the body. When we resist these feelings, they tend to get blocked in the chest, since the Kidneys are not grounding these feelings, thus causing tension, anxiety, and a myriad of physical symptoms too, over time, such as high blood pressure and back pain.

In Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys store the Essence and consolidate the Qi that governs over our physiology, so by tonifying the Kidney energy, we correct physical and emotional imbalances associated with the Water Element. The Kidneys can be considered as the “mother organ” since they nourish all the other organs and consolidate our energy stores, as well as all of our fluids. The Kidneys are thus the anchor that supports all of our physiological processes by providing primordial energy (Essence, Yin, Yang) to the body as a whole.

Winter is the best time of year to build up Kidney energy. It is a time to rest, go to bed earlier and wake up later (part of your natural instinct to want to hibernate). Your diet should consist of hearty, warming foods like soups and stews. Walking, hiking and other gentle exercise like yoga and Qi Gong are also great for your kidneys.

Allow yourself to feel into what your body needs and rest as much as you can, but also balance this with light activities, breath work, and any activity that increases your circulation, so you don’t get stagnant . Just like water – it needs to flow in order to stay vital.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can also help correct deficiency and keep the kidneys strong. When the Kidney energy is strong you will regain the willpower to live life with focus and direction in spite of the current that you might feel pushing against you.

Winter teaches us to fully enjoy the powers of the season by surrendering and learning from what it has to offer us and Traditional Chinese Medicine gives us numerous mental, emotional, physical, and nutritional tools to help augment the water reserves within us.

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Year of the Rooster

Saturday January 28th 2017 marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar Year of the Rooster. But not just any rooster … according to Chinese astrology it’s the Year of the Red Fire Rooster. Given that the Year of the Rooster is ruled by the fire element, it is a Yang year.

The Rooster is the tenth sign of the Chinese zodiac and as such, the year ahead is said to bring with it many of the characteristics of its symbolic bird – courage, integrity, perseverance, ambition, pride and passion.

On the other hand the Rooster – The King of the Yard – can be quite stubborn and inflexible at times so it is said that to balance these traits, this is a good year to cultivate flexibility and working as a team.

On a personal level, according to Chinese astrology at least, this is the year to recreate yourself, following a perennial wisdom that life is what you make it from moment to moment. The rooster is a colorful, flamboyant animal – it is not afraid to show it’s true colors and to shine.

Following a year that saw many unexpected surprises and events on several levels, it is said that the Year of the Rooster is being welcomed as the ‘wake up’ year. After all, roosters wake up early in the morning to rouse everyone into action with their enthusiasm.

So, let your true colors shine this year and spread your wings a little!

Here’s to a prosperous Year of the Red Fire Rooster … 中国新年快乐2017年!

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New Beginnings

It’s a new year.

And while for some, the new year is a time to set resolutions, I believe that the new year is also a time to welcome, accept, and celebrate new beginnings.

It has become tradition to “count down” to a new year, but I’d like to propose that we celebrate the beginning of every single new day. In reality, every day is new; every moment is new; every breath is new, and it’s easy to lose sight of that.

In many religions it is customary to pray first thing in the morning – often before the sun has even risen. Many other people all over the world have spiritual practices such as meditation or yoga first thing in the morning. These are ways of showing gratitude for the simple fact of being alive and for the miracle of seeing a new day dawn. They set the stage for a day that’s lived intentionally.

What does a new beginning mean to you?

For many, a new beginning is connected to deep change – perhaps a personal healing after an emotional or physical struggle. Or the sense of finding an inner anchor when it feels like things have fallen apart outside.
One way to create a new beginning is through personal healing. Whether it’s as simple as taking a yoga class to process and release the stresses of the day and walk out feeling renewed, an acupuncture session to help open the body and relax the nervous system, or something as simple as making our next breath conscious and realizing that this present moment contains all we need.

In today’s society many people connect the notion of ‘new’ with something material – like a new car, a new iPhone, or a new item of clothing. But I like to focus on the traditional Chinese philosophy of celebrating every new day being part of the cycle of life and the opportunity for spiritual transformation.

In this sense a new beginning is more about letting something go, to part with something that’s not serving me any longer, rather than acquiring something new. This could mean letting go of a self defeating thought or belief, or any other pattern that keeps me locked in the past or the future.

With this, I encourage you to open up to new behaviors, new habits, new ways of living, eating and being – the integration of mind, body and spirit, in this very moment.

“Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way. Stay away from what might have been and move on. Don’t let negative words or actions of others affect your smile. Decide that today is going to be a good day.” (author unknown)

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“Rolling With the Punches!” by Paul Slezak

One of the things I admire most about Sascha, is his ability to keep me grounded; to help me not flip out or over-react when something doesn’t quite go according to plan; and to generally find the positive angle in every situation.

It’s one of his (many) gifts.

I’m writing this post looking at the bright side of a situation that at the time was pretty bland (and not quite what I was hoping for at all) … as you’re about to find out.

Ever since watching the Griswalds visit the Grand Canyon in National Lampoon’s Vacation as a kid, a trip to the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list. So when a recent conference took me to Las Vegas, I figured a day at the Canyon would be the perfect post-conference side trip.

I found a tour company that ran day tours to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and booked my ticket. The online brochure outlined a 6am hotel pick up, a quick stop at Hoover Dam, then out to the Canyon for a few hours of awesome viewing spots, before heading back to Vegas by 7pm.

With the conference out of the way, I couldn’t wait for the big day!

I boarded the coach at 6am from my hotel and we were on our way. The driver mentioned that the forecast was for “some light rain and perhaps a few light snow flurries” but reinforced that we’d be in for a great day.

At Hoover Dam I snapped a few quick pics (more just because I wanted to stretch my legs), before the coach headed along the famous Route 66 into Arizona.

I must have fallen asleep for about an hour and woke up when the coach pulled into a gas station. When I looked outside I could see the rain was pelting down.

We left the gas station and headed towards the Canyon. After about another hour or so the rain had clearly become snow … and even for an inexperienced Aussie (who had only seen snow once before), I could tell that it was more than just a flurry!

The coach slowed right down and continued at a snail’s pace for about another 45 minutes until we pulled into another stop.

We were told we were at our lunch stop.

I got off the bus and it was bitterly cold and the snow was coming down aggressively. I couldn’t even see across the road.

After a quick lunch the coach passengers were divided up into groups and directed to different jeeps. The jeeps were covered in thick plastic ‘hoods’ (they were clearly typically open vehicles). The seats were covered in melted snow and the wind was absolutely biting.

Our tour guide introduced himself and then let us know that in 18 years of living and working in the Grand Canyon, he had never seen a blizzard like this but we’d still head towards the south rim.

The 6 of us in the jeep were freezing so he offered us a blanket to share!

After about 20 minutes we arrived at what was supposedly (usually) the most breathtaking photo spot. I got out of the jeep and as I stood next to the jeep the snow came up past my ankles. I couldn’t feel my face (I was just wearing jeans and a standard hoodie) and my fingers started going numb.

I literally couldn’t see more than 2 feet in front of me. As far as I was concerned the fact that the spectacular Grand Canyon was (apparently) right there was irrelevant. I was being battered by a freak snow storm.

After less than 2 minutes standing on the edge of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, I just wanted to get back into the damp jeep and get the hell out of there.

The guides had been instructed to leave the canyon due to the severe weather and that we would be taken to a nearby museum while the blizzard hopefully past over.

The “museum” turned out to be a wooden hut (about the size of an elementary school classroom) where we watched a video on how the Grand Canyon was formed.

Side note: I hated (and failed) geography at school. How rocks move over millions of years doesn’t really interest me in the slightest, and right now (with my feet now also numb from walking in the snow in regular runners) I was staring at an old TV monitor listening to a documentary about the canyon that looked like it was made in the 1970s.

Get me out of here.

I’d paid over $350 so far and was cold, wet, numb and watching an outdated DVD.

The guide then drove us back to the coach stop and we were told we could spend the next hour in the gift shop!

WTF? An hour looking at postcards, key chains and fridge magnets of what the Grand Canyon should have looked like?

We got back onto the coach and the expressions on all the other passengers were priceless. Nobody said a word. It looked like everyone was in a trance. Pissed off. Frozen. Over it.

We started crawling back towards the main road. The snow was now coming down even harder than before and it was starting to get dark.

10 minutes into the return journey, the driver announced that there was a bad accident up ahead. The traffic then came to a grinding halt. We literally weren’t moving.

The driver then announced he was putting on a movie.

I am not kidding here when I say I watched the entire Oceans Eleven movie and half of Dumb and Dumber before the bus even moved an inch. Outside the blizzard was still in full swing and clearly the roads were incredibly icy.

What should have been a roughly four-hour drive back to Las Vegas turned out to be over seven hours! Once the accident was cleared, we crawled back towards Sin City and I was dropped back at my hotel after midnight.

I was booked on a 6am flight back to San Francisco the next morning. I’d been out for 18 hours and literally hadn’t seen a thing. My mood was beyond foul. I couldn’t wait to write my abusive TripAdvisor review about my visit to the Bland Canyon.

But somehow Sascha’s voice was in my head … “Just breathe. Listen to your body. Take a deep breath”!

My body was telling me that it was still freezing cold, hungry, exhausted, and feeling completely ripped off!

But then Sascha’s voice continued in my head … “Remember that sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. Look on the bright side – you got to see snow for the second time in your life!”.

He was absolutely right.

The Grand Canyon isn’t going anywhere. I’ll be able to visit it some other time only next time if there’s even a hint of cloud I won’t get on the bus.

Actually better yet, I will book a helicopter trip over the canyon instead!

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A Time of Yin

The end of the year 2016 is fast approaching.

One thing I have heard from many of my patients especially over the last month is how tired and drained they feel. From what I can see, this year brought many challenges personally as well as nationally and globally.

Winter is a good time for deep introspection, to discover the layers of personal and global tension that we might have internalized and to do some deep healing to release this tension layer by layer.

For some these layers are felt in their dreams: this is a safe time for us to feel and explore our inner lives with the least amount of interference from our waking mind. Consider starting a dream journal to start making you aware of the material that arises as night.

The most challenging part in dealing with the darker seasons in life is often the first step: To start slowing down and to start feeling. There’s something that happens when we pay attention to our inner lives with a loving and clear intention to heal – there’s movement.

In Chinese medicine we call the principle to go within, to go deep, and to connect with our deepest resources of healing the Yin aspect. Yin is an energetic quality representing feeling supported in the body, manifesting as trust and feeling secure, a sense of feeling calm and rooted. Physically it represents body fluids, lubrication, the ability to cool and nourish all organs.

As we are aware of the wonderful qualities of introspection and self healing that this time of Yin brings, we keep in mind one of the main principles of Chinese medicine: balance. So, Winter is the best time to balance all this Yin with Yang.

Yang is warmth, movement, circulation and it tends to be naturally lower in the Winter months.

So to balance this beautiful Yin energy, make sure you also apply the principle of nourishing Yang this season: Eat mostly warm/hot foods like soups and stews, add ginger and cinnamon wherever you can, drink lots of hot tea and do make time to circulate your blood through light exercise, stretching, breathing.

So, as we naturally slow down in the Winter, we balance the tendency to hibernate and go within, with gentle ways to stay warm and keep the fire going, as well as to share with loved ones in a deep and gentle way.

Acupuncture,  Chinese Herbs and moxibustion are a great way to boost the Yang in Winter months – there’s a belief in China that a powerful treatment in the height of Winter (Winter solstice on December 21st) will ward of the cold for the entire year.

In any case, stay warm this Winter, tap into the healing qualities which Yin time brings by slowing down, honoring your feelings and by sharing with others when it feels right.

Here’s a link to a recipe for an easy to make Winter vegetable soup, enjoy!

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/winter-vegetable-soup-358098

Happy Yin time!

Sascha

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It’s Time to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. The focus shifts from ghosts to turkeys, and before we know it the Christmas decorations will be up and carols will be piping through the speakers in every store.

Yes … it’s The Holidays!

What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Is it the food? Is it about spending time with family and friends? Perhaps it’s a time to feel connected to the founding pilgrims?

This year, I wanted to share my own Thanksgiving thoughts.

Let’s put aside the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, and the pumpkin pie. Let’s focus on you for a change.

For much of the year you’ve been likely been caught up in the pressures and stresses of the day to day. At home or at work you’ve probably focused more on what you don’t have than what you do have. Well, at least that’s how my mind works!

Thanksgiving can be a time where you can slow down and refocus. It can be a time where you can thank yourself for everything you have been able to achieve so far this year.

Take a deep breath. Pause. Reflect. Take stock. Slow down. Step off that treadmill (or at least turn it down a few notches). Look around you.

Now exhale. Leave the stresses of work and personal life behind (and maybe of the election too). Ignore (even for a moment) the pressure and burden of hosting all your family for Thanksgiving dinner (and perhaps the fact that you’ll have to do it all again in a month!).

We don’t spend enough time praising ourselves for all our accomplishments. We apologize to others; with thank others; we go out of our way to help others; we listen to others.

It’s time to listen to your own body. Listen carefully to what it’s trying to tell you.

Block out the noise. Shut the door on the external stresses and pressure that you have welcomed into your life all year.

Take some time for yourself and try your best to slow down during the holidays. Sure, there’ll be family, friends and food all around you. But it doesn’t mean you can’t sneak away to meditate and re-energize; or squeeze in a yoga class or two. Gosh everyone else will be so caught up in everything they might not even notice you’ve gone!

Trust me, you’ll feel amazing and you’ll thank yourself for it … literally. And you might just find that you create a new tradition for yourself.

Oh and at the family feast, when your body tells you it’s had enough, that’s also a good time to really listen to it 😉

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Power of Mindfulness

A patient arrived at the clinic the other evening. She looked exhausted.

I can’t even remember how I got here”, she said. “I must just be on auto-pilot”.

I showed her into the treatment room at once, sensing it was time for her to relax.

Many patients talk about being so busy that often they run their entire day on autopilot – whether it’s being a busy parent or working in an office.

For me, when I hear someone talk about “being on autopilot”, it means they’re not able to cope with a dozen balls in the air or multi-task. It means they might not be focused, present, or fully ‘there’ in the moment.

When you’re in a state of mindlessness, it means that you’ve completely stopped listening to your body; you’re simply going through the motions of everyday life; you’re checking the boxes to get things done; and you’re becoming more susceptible to stress and anxiety.

For many years I have followed the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn – a world-renowned teacher of mindfulness and stress reduction. He defines mindfulness as “paying attention; on purpose; in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.

When I tell my patients to breathe and listen to their bodies, it’s much about being conscious and in the moment – it’s a practice of mindfulness.

We spend so much time thinking about things that have already happened, or worrying about things that might happen in the future, that often we actually forget to appreciate or enjoy the moment.

Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens, in the moment. It helps clear your head and make you more aware of yourself and your body; it helps slow down your thoughts and your nervous system; and it helps you to concentrate, relax and manage stress.

When practicing mindfulness we’re not aiming to control or suppress or stop our thoughts. We simply aim to pay attention to our experiences as they arise without judging or labelling them in any way.

With its roots in Buddhist meditation, some people practice the technique through yoga. However you can clean your kitchen mindfully, brush your teeth mindfully, stand in the train mindfully, or go for your morning walk mindfully. 

Any routine activity can be made into a mindfulness practice when you bring your full attention to it.

Mindfulness simply means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Remember there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or worrying about the future.

To experience the true power of mindfulness, take a deep breath and focus on the present moment. Try not to think about anything that went on earlier today or that might be coming up tomorrow. Concentrate on what’s happening around you.

Remember not to be judgmental about anything you notice, or label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The Heart and the Belly don’t make these distinctions, only the mind does. Have fun with it!

My First Ever Yoga Experience | Guest Blog Post by Paul Slezak

When I read Sascha’s latest blog post about the power of yoga, I wanted to share a quick story about my first ever yoga experience which actually only took place a few weeks ago. I’ll admit, Sascha has been encouraging me to incorporate yoga into my wellness regime along with my weekly acupuncture sessions for quite some time now. I finally built up the courage and went along to a studio close to where I live. My plan was to set myself up right at the back of the class. I had never tried yoga before; I have a very fragile lower back; I am ridiculously inflexible; and I didn’t want anyone to watch me.

When the instructor came in, he decided to conduct the class from the back of the studio! There I was … right in the very front row! Let me stress, I had selected a “beginners’ basics” class, but some of my fellow participants appeared to be warming up like elastic bands! I honestly can’t remember when I last sat cross-legged on a mat. It could have been in grade 4 at primary school. Was this already a pose? I was already in pain! The instructor led us through some breathing techniques that I couldn’t even get right! Something about trying to make a soft whispering sound as I tried to inhale through my mouth?!?

A few of my classmates (perhaps the elastic banders!) would hum every now and then. I couldn’t tell who since I was keeping my eyes closed and was very focused on my newfound breathing style! When the actual movement (stretching) began, so did the mega sweats! As we were guided through warrior pose, tree pose, child pose, and downward dog I considered asking for a mop since the puddle of sweat on my mat was becoming a small pond! I was feeling more exhausted than after a 20km walk or a spin class! I hadn’t even moved off my mat!

The instructor dimmed the lights and his voice became almost trance like. I was lying in a pool of sweat on my mat with my eyes closed counting my breaths. He told us to focus on every part of the body – from the little toe to the knee … to the …I literally fell asleep.

I heard the sound of a chime and opened my eyes. My classmates were back to sitting cross-legged with their hands in prayer-like pose. He then said “Namaste” and everyone stood up. That’s when I peeled myself off the mat! I must have only dosed off for a few minutes but I felt like I had slept for hours. My body felt amazing. I had an incredible sense of clarity. It was one of the most amazing hours of my life (and I’m not exaggerating). That night I slept straight through the night. I can’t remember when that last happened.

My lower back hasn’t been playing up; My stress levels are practically non-existent; and I feel like I am in complete control of everything … without my usual emotional spikes.

Thank you for encouraging me to try yoga, Sascha!

I’m off to join Cirque du Soleil!

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Yoga: Bringing Awareness, Breathing and Movement Together

You see them everywhere. Especially here in San Francisco. No matter what time of the day … and particularly on weekends. People walking around in stretch pants, often wearing slightly too much fluro, carrying a rolled up mat in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. Where are they all going?

To yoga!

But despite the appearance of some of the fans you may see on the street, yoga is far more than just another trend du jour like zumba or soul cycle! Yoga is a mind and body practice with historical origins dating back to ancient India, combining physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and a distinct philosophy.

As an individual you are far more than simply a walking brain. Your mind, body (and soul) often need to find a calm place – a time for you to really connect with your entire body. Some people who practise yoga may be addressing specific health conditions, such as back pain, neck pain, arthritis, and anxiety. However several studies suggest that practising yoga can improve quality of life; reduce stress; lower heart rate and blood pressure; help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia; and improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility.

Yoga is the perfect accompaniment to acupuncture. Trust me your body will love you if you combine both practices as part of your weekly wellness regime. To simply be with your body and your own breath is a wonderful experience. But remember that everyone’s body is different, and yoga postures should be modified based on your own individual capabilities. Make sure you select a studio and an instructor who is experienced and attentive to your needs helping you practise yoga safely.

Give it a go … Feed your soul; stir you mind; your body will thank you for it.

Namaste

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