It's late summer the season of abundance - or so we hope. If your attempts to grow tomatoes in this pretty dismal summer have been anything like mine you still have unsatisfying plants of green fruits, who have been sun-starved and won't ripen. Boo. But the runners beans have thrived, so yay!! But for me it's a cheerful time of year - the pure sunshine of fresh corn on the cob, raspberries, blackberries, apples, chard, squashes, yada yada, suffice to say if your heart doesn't gladden at nature's bounty then as an acupuncturist I think you probably need to come and see me, because it should quicken with joy!
So at this time of year, the harvest season, I tend to naturally find my thoughts turning to my own personal harvest. What is working in my life, which areas feel rich and abundant, and which are delivering diminishing returns, or not satisfying me as fully. Like my sorry tomato crop. One of the basic tenets of Five Element Acupuncture and living in a state of health is to live in the rhythm of nature, and this process is something that we should find ourselves naturally doing about now.
I have so much to be thankful for, and many many reasons to be cheerful (my new haircut, my 10th wedding anniversary, a practice I love, the man in the cake shop who seems to be my newly appointed 'feeder'), but like most of us, still put energy and time into areas of my worklife, friendships or other relationships that don't give me the harvest I need, or perhaps that they should. Wrong soil, wrong fertiliser, wrong time, whatevs. And that's fine, there's a wax and wane for everything. What's right for now is to take stock. Not in a heavy way, but simply recognise what has borne fruit and what hasn't, so we can decide what to let go of and what to take forward.
So maybe over this weekend spend a few minutes pondering some simple questions - do you have the capacity to enjoy your harvest? Or do you struggle to recognise what abundance is, or means to you? Are you living in harmony with nature and her gifts?
Anyway, if you need any inspiration for your own harvest list, Ian Dury is the man. Reasons to be Cheerful. Part 3.
I will admit to getting a little excited about the benefits of pre-birth acupuncture, a series of weekly treatments undertaken from 36 weeks to promote natural labour, having been offering this in my clinic for some time now. Research undertaken in Germany, where midwives routinely administer acupuncture to their patients, showed that the mean duration of labour in a group of women giving birth for the first time was reduced from 8 hours and 2 minutes to 6 hours and 36 minutes. The wonderful Debra Betts, who is widely acknowledged as one of the foremost experts on acupuncture in pregnancy and labour (and herself a former midwife) also reports from her own research that midwives using it report a reduced rate of medical intervention - including medical inductions and c-sections. Sounds good, right? So how does it work?
Pre-birth acupuncture will typically be working for the patient in two ways. The first is focused on promoting a natural, efficient labour. This is done by using a set of points (all on the lower leg) that help prepare a woman's body for birth, with an emphasis on affecting the cervix and pelvis. The needles are placed in the correct place and left for 20 minutes. These points nourish the blood, relax and soften the relevant ligaments prior to labour, aid in cervical dilation and promote the optimal position of the baby for birth. My own patients also all report feeling much calmer at the end of each session and this is really important - especially when women have been working right up to the last minute. These sessions create a calm, quiet, relaxed space for concentrating on oneself.
The second benefit of treatment at this time is to address the 'minor' issues many pregnant women are dealing with by now. Heartburn, constipation, swelling, difficulty in sleeping, etc. Whilst not in any way pregnancy or life threatening, they can make the final weeks that bit more uncomfortable, and being tired can really exacerbate anxiety.
Finally, many of the women I see work til quite late in their pregnancy as, understandably, they want to save their maternity leave for when the baby is actually here. But work stress, and the physical the strain of getting to and from work every day, can be incredibly draining - not ideal when giving birth is such a physical feat. Add a toddler into that mix and you are guaranteed one tired mumma who is going to have to dig really deep into her reserves just to get through the final weeks, let alone get through labour.
So signing up for a course of pre-birth acupuncture not only helps balance what the body needs to concentrate on with the demands of the 'in the real world' life of mums-to-be to, but also creates optimum conditions for a safe, efficient, shorter labour.
You can read more here about the research study here - http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/acupuncture/research/prebirth/
Yep. I want to talk about cystitis. That stingy, nasty, painful blight that tends to make special (and often frequent) appearances that are seemingly designed to mess with your life. Triggers can include sex, alcohol, riding a motorbike (u-huh) and certain foods (for me, Red Bull is a guaranteed shortcut to an army of wee nettles) and is a pain in the coochie to shift. For some unlucky ladies it is almost a contraception in itself, with sex-avoidance a better option than inviting it back for another round.
Bacterial or non-bacterial, the good news is your body usually has the ability to get over it by itself within a couple of days (unless it travels to the kidneys - if you see red, get to the doctor NOW), but before your body gets itself in gear you can give it a hand with this AMAZING acupuncture point. The best thing to do is to come and see me and get a needle in there (please don't try this at home) but you can also use acupressure on this point to help give your bladder some relief.
Over the counter remedies can also be helpful in neutralising the urine so it doesn't sting as much, but a cheaper alternative is to dissolve a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in half a pint of water (please don't do this if you have high BP) and drink that 2 to 3 times a day.
Interstitial cystitis is a different condition. Non-bacterial in nature, it doesn't respond to antibiotics and its causes are unclear, but it can be a really difficult condition to live with and even more difficult to treat. I have worked with several patients who have suffered with this condition, so if you find you always need to pee, call me. Catchy, eh?
So this blog, which was started with the best intentions of spreading the word about acupuncture and wellness etc etc, has had a bit of a summer break. OK, a very long summer break. Why? Well, summer is summery, isn't it?! It is seeing friends, and going on holiday, it is cocktails, and being outside, and it is a time when we engage with the world around us. Summer gives us the urge to get out there and that's what I did.
Living with nature and the seasons is a great gift; if you accept what they bring, one of these gifts is understanding that there is a right time for things and that working with the natural rhythm of the season and its' powers makes life so much easier. It is hard to hermit yourself away and work on that novel over the summer, or say no to loads of social events because you are 'trying to get pregnant' and why should you? There is a time for everything and summer - especially the gorgeous, generously sunny one we have enjoyed in the UK this year - is when you fill up the internal well marked 'friends, fun and sun'.
So why am I here now? Well, despite the media proclamations of an Indian summer, the season has moved on and I feel like I have too. I am ready for autumn and its glories. But first, we have the harvest season. As a child I found the Harvest Festival a bit eerie. Corn dollies and old ladies with tins of fruit for the church hamper. But it is a wonderful pagan festival, at which we say thanks for the bounty the season has brought and the bumper crop the sun has helped create. And part of those thanks should be for the friendships and relationships you have, old and new. Food feeds the body, but relationships feed our very souls and nourish the heart.
So I hope you filled your boots with fun, and your 'friends, fun and sun' well overfloweth. Autumn is the season for inspiration and reflection, for long breaths, walks and a slowing down of the pace. I for one can't wait. And me and my liver are forever grateful we don't live somewhere sunny all year round.
You may have heard me wax lyrical on the benefits of a good home made broth, bones simmered with veg for hours to be transformed into a nourishing base for soup that is good for body and soul. Patients who visit me at the clinic in Percy Street are regularly prescribed a visit to Tonkotsu for their life affirming (and giving) ramen, made with a silky home-made stock that makes me feel like Popeye eating spinach.
Friends have also been admiring and laughing in turn at my latest obsession with going home with doggy bags from restaurants, but it's ticking all my boxes this winter as I try and save for a big holiday later this year. I don't want to cancel all the nice cosy lunches and dinners with friends that make the first three months of the year not just bearable but fun, but it's all about balancing the books. So here's my official acupuncturist advice:
a) go to lovely, possibly spendy pub or restaurant for lunch or dinner. b) Order a nice cut of meat on the bone. Shin of beef at the Canton Arms? Bag up the bones. Baby chicken at Shoreditch House? A nice wee take home box. c) 50pence worth of veg and 3 hours later and you have a hearty stock for soup, i.e. lunch for a couple of days that leaves your kidney qi is all a quiver with love for you.
Most acupuncturists are going to tell you that if you are a coffee drinker you should think about cutting it back, if not out altogether if you are trying to conceive. Why? It's so delicious, coffee shops are great places to hang out (free wifi, spendy cakes, hot baristas), it can be good for you, no? Well yes, there can be benefits to drinking coffee, hell I love a good brew, but like everything else it is all about moderation.
Coffee gives you a lift because it buzzes your adrenal system. Now our adrenal system can't differentiate between a cup of coffee and a herd of buffalo bearing down on you, so it goes into the 'fight or flight' state. Your adrenal glands release adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones to keep you active, awake, alert, responsive. Brilliant! I had a bad nights sleep/big night out/a big meeting to prep for, so why not? Well if you keep taking out of your bank of energy, without ultimately giving it time to recharge you are going to burn out, physically and mentally. Common sense, rather than rocket science.
Research is still being conducted, of course, but studies have shown that ultimately that caffeine has a real effect on the reproductive system, affecting sperm motility and quality, delaying pregnancy rates (more than one cup a day halves chances of conceiving per cycle), it can be linked to miscarriage rates, exacerbates endometriosis and excessive consumption is going to weaken the immune system. In 'fight or flight' the body sends energy to the muscles rather the gastrointestinal tract, slowing it down, which can lead to indigestion. Alright, that's not so serious, but think about it if you don't go anywhere without a box of Rennies.
Quite simply, like any stimulant, you can use or abuse so if you are feeling depleted, keep getting colds and bugs, or you are trying to conceive then cut it out altogether if you can. It's not forever! At the very least cut it down to no more than one cup a day and give your system a chance to reboot.
Oh and a note on decaff. This is made by basically washing the coffee beans with formaldehyde to absorb the caffeine. Yum.
A few of my patients are due to give birth over the coming months so it seemed like a good time to talk about mother roasting, a truly lovely post partum treatment that can be easily done at home and which can really help a new mother recover. Let's face it, she has worked pretty hard to get that baby out, internally everything has had a bit of a workout and this warming, nourishing treatment can help with a healthy recovery. Simply, a moxa stick is used to warm the lower abdomen and lower back in the fortnight following the birth. New mothers should also keep their belly and lower back warm - which can easily be done with either enormous knickers or a scarf wrapped round the midriff. Finally, eat well - a new baby can turn things upside down, especially eating, but getting the right kind of nourishment is crucial for the production of breast milk, the energy you need to get through and blood building. Making a batch of beef bone broth ahead of time is easily done and perfect for this. Breast milk is essentially blood, so if there has been a significant blood loss at birth an additional iron supplement such as Floradix, which I recommend to so many people, should also be considered.
Aaah, the restorative powers of Beef Bone Broth. Not only is it super cheap, but it is deeply healing. Rich with minerals, gelatin, amino acids and all kinds of other good stuff, it helps the body by giving it some of building materials it needs to repair, regenerate and heal. It also supports the adrenals (and therefore hormone production), nourishes the kidneys and supports the qi and builds the blood. Fi fi fo fum indeed!
Here's what you need to do: ask the butcher for a bag of beef bones (please make sure from a happy cow), roast them in the oven until they are cooked through and browned, let them cool a little, stick them in a pan and cover well with cold water then add a tablespoon or two of white wine, or apple cider vinegar and leave for an hour. This is important as it helps draw out the good stuff from the bones. Bring it to boil, then simmer for at least 6 hours, but for a long as possible - I like to spend a whole weekend simmering away, adding carrots, an onion, a couple of sticks of celery, maybe a leek, a bay leaf or two, some black peppercorns and a large pinch of salt. Simmer for another 2-4 hours once you have added the veg anyway - topping up with hot water if the level of the liquid goes below the bones - and when you are done, drain it and leave it to cool. You should be left with a layer of fat on top, which you can skim off (some people like to cook with this fat). You now have an amazing broth which you can use as a base for soup, or to drink a cup of every day. Mmmmmm. Honestly! And for anyone doing the 5:2 diet plan this is a belter, you can use it to make a very low calorie, nutritious and filling soup of smugness.
Menstruation is something most women take for granted, a monthly irritation. But what can we do if your periods have stopped, or your bleeds are long and unpredictable? In my practice, I have been seeing a patient whose periods could last up to 3 weeks, with severe pain and other symptoms. Managed through medication for most of her adult life, she came to me to see if acupuncture might help this in a more natural way. We have seen her cycle improve month by month since we started working together, to the point where they are almost normal and we expect they will continue to improve. As you can imagine this has been liberating. Her energy levels have improved, she can exercise properly again and she can actually think about trying to get pregnant when the time is right. This was not a 'quick fix' - the changes have been effected over several months, but given this has affected her since her teens this is not surprising. Acupuncture works with the body to help it naturally come back into balance - and part of this balance is the body's natural rhythms and cycles.
There are several other conditions that can affect the monthly cycle, the most common include PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and endometriosis. Please do contact me if you would like any more information or a telephone consultation regarding your monthly cycle.
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