Monday, June 4, 2012

Increasing Qi

Life has calmed down. The parents came and had a wonderful week here in SF. It was awesome to spend time with them, eat, drink, have friends over for dinner and my Mom was totally cool and went to hot vinyasa yoga with me - she did great! I about died as my shoulder hasn’t really allowed me to do yoga for 3 months, but back at it! I want to start going once per week (and secretly want to recruit R - I mean, it will help his biking, right?? Maybe that’ll get him).

My parents during the solar eclipse over a lovely glass of wine in San Carlos
 Since things are less stressful, I’d like to spend some time writing about how food can be a medicine. If you read this blog, I’m pretty open about my feelings on Chinese medicine (or Traditional Chinese Medicine - TCM). In this first post, I’ll give a overview of TCM and the principles. This will help to explain what I mean by “hot” foods or “cold” foods, etc.

Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed acupuncturist. If it were up to me, I’ll tell you to go see one. My opinions here are not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. Everything written here is simply my opinion or paraphrased from a TCM class I took in January/February, books I’ve read or personal experience. Please don’t ever try to prescribe yourself supplements or herbs - see a licensed acupuncturist for recommendations.

R and me during the eclipse - he's so cute!
 The basics - if you do not want to understand TCM except for at a microscopic level, then please stop reading now - TCM won’t make sense to you and it will just infuriate you. This was the hardest hurdle that I had to overcome in my understanding of TCM. By “microscopic” I mean “reason” or “cause.” In western medicine, we take drugs to interfere with or create chemicals in the body to treat disease, to treat a cause. Western medicine addresses disease at the microscopic level - or chemical level. TCM couldn’t give a shit. TCM looks at the macroscopic level - mostly known as a “holistic” medicine. TCM doesn’t care that you haven’t been sleeping, eating well and have a lack of veggies in your diet so now you have a cold. TCM doesn’t have you take a medicine to decrease inflammation at the protein level like Advil. TCM looks at all the disharmonies within the body and attempts to make those disharmonies balance - to prevent you from getting that cold or help you deal better with inflammation.

We all have disharmonies. Harmony is based on yin and yang. Remember that symbol that was so popular in the 90’s? That’s the TCM symbol for yin and yang. Yin is cold and yang is hot (I remember this by thinking yang has an “a” and so does “warm”). Yin and yang are much more than cold and hot, but there are books out there that describe it much more eloquently than I and I prefer not to plagiarize. Yin and yang have an infinite quality and all things are made up of yin and yang.

Driving up Mt. Tam looking towards SF
 Qi (or chi) is the “energy” in the body. Qi isn’t really energy, but I haven’t yet wrapped my mind around what it is other than to call it energy. So we’ll stick with energy - you and I. Sometimes I feel qi moving (after a good yoga class, during acupuncture, sometimes when I exercise) but qi is always moving - yes, I know I sound like a freak, but stop and pay attention and you might feel yours too. It’s that pleasant tingly feeling that you get sometimes (no, not when your foot goes to sleep...). Sometimes qi is weak or stagnant. In TCM, this is when disease can set in (i.e. a cold, sore muscles, sleeplessness, heart disease, cancer, etc etc etc). There are also different types of qi, but I won’t go into that - mostly concern yourself with the qi that you can work with yourself: nourishing qi. You can “nourish” your qi through sleeping, eating a healthy diet and unrelated but equally important - maintaining your emotional health. Remember, you want equal balance in your body - between yin and yang, between too little and too much. Anything in excess can cause disharmony and subsequently get you sick.

View of Richardson Bay, the SF Bay and SF at the top of Mt. Tam
 In TCM, if you’re healthy but are having a deficiency in some area, a practitioner will likely try to “tonify” your qi. All this means is to give you a boost, an increase in qi. Acupuncture helps here because the acupuncturist places a tiny needle (the width of a hair) into acupuncture points. Think of meridian lines as rivers and acupuncture points as tiny wells or reservoirs. When you stick a log in the middle of the well or reservoir, the water will speed up around the log. Acupuncture acts in a similar fashion to move qi and balance qi. Full disclosure: the needles don’t usually hurt (unless you’re a woman and get acupuncture right before your period - yeouch!) and if they do initially hurt, the pain subsides in a second. I’m also terrified of needles, so when I get acupuncture I turn into a big ball of sweat, but once the needles are in place, I feel fantastic! Luckily my acupuncturist is incredibly understanding with my sweaty antics.

Tonifying qi is excellent when you’ve been working out too much, haven’t gotten enough sleep or think you’re on the brink of a cold. Food is medicine, right? Aside from acupuncture, here are some foods for tonifying qi:

Beef (100% grass fed, organic), cherries, avocado, yams (sweet potatoes), carrots, shiitake mushrooms, beets, barley, coconut (water, shaved, milk), hazelnuts, brown rice, corn meal, oysters, kidney beans, black beans, almonds and apricots.

These are just my favorites. The easiest way to get a full list is to google “foods to tonify qi” and the first link that pops up is a Word doc. Make sure to incorporate a lot of complex carbohydrates with veggies and unrefined grains, eat small frequent meals and avoid “cold” foods such as citrus and raw foods.

My parents are so cute! 
 This post is dedicated to you N - she called me up a week from last Friday and told me how she was tonifying her qi with a glass of pinot grigio! AHAHAH! Love that girl. She’s been riding 35 miles round trip to and from work for bike to work month in May- 2 to 3 times per week - WOW - so proud of you N! And I of course being the crazy, crunchy woman that I am told her to tonify her qi. FYI - alcohol is used in TCM, but for use with herbs and usually with the elderly. Full disclosure: I love wine and still continue to drink it! You can’t take life too seriously...

You likely think I’m a bit nuts. Yes, I’m skeptical as well about TCM. The only reason why I am interested in TCM and the reason why I think it’s true is because it has worked wonders for me. TCM is about a series of patterns that make up a story that help your practitioner understand how to restore harmony to your body- thus the idea of “holistic.”

Again, from here, I’ll blog about how food can be a medicine and what to try for specific things. Changing my diet has made an enormous improvement in my health - and it wasn’t all that drastic. Small changes over time, and taking the time to stop and understand how my body reacts to those foods, helped me to get to where I am today.

Can’t wait to share my awesome weekend in Tahoe last weekend! Will post soon about that and yin deficiencies.

Now go tonify your qi - or just think I’m crazy! I’m happy with either.
Lunch at Fish in Sausilito - YUM!

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