My Struggles Have Made Me A Better, More Empathetic Doctor

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Some of the most useful things that I have been able to bring to my patients are things that I have learned through my own experiences with trauma, pain, emotional issues, illnesses - and how I was able to get through them. These experiences also allow me tremendous empathy for the people I see, both in clinic and in everyday life. My thinking is that the more I go through and GET through, the better I can serve my patients and ultimately, my fellow human being. No matter our financial status, where we are born, our religion, colour or beliefs, we will all experience difficulties, pain, fear, sorrow, and illness at some time in our lives. And it helps to know that you are not alone and that you will ultimately get through it, and be stronger for the experience.

An Unusual Life (Let me get philosophical for a moment)

I have had, well, an unusual life. This has been mostly of my own making, and even though there have been a lot of ups and downs (oh *so* many), I wouldn't change any of it. I have never believed in regret. I believe that every experience that we have in this life contributes to making us who we are - that we are an accumulation of those experiences. I also think that it is important that we are at peace with the person we have become, no matter what may be happening in our lives. This certainly is not always easy. Remembering to be kind with ourselves as we are a young species, and here to learn a great deal which includes things which we judge to be unpleasant like pain, grief, loss, fear, anger, and frustration are all important pieces of the whole. Like Chinese medicine, I believe in a holistic system, with every part synergistically connecting to every other. I can draw so many parallels back to Chinese medicine, which is why I connected to it so strongly and why I fell so deeply and passionately in love with it. It is an allegory for life, and perhaps, all things in the universe and beyond.

Ever since I can remember I have been hungry for so many of the experiences that life has to offer. I didn't have a choice in the matter, it was like there was a force driving me, and I could either allow it to push me in the direction of experience or be crushed and ultimately destroyed by it. I wanted to do everything, try everything. I was driven by a curiosity about the world and my existence that has lead me to live a very, uh, interesting life. I was fascinated with travel and wanted to see as many places and cultures as I could. I loved the way that each place had a unique smell, a look, a feel and each would arouse such emotion. I also loved the newness of a different country, a new city or tiny village. I thrived being immersed in a completely alien culture and absorbing as much of it as I could, being exposed to its magic, its customs, rituals, food, and music. There is such beauty, creativity, and wonder that permeates the cultures of the world, and that is what I was after. I loved seeing what each had to offer, and learning how its people communicated, loved, celebrated and mourned. I absolutely think that travel is the best education. I learned more in my travels than I ever could in a classroom or books.

I have also been living my life in, I suppose, a unique way. I knew from very early on that I would never live the life that most people end up living. Buying a one-way ticket to another country and not knowing where you were going to stay, not having a job and not knowing how long you would be there? This is insane! they would say. Going to China alone to work in a tiny city so small (6 million people) it wasn't even on the map, and just hoping it would be ok? Foolish! Moving to Central America with a tiny baby to make a better life with hopes to buy land, live off the grid and create a sustainable community and healing retreat without the resources (yet) with which to do it? Madness. And yet, I have done all of these things with varying degrees of success. With these experiences came a lot of worry, grief, loneliness, frustration, and despair, I am not going to lie to you. And yet, even though they involved a lot of pain and emotions which are hard to deal with, I am glad I did those things because I learned a lot about myself, and how to process all the crazy things that life can throw at you. And even when things are difficult and painful, you do come out the other side, and the feelings then, are often intensely joyful because you have passed through such darkness to get to them. And yet, these experiences are not for the faint of heart. And many would say choices made by someone who may be a few crayons short of a full box.

I was once sitting in a session with a therapist before my imminent departure to a foreign country and he said to me "you know, this thing you are doing, would scare the hell out of most people. Aren't you afraid?" And, this was the first moment that I really thought about fear in connection with the situation. After a minute I said, "no, I am not scared of this at all." And then he asked me the inevitable question. "Well then, what are you scared of?" And the answer came to me quickly. I said "I am scared of being married to someone I don't love, working a job I hate and feeling trapped in a life I don't want. I fear getting to the end of my life and feeling like I never really lived."

Pain & Growth

In my experience, it has been the darkest moments, the most difficult times and when I was deeply suffering that I learned the most. It took me a long time to admit because I didn't want it to be true. I wanted to be able to learn from happiness, joy, freedom, and love, and I have. But not like I evolve when I am facing darkness. But maybe it is just me...

Take Vipassana meditation for instance. This, by definition, is taking a stroll through the winding path of your consciousness, that inevitably leads to some of the darker places in your subconscious. Vipassana is defined as "seeing things as they really are", which, at least in my experiences, have meant the whole she-bang. The light bits and the darker ones as well. And it is the darker ones that we tend to hide from, the ones that hurt us, leave scars and can hinder us in the present until we are able to heal them (acknowledging them first which is usually not easy and can bring up a lot of difficult feelings) and finally let them go.

**if you would like to learn more about Vipassana Meditation you can read about my two Vipassana retreats here - My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation and Vipassana 2.0.

I have seen this for many years with patients. As a practitioner, I like to get deep into things. I want to understand why you are having those headaches, the insomnia, and the panic attacks, so I ask a lot of questions in an attempt to get to the root of things. And I have found that so much of what makes people sick are things that have hurt them in their past that they are dragging with them into their present. That may sound strange, but in my experience, it is absolutely true. As a culture, we are all striving for health, but most of the time that is limited to the physical realm. And yet, as well as physical bodies, we all have emotions, but few of us are taught or have the skills to deal with them in a healthy way. I think that because I was such a sensitive child, and constantly overwhelmed by not only my emotions, but by the emotions of others, that I have been working my whole life to find a balance and a way to deal with them effectively so that they do not become demons that haunt me in my present.

Chinese medicine is well aware of this phenomena and the emotions are considered to be one of the causes of disease. Now, to clarify, HAVING emotions is not a cause of disease, but emotions that are suppressed, unexpressed or expressed in an inappropriate manner are seen to contribute to disease. So basically, emotional health is just as important as physical health, and so it should be. Patients are often surprised at how much attention I give to their emotional state as we talk in each session. And I tell them that it is a hugely important factor and that I need to be aware of how they are feeling so that I can better help them to rebalance and gain the equilibrium that will bring them back to health - body, mind, and spirit.

A Better Healer

I hope that because of all the experiences that I have had, and all the pain that I have been through, that those experiences have made me a better version of myself. A wiser, more compassionate self. And I also think that my struggles with pain, grief, anger, loss and my journeys into the darkness have given me the ability to recognize those struggles in others. I know that darkness, I have spent a lot of time there. I know that place and I can empathize with you if you are there too.

It is rarely the thing that people say they are coming in to see me for that is the thing that needs the most attention. And, because I have been there, in that dark place where you feel like you are hurting and all alone, that I can see that person, take their hand, and hopefully, lead them back into the light. Which is, after all, where we all want to be.

This beautiful quote by Ram Dass is one that has always really hit home for me, in my life and in my work. <3


Cancer and Chinese Medicine - Part 2

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Nutrition - The Biggest Weapon Against Cancer

It is always amazing to me that patients receiving conventional treatments for cancer (chemotherapy and radiation) are given little to no information about what to eat. I know because I always ask if there was any nutritional counseling that went with the other therapies and more often than not, the answer is no. This shows an alarming lack of understanding about how important what we eat is to our health, and especially in the case of cancer.

I think that the correlation between what we eat and our overall health is understood by many industries, and certainly by many informed people, but the cancer industry (and I say that because it has turned into an industry), seems to be decades behind. Now, without getting into why that might be (which would be a whole other article), let's just say that there is a tonne of evidence to suggest that our food can both give us cancer and help keep us healthy so that we never get cancer. Food is also a powerful weapon in detoxing the body and healing from a cancer that already exists.

Foods to Avoid

Sugar

In my opinion, the number one thing to know concerning diet and cancer is to stop eating sugar. Completely. It is literally the food that cancer eats. The tests that Western medicine uses to find and diagnose cancer in the body, called PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and CT (Computed Tomography) scans, actually inject glucose - a type of sugar - and watch the cancer gravitate to it because sugar is what cancer eats. Eliminating sugar from your diet is the most important thing to do if you are either struggling with cancer, or having health issues in general. Sugar is a poison to the body, and most people in the developed world eat far too much of it. Now, let me be clear, I am talking about refined sugar which is in a huge amount of our foods, especially processed foods. There are naturally occurring sugars in things like fruits, and although we need some of these, it is a good idea to cut back when you are trying to heal from cancer. Refined foods of all types should be avoided whenever possible, and refined sugar is the worst of all.

Chemicals

We also have seen an unprecedented increase in the number of chemicals used in our foods, many of which are untested on human beings and cause harm to not only us, but pollute the earth we live on, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Our food becomes more and more processed all the time with the addition of these dangerous chemicals, and our bodies are not designed to deal with them. There are also the dizzying amounts of chemicals in other products that we use in our homes, like makeup and personal care products, soaps and detergents, cleaning products, gardening products, etc.. not to mention toxic chemicals that are the byproducts of industries which are released into our soil, water and air.

It is a good idea BEFORE you get sick to have a look at how many of these chemicals you have in your home and are coming into contact with on a daily basis so that you can eliminate any that are not absolutely necessary. I would always recommend eating fresh, local, organic food (more about that below), using completely natural beauty and personal care products free of toxic ingredients, make sure the water you are drinking is as clean as possible and limit any environmental toxins that you can. All these toxins combine to place a huge burden on our immune systems which we need to be at full strength to keep us disease free.

Eat Real Food

Because of the philosophy of living as harmoniously with nature as possible, this obviously bleeds into the foods we consume as well. I believe that many of our current health problems as a society are due to the UN-natural nature of the foods that we eat. Small farms are disappearing and being replaced by large-scale factory farms, our soil is depleted of essential vitamins and nutrients, and men in hazmat suits spray toxic herbicides and fungicides on the foods we are supposed to confidently feed our families. It is becoming increasingly difficult to even understand food labels, and corporations spend billions of dollars to keep what is actually IN our foods off the labels, which is certainly a worrying trend and not designed to make us feel confident about what is being put into our food.

My solution is to keep it simple. Eat as few processed foods as possible (this means anything in a box or can that has been altered from its natural state), eat as many fresh, local and organic foods as possible. Keep your diet mostly plant-based, especially if you have cancer. If possible, grow as much of your food as you can in a backyard or front yard garden. Vertical gardens are awesome for this! If you have limited space or live in an apartment, make friends with a local farmer, or frequent a farmers market. Also, take time to lovingly prepare meals for you and your family. Energetically, this is important too. Be mindful and thankful to the food you are eating for sharing its life force with you. Being grateful is also a powerful tool and beneficial to your health and the way you feel.

Acid & Alkaline Foods

Disease thrives in an acidic environment and cancer is no exception. As a culture, we eat a disproportionate amount of acidic foods (as you will probably see the list below) and precious few alkaline ones. Use the information below as a guide and a good way to begin is to slowly start replacing acidic foods with alkaline ones. It may seem hard at first (because who doesn't love a burger every once in a while?), but you will soon notice how much better you will feel, as that you will no longer have the cravings for the fatty, sugary foods that are so acid forming once they have been out of your system for a while. I promise you will definitely feel a difference!

Acidic Foods

**Note - there are different ways to measure the acidity and alkalinity of foods, but this one - from Energise for Life - makes the distinction of measuring a foods acidity and alkalinity AFTER it has been ingested - therefore, how it is affecting your body. If you would like to have a copy of a good few charts detailing acid and alkaline foods, you can find them here - Energise For Life.

Below is a list of acidic foods. If dealing with cancer, cut out as many of these as possible (I would recommend ALL) and introduce alkaline foods as an alternative. Remember, cancer thrives in an acidic environment.

Acidic Foods

Look yummy? *sigh*, I know. But these foods are highly acidic. Try eating some cucumber instead!

MEAT

  • Bacon
  • Beef
  • Clams
  • Corned Beef
  • Eggs
  • Lamb
  • Lobster
  • Mussels
  • Organ Meats
  • Venison
  • Fish
  • Oyster
  • Pork
  • Rabbit
  • Sausage
  • Scallops
  • Shellfish
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Veal

DAIRY & EGGS

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Whey
  • Yogurt
  • Nuts & Seeds!
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Chestnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Oils!
  • Cooked Oil
  • Solid Oil (Margarine)
  • Oil Exposed to Heat,
  • Light or Air
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Ice Cream
  • Sour Cream
  • Soy Cheese
  • Eggs

FRUIT

  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Currants
  • Dates
  • Grapes
  • Mango
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tropical Fruits
  • Berries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cranberries
  • Currants
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Orange
  • Pineapple
  • Plum

NUTS & SEEDS

  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Chestnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Macadamia Nuts

DRINKS

  • Alcohol
  • Black Tea
  • Coffee
  • Carbonated Water
  • Pasteurized Juice
  • Cocoa
  • Energy Drinks
  • Sports Drinks
  • Colas
  • Tap Water
  • Milk
  • Green Tea
  • Decaffeinated Drinks
  • Flavoured Water

SWEETENERS

  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Carob
  • Corn Syrup
  • Fructose
  • Processed Sugar
  • Saccharine
  • Sucrose
  • Sucralose
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup

OILS

  • Cooked Oil
  • Solid Oil (Margarine)
  • Oil Exposed to Heat,
  • Light or Air

SAUCES

  • Mayonnaise
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Soy Sauce
  • Pickles
  • Vinegar
  • Tabasco
  • Tamari
  • Wasabi

OTHER

  • Mushrooms
  • Miso
  • White Breads, Pastas,
  • Rice & Noodles
  • Chocolate
  • Chips
  • Pizza
  • Biscuits
  • Cigarettes
  • Drugs
  • Candy

Alkaline Foods

Some super yummy alkaline foods. They look fresh, cleansing and delicious, don't they? ;)

VEGETABLES

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Chilli
  • Capsicum/Pepper
  • Courgette/Zucchini
  • Dandelion
  • Snow Peas
  • Green Beans
  • String Beans
  • Runner Beans
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Wakame
  • Kelp
  • Collards
  • Chives
  • Endive
  • Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Potato
  • Coriander
  • Basil
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrot
  • Beetroot
  • Eggplant/Aubergine
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Parsley
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Watercress
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Broad Beans
  • New Potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Radish

FRUIT

  • Avocado
  • Tomato
  • Lemon
  • Grapefruit
  • Fresh Coconut

GRAINS & BEANS

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Brown Rice
  • Chia/Salba
  • Kamut
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Spelt
  • Nuts & Seeds!
  • Almonds
  • Coconut
  • Flax Seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Oils!
  • Avocado Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Flax Oil
  • Udo’s Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Lentils
  • Lima Beans
  • Mung Beans
  • Navy Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Red Beans
  • Soy Beans
  • White Beans

GRASSES

  • Wheatgrass
  • Barley Grass
  • Kamut Grass
  • Dog Grass
  • Shave Grass
  • Oat Grass

NUTS & SEEDS

  • Almonds
  • Coconut
  • Flax Seeds
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds

OILS

  • Avocado Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Flax Oil
  • Udo’s Oil
  • Olive Oil

BREADS

  • Sprouted Bread
  • Sprouted Wraps
  • Gluten/Yeast Free
  • Breads & Wraps

SPROUTS

  • Soy Sprouts
  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Amaranth Sprouts
  • Broccoli Sprouts
  • Fenugreek Sprouts
  • Kamut Sprouts
  • Mung Bean Sprouts
  • Qionoa Sprouts
  • Radish Sprouts
  • Spelt Sprouts

This comprehensive list of acid and alkaline foods came from a great chart I found from energiseforlife.com There is an 8 page PDF that you may download with more information which can be found here - Acid & Alkaline Food Information.

Water

Water is also something that I don't think people think about enough in terms of health. I think there is a misconception that if we are drinking bottled water and not water out of the tap that we are somehow safe from many pollutants that may be in our waterways and make their way into water processing plants. Unfortunately, this has been shown not to be true, and many bottled waters' are just as unhealthy as drinking straight out of the tap. If you must drink tap water, find out from your local city or town, what they are adding to it. Is there flouride in it? What levels of certain contaminants are acceptable as far as they are concerned? Do some research. If you have a water filtration system, again, do your research and get one that filters out as many undesirable chemicals as possible. Water is incredibly important for our health and it is worth the effort to be drinking the healthiest and cleanest water possible. The good news is, that there are many good water filtration systems out there that will allow you to enjoy clean, healthy water which is essential for a strong, healthy body.

Emotions

Expressing emotions freely is just as important to our health as a strong, flexible body.

I really feel that the emotions do not get enough attention or recognition for the role they play in our health. This is another area that seems often entirely left out of the diagnostic as well as the healing process in Western medicine. In Chinese medicine, the emotions are just as important as what is physically happening in our bodies. The two are inseparable and when someone is going through the intake process with a doctor of Chinese medicine, there are a lot of questions inquiring about a person's emotional life. You may be wondering how much of a role the emotions can play in a disease as devastating as cancer. My answer is - a HUGE one.

In my experience with my own cancer patients, the emotions are often where it starts. Complex and serious diseases often begin with extremely stressful, difficult, and emotionally devastating events that the body is simply not able to cope with. Preceding almost every case of serious disease I have treated, there was either one or a series of extremely stressful/emotional or difficult events that the patient had to contend with. I have made this observation over and over again. The body can handle a lot, but it has its limits, and the way we live along with the pressures and stresses we are under often are too much for our bodies and psyches to bear which can result in disease and illness.

In terms of how this relates to the emotions I want to be clear, it is not HAVING emotions that can make us sick, in Chinese medicine, it is how we deal with our emotions that is the key. In modern culture, at least in North America, we are not taught what I like to call "emotional intelligence". We spend decades in school learning how to live in this world, but I find that so many of the most important things that we need to be healthy and happy in our lives are missing. How to express our emotions in a healthy way is one of them. This expression is important not only to our health but to our happiness and well-being as well. So often our emotions can come out in hurtful or destructive ways to ourselves or the people around us, or worse, they are held in where they fester and eventually turn into disease. So, find healthy ways to express the emotions you are having. Write, talk to a friend, acknowledge them, process them in a healthy way and let them go. They are taking up precious space, that, once they are dealt with and let go, can be replaced with lovely things like love and light, happiness and feelings of joy and gratitude.

Managing Stress

Stress is something we hear about a lot and I believe is also a huge factor is our health and well-being. Stress is something I ask every single patient about both in our initial consultation, and at almost every visit. I give it a one to ten scale and ask patients to rate where their stress is in relation to that scale. Most people are at the top end, and many have become resigned to living there. Stress is difficult to avoid, but what we do have control over is how we deal with it. Managing the stress we are feeling is the key, not eliminating it altogether. I am not even sure if that is possible considering the world we live in. I have seen patients doing everything right - eating the right foods, exercising, sleeping enough, really taking care of themselves and still they get sick. Those cases very often lead back to stress. You can't work hard to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle but be in an unhealthy relationship that is driving you crazy or going to a job that you hate every day and still expect to be the picture of health. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work like that. In Chinese medicine, as in life, it is all about balance.

One of my keys to managing stress is meditating. Now the thought of meditating can be intimidating for some people and I understand that. This doesn't mean having to give up all your worldly possessions, shaving your head and going to live in a cave in the Himalayas. That is totally cool if that is how you want to do it, but what I am talking about for the rest of us is just taking some time for yourself every day to sit quietly and try to empty your thoughts. In our hectic, modern lives, we hardly ever get a chance to do this. Stop. Listen. Relax. Breathe deeply. Meditating is like a gift you give yourself. It benefits your brain, your nervous system, your heart and your psyche. Think of it as preventative medicine. I think we all need to start thinking about medicine and health differently and Chinese medicine can teach us how to do it. Do small things every day. Tend your garden (the body and spirit), and disease will never develop. Disease cannot thrive in a healthy garden.

If you would like to read about a bit of a hardcore immersion into meditation (and the amazing benefits that it yielded) you can read about my two intense Vipassana meditation retreat experiences. They are not quite the shaving your head and disappearing into the Himalayas, but they were definitely the most intense meditation experiences I have ever had. They were also the most edifying and positively life-changing experiences of my life.

 


Gratitude. It's Good for Your Health.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I thought that in light of the events of the past few weeks that I would write about gratitude, and how it affects our health. I am not just talking about physical health, I am more talking about the health of your mind and spirit, which if course, directly affects your physical person.

The connection between how we feel and our health has been known about for a long time, certainly Chinese medicine puts great importance on the mental and emotional state of the patient and takes all aspects into account when evaluating overall health. Science now, has proven for example, that people with a positive outlook are generally healthier and get sick less often than people who tend to see things more negatively. Chinese medicine takes this a step further and partners specific emotions with their associated organs; sadness affects the lungs, anger the liver, fear the kidneys and worry the spleen, to name a few. This may sound strange, but I have seen it over and over again in practice, the connections are quite real.

Quantum physics now has postulated that reality can actually be changed by the observer ( see this double slit experiment which explains how) which just tells us what many of the Eastern philosophies have known for centuries, that we are creating our reality all the time. Buddhists spend a lifetime gaining mastery over their minds, because they believe that it is one of the elements that lead to great suffering for human beings. If we are creating the reality in which we live, it gives us all tremendous power to decide what that reality might be.

Gratitude is Good for Your Health : Chinese Medicine Living

The events of the past few weeks have been seriously bumming me out. There is the US election (which is bringing out the worst in a lot of people, and sparking such anger in so many), the mass shootings that seem to be happening on an almost daily basis, and the tensions between the black community and the police. Everyone seems on edge, scared, but most of all, angry. And as Chinese medicine dictates, people need an outlet for all those feelings or they can make you sick, and that seems to be what is happening.

One thing that I have found in my own life, is that in the past, when I was going through something difficult and feeling frustrated or sad about it, when I made a decision to change my attitude (which isn't easy, especially when you are in the dumps), I noticed that how I felt improved immeasurably. It may have taken some time for my situation to improve, but it inevitably did, and feeling good, hopeful, grateful, loving, made my reality a much lovelier place to be until that happened.

The biggest one for me is gratitude. This one is huge and has an enormous impact on how you feel, and what will come into your life if you are feeling it passionately. No matter what may be happening in your life, there are always things you can be grateful for. I have a ritual that I do every morning when I wake up. I go through all the things that I am grateful for (there are so many!) which floods me with good feelings and that sets the intention for the rest of the day. It is a lovely practice and I find it keeps me in a positive state of mind no matter what my day might throw at me.

There is another reason that I think that gratitude is so important. One of the most surprising, and the most profound things that I have learned in almost eleven years of being an acupuncturist is how many hard things people are dealing with on a daily basis. I have been so humbled by the things that my patients have shared with me about their struggles, their fears and their experiences in this life. I found that it made me a more compassionate, more patient, and more loving towards my fellow human being. It also, and this happened pretty early on, gave me an appreciation for how powerful gratitude can be. Every day on my way home from work I would think about those stories and remind myself of all I had to be grateful for, and, no matter what is happening in your life, you have a lot to be grateful for too. We are all alive, living on this beautiful planet and having this wonderful experience called life. It isn't always easy, but a little gratitude makes the journey one that is definitely worth taking.

Check out this fancy chart that lists the many health benefits of gratitude. Thank you to Megan Wilson and fix.com for sharing it. :)

The Health Benefits of Gratitude
Source: Fix.com Blog

Tips to Maintain Successful Gratitude Journal
Source: Fix.com Blog

30 Day Gratitude Challenge
Source: Fix.com Blog


How to Get Healthy in 2016 with Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Eat Your Medicine

There is a huge emphasis in Chinese medicine that the food we eat is our best medicine. Food, after all, is the medicine we take into our bodies many times a day. This philosophy makes sense, especially when you are talking about Chinese medicine, which is a medicine of prevention. Why not eat to stay healthy so that you never get sick? So how, you might ask, can I eat in the healthiest way according to Chinese medicine? Well, eating with the seasons is one of the fundamentals. This used to be the way that not only the Chinese ate, but the way all of our ancestors ate as well. What was eaten was what was grown in that particular season - which is what our bodies, and especially our digestive systems were designed for. Part of the reason that we have so many digestive problems in our present culture is because we are able to eat foods that grow in all seasons (because of the miracle of mass transportation and refrigeration): strawberries in winter, root vegetables in summer, etc... Although it is wonderful to have this kind of variety all year around, it is not what our digestive systems were designed for, and they are still catching up as far as evolution is concerned. In Chinese medicine there are also many foods and recipes that are used when we come down with something like a cold or flu. Congee is a good example - and there are a few excellent recipes here - Winter Congee for Colds & Flu, Chicken & Corn Congee, Ginseng Congee for Health & Longevity.  Part of the job of the Chinese medicine practitioner is not only to administer acupuncture and herbs, but also to consult their patient about nutritional therapy to help the body to rebalance and heal, because, food is some of the most powerful medicine. :)

Reconnect With Nature

Healthy 2016 With Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from sheknows.com

There is nothing more healing that walking on the beach by the ocean, or strolling through an old growth forest. And nothing reconnects you better than lying in the grass, or taking your shoes off and walking directly on the earth. As a species, we are presently more connected to each other than at any other time in our history, which is amazing and makes out lives better in many ways. Access to information, sharing of knowledge and being connected to people who are far away has never been easier. Unfortunately, we seem to have lost our connection to nature. Children, instead of playing outside as they once did, often sit inside, in front of the TV instead of exploring the natural world, running and playing outdoors. As we grow into adults we spend years in schools sitting at desks, until we venture out into the working world where we sit indoors for many hours a day until we can go home to rest. Our bodies were designed to MOVE, and our lives used to be completely connected to the outdoors, where we were in constant contact with the incredible healing energy of nature. So make some time to go outside every day. Smell a flower. Hug a tree. Walk barefoot in some grass or gaze at the sky. Your body (as well as your mind) will love you for it.

Live With the Seasons

Chinese medicine tells us that to be in harmony with our bodies and in good health, we must also be in harmony with nature. This means living with the seasons. Every season has its own unique energy - winter contracts, spring is expansive, summer radiates and fall begins to withdraw. Each of the seasons has its own unique energy, and Chinese medicine teaches us the ways in which we can aspire to live in harmony with those energies. For example, in winter we go to bed earlier and sleep later, we pay close attention to the kidneys (the organ associated with winter) and eat foods that grow slowly and deep in the ground - like root vegetables - that are warming in nature. We look inward and nourish our inner selves in this season. Our lifestyles should reflect the season we are in, and Chinese medicine gives us many ways in which to do this. You can learn how in the following posts...

Winter

•   Living According to the Winter Season with Chinese Medicine

Spring

•   Loving Your Liver with Chinese Medicine
•   Loving Your Liver with Nutrition
•   The Liver & Anger

Summer

•   Living With the Seasons - Summer
•   Summer Foods & Preparation According to Chinese Medicine

Autumn / Fall

•   Living With the Seasons - Autumn / Fall

Be Grateful

Healthy 2016 With Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

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This is one that I have learned from experience both in my own life and from many years of treating patients. For me, I have noticed that when I am having a difficult time, down in the dumps and struggling, one of the best things that I can do to pull myself out of it is to take time on a regular basis to go through a mental list of all the things that I am grateful for. When it comes to my patients, I noticed after a few years that the patients that I had with the most problems, chronic imbalances, pain and recurring illnesses were generally the ones who were the most unhappy, the most negative and the least optimistic. I am a firm believer that we attract what we think about, and I have experienced the benefits of a positive attitude, especially when things in our lives are difficult. I know that I have worked this into my morning routine, taking time every day when I get up to go through all the things that I am grateful for. This is a really good way to remind yourself of what is awesome in your life and by doing this, you are more likely to attract positive things, people and experiences into your life as well.

Meditate

We are now starting to understand scientifically the benefits of meditation on the mind and body, but many cultures around the world have been aware of the enormous benefits of meditation for thousands of years. Places like India and much of Asia have a long history of meditation. A lot of people are intimidated at the thought of meditating, especially if they are doing it for the first time. Of course, there are many techniques when it comes to meditation, but I believe that even a few minutes a day of sitting quietly, allowing your mind to just "relax" is of huge benefit on many levels. If you want to get really hard core, there are many, many meditation techniques out there, you just need to find the one that feels right to you. I have done a couple of Vipassana meditation retreats which were amazing experiences (you can read about them here - My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation & Vipassana 2.0). Meditation helps us to decompress in a world that leaves us overstimulated and exhausted, without enough time to relax. Its benefits include alleviating stress, improving sleep and boosting the immune system. I know most people cannot dedicate an hour or more to meditation every day, but even just ten to twenty minutes will make a huge difference, just try it out and see.

Get Enough Sleep

Healthy 2016 With Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

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When we sleep our body gets a chance to heal and repair. Problems with sleep, either problems falling or staying asleep, are common. As a culture, we tend to not get enough sleep and the quality of our sleep is compromised, which means more stress on our immune systems which can lead to illnesses. There is no magic number when it comes to optimum number of hours a person should sleep at night, but that feeling of exhaustion should not be present when we wake up (and it so often is). Think of sleep like you think about the food you eat, that it is medicine for the body. Another good thing to remember is that melatonin - the hormone produced by the pineal gland that regulates sleep - is released according to cycles of light and darkness. We were designed to be awake when it is light and to sleep when it is dark. This has largely changed with the invention of electric lights, so a good way to improve sleep is to keep your bedroom as dark as possible with as few electronic devices as possible in the room, especially close to your head. Being in complete darkness will ensure a better, deeper sleep which will allow your body the rest it needs as well as to repair and heal which will ensure that you stay healthy.

Breathe Deep

It seems simple, but the breath is a big part of health. Taking long, deep breaths increases the amount of oxygen that the body, all of its tissues and especially the brain, is getting. There is a theory out there that this is the function of yawning- to increase the amount of oxygen that is taken into the body. Because we spend so much time sitting, we tend to breathe more shallowly, getting less oxygen and making things like thinking, concentrating and remembering more difficult. Taking some time every day to sit up straight, or even better stand and walk around and breathe deep into your belly (like children do naturally) will help you stay awake and think more clearly. This is extra awesome because it is so easy, so breathe deep!

Express Yourself

Healthy 2016 With Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

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As you may know, Chinese medicine is a holistic medicine, meaning it is not just about the physical body, but about all aspects of a person. This includes the emotions, and Chinese medicine places special importance on the emotions and expressing them freely. Keeping things in, suppressing your feelings or expressing them in an inappropriate way can lead to imbalances in the body and its organ systems and lead to illness. Yes, that's right. Not expressing how you feel can make you sick, and I see this all the time. I am not telling you the next time someone cuts you off in traffic that you should follow them, wait until they get out of the car and scream at them, I mean to be aware of your feelings, and that they are appropriate to what is happening, and if not, think through where they might be coming from. If you are feeling particularly irritated by that person who cut you off, try to sort out where that frustration might be coming from (it is probably the liver). This is particularly important in our personal relationships. Holding on to things like anger, guilt, shame and other negative emotions can be detrimental to health. Journal, go for a walk to clear your head or sit and talk to a friend, or better yet, speak to the person who may have made you upset in the first place. If you get your feelings off your chest (in a kind, respectful way) you will be amazed at how much better you feel, and you will be keeping all the energy or qi flowing smoothly, which is the key to health and happiness.

Moderation

Moderation is both a concept important in Chinese medicine and I believe, in any happy, balanced person's life. In my practice I try not to tell my patients not to do this and not to do that, instead I try to communicate the importance of moderation. When I am asking about a person's diet, they inevitably will give me a sheepish look and tell me about the 2 pieces of chocolate cake they ate the night before, or the quart of ice cream or glasses of red wine they had at a party expecting looks of disapproval from me. Not at all. I try to express the importance of enjoying your life for one - if you are really desiring that piece of cake, or that glass of wine and it will give you extreme pleasure to give it to yourself, then by all means DO IT. The worst thing you can do is to have it and then feel horrible about it. That is negating any positive benefits that thing has given you. So if you do it, OWN IT. Enjoy that piece of cake or glass of wine. Allow yourself to have it if it makes you happy. Just don't do it every day perhaps, keep it balanced. Make sure that you are doing things, the good and the not so good, with moderation. Everyone needs chocolate cake sometimes. ;)

Laugh

Healthy 2016 With Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

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Joy is the emotion of the heart in Chinese medicine. Makes sense, right? When we feel joy, happiness, laugh, all of these emotions we tend to feel in the heart. The heart is the benevolent ruler of all the other organs, and to feed it, we need an ample amount of joy in our lives. You can think of this also as medicine; something you must seek out to keep yourself healthy. Think about how you feel when you laugh. You feel amazing. When you hear a story about something good happening to someone, you feel happy. Notice how your body feels the next time you are feeling joy. It feels delicious. Conversely, the heart is injured if there is not enough joy in our lives, and there is certainly plenty of that. What is it like to be around someone who is deeply unhappy? Someone unable to feel joy? Their energy is dark and it is difficult to be around. Sometimes it is easy to get bogged down by all the stresses in our lives, and there are a lot of them, so this is a reminder to go out and find some joy. Seek it out. Laugh. Sing. Dance. Smile. It's good for you.

Get an Acupuncture Treatment

Acupuncture is one of the best ways I know to stay healthy and to heal if you are sick. Obviously I have a bit of a bias, but I also have a lot of experience both having acupuncture, and seeing its beneficial effects in my patients. Because Chinese medicine was designed as a preventative medicine, having regular "tune ups" with acupuncture is a great way to keep your immune system strong so that you never get sick. In our culture, we tend to wait until things become catastrophic (like getting a disease) before we seek out medical advice, but in many cultures, like Chinese culture, they understand that prevention is the best medicine. Acupuncture is a powerful tool to help rebalance the body, boost the immune system and keep you strong so that you never get sick. It is the thing I have used since I was a teenager, and the gift that I try to bring to my patients every day when I go to work. I am deeply in love with it, because I know it works.

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How to Get Healthy in 2016 with Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living


How My Curse Became My Gift.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I was a sensitive child. I felt things deeply. But when you are little you don’t understand this about yourself.

I always found it hard to be in a room with a lot of people. I could FEEL what everyone in the room was feeling. It was overwhelming. Because of this, I spent a lot of time by myself. This wasn’t the only reason. I grew up an only child, and we moved a lot. I was good at being by myself. I could spend hours playing by myself, I lived in my imagination. The external world was intense and overwhelming for me, sounds always seemed too loud, smells too strong. When it came time for me to go to school, the experience was terrifying. I was painfully shy and had a hard time in crowded classrooms full of excited children. I begged my parents to let me stay home, but alas, I could not. I had to go to school. These reactions prompted some concern for my parents. I think this is why my father took it upon himself to try to “toughen me up”, which for most children would have been fine, enjoyable bonding perhaps, but for me bordered on brutality. They were worried about me and how I was going to survive in the cruel, harsh world.

Daydreaming

It was at this point that I started to realize that perhaps something was wrong with me, or that I was different in some negative way. I started to notice my parents reaction to my sensitivity to things even though I didn’t know it as sensitivity then. Whenever animals got hurt, I would cry. I still can’t watch humane society commercials. I worried about the environment. I worried about my parents dying and where they were going when they did. I worried a LOT.

But, there were many things that were my solace from the worries of the world. I felt deeply connected to animals, especially my pets. I could feel what they were feeling and always knew what they needed. I loved being outside in nature and the gentle hum that came from the plants and environment was comforting to me. I spent hours outside playing, building, walking. I was a daydreamer. I still am. I thought up entire worlds, people and complex scenarios where I would spend time in my imagination. This is what made me happy as a child, I had a rich inner life, but the real world and all its darkness, violence and death worried me deeply.

The importance of imagination

I think that my parents really worried about how I was going to make it. Of course they loved me and thought I was wonderful, but I suspect they wondered how I would deal with the harsh realities of life. I had heard them tell people what a “sensitive” child they had, and this was always accompanied by an expression of concern and received with a knowing look of sympathy. Being a sensitive kid was tough. My best friend's mother died suddenly in her sleep one night when we were 11 and I cried for a week because I was so sad for her and terrified my parents were next. When my pets died I was beside myself and couldn’t function. When I saw injustice or cruelty, I became angry and depressed that people couldn’t be more kind to each other. I worried about the state of the planet and the people on it. I still do.

Making it through high school was a miracle. As a shy, awkward teenager, high school is a special kind of hell. Thankfully, I went to an arts high school and found a lovely group of people just like me, and we all got through it together.

Much later when I had a little more life experience and some more tools at my disposal I figured out a way to explain the way I was and why I was so easily overwhelmed by certain situations and felt everything so deeply. I realized that the bandwidth in which I take in stimulus is waaaaaaaay bigger than it is for a normal person - so, for most people parties with lots of people are fun and a place to relax and enjoy themselves, but for me they are overwhelming, over stimulating  and exhausting. For some people seeing an animal being hurt is sad but manageable, but for me it is devastating and will haunt me for ages.

Years later when I was in school learning Chinese medicine something amazing happened. In those years, you are learning to heal by first healing yourself, and it is an intense process that can take you to unexpected places. In second year we began our clinical hours in student clinic treating patients.  I began to realize that I was easily able to tell why someone wasn’t feeling well and what they needed. I could organize my questions around what I felt from them instead of following a protocol or instructions. Instead of feeling three levels of the pulse, I could feel eleven. I could tell within a few minutes when someone in clinic was sad, or depressed or afraid and that this was the reason they weren’t well, often without ever speaking to them. I knew when holding a patient’s hand would do more than sticking them with needles. I knew when listening was far more important to someone's recovery than herbs or dietary therapy. I knew the problem and the reasons for it, even if the person's words were telling us something completely different. It was incredible, I knew what people needed without even trying.

It was while I was in school that I changed the way I felt about myself. Instead of being someone who had a weakness that needed to be overcome, I became someone with a gift. I just hadn’t ever known how to use it before. This thing I had, it turned out, made me very capable of helping people feel better. Figuring out why they weren’t feeling well and what to do about it. This sensitivity allowed me to feel on many deep levels and ascertain the root of the problem and how to correct it.

Now, after being in practice for many years, I have been able to hone my sensitivity which allows me to get to the root of a patient’s problem quickly and efficiently. I use what I “feel” from them as much as listening to the words they are telling me to diagnose and treat them. Because of this, I am able to resolve their problems because I know what caused them and how to best approach their treatment. What I love about Chinese medicine is that it is about the person you are treating, not the disease. The way they feel is just as important as what is happening inside their bodies, and being sensitive is the best tool I have to be able to help people rebalance and get well.

I am so grateful that I was able to find a profession that allowed me to realize that this thing that had always made life more difficult, actually made me a better healer. Accepting that being sensitive was not in fact a curse, but something incredibly valuable was very healing on many levels. The whole experience made me realize something else… that there are no such thing as curses, there are only gifts.

The gift of sensitivity

I urge you to find yours, and go out and use it to change the world.

words of wisdom

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How my curse became my gift | Chinese Medicine Living


The Importance of Emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The emotions are an extremely important aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Emotional wellbeing is an integral part of health in the TCM model. Each emotion is associated with an organ, which, if out of balance will cause specific symptoms.  These are what the experienced acupuncturist or practitioner of TCM is looking for when you walk into their office with a complaint.

Emotions are of course a natural part of being human. Feeling joy, sadness and anger are all perfectly normal experiences we have in our day to day lives. It is when these emotions become excessive or are repressed and turned inward that they can become pathological and cause disease. The belief is that balancing the organ associated with the emotion will balance the emotion. Sometimes the organ is out of balance and produces the emotional imbalance. But sometimes the emotional imbalance can produce the organ imbalance. The difference to the practitioner is important only in preventing a recurrence of the problem. For example, if a person is experiencing extreme fits of anger, frustration, red eyes, problems sleeping, migraines and constipation, they are seen to be suffering from an imbalance of the Liver. This can be corrected with acupuncture and herbs. The liver returns to balance, the migraines disappear, sleeping improves and the bowels return to normal. But, if the patient is in a job he hates, with coworkers that make him angry and is constantly fighting with his wife, his anger will remain and the Liver imbalance will return. This is why during the diagnostic process, the practitioner asks many questions, and to the patient, it might seem like they have no bearing on the presenting condition. The job of the practitioner is to evaluate all aspects, not just the physical so that once the imbalance is corrected, the environment that created that imbalance no longer exists.

It is important to remember that cause and effect in TCM is not linear but circular. We usually think that something is the cause of an act, or effect such as - eating too much will give you a stomach ache. Eating too much is the cause and the stomach ache is the effect. This is linear thinking. In TCM linear cause and effect does occur when symptoms are present, for example - going outside without enough warm clothes on in the middle of winter will cause you to catch a cold, resulting in symptoms like a runny nose, achy muscles and a fever. These symptoms are the effect of the cold which was the cause. However, in some cases, the symptoms are not a result of such straightforward reasoning which is especially true when we are dealing with emotions.

One very common cause of emotional imbalance in TCM is repressed emotions. TCM is all about balance and flow. If emotions are not being expressed, they are being stuck which can lead to a blockage of the flow or stagnation, which in turn can lead to disease. How the disease manifests is completely individualized depending on many factors, and it is up to the practitioner to determine the “how”. Releasing emotions can heal disease. Even things that are considered extreme and long-standing stagnation in TCM like cancer. Diseases which, in the West, are seen as incurable.  Emotions that do not have avenues for expression and release can create disease and disharmony in the body manifesting as physical symptoms. So, it is very important to have a healthy emotional life, expressing your emotions freely and not allowing things to build up.

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Here is a breakdown of the emotions, their related organs and some symptoms when an imbalance occurs...

HEART

Emotion - Joy
Emotion out of balance - Lack of enthusiasm and vitality, mental restlessness, depression, insomnia, despair, confusion, anxiety, fidgeting, easily startled
Organ Function - Regulates the heart and blood vessels, responsible for even and regular pulse, influences vitality and spirit. Connected to the tongue, complexion and arteries
Symptoms of organ imbalance - insomnia, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, excessive dreaming, poor memory and concentration, dizziness, spontaneous sweating

SPLEEN

Emotion - Worry, overthinking
Emotion out of balance - Dwelling or focusing too much on a particular topic, excessive mental work
Organ Function - Food digestion and nutrient absorption, the first step in the formation of Blood and Qi, holds blood in the vessels, connected to the muscles, mouth and lips, involved in thinking, studying and memory
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Tired, loss of appetite, mucous discharge, poor digestion, abdominal distension, loose stools or diarrhoea, weak muscles, pale lips, bruising easily, excessive menstrual blood flow, other bleeding disorders

LUNG

Emotion - Sadness
Emotion out of balance - Excessive sadness, grief, or detachment, uncontrolled crying
Organ Function - Respiration, controls sweat and body hair, creates energy (Qi) from the air and redistributes it throughout the body, works with Kidney to regulate the water metabolism, an important part of the immune system and helps protect the body from viruses and bacteria, provides moisture to the skin
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, catching colds easily, fever with chills, sore throat, runny nose, headache, asthma, chest oppression, pale complexion, dry skin

KIDNEYS

Emotion - Fear
Emotion out of balance - Fearful, no willpower, insecure, aloof, isolated
Organ Function - Responsible for reproduction, growth and development & maturation, connected with lungs in water metabolism and respiration, responsible for bones, teeth, hearing and head hair
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Frequent urination, urinary incontinence, vertigo, night sweats, dry mouth, poor short term memory, low back pain, sore or weak knees, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, hair that turns grey prematurely, hair loss and osteoporosis, lowered libido

LIVER

Emotion - Anger
Emotion out of balance - Explosive anger, resentment, frustration, irritability, bitterness, moodiness
Organ Function - Stores the blood, responsible for the smooth flow of Blood and Qi throughout the body, regulates the secretion of bile, connected with the tendons, nails and eyes
Symptoms of organ imbalance - chest distension, red face, bitter taste in the mouth dizziness, ringing in the ears, jaundice, menstrual problems (cramps, irregular or heavy periods), headaches, tendonitis, nausea, vomiting, sighing, breast tenderness, swelling and/or itching of the genitals, blurred vision, floaters, dry skin and hair

Here are examples of some combination patterns:

Heart & Kidney

If a patient is experiencing extreme mood swings between Joy (mania) and Fear (depression), it indicates an imbalance between the Heart (Joy) and Kidney (Fear). We would see symptoms such as insomnia, dream disturbed sleep, heart palpitations and dizziness.

Liver & Lung

If a patient is experiencing violent mood swings between Anger and Grief, an imbalance between the Liver and Lung is present with symptoms involving breathing problems, issues with bowel movements and waking between 1-5 am.

The way the TCM model views emotions is very specific. For example, there are many different types of depression. It depends on which organs are involved. Here are some examples:

Liver

If the depression is actually anger turned inward on itself, which is common with many women, the Liver is out of balance. Symptoms could include PMS symptoms, cramps during the period, vomiting and nausea.

Spleen

If obsessive thinking or worry characterizes the depression, we would suspect the spleen and look for symptoms such as decreased appetite, diarrhoea, fatigue, heavy bleeding with the periods, and bruising easily.

Kidney

Sometimes the depression comes with panic attacks (Fear). In this case, we would suspect the Kidneys.  We would look for urinary changes (usually an increase in frequency), low back pain and weakness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), poor appetite and diarrhoea.

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Emotions are not the only factor contributing to disease. Another thing to consider is lifestyle. It is difficult to always avoid getting cold, having an umbrella for when it might rain, getting enough sleep and eating properly. We live in a fast-paced world full of stresses on both our minds and our bodies. We always seem to be rushing and there never seems to be enough time. And although sometimes we can’t help getting sick or feeling a little under the weather, it is important to remember that the cause of an imbalance may be occurring from events in your life. There is no needle for a bad relationship, stressful job or frustrating coworker. A practitioner can help you to deal with the stress in your life that may be causing the imbalance, but we can’t remove the stress. Only you can do that. Sometimes we feel that we are unable to change the circumstances that are causing stresses in our lives, but a practitioner can help you to deal with that stress by advising on how to eat healthily (eating with the seasons, and the incorporation of the 5 flavours - Sour, Salty, Spicy, Bitter, Sweet), and how to incorporate exercise and meditation techniques such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong into your life. The TCM practitioner is trained in how to live or the “Tao” (which comes from Taoist philosophy) helping both to rebalance a patient and educate him on how to retain that balance by living a healthy balanced life.

We are all living full, busy lives. Imbalance is everywhere, and staying healthy isn’t easy. I have found that in my practice people often feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I always suggest that they be kind and gentle with themselves, and to try to do at least one nice thing for themselves every day, as our happiness is so important for our health. We are living in a time when we are dealing with so much, so it is important to take the time to do things for yourself like have a bath, read a book, spend time with your children, or walk outside in nature. Whatever brings you happiness and makes you feel good. It is these small things that are the keys to wellness. Life is the journey we all share, and if we live it with mindfulness and wisdom, that journey will always lead to balance and happiness.

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