Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health

Wednesday 28 March 2012

The meaning of the Heart in Chinese Medicine

This month is National Heart Month and it is a good opportunity to talk about what causes heart disease, the meaning of the Heart in Chinese medicine and how to look after it following TCM principles.
Have you heard of the “French paradox”? It is actually a “scientific term” that relates to the fact that despite our French neighbours’ high consumption of alcohol and diet rich in saturated fats, in France there are only a quarter of the number of heart disease sufferers than we see in the UK. Scientists have been scratching their heads over this “paradox” for decades but have found no definite answer. Is it the red wine? But hold on a minute, doesn’t alcohol raise blood pressure and affect the heart? .... and so on. The answer may well be that although the fats and the wine make a difference to heart health, they are of less importance than other aspects of our life-style.

French-style quality time with friends-good for the heart?
So what is it that the French and other Mediterranean cultures are rich in that seems to be lacking in Anglo-Saxon cultures? My personal theory is that it is connection and closeness to others. French people seem to spend more time with each other, and have more frequent and effusive demonstrations of affection than it is considered normal in more northern cultures. Taking time to relate to family and friends in a way that goes beyond the conventional dutiful visits or sharing of hobbies is a common denominator across the Mediterranean, perhaps even more so than the use of olive oil or the consumption of red wine. Connecting and sharing with others is a very important part of these cultures, but what does this have to do with heart disease? Chinese medicine may provide an answer to this.

The Heart in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

 Chinese medicine texts state that Heart (Xin):
  • Rules the blood and the blood vessels.
  • Opens into the tongue and manifests in the complexion.
  • Stores the Shen (the mind and spirit)

As well as performing the functions of circulating the blood through the blood vessels and keeping the pulse full and steady, in TCM the Heart (Xin) is the organ that rules the way we relate and connect with ourselves and others. It is the “emperor” amongst the organs, where our spirit and our mind are housed and nourished. The spirit here relates to our consciousness, our self- awareness and our connection with the divine, while the concept of mind includes our thought processes, mental acuity, and the ability to express ourselves. This is further reinforced by the Heart’s opening into the tongue and ruling of our speech.  

The emotions most closely related to the Heart are joy and sadness. An excess of either joy or sadness will be detrimental to the Heart energy. It is easy to imagine how excessive sadness like the one caused by the loss of a loved one can affect our Heart energy, but perhaps not so easy to understand how too much joy could ever be bad for you.  If we think of drugs that artificially induce a sense of elation and how they culminate in a come down that leaves people feeling depressed and exhausted, we can see how this can happen too. This is because both our physical and mental health depend on a certain amount balance and anything excessive is capable of making us feel uneasy and even unwell.  The emotional aspect of the Heart is also seen in certain patterns where heat gets lodged in the Heart to produce extreme emotions such as incessant and inappropriate laughter or crying.

When the Heart is strong and harmonious we feel appropriate emotions, and we can connect with others, with our environment and our experiences. A healthy Heart also enables us to think clearly, feel focused, and express well our ideas.  On the other hand, a Heart which is out of balance will make us feel troubled, out of touch, and unable to connect with others to the point of having difficulty holding a conversation or looking people in the eye. We may also develop symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, dream-disturbed sleep, palpitations, agitation, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, chest pain, and even confusion; all of which are typical symptoms of Heart imbalance.

According to TCM, the best ways of maintaining a healthy Heart are:
  • A balanced diet rich in foods that nourish the Blood: the Blood is the substance of the Heart and is best nourished by a varied diet containing protein-rich foods such as red meat (in small amounts), eggs, tofu, all beans and pulses, foods that are naturally sweet such as wholemeal grains, and naturally dark foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, beetroot, dark fruits, molasses, etc.  Sugar, saturated fats, and stimulants like alcohol and caffeine are best avoided as they promote acidity that harms the Blood and also have a detrimental effect on the Heart.
  • Balancing our activity and excitement with enough rest and moments of calm: deep, restful sleep is strengthening to the Heart, and meditation is perhaps the best way of achieving real peacefulness of mind. If you’re reluctant to practise prescribed forms of meditation try venturing into nature by yourself as often as possible. Communion with nature can provide deep meditative connection.
  • Connecting with ourselves and with others: whenever possible, preferably every day, we should spend time alone either in meditation or reflection, becoming aware of who we are. In addition, spending time with our loved ones not just because we have to but trying to really “BE” there, can be a great source of joy. From time to time, we may need to remind ourselves of the importance these relationships have in our life as a motivation to deepen and enrich each of them. 
Deeper relationships nourish the Heart
The Heart needs to be open in order to receive nourishment from our relationships, and in turn we need to feel connected to our Heart energy so that we establish healthy relationships and avoid loneliness and isolation. At a deeper level, our Heart is nourished by a connection and relationship to the divine, in whatever form we relate to it.

Imbalances of the Heart can be treated with Acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Often a combination of Acupuncture and Reiki is enough to improve sleep, relieve anxiety, calm palpitations, lift the spirits, relieve tightness in the chest, and generally feel more relaxed. When these symptoms are more severe or there is also forgetfulness, deep depression, lack of concentration, or confusion Chinese herbs either alone or combined with Acupuncture may be more effective.

So, is love all we need?

 It may well be so! Love is indeed a healer for it brings us joy and when we experience joy our hearts are open, we feel no pain, our symptoms disappear, and everything around us seems to be lit up by our own inner light. I am talking about love in the wider sense, this is the emotion that fills us with warmth at the sight of a baby, or a pet, or when having a magical experience in nature or within ourselves. It is also the sense of connectedness that we feel for those that are close to us, those we care for; and the source of compassion when we witness the suffering of others.

Of course our diet and life-style will influence our health and that of our hearts, but it must be recognised that feeling inspired to look after ourselves and eating foods that we know both rationally and instinctively to be healthier, are expressions of self-love. It is possible that we will need to start fostering real love and care for ourselves- by this I don’t mean self-indulgence or lack of self-control!- before we can offer the same to others. So it may be ripe time to start looking within, feel our Heart and ask ourselves what we can do for it to feel healthier and more connected, and how we can bring more love into our life and relationships so that we can experience a more joyful and fuller life.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Stress: what it does and how to cope with it

Most of us have experienced stress at one time or another, and often even found it helpful to meet deadlines, pass exams, or even escape potentially dangerous situations. Under this type of circumstance, stress is short-lived: Our bodies react to pressure by producing the stress-hormones that result in the fight-or-flight response and which shut down some important functions such as digestion to concentrate on giving more power to the extremities and to quick thinking. After the situation is over, everything returns to normal and the proper functioning of the body is restored. 

So stress per se does not necessarily have a negative impact on our health. It is only when it is excessive, relentless, or long-term that it becomes a problem. How much stress each of us can take before succumbing to its negative effects depends on our constitution and the state of our health; this is why some people seem to collapse under the slightest pressure while others thrive on it for long periods before feeling any ill effects.

Many of the health problems long-term stress can cause are due to the elevated levels of Cortisol and Noradrenaline – the two main stress hormones - in the blood stream. Combined, these hormones have the following effects:         
  • Lowered immune response
  • Increased heart rate –the heart muscle works harder
  • Constriction of blood vessels resulting in high blood pressure
  • Dilation of air passages – the lungs work harder
  • Increased metabolic rate
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Inhibition of bodily functions such as digestion
  • Reduced levels of sex hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone

Needless to say, long-term exposure to the effects of stress hormones can only be detrimental to health. Apart from the direct effects of stress on our bodies we may also develop the well-known symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, exhaustion, menstrual abnormalities, headaches, irritability, and mood swings, just to name a few. We may resort to coping mechanisms in a desperate attempt to feel more energetic during the day and to “switch off” in the evening. As a result, we end up drinking endless cups of tea and coffee, eating sugary foods instead of proper meals, smoking, drinking alcohol, and using cannabis, sleeping pills or other legal and illegal drugs. Others may instead exercise furiously so that they will be exhausted enough to sleep well at night. Although this sounds like a healthier way of coping, it needs to be said that hard-core cardiovascular exercise is in itself a source of stress to our bodies and it may not be an ideal choice if you are chronically stressed out.

The effects of stress:
Lowers immune response
Can contribute to irritable Bowel syndrome and other digestive problems
Can adversely affect the menstrual cycle and have a negative impact on libido and fertility in both men and women
Can cause insomnia, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
Raises blood pressure and may contribute to heart disease


Chinese Medicine: According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), stress blocks the free flow of Qi through our energy channels. The effects of this lack of flow can be felt at physical, mental, and emotional levels resulting in symptoms such as tension and pain in different parts of the body, digestive problems, menstrual abnormalities, over-thinking and insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Symptoms such as high blood pressure, irregular periods and low immune response can be the result of diverse underlying factors. Long-term blockage in the flow of Qi can contribute to all of these symptoms as this can result in impaired blood flow, exhaustion of Qi, and accumulation of heat in different parts of the body. 

Acupuncture is particularly good at restoring the flow of Qi as it directly works on the energy channels themselves. There are specific combinations of points capable of inducing a relaxed state on even the most wound up person, thus encouraging the body and mind to rest and restore. Acupuncture not only promotes the release of endorphins and improves blood circulation, but it can also help decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure and relax the muscles.

There are also Chinese herbal formulae that are excellent at dealing with acute stress and with the sequelae of long-term stress. The most important formula is Xiao Yao Wan, also known as the “free and easy wanderer”. This is one of the most commonly used Chinese herbal formulae in the West and it is used for stagnation of Qi manifesting as mood swings, depression, anxiety, IBS and other digestive problems, insomnia, menstrual irregularities, PMS, etc. An experienced Chinese medicine practitioner can also modify the basic formula to deal with specific symptoms not included in its indications.

Self help
As mentioned above, when we are stressed we may have tendencies that can exacerbate the stress itself or contribute to stress-related symptoms. Things that are best avoided include:
  •  Stimulants like caffeine, sugar, tobacco, and drugs: these may give you a short-lived energy boost that leaves you feeling more exhausted once it has worn off. These substances also increase acidity in the body which is detrimental to many bodily functions.
  • Depressants such as alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquilisers, cannabis and other illegal drugs: you may feel that nothing else will help you rest, but artificially knocking yourself out will only make you feel worse the next day. These substances will make you feel more wired when their effect has worn off and will increase the toxicity in your body. The liver is already working harder coping with higher level of stress hormones and may not be able to detoxify the system efficiently enough so you may be creating more problems down the line.
Fresh fruit and veg helps you de-stress
With an under-functioning digestive system, and an accelerated metabolism  we need to make sure we eat enough nutrients that are easy to digest. These are some suggestions:
  • Eat plenty of protein but avoid red meat which is very hard to digest and will sit in your digestive system for days on end. Favour beans and pulses, lean chicken and fish.
  • Avoid additives and preservatives as they can represent chemical stress to your system.
  • Make sure you have plenty (by plenty I mean loads!) of vegetables especially leafy green vegetables, brassicas, and root vegetables, and also plenty of fruit. Fresh fruit and veg are not only easy to digest but provide you with vitamins and anti-oxidants that help detoxify the body and regulate stress hormones.
  • Drink plenty of water and herbal teas. Try Fennel and peppermint after meals to improve digestion; or camomile and passion flower to relax.
Regular exercise can be a stress buster, and can help alleviate tension, irritability, and depression. Walking, swimming or cycling are best as they do not over-tax your system and put you under more stress than you are under.  

It’s all about balance. If you are constantly pushing yourself and never getting enough rest you will become wired and unable to relax. This is why re-teaching your body how to relax is what you actually need to do when stressed. You may not feel like it, but this is the only way to avoid long-term damage from stress. Find a practice that appeals to you: meditation, gentle yoga (not fast-paced ashtanga or bikram!), pilates, tai chi or qi gong; and try to incorporate 5-10 minutes of silence and peace into your everyday life.

Talk to someone
It may be that what is causing your stress is not going anywhere soon. Your boss, your relationship, your sick mother, or that massive debt you have acquired are here to stay and the stress they are causing you is making you sick. Do not keep it to yourself, find someone you can talk to and who can help you put the problem into perspective. If you can’t change the situation you may need to change the way you are looking at it. It may be a long process but it is not impossible, look for help and you will find it!

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Treating Hay Fever with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Spring - not everyone's favourite season

Spring time, with its longer and brighter days, is many people’s favourite time of year. Not so for chronic Hay fever sufferers.

Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is caused by a reaction of the immune system to different types of pollen and moulds released by plants and trees in the Spring and Summer seasons. In some cases, there may be pre-existing allergies to other air-borne particles which result in and over-sensitisation of the nasal passages.

Depending of what type of pollen is the cause of the allergy, every year at some point between late February and the end of the Summer, some of us will have to deal with symptoms such as:
·         streaming eyes and nose.
·         incessant sneezing.
·         itching in the throat, nose or eyes.
·         a general feeling of tiredness and malaise.

Even people who do not suffer from chronic Hay fever may find themselves experiencing some of these symptoms at some point in their adult life. This is because in some years the weather conditions and pollen count conspire to fill the air with more particles than most of us can handle. For the same reason, chronic symptoms may vary from year to year, although in some cases chronic sufferers find that their symptoms seem to worsen with every Hay fever season. 

Chinese Medicine view of Hay fever:
According to Chinese Medicine, respiratory allergies as a whole involve an element of weakness of the immune system, referred to as deficiency of the Defensive Qi.

There may be other pathogenic factors contributing to symptoms, such as:
  •           Heat- usually manifesting as redness and feelings of heat in the whole body or just in the head, face, eyes, or nose.
  •           Cold – may result in sensations of cold in the body and head, copious and watery discharges, and symptoms that worsen with cold weather.
  •           Wind –in Chinese medicine Wind can invade parts of the body, particularly the head and neck where it can manifest as itching, sneezing, and symptoms similar to those of the common cold.
  •          Dampness – a pathogenic factor that can be thought of as thickened fluids in the interior of the body, it can easily result from an imbalanced diet as well as environmental dampness. Resulting symptoms may include copious, slightly thick discharges, heaviness of head and body, and general malaise.

Chinese Medicine treatment:
Mild-to-moderate Hay fever symptoms respond well to Acupuncture, especially if it is used early in the season before symptoms become stronger and continuous. 

On the one hand there is need to deal with the symptoms directly by using points in the head and face that strongly clear and decongest the nose and alleviate itching in the eyes, and points in the body that can help increase energy levels. I usually include specialised Ear acupuncture points which can have strong and often immediate effects on allergy-related itching and sneezing. On the other hand, the immune system must be regulated and the internal imbalances that have resulted in chronic symptoms need to be addressed. Here, points to clear Heat, Cold or Dampness and to strengthen the Defensive Qi may be used, as well as points to deal with other imbalances that may be part of the individual symptom picture.

Chinese herbal remedies may be given to regulate the immune system and to clear excess mucus, Heat, or Cold from the head and face so that there may be relief from congestion and itching. Chinese herbs are particularly recommended in cases where symptoms are more severe or long-term, and where Acupuncture alone is not producing long-lasting improvement.

Diet and life-style are always important factors when allergies are present. This is particularly true in cases of Hay fever that result from an over-reactive immune system rather than a weak one. This is characterised by strong symptoms that come and go, and which are often worsened or triggered by stress or by particular foods or other substances. Many of the cases of Hay fever I treat at my Acupuncture practice actually fall into this category. This type of allergy is not usually documented in Chinese Medicine texts as it is very much a result of our modern-day way of living with its chemical pollutants, excessive use of antibiotics, vaccinations, etc. Understanding the nature of Hay fever symptoms in these cases is essential as Acupuncture and Chinese herbs that “clear” the specific pathogens and allergens from the immune system need to be selected. For a successful treatment, it is also important to include appropriate dietary and life-style changes, as well as relaxation techniques so that the immune system has a better chance to be both released and strengthened by treatment.

Case study:
 Alice* was a social worker in her 50’s, who came to the clinic looking to have Acupuncture treatment for her hay fever in early March 2006. Alice had suffered from seasonal symptoms between March and June every year for over 15 years, and had taken antihistamines for the last 10. The last season had been particularly bad and she had been given a steroidal nasal spray as antihistamines were not working and she could hardly breathe. This year, her symptoms had started earlier than usual at the beginning of February and she was already taking antihistamines with little effect. She was feeling drowsy and exhausted, which she thought was a partly due to the medication and partly to the allergy itself. Alice was also experiencing some hot flushes and night sweats as part of the menopause and was reluctant to start steroid medication again as she felt it made these symptoms much worse.

Her Hay Fever symptoms on the first session were:
  • Watery, itchy eyes that could also be dry and sore in the evenings
  • Constant bouts of sneezing which she felt interfered with her work as she would experience them during meetings with co-workers and clients
  • Irritation in the nasal cavity
  • Frontal headaches and soreness around the nose and sinuses
  • Exhaustion

On questioning and examination, it became clear that Alice also had sensitivities to certain foods and that stress often worsened and sometimes even triggered symptoms. Alice’s menopausal symptoms also indicated that there was a lot of heat in her body which also became apparent in the redness of her nose and eyes.

Acupuncture treatment was focused on clearing congestion and heat from the head and face as well as clearing internal heat. The ear points for allergy and antihistamine were also used.

Alice felt some relief after the first session, she could breathe a bit more freely but other symptoms carried on with the same intensity. On the second week I suggested to Alice that she should try to reduce the consumption of dairy, wheat, and alcohol for a couple of weeks to give a chance to her body to clear excess mucus and heat. She took this to heart and within 4 sessions she was almost symptom-free and had much more energy.

I continued to see Alice every other week until the end of June when her symptoms would usually subside. She did not need to take any medication throughout that time and felt much healthier and stronger in herself although she did have a few episodes of sneezing and headaches in between. 

I encouraged Alice to contact me before the beginning of the season the following year so that we could try to prevent such strong symptoms from developing. This proved successful and Alice did not need to take any antihistamines at all, nor did she need acupuncture treatment so intensively in that year.

Alice has occasionally come back to the clinic since then, when she has felt her allergy is coming back. With a few Acupuncture sessions and some appropriate dietary changes, she has managed to be mostly symptom free without any medication for the last 5 years. 

*The name has been changed to protect the person's identity

Thursday 8 March 2012

Honouring the feminine: Nourishing Yin energy

We live in a time where the Feminine energy is crushed and depleted by an overwhelming Masculine energy. Speed, rapid growth, expansion, accumulation, and destruction seem to be our main driving forces. This is, however, not to do with the woman vs. man question, but with Yin vs. Yang. In terms of Chinese Medicine, what we are seeing in the world is a manifestation of a deep imbalance between Yin and Yang where Yin has been severely depleted by an excessively aggressive Yang. Even though women are relatively more Yin than men, this core imbalance is as much part of us as it is of men, and this is perhaps taking a bigger toll on our health. We all, both men and women, need to start thinking of nourishing ourselves in every way so that our Yin is strengthened. Doing this will harbour the life-giving, life-preserving and creative qualities of the Feminine energy, thus creating more balance both in each of us and all around.  

Most of us have heard of Yin and Yang, the most basic and perhaps most complex concepts in Chinese Medicine rooted in Taoist philosophy.

The Yin Yang symbol

So what are they? Yin and Yang are two opposing energies that only exist in terms of each other. Where Yin is moist, cool, dark, heavy, and tends to contract and be still; Yang is dry, warm, light, airy, and tends to expand and move. If we think of the continuous cycle of day and night - day being Yang and night Yin - we can see the constant waning and waxing of these two energies. Even in the middle of the night, the potentiality of the day is implicit: Immediately after midnight - the cusp of the Yin energy - the night starts its movement back towards the next day, towards Yang. 
In Chinese medicine it is said that Yin and Yang are not only opposites, but they are interdependent (there cannot be darkness without light), mutually consuming (light consumes darkness as it grows stronger and vice-versa), and inter-transforming (day and night continuously transform into each other).

Everything around us contains aspects of both Yin and Yang, where there is Yin there must be Yang or there will be no life. In terms of Masculine and Feminine, we can say Masculine is predominantly Yang and Feminine is predominantly Yin.

Let us take a minute to examine the predominant life-style in our Western societies:
  •  We have less and less time for things like resting, playing, and relaxing- all Yin nourishing activities- and spend more and more time rushing about with work and our many commitments. “There are simply not enough hours in the day”.
    "Not enough hours in the day"
  •   The green both around us and throughout the planet is decreasing: Yin-nourishing Mother Nature is declining rapidly. Instead, we have more bustling cities, more roads, faster cars.
  • We communicate in ever faster ways. This is wonderful if you want to rapidly transmit something to a large number of people, but too harsh, cold, unemotional, and impersonal in other contexts.
  • There is fierce competition on every field of life, and there are wars at many levels: Military, economic, corporate, political, etc.
  •  We want to be forever young, to look and have the strength we had in our twenties- the peak of our physical abilities- forever.
  •  Many of us are hooked on stimulants: coffee, tea, coke, speed, ecstasy, cocaine, whatever makes us faster and more awake.
It seems that we live in a society that predominantly favours Yang qualities: Movement, activity, speed, force, and destruction. Not only this, but we seem to even “worship” Yang qualities such as youth, physical strength, speed, rapid growth. Although it may be men who lead countries and companies that perpetuate this kind of behaviour at the highest level, our current situation is far from being solely the responsibility of men. Both men and women seem to be oblivious of our Yin qualities, our Feminine aspect. Women though, being more Yin by nature, are the most affected by the way we are currently living, and it may even be up to us to start turning the scales towards Yin-Yang equilibrium. 

Many of the conditions I treat women for (and often men too) at my Acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice can directly result from damaged Yin: Insomnia, anxiety, depression, menstrual problems, infertility, severe menopausal symptoms, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes, to name just a few. Consequently, the most common remedies I prescribe are Yin tonics. However, there is a lot that can be done before you- whether a man or a woman- develop symptoms rooted in a malnourished Yin energy, and end up seeking treatment.

Yin is all about nourishment at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual. These are a few tips that will help you nourish your Yin and thereby strengthen the Feminine energy. Bear in mind that this is not by any means a comprehensive list:

  • Rest up: You may not feel “allowed” to rest but be aware that the more you wear yourself out the less productive you will be. An exhausted body or mind cannot render good results either at home or at work. So ask yourself this question: Am I resting enough for the amount of activity I do? If the answer is no, think of ways to restore the energy you use on a daily basis, otherwise you will end up running on empty and your body will end up stopping you on your tracks.
  • Nourish yourself: Eat fresh foods, and eat regularly so that your body has enough fuel at all times. Whether you are a vegetarian or a meat eater, make sure you eat enough good quality protein and plenty of vegetables and fruit.
  • Get some fresh air: Is there a park near you? That is all you need. Go and look at the trees, breath in deeply, and be one with nature every once in a while. Not only you will be nourishing your lungs and oxygenating all your body, you will be nourishing your soul.
Give your mind a break
  • Give your mind a break: In the usual bustle of everyday life there are no moments of silence, or without visual or other sensorial stimulation. Your mind is always at work without you even realising. Quiet time is of paramount importance to nourish the Yin energy. You can try to do this by yourself, or join a meditation group, or a Qi Gong, Tai Chi or contemplative Yoga class. Whatever you choose, you will see how this helps to put things into perspective!
  • Ask yourself the “important” questions: You are never too young to start trying to understand what you want from life, and what the purpose of it all is. You may well find out what is it that is making you run around like a headless chicken, or what is making you so restless.

Slowing down and taking time to nourish yourself at every level will not only benefit your energy, your creativity, and your mental and emotional balance; but it will also benefit those around you. Have you ever witnessed a stressed out or a chaotic person walking into the room where you are sitting? If so, you may have noticed that people like this seem to create stressful/chaotic situations as they pass by. In contrast, a calmer, more balanced person will have the opposite effect. 

In Taoist thought, each of us is a microcosm of the universe. Thus, if we start to cultivate balance into our lives, it will eventually extend to the world around us. Nourishing our Yin will by extension contribute to nourishing the Feminine energy as a whole. This strengthened Feminine energy will eventually soften the extreme Masculine powers we are under, so that our life-giving, life-protecting, and creative human qualities are allowed to blossom once again in every man and woman of the planet.

To all women throughout the world, to all the mothers, teachers, and carers; to those who silently suffer poverty and injustice; to those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others; to women of all professions and backgrounds: Happy Women’s day!

Monday 5 March 2012

Second spring: The menopause in Chinese Medicine

Since it's International Women's day this week, I'd like to focus this post on something all of us ladies will all have to go through: the menopause. Hopefully, I will be able to infuse some positive thoughts about this subject.

In the West, women unconsciously learn that there is something inherently wrong with us. Hormones are supposed to turn us into nasty beings at least once a month during our reproductive years, and with even more venom at puberty and during the menopause. We are accused of being “hormonal” every time we get to show our anger and frustration.
In Chinese Medicine, the workings of the female body are believed to be much more intricate than those of the male body. This is partly because of the complex waxing and waning of hormones throughout the cycle; and the major changes that happen in the female body at different stages of life. This is even before we begin to talk about changes during and after pregnancy! Nevertheless, the concept of female hormones as sources of “evil”, and creators of illness and syndromes does not exist. In fact, the years approaching and during the menopause, probably the most difficult part of most Western women’s lives, are known in Chinese medicine as “the second spring”. During this time, there is a natural decline in certain energies of the body that may cause symptoms but which doesn't necessarily produce much discomfort to most Eastern women. It is about a new start, after we have accomplished our physical and most of our emotional growing and we are ready to invest in our spiritual growth. This is not to mean that our bodies can be forgotten, this is a time where physical enjoyment can also be pursued. With the stresses involved around the possibility of pregnancies out of the way, women can experience a true “sexual liberation”. So how can it be that we get such a bad deal when menopause is concerned?
The answer to this is complex:
Ageing: not for the faint-hearted
First of all, our pre-conceptions about aging, hormones and the menopause itself make us have negative expectations, to which we subconsciously may succumb when the time comes. In traditional societies, the elderly are respected and seen as the pillars of the community and the carriers of wisdom and truth. In the West instead, the idea of aging causes fear and rejection as, in our eyes, youth is of more value and is therefore more desirable. This idea has resulted in an expectation of youthfulness even into our mature years. This puts immense pressure on women much more than on men. Men after all don’t seem to have a "clock ticking away" as we do. We do not feel as allowed as men to proudly wear signs of aging such as wrinkles and greying hair. This is one of the reasons why the menopause has a connotation of decline, of the end of youth and attractiveness. This cultural conception often results in depression, anxiety, lack of confidence and a host of other problems.
Other, more tangible factors that have an impact on us at the time of menopause are stress, long-term contraceptive pill intake, other health issues, and of course our diet and lifestyle. Most of us have experienced how easily affected our periods are at times of stress, illness or exhaustion. Little wonder then that the pressures of modern life and the stresses of busy work and family lives will have an impact on the big hormonal shift that is the menopause. This does not mean that we cannot correct our ways and enjoy the benefits of a healthier life-style at any point of our life.
Chinese Medicine understands that during the menopausal years, the energies involved in creating the menstrual cycle are in decline. Thus, the reproductive energy of the Kidneys, where the energies of Yin (the cool, moist, nourishing aspect) and the Yang (the warm, dry, active aspect) originate, is naturally diminished. The usual lack of balance between activity and rest – we work too hard, play too hard and spend hardly any time recovering our strength until we are so exhausted we can’t even sleep- particularly harms the Yin energy creating an effect of excessive heat and over-activity of the Yang aspect even if it has also been damaged. This is the basic root of symptoms that are typically seen during the menopause: symptoms of heat (yang) especially in the afternoon and night, the times when the yin is supposed to be strongest, night sweats, excessive emotions, dryness, etc. Individual factors like long-standing stress or other health issues will affect the symptom picture differently depending on the case, but an experienced Chinese Medicine practitioner should be able to get an accurate diagnosis and offer the appropriate treatment.
A second Spring: what we should aim for!
Acupuncture provides space for Yin recovery as it induces a restful state where Yin can replenish. Points can be selected to tonify the organs that are suffering from exhaustion while the excessive heat is cleared. There are also specific points that can calm the emotions (the Heart in Chinese Medicine), induce restful sleep and alleviate excessive sweating. Several Chinese herbal formulae can be used during the menopause. They can produce noticeable effects, sometimes amazingly quickly. Many of my patients have found relief with only herbs after having only one or two courses of acupuncture.
So there is help at hand for our menopausal symptoms. However, we should re-consider our whole definition of the menopause and perhaps make an effort to let go of our fear of aging. I know it is scary and we want to carry on looking and feeling young and beautiful. We can still be beautiful, but it is a whole different beautiful from the youthful fresh beauty that not even plastic surgery can bring back. With a little work, we could finally see beauty in our grey hairs and in our lines and then something exciting might happen: we may find ourselves living our second spring..

Friday 2 March 2012


Welcome to Chinese Medicine Bristol's official blog! Here, Acupuncture and TCM pracitioner Sandra Arbelaez will share information about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, how they work, and the latest research and developments related to TCM. You will also find knowledge and ideas on how to enjoy a full, healthy life that she has picked up over the course of 15 years of exploring the world of natural health