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

Monday 31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012, welcome 2013!

This is my last post this year and what a year it has been! I am personally grateful for all that it has brought me - both good and bad- as it all has enabled much growth and expansion in many areas of my life. This blog is one of the great things from this year, and the result of a dear friend's idea to blend my passions of writing and sharing what I know about health and healing with the world. I thank him and everyone who has passed this way, read my words, and found even the slightest useful thing in them. Thanks also to those who have given me feedback and encouragement. I’m glad to see this year come to an end though, it has been of incredible intensity and I think we all need a rest from that now!

There is no denying that 2012 has been a difficult and challenging year for many of us. My clinics and my private life have been filled with people suffering from severe stress and anxiety caused by different types of crises related to many things from health and relationships, to money issues. A quick look at the news from the past year seems enough to see that crisis spread in many shapes and forms around the world! Consequently, this year has left many of us with a strong feeling that we are going through something together and that difficult and painful as it may be, change all around is definitely what is needed.

Sharing each other’s pain is one of the ways in which we can lessen the burden that a crisis represents. I have seen  - and become part of - a growing number of people wanting to do just this by building community, sharing skills, and creating an environment in which we enhance each other’s lives. This can only happen in times of crisis. When we are all fine we don’t think we need anybody, we become complacent and take things for granted. Worse than that, we can become so wrapped up in ourselves that we fail to see and understand the suffering others are undergoing. We may start to feel entitled, when in fact we are not entitled to anything, not really. Why should I feel entitled to health and wealth when so many people in the world have none of that? 

Hard times can make us more compassionate and grateful

When we feel entitled we forget the magic word: gratitude. Gratitude is the magic word because without gratitude there is no happiness, without gratitude I will always feel that I don’t have enough, or that something is missing. Gratitude comes with appreciation, and when we appreciate the gifts life has given us, and are grateful for them, we can never take things for granted. This is the strength that we can gain in times of trouble, this is what often gives a sparkle in the eye to people who live in obviously appalling conditions all around the world. Not that we need suffering in order to learn this, but suffering can often help us appreciate everything that enriches our life rather than bemoan the things that we haven’t yet acquired or that have been taken away from us.

Whether in crisis or not, we are constantly asking for something: health, love, peace, material comfort, luxury, a baby, to be better at what we do... There isn´t probably a single human being on the planet who feels totally satisfied with his or her lot. It is in our nature to strive for better and more and to try to develop our potential. This is in fact what drives humanity both in positive and negative ways. The question is, are we prepared to give anything back? Am I just asking to be in health without striving to be healthy in every way I can or preserving the health of the environment I live in? Am I just asking to have love in my life as if by magic or am Ï putting love into the world and increasing the amount of love going around? You should be getting my point by now...

Where I come from, the New Year is thought to represent a renewal and a new beginning. This implies discarding old things that no longer serve a purpose to make room for new ones. It is not about being consumerist or wasteful - although some do take it that way - it´s about asking ourselves what needs to be changed or renewed in our lives according to what the previous year has taught us. Are there any objects, ideas, and even attitudes we no longer need? How different would we like the New Year to be in comparison the one that is ending? As part of this, Colombians tend to spring clean the house before December 31st, and perform a series of often silly and superstitious rituals that nevertheless have the deeper -mostly forgotten- meaning of presenting a symbolic offering as we ask for what we want. 


The end of a difficult year is ripe time to think about our gifts, be grateful for them and, before we ask for more, think of what we are able to give back into the world and what we are prepared to let go in order to create room for new things. This is not just symbolic, it is the real thing for there is no receiving without giving. Let us party and celebrate the New Year together in gratitude for each other, for the opportunity to share the moment, and for the challenges and the lessons learnt this year. Let us ask for better and bigger: for a better us, and for a bigger heart. Let us ask ourselves what we need to do to make this world a better place, not just for ourselves but for every single being sharing this planet with us. If 2012 was the year in which the world as we know it was to end, then let us make 2013 the year in which we become the new humanity that cares more for the collective good than the individual one. This is not utopic at all, you will not have to look around for long before you find a group of individuals already making this come true. In this new environment of awareness of each other and mutual respect and love there is scope for all of us to be truly happy and truly prosperous. 

Each part of something reflects the whole, and vice versa
If you are wondering what all of this has to do with Traditional Chinese Medicine, the answer is: everything. TCM is about how everything relates to everything else, it is about interaction, interdependence, and the balance between the different parts of a whole. TCM is also about how each part of  something reflects the state of the whole. As members of a community and inhabitants of planet earth, anything that we do that harms either the community we live in or the planet itself will by extension harm us. Even when we are not ready to think about the greater good before the individual good, when we acknowledge that without greater good the individual good cannot be sustained, we can start shifting our thinking to understand that the only way of truly benefiting myself and my own is to act in ways that benefit us all. There, that's food for thought!

 A very peaceful, loving, healthy, and joyful New Year to each of you and to every being on earth!!
With much love and hope, Sandra

Tuesday 4 December 2012

The Yin and Yang of Christmas

Dreaded by some, cherished by others, the Christmas period is here with its manic activity and near-delirious shopping. This is a time of excess which, like our society in general, reflects many more Yang than Yin qualities which in turn contribute to imbalance, discomfort and disease at every level, from the personal to the global. But what was it about in the first place, does anyone remember?

Like Christmas, the Winter solstice celebrates the coming of "light"
Apart from Christmas, there are many celebrations falling within the end of year period from the Winter solstice celebrated by the Pagans and traditional societies around the world, to many different religious holidays such as the Hindu Diwali, The Jewish Hanukkah, the Buddhist Bodhi day; and the perhaps slightly artificial New Year.

What most of these celebrations have in common is the idea of a new beginning, and the symbolic reception of the gift of “light” or the triumph of light over darkness, represented by the beginning of the new solar cycle, the triumph of good over evil, and the birth and enlightenment of superior beings.

The Yin...
Ritual, symbolism, community, appreciating our gifts, cultivating gratitude, embracing a new beginning, preparing to receive light…we could say the real meaning of Christmas lies somewhere amongst these words although, ironically, these are the very last words we would tend to associate with it. 

Music and ritual: the yin of Christmas
Activities that promote stillness, reflection, and the nourishing of our spiritual and emotional lives through ritual and communal celebration have all got Yin qualities. Unfortunately, as the significance of this time has been almost completely lost in most Westernised countries, not many of these activities are common nowadays. There may be some carol singing and bonding within some communities but it is not as prevalent as the other aspects of our celebration. Instead, we go for the all-out excess.

The Yang...
From November onwards we are officially unleashed into the shopping centres, bars, and restaurants to get into the “Christmas spirit”. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with any of these places, what makes it out of balance is the sheer fury with which we buy, eat, and drink until Christmas day when we have the mother of all feasts and give and receive excessive amounts of objects - some desired, some immediately discarded. With this amount of excess, even the more Yin activities of nourishing ourselves and connecting to others in a meaningful way become a thunderous Yang time-bomb.

Another day, another feast

The results of our excess can clearly be seen in the month of January, when feeling heavy and exhausted, and with an empty wallet, we become depressed and despondent and fall susceptible to every bug and allergen. The spring then comes and with its outward energy forces all the toxins out giving us even stronger bugs, allergies, headaches, and skin disorders; amongst other things. Is it really worth it? Some of us may enjoy the relentless partying and overeating so much that are happy to sacrifice a month or two feeling literally “hungover”, but others may feel so ill or depressed that they are unable to function under these circumstances.

The causes of this out-of-sorts feelings could be reduced to:

  • a depleted Yin- burned by the excessive activity, little rest, and the heating properties of alcohol and heavy food. Yin energy contributes to our emotional stability, mental activity, and our ability to relax and attain restorative sleep, amongst other things. When deficient, we may notice symptoms such as moodiness, irritability, depression, inability to concentrate or think straight, insomnia, etc. For tips on how to nourish our Yin energy visit this post.
  • a depleted Yang from using more energy than we have and failing to nourish ourselves with foods that are easily digestible and therefore useful to the body. Yang is the fire that fuels the functioning of  our whole body so lack of it can be felt as feeling cold and exhausted, and an sluggishness or underfunctioning in any part of the body and the mind.
  • increased toxicity in the body from consuming exaggerated amounts alcohol, sugar, fats, refined carbohydrates and little of the foods that help the body get rid of waste products. Swellings, skin rashes, fevers, and headaches are just some of the symptoms that can result from increased toxicity in the body.

Creating festive Balance

This is not about condemning the consumption of alcohol or of any particular foods. In the world of balance there is no such thing as something inherently bad, it all depends on the context and on the extent of the consumption. In fact, partying and sharing food, drink and fun times with our friends and loved ones are excellent ways to relax, maintain a healthy Heart and promote a relaxed and open mind and body. What may cause problems is failing to balance all that binging on alcohol and food, and partying with eating healthier food, drinking cleansing fluids, and resting body and mind.

If we were more inclined towards balance, we would have fun, sing, dance, eat chocolates, have some alcohol and feast on delicious food; but we would have regular breaks from this to cleanse and nourish the body, and get proper rest so that toxicity would not accumulate and our energy would not suffer.

What you can do:

Cultivating balance is not about abstinence but about self-respect. Here are some useful tips:

  • Have days off alcohol, and when you’re planning on having a heavy night make sure you’re well hydrated before, during, and after the event. 
Nutritious veg help us get rid of toxins
  • Don’t always eat the same foods; variety is the spice of life: this will avoid overloading your system with the same things. 
  • Balance heavy foods with plenty of vegetables: vegetables not only provide roughage but also contain a whole load nutrients that your body needs to function properly and to cleanse itself. 
  • Avoid eating too much red meat and too many carbohydrates in one sitting: You'll probably know already that red meat takes days to go through your body before it gets properly assimilated and its waste products discarded, so in excess it can clog up your digestive system. Too many carbs will do the same and combined with excess meat can result in a build up of undigested food and waste products in your digestive tract that can ferment and give you a host of problems from constipation to joint and skin problems. 
  • Have a rest: balance your rest and activity, this is one of the keys to good health, and who does not want good health? 
  • Have quiet times by yourself: the constant exposure to noise, crowds, and stimulating food and drink create a stress response in the body through the permanent sensorial overload. Just like with other types of stress, if we do not counteract this with calm and quiet times, we can do damage to different systems of the body. See my post on stress for more on this.

Let's honour the true spirit of Christmas!

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie
Most gifts don't come wrapped up in festive paper

A smile, a kind word, a hug, a readiness to listen and help are all gifts that we give and receive on a daily basis. So is having food on our table, a certain amount of comfort and health, and having people who care for us. We forget that a gift is not only the thing wrapped up in festive paper, but every single thing life has bestowed upon us. Learning to appreciate all our gifts and be grateful for them is the basic ingredient of happiness and the forgotten essence of Christmas and the other celebrations around this time of year.

The culture of always wanting more is clearly not conducive to happiness, we’re forever chasing our tail wondering if that new object, relationship, or job are going to finally bring us the permanent feeling of bliss we’re after. Once we get what we want we may be content for some time until we begin to feel that something is missing and the chase commences again. In the meantime we fail to see what we actually have and often end up losing it as we pursue our aimless hunt. Worst of all, we infect our children with our inability to be happy and not only teach them to expect us to fulfil every one of their whims but at Christmas lavish them with so much stuff that they cannot literally see it all, let alone appreciate it. This is not only failing to prepare children for a life in which clearly not every one of our whims comes true, but plants the seed of unhappiness and depression as we teach them that there is never enough.

Spread the love...

We need to learn to give with love, and receive with gratitude. The giving should not be limited to those near us though: The spirit of Christmas is also about community, and we are often encouraged to help others at this time of year. As the Buddhists say "if you can help others do so, but if you cannot then at least do not harm them ". Along with the growing awareness of the impact of our consumerist society -not just on the environment, but on other people who are working in appalling conditions and living in near-slavery so that we can buy cheap goods (1, 2)- comes growing responsibility.

Our shopping habits harm people around the world

Again, it's not about righteousness or making ourselves feel guilty and anguished by trying to achieve unachievable goals. It's about becoming more aware of our choices and doing as much as we can to avoid harming other living beings with them. Hard times have befallen not just us but the whole world, so there is no reason to feel entitled to be wasteful or unconscious just because we think we've had it hard. In fact others may have it harder, and often we have been an indirect cause of it. As much as we can, let's try not to go crazy buying cheap stuff that is going to be immediately discarded. This is likely to have been made by some sweatshop or factory worker who is not paid enough for the effort. We have the power to force shops to sell us goods that are more responsibly sourced, and the power to reduce the amount of unnecessary rubbish going to landfill in this overcrowded world. This is sharing the love with as many people as we can and with the earth that sustains us, what could be more within the real Christmas spirit than that?

Wishing everyone a wonderful, joyful, warm, loving, and heart-felt Christmas!!

With much love and gratitude,  Sandra

1. Recent news of one of many awful accidents in an Asian sweatshop, where clothes bought by us in the UK are made: http://en.avaaz.org/1140/is-there-blood-on-your-new-fleece-jacket?utm_source=db_newsletter&utm_medium=blast&utm_content=26112012&utm_campaign=bangladesh&cl=2212941856&v=19524

2. Closer to home, the appalling conditions people work under in the West, courtesy of Walmart (owners of Asda): http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/whos-really-to-blame-for-the-wal-mart-strikes-the-american-consumer/265542/