Steve Coster Acupuncture Southend

More about Exercise…the Chinese way

So following on from my previous blog where I focussed mainly on running and endurance sport, this week I’m looking at a more holistic approach to exercise, Qi Gong.

No Pain No Gain

In the West we generally believe that doing lots of physical exercise is good for us and it will help us live longer.  But I think we just made this up in our heads; there is no actual evidence that body builders or athletes live any longer than the average human.  In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite.  These days fitness is gauged on how you look, so it’s all about six-packs and ‘just doing it’, and if social media is anything to go by (which it isn’t) they all look great and live perfect lives.  But I doubt they are any more healthy than the average person who just does a little exercise and eats and rests well..  So is being fit the same as being healthy?  No, it isn’t.  Looking great isn’t necessarily the same as feeling great.

Moderation is the key

As I mentioned in my last blog, moderate exercise is good for you.  But how much is moderate?  The current amount prescribed by the NHS is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or brisk walking every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  Or,  75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

But what is moderate?

The danger with anything that is ‘prescribed’ however, is that it doesn’t take the individual into account; it certainly isn’t a holistic approach.   And it still isn’t clear what moderate is.  Some people can knock out 10k with the minimum of training, while others can barely make it down the stairs in the morning.  This week I saw several people out jogging in the 36 degrees Celsius heat, which may be moderate in Death Valley, but not in Southend.

heat Steve Coster Acupuncture Southend

Qi Belly vs. Beer Belly

The muscular system ultimately depends on the functioning of the internal organs and glands, so if these are not being Nourished above and beyond the muscles, you will ultimately do more damage than good.  We unknowingly tax the internal system beyond its limits in the belief that muscular development should take precedence.  Chinese traditional exercise then emphasises the internal rather than the external.  In Chinese culture a big belly was traditionally seen as having an abundance of Qi.  Unfortunately, the cult of the six pack is now huge and men and women all-around the world are flogging and starving themselves to look like whippets.  

Steve Coster Acupuncture Southend

 

Before the Industrial Revolution exercise was part of everyday life.  Working on the land or in a cottage industry, one walked, pulled, pushed, lifted.  We washed our own clothes and kneaded our own bread.  Life was the multi gym!  And even up to not that long ago most of us walked to work, or at least to the bus stop or station.  Now we drive everywhere.  Which isn’t anyone’s fault other than that of the town planners.  Imagine having to walk to Tescos to do the main shop!  So, what we need is a more holistic, mindful, approach to exercise, not the one-size-fits-all type that most often leads to injury or just simply quitting.  

Qi Gong is the answer! (Well, an option at least)

A lot of people do Qi Gong and they do it for a variety of reasons.  At the height of its popularity in China during the 1980s, it is estimated that up to one hundred million Chinese were practicing Qi Gong. People who are interested in qigong come from all different backgrounds and practice it for many different reasons.  Some people do it just for exercise and recreation, while others use it as a preventive medicine and as a self-healing technique.  Some do it for self-cultivation and meditation, and others to compliment their martial arts training.  And some do it for all these reasons.

What is Qi gong?

Qi is usually translated as life energy, lifeforce, or energy flow, and definitions often involve breath, air, gas, or relationship between matter, energy, and spirit.  Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts.  Gong is often translated as cultivation or work, and definitions include practice, skill, mastery, merit, achievement, service, result, or accomplishment, and is often used to mean gongfu (kung fu) in the traditional sense of achievement through great effort. The two words are combined to describe systems to cultivate and balance life energy, especially for health.

Steve Coster Acupuncture Qi Gong Southend

Qi Gong is about tuning in to how you feel and what your body needs.  It is not simply about breathing and movement (whether internal or external).   Not only does it develop stamina, flexibility, strong bones, muscles and sinews, and promote a good sense of balance, practitioners also become aware of their spiritual and emotional needs.  

Qi Gong is a lifestyle choice.  Regular practice develops a connection to ones body, something that many of us have lost.  And by being fully present and mentally absorbed in our exercise and our breathing, we can become  emotionally centred, with a clear and open mind.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Exercise and Acupuncture Steve Coster

I was a running junkie!

The Yin & Yang of Running

When it comes to health, exercise is a lot like food.  What I mean is, we know greens are good for us but if that was all we ate, then they would soon become bad for us.  And I think that is true of exercise.  In the acupuncture clinic I see a lot of sports injuries caused not necessarily by the type of exercise (unless you consider darts to be exercise), but the amount.  I’m talking about running.  If you are into running then you know how addictive it can be.  You start off just jogging around the block, and before you know it you are signing up for your first ultra!  But maybe that was just me…..

Unlike activities like martial arts or dancing which take an element of skill, running is much more accessible.  It is literally just putting one foot in front of the over,  or controlled falling over.  You don’t need to spend loads of money on equipment and clothing.  You don’t even have to join a club. A good quality pair of running shoes is probably the only thing that will set you back a bit.  And no one needs to show you how to run, we’ve been doing it for a long time!

running Steve Coster acupuncture

There is nothing new about running of course. 

There is evidence that ancient man used to run for long periods in order to track and wear out prey, known as persistence hunting.  The idea being that animals cannot regulate their body heat by sweating as man can, so they eventually cannot flee any further and so succumb to the hunters.  In fact it is a method still used by bushmen in the Kalahari desert and Rarámuri people in Mexico.  It has also been hypothesised that the gluteus maximus muscle evolved to enable man to run.  So it’s not just for sitting on.

What is new, however, is running for fun.  It was Jim Fixx who started the craze of jogging in the 1970’s.  Unfortunately he died of a heart attack at the age of 52 while out jogging.  Despite this irony, there is no doubt that jogging is better than sitting around smoking and eating crisps.  Most probably Mr. Fixx would have died at 47 if he hadn’t started jogging. 

So when does running become not so good for you?

Basically, doing too much exercise is as bad as doing none.  I used to run a lot.  At the height of my training I was running 75 miles a week.  I thought nothing about getting up at 5am on a Sunday and running for 5 hours.  I loved running, but looking back I can see I was mostly chasing the fix.  Like any addiction, the pleasurable part is satisfying the cravings, not the actual thing itself.  

Steve Coster acupuncture running injury

A used hinge does not rust.

There is no doubt that exercise is good for us, and there is much evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, to support this.  But little is mentioned about the negative aspects of exercise; not only over-doing it, but the emotions associated with it too – fear, shame and guilt.  If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know what these emotions can do to your Qi.  Shame and guilt tangles Qi up and stops it from moving, and Fear descends Qi.  Joy (or more accurately lack of Joy) needs something out of the ordinary to move it – like running 26.2 miles.  And finally, Anger, which can be the result of Qi not moving (which we call Qi stagnation).  We all know that runner who is unbearable to be around if for whatever reason they can’t get out for their run.  It might even be you.

anger Steve Coster acupuncture

Exercise is important in Chinese Medicine.  It keeps the qi moving which is good for body and Mind.  It also prevents the accumulation of Dampness.  Think of a wet tea towel that has just been screwed up and left in a corner.  After a while it becomes a bit stinky; it needs to be hung out to let the air circulate.  Your body is the same –  the cells need oxygenating.  

It is important to keep moving, whatever age you are.   But balance is key: Chinese Medical theory makes it clear that any type of extreme is not a good thing.  The ancient Taoist masters state that people should not only avoid overindulging, but also over exertion, which they say exhausts the sinews and bones.  

When running goes bad

Which brings us to the tale of Pheidippides, who you probably would have only heard of for two reasons, 1. If you are into ancient Greek literature, or 2. If you have ever run a marathon.  Pheidippides was a professional runner (or a courier on foot) who in 490 BC ran 280 miles over a period of 2 days (the actual mileage and period differs depending on what you read, but we can safely say he ran a long way in a short time) and then an additional 40km from Marathon to Athens to announce the news of the Greek victory over Persia.  Unsurprisingly, after delivering his message he dropped dead.  The marathon is of course named after this incredible feat.

running Steve Coster acupuncture

While there is evidence that jogging (that is, running between 1 and 2.5 hours a week at a slow or average pace) can increase your lifespan by 6.2 years for men and 5.6 for women, the reverse is true for more running.  Studies suggest that by doing more doesn’t mean more benefit, in fact it can mean the reverse.  Excessive exercise can cause damage to the heart and coronary arteries, increasing the risk of heart problems and risk of stroke.  Although a slow resting heart beat (as low as 40 bpm in some athletes) is considered to be a sign of good health, this may not be the case once they stop engaging in high levels of exercise.  Other studies have also shown that endurance athletes have weak immune systems and are more prone to colds and asthma.  Over-exercising in young women can also cause amenorrhoea (periods stopping) and other menstrual disorders, as well as reduced bone density.

Exercise addiction  

For some people exercise can become more and more important in their routine, to a point where it disrupts their work and personal relationships.  They feel frustrated and depressed when they can’t get their ‘fix’.  As I stated above, this is related to Qi and Blood stagnation.  The more hooked we become, the more we need to move our Qi and Blood and so feel invigorated.  

The free flow of energy can be blocked by emotions and stress, which is why running can feel so good for our mental health.  But although you feel good for a short time after exercising, it doesn’t deal with whatever is causing your Qi to be blocked.  So it is a vicious circle of depletion.  And it’s tough physically on those who have to run 30 or 40 miles a week to get their qi moving.  

Running can become an addiction.  Just the same as having to use caffeine, alcohol or drugs to get moving, running is the same.  Although I’ve focused on running, the same applies equally to any endurance sport.  But whatever your fix is, it’s deceptive.  These things provide an initial high, but then an immediate slump.  So at risk of repeating myself, it’s all about balance, just as Yin and Yang informs us that one extreme will only ever lead to its opposite extreme.  Somewhere in the middle is needed.

Next week – What is considered ‘good’ exercise? 

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

five voices of acupuncture southend

The Sound of Chinese Medicine Part 2

To conclude my series of blogs on sound and Acupuncture, this week I’m looking at using the voice as a diagnostic tool.  Or, what does a person’s tone of voice tell us about their state of health?

When a patient comes in to the clinic to see me for acupuncture or tai na, there are a number of things I do before I’ve even asked a question.  Firstly I observe them.  I look at the way they walk; do they have a limp, favour one side or have any difficulty walking in general?  I also look out for any observable telltale signs of ill health, such as a sallow complexion or bloodshot eyes.  The quality of a person’s skin or hair can also be a giveaway sign of something else that is bubbling away under the surface.  I even take note of the colours a person wears.  All of these things, and much more of course, give me some idea of a person’s general healthy.

The 5 voices of Chinese Medicine

Next I will ask them about why they have come to see me for acupuncture.  And while they are speaking, I listen; not only to what they are saying to me, but also to their tone of voice.  A person’s tone of voice can tell us a lot about their state of health.  Differential diagnosis is a tricky business of course.  If someone raises their voice while telling a story, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are angry.  It could be just the punch line to a funny story!  So it’s important to take the context of what someone is saying into consideration.  Ask yourself, is the tone of voice appropriate?  For instance, if someone is telling me how happy they are but their voice is flat and lacking joy, alarm bells should be ringing.  

So let’s take a closer look at the five voices.

In line with the five element system of Chinese medicine, each of the tones of voice correspond to an internal organ and an emotion.

Wood – Shouting

The shouting voice is associated with anger, the Liver emotion.  Anger makes the Qi rise which gives the voice forcefulness.  Sometimes a loud and assertive voice is needed, especially when you want things done or you need to be heard, such as in an emergency.  Ever felt like you are being talked at rather than talked to?  This voice may not be loud, but could instead be abrupt and clipped, but the emotion behind it is still one of anger.  Anger is an important emotion, as you know, but without anger nothing changes.  Remember my blog about anger?  An effective general needs enough force to defend his territory, but not enough to start an all out war.

shouting acupuncture Steve Coster

An imbalance is Indicated when this tone of voice is used out of context.  Remember that the healthy Wood element has flexibility in its strength.  Someone who reacts to everything with anger or irritation clearly lacks flexibility.  Imbalance is also evident when anger (or assertion) is lacking when it is clearly called for.  This means the Qi is failing to rise.

Fire – Laughter

In a time long ago, in a universe far far away, I worked in an office.   I know, it’s hard to believe, it was another lifetime ago.  I remember during my initial training being told to answer the phone with a smile, which changes your tone voice.  And it does!  This is the same with Laughter therapy – the brain doesn’t know the difference between real laughter or fake, so by just pretending to laugh endorphins are realised.  Fake it to make it, as they say.  If you listen carefully though, I think you can tell if someone is truly happy.

laughing acupuncture Steve Coster

Laughter in the voice is different to actual laughter; it is simply having joy in one’s voice.  Listen to someone telling an amusing story and you will hear this voice.  There could be an imbalance if the voice is lacking laughter when telling a funny story.  Or on the other hand, when laughter is present when it is out of context, like talking about an upsetting experience.  In addition, some people laugh when they are nervous, or they laugh to mask their true feelings.   It can be an Earth laugh (sympathetic) or a Water laugh (masking fear), or a Wood laugh (laughing with anger).

Earth – Singing

singing acupuncture Steve Coster

The singing voice can be heard when we are cooing to a baby or speaking to a pet, or tending to someone who is in pain.  The voice is soft and modulates up and down.  There is an imbalance if you were to talk to everyone with this tone of voice.  But don’t get caught out; in some languages and dialects, such as Welsh, this tone of voice can be normal.  In these cases, you have to listen carefully to hear when the singing tone has more emphasis and whether or not it is appropriate.  

Metal – Weeping

weeping acupuncture Steve Coster

People with this voice can sound as if they are about to cry.  There might be a faltering in the words, or a chocked sound as if they are struggling to keep control of their voice.  Some people with a weeping voice might also sound weak, as if they are struggling to be heard.  A good example of this type of voice is that of Theresa may.  This voice indicates a weakness in Lung qi.  Theresa May not only has the voice, but she also has the grey, ashen skin associated with a Metal element imbalance to accompany it.  The emotion associated with the Metal element is sadness and grief, so such a voice would be appropriate in the right context, i.e. someone has died.

Water – Groaning

unhappy fish acupuncture Steve Coster

The groaning voice lacks animation and can sound as if it is dragging, much like someone who is lacking laughter (Fire).  The element associated with Water is fear.  As fear sets in and the Qi descends, the voice descends too, losing it’s force and vibrancy.  Think of someone trying to alert someone that there is a spider on their back people – in order not to panic them they speak in a quiet, flat tone.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this series of blogs on Music and sound in Chinese Medicine.  Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Sound Steve Coster Acupuncture

The Sound of Chinese Medicine

In my last blog we touched on the sounds associated with the five elements and Acupuncture.  So this week I would like to take a closer look at Chinese music and it’s relationship with healing.

Music is important in all aspects of our existence.  We play music at every opportunity, at weddings and funerals, ceremonies of state and sporting events.  It also plays a huge role in religious ceremony, whether singing hymns in church, reciting from the Tora or the Koran, singing Sufi devotional songs, or the chanting of Gregorian monks. There isn’t a ceremony or an event that doesn’t involve some sort of music or singing.  And as I mentioned in my last blog, it has a role to play in healing.

Chinese Music

In Chinese culture it seems like every thing is done for a reason and nothing is done just for the sake of it.  Chinese music is no exception.  The five notes of the pentatonic scale in Chinese music coincide with the five elements, and the twelve tones correspond with the months of the year and the hours of the day.  Even Confucius had something to say about it.  He taught that the five notes of music should blend (like the ingredients of a dish) into a harmonious whole, no one tone dominating over the others, each contributing to the benefit of the group as a whole.  So, just like the five elements, balance is the order of the day.  

Music and Acupuncture

The first note is “jiao” and corresponds to E in Western music. It belongs to the wood element, is the sound of spring, and promotes the smooth functioning of Liver Qi, helping to relieve depression. The second note, “zhi” corresponds to G.  It belongs to the fire element, is the sound of summer, and helps to nourish the Heart and invigorate blood flow. The third note is “gong” and corresponds to C.  It belongs to the earth element, is the sound of late summer, and strengthens the Spleen. The fourth note is “shang” which corresponds to D and belongs to the metal element.  It is the sound of autumn, and protects and nourishes Lung yin. Lastly, the fifth note is “yu”, which corresponds to A. It belongs to the water element, is the sound of winter, and helps to nourish Kidney yin, protect Kidney essence, and reduce Lung fire.

The Six Healing Sounds

In Qi gong (which is itself believed to have originated from shamanic dance) sound is used to purge the major internal organs of noxious and stagnant qi by cooling and cleansing them.  There are six sounds (known as liu zi jue) and each is performed with a set of physical movements. Each sound effects an internal organ. Performing these healing sounds can cause yawning, burping, or passing wind.  These are all beneficial, so don’t suppress them.  Just be careful where you perform them!

1. SSSSSSSSS

The first healing sound is SSSSSSSS (like a snake) which benefits the Lungs.  Of all the organs the Lungs are the most in contact with the outer world and all its negative influences, such as germs, viruses and pollutants.  Making this sound is good for colds, flu, toothaches, asthma, emphysema, or depression.

2. WOOOOOOO

The second healing sound is WOOOOOO (as if you are blowing out a candle with rounded lips) which is the Kidney sound.  Practicing this sound is good for fatigue, dizziness, ringing in the ears, or back pain.  It could also be used for issues with reproduction.

3. SHHHHHHHH

The next healing sound is SHHHHHHH, the sound related to the Liver.  This sound is used to expel anger, clear the eyes of any irritations, removing a sour or bitter taste, or detoxifying the liver.  This sound also controls the quality of blood.

4. HAWWWWWWW

This is followed by HAWWWWWWWW (with mouth wide open), the Heart sound.  This sound can be made to alleviate sore throat, cold sores, swollen gums or tongue, jumpiness, moodiness, heart disease and mental disease.  

5. WHOOOOOOO

The fifth healing sound is that of the Spleen, WHOOOOOO.  This sound can be used to eliminate indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea and worry.  

6. HEEEEEEEE

Lastly, there is the sound of the San Jiao (aka the Triple Burner), HEEEEEEE.  This organ is unique to Chinese medicine and refers to the three energy centres of the body, or Dan Tien.   This healing sound harmonises the temperature between the three centres and the function of the associated organs:  the upper section (brain, heart and lungs) is hot; the middle section (liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, and spleen) is warm; the lower section (large and small intestines, bladder, and sexual organs) is cool.   

These sounds are performed sub vocally, so very quietly, as if on the breath, and just for a few minutes each.  In Qi gong it is the intension that is most important, so it is important that the mind is engaged and fully present.  Don’t worry about making a loud sound, you just want to feel a vibration in your vocal chords.  

Give them a go and see how they make you feel.  

The music theme continues next week when I look at how I use sound to make a diagnosis.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Acupuncture Southend Steve Coster

Music to sooth the savage beast….or Liver Yang Rising.

What music gets you moving?  Is it the theme from Rocky?  Or Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries?  Music is really important to me and just about everyone else on the planet.  We seem to play music at every opportunity. When we are sad we play it.  When we are happy we play it.  Music is powerful.  It can get you up and moving, send you to sleep, or it can be absolute torture to listen to.  This week’s blog, then, is all about Music.

Why is music so important to us?

It wasn’t that long ago really that philosophers spoke of the music of the spheres – the concept that the movement of the sun, moon and planets produce a harmony.  Quite literally the sound of Heaven.  Unfortunately, they explain, we can’t hear it because the sound has always been in our ears – we’ve just got used to it.  I think it’s quite sad to think that the sound of Heaven is just white noise now.

Southend Acupuncture

The Chinese have known for a long time the power of music.  In the classic text the Neijing, the masters of Chinese medicine talk of different sounds and types of music associated with each of the five elements.

Wood – Shout – Lute

Fire – Laughter –  Pipe Organ

Earth – Singing – Gong/drum

Metal – Weeping –  Resonant

Water –  Moaning – Stringed

A diagnosis can therefore be made not only by what a person says, but also by their tone of voice.  For example, someone who is angry and shouts a lot could be soothed by the tone of the lute.  Likewise, sound can also be used as part of the healing process, like Gong baths or chanting. 

What is music? 

Well, basically it’s just noise.  It can be a sequence of noises, or it can be just one noise.  The noise might be pleasing to hear, or it may not.  I suppose it depends on what is trying to be communicated.  Primitive man would have started beating a log to communicate or simply entertain his friends.   But even that has the potential to be very sophisticated, just ask a drummer.  You may not like the sequence of noises I might like, but you can’t deny it’s music. When I was younger I remember playing dance music to an elderly relative and he just covered his ears up and said it hurt his ears!  You can’t please everyone I suppose, but you get my point…one man’s meat is another’s poison.

Southend Acupuncture Steve Coster

I always ask my clients if they would like music on while they relax with the needles in, and most people say yes.  But some prefer silence, usually people who are in the service industries such as hairdressers and shop workers, people who have to listen to music all day and now just want a bit of peace and quiet.

Over the years I’ve experimented with playing different genres of music in the treatment room: industrial, rock, folk, indie, world, classical, sounds of nature.  But like most things in life, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  Some people even bring their own music in.  Perhaps they are getting their own back, making me listen too.  However, a client once gave me a compilation of music that is totally neutral with no singing.  It goes down very well.  The only down side is I think I must of listened to it 10,000 times.  

The power of Musick

When I was researching for this blog, it seems the phrase ‘music to sooth the savage beast’ is in fact a misinterpretation of a poem by William Congreve (1697) in which he actually writes 

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

Which seems quite apt in terms of the five elements.  Music is indeed extremely powerful, so powerful in fact that it can not only affect one’s heart, it can even break rock.  How enjoyable it would be to listen to music that can wear down rock and bend wood I’m not sure, but I’m certain there is a middle aged man somewhere who has it on vinyl.

But music that can wear things down?  This got me thinking (and googling).  Although sound per se can’t necessarily break things, we know vibrations can.  There are plenty of examples of singers shattering glass with their voice.  There is even a film with Alan Bates called The Shout where his shout alone is able to kill.  If you want to see someone shattering a glass with their voice, here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amuPoPkAlx8

Music as torture

There are plenty of examples in history of music being used as torture.  The U.S. Army famously played rock music non-stop to force the Panamanian dictator Manual Noriega into submission.  Similarly, in an attempt to flush out David Koresh and his followers at Waco, Texas, the FBI played rock music (with the added delightful sound of knives being sharpened and rabbits being slaughtered).  At Gutanamo Bay the inmates were tortured by continuously playing the theme tune from the childrens’ tv show Barney.  And during the Iraq war the building where interrogations took place became know amongst the inmates as ‘the disco’!  This is an interesting article if you want to read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/jun/19/usa.guantanamo

Steve Coster Southend Acupuncture

The use of music as an interrogation method has in fact been banned by the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights.  But since when has that stopped anyone.  I had a massage once where the classical music was so loud the windows were rattling. Looking back I think the masseur must have been a bit deaf.

The Chinese Medicine bit

In Chinese Medicine anything that subdues Qi or moves it, is important.  Exercise moves Qi, as does certain foods and even other people’s moods.  Ever entered a room and straight away you feel a negative energy?

Qi needs to flow smoothly.  If it is suppressed by poor diet, poor mood, or even medication, the result will eventually be ill health.  And in the fast paced world we live in, we are constantly looking for ways to move our Qi, or indeed suppress it.   This might be through meditation and gentle breathing exercises, or by more extreme methods such as tranquillisers or recreational drugs such as marijuana.

But there is always a yang to the yin side of the coin.  Studies have also shown that listeners of extreme music such as thrash and heavy metal can positively influence the listener, inspiring calmness rather than anger. 

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jun/22/listening-heavy-metal-punk-extreme-music-makes-you-calmer-not-angrier-study

Music as medicine

The healing effects of music, however, is not really understood and experiment results are often contradictory.  For instance, one study shows that plants respond better to calming music.  The plants exposed to Hayden, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert grew towards and entwined themselves around the speakers. But another plant group grew away from a speaker that played rock music.  But in other studies involving music played to plants, jazz music had a beneficial effect, but country music had no effect.  

Southend Steve Coster Acupuncture

Plants can’t actually hear of course, they are affected by the vibrations created by the sound waves.  So maybe it’s not the genre of music that is important, but the type of plant and the frequency of sound they prefer.  Perhaps cacti prefer desert blues but abhor the sound of violins. I guess more studies need to be done https://dengarden.com/gardening/the-effect-of-music-on-plant-growth

Humans, on the other hand, can communicate how they are actually feeling so results are a bit more reliable.  Apart from being a powerful motivational tool and making exercise more enjoyable, music has also been shown to improve the recovery of stroke patients.  There is also evidence that music can help with chronic and acute pain, end-of-life care, and depression.  And much more it seems  https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/why-we-need-music-player-every-patient-room/2019-03

Enjoy the silence

Silence is very important of course, but is it ever possible to be in total silence?  If you have ever tried to meditate you will appreciate how difficult it is to escape noise.  Even if you were in some sort of isolation tank you would probably still be able to hear the beat of your heart.  Music is literally within us.  So rather than trying to escape sound, maybe it is better to embrace it.  Go for a walk and revel in the sounds of nature.  Listen to your breath.  Hear the waves lapping, the birds singing, the traffic humming.  Bathe in the experience of it all.  Feel joy that you are able to hear it. 

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Steve Coster Earth Acupuncture Chewing

Connecting with the earth & the art of chewing

Over the Easter weekend I was getting my hands dirty digging the veg patch and planting seeds.  The weather has been so clement that my courgettes are shooting up already!  In this week’s blog I explore our relationship with the earth and food we grow in it.  Acupuncture isn’t just about needles, a few simple lifestyle changes (such as how we eat) can make a big difference.

Connecting with the Earth

Steve Coster planting acupunctureSteve Coster Digging Acupuncture

It’s really important that we connect with nature; in fact it’s vital to our health.  Spending time in nature is becoming a big thing in health care all around the world. In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing.  Nature therapy, as it is called elsewhere, helps to free us from the distractions from the modern world.  Not a particularly new idea I guess, but whatever way the holistic health ideal gets out there is great.  In other parts of the world it is called garden therapy, horticultural therapy, Kneipp therapy or even ocean therapy.  Whatever you call it, connecting with nature has to be good for us.

Steve Coster pain relief acupuncture

My courgettes!

Becoming grounded

The concept of Earth and grounding is fundamental to Chinese Medicine.  It is central to everything.  It is a pivotal time of year between the Yang and Yin when the summer is waning, around September, when fruits are at their ripest and sweetest.  Earth is also important in Qi Gong as Man is the connection between Heaven and Earth.  We need to be grounded, not only metaphorically but literally.  Gravity helps of course, but we all know people who have their heads in the clouds and are ungrounded, flitting from one thing to the next.  It’s important to have the creativity and freedom that comes with an attachment with the heavens, but it’s equally important to have our feet firmly planted on the ground.

In Wing Chun emphasis is put on the development of the horse stance, a stance used to ground oneself to generate power and stability.  It’s about being as solid and immoveable as a mountain, but not totally rigid and inanimate.  Mountains move, the whole Earth does in fact, we are just unaware of it!  By becoming connected to the Earth one is not only able to absorb power from it, but also transfer force into it, just like the roots of a tree.

The importance of proper digestion

We can also ground ourselves with food, by touching it, smelling it and tasting it.  Take a moment to really connect with what is in your mouth when you are eating.  Chew your food really well.  I am really adverse to food being liquidized before eating it, as I believe chewing is important to the digestive process.   Digestion starts in the mouth.  The action of chewing stimulates the release of saliva which contains digestive enzymes that break down starches into simple sugars.  Saliva also contains some fat digesting enzymes that begin the process of breaking down fats in our food.  Not only chewing, but smell and taste receptors also trigger the production of stomach acid and pancreatic juices 

In Chinese Medicine the whole digestive system is compared to a machine that mulches and heats the food to obtain the essences which are then converted into Qi and Blood.  By chewing we are breaking down the food into more manageable pieces but also heating it up.  If this doesn’t occur then vital energy is wasted in doing the heating which can result in Spleen deficiency and its related problems.  Without adequate chewing you will feel heavy and dull, develop gas, and be undernourished.  

The art of chewing 

Chewing ones food is again nothing new, but it became a big thing in the 19th century when nutritionist Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) developed into a real art.  He believed that you can eat whatever you like, but you must only eat when you are hungry and every mouthful should be chewed until it had lost its flavour.  Fletcher himself used to ‘Fletcherize’ each mouthful of food up to 100 times!  He famously said “Nature will castigate those who do not masticate”! 

His message to humanity – to have an excellent overall health – was to have a holistic approach involving three steps:

  1. Eat only when you have a good appetite
  2. Chew the food like pulp and drink that pulp. Do not swallow food.
  3. Drink all the liquids and liquid food sip by sip. Do not drink in gulps.

It sounds horrible! 

Eating the Chinese way

In Chinese Medicine the way we eat is important too, but unlike Fletcherism there has to an element of joy to it.  Who wants to be like a cow chewing the cud all day? However, there are still plenty of do’s and don’ts when eating.  These are just a few:

  • If you want something badly enough it’s probably more healthy just to eat it.  The mental anguish in suppressing the desire will probably do you more harm.
  • Eat in a nice environment.  
  • Avoid arguing or emotionally charged conversations.  
  • Don’t be too hot or too cold.  
  • Turn the tv off. 
  • Don’t read.  
  • Don’t eat before a bath (or in the bath!). 
  • Take time to self-reflect – eating is a time to nurture not only the body but the mind also.
  • Relax after food, but don’t rush off to bed.
  • Give thanks before and after eating.
  • Try to eat locally, organically, and seasonally.

So I hope this week’s blog has given you food for thought.  Remember, we are of the materials of the Earth so it’s important to respect what it offers. Be compassionate towards animals and plants and only consume what is needed.  We should feel the same aversion to polluting our bodies as we do the environment.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Steve Coster Warrior Acupuncture

Be a Warrior, not a worrier.

Who isn’t worried?  It affects everyone, because that’s the kind of world we live in now.  But why do some people worry more than others?  In Chinese Medicine worry can be caused by an underlying weakness of the Spleen, Heart or Lungs, or a combination of all three.  Worrying can therefore be a symptom of an internal imbalance.  Over time it can create an imbalance which leads to, you’ve guessed it, more worrying.  And on and on it goes.

Some people are more susceptible to worry

According to Chinese Medicine a person with a more earthy constitution will be more prone to this sort of problem than others.  This might include people who choose (or are forced) to be overly involved in other people’s stories and therefore not listening to their own heart’s voice.  I see this a lot in my clinic: people who have all the time the world to care for others, but no time for themselves.  

Steve Coster Earth Element Acupuncture

Exhaustion, eating disorders, food abuse, excess sugar and long-term strain are also factors.  Food abuse includes over-focusing on what we eat, dieting and fasting, which can be ways to distract ourselves. 

Worry knots Qi, which stops it from moving.  

The Lungs are affected because worry causes shallow breathing, and the Spleen because it is responsible for thinking and ideas.  So, when a bit of Qi stagnation is added to the mix, these ideas and thoughts, instead of free flowing and healthy, become obsessive and destructive.   Eventually the Heart will also be affected by the stagnation of Qi. 

Worry is a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle.  

The more energy we spend on useless worrying, the less energy we have to take the steps to create the life we really want to live.  Stagnated Qi eventually transforms into denser Qi which manifests as physical symptoms: chronic muscle spasms, digestive problems, abdominal pain and bloating, and fatigue.  Over time it will also affect the Heart and Lungs causing stress related symptoms – insomnia, palpitations, breathing difficulties and chest tightness.

Worry also includes the seldom used word pensiveness, which consists of brooding, constantly thinking about certain events or people, nostalgic hankering after the past and generally thinking intensely about life rather than living it.   This could also include excessive mental work or study, so students are particularly prone to a Spleen imbalance.  So don’t be too hard on yourself if you crave a KitKat while doing your tax return.

How can this cycle be broken?

It is said that action must follow thought as constant brooding and worry will stagnate the Qi. The positive aspect to over-thinking is quiet contemplation, so  meditation is one way to break this cycle.  This might be with meditative movement such as qi gong or yoga, or just going jogging or dancing.  Any movement in fact will help quiet the mind and allow the qi to flow more efficiently.  

Qi Gong and Tai Chi to direct the flow of Qi

Acupuncture can also be used to break the worry cycle by nourishing the organs involved, the Spleen, Lungs and Heart.  Once these organs are operating more efficiently, the Qi is able to move more freely.

Here are are a few more tips:

Avoid clutter so their is room to think.

Take care of yourself: Take time to rest, to walk, to just be quiet.

Do what you say you are going to do: so be careful not to over commit.

Learn to say ‘NO’ without giving any explanation.

 

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

Mother Steve Coster acupuncture southend

Big up to all the Mums!

As it was Mother’s Day last weekend, this week’s blog is all about the concept of Mother in Chinese Medicine. We are hugely connected to our mothers and profoundly influenced by them, whether we like it or not! Even if you don’t, or didn’t, get along, we will certainly still feel a connection to them. So let me this week take a look at the idea of Mother from a Chinese Medicine perspective.

Mother as connector to the world

It is impossible to come into this world without a mother (at the moment anyway). Even if a baby is conceived via In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), there has to still be an egg and it still has to develop in a womb. If by some miracle of science a child could develop outside of the womb, there would still be no escaping a mother/child connection.

It is our mother who helps us to connect to the world and we gradually learn to have our own identity. In the best situation our mother feeds, supports and loves us unconditionally. She comforts us by holding and caressing us. By taking in nourishment from our mother we gain stability.

Inheriting the best of our parents

In Chinese Medicine it is said we inherit from both our parents what is called pre-heaven essence (so not only their annoying habits). This literally means that we have the essence of our parents within us. The Chinese therefore put huge importance on the health of parents, particularly at the time of conception. For instance, if the parents are unhealthy or quite old when a child is conceived, and therefore pass on weak Qi, the future health of that child could be affected. And not only their childhood, but quite possibly into adulthood. This applies equally to the influence of drink or drugs (recreational or medicinal).

Parents Steve Coster southend acupuncture

The unborn child’s future health can also be influenced while it is in the womb. These days, of course, it is common knowledge that drink and drugs or an unhealthy lifestyle affect the fetus in general. But in Chinese Medicine it is also believed that the mother’s emotional state has a big impact on the fetus, such as a shock.

Losing the ability to Mother oneself

In my day-to-day clinic I see a lot of conditions and illnesses that haven’t appeared over night, but rather have developed over years and years. Those little bowel niggles that you ignored for decades gradually become colitis. Or that stiff shoulder that once went on it’s own gradually becomes a frozen shoulder. That tension headache that painkillers can no longer touch.

But what I see mostly in many of my clients is the inability to connect with their ‘inner mother’. That is, they have all the time in the world to look after others, but never enough to look after themselves. The root to not being able to mother oneself is complicated of course. It is a minefield of guilt, shame and emotional pain. As you know from my blogs, any prolonged emotion will eventually have a negative effect on the physical. People who do not or will not allow themselves to be mothered, either by themselves or by others, generally present with common symptoms (in my clinic anyway): weight gain, digestive and bowel problems, exhaustion and depression.   We mother ourselves with TV, food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, consumerism, anything in fact that releases dopamine, the pleasure chemical that the brain releases reward certain behaviour.

self medication acupuncture southend Steve Coster

It is our mothers who provide us with support and security when we are young.

Over time we learn to care for others, and ourselves so it seems obvious that separating a child from its mother will have a negative effect. Short periods of stress are usually harmless, such as divorce, but studies have shown that “toxic stress” (caused by long periods of separation and trauma) can cause developmental problems of a child’s brain and behavioural issues. This can lead to a possible disruption of a child’s ability to regulate their emotions and cope with future stress.

The Mother/Child Generating Cycle

This same cycle can be seen in the Sheng Cycle (or the Generating Cycle) in Chinese Medicine, particularly the five elements system. We call this the mother/child relationship. In this cycle the child is dependent on the mother, but also vice versa, the mother is dependent on the child. So, if the ‘child’ element is deficient, then it may be because it is not receiving enough qi from its ‘mother’.   And on the other hand, if a ‘child’ element becomes too full it can adversely affect the ‘mother’ element.

This how it works.

Water generates Wood – Wood generate Fire – Fire generates Earth – Earth generates Metal -Metal generates Water

Water allows the trees to grow (Wood); the trees can then be burned producing Fire; the wood becomes ash which becomes Earth; the Earth hardens and we mine minerals and Metal; and over time the minerals become mountains from which flows the Water, and so on….

As an example, let us say that a person is being neglected by their inner-mother. They are avoiding exercise, eating the wrong foods and as a consequence putting on weight and generally feeling miserable. All symptoms typically related to the Earth element. It could be said that the Earth element (the child) is not being nourished by the Fire element (the mother), so as an Acupuncturist it would make sense for me to treat the mother element, the Fire. Using the analogy in the box above, creating more ash from the fire will reinforce the earth.

What can you do to nourish your own inner-mother?

You should treat yourself just as you would want your mother to treat you. Be kind to yourself. Eat well and get plenty of rest. Treat yourself to something nice on a daily basis, but free of guilt. Exercise for fun, not because it is expected of you. Remember that the philosophy of Chinese Medicine is one of balance, moderation and free flow of energy. Be like a young healthy tree – feel the wind between your branches, bending and swaying in the wind without breaking.

Please do contact me if you have any questions about Acupuncture and hayfever.  Or you can find out more about any of the topics in my blogs here, about me, or my treatments  

Steve

Steve Coster Acupuncture for hay fever

Love Summer, not Hayfever!

The hayfever season is fast approaching.  I have a special interest in hayfever;  I’ve always suffered with it: as a child,  through my teens, even as an adult.   And I even wrote my dissertation it.  But I don’t love it, I hate it!

So if you would like to give Acupuncture a try, now is the time, or as soon as possible before the sneezing season starts.  Clinical experience has shown that for best results treatment should start before your symptoms start.  It’s better to build your defences up early, before the true onslaught begins

Steve Coster Acupuncture for hay fever

What is hayfever?

Hayfever is basically an autoimmune disease.  It is an immunoglobulin E – mediated disease; that is, allergen-specific IgE is synthesized in response to allergens in the environment, become fixed on the membranes of mast cells and basophils.  This causes a classic inflammatory response: sneezing, nasal itching, nasal blockage and watery secretions.  Other symptoms can include general tiredness, fever, sore eyes, cough, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Some interesting facts about sneezing!  (Bless you)

You can’t sneeze when you are sleeping.
Looking at the sun can make you sneeze (it’s called the photic sneeze reflex).
Your eyes close automatically when you sneeze.
The spray from a sneeze can travel 5 feet or more.
Donna Griffiths of Worcestershire, England, sneezed continuously for 978 days!

Why don’t we all get hayfever?

In Chinese Medicine we believe that hayfever symptoms are due to a weak constitution caused by the weather/environment, diet, overwork and stress, which can lead to a ‘Wind Invasion’.  This is exactly the same process as catching a cold.

It has also been suggested that we are constitutionally weakened as babies, due to overfeeding or being fed hard to digest foods.  This can lead to a lifetime of allergies.  On the other hand, some children will grow out of their allergies as they mature and become constitutionally stronger.  My hayfever isn’t as strong as it was when I was in school, but it can still be pretty miserable in the summer.

Acupuncture can help relieve hayfever symptoms

Current Western treatment includes antihistamines and corticosteroids (both of which help with symptoms of local inflammation) but both have side-effects, from drowsiness to anaphylactic shock.

However, recent studies suggest that acupuncture treatment is able to modulate immunosuppressed or immune-activated conditions through various immune functions, including the activities of macrophages, neutrophils, NK cells and lymphocytes, immunoglobulin production, and complement systems.

That is, acupuncture has been shown it is able to lower Immunoglobulin-E levels and thus reduce inflammation; exactly what antihistamines do what without the side-effects!

Does Acupuncture hurt?

Acupuncture does not hurt. Some people feel the needles as they go in, and some people feel nothing.  Acupuncture needles are solid needles, not hollow like hypodermic needles, and they are much, much thinner – about the diameter of a thick human hair.

Please do contact me if you have any questions about Acupuncture and hayfever.  Or you can find out more about any of the topics in my blogs here, about me, or my treatments  

Steve

Liver as Warrior Steve Coster Acupuncture

Spring is here: Awaken your inner Warrior!

I think now the Spring Equinox has passed we can safely say Spring is here.  Get your shorts ready but don’t put them on yet.  And remember to protect yourself against the Wind, it’s still pretty chilly out there!

The Liver’s Role:  East & West

So this week I want to talk a little more about the Liver, its role in fighting infection and autoimmune disease.

The Liver has one main similarity in both Chinese and Western medicine, it stores blood.  However, in Chinese Medicine (CM) it is also responsible for ensuring the smooth flowing of Qi, which influences every other part of the body as well as our emotions (see my anger blog). In CM storing of the blood has three functions:

  1. It regulates blood volume 
  2. It regulates menstruation 
  3. It moistens the eyes and sinews

In Western Medicine (WM) the liver‘s job of storing the blood is more accurately filtering the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. In this way the liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. As it does so, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines.  It also controls and makes the proteins, fats, cholesterol and clotting agents.

So whichever way you look at it, the Liver is pretty important.

The Warrior within us all

There is another similarity between the East and West concepts of the Liver that I would like to focus on, and that is it’s role in the body’s ability to fight infection.  

In Chinese Medicine the Liver is said to be the General, the minister responsible for defending the nation’s borders.  To help explain this, let me first tell you a little about how the ancient Chinese viewed the body.  The Chinese saw the body as a reflection of the world around them and our organs represented the ministers required to manage an empire.   The channels and bodily processes are the empire in action – agriculture and grain storage, irrigation and waste management, and an army.   In this system the Heart represents the role of Emperor, the sovereign of all organs.  It is responsible for intelligence, wisdom, and spiritual transformation. The Liver, however, is the General, smart and courageous, and responsible for defending the borders of the Empire and making plans to do so.  In other words, fighting infection.

Protecting the boundaries

In Western Medicine the liver is the primary organ for breaking histamine down, that’s why  antihistamines are used to help treat the symptoms of liver failure.  In this way it is the Liver that is responsible for mobilising the troops against foreign invaders, such as bugs and parasites.  And if you have ever had hay fever, you know that histamines can make you feel very irritable.

This role of the Liver fighting off infectious agents that attack the body suggests the image of a warrior, whose job it is to defend the boundaries of the empire.  Without an adequate plan, the immune system would be ineffective, unable to resist potential invaders.  This is quite commonly the explanation when a person suffers from recurrent infections.  

Autoimmune disease

On the other hand, when the primary symptom is allergies (or hay fever as mentioned above), the immune system is essentially attacking the wrong enemy, generating antibodies against pollens, which are harmless.  Then it is as if the Liver is an overly zealous military leader, going to war too vigorously with no leniency.  In the case of autoimmune disease, the immune system can be seen to be a hyper-vigilant warrior who actually turns against his own side, creating an inflammatory reaction within the body’s tissues. 

What can you do? 

Well, as you would have gathered from my blogs so far, good health is a balancing act.  When it comes to the Liver, it’s important of course what goes through it:  too much alcohol, fatty food and medicines will all have a detrimental effect on the Liver over time….or not, of course, because we are all different.  We all feel and express anger in different ways.  Some of us exercise, others do not.

balancing act Steve Coster acupuncture Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash

Chinese philosophy advocates a balanced life, but a life that is lived.  Eat well (and drink), but in moderation.  Exercise is important, but you don’t need to run a marathon.  In Qi Gong there are various exercises and posture that are practiced to cleanse and nourish the Liver.  And an Acupuncture session every now and then will ensure your Liver Qi flows smoothly.

Please do contact me if you have any questions about Acupuncture or any of the issues discussed above.  Or you can find out more about any of the topics in my blogs here, about me, or my treatments  

Steve