Steve Coster Acupuncture Southend

Qi Gong: the Universe and You.

Practicing Qi Gong is just as much about how you view the world as it is about simply exercising. It is about understanding our connection to the Earth and the Universe, and also to ones self.  As one of the main branches of Chinese Medicine, the practice of Qi Gong is based on the philosophy of Qi:  the movement of Qi and how it affects our health, mentally and physically.  So, over the next few weeks I will be exploring what this actually means.

Qi is everything

Steve Coster Acupuncturist Southend

Everything affects our Qi.  What you eat, who you speak to, the air you breathe.  In Qi Gong philosophy (there are many schools but it is all basically Chinese Medicine) we say there are five aspects of life that need to be balanced for optimal health (but not in any particular order):

Exercise – how we move our Qi 

Environment – where we live/work 

Breath – how we breathe and what we breathe

Diet – what we eat and how we eat

Mind – what we think and how we think

Qi Gong is not just exercise. 

Unlike sport, which is often ultimately about competing (against others or the clock), Qi gong is about finding balance within, but with your health in mind.   It is about being able to tune in to what you need.  Let’s take exercise as an example – how many of us really know how much we need?  We usually only stop when we’re exhausted or we’ve run out of time.  And if you recall from my previous blog, we’re riddled with guilt if we dare to take a day off!  

So, do you need to move your Qi?  Or do you need to rest?  Most of us sleep when we need rest, but simply sleeping doesn’t address the real problems underlying tiredness.  Tiredness is often the result of years of working too hard, or poor diet, or worrying.  Take your pick. Some people get no rest when they sleep.  They toss and turn all night and wake up feeling just as exhausted as they were when they got into bed.  We take drugs to relax, or watch TV or the internet, but this is not resting, it’s escaping.  They do not help you connect to your inner self.  They take you somewhere else, anywhere but within.

Chinese Medicine says that our health is affected by either internal or external factors.  Let us first look at some of the external factors.  I’ve written a lot about exercise over my last few blogs, so this week I’ll look at how our environment affects our Qi and health.

Qi is affected by your Environment.

What I mean by environment is:

  • Where you live and who you live with
  • What job you do where you do it
  • Where you practice Qi Gong.

Where you live

Where we live is hugely important to our health, so it’s crucial that we care not just for the planet, but also for our immediate surroundings.  The two go hand in hand I guess.  Its no surprise that the health of the planet is suffering when you think how easy it is to neglect your own personal environment.

Steve Coster Qi Gong Acupuncture Southend

Living in a room on the High Street will affect your energy in a different way to living next to a gently running brook in a forest.  The urban environment takes us further and further away from nature, which ultimately means further away from ones self.  It’s good practice to avoid pollution, including noise, traffic and mobile masts, all of which affect our Qi.  Of course, it’s pretty difficult to avoid any of these things nowadays, but practicing Qi Gong will help protect you by strengthen your Qi.  Who you live with will also affect your Qi. Living in a state of fear, stress or misery, or even boredom, will slowly wear you down.

Where you work

This applies equally to the job you do and where you work.  If the job you do is stressing you out, this will have an impact on your health.  I worked in the City for 17 years and it was the boredom that nearly did me in!  There is a lot to be said for the old adage ‘do a job you love and you will never have to work again’.

Steve Coster Qi Gong Acupuncture Southend

Where you practice Qi Gong

Just as where you live and work is important to your health, It’s important where you practice your Qi Gong.  Finding somewhere to practice outdoors is preferable but this is not always practical.   If you can’t get out into the countryside or your back garden, maybe then find a quiet space in your home.  Avoid rooms where there is a lot of people traffic.  Don’t do it in a busy living room or while listening to the radio or watching the tv. If you live with other people let them know you are practicing and don’t want to be disturbed…‘No, I don’t want a cup of tea!’

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 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.

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

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

Anger blog Steve Coster Acupuncture

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!

Over the weekend the strong winds of storm Gareth toppled a relatively young tree in my garden.  But youth didn’t do it any good; on closer inspection the trunk was rotten, so one big gust and it was a goner.  Unfortunately I was too late to help the tree, but I have been able to help many people in the Acupuncture clinic presenting with anger related issues.

The Wood, the Wind and Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine the Wind is the climatic condition associated with the Spring.  It whips everything up and clears away the stagnation from the Winter months, making way for the fresh and new.  

Similarly, Wood is the element of Spring.  So remember what I touched on last week?  A healthy wood needs to be supple and flexible, able to bend and yield to the Wind.  Just like the tree in my garden, if we lack flexibility we are more likely to snap under pressure.  That is what anger can do; it can make us rigid and irrational and unable to see clearly.  

Anger is not a bad emotion

Anger can be a powerful, positive force, but only if it is expressed appropriately and in the right direction.  It can be insidious and all consuming, and often it is so prevalent we don’t even realise we are angry!  The pressures of modern living certainly give us all plenty of reason to be angry.  But prolonged anger, just like all unfettered emotions, will eventually have a negative effect on our health.  In Chinese Medicine it is the Liver that is particularly associated with Anger, but given time it won’t be long before all the body’s organs are affected.

The Dalai Lama explains it very well:

I think that anger and hatred actually cause more harm to us than to the person responsible for our problem.  Imagine that your neighbour hates you and is always creating problems for you.  If you lose your temper and develop hatred toward him, your digestion is harmed, your sound sleep goes, and you have to start to use tranquillisers and sleeping pills.  You then have to increase the dosages of these, which harms your body.  Your mood is affected; as a result, your old friends hesitate to visit you.  You gradually get more white hair and winkles, and you may eventually develop more serious health problems.  Then your neighbour is really happy.  

So what can help with Anger?

Anger will affect the free-flow of Qi in the body.  It will first affect the Mind:  before you know it you are getting angry in the car, angry queuing up in the supermarket, or yelling at the TV!  And then, over time it will start to affect the body: if the free flow of Qi is impaired then the result can be stiff neck, headache or migraine, insomnia, constipation, or any number of autoimmune diseases.  

Anger needs to be expressed, but as you know from my earlier post ‘Is Spring finally here?‘, not all expressions of anger are appropriate.   So what is an appropriate expression of anger?  Well sport and exercise can be good outlets, but simply hitting a punch bag or pounding the pavement will only take you so far.  It may feel good at the time but it won’t deal with the cause.

Qi Gong and Tai Chi to direct the flow of Qi

The Dalai Lama  goes on to say that all the things that stirred up your anger can go away with a peaceful mind.  Well, Mind in Chinese Medicine is just another expression of Qi, so directing the Mind through meditation (which includes Qi Gong and Tai Chi) can help the Qi flow more smoothly.  Martial Arts such as Wing Chun can also help.  But when dealing with the long term effects of anger, such as migraine, you may need the help of Acupuncture and Tui na.  

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

Treating PCOS with Steve Coster Acupuncture Southend

Acupuncture can help when the Doctors can’t

Tried every option?

Sometimes it can feel like you have tried everything to get back to full health.   You have gone down all the usual routes – seen the GP, seen the specialist, taken the drugs.  But at the end of the day it can feel like the Doctors have washed their hands of you.   Acupuncture can be a real help when you think there is nowhere left to turn.

So when I received this fantastic testimonial, it made me think of all the people out there who are thinking there is nothing more that can be done!

Because of the holistic nature of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, there isn’t a one-treatment-fits-all method.  Everyone is treated as an individual and therefore each individual has a treatment tailor-made for them.  Two people may be suffering with PCOS, for instance, but the road that lead them there will be very different.

So, thank you to Emily for this testimonial:

“I was diagnosed with PCOS back in 2017 and since doctors said there was nothing I could do about it I turned to acupuncture to see if I could get my body back into balance naturally. I tried two acupuncturists before I moved to Southend and then found Steve. In my first session Steve confidently said he’d get me a period back within three months. As I hadn’t had a period for nine months I thought that sounded ambitious… Low and behold, in just three weeks I had a natural period! I couldn’t recommend Steve highly enough. Sessions with him are always relaxing and informative, he knows how to make you feel at ease and give you hope that the body does know how to heal. Thank you!”

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

Steve