Archive for October, 2013

Returning to exercise safely & injury free (or “You’ll get there in the end”)

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Returning to physical activity is like making a camp fire. Making a camp fire means understanding fire’s nature, and acting appropriately.

How to make a nice roaring camp fire:

Start with a tiny spark from a flint or a wood drill.
If you add the spark to a log, it’s extinguished right away. If you blow too hard on the spark, that will overwhelm the spark as well.

The spark must be carefully cultivated with an understanding of its nature.

The successful spark goes on dry moss, maybe sawdust. Then more sparks form, then you can add more moss. Now, maybe a small wood shaving, then another. More moss, then a small twig. Never large pieces at this stage. Some gentle air from the breath is good now.

Then add several twigs, maybe some more moss. Then a bigger piece of wood, then large sticks. Now blow hard as possible, stoking the heart of the fire.

Now its ready for logs that will achieve the desired function of keeping warm.

This whole process totally fails if you push the envelope too soon. Yes, fire needs wood and yes it needs air, but these can smother the sparks if used at the wrong moment.

If you judge the small spark as being useless, you will never get the benefit from it. A large, warm fire has very humble beginnings but the beginnings exist and have power to develop.

Translate this analogy to exercise –

The goal of the first week or more is to simply get used to moving without triggering pain. Let the body be gently reintroduced to gravity and perhaps the kind of activity you intend to carry on with.

The goal is not to go for endorphins, stress relief, weight loss or other athletic performance. Get this goal correct and you are on the quickest path to victory. Anything else is risky.

Many people are hurting themselves by judging their own small spark of capacity to be useless and either overdoing it or deciding to do nothing.

I once had a patient only able to do 5 seconds of a shoulder qigong exercise I prescribed. This was case where workers comp covered work on the ankle but not the preexisting shoulder issue so she asked for a self-care protocol. But at 6 seconds, severe pain kicked in. This small functionality made her upset. She felt useless, thinking that 5 seconds was a fail. I recommended that she just do the 5 seconds. She was convinced that 5 seconds was completely pointless and we spent some time talking about this. She agreed to try the 5 seconds every day. After all, at 5 seconds at least there was no pain. In a few days she could do 10 seconds. In 2 weeks she was doing 10 minutes twice a day, and this finally took her into the range where the exercise made the shoulder feel pain free.

A more commonly used example I use for very overweight people over 75, who are in recovery from surgery or prolonged illness. I start these patients with 5 minutes per day on a playground swing. Sounds almost silly, but it moves a lot of lymph around and gets the body warmed up. From this innocuous beginning, within 6 months many can walk several miles a week or return to a keep fit class.

The moral is this –

It is totally irrelevant how small your abilities are when you start. Start where you are at, learn to enjoy the fact you have that much function at all. Development of your performance will then come without injury and with a deeper understanding of your own body’s needs.

Improving Your Diet: why its hard, why patience and neuro-plasticity will help

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

‘Why do we eat food that creates trouble for us?’

We frequently create a nutritional culture based on how recipes make us feel in the short term. The meal size, the textures, and certainly the flavors, feel nourishing and efficiently banish hunger for at least a few hours. But unhealthy meals often make us denser, providing a strong feeling of fullness that can push away awareness of more subtle physical or emotional sensations.
This meal is like an antidepressant, and in fact, junk food alters brain chemistry along the same pathways that cocaine does. Our feelings of boredom or stress; feelings that we have given too much to others or that we deserve a treat for hard work or for dealing with difficult circumstances – these frequently make us reach for the sugar, fat and salt that successfully trigger our brains’ pleasure centers. Our brain is trained to place value on this experience. The numb feeling provides a nice distraction from the troubles. Real stress can be created when lose this distraction.

‘How does a person even know which meal is fulfilling the priorities of our health needs?’

Without any immediate food sensitivities in the body, the effects of diet on our health appear very slowly. In fact, the conventional wisdom that says steamed vegetables and fish is “healthier” than a bacon cheeseburger came from over a hundred years of scientific research looking into the food behaviors of tens of thousands of people. The immediate benefit of ‘healthy food’ is very difficult to perceive in an individual in a short span of time. Give an average, healthy person a fish and another person a cheeseburger, measure their vital signs then re-check in a few hours. Both would be absolutely fine. No wonder making the change is difficult. On a meal by meal basis one needs blood analysis to see any difference.

‘How does change happen?’

As we begin to make a diet change, we rely on our intellect to understand that our diet is not nourishing our health needs. We read or hear lectures about what foods foods are currently thought to be disease promoting or disease preventing. We frequently hear conflicting information as well, just to add to the difficulty. In the beginning, we simply do not have the direct experience of cause and effect. And of course there can be frequent feelings of guilt or even shame as our intellect is found to be insufficient to fight all the emotional energy around leaving the old ways behind.

But after a time a new feeling happens. We have more energy, our digestion improves, our bodies feel lighter and we work more efficiently. Symptoms of inflammation improve. Weight can be lost. As we experience the reality of cause and effect, our emotions change. Instead of placing value on the numbing, short term effect of unhealthy food, our minds learn a new way of perceiving value. This happens by a process scientists call neuro-plasticity, the ability of our minds to be reshaped by experience.

Our emotions now relate to time in a new way. The experience of feeling great over the course of several weeks outweighs the immediate gratification of numbness. We have changed the part of ourselves that responds to food from one that enjoys the break from feeling bored or stressed to the part that feels forward looking and healthy.

So the moral of the story is be patient and observe, your brain will handle the rest.

No flu shot this year? Or said ‘yes’ to the flu shot? Start prevention now!

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

If you have already decided that the flu shot is not for you, read on.

If you have decided that you need the injection this year, I totally support your decision. It is obvious that some people’s risk factors require this extra level of protection. Yet the following advice may still be relevant as the flu shot does not come with any guarantee that it will work completely.

In Chinese medicine, preparing for a problem is considered superior than being caught be surprise by the trouble.

What can you do?
Science and Chinese medicine agree – your immune system is influenced by diet, exercise emotions and genetics. Try googling “psychoneuroimmunology.” But science is not yet developed enough to establish how well things are working until you get challenged with a germ. Your own intuition and experience is frequently an important guide in this case.

How can Chinese medicine help?
Chinese medicine is able to look at the individual and understand what works well and what is weak even before symptoms arise. All returning patients of mine can come in for a free cold/ flu-prevention planning session. We will review your current situation and see what areas need support to limit illness during cold and flu season.

Some people need herbs, some just need an adjustment to their diet or pattern of exercise. Some need acupuncture. Some need help through a new stress. Individualized care has as many solutions as there are human situations.

For many of my returning patients, who have taken my advice over the years, they don’t need to change a thing and can look forward to staying healthy during the cold weather.

If you have not been in to see me before, give me a call on my mobile (541) 228-4822 and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have.

No matter what you decide to do, I wish the best of health this season!

Exercising outside during cold weather

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

If you want to cultivate all the benefit that your body derived from summer training, be mindful how Cold and Damp can not only damage your system in the short term, but in the long term as well.
Stay warm.
In Chinese Medicine, the advice to stay warm is very specific – keep the joints used in your exercise warm, dry and wind protected. This regularly means that the athlete must stay covered up to the extent that they feel slightly “too” warm for the large percentage of workouts aimed at maintaining fitness. Workouts that try to push the envelope can be handled a little differently.
Folk that wear shorts and T-shirts to train outside in cold weather will rapidly chill the entire body once they finish the workout. This uncontrolled chilling runs the risk of lowering your resistance to disease. Digestion, joints, the immune system and even aspects of the menstrual cycle can become more subject to imbalance and disease with chronic exposure to the elements. These preventable imbalances can build up over time. And remember, in Chinese medicine prevention is always preferred to treatment.
Warmth increases blood flow and keeps flexible, shock absorbing tissue pliant. Warmth allows enzymes involved in muscle, tendon and ligament repair to work better.
Ice is fine after a workout, when the affected area is not trying to perform. Icing within 24 hours of a workout can speed up recovery time and is great for managing some types of injury. But this kind of icing is applied to specific, limited areas when the rest of the body is warm
If you want to maximize health as you age, keep warm, dry and wind protected during any outside physical activity for most of your workouts.