Westcliff acupuncturist

No Pain Never Again!

It’s lucky for the human race that we have a very short memory when it comes to pain and stress.  If we remembered these sensations acutely, I doubt very much anything worth doing would be repeated.  Everyone would be a single child, no one would change job or partner, and we would all still be living in caves huddled around a stick wondering what that stuff is that is hot but hurts when you touch it.  The mantra No Pain No Gain would instead be No Pain Never Again!

Stress and pain are, of course, both an essential part of life.  How, for instance, could there be love without these two vital ingredients? In health, we actually thrive under these conditions.  But it’s all relative I guess; what I consider pain is pleasure for another person.  Actually, I can relate to that; in what seems another life time ago, I used to run marathons…for pleasure!

Routine versus Stress

We all prefer routine over chaos, don’t we?  I’m currently in the process of moving house.  Being surrounded by boxes, all my precious things gathered up into one or two rooms, has given me some insight into the mind of a hoarder.  They must feel rotten all the time, but I suppose that is why it’s considered a mental illness; it wouldn’t be called an illness if wasn’t a bad state to be in.

Southend Westcliff acupuncture

It probably isn’t the best way of doing it, packing everything up before even having a move date, but I haven’t had a lot of practice; I think this is only the fourth time I’ve moved in the last 35 years, and every time before now I’ve only had a few things.  Since the time I moved from my parents’ home in 1993 I seem to have accumulated a lot more stuff.  People who move a lot must have it down to a fine art.  Perhaps the trick is to not have a lot of stuff.  I imagine minimalists have a secret second house where they stash all their stuff.

Chaos Junkies

But no one craves chaos, surely?  Although it does appear to follow some people around.  In actual fact, a little bit of chaos, an adrenaline rush, can be quite good for you.  As I’ve mentioned previously in my blogs, when your Qi is low, it sometimes requires a little bit of a nudge, that’s why we feel better after exercising or eating a little sugar.

southend acupuncture

It can be quite a thrill to experience a bit of a rush every now and then; the adrenaline rush of a rollercoaster ride or jumping out of a plane.   Some people deliberately seek out this type of rush, and constantly crave increasingly greater extremes, such as base-jumping, or even body modifications.  In TCM we attribute this to a Heart-Qi inbalance.  Qi must move, but as it becomes weaker it takes more to move it.  This can lead to all sorts of problems, most notably addictions: gambling, eating, alcohol, drugs, even running.

Control is an illusion

The body loves routine and regularity.  Each of the body’s organs has it’s own flow and rhythm.  The most obvious is the heart of course; second by second, minute by minute, year by year, the heart beats on, but it is only when that pattern is disrupted that we really notice it.  It might rush when we are excited, or miss a beat when we are shocked.

acupuncture southend Westcliff-On-Sea pain

We all like to think we are in control, and maybe we are in the West to some extent, but none of us truly are.  Nobody involved in a terror-attack, especially in cities like London, expected it to happen to them.   And even in less settled places such as Kabul, the rapid Taliban takeover still came as a bit of a shock to most people there.  Just imagine waking up one day to find out you have to leave your home immediately with just the clothes you stand in and the few knick-knacks you can grab. Or even worse, the suede-denim secret police are knocking at your door.

It is important that we look after our Qi, as none of us knows when their live might be really shook up.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be called a shock, just a surprise, which sounds infinitely more pleasant.

Westcliff cancer acupuncture pain

Yul Grinner

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.

 

Southend on Sea acupuncture cancer pain fertility

City City Yang Yang – Learning to slow down

Recently I’ve been spending a bit of time in London.  I was on a fertility and menstrual problems workshop the whole of last weekend, run by my Tui na teacher, Sarah Pritchard.  I also paid a visit to Tate Britain to see the William Blake exhibition before it ends.  It was a great show but very busy, which sort of spoils it a bit for me.  It made me feel slightly suffocated, so I think I rushed it a bit.  In fact, Tate did a study on this phenomenon and found that people on average spend only 8 seconds looking at a picture!

Sarah Pritchard

I find London exhausting these days.  It is still exciting and vibrant and endlessly fun, but it’s also exhausting.  It drains me of my energy.  When I was younger I thought the complete opposite; London was like a magnet.  I worked in the City and so spent a lot of my free time there too.  I was like a moth being lured in by the lights.  That wore off by the time I reached the age of thirty, then all I wanted was to work anywhere but the City.  And as you know, I eventually escaped.

Yang of the City

I’m always surprised by the change of energy when I travel into London.  By the time the train reaches Romford (or Barking, depending on how you approach the beast) I can feel the Qi of the City pulling at me, and by Stratford it’s buzzing.  But it also makes me feel a bit anxious and I’m always relieved when I’m leaving.  When I get off the train at Southend it always feels like there is a lot more space.  The temperature feels like it drops a degree or two.  Being at the mouth of the North Sea helps; it’s as if that open expanse of clean air rushes up the Thames Estuary and clears the atmosphere.

acupuncture southend cancer pain fertility

The energy of any city, not just London, is constantly in Yang mode, which goes against the seasonal grain somewhat.  We are in the Yin part of year, the winter, a time when everything in nature should be doing less, conserving our energy so we can burst out in all our blooming glory in the Spring.

The Capitalist system that we live under influences every aspect of our lives; but it is entirely Yang energetically.  It allows no time for rest, only growth and expansion.  There is no time to rest: lunch is for wimps and sleep is for the dead are the mantras of the modern age.  We eat cold foods in the winter when our digestive systems are crying out for warmth.   We train in the gym late into the night when we should be tucked up in bed.

Yang without its other half, Yin, can only mean trouble.

Chinese medicine teaches us that balance is needed for health.  It’s difficult though; it’s a beautiful sunny day today and there is a temptation to get outside and run or cycle.  But it’s still pretty cold out there.  In Chinese Medicine sweating in a cold environment is bad news.  When the pores of the skin open it allows the cold into the body, which energetically stops the Qi from moving.  This might mean pain in a joint or a muscle, or something more systemic like menstrual pain.  If you do sweat in the cold weather, then make sure you don’t hang about in wet clothing.  Just don’t get cold.

In Chinese Medical theory there is a particular type of Qi, called Wei Qi (or Defensive Qi) that needs nourishing.  The Wei Qi a protective barrier against the outside evil forces, like the weather or diseases.  Think of the Readybrek glow and you’ll get the idea. If your Defensive Qi is weaker than the Qi of a disease, then you are more likely to contract it.  That’s why not everyone catches the flu when it’s going around.

So, what can you do to help you slow down?

In the Tate article above they recommend spending at least 10 minutes looking at each piece of art.  They call it slow looking.  But here’s something you can put into practice straight away.  Next time you are at a Pelican crossing, press the button and wait for the green man before crossing.  Even if there is no traffic, still wait for the green man.  While you are waiting take a moment to ground yourself.  Be mindful of your surroundings.  You may feel frustration, even a little foolish.  But remember that all you are feeling is an expression of the state of your Qi.  Take a moment to enjoy a minute of calm.

acupuncture southend cancer pain fertility

Try it and let me know how it made you feel.

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

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.