Friday, April 27, 2012

Health Care in the Reyaverse

In my perfect world, here's what health care looks like:

Every man, woman, and child receives actual preventative care, at least once a month or more when needed. This care would consist of a sit down with a psychotherapist, a therapeutic massage, osteopathic or chiropractic adjustment or a session of acupuncture.

This care would not be seen as luxurious, superfluous, excessive or self indulgent. It would be seen as an important responsibility. It would be a non-issue as to what each person chose as his or her preventative care and of course folks would switch modalities as needed.

No hospital employee would ever work more than 40 hours a week. On staff at hospitals would be patient advocates who would smooth communication between doctor and patient, explain things to the patient, lobby for the patient with the doctor, too. Nurses would once again be allowed to give back rubs to patients. Massage therapists would be on staff not only for the nurses, but the doctors, too.

I have always dreamed of providing sports massage for surgeons, before and after surgery. I mean the kind of bodywork they would receive if they were going into a marathon. They often are, you know. Sports massage is upbeat, energizing. We used to crank up the reggae music while we did the compressions and stretches, say things like GO GET 'EM. Can you imagine your surgeon being alert, blood flowing, fully in his/her body before surgery? Fewer mistakes would be made, I know it! A calming shoulder rub after surgery would be great for all involved.

Every man, woman and child would be encouraged to develop a relationship with a primary care doctor, over a span of years if possible. We would be encouraged to seek the help of someone like-minded, with whom each individual could develop a rapport. Primary care physicians would work closely with the massage therapists, psychotherapists, acupuncturists and osteopaths providing the preventative care, so all would be on the same page.

How would I pay for all this? Well, don't ask me! One model I approve of is that health care practitioners be paid every day their patients are healthy. When a patient gets sick, they pay nothing until they are well again. It seems so right to me!

I could go on, but I will spare you the diatribe.

Anyway, this would be my perfect world, certainly not a perfect world for everyone. Tra-la. Happy weekend, y'all. Cheers!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Healing with Crystals

I'm not the first, nor will I be the last healer who works with the highly charged energy of quartz. Crystals are rocks, hence not as lively as herbs, not as lively as we are, but they definitely exude something that clears energy, clarifies, brings light and sparkle to the process of healing. That something is subtle; you have to pay attention in order to notice, but it is there.

Crystals are beautiful. Some are so perfect looking it's hard to believe they weren't fashioned by human hands, but of course they weren't. Unlike other kinds of rocks that were formed by compression (like sandstone, for instance), or by extreme heat, (obsidian), or hardened over time, (fossils, petrified wood and such), quartz is a rock that grows. I still find it hard to wrap my mind around that truth. Quartz grows six-sided, symmetrical crystals that look a whole lot like perfectly clear, small versions of the Washington Monument. I have three crystals I work with, two of which are pictured above. The third is a chunk of rutilated quartz. It is as stunning as the two in the photo.

Here's a true story. A few years ago I had a client who was very depressed and in a tight spot in his life professionally and personally. The massage and Reiki he received from me was not nearly enough to help him climb out of his depression. I sent him to a psychotherapist, I sent him to see my acupuncturist. No one was able to help him much, it was very sad. He continued to come for bodywork and appreciated the feeling of calm he was able to access during his sessions.

At some point he told me he had a box full of quartz crystals gathering dust in his attic. He had worked with color and crystal healing at one point in his life. He insisted I take the crystals because there was no point in his keeping them if he never touched them. It was very generous and after trying to convince him it would be healing for him to clean the crystals, to hold them, to put them out in the sun every now and again, I at last accepted his gift. The box was indeed full of dozens of dusty crystals of all sizes and colors. After I cleaned them and charged them with Reiki, I gave them all away. It was wonderful to pass them on; I felt I had been given an opportunity to give light to my clients, friends, and blog friends. I certainly didn't need them. The process of giving them away was very cool. I felt like a cloud during a snowstorm, artfully scattering clean, beautiful crystals over the landscape.

After he gave me the box of crystals, my client sank deeper into depression. He stopped coming for Reiki, quit therapy and acupuncture. About a month later, he committed suicide. It was shocking - as suicide always is - and terribly sad. A few months after his death the thought came to me that those crystals, even covered with dust, up in the attic, might have been part of what kept him from taking his life. I wondered if I should have accepted his gift. But how could I have known? And of course when someone commits suicide, it's much more complicated than any one contributing factor, but it gave me pause for thought, it really did. When he gave me the box, was that his way of saying his life was about to end?

I tell the story to point out how much I respect the sublime, clarifying, beautiful healing energy of quartz.

There are those who believe it's important to try to scientifically prove that crystals are healing. Some day there will be technology sensitive enough to measure all the goodness, clarity and light they radiate. Until then, empirical evidence is good enough for me.

May your mind and heart be filled with light and sparkle today. May it be so! Shalom.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gotta Dance

I love watching old movies in which the characters go out to nightclubs. They dress up, have a cocktail, then dance to live music. Oh man, those were the days! Of course they are always smoking a million cigarettes and guzzling so much hard liquor you wonder how they can walk and chew gum at the same time. I guess not everything about the good old days was good. One thing that was good is that people danced.

Do people still go out dancing? I am so out of the loop. I remember the disco balls, frizzy hair and heavy beat of disco music, I remember the mosh pits from the punk years. I loved square dancing in middle school every bit as much as I enjoyed twirling around during the psychedelic era to the Jefferson Airplane. The swing dance era came and went, yes? I have always wanted to have a summer solstice party during which everyone dances at some point. Dancing can be ecstatic. Dancing enhances health.

I often hear people say they're going to hear live music but I don't hear people say they're going out to dance anymore. Perhaps they do. I hope so!

Dancing is great for the brain, the body, and the spirit. Whether people dance formally, i.e. take classes, perform, etc. or just dance around the living room, this essential human activity brings joy to almost everyone. Dancing is fun. It is also great exercise and a wonderful way to connect with others.

May I suggest that sometime today you turn on the music that gets your body swaying, or at least gets your toes tapping. Stand up, begin to move with the rhythms and melodies. Let yourself go - do the twist, the cha-cha, pirouette, dance a stately waltz with your partner of choice or just with yourself - and then tell me you don't feel vivified, enlivened.

Dance and you will smile, I guarantee it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to respond to immune response

Whenever I come down with flu-like symptoms, I wonder, is this the flu I'm fighting or one of the several dozen maladies that begin with ILS (influenza like symptoms)? I used to call every 7 to 10 day bout of sickness that involves fever, coughing, sneezing, muscle aches, sore throat, earache, nausea and/or diarrhea "the flu." But anything could be happening. You'd be surprised how rarely influenza is the infecting agent. There's no way to know for sure unless, somewhat after the onset, other symptoms appear.

Knowing how mighty the immune system can be, when your nose starts to run or you feel rundown, queasy, congested and/or achey, please do what you can to support your health. The common wisdom for immune support while suffering from "the flu" includes warm, soupy food, plenty of clear liquids and lots of bed rest. Eschew liquor and caffeine for a few days, get lots of sleep. This is the best way to win the battle between your immune system and the invading microbe, virus or bacteria.

I feel sad when I see people walking around sick as dogs, jacked up on some decongestant, going about their day (as much as possible) as if they felt fine. I've long held that this sort of disrespect for the integrity of the immune system can not be good for us. Now as I'm learning more about how powerful human immunity can be in the fight against allegedly incurable diseases like cancer, well, I feel even sadder for those who don't get in bed for a couple of days, drink tea, watch movies, play on the ipad. Go ahead and blow your nose a million times - get the detritus leftover from the internal battle out of your system! Let your fever spike (not too high, but let it get up there for at least 24 hours). Fevers kill any number of unwanted bodily invaders. Drink a lot of water, lots of hot tea. Every time you make space for your body to heal itself, the immune system is strengthened. It may not be pleasant while it's going on, but the self care is well worth your time and attention.

When I come down with ILS I wonder if my body is fighting meningitis or leukemia. It could be - you never know. I want my body to win that battle! It can, if I support it. Hell yeah.

Be well, y'all. Be kind to your immune system, will you please? You will not regret it. Shalom.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fierce and Beautiful is Human Immunity

It's mind boggling to realize how many disorders and diseases begin with "flu-like symptoms."

Here's a bit from the wikipedia page on Influenza-like symptoms:

Infectious diseases causing influenza-like symptoms include malaria, acute HIV infection, herpes, hepatitis C, Lyme disease, rabies, myocarditis, Q fever, dengue fever, chronic fatigue syndrome, poliomyelitis, leukemia and many others.

Good lord!

Flu-like symptoms are the rallying cry of the human immune system, kicking itself into gear to face a perceived threat. It's not the virus or the disease that makes you cough, throw up, or get feverish, it's your immune system. It's almost freaky how powerful it is - or can be, I should say.

Here is a link to an excellent article from this week's New Yorker about treating cancer with immunity boosting drugs. It's very exciting. Turning away from the established protocols of chemotherapy and radiation - both of which damage immunity - is a step closer to the true cure, if indeed there is one.

If you're reading this, you already know how to build strong immunity: eat well, get enough sleep, move around, drink water, have fun, find inspiration, do good work, learn how to relax. You know how, but perhaps have not realized how crucial good immunity is. Cutting edge theory about cancer these days imagines many of us developing cancers that our magnificent immune systems control or destroy. Some researchers believe that the tiny calcium deposits routinely found in body scans reflect the fossilized remnants of a cancer that was vamoosed by the immune system. You didn't even know, but your immune system did. Wow.

Not that fighting cancer by boosting immunity is any fun. Think of the worst flu you've ever had and triple the intensity of the symptoms. But the thing is: it works! I should say it works for many people. Nothing works for everyone.

At last we are turning away from the idea that almost killing people with extremely poisonous drugs is the way to fight a disease that already renders them greatly weakened. I am so glad that the people who research these things are recognizing how formidable human immunity is.

Yes, yes and YES. May your mind and heart be peaceful, may your immune function be fierce and alert. May it be so. Shalom.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Take your time, pt. II

Impatience is a form of anxiety. It reveals a lack of trust, a frantic need to control, a deep-seated fear. I believe this to be true for every form of impatience.

Certain situations create an environment that's ripe for impatience, such as sitting in a car in a traffic jam. It's worse of course when you need to be somewhere by a certain time, but traffic jams create anxiety even for those who are not trying to adhere to a schedule. When you think about what's going on in the midst of a traffic jam, the car exhaust and noise, the one or more cars that have their stereos cranked up in spite of the fact that their speakers are blown, the drivers clenching their jaws, the honking, the shouting, the flipping each other off - well - who wouldn't feel anxious? I can become anxious just walking past a traffic jam! The vibe is ugly.

I'm always in awe of the drivers in these situations who seem unaffected. They're listening to music, chair dancing, or maybe just smiling, talking on the phone and such. How do they do it? They must have nerves of steel or be taking powerful anti-anxiety meds.

One of the big problems in the society in which I live is the truth that impatience is a habit. It is seen as a virtue sometimes. It's very unbalanced. Even when we aren't stuck in a traffic jam or a long line at the supermarket, even if we aren't flogging ourselves at work to finish a project by the deadline, we are impatient. We want everything yesterday, as fast as possible. What I'm saying is, we are suffering from an epidemic of impatience, hence we suffer as a society from chronic anxiety.

Impatience/anxiety is really bad for the body. In hyper-alert mode, we never rest, not even at night when allegedly we should be blissfully sleeping. Some call this the "fight or flight" mode but that only describes the state at its most extreme. Physiologically when we're in this state, we are anticipating action. The body sends as much energy as possible into the muscular system, enabling us to sprint across the street at a red light (because we're too impatient to wait 30 seconds for the light to turn green). The problem is that in this mode, the body diverts energy that might be used for small repairs and for digestion, also for deep respiration, to the muscles. We never give ourselves a chance to re-charge, re-group. We do not fully digest our food.

At some point the body has to digest the scone you had for breakfast, while racing down the sidewalk of course. So the stomach dumps more acid into the mix, to hasten the process before the next perceived emergency. Is it any wonder that indigestion and/or reflux is such a widespread problem? Is it any wonder that our immune systems are so fragile? That we suffer societally from terrible insomnia? It's because we're anxious, chronically fearful. It does not bring out the best in us, believe me. Some of us are absolutely incapable of relaxing. I see the jumpy legs, the tapping fingers, the restlessness on the Metro, in restaurants. It's a big problem.

In medicine, too, we are absurdly impatient. I remember when I developed pneumonia a few years ago, my M.D. prescribed strong antibiotics. This was on a Monday. She said, "Can you wait to go back to work until Wednesday?" I told her I would not be working for at least a week. I had pneumonia! For heaven's sake.

I asked my great San Francisco healer, once upon a time, "What is walking pneumonia?" He said, "That means you're too stupid to lie down." Oh yeah. My doctor expected I would want to rush back to work before I was well again. Wow. Or should I say whoa?

Are you stuck in a loop, relentlessly turning the hamster wheel of impatience-anxiety? I'm sorry! May I gently suggest that you have a long lunch today? Or take a nice walk - don't race - stroll, smell the roses that are blooming way too early in hot, dry DC? Please? How about going to bed an hour early? Stare out the window at work and daydream for twenty minutes? Well?

Right now, check in with your jaw. Is it tight? Part your lips slightly, part your teeth slightly. Now take a deep breath and relax your tongue. If you don't know what that means, pretend to relax your tongue - you can't imagine how well it works. Reconnect with the truth that life is unfolding as it does. Rushing (except when actually necessary) doesn't ever help anything, and impatience is very bad for your health.

Take your time, please? You'll feel better, I promise. Shalom.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Take Your Time, Part I

I had a client who developed a benign cyst on one of her fingers. It posed no health risk but interfered with her tennis games, so she had it removed. It grew back. So she had it removed again. But it grew back. After that she upped the ante by having her finger amputated. She adapted quickly and was back to tennis after a few months. I haven't seen her in awhile but I always wonder if the cyst came back on another finger or if that was the end of it. I guess I'll never know since she moved away from DC.

Within illness and injury of any kind, there is an opportunity to work through something, an opportunity to learn, to become wiser, more compassionate, kinder. Illness and injury sometimes bring out the very best in people, sometimes not of course, but it is possible. Coincidence or bad luck must certainly play a part in illness - almost always in injuries, but the accidental causes of illness and injury are not interesting, at least to me. The timing is, certainly.

When I'm ill or injured and hence suffering, what I want is to make the pain, ache or bruise GO AWAY as fast as possible, of course. Who enjoys suffering? But sometimes I think whatever is going on deserves to express itself before I put the kibosh on it. Sometimes! When I lapsed into anaphylaxis a couple of years ago, that was not a great opportunity to let my body express itself. But with more chronic, non-threatening situations, it can be interesting to explore, wonder and experience the sensations that accompany illness or injury, and how those sensations shift as we recover.

I am a big fan of Kat Duff's book, "The Alchemy of Illness." She had chronic fatigue syndrome, probably caused by Lyme. She was sick for more than ten years. She wrote not only about chronic fatigue, but about great artists and writers who came up with their best ideas while ill. She spoke of the cleansing aspects of fever, the insights revealed in dreams that unravel during long sleeps, and the spaciousness we can hardly ever experience except when we're too sick to do anything but rest. Here's a little blurb about the book:

Illness is a universal experience. There is no privilege that can make us immune to its touch. We are taught to assume health, illnesses being just temporary breakdowns in the well-oiled machinery of the body. But illness has its own geography, its own laws and commandments ... Duff, a counselor in private practice in Taos, New Mexico, wrote this book out of her experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, but what she has to say is applicable to every illness and every one of us.

Please don't ask what that cyst was trying to teach my client; I have no idea, but there was something going on. That it would grow back twice is rather astonishing. What was happening physically? What was happening metaphorically? It's interesting to think about.

Impatience is a form of anxiety. I think the way we vociferously go after an issue sometimes reflects anxiety. If we address the root cause, the problem will resolve itself over time, and we will be the wiser for it. At least we might be.

Should my client have had her finger amputated? It's none of my business. Still, I wonder about these things, I do.

I have so much to say about this, but it's not urgent. I will take my time.

May your day be spacious, may you allow plenty of time to get from one place to the next, may you be kind and peaceful. Shalom.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fickle Fashions in Food

The first rule of pharmacology is that everything is medicine and poison. Whether any particular food or medicine's effect is toxic or healing depends on a great many factors including dosage, the condition of the person taking the substance, the personality of the person prescribing the substance - and a lot of other things as well.

Though this idea is widely accepted in the fields of nutrition as well as medicine, we nevertheless continue trying to name the foods and medicines that are "good for everyone," or "bad for everyone." For awhile, gluten has been seen as something Very Very Bad. There are whole sections in supermarkets dedicated to gluten free foods. It's true that some people are virulently allergic to gluten. Those people have to avoid it, but most of us tolerate it very well. Sugar is trending upwards now as the evil toxin everyone should avoid.

The trendiness in food and medicine would be no more than mildly amusing except I remember the last time sugar was fingered as the Very Very Bad substance. Straightaway we began using artificial sweeteners which, as it turns out, are carcinogenic. The last time we thought high fat foods like butter and whole milk were bad for us, we invented margarine which is truly toxic! During that same era, "cheesefood" was invented - and consumed. How about Miracle Whip? Holy cow.

The moral of the story is: a little bit of real sugar is better for you than a diet coke any day of the week no matter the number of calories. For awhile carbs were Good while fat was Bad, then we found out that low-fat food is not nutritious; it's just empty calories, while carbs metabolize like sugar which is really not great since we already eat so much sugar.

Everything including carbs, red meat, gluten and sugar are good for us in moderate doses, not great for us in large quantities. Unprocessed food is far more nutritious than processed food. It's common sense, yes?

May you eat well today, may you enjoy actual food, prepared mindfully. May you be well fed! Shalom.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

At last

I'm relieved to read in the New York Times that several panels of well respected doctors have set new guidelines for medical tests.

What they're suggesting is that we are overtested. Uh - yeah! Medical tests are both expensive and can make us feel worse for no reason. We hope they will reveal information to help us feel better, but as it turns out, this is not always the case. Less medicine, fewer medical tests - YES YES YES!! There are always fashions in medicine. I'm relieved that test-driven, pill-centered medicine has peaked and will now begin to decline in importance. Thank goodness!

The people who study these things take into account how much radiation we should be subjected to (for instance), then weigh the benefits vs. measurable dangers. I haven't seen or heard about studies in which the researchers take into account how stressful it is. Many procedures are uncomfortable or downright painful as well as frightening, dehumanizing and anxiety-inducing. Since the person undergoing the test is already not feeling great (otherwise they probably would not be there in the first place), how much of an impact does the discomfort and stress have on the patient's ability to get well? Does the stress of enduring medical tests reduce immunity? I'd bet on it. Want to bet?

Maybe the doctors who are researching embodied cognition will at some point turn their attention to how the body feels about being probed, having little bits snipped off. My body does not like it, nor would it like being encased in an MRI machine, doused with radiation or altered chemically. My guess is that our bodies do not appreciate what must feel, at an embodied level, like a hostile attack. Maybe I'll shoot an email to the embodiment lab at Barnard U in NYC. Someone should look into this!

The simplest kind of health care centers around respect for the body. When we're cold, we put on a sweater, when we get too hot, we seek shade or a cool drink. When we're stiff, we stretch, when upset, we take some deep breaths. I know it's simple - and free. Of course I admit that medical tests are sometimes necessary, but the way we relentlessly accost our bodies in the name of wellness is awful. And our minds don't even care! It sometimes happens that I get too deep into a client's tissue. Their bodies jump away from my hand while they inadvertently say, "Ouch!" I always apologize of course. The client will often then say, "It's ok - go ahead, I need this." As I like to point out, their mind might like it, but their body definitely does not! That's why they jerked and why they said ouch.

There is a similar mind/body disconnect around medical testing. The mind wants reassurance, but the body does not enjoy being poked, penetrated, snipped and radiated. Why would it? I am relieved to learn that the people with credentials to make recommendations are coming around to a more balanced approach to testing and prescribing drugs.

Be kind to your body today, ok? It is the spaceship that flies you through this thing we call life. Yes? Oh my yes. The body is miraculous. Make nice, ok? Shalom.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Less is more in spring

Spring is beautiful, but also stormy, moody, tumultuous. On the 70 F. days people wander around like happy zombies, stoned on the good weather. But then the next day it turns blustery with a wet chill that goes right to the bone. I don't see as many happy zombies on stormy Spring days. There's outrage among us, a sense that Spring is SUPPOSED to be ... well? ... What IS spring supposed to be? It seems like it SHOULD be 70 F with sun and fluffy clouds, perhaps a slight breeze, low humidity - you know - perfect every single day from March 21 to summer solstice. But the weather is hardly ever perfect in Spring. It's the same every year, yet somehow, we forget.

The demands of the season are hard on the human body, psyche and heart. Getting jerked around by the weather disrupts the endocrine system. When hormones get jostled, there will be tumult. Ah, Spring!

Sometimes Spring wears us out. The color and greenery and changing landscape, the scads of people who have been hibernating all winter suddenly emerging from their cozy burrows can be overwhelming after a peaceful winter parked in front of the ipad. The streets are full of flip flops and barking dogs, and suddenly we have an urge to get out there, too. Spring is a sensory overload.

It's easy to get sunburned at this time of year even though the sun doesn't yet feel hot. The urge to keep walking, biking, hiking or whatever it is you're doing outdoors, and the fact that you haven't been outside in several months sometimes means you'll stay outside all day, resulting in the inevitable sunburn. May I say here and now, and get it over with: I very rarely use sunscreen. When my skin starts to burn, I get out of the sun. This seems like common sense to me. Right? When your skin burns, that reflects your entire constitution's ability or inability to tolerate strong sunshine. When you start to burn, whether that's after 5 minutes or 5 hours, you need to get out of the sun. Very fair skinned people especially should carry parasols or wear long sleeves and wide brimmed hats.

Any day now I expect someone will discover that the reason we're suffering from a nation-wide Vitamin D deficit is because we no longer expose our skin to the sun. Sunshine on your skin is the best, most efficient way for your body to produce Vitamin D. If you wear sunscreen all the time, the only way to get Vitamin D is through milk or pills. Why?

Sunscreen creates a chemical reaction to keep your skin from burning (unless you're coated with zinc oxide or some other sunblock). We really have no idea what the ramifications are from consistent use of these chemicals. I bet they're bad for us. Want to bet?

Enough about sunscreen!

In Chinese medicine, Spring is the time when the liver is in a mood to cleanse. You want to help your liver, believe me. In western medicine, more than 5,000 functions are assigned to the liver. In Chinese medicine I'm sure the liver is just as important. You want to keep your liver healthy. Indeed!

The most important part of a Spring cleanse is to not eat too much. Less is more in Spring! Err on the side of leaving the table slightly hungry; give your poor digestive system a break. Drink lots of filtered water. There are foods that enhance the cleanse, such as olive oil, lemon, pears, apples, and fruit with pits like nectarines, if you can get them this early in the season. Foods to avoid include high fat foods, also nuts and nut butters. You don't have to do it forever. Just a few weeks of a slightly altered diet will support your liver as it does its Spring cleaning.

Please don't go on one of those harsh seven-day fasts. Fasting is very hard on your heart, liver and kidneys. Less is more in Spring!

Take it easy with the Spring cleaning, please? Yanking heavy boxes off the top shelf of your closet after biking all day is probably not a good idea. I'm always in favor of a good ole bout of what I call a cleaning frenzy, especially in Spring. Clean out, purge, let go - it's part of the season. Try not to go overboard. It's hard, please try.

The only exception to the less is more rule is sleep. Sleep more than you usually do, if you can. Take naps, go to bed early, sleep in. Along with the chaos of Spring comes the need to integrate and process. Sleep is the basis of every kind of healing for every kind of malady. I'm not saying Spring is a malady, but it isn't easy.

Spring is crazy.
I love spring.
I hate spring.

Less is more in Spring, in terms of attempting to navigate the season from a place of balance. Ha ha. Good luck!