That's what I say to myself, in my head thankfully, whenever I
look down at my hands and realize my nails are long...again. Yes,
to clarify, having long fingernails makes you a bad acupuncturist.
Sure, you can still stick needles into flesh with respectably long
nails, but you sure can't perform tui na very well. You
might even pierce the skin just trying to palpate the channels to
find the points. It's just bad...very bad.
I'll never forget the day I learned this pearl of wisdom. It was
rough for me. I've always had long nails -- not creepy curled
"never cuts" -- but nice, clear, totally decent nails. I'm also
particular about them and the relationship of my fingernails to my
own health. You will not catch me with fingernail polish -- toxic,
poison-fume leaking, nail-bed suffocating anti-health gloss --
ever. I find it to be a disgusting disregard for health, and I'm
not even going into the additional toxins associated with going
somewhere to "get your nails done."
In other words, I already thought my nails were in good shape
and I was a shining example of a "live what you preach" type of
acupuncture student. My vision was shattered on April 28th, 2014,
at 8am. It was our first day in the NDI clinic in Nicaragua, and I
was all set to start needling the people (right through their tight
jeans, but that's another story). Suddenly, I was slapped in the
face with the comment "OH, you need to cut your nails!" by the
acupuncturist, starting down at my nails with sheer mortification
on her face.
What? "I just did!" I replied. Apparently my version of trimmed
nails was nowhere near the skin-nubs-only level that my peers had
adopted. OK, I took the nail clippers and went to town. I couldn't
have picked my nose if I'd wanted to. No nail remnants survived
this attack. Suddenly, everything felt weird. I was stimulating
fingertip nerve endings that had never before been stimulated by
anything but gently passing breezes. Now, here they were, bald and
exposed to the world of stimuli -- Nicaraguan stimuli, nonetheless.
Hot air, cold water, thick dust, tight jeans on strangers.
I was totally unprepared, but I put a smile on and went on with
my week. What did I learn? She was right. They were all right.
Having short -- extremely short -- fingernails is critical to being
a good acupuncturist. I palpated so accurately; I tui na'd
six layers deep. I was officially a convert. As she said to me when
I began the AOM program two years ago, "Those are beautiful nails,
but cut them. You'll never have long nails again if you're
serious." And she was right.
Until today, when I looked down and realized that I've been so
busy between midterms, kids, work, and Thanksgiving plans, that I
must have forgotten to clip those things for almost two weeks. In
my defense, I'm taking really good supplements, so they do grow
like wildfire. "Why is the pinkie nail longer than the rest," you
might be thinking. Well it's not because I'm secretly a coke
junkie. It's just the only one finger that I don't have to actively
use in pulse taking, point palpating, or tui na. So,
secretly, I sometimes don't clip that one...just to see if I can
still grow one. I'm beard-challenging myself.
Rest assured I grabbed the clippers and transformed myself from
bad acupuncturist to good girl in less than two minutes. Ah, if
life were always that easy!
Curious ladies are dying
to know. Could the articles be true? Is drinking a glass of wine
the health equivalent of working out at the gym? This. Is.
Here's the article: Resveratrol may be natural exercise performance
enchancer - Science Daily. If you have a Facebook account, I'm
sure you've at least seen the headline "Glass of Wine Equal to Hour
at the Gym!" and the equally delighted personalized status updates
by every woman and half the men you are "friends" with.
So, does the study actually prove this?
Kind of. A team of researchers on the University of Alberta Faculty
of Medicine and Dentistry found that resveratrol, a natural
compound found in some fruits, nuts, and wine, mimics the effects
of hard physical exercise on the human body. Although their
conclusions leaned more towards creating a resveratrol supplement
that could be given to patients that were unable to exercise --
such as a car accident victim with four broken limbs, I guess.
Naturally, the people did not stop there. Our lushy society has
taken it upon ourselves to extrapolate the potential ways this
could impact the average person. Can't make it to the gym tonight
after all? No problem -- have a glass of wine! Don't feel like
going for that run in the rain? Don't worry about it -- go back
inside and drink wine!
What's the catch? There
are a couple of details here. Again, their research was geared
towards creating a performance-enhancing supplement, not a
substitute for performance entirely. They said resveratrolmimicsthe
results of endurance training...it's not quite as perfect in every
way. Also, we are only talking about red wine here. "Why?" wonders
the lady who only likes sweet dessert wines. The answer is that
resveratrol -- the important part of the wine for this discussion
-- is found primarily in the skin ofredgrapes. White wine just
doesn't have the resveratrol levels that would make an impact in
your big sea of body.
Western medicine always
thinks it's discovering something new. Well...not this time,
fellas! Chinese medicine has listed red wine as a therapeutic
dietary choice for thousands of years. In TCM, red wine is dry and
hot, so it expels dampness and warms the interior, expelling cold.
Is that why I always crave a glass of Pinot Noir on a cold winter
The Chinese also use wine as a guiding element, directing other
herbs or foods where the body needs those influences. They see wine
as capable of moving blood and qi, which can help dispel not only
cold but also stasis and stagnation of many types and
manifestations. Both East and West recognize that red wine can
I'm not going to say that TCM wins again, but yes I basically am
saying that TCM wins again. Let's compromise over a glass of red
group of volunteers just returned from dusty, hot Nicaragua a mere
6 months ago, it's already time to muster our energy, our spirit,
and our medical supplies and get ready to head back. A stock-pile
is already starting to form on the floor of my husband's
office...first it was a few bottles of homeopathic cough syrup for
infants that wouldn't fit in my bag last year...then it was a case
of toothpaste samples from my dentist...now it's growing again as I
add several bottles of essential oils from my generous sister to
the little medicine mountain.
Why am I going back for the third time to volunteer at the
Natural Doctors International (NDI) clinic on the island of Ometepe
in Lake Nicaragua? Well, I'm basically hooked. Sure, they've made
me the IL Chapter Representative for NDI, and they call me the
brigade coordinator. But honestly, they had me at "would you like
to come back next year?" Yep. Yes I would.
I'm hooked on
the country, which is immediately to the north of my long-time
favorite--Costa Rica. Nicaragua itself is absolutely beautiful,
with beaches, surfing, mineral springs, mountains, and volcanos.
Oh, the volcanoes -- talk about a love-fear relationship. This year
I'm planning to venture off after the medical brigade and attempt
the famous volcano-boarding, which is where you don a protective
suit and surf down the scree of a semi-active volcano on a modified
snow-board. I think that counts as exposure therapy.
I'm hooked on
the people, many of whom I know by name and family now. I see the
same faces year after year, all who seem genuinely happy to have
the natural medicine option on the island. They have options off
the island, too, but they have to take a bus, then a ferry, then a
bus, and then wait all day at a hospital that may or may not have
time for them that day. It's an expense that most people can't
meet. The children follow us around the village, giggling and
holding up signs they made that say "Thank you."
I'm hooked on the clinic. The clinic offers free acupuncture,
botanicals, homeopathics, massage, chiropractic, and whatever else
we volunteers bring down on the brigade. I've seen premature
babies, clinging to life, which honestly wouldn't have made it had
they not found their way into the NDI clinic that day. We treated
pregnant women and farm laborers, both with excruciating back pain.
Liliam, the local licensed psychologist, quietly walks the abuse
victims over to her counseling area, where we really learn about
the dark side of a community. We've called the police to pick up a
rapist. We've escorted a barely teenage girl off the island to that
distant hospital to get imaging done on the lemon-sized lump she
found in her breast.
If you want to give back, to experience another culture, and to
see many types of case that you might have not exposure to at our
clinics in Chicagoland, then contact me.
Check out www.ndimed.org for more information on the
upcoming brigade -- a 10-day program including 1 orientation day, 4
clinic days, 1 farm day, 1 free day, 1 closing day, 2 travel days
and informal evening courses in global health and natural medicine.
Come back to school after your spring break with a certificate
showing your 40 service hours of hard and rewarding work in a truly
integrative medical setting.
volunteers: medical students, providers, and Spanish speakers are
preferred but not required. We need donations: vitamins,
supplements, probiotics, botanicals, needles, and herbs
Want to learn more about this opportunity? Contact me anytime
with questions, concerns, help with setting up the first-giving
fundraising tool that most of us choose to use, or just stories
about how we treat people even when there's no water or electricity
for days. The group is forming NOW, and I hope to hear from YOU
Or, at least you should be, because that's basically
your job. According to Deadman--our go-to acupuncture
manual--"Gushing Spring," as it's called in English, has the
primary function of "returning the unrooted back to its source."
Actions include "descends excess from the head," "calms the
spirit," and "rescues yang to revive consciousness." Pull escaping
things down; root them back to the earth. Sounds pretty
important...and it is.
The only point on the sole of the foot, KD1, as we short-handers
call it, is also the Jing-well and wood point of the Kidney
meridian. It has a strong descending power, and it can clear excess
from the upper parts of the body particularly well. It's just too
bad that it also happens to be perhaps the most painful acupoint to
needle in the clinic. I say "in the clinic," because although this
is perhaps the most painful point that we use in practice, there
are at least two very intimate points--Du1 and Ren1--that would
certainly be more sensitive. We. Never. Use. Those. Two. Points.
But please do take a moment and look them up for your reading
See, KD1 hardly even sounds painful now! So, why would we select
KD1 to needle? In practice, it's used mostly to treat severe cases
of Liver Yang Rising, Liver Wind, or Liver Fire.
Imagine a stressed out, irritable, hypertensive
patient with a red face, red "whites" of the eyes, ringing ears,
and an explosive headache. You're watching him, waiting for him to
stroke out at any minute. Oh yeh, he's getting KD1, and make it
bilateral! The process of bilaterally needling KD1 on any one
patient always seems tricky. Why would they ever let you approach
the second foot when the memory of how the first one went down is
still so painfully fresh?
Why? Because it works. Let's revisit an account from an
old--very old--2nd century Chinese doctor named Hua Tuo. He sees a
General. One minute, the General has "head wind, confused mind, and
visual dizziness." One minute and two KD1 needles later, the
General "was immediately cured." How, you might be asking, can
aKidney point so effectively resolveLiver signs and symptoms? As
you might suspect, there's a short answer, reminiscent of Daoist
simplicity, and then there's the longer, more complex answer that
is more representative of most of Chinese medical theory.
"The Kidneys and Liver share the same origin." Well,
OK then. There's our short answer. Or, for the longer version, we
can go into detail about how Kidney is the mother of Liver, and
water must nourish the wood to grow properly, and without the
proper Kidney yin, the Liver yang cannot be held down. The way that
Chinese medical theory has evolved, grown, changed, and revamped
itself over the past couple of millennia is really impressive,
because, as Dr. Kwon revealed to us in class, one right answer does
not make the other answer wrong.
Our Western brains are trained to be logical at every turn. If
energy comes from the external universe, then that's the right
answer. If energy comes from within the human body, then that's the
right answer. How can they both be the right answer at the same
time? In Eastern philosophy, it just is. I sometimes have to remind
myself that Chinese medicine isn't just a freak show of
"everybody's right" or "anything goes." That would be completely
ignorant of the intricacies of the system and the power of the
medicine. But still, it's great that there's more than one way to
the needle the patient.
To put this into action, consider some of the new
ways that KD1 is treated in practice. Let's just be honest--nobody
wants a needle in the bottom of the foot if they can help it.
Recently, researchers have tested out the practice of making herbal
plasters and applying them to the bottom of the foot over KD1, to
treat such excess conditions as mouth ulcers and hypertension. Now
that sounds good to me! You've turned a tortuous experience into a
day at the spa.
And finally, let us not forget the power of acupressure on KD1,
or as the laypeople call it--a foot massage!
If you don't pray, put them together anyway. In the
age of anything goes, I've taken to the lazy practice of praying
silently in my head while lying in bed at night. I don't know where
my hands are exactly, but they sure aren't folded nicely in front
of my chest like the iconic prayer image of the olden days.
Who cares? Why bother pressing your hands together and holding
them in that fairly awkward position that drove me nuts as a
Catholic school kid? I'll be the first to admit that I let my
fingers fall and intertwine into the sloppy prayer paws pose as
soon as the priest looked the other direction.
Now I realize I was screwing myself out of some real benefits.
Sure, God was probably disappointed in my faulty direction
following, but I'm not focusing on the spiritual deficit here. I'm
focusing on the physical and even the psychological benefits I --
and many other lazy prayers -- had been missing out on all my young
This whole conversation hinges on one
important point -- an acupuncture point -- called Pericardium 6, or
"PC6" as we call it, because again we're all too lazy to stick to
the formalities in life. What does PC6 have to do with prayer paws
(as my kids call them)? This now famous spot, two inches proximal
to the inner wrist crease, has been dubbed the most researched
acupoints of the modern day. You know those "anti-nausea"
motion-sickness type bracelet bands, with the ball that presses
into the inner wrist? That thing's stimulating good ole PC6.
Why is PC6 such a beneficial acupoint? Our trusty
guide to acupuncture points and meridians and their energetic
functions is a beefy, rust-colored book usually referred to by its
author's last name, "Deadman." What does Deadman say about PC6? Oh,
nothing too exciting. Just that it treats all diseases of the
chest, particularly the heart, but also benefits the lungs, too. It
can be used for heart surgery analgesia. What? Yes! No anesthesia
necessary...just squeeze PC6 for me while I go under the knife!
In TCM terms, PC6 "unbinds the chest and regulates
qi," "regulates the heart and calms the spirit," "harmonizes the
stomach to relieve nausea," and "clears heat." It's indicated in
conditions such as heart pain, palpitations, cough, asthma,
insomnia, anxiety, abdominal masses, fevers, malaria, irregular
menstruation, and swellings in the armpits. Nothing important
there, right? Not! PC6 does just about everything you could want an
acupoint to do.
During a recent advanced seminar class with Dr. Robin Fan, we
discussed the benefit of stretching the Kidney meridian in cases of
heel pain. Suddenly, all I could picture was the traditional prayer
pose--hands out front, pressed gently together, stretching and
stimulating the bulk of the Pericardium meridian!
It makes sense. What is the function of prayer if
not to calm the mind and spirit? It's not just Catholics and other
Christians who have always used this prayer pose, either. As my
mind wandered -- sorry, Dr. Fan -- around the globe, I saw the
Chinese practicing qi gong poses, the Indians practicing
yoga poses, etc. Every tradition I could think of involved some use
of this position.
In anthropology, when we see similar customs or values amongst a
variety of cultural groups around the world, we call those core
elements "cultural universals." In other words, everybody's doing
it. Why? The answer is one that, despite my need to create an
evidence-based practice, I've always secretly promulgated;
sometimes, you don't need to sit around waiting for a formal
research study to prove a truth. It's lovely that western medicine
has put together some studies that do show the efficacy of PC6 in
some conditions, but I'm not waiting for them to prove the rest.
I'm going with Deadman and the ancient world traditions on this
Pray on, prayers!
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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