Archive for tag: naturopathic medicine

The Equinox, Noticing Change

Summer's slip into fall was subtle until the past week or so; it got cool here, the leaves are falling more rapidly. I am sitting on my porch in a sweatshirt with a cup of tea as I type this and except for the barking dog playing in the park next door, it is quite peaceful here in the wind. Fall is blowing in. Monday the 22nd was the fall Equinox; day and night were equal lengths, and from here on out, the days get shorter. It was the first official day of fall; the season changes.


I like to think I'm good at changes. I identify as someone who desires to be outside of her comfort zone. Here in Chicagoland, I often pine for change. Usually it happens when I'm sitting at my desk on a beautiful Saturday afternoon staring out the window, or when I'm inching along in traffic to or from campus. The med school routine starts to feel monotonous. So, when the earth does her thing and the land around me transforms, I am thrilled! I found orange leaves on the ground outside the front door this morning. This obvious sign that fall is here made me reflect on how much change really does take place in the midst of my regular routine. I am evolving as a doctor in training, learning to see the world around me with the eyes of a Naturopath.


I see a man limp down the street and speculate on which muscles or nerves are not functioning properly. I listen to another man with a lifeless arm order sandwiches in a low, nasal voice with little enunciation and I speculate on which part of his brain suffered a stroke. I watch the guy in line ahead of me at the grocery store as he blinks and twitches his head repeatedly and I can identify the part of his brain that might be disinhibited, by medications I wonder? Two years ago, I would see only a limp, hear only a funny voice, and notice only a man who blinks a lot.

In naturopathic medicine, we consider the experience of the change of seasons a determinant of health under the category of light and cycles. Cycles that last longer than a day, and are therefore not linked to our circadian cycle, are called infradian rhythms. Annual cycles of the seasons are infradian rhythms, and can affect our metabolism, appetite, and weight gain. It is healthy and vital to experience these changes that indicate the passage of time. The days get shorter and our bodies respond in kind. The temperature changes and our systems acclimate. We learn that spring and fall are ideal times to cleanse as we prepare for the inevitable hot summer or cold winter.


As I meditate on summer's bow to the arrival of fall, I remember that every trimester brings change, too. I have a new set of professors, new expectations, and new information to throw into that fragrant soup of knowledge I keep cooking up there. I suppose my task is to recognize the small changes happening every day and find solace in them. I will also revel in fall while it lasts, and try to notice all of its colors and smells while in the thick of my busy academic life.

I think I'll leave you with this, written by Stephen King, about the change of seasons:

"But then fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you."

Leaves, Berries, Flowers and Bark

One morning when I was 18, I went out for a run in the Adirondack woods and after I rounded a corner, I stopped dead on the narrow trail and looked up to see a buck standing in my way. I stood stock still for half a minute as we made eye contact. I think I took one or two steps back, which made him hesitate and glance over his shoulder, then stamp once. He was brownish grey with dark brown eyes and a small-ish rack of antlers that made me think he was fairly young. Another shift in my posture was all it took for him to turn abruptly and bound off into the woods to my right. (This was before smart phones, and there was no power plug within 2 miles of me to power it anyways, so I didn't catch a picture, but the image stays remarkably clear in my mind.)

This experience was one of several encounters with wild things I had over the summers I spent at Tanager Lodge, a summer camp in the Northern Adirondack Park in upstate New York (the same place I traveled to for that wedding mentioned in last week's post.) That wedding trip has inspired this meditation on what Tanager fostered in me that made me gravitate towards naturopathy more than any other school of the healing arts.

Old Map of Tanager Lodge

Tanager is a self-proclaimed wilderness camp that engages "campers and staff in a small, non-competitive community dedicated to wilderness appreciation, life skills, and individual growth." This is its 90th summer in operation.

A day in the life of a camper or staff member (I was both) starts with waking to the sound of a flute (a real one, played from atop a cliff...I'm not kidding), followed by a dip in the lake, then breakfast on open porches, cleaning and prepping camp for the day by bailing boats, peeling carrots, sweeping docks, cleaning our tents, etc., and then choosing an activity for the morning.

My favorite activity was making herbal teas. We would hike out a mile or so into the woods on a rainy day and carefully harvest all kinds of edible leaves, berries, flowers and bark. Once back in main camp, we steeped them in varying combinations. After a while, we tasted all the different teas we'd made and they helped to warm us after a morning of tromping around in the rain. The steeping of teas is pretty darn naturopathic; there's even an elective class here at National called Special Topics in Botanical Medicine in which we learn to make medicinal herbal teas (and many other things like salves, tinctures, and elderflower fritters!)

Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager years ago)

If you are just beginning to explore naturopathic medicine, please do not feel that you need to come with a past full of jaunts in the woods and time spent identifying plants. I have many exceptional peers here at NUHS who came right out of the heart of cities like New York and Detroit. Not every naturopathic student loves to get their hands dirty in the garden or yearns for a hike in the woods like I do, but I am pretty sure we all have a deep respect for the natural world.

The Tanager Lodge community I grew up with strives to live by 12 Woodcraft Laws that will likely resonate with naturopathic students in some way. These laws generally parallel the community, spiritual and ethical aspects of our Determinants of Health (listen to Dr. Louise Edwards speak on the topic). I'll leave you with the list and hope that you have learned a little more about what draws me to study Naturopathic Medicine.

  1. Be clean; both yourself and the place you live in.
  2. Be strong. Understand and respect your body.
  3. Protect all harmless wild life. Conserve the woods and flowers.
  4. Hold your word of honor sacred.
  5. Play fair for fair play is truth and foul play is treachery.
  6. Be reverent. Worship the Great Spirit and respect all worship of it by others. For none have all the truth and all who worship reverently have claims on our respect.
  7. Be brave. Courage is the noblest of all gifts.
  8. Be silent while your elders are speaking and otherwise show them deference.
  9. Obey. Obedience is the first duty of the Woodcrafter.
  10. Be Kind. Do at least one act of unbargained service each day.
  11. Be helpful. Do your share of the work.
  12. Be joyful. Seek the joy of being alive, for every reasonable gladness that you can give or get is a treasure that cannot be destroyed.


On Finding Your Favorite Tools

I'm deciding whether or not to study Massage Therapy while I'm here at National in addition to getting my ND. Many of my peers get dual degrees, whether it be ND/DC or ND/AOM because the modalities and philosophies run in parallel and allow us to expand our scope to meet our interests and passions, especially in unlicensed states. Part of the adventure of studying naturopathic medicine is learning what aspects of our vast toolbox suit you best, and then exploring ways to pursue those interests.

I struggled for a few weeks last fall with whether or not to enroll in the AOM program, because Chinese medicine is so wise and its application is so broad and increasingly accepted by mainstream medicine. It serves as an excellent adjunct to naturopathic medicine. Many of our professors use it. Ultimately though, I realized I do not absolutely, definitely, no question, want to be a master of Chinese medicine in the kind of way I know I want to be a naturopathic doctor. And, I am not willing to invest all the time and money in something that doesn't feel quite right for me.

In E&M Extremities class, Meg demonstrates a gait anomaly as the rest of us analyze it.

Over the past few trimesters, I have gravitated towards physical medicine in application with naturopathic medicine. I was totally surprised when I enjoyed E&M class and found that I was actually pretty good at adjusting. I realized that I know my body and its relationship to weight-bearing and careful maneuvering through my experience of being a competitive athlete. It's been years since I gave up competitive sports in college, but I still have that knack for acquiring muscle memory and fluidity in movement, and it pays off in understanding how the body should, or wants to, move.

2014-06-17_pcoe _group
Cranial Sacral Massage elective class with our professors,
Dr. Patricia Coe and Dr. Heather Wisniewski

Also, having never taken any kinesiology classes, I figured I was doomed when it came to grasping biomechanics. As it turns out, knowing my body and its movements has made learning biomechanics and adjusting a lot easier. Inspired by my propensity for understanding and applying physical medicine, I asked for a recommendation of who to talk to or what other avenues to explore beyond the classroom. Dr. Pearson, one of the family practice interns, directed me to Dr. Coe, massage program supervisor and instructor (and totally awesome ND/DC/MT/photographer/character/mentor). I signed up for her massage elective class on Cranial Sacral technique and discovered this awesome new dimension to add to my ND toolbox. By using what I learned in Dr. Coe's class, I continue to study through experience on my friends and fellow classmates. I am learning how to listen with my hands, follow what I find, and make people feel better.

Inside Outside Muscle Hand by Katherine Du Tiel
"Inside/Outside: Muscle/Hand" San Francisco, 1994. Photograph.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Katherine Du Tiel (b. 1961) [artist]

So, in an effort to distract myself from the stress of 3 exams and 2 assignments due in the upcoming days, I've tracked down Dr. Coe and picked her brain on my options for adding the Massage Therapy coursework.

I also reached out to a recent NUHS grad who tutored me through Phase 1 and studied in the massage, chiropractic and naturopathic programs during her time here at National. She offered some solid advice. (Even after they're gone from campus, NUHS folks are still accessible and willing to help you!) Now I have to make some decisions. It's probably time to make a pros and cons list and a phone call to Mom and Dad, who always offer pretty good advice. Part of what makes naturopathic medicine so strong is this great big toolbox we're given. It also presents a fun challenge to us students: to discover our strengths and trust the process!

For the Few Joyous Starfish

To catch a fish on a fly rod, you first assemble all the parts of the rod. Next, you select a fly appropriate for the fish you are trying to catch. Practice your cast in order to land the fly where you want it on the water in the vicinity of a curious fish. Tug on your line so that fly moves over or through the water like it was alive. Watch carefully as the fish goes for the fly and right as she takes it, pull up on your line to set the hook! When I caught my first fish (a bluegill) on my very own fly rod (a Christmas gift) on Friday after class, the hardest part was figuring out what to do once I'd hooked the fish. It wriggled around in my hands; I even dropped it twice before asking for advice. 


On Tuesday, Dr. Sheppard told us a story in Homeopathy class. A man walks down a beach strewn with stranded starfish. He encounters another man on the beach who is tossing the starfish back into the ocean, one at a time. The first man asks him why he bothers, "There are so many doomed starfish here! You can never possibly save them all…."

"At least I can help a few of them," the other says.

In casting about for our fish, after assembling our rods and choosing the right flies, my peers and I watch, work and wait to set the hook for the completion of our naturopathic studies. We can see the fish under the surface, and mind you, she always looks bigger underwater than she is in reality. The thrill of the catch is preceded by the calculated maneuvering of our fly across the water, pulling it back and taking another cast, trying to land the fly closer to our target to make it look more appealing. The more practice, the more accurate our casts, the more realistic our fly, the closer we come to catching the end of school. We are thankful for the challenge, for what would fly-fishing be if all we had to do was cast once and the fish would come all of its own accord? Where is the fun in that? How do we improve if we must never send out another cast?

Those who are less familiar with our medicine come across us, tossing starfish back into the ocean, one at a time. What's the point? There are so many sick, over-medicated, complicated patients with no knowledge of what real food looks and tastes like, no memory of what a good night sleep feels like. Well, we'll go out into the world of the sick and help put a few starfish back in the water. I read once that only 20% of scientists, but 80% of doctors, have some form of belief in a higher power, some spirituality. Perhaps this is because we can throw back only a few starfish, even after setting that cast so carefully on the water and watching with our full attention as the fish takes the fly. 

I cannot be sure, but I imagine fulfillment comes from the joyous response of those starfish that do make it back into the ocean. I do know for sure that if you do not keep practicing your cast, you lose some of the finesse. It becomes harder to catch the fish, less intuitive. So, let a few happy starfish motivate you to keep practicing your cast, all the while keeping your eye on that fish, the one that looks bigger underwater than she is in real life -- the one you're not quite sure how to handle once you catch her.

My Road to Naturopathic Medicine

I suppose the best way to start my tenure on this naturopathic student blog is to tell you how I got here. Naturopathic medicine found me during my senior year at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York as I sat in a course called Cross-Cultural Healing. Our professor told us we would not, in fact, be having a lecture on the topic of naturopathic medicine. We could cross it off the syllabus. Somehow, the phrase "naturopathic medicine" stayed with me, floating on my conscience over the next 3 years while I carried on about wanting to be a writer or a marine scientist (or both) and buried that intimidating notion that I really was supposed to be a doctor.


In the years between graduating from St. Lawrence and starting at NUHS, I moved from home in Newton, Massachusetts, to Dubois, Wyoming, to Seattle, Washington, to Truckee, California, and finally to Oak Park, Illinois, where I live now. Along the way I have been influenced by my experiences working for my mother's Integrative Dermatology practice, a dude ranch, an MD who specialized in exercise science and metabolic conditions, a yoga studio, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, an environmental conservation group, a wellness spa, a ski resort, and finally, an actual naturopathic doctor.

Finally, my decision to pursue naturopathic medicine came about one breezy, sunny California day as I sat struggling to articulate to my boyfriend why I wanted to go live on a remote tropical island to study fish, and why he should come with me. In the middle of my treatise, my wise friend told me, "But you love people, Mackie. Do you really want to live on a remote island and study things that can't talk back?" Stunned, I conceded right then and there that this was true; I was just going to have to become a naturopathic doctor.

My very first class at NUHS at 8am on a Monday morning was practically heaven. Our professor, Dr. Louise Edwards, welcomed our class by describing naturopathic doctors and students of the medicine as "intelligent, powerful, eclectic black sheep with big hearts." This introduction and the rest of Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine class erased any doubts I had about leaving the easy life of a ski bum and moving to this big city to study.

So, here I am, studying away! I may be far from the mountains, woods, rocks, and rivers that help make me feel most whole, but I have found my purpose and look forward to sharing more of this experience with you through this blog! Please do come again.