Receive health tips, recipes, news on holistic events in Pittsburgh, and all-around positivity in your inbox.

Follow Me


Winter is the backbone for summer’s joy

icy branch

One of the things I love most about Chinese medicine is that it has so much wisdom to offer on how to live in alignment with the seasons. Each one is acknowledged for its specific strengths and opportunities.

Winter is like the backbone for summer’s joy. It may not be as pretty or exciting or fun but it’s an essential part of the year and an essential part of our lives.

These cold, dark days give us the chance to work on our foundation, to refill our reservoirs with deep rest, and to get clear about our priorities.

If we’re not bursting with energy this time of year, that’s completely normal. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be super-productive, super-together, super-happy all of the time. Which isn’t appropriate any time of year really, but especially not in winter.

Think of a bulb underground. Those lazy lazy bulbs, just lying there doing nothing. That’s what it looks like, but they’re busy storing up energy for a big burst of growth in the spring. The deeper they can go in winter, the more vibrant they’ll be come warmer weather.

The same is true for us in a way. No, we don’t have the luxury of burying ourselves underground for months at a time. Life goes on, we have projects and obligations and that’s all well and good.

But what does hibernation look like in the midst of a human life?

Well the obvious one is more sleep. There’s nothing more restorative to the body. We really do need more rest during the winter, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling extra tired. Make a conscious effort to go to bed a little earlier. If possible, take a nap, or at the very least, rest your eyes for a few minutes in the middle of the afternoon.

The winter is a great time to start or deepen a meditation practice. It’s like pouring water over the seeds you want to grow in the spring. Like an incubation period for all the big things you want to bring into the world. And it does wonders for anxiety.

Make sure there’s some open space in your calendar. Say no to more things than you might say no to in the summer. You don’t want to totally isolate – stay connected with friends and fun and laughter. But let there be time for doing nothing as well.

For the most part, stick to cooked and warm foods. You want to keep that internal fire stoked and cold foods are going to dampen that. If you do eat salad or green smoothies, balance them out with warming spices like ginger. Some particularly nourishing foods this time of year are sardines, seaweed, adzuki beans, sweet potatoes.

If you’re really struggling, spend the day at Phipps Conservatory. Seriously, it’s like mainlining spring. It’ll give you enough juice to get through a rough couple of icy days.

And one final tip: find one positive thing to say about winter. Even the most die-hard winter hater could probably think of at least one thing they like about this time of year. Be a breath of fresh air instead of the hundrendth person of the day to say that you’re sick of the weather. This doesn’t have to be over the top or annoying. You don’t have to declare that it’s a glorious day after fighting icy streets to get to work. But just find one small thing.

One of my favorites is how crisp and bright the stars look on these cold nights. It’s just beautiful.

Maybe yours is skiing or sledding or hot chocolate.
Or maybe cuddling or warm socks or icicles.

Even if the only thing you can think of to like about winter is how freaking amazing spring is going to feel when it finally comes – that’s something! We don’t get that energizing, creative, momentum without spending time in the depths.

Spring will come, with its burst of “let’s do it all now!” energy. And we can harness that and do amazing things.

But for now, take advantage of what winter has to offer. A chance to slow down. A chance to gather your resources. A chance to rest.

And for later reference, when spring does start peeking it’s head into winter: How to avoid being a frosted-over crocus


(Image source: Simon Wa)

How Does Acupuncture Work?

acupuncture theory

I gave a talk on acupuncture this past Tuesday at the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, a charter high school in Oakland. I was impressed by how many great questions the students asked! My goal was to explain some of the exciting things we’re beginning to learn about acupuncture from a biomedical perspective. AND to at least get them curious about the fundamental differences between Western medicine and Chinese medicine and be able to appreciate what both perspectives have to offer when it comes to health.

After winning them over with the fact that James Harrison gets acupuncture, I shared the following information.

Because acupuncture has been used continuously for thousands of years to treat everything from migraines to anxiety to back pain, the relevant question isn’t, does acupuncture work, it’s how does acupuncture work?

And Western science is starting to uncover some interesting things. When a needle is placed in the skin, research is revealing that it:

Stimulates an anti-inflammatory response.
Causes the body to release natural pain killers such as opiods and endorphins.
Triggers the muscle fibers to relax and thereby allow more blood flow.
Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of fight or flight).

One of the theories about why acupuncture does this is that it’s like pulling a fire alarm. The body responds to the needle as if it’s a threat and sends resources to investigate. Once it determines that the needle is actually harmless, it still takes the time to heal and restore.

Another theory involves the relationship between acupuncture and the connective tissue. I find this very fascinating! The connective tissue in our body isn’t just the tendons and ligaments; it’s actually a continuous network that encapsulates every organ and connects directly with the nucleus of every single cell in the body.

Researchers in Vermont have found that when an acupuncture needle is placed through the skin and turned, the connective tissue actually wraps around the needle, and after some time has passed, it begins to communicate with other parts of the body through the connective tissue web.

The connective tissue has been described as the “stuff between everything else” which is very similar to the way qi is described in the Chinese classics. You can learn more through this Emerging Science episode that aired on Vermont Public Television (25 minutes).

As interesting as all of this is, a material explanation of something doesn’t necessarily replace other ways of understanding. What biomedicine can reveal right now is only a small percentage of what’s happening during an acupuncture treatment. We can only measure what we have the tools to measure. Imagine what we’ll know 100 years from now!

Western medicine and Chinese medicine look at the body in different ways and assess what it means to be well in different ways. Even the most rabid acupuncture skeptic would never say that we know everything there is to know about what it means to be well and to heal.

There’s lots of room to be more interested in what we don’t already know.

If we were to sum up the theoretical foundation of Western medicine in one sentence, it would be “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” * Western medicine values objectivity above all else. The goal is to isolate the exact mechanism that’s causing a particular symptom and fix it. Any other symptoms or details about the patient are superfluous, especially if they involve emotions or thoughts.

While Western medicine studies things, Chinese medicine studies the relationship between things.

If we were to sum up the theoretical foundation of Chinese medicine in one sentence, it would be “what can be measured is only the most superficial aspect of a deeper functional imbalance.” * The context always matters. An acupuncturist looks at a symptom in relation to all the other details of a person’s life. And the goal is to restore harmony overall, not just fix a broken part.

Both perspectives are valid. To take an integral approach to medicine, we need both. I’m grateful and happy to be able to do my part by working with patients through the lens of Chinese medicine. I approach each patient with the thought, what would it look like for this particular person to really thrive? It will look different for each person, which makes my work endlessly exciting.

* Thanks to Lonny Jarrett for his explication of the differences between Western and Chinese medicine in his book, Nourishing Destiny. The quotes are his words.


Nourish Yin to Nourish Life

Serene fall scene

Have you ever let a houseplant go too long without water?

The soil gets so hard and dry that water doesn’t even penetrate the surface. You have to submerge it fully in a bucket or in the sink and just let it soak.

Sometimes we need a good soak too. Especially this time of year.

We get dried out like that poor houseplant by too much mental activity, multitasking, stimulants (like coffee), and pushing through our body’s signs that we’re tired.

We can literally burn up our yin.

Yin is the anchor, the foundation, the raw material we use to build a life. It’s the energy we use to go to sleep, to breathe, to pause, to contemplate, to take in new ideas and assimilate information.

Often times, when yin is deficient, there will be heat signs such as a flushed face or hot palms in the afternoon, agitation, dry eyes or trouble falling asleep. Here, it’s not necessarily that there is too much heat in the body, it’s that yin is so low that it can’t anchor the yang.

This is called empty fire, and nourishing yin is what’s called for.

It’s a tricky thing. When there’s a problem, we usually want to take action to “fix” it. When we’re deficient in yin, however, this approach will just exacerbate the problem. We need to take a step back, slow down and gently begin to incorporate more yin activities in our lives.

Some areas where you can start:

Get enough quality sleep.
What fits the above analogy of soaking a dry plant better than spending a full 8 hours resting your body and mind? Drink it up! Life runs on sleep, so make sure your tank is full.

Eat sloooowly.
You know what else life runs on? Food. And life can make much better use of the food you eat when you’re not shoving it down while doing other things. I know. This is a hard one. I have 6 siblings, so growing up, I learned to eat very fast in what was often a chaotic dinner scene. It takes tons of attention to slow down. But everything is more delicious when you do. (And if it’s not more delicious when you eat slowly, maybe you shouldn’t be eating it.)

Practice a cultivational exercise like yoga, qi gong, tai chi.
If you’re a hot yoga kind of person you may not necessarily need to give that up (although we did sometimes refer to it in acupuncture school as yin-burning yoga). But at least balance it out with a different kind of practice. One where you’re building more energy than you’re expending. As my yoga teacher told me, we need to be just as committed to practicing our resting poses as we are to our more active ones.

This is one of the most powerful ways to build yin and to access that part of you that is whole and complete already. It fosters a deep surrender, leaving space for new things to come.

Really, the main thing, just slow down. Sometimes getting sick is the only way the body knows how to slow you down. So slow down preemptively!

Take a moment now and carve out time on your calendar for building up some yin. I just scheduled a backpacking trip for myself in October. Even though part of me is saying, No! You’re too busy! A much wiser part is saying, You need to do that. It doesn’t have to be a whole weekend. Block off an hour to go for a quiet hike, or read a book in bed, or make soup.

These suggestions will help make sure you’ve got enough resources to live the best life you can.


(Image source: kretyen)

Acupuncture + Depression: The Empty Heart

Heart Peace

This is the second post in a series on acupuncture and depression. The first post is Building a Fire in Your Life.

The quiet center of our hearts offers endless rejuvenation and reassurance.
It does this by being empty: at any given moment the heart has both full and empty chambers. The Chinese character for the heart depicts an empty vessel (through which our spirit can shine).

But we usually don’t like to talk about the empty parts (of our hearts or our lives). Often we try to live right up to the edges. We sense that emptiness and we move away from it, constantly. We eat a quick snack or check our phones or get irritated about something or… (the possibilities for being distracted are endless!)

This generates heat which constrains the heart further and could show up as anxiety, heart palpitations, a feeling of heat in the face, stuttering, insomnia. An acupuncturist would pick up on certain signs on the pulse such as irregularity or tightness.

Instead of feeling full and exhilarated, we end up feeling crowded and frenzied. And we mistake that feeling for being alive.

What if we just made friends with the emptiness and didn’t try to run from it? We just sat next to it occasionally, contemplating the vastness of the sky, the vastness of our minds, the vastness of our hearts.

Maybe then we could sense that the emptiness at the core of everything is actually a fullness unlike anything we could fill ourselves with in the world. Not sex, not food, not love, not accomplishment. Then we could enjoy those things from a place of being already-satiated, rather than from a place of endless longing.

We’re afraid that the empty places mean sadness or depression or loneliness. But if you get quiet enough, you’ll hear that the heart is just repeating “all is well, all is well, all is well.”

You may experience a layer of anxiety and then a layer of sadness, but just underneath all the layers, you’ll hear that reassuring refrain loud and clear.

Here are 5 ways to tend and nourish your heart:

Meditation: This is the formal practice of getting quiet enough to hear your heart. If you do it on a daily basis, you will find it easier and easier to stay in contact with that deep centered place.

Pause: If you notice a beautiful view, take a moment to drink it in. Stop on your hike to admire an interesting plant. It can take just a few seconds to open up to life in a fuller way. The turtle I saw while deeply depressed was a huge boost. Take time to notice.

Bitter foods: Each of the organs in Chinese medicine is associated with a particular flavor, and the heart’s is bitter. It can be hard to find truly bitter foods in the supermarket, but think of dandelion greens, whole grains – you can even eat just a little bit of the rind if you’re having an orange or grapefruit.

Exercise: Just the right amount of aerobic exercise. Too much will weaken your heart in the long run. This will vary from person to person, of course, but 30-40 minutes 3-5 days a week is a good recommendation.

Cultivational exercise: Different from aerobic exercise and just as important. Yoga, tai chi, qi gong are all ways to subtly build and sustain energy in the body, and certain forms and poses have a direct relationship with the heart.


Mindfulness in Daily Life

 Peaceful Sky

I used to put things I wanted to be on my to-do lists. Right there along with oil change and pay quarterly taxes would be act more loving towards yourself and others and practice peace.

As I accomplished the more mundane things, I would cross them off with increasing satisfaction. When the crossed-off things outnumbered the not, I carefully carried over the remaining items to a new list and momentarily felt inspired before getting on with renew license and buy stamps.

My method was not entirely off – it’s useful for me to articulate the things I want to cultivate. There just wasn’t a bridge, a way of bringing those written words into my body, my cells, my life.

The core attributes of peace and integrity and inspiration, rather than permeating everything I did from getting the oil changed to buying stamps, were quickly smothered by those everyday acts.  There was a false sense that once I got through those simpler tasks, I could conquer being more loving, more peaceful, more alive.

As if those things are ever something I could cross off and be done with.

As if they are separate from my life.

One morning I was absentmindedly and a bit too harshly scrubbing my teeth. My thoughts were focused on when I could do yoga, which workshop I could attend, what time of day to meditate, all in the name of practicing peace.

A new approach occurred to me then: Practice peace.

Oh yeah.

I began paying attention to which tooth I was brushing, how it felt, how much time I spent. I began brushing my teeth with attention.  After that experience, I realized I could practice peace while eating breakfast, while driving my car, while doing anything and everything.

If I catch myself planning when to practice peace and notice that my body is uptight and my breathing is a bit shallow, that is my reminder to practice it now.

It works a lot better than constantly jotting the words down on a fresh piece of paper.


Acupuncture + Depression: Building a Fire in Your Life


[This is the intro post in a series that will explore depression and Chinese medicine]

I like the magic of building fires. Do these certain tasks – gather kindling, make a pyramid, add a lit match, fan like crazy, add bigger sticks. Then (if you’re me) pray that they catch. And they always do! I’m not a particularly savvy fire-builder, but I always manage to get one lit.

Self-care is like that. We do these certain things – eat well, exercise, rest – so that we’re ready to catch fire. We may feel soggy or burnt-out or uninspired, but we seriously never know when the spark will come. And we want to be ready for it; we want to be flammable.

About a year after I finished graduate school, for a mix of reasons, and really no reason at all, I became severely depressed. Part of it was practical – “Oh my god, I have to make a living and I’m seeing five patients a week!” And part of it was existential – “Who am I, why am I here, how shall I live?” I still don’t know why it was such a perfect storm of debilitation.

I just know I spent many days crying by a tree outside of my house. (That poor tree had no idea what to say.) My family was worried about me. (They didn’t know what to say either.) At several desperate moments I thought about going on medication, but I knew that I needed to go through this. Not around it or over it or under it. (I’m not wholesale against medication – I do believe there are times when it can be helpful; it just wasn’t the right choice for me.)

So I set about creating the conditions to catch fire, even though I couldn’t even remember what that felt like. I created a schedule for myself every day, and I followed it without fail. I went for a walk, I meditated, I ate good food, I slept, I saw my patients. I walked to my acupuncturist’s office once a week.

I know that creating and following a schedule sounds like the most mundane thing in the world, that it could never help alleviate depression so deep you don’t even want to move. But it does and it can. (The heart thrives on rhythm.)

I got no joy from these experiences at all. I was just going through the motions. But I was stacking the firewood.

By anchoring my actions in something other than how I happened to be feeling, I was reminding myself that the depression wasn’t who I actually was. It was the weather at that particular time in my life, and yes, it sucked to have it perpetually gray and raining in my psyche. But there are deeper layers where, truly, the fire is already burning, even if we can’t feel it.

It’s possible to be deeply OK even when deeply depressed. It doesn’t seem like it, but it really is.

My recovery wasn’t dramatic. I think sometimes it can be, but for me it was just a gradual realization that I didn’t feel depressed anymore.

One spark came while riding in a car with my friend. She took a turn a little too fast and the car swerved. She righted the car quickly and everything was fine, but for a moment, the loudest thought in my head was, “I don’t want to die.” I thought, “OK, good to know.”

Another little spark came when I was crying near that poor tree in my backyard. A movement across the lawn caught my eye at one point and I was up walking towards it before I had time to think. I found a turtle and felt just the tiniest glimmer of delight. I realized that some part of me was still curious, was still drawn towards movement and life. If I could just keep gathering the kindling long enough, I could return.

And I did. With a much deeper trust in that place in me that is always burning. I didn’t fully answer those existential questions before I returned, but I vowed to, as Rilke says, “live the questions.” They are a jumping off point for a richly lived experience here on earth, not a cause for despair.

Remember that all things which happen
To you are raw materials
Endlessly fertile
Endlessly yielding of thoughts that could change
Your life and go on doing forever…
So fear not, my friend.
The darkness is gentler than you think.

–Ben Okri


(Image source: Sam Howzit)

Book Review: Taking Charge of Your Fertility

fertility chart with basal thermometer

This post was originally featured on Without Child.

In my early twenties, every time I felt mid-cycle cervical fluid I thought it was my period. I’d go to the bathroom and realize, oh, it’s that other stuff.

Ok, that’s an embarrassing thing to admit. And yet, I’ve met many, many educated, self-aware women with similar embarrassing stories around cycle confusion.

I didn’t know that there was an alternative to the birth control pills I was taking that caused frequent yeast infections, breakouts and affected my mood in a not-so-nice way.

After seeing my first acupuncturist, I started to get more in tune with my body. She asked lots of questions about my menstrual cycle, which in turn had me paying attention.

And eventually, I started charting after reading the book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler.

Even if this book didn’t contain important, life-altering information, I’d recommend you read it just for the fact that Toni is freaking hilarious!

It’s hard to imagine that a book about the reproductive cycle could be a page-turner, but it is. Even if you’re not as clueless about your body as I was when I first picked up the book, I’m sure you’ll learn a ton and have fun doing it.

The basic premise of fertility awareness is something that I think every woman should understand, whether she then chooses to chart or not.

And if you think fertility awareness = the rhythm method you’re making a big mistake.

It’s a common misconception.

When I told my mom I was going off of birth control pills, she thought I was heading down a risky path with nothing but a wing and a prayer. And maybe a lucky crystal or two.

As much as she wanted to be a grandmother, she wasn’t ready for an unplanned pregnancy. Neither was I.

The rhythm method means guessing your ovulation date based on past cycles which is just one step above a crapshoot (even if your cycle is amazingly regular), while fertility awareness is based on scientific observations that let you predict your cycle in real-time.

It’s just three steps. Record your basal body temperature. Observe your cervical fluid. And check your cervical position.

Basal body temperature means you take and record your temperature first thing every morning – before you get up to pee or move around much.

The second piece (observing your cervical fluid) means you just pay attention to the quality and consistency of the fluid you have going on down there.

And the third is checking the position of your cervix to see whether it’s soft and open or closed and hard. This third step is an optional double-check for the first two in case there are any discrepancies.

You then use that information to time intercourse accordingly.

The particular details are too much to go into in this post, but they are elucidated perfectly in Toni’s book, complete with pictures, graphs and helpful hints.

She even has a ten-page appendix that you can tear out and bring to your doctor so you’re both on the same page.

That last piece is important. Many tests and interventions are still planned around a standard 28-day cycle, which just isn’t the case for most women.

Your individual chart will help guide exactly what’s needed at what time.

Because even with charting, timing and all that jazz, you may still need support if you’re having difficulty getting pregnant. But now you’ll know better what that support might look like. It’s priceless information.

Amazing that three simple steps can help women get pregnant, prevent pregnancy, learn about their bodies, and be more empowered when it comes to traditional and alternative choices!

And if it seems like too much work, consider one woman that Toni highlights in her book – she stays snuggled in bed half-asleep while her partner places the thermometer in her mouth and records her temperature!

Fertility awareness is totally something that you and your partner can approach together and the process will most likely lead to greater communication and intimacy between you.

How’s that for a side effect?

Clearly, birth control is an important and complex topic. Being fully informed is important. Click here to read more about the negative effects of oral contraceptives in particular.


(Image source: Veronica Tilden, DO)

Internet-free Sundays

Green space

In early January, I resolved to make my Sundays internet-free after reading an article about stop days on (link at the end).

I’ve mostly stuck to it. Waking up on Monday morning is a pretty peaceful experience on the weeks when I have.

It forces me to realize this true but often frantically ignored fact:

I will never get everything done. Never.

Some days I like to pretend that I can.

But, nope.

The only sane way to live is to be really clear on what’s essential and then do that with lots of focus and passion.

With a healthy dose of doing nothing on a regular basis.

Otherwise, it’s too easy for me to stay on the surface of things. To just keep consuming information without integrating. To skim articles, click “like”, retweet, put things in my “pocket” to read later. Well, I don’t know about you, but my pocket is overflowing with unread material. If it was a real pocket, it’d be dragging on the ground as I walked.

Pausing for a moment (or a day) can be like breaking a spell.

Some Sundays I sleep all day. Or read a whole novel just for fun. Or clean. Or spend the day hiking in the woods (the sight and smell of green things is total refreshment for the eyes and soul.)

New things can emerge in the quiet space. There’s room to be surprised.

I’m not at all anti-technology. I love the fact that I can record my clinical notes and accept payment on my iPad. I love staying connected with people who live far away. I love that I can stream episodes of Dr. Who. Not to mention the amazing collaboration and innovation that it reflects and enables (bright-green for the win.)

But it’s endless. You can’t really read the whole internet, twice.

We’ve got to make choices, and for me, taking a whole day away (plus an hour or so each morning in meditation), makes it much easier to make better choices.

Put some barriers around how you spend your time and watch the magic happen.



The importance of a ‘stop day’ on

You may also like:

Shallow breaths and cheese curls

The freedom of discipline

A patient’s acupuncture story

Acupuncture treatment room

The following entry was written by a dear patient of mine. She went from being terrified of needles to actually looking forward to treatments! I hope her success story will help others who are curious about acupuncture and are afraid to try it. 

In mid 2012 I decided to try acupuncture for chronic pain in my lower back and other conditions. I had tried massage, herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals, meditation, yoga, physical therapy and, while there was some relief, it was short-lived. I also struggle with anxiety, depression, other widespread pain that has been attributed to fibromyalgia, significant sleep disturbances, and bouts of extreme fatigue.

I have an almost 6 year old son. He is the most incredible blessing I could ever ask for! I did not want to be the sick mom who could not keep up, play actively with him and complained of pain all the time. This wonderful little man deserved a mom who was present and as active as I could possibly be. I was also not interested in being (over)medicated which is all Western medicine doctors could come up with.

My first experience with acupuncture with a different practitioner was less than desirable. I expected a little discomfort from the needles but I had lived through several epidurals and figured “how much could needles the diameter of human hair placed just below the surface of the skin hurt”? Well, I screamed out in pain several times, cursed as a matter of fact – not something I usually do. After four sessions and increasing panic attacks before each, I ended my relationship with this particular acupuncturist. The symptoms I was having also did not improve with the treatments, which made the decision to leave even easier!

I mentioned my story to friends and was given the name Debbie Hardin. When we first met I shared details of my previous experience and the current fears of trying again! Her demeanor was very calming and understanding. She asked me if I would like to try to work with her to see if the experience would be any better. I agreed. Debbie tested a couple needles and left them in only 5 minutes to see if I could tolerate them. I was pleasantly surprised the pain I felt was mere discomfort compared to my previous experiences.

Over the next few sessions, we took it slow, using less than 10 needles and keeping them in only 10-15 minutes. She also stayed with me while I was having the procedure because I was afraid to be left alone (and forgotten while laying there with needles in my body!). Gradually, I began to not “think” before appointments and actually look forward to them! The number of needles and length of time had increased and the discomfort decreased with time as well! This last session I even let her leave the room!

So, why did I go to another acupuncturist if my first experience was painful and did not seem to work?! I had heard so many success stories and read a great deal about this form of treatment that I did not want to give up from one experience! I am so glad I did not give up! Now, I have pain relief (sure not ALL the time but greatly reduced pain!), and I am working on other symptoms and problems that acupuncture can help with.

Most importantly, Debbie Hardin is a caring, understanding, non-judgmental, and enthusiastic practitioner! She truly believes in what she does and works hard to always improve her skills which gives me confidence in her ongoing commitment to her craft!


(Photo of my treatment space by Veronica Varos)

How are you? I’m fantastic.

Jumping with Joy

Not too bad. Could be worse. Another day, another dollar.

How often do you hear something along those lines in response to the question, How are you?

Maybe you even answer that way yourself.

It may seem trivial, but what’s actually being transmitted about life through those words? That it’s just something to survive, to get through, to barely tolerate?

Our healthcare system seems to support this idea. The focus of modern medicine is nearly always on getting us to that relatively OK point and no further. Life may not be great, but, hey, at least we’re not dead.

But what about being alive?

Health is a continuum, and most of what we think of as health care is actually sick care. It’s meant to deal with issues in the narrow margin between baseline and death. It doesn’t have the tools to move us beyond that.

Clearly there’s a need for this type of acute medicine. A person who’s just been in a horrible car wreck shouldn’t be asking to see their acupuncturist in that moment. A patient who’s just had a stroke shouldn’t be consulting with their herbalist right then.

These are emergency situations and sometimes surgery and medication are the only options.

But those interventions should make up a tiny percentage of what we actually consider health care. And we shouldn’t be using emergency medicine to combat the chronic, stress-related issues that make up the bulk of our problems in this modern day.

When we try to treat lifestyle-generated illness with emergency medicine, we will never be well.

We end up suppressing the symptoms of heartburn with Prilosec while continuing to eat the foods that cause the problem.

We end up with people being prescribed an anti-depressant after an – on-average – five-minute interview with a doctor.

We end up with a significant amount of the population needing a drug to fall asleep at night, and three cups of coffee in the morning just to feel somewhat alive.

We end up with a quick-fix culture.

How do we reconnect with our own ability to cultivate health and wellness?

We do it by paying attention.

Our bodies are wise and our symptoms can be our teachers. We just usually don’t pay attention until it’s too late.

Insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, acid reflux. These are all symptoms of a deeper imbalance. Just treating them as a disease that needs to be silenced misses the point. What do we need to learn? How do we need to change?

Think about insomnia for example. This label means nothing without the context of the life of the individual who is suffering. Does she have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Is it seasonal? Is it due to physical pain or mental worry or both? Has she just been laid off? Is she contemplating a major life change?

I’ve discovered that when I’m having trouble sleeping, it means I need to write. There’s some idea that needs to be expressed.

Of course, we could all just take Lunesta. Which would be like putting a piece of tape over the check engine light in your car.

Rather than thinking of our symptoms as problems to be fixed, we need to start recognizing them as the messengers that they are.

Not so that we can reach a pinnacle of perfect health with no symptoms. Or have a perfect body. Or avoid death. Chasing perfect health can be an addiction like any other.

The important questions are: Am I well enough to do the things I want to do? To make a difference in the world? Play with my grandkids, do work that matters?

A person who’s experiencing some mild burning in her esophagus has a few choices. She could ignore it and keep living the way she’s been living. Maybe take an antacid every once and a while. Then maybe once it’s developed into a serious issue she could seek treatment.

Or she could start to explore what it might be signalling. Make adjustments to her diet, learn to meditate, find ways to better express her anger.

And with these small changes, day after day she may find herself waking up in a new life. Her relationships more harmonious. Tapped into a deeper well of creativity. Connected to a greater sense of purpose

Awareness, and small changes to her daily habits are the scaffolding that make this kind of journey possible.

And if someone asks her, how are you, she might answer, I’m fantastic. And really mean it.

Do you know what your messengers are? Are you curious to see where listening to them might take you?


For an in-depth, innovative look at restoring common sense and personal responsibility to health-care, I can’t recommend the book Breaking the Iron Triangle highly enough.

(Image source: Clewn)


The Nuin Center
5655 Bryant St
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-6
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-3
Phone: 412.927.4768