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Does acupuncture hurt?


This is one of the the top questions I hear about acupuncture. When you mention the word ‘needle’ people tend to get a little bit wary. Some people even hold up their hands in defense as if I’m going to try and stick them with a needle right then and there!

I can relate. When I went for my first acupuncture treatment years ago, I was lying on the table feeling nervous as heck. I was afraid that it would hurt and that if I sneezed all the needles would go flying out.

The truth is, it rarely hurts. I didn’t even feel those very first needles go in. Oftentimes this is the case. Others may feel a slight tugging sensation. Or a dull ache. Or a tingling. At most, a slight pinch on areas that are more sensitive.

(And in case you are wondering, I did sneeze and the needles stayed put. No risk there!)

The needles are tiny, about the size of a cat’s whisker. They glide into the skin with ease. Once you experience it, you’ll see that they are no big deal. People get to relax in a darkened room for about twenty minutes after they are inserted. I treat people who are needle-phobic and often find them snoozing away on the table!

I treat children and they do fine.

TV shows tend to dramatize the whole process, showing someone with 20 or so needles in their face, for example. In my clinic, I use as few needles as necessary to create the most change. The more focused the treatment the better, which is why on average I use about 5-10 needles per treatment.

The needles are sterile, stainless-steel, and single-use. Totally safe.

If you’ve been curious about acupuncture, but have held back out of fear of the needles, come in for a free consult and see for yourself how tiny they are!


How to avoid being a frosted-over crocus

Snowy crocus

Many of us are probably starting to feel a little cabin-fever, an itch to get moving again, especially on this snowy day.

I love winter, and yet I’m just as eager for spring as a winter-hater at this point. The idea of hot sunlight on bare skin feels like a distant dream.

Spring is for taking action. The plans we’ve had time to quietly cultivate during winter can be brought forth. Like a blade of grass growing through a concrete sidewalk, there’s a quality of persistence and fierce determination to this time of year that we can draft.

That being said, we don’t want to end up like a frosted-over crocus, jumping in too quickly. Best to be more like a daffodil, just a few weeks behind. A little extra time cooking up good things underground before we show the world what we’ve got.

Chinese medicine tells us that how we live in one season affects the quality of the following ones. So the more that we’ve been able to be still and introspective this winter, the more depth we’ll have to bring to our endeavors this spring. There’s still time – if you feel like you haven’t gotten enough rest this winter, carve out some time before we fully make the transition. A little could go a long way to having a better spring.

I’m already starting to see some of the typical winter-spring issues in the treatment room – headaches, allergies, skin rashes, depression, indigestion. These often come from either energy surging too strongly upward too quickly or some sort of stagnation of energy.

Here are the top two simple things I advise to stay open and in the flow as we head into spring:

Movement – Make it a priority to move your body in some way every day. Going for a walk, doing some yoga or qi gong. Allow your activity level to increase gradually.

Green veggies – Throughout our history we would naturally cleanse this time of year. After a winter of eating mostly heavy, preserved foods and root vegetables, we’d partake of all the fresh, young greens popping up.

If you want to delve deeper, check out these posts I wrote about the liver (the organ associated with the springtime):

What your liver has to do with heartburn and anger

10 Ways to be a free and easy wanderer

(Image source: Red Junasun)



On Resilience: Reflections of a former cancer patient

Penny Brill was one of my very first patients here in Pittsburgh and is one of the most inspiring people I know. It’s impossible not to be swept up by her optimism and passion. She is a violist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and is the founder of their Music and Wellness program. She’s also a board member of the UN-affiliated Music as a Global Resource. In 1999 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and learned first hand the powerful healing effect of music. This experience led her to want to share it with others. And share it she has, working to bring programs to Pittsburgh hospitals and preparing and playing special music for children in hospitals in Vienna, London, and Dublin.

The Tribune recently published an article about Penny and her work which you can read here.

We’ve talked often about what it means to be truly well, and I’m delighted to share this post by her on the topic of resiliency.


We hear a lot lately about stress and its effect on the body. But stress management discussions actually lead us to a larger question, which is: how can we as individuals become more resilient?

What do we mean by resilience? We know that some people, no matter what ill winds blow their way, manage to cope and recover quickly. Others see themselves as victims, feeling helpless and powerless in the face of adversity.

You may have seen this quote:

Whether a pebble

becomes a stepping-stone

or a stumbling block


on what you do with it

You will have more power over how adverse events will affect you, and you can optimize your chances for a positive outcome, if you try some of the following:

Individual skills:

Cultivate a positive outlook. You can practice thought awareness; for example, do you notice that you often feel like a victim, or that you find you have things you can do to cope? You can transform unproductive into positive thinking, focusing on what is within your control to change. What can you try that might help?

Develop a toolbox of coping skills to reduce stress such as meditation, yoga or Tai ji. Take one minute breathing breaks. Try some kind of dance or other movement to music. Experiment with painting or drawing, writing, or making music. Is there something you have always wanted to try?

Practice self-care: get high-quality, sufficient sleep, eat healthy food and get adequate exercise.

Control your environment. Surround yourself with helpful pictures, music, and other sources of comfort or support. What can you change in your environment to help you reach your goals?

Simplify: What can you delegate or get rid of? What is the one most important thing you need to do? Would it help to turn off the TV, access to social media, the Internet and the phone, at least some of the time?

Practice problem-solving skills. Learn to identify obstacles and figure out ways around them.

Build competence and confidence in your strengths and abilities by setting doable goals and meeting them successfully.

Cultivate an ability to assess a situation realistically (You can learn to have a more balanced perspective.) Learn how to reduce distorted perception due to strong emotions. Learn how to manage strong feelings and impulses.

Develop and encourage mindfulness. Direct your awareness to what you are doing now, at this moment.

Identify support services: What people, Internet resources or books can help? Get help when you need it! Go to reputable doctors, and reputable websites!

There are ways to cultivate resilience on a family level as well. By learning to communicate well. Developing strong, supportive, nurturing relationships. Being flexible and adaptable.

Remember that change is a part of living (this is a quote from a Yom Kippur service):

Nothing ever stays the same

What we were and what we are

Give way to what we will become

And this is no choice

Except for what we choose to become

The question is not will you change

But how you will change

On a community level, look for groups where you have a sense of belonging and connectedness and a sense that your collective efforts can make a difference. This could be a support group, a choir, a religious group. What else might work: a craft group? a workshop? Reaching out to help others strengthens resiliency for you as well.

May your experiences be stepping-stones

May your path be filled with light

Elderberry and friends: 11 natural ways to prevent the flu


This post isn’t about whether or not to get the flu shot (I’ll let you spend hours googling that one.)

The advice I want to share for preventing the flu naturally will help you stay as healthy as possible either way.

Forgive the obviousness of the first tip, but seriously:

1. Wash your hands! It really is the most important thing you can do. And then get yourself a nice hand cream to keep your skin from flaking away.

2. Drink warm fluids. If the virus is hanging out in your mouth or throat, preparing to get extra cozy, the warm drink will most likely wash it into your digestive tract where your stomach acid will easily destroy it.

3. Use a neti pot. It’s actually quite simple to use. It flushes your nasal passages with warm salt water and feels rather pleasant.

{Tips one through three are based on the fact that it takes several hours for viruses to incubate in the body. Shaking hands with that miserable, flu-infested chap at the office doesn’t mean you’re doomed. You may have the flu virus on your hands, your clothes, or even in your nose, but it needs time to nestle in and make itself at home. You have time to flush it from your system!}

4. Get enough sleep. When our bodies are worn-down and tired our barriers against infection are more like cheese-cloth than an iron gate. If you struggle with falling or staying asleep, read more here.

5. Exercise consistently. In a way that’s appropriate for your constitution. You don’t need to spend hours at the gym. Just ½ an hour of walking a day can do wonders. Yoga will help activate the lymph system which helps to fight infections. Breathing practices will help strengthen your lungs.

6. Eat high-quality whole foods. With lots of greens, greens, greens. It’s also helpful to avoid sugar, fried foods, cold foods, and dairy. These guys basically roll out a sticky welcome mat for viruses. Come right in, Mr. Flu! Of course I’m not busy! Please, have a scone!

7. Laughter! It boosts the immune system, lowers cholesterol, raises serotonin. Plus, it’s well-known that viruses have no sense of humor and can’t stand the sound of human laughter.

{Tips four through seven are really just the things that we all know we should be doing anyway to live a healthy, vibrant life. Not getting the flu is just a nice bonus!}

8. Elderberry. Kids love it! Clinical trials have shown it to be highly effective in preventing and treating the flu. You can buy various brands at health food stores (Sambucol, Dr. Dunner Sambu Guard) or you can make your own elderberry syrup.

9. Echinacea. This is a miracle  herb for me. It’s best used as a tincture (alcohol extract) and you have to take a lot of it (around 5-10 mL/a day). You can find it in any health food store – a couple of high-quality brands to look for are Gaia herbs or Herbpharm.

10. Immune-boosting broth. A great-tasting chicken or vegetarian broth loaded with medicinal herbs and spices.

11. Acupuncture. One of the side-effects of acupuncture treatment, whether you’re coming in for anxiety or back pain, is an enhanced immune system. Most people find that they get sick much less often when they are getting regular treatment. And when they do get sick, they bounce back quicker.


More herbal recommendations for preventing the flu and also tending yourself once you’re already sick in this post by Aviva Romm.

A great, do-it-yourself acupressure routine for boosting immunity and preventing the flu over on Acutake.

(Image source: seelensturm)

Don’t play whack-a-mole with your symptoms


Many of us think that real medicine is what other people do to us. We get sick, we go to the doctor. We need our back fixed, we see the chiropractor. We see the acupuncturist to take away our headaches.

But the ways that we tend ourselves on a daily basis will always be more important than what experts can provide.

Our symptoms serve as warning bells that we’re living in some way that’s out of alignment. They are opportunities to learn more about how to live well, and yet we often just treat them as a nuisance and silence them as quickly as possible.

Do you remember a commercial a few years ago for an antacid? It showed two women in a car with one suggesting they go through a fast-food drive-through. The other answers, oh no, I can’t eat there or I’ll have bad stomach pains. The first woman says, that used to be me too, but not with these! as she pulls a box of antacids out of her bag.

We end up just getting rid of the most superficial expression of the imbalance and not resolving the deeper issue. (Even holistic medicine can be guilty of this!) It’s like putting a piece of tape over the check engine light.  Or like playing whack-a-mole. Guaranteed something else is going to pop up.

We tend to keep our nervous system on hyper-alert through the way we live, the coffee we ingest, the news we read. No wonder we miss our bodies’ signals!

Being in fight-or-flight mode serves us well when we’re in true danger (like we’re about to get mugged) but not when we’re stuck in traffic (especially if that happens every morning).  

We want our nerves to be soft, supple and responsive. Not frayed and akin to a constantly barking dog.

Some form of cultivational practice like yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or meditation can help immensely. They help us slow down and tune in enough to know what we actually need to be well. We can pick up on subtler signs that something’s off and change course accordingly. And we’ll build a deeper reservoir of energy to draw on for the times when we’re doing something really important and we need to push ourselves.  (Note to self: Reorganizing books on bookshelf does not qualify as really important. Go to sleep.)

Often times we’re used to moving in the world in such a stressed way, that when we get relaxed, we may feel ineffective or listless. But it’s possible to access that place of calm and still be highly active in the world.  It takes practice, and it’s well worth it.


In life, man is soft & supple; In death he is rigid and hard.
Plants and trees in life are tender; In death they are withered and dry.
Therefore, softness and tenderness mean life;
and hardness and stiffness mean death.
He who only relies on hard power will not win the battle.
The tree whose wood is hardest is cut down.
The mighty and the strong are thus cast down; and the humble and low are set on high.

– Tao Te Ching, LXXXVI

(Image source: Jeffrey Kontur)

I Lost My Mojo in a Pitcher of Margaritas

Rumi poem

Remember when I said I was going to be doing my best impression of a tulip bulb over the break?  Hibernating, resting, building up energy for the new year?  Welllll, I also had lovely, amazing friends visit, finished my Christmas shopping, cleaned the heck out of my apartment, and had all of the following things on my to-do list:

  • January’s newsletter written and ready to go.
  • A new blog post for today, all about what I wanted to see 10 years from now in healthcare.  I wanted to get other bloggers on board, tweet about it (#2023), write a speech about it for toastmasters, have it tattooed on my arm. 
  • Drafts written for blog posts with an A-Z theme.  A is for acupuncture, B is for ba gua, C is for cupping, etc.  I’ll write every week!  I can totally do it!  
  • 12 month marketing plan mapped out.
  • Guest post on meditation I’d been asked to write for a colleague’s blog.
  • Write out a birthday blessing for everyone who celebrated my birthday with me.
  • Reach out to an impossible number of people about an impossible number of projects.
  • Tie up all the loose ends in my life.
  • Be perfect.

And instead, I got drunk at my birthday party and was hungover for 2 days, during which I did nothing productive.  

I needed a mindful pause.  I pushed myself to the limit and got a tequila-induced pause instead (vicious headache no extra charge!) This was the second time I’d been hungover in about 7 years, and I can tell you, I hadn’t missed it.

I feared that if I stopped pushing everything would fall apart.

So, I ignored the fact that I was tired.  That this past year has been a huge shift for me.  That I’ve taken more risks, gotten more done, and helped more people than ever before.  That taking a break might be a good thing.

Now, on this second day of 2013, I’m much more hydrated.  I’m well-rested.  My head’s out of the gray cloud it’s been in.

I don’t have a perfectly polished New Year’s plan to tell you about.  Or a huge project.  I don’t have my meals planned for the next 3 months.

Things are percolating.

I was still just as happy as a kid on Christmas morning to be back in the treatment room this morning.  I’m still wholly passionate about being an acupuncturist.  And I have big ideas for the year, but I’m also being gentle with myself.

There’s a place for pushing past limits.  We are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

But there’s also a place for pause and reflection.

And for acknowledging that we’re not perfect.

Instead we usually respond in one of two ways when we make a supposed mistake.  First, by “getting back on track” immediately, usually with an ultimatum. “I’ll never drink ever again!”  

Maybe for you it’s sugar, and you feel like you overindulged over the break.  “I’m never going to eat sugar ever!”  OK, if you know you feel better not eating sugar, then go ahead and make a plan.  Give it up completely for a week, a month.  Do a cleanse.

But it doesn’t have to be harsh.  What can you add in to make life sweeter?

Sometimes we actually need to design healthy ways to get “off-track” rather than just immediately restarting our engines.

The second way we often respond to our perceived mistakes is to collapse into them.  “I‘ve never done anything right.  I always screw up.  I ruin everything.”

We can’t see anything good.

We play one wrong note and we want to smash the piano. 

To avoid this pitfall, I took some time to acknowledge all the things I did accomplish last year:

  • Moved from Maryland, where I’d lived all my life, to Pittsburgh and started my acupuncture practice over again.
  • Learned how to use twitter.  (6 tweets in 2011, 550 in 2012 – and some of them were even insightful and/or funny!)
  • Wrote 35 blog posts, all of which I’m proud of.
  • Went to over 12 networking events and had fun at all of them, even though at heart I’m an introverted person.
  • Joined Toastmasters and gave two well-received speeches.
  • Meditated 12 hours in one day (and many many more hours throughout the year).
  • Started a 2-year mentorship with acupuncturist Lonny Jarrett in Massachusetts.
  • Had a fun (albeit drunken) time with friends at my first birthday in Pittsburgh!
  • Helped over 50 patients heal and learn to live and love their lives in new ways.

Life goes up and down.  We will make mistakes.  We will fail.  Be willing to see it all with open eyes. 

Even when we feel disillusioned or lost (or hungover), things are growing within us.  I found a jar with an old paperwhite bulb shoved in my closet.  It was looking pretty awful, like nothing but dead, scraggly stalks.  But when I cleared them away, I noticed tiny little green shoots pushing through the soil.

Life is tenacious.

And moments when we slip off our game are part of life too.  Make space around them, write them into the script.

Have a strong anchor to come back to (and a designated driver).

It’s 2013! 

I’m back at work.  Learning.  Doing my best.  And thinking about ways to be in service to and delighted by life in this new year.  This is mos def not a caravan of despair.

*Update* – Life is amazing.  I decided to compost my #2023 idea and just saw on twitter that Yinzpiration is asking about what we’ll be up to #10yearsfromnow.  I hope you’ll participate!  I’d love to see what you have to say.


(Image source: Soulful Road. Much gratitude to Kim)


More thoughts on meditation

Meditation group

I just can’t help myself.  After 12 hours of deep meditation this weekend, I have to share a few more thoughts on the practice.  I feel such a renewed vigor and focus this week, like a strong wind blew through my mind and only left the important things.

And yet it wasn’t all fun while I was doing it.  Why is the practice of meditation sometimes such a miserable experience?  All we’re doing is sitting still.  How could that be torture?  As soon as we go quiet, every painful thought and memory seems to flood our mind, and it can feel overwhelming.

The great thing is that there’s so much space inside that we’re usually unaware of.  It’s like we’re holding our painful thoughts directly in front of our faces, wondering why we can’t seem to imagine anything different, and then we just take a step back and realize that there’s a lot more room than we thought.  We focus on the night sky, that infinite space, rather than the individual stars.

Even the most painful memory, the most gut-wrenching wave of regret loses its power if it’s arising in a sea of infinity.  It’s nothing more than a speck, with no power.  Just entertain that as a possibility – that you don’t actually have to get rid of negative emotions that seem to be harassing you.  The only reason they are bothering you is because you are bothering them.

You might have to take this on faith at first.  It might feel overwhelming when you sit down to meditate, when every sore spot in your body and mind seems to become activated at once and that’s all you can see, just a long string of wrong turns.  You may want to collapse in the face of it.  But just keep sitting still.  Staying upright and still is a metaphor for cultivating steadfastness in everyday life.  There’s nothing that can really sway you.  And this muscle, with practice, gets stronger.  And the pull towards that creative space gets stronger.  Even when it doesn’t feel like it’s getting stronger, trust that it is.

Daily meditation goes a long way to feeling more at ease, more focused, and more creative, and this is the perfect time of year to start or deepen a practice.  The whole world seems to be meditating.  It gets darker earlier and earlier.  The plants are all sending energy into their roots, preparing for spring.

Find a time that you can commit to – whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour – and see what a month of practice brings to your life.  Then keep it simple – be still, relax, pay attention, and have no relationship to the contents of your mind.  Repeat.


Meditation is training for life

“Just stop for a minute and see what you have given your mind to do.  You said to your mind, ‘I want everyone to like me.  I don’t want anyone to speak badly of me. 

I want everything I say and do to be acceptable and pleasing to everyone.  I don’t want anyone to hurt me.  I don’t want anything to happen that I don’t like.  And I want everything to happen that I do like.’ 

Then you said, ‘Now, mind, figure out how to make every one of these things a reality, even if you have to think about it day and night.’  And of course your mind said, ‘I’m on the job. I will work on it constantly.’”

(From The Untethered Soul by Michael D. Singer, one of my absolute favorite books.)

No wonder we feel overwhelmed and stressed!  Our minds, a wonderful tool that could be solving important problems, creating art, contemplating the world, are instead busy trying to control everything in our environment so we feel OK.

The practice of meditation gives us the opportunity to take a bigger perspective, one that isn’t hyper-focused on the constant fluctuations of our thoughts and feelings.  It gives us access to a realm in which everything already is OK.  And then when we re-enter the world , we can make choices and engage with life from a place of freedom rather than from a place of conditioning, fear, overwhelm and contraction.

On December 8th, I’ll be participating in a meditation marathon and will be meditating for 12 hours (!) (Don’t worry, there will be bathroom and meal breaks.)  I’m very excited to set aside a whole day for this – meditation practice is one of the most important things I do every day.  Keeps me grounded, sane, resilient.  Seriously, I can’t imagine the chaos if I didn’t have this practice.

I am not actively seeking sponsors, but if you feel moved to contribute, you can support my team, DC Depth – many of my friends will be meditating for a full 24 hours (some even for 48 hours!)  All donations support Enlightennext, an organization dedicated to catalyzing a culture of depth and spirit.  One participant, Tom Huston, summed up his motivation for meditating so beautifully that I wanted to share part of it here:

“The inner peace, fulfillment, and spiritual self-confidence that we gain from extended, all-out meditation sessions like the Meditation Marathon liberate us in the most profound way imaginable—from superficiality, from meaninglessness, from existential confusion, and from the deep sense that something is missing and something is wrong.

When all of that is transcended through deep meditation, you realize that you are already perfectly complete and fulfilled, right now, exactly as you are. There is nothing in the world that can give you more confidence, clarity, and inspiration than that.”

If some part of you is craving depth, letting go, stillness – participate in the marathon!  Even for an hour or two at home.  You’ll get the inspiration and instruction you need to realize this place within you, and your life will be infinitely richer for it.  You can also join me on Thursday nights for meditation practice along with group acupuncture treatment.


(Image source: Wiertz Sebastien)

Do it anyway


Kids jumping

I was babysitting my friend’s three-year old daughter the other day.  When I saw her wiggling in her chair while working on her puzzle, I gave her a little reminder to go try on the potty.  She stalled and protested, but finally started walking towards the stairs, waving her arm in front of her chest, eyebrows furrowed.

“This means I’m mad,” she said (as if I couldn’t tell).

“That’s ok,” I said.  “The potty still works when you’re mad.  You can do it if you’re mad, glad, happy, sad.”

I don’t think she appreciated my witty Dr. Seuss impression.

But the fact is that our emotions don’t get to decide what we do, and this interaction was a good reminder for me.

I know how liberating it felt the first time I realized that I could do something even if I felt afraid.  I could see that my belly felt tense, my heart was beating fast, my palms were sweating and yet I could still speak up or take a class or jump off the high-dive.  I was completely free.  Oftentimes the only sane response to fear is to ignore it.  (Of course there are times when we’re feeling appropriate fear because our survival is at stake, but I have no doubt that we’re all able to distinguish between that and just habitual fear coming from old stories.)

“And if you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head, it’s the standing still that should be terrifying you instead.” — Ben Folds Five

If we set the course of our days (and our weeks and our lives) when we’re clear, we can stick to it even if our emotional state changes.  We can hold to a deeper commitment and do what we know is in our best interest.

This doesn’t mean we should be emotionless robots.  Of course we want to feel the full-range of emotions.  It’s just that emotions no longer get the final word on what we choose.  They are one bit of information that we can take into account when appropriate and disregard when needed.

I don’t always want to meditate in the morning.  Sometimes the alarm goes off and my bed feels warmer and more comfortable than it’s ever felt.  But I’m giving the part of me that set the alarm the benefit of the doubt and getting up anyway.  Because I know that, for me, consistent meditation leads to greater clarity, ease, and creativity.

The paradox is that it feels good to be committed to something important – even when it doesn’t.


(Image source: Hamad AL-Mohannnan)

Getting in tune with fall

pumpkins for the fall


I leave today for a weekend in the Berkshires, studying with my mentor, acupuncturist Lonny Jarrett. It’s going to be absolutely beautiful up there this time of year. Fall is hands-down my favorite season.

Many people seem to love this time of year. For some, however fall means weakened immunity, sadness, and decreased energy. There’s no denying that the energy this time of year is lower and darker. There’s a beauty in that as well though, I think. As the trees start to lose their leaves and the day concedes to earlier evenings, we have an opportunity to let go of things that don’t serve us any longer. This could be as simple as clearing out our pantry or our closets. Or organizing our inbox. (That’s what I did last weekend!)

Or maybe it means starting or deepening a meditation practice. Or taking a look at patterns or habits that no longer serve us and deciding to let them go.

We want to carry into the depths of winter only that which is important. Winter is like a great incubator that will nourish our gifts and help them bloom in the spring. We don’t want a lot of crap getting in the way. Take advantage of the energy of the fall – all of nature is letting go and this can help us to let go too.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been in treatment and/or you find yourself struggling this time of year, it’s a great time for acupuncture. Treatment can help align you with the gifts of the season and make for a better winter and more vibrant spring.

After my weekend in Massachusetts, I’ll be traveling the rest of the week, so won’t be back in the office until Monday, October 22nd. You can book appointments for when I return using my online scheduler.


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