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This recent New York Times blog post on The Migraine Diet has obviously hit a nerve. It’s the most emailed article, and there are hundreds of comments.

The blogger writes about her own experience of migraines and of trying out a plan to heal herself that includes 1) stopping medications, 2) identifying and eliminating triggers that can be addressed, like food, alcohol, smoking, and 3) daily preventative measures, which I guess would include things like exercise.

A few comments were about success with acupuncture.  From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the connection between diet and headaches has been understood.  It’s fairly easy to see the connection for people who tend to get headaches when they are constipated, or overdue for a regular bowel movement.

Among acupressure/acupuncture points, the Hoku point is the one most often suggested for dealing with such a headache. It is on the Large Intestine meridian, which suggests an energetic connection with the Large Intestine organ.  So, if you suffer from a headache or migraine, try pressing/rubbing the Hoku point, which is described here. Also, when you are constipated, try this.

For a strong headache, you may need to hold the point for a while.  Make sure you do not overdo it; that is, that your other hand does not get tired from holding the point.  You can hold the point on both hands.  Hold for one or two minutes, take a break, then hold again.  If you can get someone else to hold them for you, that can be helpful, too.  And try acupuncture if you can.  It can address a point more powerfully than acupressure.

There’s no guarantee that this will address your headache, especially if there is something else triggering it or it’s a migraine.  Of course, you should see a medical professional for a serious condition.

Please note, Hoku is not safe for women who are pregnant. An alternative, which anyone can try, is to squeeze and massage the toes, and the rest of the foot. But especially the toes.  In reflexology, your toes are associated with your head.

The news of the recent loss of a colleague’s Father reminds me that in Chinese Medicine, the emotion of grief is associated with the lung meridian.

So, while only time can heal the pain of loss, filling your lungs deeply with the gift of breath can help during such a difficult time. 

Breathe in.  Breathe out. 
Breathe in.  Breathe out.
Breathe in.  Breathe out.

And celebrate your Mom or Dad.

Your breath is your friend.

In Chinese Medicine, the lungs are associated with Autumn, so this is a great time to focus on breathing.

Acu Point: Letting Go

Is your breath shallow? Are you holding your breath? Discomfort in your upper chest? Hold this point on the lung meridian–it’s a few fingers under your collarbone near the top of your upper arm bone–and Let Go. Take long deep and slow breaths. Learn more about this.

Meditation

Meditation can be a powerful source of health and wellness, for both body and spirit. Even when we don’t have the time or inclination for a full meditation “practice,” a few moments of deep breath and holding acupressure points can be calming and relaxing. Try this mini-meditation.

In Chinese Medicine, the end-of-summer “season” (as well as all the “end-of” seasons) is associated with the Earth Element. It’s the time when some things come to a close, while other things begin.

At such a time of transition, the Earth Element reminds us to be grounded; think about healthy roots that help weather the uncertainties of transitions. The Earth Element is also about being centered; after all, the earth is the center of the other elements: metal, water, wood and fire.

Here are some ideas to support you in being more grounded and centered at summer’s end, and on any day.

Natural Sweetness

Do you find yourself at times craving sweets more than usual? When I feel stressed or wanting some “comfort”, I’m mightily tempted to indulge in my favorite almond croissant. The flavor associated with the Earth Element is sweetness, so that sugar craving can signal a state of being uncentered. The problem is that sugar can add fuel to the fire, by throwing you off balance even more with spikes in blood sugar and energy. Consider some natural sweetness: add honey, instead of sugar, to sweeten your tea; treat yourself to the natural and healthier sweetness of dried dates.

Acu Point: Hara

This point is a couple of fingers’ width below your bellybutton. This is your “energy center”, the place from where you have greatest balance. If you have lots of thoughts and ideas flying around in your head, you might feel light, ungrounded. If you’re dragging your feet, heavy on the ground and sluggish, your energy needs some uplifting, to be centered. Next time you feel uncentered, take a seat with your feel on the floor, or stand with your weight evenly on both feet, and rest one or both hands gently on your belly, under your navel. Take a few long deep and slow breaths. Learn more about this.

Grounding Through Routine

In Chinese Medicine, routine is associated with the Earth element and the idea of “home”. Do you have a daily routine that feels “homey” to you? A daily morning walk, afternoon yoga practice, or bedtime reading… I talked about this earlier in terms of the benefits of routine for healthy travel, but consider that every day of your life is a journey.

Name: Inner Gate (Pericardium 6)

This point can be effective for relieving nausea and anxiety. You may be familiar with it because it’s the point used by those motion sickness wrist bands, which are also helpful foP6_pointr women experiencing nausea during pregnancy.

Location: On the inner forearm, about three fingers’ width from the wrist crease.

To hold: Gently cradle your wrist on the palm of the other hand, and lightly press the point with your thumb. You can experiment with the pressure, but a light pressure is usually effective.

P6demoBe sure to relax both arms and shoulders; you can place your hands on a table or your lap to be comfortable. Hold for 30 seconds or so initially, to see how it feels for you. For some people, the feeling of relief is immediate. For others, it can take a while; try 5 minutes. Release gently if you feel any acute pain.

I grew up in the Midwest, so I associate summer with hot sticky afternoons, melting ice cream cones and hearing the buzz of the cicadas at night. Now that I live in San Francisco, summer means I need to pull out my winter jacket to warm myself against the chilly fog that rolls in off the ocean.

But it’s all still summertime, the daylight hours are longer, and regardless of how hot or cool your summer experience is, it can be helpful to know that in Traditional Chinese Medicine, summertime is associated with the heart. So summer is a great time to think about things associated with the heart:

  • passions: dedicate yourself to your favorite hobby or sign up for that Spanish class you’ve been wanting to take for a long time
  • intuition: “follow your heart”
  • relationships: nurture your friendships and laugh with your friends and beloveds

Summer is also associated with the fire element, and the time to bask in the sun (with a good sunscreen lotion) and exercise and sweat. In other words, time to play and have fun.

Don’t forget to drink water to stay hydrated, and eat light, by enjoying the abundant summer fruits and veggies.

Ah, Spring Time. A time of new beginnings and of renewal.  

Movement is a theme of Spring and its associated Wood Element, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

redwoodImagine a sapling sending roots into the earth as it starts its journey of growth into a majestic redwood, or a grand leafy oak tree.  Movement.  Growth. Twisting and turning to keep moving toward the sun. 

Planning and vision–of the eyes and of the mind–are also woody qualities.  The emotions associated with this Element are frustration and anger.  This happens when things don’t go the way you planned; the way you envisioned.  How can you grow around the obstacle?  Find your way through a block?

It’s a time to dance and flex those joints.  Wear something green .  Try something new.

  • What is new for you this spring? 
  • What can be refreshed with a renewed perspective? 

A month ago, I talked with a man in my building who complained about many months of feeling poorly. A couple of hours after eating, he would get a stomache and then a headache. It didn’t matter what he ate. This would always happen.

I was not surprised to hear that he got both a stomache AND a headache, because in Traditional Chinese Medicine, issues with digestion and headaches are connected. I told this man that I practice acupressure and showed him the HOKU acupressure point, which is on the Large Intestine meridian. He said he felt immediately relaxation and a decrease in his headache.

Yesterday, I ran into him again and he looked great. Apparently a Chinese herbalist had turned him onto Po Chai Pills, which I just researched and learned is an herbal blend in small pill size that address symptoms of indigestion, diarrhea, vomiting… While my neighbor’s pills were the “original” brand from Hong Kong, it seems that po chai pill may be a generally used name for herbal supplement remedies for stomachaches.

His stomachache swent away, and so did his headaches. He carries a vial of Po Chai in his shirt pocket.

So, next time you have a headache, pay attention and see if your stomach is upset. Did you eat something unusual? Or does a regular headache correlate to a regular digestive discomfort?

I’m not trained in herbs, so I encourage you to check with a trained practitioner, if you are considering adding them to your own Healthy Intentions Toolkit.

Warning: Do not use this point on pregnant women.


Name: Hoku or Joining of the Valleys (Large Intestine 4)LI4 point

Location: On the top of the hand, on the web where the thumb and the index finger meet. (See the red dot on the hand in the photo.)LI4 demo1
To hold: Squeeze the point by putting your thumb on the point, and your index finger on the palm side of your hand. Make small circular motions with your thumb until you feel the point; it is tender on many people.LI4 demo2Make sure that the hand that is holding the point is relaxed. The demo photo above shows you how to hold the point, but the hands are a little tense; the second photo, on the right, shows you the hands relaxed, which is how you want to do it.

Hold for 10 or 15 seconds initially, until you figure out what works for you. You can hold for a few minutes, but make sure that the holding hand does not get tense or tired out. Release gently if you feel any acute pain.

This is a wonderful point. It is effective for relieving so many discomforts, including headaches, constipation, insomnia, stress, shoulder and neck tension.

You are encouraged you to seek the advice of a qualified health care provider for questions about a medical condition.

Spring is coming.  You feel like doing something new, like learning some acupressure, right? 

Well, there are only 365 “official” points…

acupressure’s potent pointsFortunately, Michael Gach’s excellent book, Acupressure’s Potent Points: A Guide to Self-Care for Common Ailments, focuses on a handful of points that are especially effective.   (By the way, Michael is the founder of the Acupressure Institute–where I have studied–in Berkeley, California.)

I always recommend this book to my students as a useful reference book to review information that we cover in classes, and to learn self-acupressure techniques for other discomforts.

The book includes an introduction to acupressure–its history and how it works–then is followed by 42 chapters that each cover common ailments, including allergies, constipation, insomnia, and sinus problems.  Each chapter includes:

  • real-life stories from Michael Gach about success with acupressure in addressing the ailment
  • photos, charts and descriptions of each point and its effectiveness
  • step-by-step exercise instructions