Over the past few weeks I have been looking at the books and notes I have gathered over the years on the best lifestyle changes that will support acupuncture and tuina treatment. I want to share some general information so that clients can refer to this post for a deeper understanding of how to support acupuncture and tuina treatment as well as understand the logic behind my recommendations.
As I have mentioned before, it is important that you are not taking two steps forward with your acupuncture treatment, and two steps backward with your lifestyle in between appointments (see here). Anything that you can do in your own time to move things forward will contribute to the overall benefits of your time with me, and may reduce the number of appointments required.
The following advice is appropriate to everyone, but I always give clients at my Bristol clinic additional suggestions tailored to their individual needs. So, let’s start with a look at the key areas of relaxation, diet, exercise and sleep.
Relax More to Support Acupuncture Treatment
Relaxation is key in many of the conditions that I see in my Bristol clinic. It can help people suffering from Blood deficiency (dizziness, scanty periods, insomnia, anxiety), people suffering from Blood stagnation (painful periods, irregular periods, abdominal pain), people suffering from Qi deficiency (tiredness, loose stools, abnormal appetite, weak limbs, overthinking & worry) and people suffering from Qi stagnation (depression, anger, abdominal bloating, irregular periods).
You could start by incorporating a 10 minute rest period somewhere in your daily routine, and if 10 minutes feels like too much then perhaps just aim for 3 minutes. Now, when I say rest, I don’t mean lying in bed watching TV, scrolling on a phone, or using a laptop. I mean doing as little as humanely possible.
If you have ever had an interest in meditation and mindfulness then now is the time to give it a go. Alternatively, you could simply focus on drinking a cup of your favourite herbal tea in the sunshine.
This relaxation could extend to mealtimes too when, rather than eating on the go or in front of a TV, you could take the time to focus on your food, chewing it well and eating slowly.
Here are 3 options that I would like to suggest for your relaxation time…
Relax by Listening to a Guided Meditation
Many people may be aware of the various apps offering guided meditations for listeners. Headspace is perhaps the best known of these, and many clients have mentioned finding it helpful. I have never used Headspace but am familiar with the Plum Village Mindfulness App which is a free resource created by the Buddhist monks and nuns at Plum Village in France.
Once you download the app to your phone, you will be able to download any number of guided meditations that you can listen to when you want to relax.
Relax and Take Some Time to Unroll your Back
After a lifetime hunched in front of computers and phones, it is no wonder that many people nowadays suffer from back issues that contribute to their health problems. In order to counteract this, you could use your relaxation time to unroll your neck over a rolled up towel.
- Take a small towel and roll it up so that it is about the width of your fist.
- Lie flat on the floor and bend your knees as you place your towel at the base of your neck (vertebra T1).
- Lie back on the towel, place your hands by your side, and gently lower your legs onto the floor.
- Stay here for 2-5 minutes, pulling your chin in to help the stretch as needed.
- To come up, gently roll to the side and slowly come up to sitting.
If you have lower back problems, you can use this same method but place the rolled up towel under your bottom:
- Take a small towel and roll it up so that it is about the width of your fist.
- Lie flat on the floor, bend your knees, and lift your lower back so that you can place the towel under your bottom (make sure it is under your sacrum not your lumbar spine)
- Lower your sacrum down onto the towel and gently straighten your legs by pushing your heels away along the floor (lifting your legs will put strain on the lower back).
- Completely let go of any holding and allow your lower back to relax (the more you can relax the greater the opening in your lower back). You should feel an agreeable discomfort but it should not be agony.
- After 1-3 minutes, slowly bend your knees and gently lift your bottom off the towel so that you can remove it and then lower yourself back to a lying position
- Finish by gently hugging your knees to your stomach for 1 minute.
Relax by Practising some Gentle Qigong Exercises
Qigong is a wonderful way to incorporate more relaxation into your daily routine. Qigong exercises absorb the mind in a meditative way that leaves people feeling both relaxed and energised at the same time.
In order to really focus on the relaxing aspect of this practice I would suggest that you practise exercises like the Chest Daoyin and the Closing Daoyin. To learn how to perform these exercises you would really need to join a class.
Exercise to Support Acupuncture Treatment
Getting your body moving is another key to supporting many of the conditions that I see in my clinic.
People with Blood deficiency (dizziness, scanty periods, insomnia, anxiety) or Qi deficiency (tiredness, loose stools, abnormal appetite, weak limbs, overthinking & worry) would benefit from reducing intense physical exercise, and focusing instead on more gentle movement. People with Qi Stagnation (depression, anger, abdominal bloating, irregular periods) or Blood Stagnation (painful periods, irregular periods, abdominal pain) would benefit from getting their body gently moving each day.
Regular gentle exercise stimulates the circulation of Qi and Blood and keeps your sinews supple.
Internal Exercise rather than External Exercise
When choosing what type of exercise to practise, it is important to differentiate between ‘external exercise’ and ‘internal exercise’.
External exercise is what most people think of when they talk about exercise. These are exercises aimed at developing your muscles, and most common forms of exercise fall into this category. Internal exercise, on the other hand, is aimed at strengthening your body’s vital energy and massaging your internal organs through the coordination of body posture, breath and mind.
Tai Chi is a well known example of internal exercise. It is gentle yet powerful, exercises all of your muscles and sinews, makes your tendons supple, develops your vital energy, massages your internal organs and quietens your mind. Qigong is a simplified form of Tai Chi which makes this way of exercising more accessible and focuses more on the health giving side of the practice.
To learn these exercises I recommend joining a class as there are many subtleties in the breath work and mental focus that cannot be transmitted through a video. Also, it is important to get individual correction for any postural imbalances you may have.
Some Exercises to Avoid
Any form of external exercise will be beneficial in terms of getting your body moving, but is unlikely to benefit your acupuncture treatment as much as Tai Chi and Qigong.
Now, what I’m about to say might be controversial, but there are also some specific exercises that I advise people to avoid.
I would advise against:
- Jogging (especially for women trying to conceive, as it weakens Spleen energy, puts strain on the spine and knees, and may contribute to pain in the knees or lower back)
- Weightlifting (as excessive lifting weakens the Kidney energy and can lead to injury of the lower back)
- Squash (as it is likely to generate nervous tension in already tense people)
- Aerobics exercises (as they exhaust Blood and can lead to injury of the back in weak people)
Of course, not everyone will experience these problems, but this will come down to each person’s individual constitution. Why not try walking or cycling instead? Although, I would advise against cycling for men where semen quality is affecting fertility. Swimming can be great too, but should be avoided if you have issues with Cold (feeling excessively cold, nausea, pain alleviated by warmth, period pain) or problems with Damp (heavy limbs, muzzy head, vaginal discharge).
Improve your Eating Habits to Support Acupuncture Treatment
In Chinese medicine we classify food according to its energetic effect on your body as well as its nutritive value. This means that some foods are classified as warming or cooling, while others are seen as nourishing or dispersing.
For example, a daily breakfast of banana in yoghurt has the same raw nutritional value to everyone who eats it, but in Chinese medicine we would say that it isn’t recommended for people suffering from Damp (heavy limbs, muzzy head, vaginal discharge), but could be recommended for people suffering from Yin deficiency (insomnia, feeling hot and bothered, dry mouth).
You can hopefully see from this how food might help or hinder the changes that you are hoping to see through acupuncture treatment. Again, if you are taking two steps forward in terms of treatment, but two steps backward in terms of your diet, you will simply end up standing still.
Aside from eating nourishing and healthy foods, you should pay attention to whether the food you are eating conforms with any imbalances you may have. This can be a complex area to understand, and so I will always offer my clients advice tailored to their needs. A good place to start, however, is in adopting habits that support your body’s ability to extract maximum value from the food you eat.
Some habits to work on are…
Relax and Enjoy Your Food
Your digestion will work much better if you can focus fully on the plate of food in front of you.
This means not watching TV, not scrolling on a phone, not tapping away at a laptop, not eating on the run, not carrying on with work, and not arguing with family members.
Use this time to fully appreciate the flavours in each mouthful, and to find joy in the process of nourishing your body – eat slowly and chew your food well (challenge yourself to chew each mouthful 40 times).
Try to be aware of the impact that strong emotions have on your digestion. If you find it hard to regulate your emotions, you might consider listening to guided meditations or practicing Qigong.
Stop Eating Before You Feel Full
If you overeat at each meal, you may end up creating a backlog of food waiting to be processed.
This means that your digestive energy is then taken up processing all of this excess food. Over time this energy may become weakened, leading to excess production of Damp (heavy limbs, muzzy head, vaginal discharge, weight gain) or Heat (stomach pain, constant hunger, heartburn, nausea, constipation).
Develop Regular Eating Patterns & Avoid Large Meals Late at Night
It is important to eat at regular times as this is most supportive to the natural rhythm of your digestive energies.
If you are constantly calling on these energies at all times of day and night, you will weaken them and they will not be able to do a proper job of digesting all of the food you put in. For the same reason, try to avoid too much snacking as this places constant pressure on your digestive energies to perform.
Eating late at night is another way to put excess strain on your digestive system which naturally slows down at this time. Once again, food may sit around for longer than is desirable leading to problems with Damp or Heat, and damaging the important Yin and Yang balance of your digestive system.
Don’t Flood Your Food
It is best not to take in too much fluid with your food as this will weaken your digestion.
If you do need a drink with your food, try not to have more than a small glass full and stick to just water (ideally filtered). Then, aim to get the majority of your fluid intake between meals.
Avoid drinking too many cold drinks as these will weaken your digestion. Remember that tea and coffee are both diuretics and so will, in fact, deprive your body of fluids. Also, alcohol is likely to Heat your Liver (irritability, anger, headaches) unless taken in suitably small quantities.
Sleep More to Support Acupuncture Treatment
In general, our Qi is used up over the course of the day and then restored by eating well and sleeping.
If you go for a few days without adequate sleep and nutrition, it will be fairly easy for your body to recover from the strain. If, however, you keep this up over the course of months or years, it is likely that you will start to call on reserves which will eventually lead to a Yin deficiency (tiredness, overheating, night sweats, dizziness, infertility, anxiety, depression).
Once you get to this point, your body will only be replenished gradually over a long period of time and an important part of this will be getting more sleep. In general, I would advise that most people try to get at least two early nights a week.
If you are having trouble getting to sleep, you can try some of the following ideas:
- Run yourself a nice hot bath before bed and fill it with Epsom Salts to help you unwind.
- Add some Bach Rescue Night drops to your bedtime routine.
- Add a nice cup of Celestial Seasoning sleep tea to your bedtime routine.
- Mix 2-3 drops of Valerian Essential Oil into a small amount of Almond Oil and rub in on your chest before going to bed (or add pure Essential Oil to your bath).
- Think about taking a Magnesium supplement to support your sleep.
It’s also important to work on your sleep hygiene with the following…
Embrace Morning Light
- Spend at least twenty minutes outside every morning – perhaps have your morning tea/coffee in the garden or next to a window.
- If you drive to work, park a little farther away from your destination so that you can have a ten-minute walk.
- If you take the bus, get off a couple of stops before your destination so that you can walk.
- If you work at home, take a morning break and go for a short walk outside.
Drink Caffeine Before Noon
- Make sure any caffeine you consume is taken before lunchtime.
- This includes soft drinks like Coca Cola.
Create a Dark Environment in your Bedroom
- Fit blackout blinds
- Keep your bedroom free of televisions and other devices.
- Unplug anything that emits even the slightest light.
- Set up your phones and tablets to reduce blue light at night.
- Wear amber glasses in the evening as these will work better than the apps. (Swanwick is a well-known brand)
- Use a red light for reading in your bedroom (an LED candle can provide a nice calming light source).
- Use a red light (such as an LED candle) in your bathroom before bed – much better than the glaring lights we usually put up with.
Manage your Commotion
- Avoid activities that will raise emotional tension before bed.
- Avoid watching the news or exciting TV programs.
- Avoid discussing stressful matters before bed.
- Avoid checking work emails before bed.
- Add relaxing exercises such as qigong or yoga into your bedtime routine.
- Add some meditation exercises into your bedtime routine.
Create a Bedtime Routine
- If you watch TV in the evening, make sure it is relaxing.
- Turn your TV off at least 30 minutes before going to bed, and avoid watching anything too exciting or scary (including the news!).
- Switch your phones and laptops off before you go to bed (or at least put your phone on silent mode and aeroplane mode).
- Set an alarm to prompt yourself to start your bedtime routine.
- Do something calming like washing the dishes or watering the garden.
- Set your WiFi router to turn off at a certain time.
- After getting washed is a great time to do a little stretching and relaxation – you could practise any meditation techniques that you are familiar with, listen to a guided meditation on the Plum Village Mindfulness App, unroll your neck or lower back over a rolled up towel, or do some gentle stretching. Find something that works for you, and keep it small so that you aren’t put off getting started.
In conclusion, I would just like to wish you all the best of luck with implementing some of the changes suggested in this article.
If you can find a few easy wins that fit well into your current lifestyle then those would be an excellent place to start.
Changing habits is not an easy thing to do, but if you persevere I am sure that within a matter of weeks you will start to benefit from the changes you have made.