In order to maximize the impact of acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment, it is important to make sure that you are making good choices when it comes to the foods you eat and your other habits. Chinese medicine doctors refer to diet, exercise, and relaxation as “The Three Free Therapies”. If you are concerned about the expense of your acupuncture and herbal treatment, you can stretch your health care dollar by implementing the strategies below. If you build a good foundation at home, your acupuncturist’s treatment will be more effective over a shorter period of time.

1.  Exercise

At your first appointment you will receive a handout called The Five Minute Daily Energy Routine. The #1 most important thing that you can do to ensure that you make the fastest possible progress and require the fewest acupuncture treatments is doing this routine every day. These exercises are not hard — many of them can be integrated into your bathing and dressing routine and others can be performed unobtrusively while you are sitting in a meeting or waiting in line.

Modern conveniences such as electricity, computers, and wireless technology, as well as our relatively sedentary and indoor work and recreation habits can have the effect of scrambling the electrical energies that govern the normal functioning of our bodies and our minds. This can result in fatigue, pain, irritability, depression, hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, susceptibility to infections, learning disabilities, and many, many other conditions that have become commonplace. The Five Minute Daily Energy Routine will correct these scrambled energies and immediately make you feel more relaxed, cheerful, and focused.

The routine will also help bridge the gap between acupuncture treatments and will ensure that your body is receptive to acupuncture and that results from your acupuncture sessions build from one session to the next, as opposed to your acupuncture treatments being used mainly to undo the stresses of the week rather than address your primary complaint.

In addition to the Five Minute Routine gentle exercises such as walking, swimming, tai chi, qigong, and yoga are great complements to an acupuncture treatment program. Starting an exercise program doesn’t have to take a lot of time and it doesn’t have to involve buying new clothes or shoes or joining a gym.

The goal is adopting habits that you will realistically be able to maintain over the long term, rather than leaping into an intense program and then burning out within a few weeks. I strongly recommend the DVD Seven Minutes of Magic by Lee Holden. This DVD includes three seven-minute Qi Gong routines that can be done in your living room in your regular clothes. It is particularly good for individuals in pain and/or for people who haven’t exercised in years. The DVD is available for purchase at my office or through Lee’s website.

Other good exercise options include brisk walking or swimming (swimming is not good if you suffer from significant yang deficiency).  Yoga is also very good – especially for those individuals suffering from significant stagnation. Yin deficient individuals should make a point to avoid activities that cause a lot of sweating (e.g. heavy aerobic exercise or hot yoga). Focus on deep abdominal breathing while you exercise – the Lungs provide the motive force for moving Qi all over the body. Deep breathing will circulate Qi, will build Qi, and will resolve stagnation.

2.  Diet

“Those who take medicine and neglect their diet waste the skill of the physician.” – Chinese Proverb

The Chinese view digestion and absorption as a process that takes place in a pot (the Stomach) sitting over a flame (the Spleen Qi). The contents of the pot (your meals) have to be warmed to 100 degrees in order for the “clear Qi” to distilled off and transformed into Qi and Blood and the “turbid Qi” sent down to the intestine and eventually excreted.

If you are constantly consuming cold foods and drinks, the Spleen has to work very hard to warm the contents of your Stomach to the point that nutrients can be extracted. Eventually, this leads to Spleen Qi and yang deficiency, which eventually leads to dampness.  A weak Spleen does not hold the Liver in check and Liver Qi stagnation is the result.

Pathology of the Spleen and the Liver are at the root of most American’s health concerns, so proper diet is critical for preventing and/or treating these issues. To read more about the dietary recommendations that are specific to your particular diagnosis, please click here.

General Diet Guidelines for Everyone

  • Your meals should leave you feeling satisfied for at least 2-3 hours and you should not spend an inordinate amount of time between meals thinking about food.  If you find yourself thinking about food all the time or fighting cravings, try including more healthy fats in your diet, such as full-fat dairy products, coconut oil, olive oil, or nuts.
  • If you have weight to lose, try to eat three meals a day on a consistent schedule without any snacking in between.   This practice will help you to relearn the sensations of hunger and fullness and will give your digestive system a valuable rest between meals.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – studies consistently show that it is nearly impossible to maintain a healthy weight or a positive outlook if you don’t eat breakfast.
  • Meals should be prepared deliberately and thoughtfully, and should be eaten in an environment that is relaxed. You should avoid eating when you are feeling strong emotions or when you are rushed. It is best not to eat while performing other activities such as reading, watching TV, holding an intense conversation or arguing.
  • Chew your food thoroughly.
  • Choose whole, minimally processed foods as often as possible. Organically grown and minimally processed foods have more Qi and are more nourishing than conventionally produced and processed foods.  Locally-produced foods and in-season vegetables and fruits are ideal.
  • Minimize iced drinks and cold or frozen foods. Drink a small cup of warm water, tea, or broth with meals.

3.  Relaxation

Man Relaxing

Daily deep relaxation is also key for optimal health.

According to Chinese medicine, Liver Qi stagnation is caused by “unfulfilled desires”.  Our desires are “unfilled” every time we don’t get what we want, every time we suppress an impulse, and every time we don’t say exactly what we think or feel (i.e. dozens of times each day).

Young children generally do not suffer adverse consequences of unfilled desires because they say what they think, they follow their impulses, and they discharge the intensity of their frustration when they don’t get what they want.

Think of a two or three year old child — if he is frustrated or angry he cries, shouts, screams, or lays down on the floor and throws a temper tantrum.  In contrast, adults in civilized society are expected to suppress many strong emotions.  Our emotions are not any less intense than those of small children, but most of us become so good at suppressing them that we don’t even recognize that we are doing it dozens of times a day.

According to Chinese medicine, when our desires are unfulfilled, the Liver Qi becomes stagnant.  As stagnated Qi collects in the Liver, it becomes hot like steam compressed in a pressure cooker.  All that hot, stagnant Qi has to go somewhere, so when there is just a little more frustration or stress the Liver vents itself in the form of angry outbursts and nasty words, migraine headaches, muscle spasms, an increase in blood pressure, digestive discomfort, insomnia, anxiety, or many other symptoms or problems that modern medicine has come to associate with stress.

As a member of adult society, you need to identify a means of discharging the energy associated with stress and frustration that does not adversely affect other people. Unlike a two-year-old, you cannot throw a temper tantrum or tell your boss (or your spouse or your child) exactly what you think of him or her. Some options to consider include:

  • Writing out your frustrations or angry thoughts on a piece of paper and then burning it or putting it through a shredder.
  • Speaking aloud to yourself all of the things that you’d like to say to others but cannot (alone in your car is a good time to do this).
  • Exercising intensely and working up a sweat.
  • Punching a punching bag.
  • Kicking an empty cardboard box around your garage.
  • Yelling into your pillow.
  • Going to the range and shooting a firearm (safely, of course).
  • Listening to loud music.
  • Keeping a journal.
  • Writing an email to the person you’re frustrated with or angry at and then sending to a trusted friend or yourself (or deleting it).
  • Going to confession (most Catholic churches list the days and times that a priest is available for confession on their website — this option is open to you even if you are not Catholic)

In addition to venting your frustration, anger, and stress in a non-destructive way, daily deep relaxation is key for the long-term treatment of Liver Qi stagnation.  Yin deficiency is another disharmony that benefits from relaxation.  In order to experience the health benefits of deep relaxation, you must consistently set aside time on a daily basis to do it.

Guided progressive relaxation CDs are a good option. My favorite CD is Meditation for Health and Healing by Lee Holden (this CD is available for purchase in my office or on Lee’s website, where you can listen to an audio sample). Other great options include the Headspace app, any form of meditation, contemplative prayer, or using prayer beads (such as the rosary or Jesus Prayer beads).

Prayer beads can be particularly helpful for relaxation if they are used in synchronization with the breath. For instance, using Jesus Prayer beads, inhale while saying: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.”.  Rest slightly at “Son of God” before breathing out and saying: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Click here or here to purchase beautiful, heirloom rosaries or Jesus Prayer beads (also called chotkis). Click here to learn more about the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of the Jesus Prayer.  Click here to learn to pray the rosary.

A meditative state can also be achieved by activities such as knitting, walking, or drawing. The main thing is to choose a relaxing activity that feels right to you.

Deep relaxation and meditative prayer is a skill that must be learned.  With consistent practice, you will gain the ability to relax, even under difficult or stressful circumstances. For more information on this topic, please see this excellent article: The Five Best Complements to Acupuncture