Monday, March 18, 2013

The Amazing, Extraordinary, Unused Power of BITTERS - Just In Time for Spring

Every natural medicine in the world recognizes that the flavor of the food we eat not only provides a variation in taste, but has specific therapeutic actions that allow all of our food, each time we eat, to be a form of medicine to us.  This actually happens whether or not we intend it.

When we eat a flavor in moderation, we allow great benefits to be presented to the cells of our body. This creates the opportunity for abundance and optimal health.

TOO LITTLE: When we eat a flavor in deficiency (too little), there are amazing and wonderful substances that our body needs but we don’t get them and we create a state of deficiency in our body.

Also, when we eat a flavor in excess (too much), we cause other conditions of excess within ourselves and we can clog things up and accumulate masses of stuff.
In the Five Element Nutrition of Chinese Medicine, the 5 Flavors and their actions when used in moderation are:

·         Pungent – disperses, increases circulation, warms
·         Sweet – tonifies and moistens
·         Sour – astringes, promotes digestion
·         Bitter – resolves damp, dries, detoxifies
·         Salty – softens hard masses, affects body fluids

In the U.S., we tend to be a society of excess, and particularly we massively overuse the flavors of Sweet and Salty, while grossly underusing the flavors of Sour and especially Bitter.

Right now, as we approach the season of Spring, we are coming out of Winter when we normally eat food that is richer and heavier.  At this time our bodies want (and need) to detoxify, clean out – do a little Spring Cleaning on ourselves.

BITTERS is an excellent addition to our diet right now, from March through the end of May.

I have been playing around with varieties of the Bitter flavor, and I found an herbal product that I really love, Bitters in tincture form from Urban Moonshine, a very cool herbal company in Vermont.  To use them, add about ½ to 1 dropper to a small glass of water and drink it either 15 minutes before or after a meal.

Here’s a link to a really informative on-line free lecture on the Benefits of Bitters from Urban Moonshine master herbalist, Guido Mase:

My best tip for Spring – bring some Bitters into your life and enjoy the benefits of gently detoxifying your beautiful mind-body-spirit!  I’d love to hear back on how your digestive health changes from using them.

To our abundant health,

Cynthia McMullen
Instructor: Five Element Nutrition
Alaska Institute of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture & Massage Therapy

Monday, March 11, 2013



Qigong is a powerful system of healing and energy medicine from China. It is the art and science of using breathing techniques, gentle movement, and meditation to cleanse, strengthen, and circulate the life energy. The word Qigong is made up of two Chinese words. Qi is usually translated to mean the life force or vital-energy that flows through all things in the universe. The second word, Gong, means accomplishment, or skill that is cultivated through steady practice. Together, Qigong means cultivating energy, it is a system practiced for health maintenance, healing, increased vitality, and a tranquil state of mind.

The documented history of qigong goes back approximately 2,500 years. Chinese archaeologists and historians have found references to qigong like techniques that date back at least 5,000 years. 

There are many different qigong’s, you can learn how to grow and move the Qi in your body to help heal organs and disease. You can learn how to project your Qi to help heal other people. There are qigong’s for high blood pressure, weight loss, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, boosting your immune system, and the list goes on! When I was in school we practiced qigong or tai chi every day twice a day. I experience many benefits from this practice, from my own emotional and spiritual healing, to strengthening my body, and such an increase of energy that on the days where I would go to school all day then go to work until 4am I felt better and had more energy then on the days where I slept in and only went to work!

Qigong is highly effective as a stress management tool, decreasing daily stress, boosting the immune system, improving balance, helping the cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure, increasing strength, flexibility and balance by bringing Qi to the muscles, bones and tendons. 

Qigong is generally a safe practice. For people that are very weak or may not be able to stand there are seated qigong’s that can be practiced. It is best to learn qigong from a qualified qigong practitioner. 

Towards the end of school we all had individual Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment plans based on each of our own individual issues and needs. Part of the treatment plan was that we had 3 qigong’s that we did that benefited our individual issues. Different qigong’s help move the energy along the different meridians in the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the theory is that the body contains meridians, these meridians are pathways in the body which the Qi flows through. It flows through every body part, tissue, and organ.

The first of my qigong’s was the microcosmic orbit meditation. It raises the energies contained in the lower energy centers and cause them to rise up into the higher energy centers in the heart, brain, and crown. By doing so it helps to transform and refine the energies both of our physical body and consciousness, resulting in improved physical health, greater mental and emotional balance, and for those that wish, access to deeper levels of awareness and spiritual insight. I found this qigong meditation to be very relaxing and would also do it before I went to bed to help quiet my mind. 

My second qigong was joining fire and water. Water (lower dan tian) represents the kidneys (will power and core energy) and fire (your passion, your fire, your spark) the heart. This qigong is good for depression, low energy, and anxiety. I did this qigong because I had some stagnation in my lower dan tien and my kidney Qi was not rising to my heart center very strongly, I also had some things happen in my past that caused by heart center to close up, this was a great qigong for moving the energy between the kidneys and heart.  

My third qigong was gaze of the tiger. One of the meridians this qigong works is the pericardium, the pericardium is the heart protector. This is one of my favorite qigong’s, I find that while I’m doing this qigong I go into a very meditative state, I feel very peaceful and content. 

Qigong was one of my favorite practices I learned while going to school, although I really loved everything I learned! It was funny, some days you’d get to school and think “man, I don’t feel like doing qigong today”, by the time we got done you’d always be so glad you did it! If you were kind of grumpy or sleepy you would feel happy and energized afterwards. And it was amazing how the energy in the room would change after doing qigong!



Cupping therapy is the method of using glass or plastic cups to create localized pressure by a vacuum. Cupping refers to an ancient Chinese practice in which a cup is applied to the skin and the pressure in the cup is reduced by using change in heat or by suctioning out air so that the skin and superficial muscle layer is drawn into and held in the cup. Cupping therapy has been found in ancient records dating back 3,500 years and is still used today by many alternative medicine practitioners. Nowadays, cupping sets use suction to create the vacuum. The vacuum inside the cups causes the blood to form in the area and help the healing in that area.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the theory is that the body contains meridians, these meridians are pathways in the body which the Qi (energy of life) flows through. It flows through every body part, tissue, and organ. Cupping therapy is mainly performed on the back because there are five main points on one of the meridians on your back. When meridians are opened, the internal energy is able to flow through the whole body.

Another healing aspect of cupping therapy is through the release of toxins in your body. The suction from the cups can penetrate deep into your tissues causing the tissues to release harmful toxins. It triggers the lymphatic system, clears blood vessels, and stretches and activates the skin. 

Generally the cup is left in place for about 10 minutes. The skin becomes reddened due to the congestion of blood flow. The cup is then removed. Some bruising along the site is expected. In some cases, the cup may be moved while the suction of skin is active causing a regional pulling of the skin and muscle, this technique is called gliding cupping. 

Contraindications for cupping include areas of skin that are inflamed, cases of high fever, convulsions or cramping, easy bleeding (pathological level of low platelets), abdominal area or lower back during pregnancy, movement across bony ridges such as the spine, and I would also refer to contraindications of acupressure/acupuncture points.

Some of the various diseases and disorders that cupping can benefit are respiratory diseases, digestive diseases, pain syndromes, gynecological disorders, common cold, insomnia, head pain, frozen shoulder, acne, and acute diseases. These are just of the few things that cupping can benefit! 

While learning about traditional Chinese medicine in school we learned about cupping and practiced it on each other. I received cupping on myself a number of times, one of the most powerful experiences I had was when I was recovering from a cold and still had a cough that wouldn’t go away, I had also just had someone close to me pass away. The emotion of the lungs according to Traditional Chinese medicine is grief, so needless to say I had a lot going on in my lungs. The bladder meridian runs down your back on each side of your spine, on this meridian there are shu points for each organ. Cupping is very effective on these points. In my experience cupping does not hurt, but can be a little intense at times. As I laid down to receive cupping on my Lung Shu points (BL13) it felt really tight and I could feel energy (qi) rushing to this area. I continued to breath through it and within a few minutes I felt a release. Like I said it was intense until that point but then I was completely relaxed. Cupping this point helps tonify and spreads and descends the Lung Qi, it nourishes the Lung Yin, clears heat from the lungs, releases the exterior, opens the channel and alleviates pain. Lung Qi deficiency may derive from constitutional deficiency, previous Long disease, chronic illness, extreme sadness and grief, excessive desk work, excessive physical labor or lack of exercise. 

I had to work that night and I felt wonderful, I didn’t have any coughing attacks and I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I don’t mind the bruising that occurs with cupping because the amazing healing that takes place is so amazing. 

I plan on adding cupping into my own practice. As long as you are mindful of the contraindications it is a very safe and effective form of therapy!


The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that help move and stabilize the shoulder joint. Damage to any one of the four muscles or their tendons that attach the muscle to bone can occur because of acute injury, chronic overuse, or gradual aging. This can cause significant pain and disability with range of motion or use of the shoulder joint.

The shoulder is a ball-socket joint that allows the arm to move in many directions. It is made up of the humeral head (the upper end of the bone of the upper arm) fitting into the glenoid fossa of the scapula (shoulder blade). The humeral head is kept in place by the joint capsule and labrum, thick bands of cartilage that form an elongated cone where the humeral head fits. The rotator cuff muscles are the dynamic stabilizers and movers of the shoulder joint and adjust the position of the humeral head and scapula during shoulder movement.

Along with rotator cuff injuries there are other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to rotator cuff injuries.

Bursitis - inflammation or irritation of the bursa. The bursa is a sac filled with lubricating fluid, located between tissues such as bone, muscle, tendons, and skin, that decreases rubbing, friction, and irritation.

Impingement - When you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the acromion and rotator cuff narrows. The acromion can rub against (or "impinge" on) the tendon and the bursa, causing irritation and pain.

Shoulder or acromioclavicular arthritis - AC arthritis is the result of repeated movements that wear away the cartilage surface found at the acromioclavicular joint.

Frozen shoulder - The shoulder capsule thickens and becomes tight. Stiff bands of tissue called adhesions develop. In many cases, there is less synovial fluid in the joint. 

Symptoms include pain and spasm that limit range of motion in the shoulder, weakness, the larger the tear or damage to the tendons the harder it is to move your arm and the injured area, and sharp twinges and painful catches in the shoulder during arm elevation. 

Some of the different treatments from a Western point of view are icing, using anti-inflammatory medication which should be taken with caution especially if there is any underlying stomach, liver, or kidney problems, physical therapy and range of motion exercises, steroid injections into the shoulder joint, and surgical repair.

Shoulder pain is described in Traditional Chinese Medicine as stagnation or obstruction of the flow of qi (energy) and blood in the tendons and muscles of the Large Intestine, Small Intestine, and Internal Membrane acupuncture zones or meridians. Treatment is aimed at stopping pain, decreasing inflammation, and restoring range of motion and strength by moving qi and blood, clearing heat and obstruction, and draining dampness from the shoulder region. 

Cupping, gua sha, acupuncture, and acupressure or deep tissue massage are most helpful. Treatment is generally 6-10 weeks with patients coming in once or twice a week depending on the severity of the injury. 

Acupuncture works by increasing the circulation to the area and decreasing inflammation in the tendons. It also reduces pain and inflammation through regulating neural pain pathways, stimulating the release of natural pain relieves in the body, such as opioids, as well as regulating pain relieving opioid receptors. 

Chinese herbs can also be used to help rectify the qi and blood flow.

Massage techniques for the shoulder girdle will help increase blood circulation to the area, which also increases oxygen and nutrient flow which will encourage healing. Getting massage on a regular basis will help facilitate healing. 

Tuina acupressure massage is a bodywork therapy that has been used in China for over 2,000 years. Tuina uses the traditional Chinese medical theory of the flow of qi through the meridians. Through application of massage and manipulation techniques Tuina seeks to establish a more harmonious flow of qi through the system of channels and collaterals, allowing the body to naturally heal itself. One of Tuina’s advantages over simple massage is its ability to focus on specific problems, especially chronic pain associated with muscles, joints, and the skeletal system. It’s especially effective for joint pain, sciatica, muscle spasms, and pain in the back, neck, and shoulders. Tuina does not simply work on the muscles, bones, and joints. It works with the energy of the body at a deeper level!

I also want to add to this blog a little information on essential oils. Whether you are browsing this because you have a rotator cuff injury or you are a therapist looking for information on rotator cuff injuries, essential oils can also be a very effective addition to therapy. There are a number of essential oils that help relieve pain, relieve inflammation, and help circulation that can be applied to the shoulder and other parts of the body to assist in healing. Be sure to consult with someone who is trained in essential oils because there are contraindications for certain oils. I will list some essential oils that could be beneficial in massage for rotator cuff injuries! 

Lavender - Helpful in relieving pain and inflammation. Treats muscle spasm, strains and sprains, cramps, contracture, and rheumatic pain.
Peppermint - Relaxes tense muscles, helps relieve tension headaches, relieves sore muscles and for general aches and pains. Increases white blood count, activates lymph flow and relieves blockage. 
Chamomile - Is a highly effective anti-inflammatory, and good for muscle pain and low back pain. German Chamomile  relieves pain and swelling from soft tissue injuries, possibly the best aromatherapy treatment for sprains, strains, contusions, and inflammation.
Clary Sage - Beneficial in relieving muscle spasm and cramps, has a powerful relaxing effect, helps relieve tension and stress. 
Sweet Marjoram - is a pain reliever and has powerful effects on pain and stiffness, it is recommended for rheumatoid and osteoarthritis which makes it an excellent choice for inflammation of the shoulders and other joints.
Vetiver - Fortifies and stimulates red blood cell production, increases oxygen in blood, vasodilator, stimulates circulation venous and arterial, detoxifies blood and connective tissue. 
Helichrysum - Muscular pain and contracture, sprains, and rheumatoid arthritis. 
Spruce - Relieves muscle aches, poor circulation, aching joints, arthritis, and is an anti-inflammatory. 
Lemongrass - Helps with connective tissue injuries (tendons and ligaments), muscular pain and injury, muscle fatigue, relieves aches and pains, anti-inflammatory, and increases blood and lymphatic circulation.