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Healing

Free Acupuncture: May 1st @Turning Point Acupuncture

May First, also known as May Day, is celebrated in many ways around the world. Growing up in a Roman Catholic community on Guam, I first knew May Day as a commemoration of the purity of Mary, the mother of Jesus, where she is celebrated with song and flowers. When we moved to Europe, we joined local communities in May Day festivities usually involving dances and copious amounts of food and drink around the village Maypole, or Maibaum.

But in almost every part of the world, May Day is recognized as a day celebrating the resilience of working class women and men as International Workers' Day. In keeping with that tradition and with the ethic of community acupuncture to provide affordable care for all people, Jessica Feltz at The Turning Point Acupuncture here in Frederick, MD will join the network of community acupuncture clinics around the U.S. and the world offering FREE ACUPUNCTURE open to everyone on Tuesday, May 1, 2012.

To accommodate as many people as possible, Ms. Feltz is offering both morning and afternoon/evening appointments throughout the day (usually the clinic is only open in the afternoon/evenings on Tuesdays). If you don't live in our neck of the woods, please check out the POCA website to find a community acupuncture clinic near you and see if they will be participating too! If you've been on the fence about trying acupuncture, this is your best chance to give it a shot…. or needle (smile).

The sessions are free on May Day, but you must call ahead to reserve your recliner! Here are the details for The Turning Point Acupuncture's May 1st event:


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It's the Annual May Day Event
at The Turning Point Acupuncture

Who:    EVERYONE is invited!

What:   FREE acupuncture for EVERYBODY

When:  Tuesday, May 1st
            9:00 am - 1:00 pm AND 4:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Where: 

The Turning Point: A Community Acupuncture Center
243 W Patrick Street, Frederick, MD 21701

Why:    In celebration of International Workers' Day

How:     APPOINTMENTS ONLY! 
            Save your seat, call 240-405-7878


 

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Community Acupuncture: A Revolution in Health Care

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$15 - $35 Acupuncture Treatments
"Providing Affordable Care for the Health of our Community"
(Used with permission of Jessica Feltz, co-producer)


While we're all still thinking about our various New Year's resolutions to get healthier and stay that way, let me share with you something that just might help you keep that promise to yourself. It's one of the best kept secrets in affordable health care in the U.S.: the community acupuncture network.

For T. and I, acupuncture was a godsend when we first tried it during our time in Hawaii. We found tremendous relief from many things, including sore joints, back aches, allergies, menstrual distress, insomnia, and stress, and shared some of those experiences in these pages in 2008. At that time we were receiving acupuncture from a doctor of Oriental Medicine, and our monthly treatments included comprehensive diagnostic interviews before each session and prescriptive herbal tonics to take home. The cost of each session was $55-80, depending on the length of the acupuncture session and the tonics prescribed. We were able to get monthly treatments at these rates. And although our insurance didn't cover acupuncture, we were able to pay out of our Flexible Spending Account (FSA) — in the U.S., it's a special savings account where money is set aside before it is taxed, but can only be used for certain health care related expenses.

Since leaving Hawaii 3½ years ago, we had gone without acupuncture until last September when we met Ms. Jessica Feltz, L.Ac. at an outdoor festival in downtown Frederick. She was offering free acupuncture treatments on-site at the festival as well as coupons for free introductory treatments at her clinic, Turning Point Acupuncture, where she offers treatment on a sliding scale of $15-35. I'll be honest, when I first heard Jessica say this, I looked at her a little sideways. As a former consumer fraud prosecutor, I had seen a fair share of "too good to be true" deals in my time, and skepticism was my armor. I asked her how on Earth she could charge so little when many acupuncture clinics in our area started their fee schedule almost twice her highest fee! She explained the community acupuncture concept this way: treatment is offered in a group setting, with clients resting in recliners arranged in an open room so the practitioner can treat multiple people (at her clinic, Jessica can treat 10 people at once) in the same hour in which other practitioners might treat 1 or 2 clients. She went on to say that this setting was closer in style to how acupuncture is offered in its traditional culture — that is, it's not reserved only for those who could afford costly treatments but is available to everyone as needed.

Yes, in the community room setting you can see the other clients in the room with you, but there is no need to undress or otherwise expose any part of the body except the legs up to the knees and the arms up to the elbows. The community room at Turning Point Acupuncture is an inviting place, full of natural light, and the ambient sounds of trickling water and meditative music. Jessica herself is a warm and calming presence — with a gentle touch and a caring ear, she creates a sense that your concerns and needs will be addressed during your time together. After my first visit, I was a convert to the community acupuncture model, and relieved I could afford the weekly treatments I needed for the symptoms that had relapsed during my long drought without acupuncture. I've also found I actually prefer the community setting to the private one (1 client per room) because often I sense a palpable energy in the community room that I find very healing in itself. During one visit early on, I was alone in the community room for the first 30 minutes or so, and it wasn't until another client had settled into his/her treatment that I noticed I reached the deepest part of my own relaxation. I've been able to use that experience as a touchstone against which to gauge how quickly I reach deep relaxation alone or when sharing Qi (chi) with others nearby!

Probably the most amazing thing about the community acupuncture concept is that each client decides how much s/he can afford on the scale of $15-35 per treatment. There is no income test at The Turning Point, or any of the other 120+ clinics in the community acupuncture network (CAN) in 34 U.S. states. During your first visit, your practitioner will discuss how often s/he think you should receive treatments (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.). The emphasis at Turning Point and CAN clinics is on clients — that they receive the treatments they need for their well-being and can afford to come as often as their practitioner recommends. It's quite an incredible model when compared to our prevailing health insurance system, which repeatedly demonstrates that it's driven primarily by profit and not by the patient's best interest. In fact, the CAN model has even found space to grow in places with universal health care — you can find clinics using the CAN model in Canada as well.

If you would like to learn more about the history of community acupuncture clinics and the impact they have on their communities, come to the Mid-Atlantic cinematic debut of a documentary about the movement, "Community Acupuncture - The Calmest Revolution Ever Staged," here in Frederick next Monday, January 30, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. at the MDL Holiday Cinemas. For tickets and information, call Turning Point Acupuncture at (240) 405-7878, or click here. The film's co-producer and local practitioner Jessica Feltz will be on hand to introduce the documentary and will open the floor to questions about acupuncture and the community acupuncture model after the screening. Tickets are just $10 per person, and Jessica will honor each ticket at her clinic for one acupuncture session in the weeks following the documentary's premiere! If you've always been curious about acupuncture but been shy about taking that next step, this screening offers a unique way to learn more, meet a local practitioner (and probably many of her happy clients), AND get a full acupuncture treatment (later in the week, not that night) for one very low price!

If you can't make it for the movie screening but are still curious about community acupuncture, this YouTube video features several CAN practitioners, including Ms. Feltz, and real clients from CAN clinics describing their experiences with community acupuncture. In their own words, including Spanish and ASL, clients describe what ailments brought them to the clinics and the relief they have received through treatments. It also gives you a peek at what community rooms in real clinics look like before you come!




The community acupuncture network bills itself as the "calmest revolution," but it's also been one of the quietest, — except maybe for the occasional client who is so relaxed during treatment that s/he falls asleep and starts snoring (yes, there are "shes" too)! Not one person I've talked to about community acupuncture had ever heard of it before, and that has got to change! I've done my best to introduce family and friends to community acupuncture here in Frederick and near where they live. Now I'm telling you, and hoping you will check it out and spread the love to your friends and kin, too.

Come join the Recliner Revolution!



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Wild Fermentation: Homemade Sauerkraut

If you're a regular reader here, you've seen my husband T. take a culinary turn a few times, most recently with those elegant crepes that we filled with homemade lemon curd and fresh blueberries. Often when T. steps into the culinary spotlight it involves a cool tool he covets — a professional crepe pan, for instance, or in this case an antique cabbage shredder that he has restored.

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Shortly before we left Germany, T. spent a day with his colleague, Lamont (an American), who was famous for his homemade Sauerkraut in a land where Sauerkraut was quite ubiquitous. Not only was the kraut homemade, Lamont shredded the cabbage by hand using an antique shredder he had found in a flea market and restored to working condition (the Krautmeister and his shredder in photo at right). Their kraut-making day started shortly after dawn, as Lamont insisted on getting the freshest available cabbage from a farmers' market near Heidelberg, a 50-mile journey. (The fresher the cabbage, the higher its water content — an important factor in how much natural brine the cabbage will produce.)

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Once they had secured two 30-gallon bags full of cabbage, they returned to Lamont's house for T's apprenticeship. Between the two of them, they shredded, salted and tamped enough cabbage to fill 4 large crocks with salted cabbage (photo, left). A common misperception is that Sauerkraut is made with vinegar; probably because it's so sour. Actually, Sauerkraut is made with only cabbage and non-iodized salt (the iodine in iodized salt interferes with the fermentation process), such as sea salt or kosher salt. After a short time, the cabbage will exude water, which mixes with the salt to create a natural brine that covers the cabbage. The brine creates an environment in which the cabbage can ferment safely.

Lamont generously gifted us with one of those crocks full of Sauerkraut-in-waiting, and coached T. on its maintenance. We patiently watched over our crock, taking care to check the kraut for surface "bloom" — an unsightly but mostly benign bacteria that can grow on the brine surface that should be removed — and keeping the well around the lid filled with clean water to create an air-tight seal. After the requisite 10-week fermentation period, it was quite a treat to eat fresh hand-made and homemade Sauerkraut! T. could not wait to try it again on his own. But just as he was planning to search for his own shredder, we learned we had one month to prepare for a move to Hawaii!

Now, three moves and six years later, we have found ourselves in a part of the U.S. that was settled by German immigrants — an area in which T. might finally find an antique cabbage shredder. For over a year, we scoured antique shops and flea markets in search of a functional shredder. Many of the antique shredders we saw were rendered unusable by paint, glue, or other decorative touches. He finally found one that was merely rusty, as well as a wooden tamper for pressing the cabbage in the crock. After disassembling the whole shredder, removing all the rust, sharpening the blades, and cleaning and finishing the wood with a food-grade oil, he was ready for his first batch of Sauerkraut.

For directions and safety guidelines for making Sauerkraut, he used several sources on the Web. Check out Wild Fermentation, Wedliny Domowe (a Polish culinary how-to site), and the Sauerkraut forum on The Garden Web for detailed information if you are inspired to try this at home.

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T. insisted on doing this the old-fashioned (= hard) way, but you can absolutely
shred the cabbage with a modern mandoline or even a food processor.

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Sea salt was mixed in as each cabbage was shredded
(any iodine-free salt will do).

It took 15 heads of cabbage to fill the crock! He used cabbage grown in
nearby Sharpsburg — locally grown produce will be freshest and
will have the highest water content to make a natural brine.

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The salted cabbage was tamped down in the crock.

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To keep the cabbage weighted so it stayed submerged,T. used bags of brine.
The brine was a precaution; if the bags accidentally broke, the salt water
would not interfere with fermentation.

This crock has a well around the lid that is filled with water to create a tight seal to keep out pathogens.
You have to check the lid every day or two to make sure the water hasn't evaporated.
Sometimes you can hear the crock "burping" when gas escapes from under the lid and through the water!

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After 4 weeks: starting to ferment, but still crisp green — a cabbage/kraut hybrid.
T. was already sampling the kraut as a salad at this point.

T. enjoys Sauerkraut as a side dish, uncooked and ungarnished — which is the best way to gain the full benefit of fermented food. Sauerkraut is high in fiber and Vitamins C and K, and is a good source of lactic acid bacteria which contribute to a healthy digestive tract and immune system. To get the latter benefits, though, you should eat Sauerkraut raw and seek out brands that are unpasteurized. Or make it yourself, of course! But if you plan to cook the Sauerkraut, a pasteurized brand that is naturally fermented and packed in plastic or glass works fine.

Most of this first batch was given away to T's colleagues, who were intrigued with the whole idea of homemade kraut and wanted to taste for themselves. We did enjoy Apfelsauerkraut (recipe below) with turkey keilbasa a couple of times, but I was shocked to learn yesterday that the first crock of Sauerkraut is already history! So this can only mean one thing — a second batch is being planned, this time with other vegetables (carrots? Brussel sprouts? cauliflower?) thrown in as well. Of course, it will be at least a couple of months before another batch will be ready. Oh well, we still have kimchi when we need a fermented cabbage fix!

If you're in an especially adventurous mood, you might want to try this unusual and utterly delicious tomato-based soup laced with orange: Krautsuppe mit Krabben, Sauerkraut Soup with Shrimp. If you enjoy the Korean kimchi soup, Jigae, you might like this German take on a fermented cabbage soup.

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APFELSAUERKRAUT
(APPLE SAUERKRAUT FOR SAUSAGE OR PORK CHOPS)
Serves 4 persons

This recipe has won converts from sworn Sauerkraut-haters — the addition of apples and apple cider mellows the sourness of the kraut without erasing its characteristic flavor. Feel free to substitute apple juice, beer, dry white wine or chicken broth for the hard cider too.

Make this without any meats, to serve as a side dish with ham or salmon, or mix in with egg noodles for a non-meat meal.

4oz bacon or salt pork, diced (optional)
2 TBL light olive oil
1-2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2-3 large, firm cooking apples, such as Cox-Pippin or Granny Smith
(about 1.5 lbs/750g), cored and sliced into 16-20 pieces
2 lbs/ 1kg fresh sauerkraut
1 cup hard apple cider

2 lbs sausage or wurst, or 4 pork loin chops, browned well (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Place oil and bacon, if using, in oven-proof skillet large enough to hold sauerkraut and sausages/pork chops. Over medium high heat, render fat from bacon, if using, about 5 minutes. Remove browned bacon pieces from skillet.

Turn heat down to medium, add caraway seeds and stir until the seeds are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sliced onions, and stir through, then cook slowly until onions just start to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.

Add sauerkraut and sliced apples, and stir through. Add pre-browned sausage or chops to top of sauerkraut. Pour cider around sauerkraut, and cover skillet with lid. Place in pre-heated oven for 25-40 minutes, or until meat is cooked through (sausage will cook faster than pork chops).

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Apfelsauerkraut with turkey kielbasa and purchased
Kartoffelknoedel (Bavarian-style potato dumpling)







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Food as Medicine: Black Silkie Chicken Broth

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If one of your New Year's resolutions is to eat healthier this year or to try new and exotic foods, here's a bird that might help you satisfy either or both resolutions!

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This grey/black-skinned chicken is called a Black Silkie. Its feathers are said to be more like fur than feather — it does look like a fowl version of a terrier, doesn't it? (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Shull, who raises Black Silkies and other interesting critters at Moonlight Valley Farms, Pennsylvania)

Available fresh or frozen in well-stocked Chinese groceries, the Black Silkie is prized for its distinctive flavor, and its elegant broth is purported to have restorative qualities. Even its flesh is dark grey laced with black streaks, and is supposed to be very stringy and gamey — most soup recipes recommend discarding the entire carcass and drinking only the broth. Since it often costs almost twice as much as other soup hens, I've hesitated experimenting with this chicken. But on a visit to our area's newest Chinese supermarket on New Year's Day, the moment felt propitious and warranted an adventurous purchase.

Once home, a search on the interwebs for soup recipes, yielded a few ingredients common to most: ginseng root, jujubes and dried Chinese yam (Dioscorea opposita). The ginseng and jujubes were easy enough to find without having to trek back 40 miles to the nearest Chinese grocer. But the Chinese yam — which I knew to be as thin-slices of a dried white tuber used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tonics — was not readily available in the Korean markets that were closer to home. As I searched again for recipes, I came across one from a TCM college that used cubes of fresh Chinese yam, also called shan yao. A cross search of "shan yao" yielded a surprising result: I knew this yam! But I knew it by its Japanese name, yamaimo (literally, "mountain yam/potato"). Hurray! I could find all the ingredients at the Korean market (a mere 22 miles away).
suppe_blacksilkie_03
In addition to the core ingredients of ginseng, jujubes and Chinese yam, the final "recipe" I concocted also included a couple of ingredients that appeared in a few soup recipes, and that we happened to have on hand: ginger and wolfberries. Everything went into a pot with enough water to cover and cooked together for about 5 hours. We really wanted to taste the chicken so I opted to leave out any other flavoring agents, such as rice wine or orange peel.

After straining out all the solids, we were left with a very dark and slightly unctuous broth. It was surprisingly mild, given its deep color, and light on the palate. And it definitely did not "taste like chicken." The broth was uniquely meaty-tasting — in the same way a mushroom broth can be described as "meaty" — but I really couldn't tell you what kind of meat it tasted like. Most importantly, the broth was incredibly warming, leaving a spreading sensation of warmth in the chest and abdomen long after the soup was finished. I understand why this soup is prescribed as a "pick-me-up" for women recovering from child birth and for anyone feeling under the weather.

We did sample some of the breast meat from the Black Silkie, and did find it as stringy as promised, but not really gamey. To be honest, it did not have much flavor at all, and we can only guess that it had lent all its soulful flavor to the broth.

As a first course, the broth provided a pleasing and unique start to our multi-course meal which included homemade char siu pork and Chinese broccoli with fresh baby corn and black mushrooms. An auspicious start to what we hope is a healthy and happy new year.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

suppe_blacksilkie_02





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Acupuncture, Part III: Brewing Teas at Home


For the last in the series about the experience of receiving acupuncture in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) setting, a brief look at how treatment carries over from the acupuncture clinic to your kitchen and home. You can choose to supplement acupuncture treatments with herbal “teas” — more properly called decoctions, but even the herbalists call them teas so we’ll continue using that term too. Of course, you can also opt to skip acupuncture entirely, and get a consultation for herbal therapies only. It will take longer to resolve any imbalances, but you might decide acupuncture is not for you. As we left the clinic in the second part of the series, the clinic’s herbalist had weighed and mixed batches of herbs for us to boil and drink at home.

A closer inspection at home reveals that the term “herbal” is not really descriptive either, since grains, fruit, bark, and even what appears to be chalk, has been included in some of our mixes. Dr. Wong has explained that it’s not enough to know that certain plants are beneficial for treating imbalances or illness, but also that the different parts of a plant (roots, stems, flower, fruit, leaves, inner or outer bark) are used for different illnesses. Even the time of day or the season for harvesting can affect a plant’s medicinal properties. Further processing — such as drying, fermenting, cooking, and glazing with honey — will alter healing properties even more. Whew! Well, all we have to know is how to boil the mixes and when to drink them.

Many cultures around the world have long traditions of using local herbs and other materials for healing. Perhaps what sets this therapy apart in China is a written record begun over 2000 years ago, and which now includes almost 6000 herbal “prescriptions” for various illnesses. But again, illness is perceived differently in TCM than in Western medicine — TCM focuses on the cause of illness (imbalances in the meridians) more than the manifest symptoms and condition (e.g., gout or migraines).


Boiling the teas requires a stainless steel or other non-reactive (i.e., not aluminum or copper) pot large enough to contain the herbs and at least 5-7 cups of water. You can also choose a ceramic teapot designed for this purpose (photo, left top). After several months of using the asparagus steamer (photo, left, bottom — hey, we believe in tools doing double duty whenever possible!) to boil our teas, we finally looked in to getting the special teapot. (Also, it’s asparagus season now, so we needed that steamer back.)


It was surprisingly affordable — this 8 cup size was less than $10, and there are both smaller and larger sizes, as well as unglazed models. The first thing we did after washing the pot was to test it for lead. A simple swab test kit is available at City Mill, but other hardware stores might carry it too. Be certain to check the unglazed areas (the lid and rim of our pot, for instance), as well as the interior. With my suspicious nature, I even checked it twice. All was copacetic.

To make our teas, we tip the contents of one bag into the pot, add the requisite amount of water and let everything re-hydrate for about 20 minutes. Then bring to a boil (we have to pay attention here because once it comes to a boil, the heat has to be turned right down) and let simmer until the liquid is reduced as noted in your instructions from the herbalist (this can take 60-90 minutes). Once the proper reduction is reached, we pour off the tea through a strainer (to catch any stray grains, seeds or twigs), then return the contents of the strainer to the pot, add more water (amount included in herbalist’s notes) and boil at full boil for 20 minutes again. The second pour is cooled to drink later or the next day.

These teas should be drunk on an empty stomach, and at least warm, if not hot. In TCM, cold liquids in general are frowned upon since it is thought they “cool the stomach’s fire” (i.e., that they make digestion and absorption of nutrients more difficult). This is especially true for my condition which is characterized as caused by damp — I”ve had to cut back on food and drinks that are physically cold (like ice cream and iced teas) or that have cool or cold chi properties (such as water chestnuts or bamboo). But, I admit, they’ve not been eliminated ... I love ice cream. But I digress...

We find the aroma of the teas simmering very pleasant, but that may have to do with the particular mixes we get, too. Not only are T’s mixes very different from mine, but the combinations we get will change with almost every visit, too. The changes in the herbal mix reflect not only the progress we may or may not be making with the acupuncture, but also additional stresses or factors that may have come into play since the last clinic visit, or even changes in weather patterns! As the Islands moved from their wet to dry season, T’s mixture changed at one point because the strong winds to which his condition is susceptible had died down.

How do the teas taste? Like you would expect a medicinal decoction that’s supposed to be good for you to taste — like a medicine. Unfortunately for him, T’s original condition required the addition of bitter tastes to balance his chi, and so at first his teas were really quite hard to swallow (sorry for the pun). (Yes, even tastes — bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and spicy — affect the flow of chi in the meridians.) Our “prescriptions” always come with a handful of chan pui mui (a 5-spice flavored dried plum that is enjoyed as a snack in many parts of Asia as well as here in Hawaii) to counter the bitterness or other unpleasant flavors that may be in the teas. “Hold your nose, drink, then chew on a mui” was his routine for a while.

As his condition has improved, I’ve noticed that his teas now include some kind of honey-dipped root or bark (the dark flat pieces that look like slate in this photo) that go a long way to making the teas more palatable. My condition requires the addition of naturally sweet things, so I’ve been lucky to have some kind of sweetener like the honey bark or dried fruit as part of my teas. (But that doesn’t mean I pass up on the mui afterwards!) *wink*

If the mui is not enough to make the tea palatable, it’s important to discuss options with the herbalist. Sweetening the tea itself is not advised because, as with T’s original condition, the sweetener may acutally work against your health objectives. And because in TCM different sweeteners also have different properties (brown sugar is considered warming, while honey is neutral), it’s best to let your doctor or herbalist recommend alternatives to complement your condition.

So, not your everyday sort of “cuppa.” But it can grow to be a comfortable part of a week’s routine, and definitely merits satisfaction in the knowledge that it is a cup as unique as you are.
Malama pono, Everyone!



And now that we’ve shared our experiences “under the needle” and by the cupful with you, we’d love to hear about your experiences with acupuncture or herbal remedies — Chinese, Ayurvedic, Kampo, or Grandma/Lola/Oma/Nana/Bubbie’s time-tested home-cure for colic! — we’re interested in them all!



See also
Acupuncture, Part I: An Overview
Acupuncture, Part II: The Clinic Visit

Some Web sources we have found helpful in learning about TCM and some of the current studies involving TCM and other alternative therapies include:
the
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, and
the
Institute on Traditonal Medicine (which touches on Kampo, Ayurveda, and has an interesting account of how TCM is integrated with modern practice in Italy, too.)

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Acupuncture, Part II: The Clinic Visit

After receiving quite a few comments and emails about the difficulty some readers have with the pictures with needles, a needle-free version with the disturbing photos removed is provided here. The text and links are all the same, you will just be spared the sight of any needles!


Although non-TCM physicians and licensed clinicians also offer acupuncture, I can only speak to the experience of receiving acupuncture in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) setting.

Our experience began with T seeking relief for recurring knee pain, the result of abuse on the racquetball court and from jogging. Not having yet read Dr. Kidson’s book with her helpful advice on finding an acupuncturist (see the
Overview), our major criteria at the time were that the practitioner was licensed, spoke English and could provide a receipt we could submit for reimbursements. Not very enlightened, I know, but we lucked out anyway.

When you first enter Dr. Clara Wong’s (D.Ac.) well-lit and air-cooled clinic on Smith Street, you are met with the familiar sight of the Chinese herbal pharmacy — a massive dark cabinet with its dozens of labelled herb- and spice-filled square drawers for the herbologists, and shelves of boxed patent medicines for over-the-counter sales. Colorful diagrams outlining acupuncture meridian points cover the passage from the front waiting area to the treatment rooms.


Dr. Wong is trained in both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with a specialty in acupuncture, but her practice in Hawaii is limited to acupuncture and Oriental medicine, including herbology. Each visit begins with a meeting with the doctor in her small office. The most important part of the entire visit actually takes place here, not the treatment rooms. As was mentioned in the earlier post, diagnosis in TCM has many facets: listening to the patient; gauging appearance, smell, and demeanor; examining the tongue; and taking the pulses. Yes, pulses, plural! In TCM, the physician listens for six distinct pulses in the same radial artery with which a Western-trained nurse will count your pulse. But even before the doctor gestures for you to place your wrist on her desk to check your pulses, she has probably already noted many things about the color and condition of your skin, hair, eyes and face, and your demeanor that has escaped most people’s attention, including yours!

Questioning usually begins on a general level, how do you feel? Is there anything bothering you today? Follow-up questions have often surprised us both by how pointed and specific they can be, and how they often touch on areas we haven’t mentioned at all. If this is your first visit, it is appropriate to ask how long the full course of treatment is expected to take (for me, it is about 4-6 months with twice-monthly visits; for T, as long as 9 months). Prognoses will also be affected by how often you can come in for treatment, and how well you follow up your clinic visit with appropriate steps at home. The interview will often end with the doctor asking you to stick out your tongue — the color (pale, pink, gray, red, etc.), condition (dry, flaccid, wet, etc.), and coating (its thickness, color, spread) are important diagnostic indicators to her trained eye. Usually this last step serves to confirm a diagnosis the doctor has already reached.

Before you proceed to the treatment room, you may be advised about steps you should take at home to assist your recovery, and asked whether you are willing to make and take medicinal herbs to supplement your treatment. This will require you to boil a jumble of assorted roots, twigs, seeds and leaves according to very specific guidelines. Then you have to strain and drink it. More on this in the next post,
Brewing Teas at Home.

Each of the three treatment rooms has a massage table and curtain for privacy. You don’t have to disrobe as long as you can expose the limb or body part that will require treatment (we usually just wear loose-fitting shirts and pants). Using disposable, stainless steel needles, Dr. Wong quickly and painlessly inserts each implement in place. I hate needles, and I can't watch the doctor perform this procedure (I usually have my eyes closed, and take deep breaths).

What you might feel is a small sting, akin to an insect bite, as the needle is inserted, then maybe a tingle. Tingling sensations are good, but sometimes a kind of ache settles in at the insertion point instead — this will usually require manual stimulation of the needle or re-insertion at a different angle. If you’re not familiar with meridians, it may be surprising to find needles at far distances from the organ or body part that you thought was being treated. In my case, for the stomach and digestive tract, I have needles in my arms and legs!

After the doctor has inserted all the needles necessary for your treatment, one of her aides will connect small electrodes to each needle. This was the biggest surprise for T on his first visit because the first acupuncturist he had visited (a year earlier) had used only manual stimulation of the needles. I asked Dr. Wong about the voltage and she explained that the small electrical current provides consistent stimulation at the meridian points for the set time, which is more comfortable for the patient. (I have to admit that I usually fall asleep during the 40-minute treatments.)

Each area of the body will have a separate meter that controls the intensity of the current. The aide will ask you to let her know when you begin to feel the current, then will slowly increase the flow until it is comfortable but still tingly. Feedback between patient and aide is very important here — tingling sensations are good, aches or sharp pain mean adjustments are necessary. I often have needles in my hands and on or near my feet (my needle placements are usually symmetrical but not always), and often a hand or foot on one side but not the other (it’s always my right side), will twitch or “jump” (see photos below). Dr. Wong identified these as areas with blockage of Chi — the twitching is caused by the current pushing its way through the blockage (imagine water accumulating behind a blockage and a small amount finally pushing its way through; it comes out in a forceful gush on the other side). For me, it’s a source of amazement how the theoretical meridians become concrete when you can see a physical manifestation of your condition jumping so vividly!

Once you’re comfortably stimulated, lights are lowered and a heat lamp is turned on if you feel a chill, then you are left in quiet peace for 30-40 minutes. At some point you may be roused and asked whether you are still comfortable ("I was asleep!") and whether you still feel a tingle in each area. If tingling has subsided, the current may be increased.

At the end of the session, the meters are turned off and disconnected by an aide, but the doctor will return to remove and dispose of each needle herself. If she hasn’t already discussed how to follow up treatments at home, Dr. Wong will often take this time to advise on appropriate home care. In addition to taking herbal brews, this may include foods to limit or increase in your diet, and appropriate types of exercise. The difference between these recommendations and those in Western practices is that they, like the diagnoses, are discussed in terms of Chi. For instance, a person with a strong Fire element and an excess of Yang may be told to limit red meat, and spicy foods and herbs, and to swim in the ocean (Water) or take walks in the woods (Earth) to calm the strong Fire.

Both T and I usually feel very relaxed after a session, and "lightened" as if a heaviness has been lifted from somewhere. I sometimes feel an ache in my right arm at the site of one of the needle insertions. The ache will come and go depending on how active that arm is (am I using it for writing, typing, or stirring pots), and whether it is exposed to a draft or cold; it tends to dissipate after tai chi exercises, Reiki, and drinking my prescription "tea." According to the doctor, these are long-standing blockages in the affected meridian and active meditative practices such as tai chi or Qi Gong do help to clear these blocks.

As you return to the front room, if you’ve agreed to take an herbal “tea” you will find small paper bags which an herbologist has carefully weighed and assembled containing the assortment the doctor has prescribed for you. Each bag will brew 1-3 doses, and each prescription will have specific instructions on how to boil the mixture. If this is your first visit, take a moment to read the directions and ask the herbologist any questions you may have.

Now you’re ready to continue your journey to better health at home. See you by the teapot in the next part of the series...


Dr. Clara Wong, D.Ac., is at
Acupuncture & Herbs from China at 1112 Smith Street, between Hotel and Pauahi Sts., in Honolulu. Telephone for appointments only: (808) 524-8837 (phone consultations not available).

See also:
Acupuncture, Part I: An Overview
Acupuncture, Part III: Brewing Teas at Home


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Acupuncture, Part I: An Overview

I know I’ve talked about this series on acupuncture with several readers and friends. It was first postponed because we went off-line for one week, and now is further delayed because last week I remembered to bring the medical releases to the clinic, but...forgot the camera. *smacking forehead* My next opportunity to take photos of the test subject is next week. Yes, I should ask the acupuncturist whether forgetfulness can be treated with needles, too.

So begging your indulgence for this dense post, I’m going to go ahead with a quick overview of acupuncture. The next post will cover the clinic experience — what to expect and what it feels like. A third post will look at the homework you can anticipate when you’re back from the clinic (yes, there’s homework).



CHI

When you think of acupuncture, you probably think of needles. Lots of them. And while this is certainly a defining aspect of acupuncture — versus say, acupressure or massage — it really isn’t the heart of it. Instead, to understand how acupuncture works, we have to re-visit the concept of Chi (chee), also spelled Qi, or Ki (kee) in Japanese (as in Rei-ki).

“Chi” is probably one of the most difficult concepts for the Western mind to wrap itself around. It is defined here by a physician trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), identified only as Dr. Fang, in Dr. David Eisenberg’s (MD) seminal book on TCM, Encounters with Qi (W.W. Norton & Co., 1985):

‘Qi means that which differentiates life from death, animate from inanimate. To live is to have Qi in every part of your body. To die is to be a body without Qi. For health to be maintained, there must be a balance of Qi, neither too much nor too little.’ (page 43)


In English, it is most often translated as "universal life force," or "vital essence." TCM understands Chi as existing not only within the body, but also in the environment — we take in nutritional Chi by the foods we eat, and breathe in air Chi by respiration.

TCM envisions the body’s Chi as existing in and running through channels, or meridians, that are interconnected and that affect each other in different relationships. Each meridian is linked to a major organ in the body, and is often named after the organ with which it is associated (e.g., the Lung Meridian). Through the meridians, Chi circulates through the healthy body in a defined pattern, delivering needed nutrition to organs and removing wastes and toxins. When there is an imbalance in one meridian, it can cause a domino effect in the other meridians, both behind and forward of the unbalanced or blocked channel. If left untreated, the body’s Chi becomes weak and leaves the body susceptible to both internal and external factors that can precipitate disease and illness.

It is the role of the TCM physician not to diagnosis the disease or condition (pneumonia, migraine, back pain, etc.), but rather the underlying root of the imbalance in the body’s Chi. The condition is merely a symptom of a deeper issue — the physician is interested in
Why the pneumonia, migraine, etc., has been able to overcome the body’s protective Chi. In every case the answer will be different because each patient will have different circumstances that bring on their health crisis. Therefore, two people who enter a TCM physician’s office with the same complaint (e.g., migraines) are likely to have completely different treatment regimes.

For we who are accustomed to the treatment model, “You have this condition, take this pill” this takes a moment to sink in. It is the meaning of “Holistic” — that individuals require treatments tailored for their individual circumstance. Wow, what a concept. And that is the feel-good side of holistic practices: you’re not just a condition, you’re an individual. The flip-side of holistic practices (acupuncture included) is that these treatments are not magic bullets, and they often don’t provide immediate relief of the symptoms that bring us to the TCM physician’s clinic. Sometimes symptoms will even get worse for awhile, before they get better.

The thing to keep in mind is this: the series of circumstances that finally brings on physical symptoms in the form of disease or illness are often the result of years, even decades, of accumulated poor practices (lousy diet, poor sleep habits, lack of exercise) and environmental influences (stress, weather, trauma). It won’t be undone in a day, a week, or even a month. As for worsening symptoms, this is also something recognized in Western medicine. My father suffers with large tophi (uric acid crystallizations) that leave his hands and knees deformed and painful. His internist warned him that the low-purine diet he was prescribed should slowly dissolve the acid crystals, but that as the crystals dissolved they would re-enter the blood stream before being eliminated through the kidneys. The sudden influx of uric acid in the blood could trigger a painful gout attack, in which case his medication dosages would be adjusted. Eventually the tophi should be eliminated; and if he maintains a sensible diet, the gout attacks also minimized.

DIAGNOSIS

In TCM, diagnoses are made in terms of Chi: Is there enough Chi? Is it active (Yang) or stagnant (Yin)? What channels/meridians are affected? What internal and external factors are affecting the meridians?

To reach a diagnosis, the physician will use carefully defined techniques, some of which have been chronicled, practiced, and adapted for 2000 years. These include pulse-taking, examining the tongue, specific questioning, and observation of the patient's speech, smell, color and appearance. We will touch on those more in the next part in the series,
The Clinic Visit.

ACUPUNCTURE

So how does acupuncture work? The theory behind TCM is simple enough: restore balance to the body’s Chi and the body can begin to heal itself. A primary use for acupuncture is the stimulation of points along affected meridians to allow Chi to travel as it should on its appointed route.

TCM teaches that there are 12 meridian pairs running symmetrically along the left and right sides of the body, 2 non-paired meridians that run along the midline of the torso and head, and collateral meridians which are points that connect meridians to one another. Each meridian has a defined number of points; some have as few 9, others over 60; for a total of over 300 points.

In acupuncture, meridian points are influenced with the insertion of long, thin needles, which may also be used to conduct a mild electric current. The needles can release accumulated Chi in a blocked meridian (in much the same way accumulated water is released when a pipe is cleaned), or stimulate slow-moving or stagnant Chi to circulate more freely (imagine fresh water coming in to a tidepool), or divert Chi from one meridian to another. In each case, the goal is to restore the open circulation of Chi.

Another use for acupuncture is pain management and anesthesia. Even non-TCM physicians can use acupuncture to manage pain in chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia or diabetes. In these cases, needles are inserted at meridian points which are thought to release endorphins into the body to lessen pain. This can be used in conjunction with meridian points that also support body functions that contribute to the patient’s comfort and well-being in managing his overall condition (e.g., blood cell production, elimination of toxins by the liver and kidneys, etc.). Acupuncture has also been used in lieu of or with local anesthetics to control pain during surgery or painful treatments.

FURTHER READING

This is a bare-bones description of acupuncture. I've purposefully left out naming meridians, and descriptions of how they influence each other because: one, it gets confusing and I am not the authority to explain it; and two, it isn't necessary to know in order to seek treatment. One can get a consultation and treatment from a TCM physician without knowing a thing about anything written here.

Although we were familiar with the concept of Chi in our practice with Reiki, when we started acupuncture this year most concepts were in the category: “I’ve heard of that, not exactly sure what it means.” T is happy with the results he feels and sees with his treatments, and leaves well enough alone. That’s great, but if you’re like me and would like to read more about acupuncture, I recommend Dr. Ruth Kidson’s book, Acupuncture for Everyone: What It Is, Why It Works, and How It Can Help You (Healing Arts Press, 2000). Dr. Kidson is a licensed physician in the U.K., and I found her book immensely helpful in getting a grasp of the fundamentals of acupuncture. Her writing is clear, straightforward, and easy for a lay person to follow. I was already on my third treatment before I got to the heart of her book, where she discusses the symptomology associated with imbalances in different meridians, and I was fascinated with how the descriptions in her book matched my own doctor's diagnosis and treatment. I found this book at the public library, but it's soon going to become a part of our home library.

The book quoted from at the top is an exploration of the phenomenon of Chi, or Qi, by medical doctor and researcher, Dr. David Eisenberg. Dr. Eisenberg was one of the first U.S.-trained doctors to study and train in TCM in Beijing in the late 1970s. Fluent in Mandarin, and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Eisenberg brought an empiricist’s eye to his studies in Beijing. His quest to quantify the results he saw in his practice there is enlightening whether you would want to prove or disprove his findings. Most of the book is anecdotal — accounts of his experiences learning acupuncture, herbology, and massage at one of the top TCM universities in Beijing. Since writing this book in the mid-1980s, Dr. Eisenberg has gone on to found a research center at his alma mater to further the empirical study of TCM and other alternative, complementary — the Center calls them “integrative” — therapies. Read more about the
Harvard Medical School Osher Research Center and its current research agenda.

FINDING A PRACTITIONER

Finally, if you're considering acupuncture for yourself, Dr. Kidson offers some practical advice about choosing a practitioner and what to expect. First, she cautions that most governing bodies of complementary medicine do not allow their registered members to advertise (Yellow pages listing or "Accepting new patients" notices in newspapers are allowed), so be wary of flyers that promote acupuncture for specific illnesses; in fact, your best bet may be to seek personal recommendations. Second, consider whether you are interested in pain management only or a more holistic approach, then check whether the acupuncturist you are interested in has earned a degree (a longer more comprehensive program with an holistic approach) or taken course work in treating symptomatic pain. During your first appointment, describe your condition and ask whether the practitioner can treat it, what the limitations of treatment are, and how long you might expect treatment to continue; the practitioner should be willing to recommend other treatment options if you don't show improvement over time. To these I would add, familiarize yourself with the licensing requirements in your jurisdiction; every country — and in the U.S., every state — has different requirements and allows different titles to be used. You can read Hawaii's regulations regarding acupuncture in full: H.R.S. §436E: Acupuncture Practice (I could no longer find these readable on-line, this link will download a PDF file to your computer).

I didn't pick up Dr. Kidson's book until after my second treatment, so it was sheer good fortune that we found the TCM practitioner we did. Although she limits her practice in Hawaii to acupuncture and herbology, she also trained as a medical doctor specializing in acupuncture in her home country. Her training allows us to talk to her about our medical conditions, and she has advised us when to seek further Western medical diagnoses too. In the
next part of this series, you'll meet the charming Dr. Wong, D.Ac., in her clinic.

Acupuncture, Part II: The Clinic Visit
Acupuncture, Part III: Brewing Teas at Home

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The Way of Cooking: Chicken Soup Revisited


Happy National Homemade Soup Day! Truth to tell, I didn't know such a day existed until my sis-in-law, Tra, sent us an e-card to commemorate this happy day! (Thanks for the head's-up, Tra!) We can't let an occasion like this pass, especially when there is a soup-in-waiting in the fridge as we speak.

We've touched on the healing properties of soup, especially chicken soup, earlier, and how centuries of folk wisdom is now backed by clinical study (see
Chicken Tinola post). Chicken soup is the first thing I think to make for anyone in crisis, whether it's illness, death in the family, or other emotional stress. When someone has no appetite, simply sipping some chicken soup broth can be reviving and sustaining.

Even when travelling last month, I had a chance to make chicken and vegetable soup with another sister-in-law, Angie, in Seattle on my way back to Hawaii. With the rain and damp that typifies the great Northwest of the US, and after 5 days of travelling and eating unwell, it was a luxurious comfort to sit down to a bowl of homemade soup. Angie started the soup off in the crockpot with a whole chicken, a couple of fingers of ginger, and a couple of carrots. After a night of bubbling and simmering, the chicken and vegetables were removed and the broth decanted to a shallow container to cool; then refrigerated at least 4 hours to allow the rich fat layer to congeal for easy removal. Since we used a whole chicken this time (as opposed to just chicken backs, as in the Chicken Tinola recipe), we kept the de-boned breast and thigh meat to return to the soup pot (store separate from broth).

An hour prior to dinner, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, corn, celery, green beans, kale and fun pasta shapes (we used "Shrek" pasta from a box of macaroni-and-cheese) were added to a boiling broth, along with the diced meat. With some Tafelbrotchen (water rolls) and Brezeln from the authentic Deutscher Baeckerei, Hess' Bakery, in nearby Lakewood, everyone enjoyed the hearty soup, even restaurant-critic-in-training, 5-year-old, Masato.

When my dad arrived on Oahu a couple of days after my return, we had chicken and veggie soup again to stave off any airline-borne "cooties." This time, zucchini, watercress, carrots, potatoes, corn, and whole wheat penne complemented the broth (from stewing hens) and chicken meat. Generous slabs of skillet-baked cornbread rounded out the meal. Chicken vegetable soup is as versatile as it is nutritious
you can use just about any vegetable or combination of vegetables to create a soup you will love.

Enjoy your soup today!

THE WAY TO COOK: CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE SOUP
The Broth:
2 stewing/soup hens (about 3 lbs/1.5 kg, total weight)
OR 5-6 lbs (2.5-3kg) assorted fresh chicken bones from your butcher
OR 1 whole chicken fryer (3-3.5 lb/1.5-2kg)
1 hand of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (peeling is optional)
1 lb. carrots, scrubbed well and trimmed at the top and bottom (peeling is optional)
1 medium onion, scrubbed well and dark brown layers removed, halved lengthwise

The critical factor in broth-making is, of course, the bones for flavor, the skin for flavor and unctuousness, and the joints/tendons for body. You can make soup with fresh chicken carcasses alone, but not with just meat alone. Place chicken/bones, ginger, carrots and onion in 6-7quart slow-cooker, and cover with water. Set on HIGH for at least 3 hours or until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove any "scum" that rises to the surface. Turn slow-cooker setting to LOW, and leave for at least 8 hours. Turn off slow-cooker and carefully remove the chicken and all solids to a colander placed in a large soup pot. or wide cake pan. When cool, debone chicken and keep meat in separate container in fridge. Strain broth through a sieve into the same pot or pan into which the broth solids earlier drained. When broth reaches room temperature, place in a tightly covered container to store in fridge overnight.

Remove most (85%) of fat layer from the chilled broth, then return to soup pot or Dutch oven. Add diced chicken meat, 2 cups water and bring to rolling boil for at least 10 minutes before adding other ingredients.

To Finish Soup:
Add 3-4 lbs (1.5-2kg) of diced vegetables and/or shredded leaf greens as you like or according to what is in season. I try to get as many colors of the rainbow as possible into the pot, each
providing important nutrients and vitamins:

1. First choice is always to use fresh vegetables, of course. Eating what is in season and local, and preferably organic, will keep your body in tune with your environment. The good news is that many frozen vegetables, including peas, corn, squashes and leafy greens are just as nutritious frozen as they are fresh, and in many cases
especially with the corn and peas taste better flash-frozen than trucked "fresh" miles away from where they were born. So don't be shy about using frozen vegetables to supplement scarce fresh veggies out of season, but do try to get some fresh vegetables in as well.

2. Add root and other longer-cooking vegetables early on. Save leafy greens and vegetables that turn to mush (e.g., potatoes, cooked beans like red kidney or black beans, and hard squashes like kabocha) for the last 30 minutes of cooking.

3. Choose from:
Root vegetables: carrots, parsnips, turnips/rutabaga, potatoes, etc.
Green vegetables: green beans, peas, edamame, chayote, broccoli, etc.
Gold veggies/Squashes: kabocha, butternut, upo/loofah, wintermelon, corn, etc.
Cooked Beans: kidney, lima, black, navy, etc.
Leaf vegetables: spinach, kale, watercress, mustard greens, etc.
Mushrooms: button, crimini, oyster, shiitake, chanterelles, etc.

4. Add 2 cups of fully cooked small pasta shapes (optional).

5. Add seasoning to taste: sea salt, ground black pepper, and up to 1-1/2 tsp. of chervil, or herb of your choice: fresh oregano, marjoram, savory (especially nice if soup includes beans), thyme, basil.

Simmer on medium-low until vegetables are tender and cooked through, about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on what vegetables you add. Taste again to correct seasoning. Serve hot, with bread
    • and salad.


Soup with sweet potatoes (pre-cooked leftover), watercress, peas, zucchini, carrots, beans, corn and whole wheat penne (leftover).

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Starting off on the right foot . . .

When we did our first degree Reiki training, the Reiki Master told us that 2 side effects of working with Reiki are 1) what she called "dog breath" and 2) that electronics, especially computers, can get a bit "squirrely" on you. I can say from personal experience that both these things are true for me. I tried to post this about an hour and a half after finishing this morning's session, and this Mac was decidedly uncooperative. I opted to leave it alone and to take care of some errands away from the house for a few hours, and hope that now the computer has worked through its Reiki issues . . .


Beach at Kaena Point, Oahu, Hawaii
I hope everyone is feeling warmed and at peace. Thank you to each and every person who responded to this gift of Reiki. I am so happy I could end this year and begin the next with you on such a wonderful note.

My warm up exercises began this morning at 4, and Reiki about 30 minutes later. It was a very unusual session for me. I was aware of three distinct phenomena I had not experienced before. The most profound was the change in energy when I transitioned from healing for those on my regular healing list to those on our special New Year’s Eve list. The energy “ball” that I sense and in which I hold the folks to whom healing is sent usually pulses outward strongly and rhythmically, but this shifted quite dramatically to a very gentle, wave-like sensation. It grew in strength but remained wave-like in its rhythm for the entire 45 minutes it lasted on its own. The session ended just before 6:30, and I was surprised how much time had passed once I looked at the clock!

For everyone across the Dateline, I know you are already well into the New Year, and as all the rest of us join you “in the future” I want to wish you all good health, laughter around great meals with your family and friends, and love:

Rowena, Dario, Pammie, Stephanie, Olga, Lyssa, Lorraine, Ate Belinda, Uncle Moj, Anne, Kat, Mom and Dad Cruz, Seth, Sophie, Andy, Dhivya, Laurie, Diane, Alison, Troy, Cynthia, Leonardo, Lauren, Vanessa, Gladys, Stephen, Jeff, Tracy, Vicki, Cath, Bhavana, Darlene, PJ, Ron, June, Robert, Maia, Manisha, Nicola, Patrick, Jennifer, Nicolette, Nicolas, Flore, Joyce, Elizabeth, James, William, Jessica, Jennifer, Stacey, Amanda, Kendra, Jeff, Angela, Victor, Masato, Debi, Carla, Leesa, Victoria, Andreas, Paula, Kit, Vann, Malinda, Alysa, Craig, Ruth, Debi, Ulrike, Ditmar, Izzy, Jen, Ken, Louie, Ernest, Ruth, Ron, Cathy, Barbara, Peter, Daniel, Andrew, Jo, Robert, Medha and Divyesh . . .

Happy New Year 2008!



UPDATE: Resources if you would like to explore more about Reiki here.

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A Gift for . . . You

Hawaii: The Rainbow State indeed!
I've thought about this for a couple of weeks. And I hesitated only because I can still see vividly the skeptical looks of my own friends and family the first time I tell them about this. It's that "Oka-a-a-ay, what crazy thing are you talking about now" look. (Deep breath) Okay, here goes.

I am offering to every person who comes across this post the gift of Reiki healing this New Year's Eve. On that day I will include in my daily Reiki distance healing session, every person who requests a healing by [sending an email] below. As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, for over two years I have been a Reiki practitioner in the second-degree, which just means that I can offer healing to persons who are not physically present in front of me
you can be in the next room or on the other side of the planet, and receive healing. I practice daily self-healing with Reiki, and usually end with a distance healing session for close friends and family who have accepted Reiki to heal physical, emotional and spiritual hurt.

A quick recap: "Reiki is a form a energy healing and balancing that was developed and named by Japanese researcher and teacher, Usui Mikao, in the late 19th century. Dr. Usui studied many ancient healing arts in Asia, including India. He distilled what he learned into the practice he called, Reiki
a term coined from the Japanese words, Rei, meaning “universal” and Ki, meaning “life energy.” . . . [In] Reiki, the healer does not direct or in any way control the energy — she is only a conduit; instead, it is the patient’s responsibility to accept the energy, which flows always where it is needed most. "

Some important things to know about Reiki to assist you in your decision whether you want to accept this gift.

Reiki is not based on any religion or faith practice
there is no calling to any god, saint or other personification. Personally, I am a Roman Catholic, and when I practice Reiki I only pray that I may be empty of any bias or need to control the outcome. When done in person, the healer lays her hands above the recipient's body in different positions, moving from head to feet or directed in a place where healing is desired (a particular backache, for instance). In distance healing, the healer simply thinks on the person requesting healing at an agreed time and place.

Reiki does not require that the recipient believe in Reiki or know anything about it. Only two things are required. First, and most important, the recipient must want to be healed and must ACCEPT HELP. This may sound self-evident, but I know from my own experience that some people find it hard to accept help, any kind of help. I do. The first time I experienced healing in my first Reiki course I had all kinds of barriers that blocked the energy flow. I
thought I wanted healing, I thought I was receptive to it. But it wasn't until my teacher pointed out that I was resisting the healing and said, "it's okay to receive help, you know" that I took a deep breath, then began to feel the energy she and the other students were sending. If you're a caregiver or nurturer by nature, it's important that you give yourself permission to accept help.

The second requirement is that the recipient take responsibility for their healing. This is demonstrated by returning the energy value of the healing received. Among friends and family, exchange of energy value between the healer and the recipient is part of the give-and-take of a close relationship. But with those who are strangers to the healer, the recipient most often demonstrates the value of the healing received with a monetary payment. I'm not asking for anything like that. The value I ask for is a personal kindness to someone who is a total stranger to you. This does not have to cost money, but it does have to be personal (person to person), and it does have to cost something whether it's personal discomfort from looking a homeless person in the face and greeting her warmly, or taking time from the holiday frolicking to visit a hospice or elder care home, or finding something kind to say to the harried retail clerk at the mall. How do I get value from something you do for someone who is a total stranger to us both?? Trust me, I just do.

Reiki does not provide an instant cure. It is healing that is part of a process of correcting imbalance. Normally, Reiki practitioners will work with a client for several sessions lasting a half-hour to an hour, depending on the need. Many healthy people enjoy the warmth and deep relaxation they receive during Reiki and will seek healing as a way to keep their energy flow in check and themselves healthy (maybe that's you, too).

The most common side effect of Reiki healing is falling into deep sleep during or the evening after a session. I'm not kidding.
Even Haiku takes a moment for quiet

So you're not sick. There's nothing wrong with you. Why would you want to do this? Energy imbalance causes all kinds of mess. This knowledge is at the heart of the great traditional medicine practices in the world -- Traditional Chinese Medicine, Indian Ayurvedic, Japanese Kampo, and so many others. We're seeing this on a global scale, too, ecologically, politically, socially. Many of the aches and ills we experience daily (sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, back aches, cramps) and even great ills (cancer, heart disease) are caused by energy imbalances to which we are completely blind. But our bodies know what is out of whack and given a chance, the body will begin to heal itself. I'm offering this healing on this particular day so we can all participate in correcting an energy imbalance in ourselves (maybe) and in the world (definitely). You will have taken a brave step and spent energy in a kindness to a stranger, and now a gift of energy healing will come back to you. See how that flow works?

How to take advantage of this offer? Simple. Please leave a comment with 1) your full name (first and last), 2) the city and country you will be in on Dec. 31st, and 3) this statement: I would like Reiki healing. That's it!

Only your first name and the city/country you are from will appear in the comments that the public sees -- I moderate and will remove any identifying information before publication. But your name and location are necessary for me to include you in the healing. If you are a blogger who writes anonymously under a "nom de web" (as I do), just leave the URL field in the comment form blank so there's no connection between your real name and your blog.

I don't need to know anything about why or for what the healing is intended. Reiki healers do not guide or direct healing in any way, the energy goes where it is needed.

The final thing is that if you would like healing for other people in your life, please have them leave a comment themselves. We need to establish a connection as healer and recipient, and they must take responsibility for and accept the healing personally.

On New Year's Eve day, I will start my normal Reiki session at 0430 Hawaii Standard Time (1430 UTC/GMT), and this normally lasts an hour. Depending on how many folks participate, this could go longer. You do not need to remember the hour or even be aware (or awake!) during the session, I mention the time only as general information. I will check comments and include all who have asked for healing up to the time I start.

I hope you will do me the honor of accepting this gift. Thank you for hearing me out and reading this far into a non-food related post! If you have any questions, any at all, about Reiki or about this gift, please don't be shy. Your interest is valued and your question is welcome.


UPDATE: Resources if you would like to explore more about Reiki
here.
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Gift for the Chef: Easy Sweet & Spicy Prawns


As you all can attest, time is really at a premium right now. Anything that will get dinner on the table quickly and with delicious results (does that go without saying by now?) is a gift and a joy. Well, since I had some extra Sweet & Spicy Nuts from the last post, and all the ingredients to whip together the sauce for the Sweet & Spicy Prawns that we put in a recipe kit for friends (same post), I went with the easy meal and made the prawns for us last night. The shiitake mushrooms were a last minute addition, only because I already had some re-hydrated from the previous evening's preparations. As it's still flu and cold season, the shiitake are an added boost for our immune systems, along with the heavy dose of ginger in the sauce.

The local ginger available here in the Islands is so fresh, it can be quite tender (no woody filaments), with a papery-thin skin that will peel off with a firm rub with one's bare hands. When it is this fresh, I thinly sliced the ginger instead of grating it as the recipe suggests. The tender spiced ginger can be consumed as part of the dish, similar in texture to bamboo shoots. From opening the fridge to decide on something for dinner to setting the table, this meal was done in 35 minutes. We actually had to wait for the rice to finish cooking and steaming after the shrimp was already done. (Anyway, it was a chance to snap a few photos!)

SWEET & SOUR PRAWNS
1 lb./455g raw prawns, boneless chicken or firm tofu
1 egg white
3 TBL. cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBL. sake or water
Marinate prawns for 20 minutes in egg white, cornstarch, salt, water. If using chicken, cube, then marinate. For tofu, press dry, then cut in large (2 in./5cm) cubes, and either deep-fry, or pan-fry to brown all sides. Do not marinate tofu.

Sauce:
2 TBL. ketchup
1 TBL. sambal oelek or garlic-chili sauce
1-½ TBL. sugar
1-½ TBL. rice wine or apple juice
1 TBL. cornstarch stirred in 2 TBL. water
Mix together ketchup, sambal/chili-garlic sauce, sugar, rice wine and cornstarch mixture. Set aside.

Heat 3 cups oil in a pan or wok to smoking point. Fry half of the prawns, chicken or tofu. Remove when meat or tofu is evenly browned and floats to surface of oil, drain well on paper toweling. Re-heat oil, then fry second batch. Meanwhile, prepare sauce.

5 TBL. oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBL. grated fresh ginger (or thinly sliced if very fresh)
1 1/2 cup water or broth
6 medium shiitake mushrooms, re-hydrated, squeezed dry and quartered (not traditional, optional)

1 bunch scallions, washed and chopped finely
1/2-3/4 cup (60-90g) Sweet & Spicy Nuts (chopped)

In another pan or wok put 5 tablespoons of oil and fry garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. When fragrant, add mushrooms, if using. Add Sauce and water or broth, cook together for about 1 minute. Add cooked prawns, chicken or tofu, and stir to coat with sauce.


Remove from pan and garnish with chopped scallions and Sweet & Spicy Nuts. Serve with hot rice and your choice of vegetables.


Blog-Event XXX: Ingwer

This recipe has been submitted to the Ginger Event sponsored by the unstoppable zorra at 1x umrühren bitte.
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Food as Medicine: Krautsuppe

Sauerkraut soup with shrimp or fish

After all the heavy foods from Thanksgiving, our taste buds really craved a kick — something completely different and new. It's been very drizzly and damp outside and we both still have a cough from that flu we had last week, too, so something soupy seemed in order, as well. A recipe from Lavaterra in Germany really caught my eye earlier this month, and it seemed like the perfect time to try it: Krautsuppe mit Krabben, sauerkraut soup with shrimp! The recipe blends sauerkraut with ginger, orange marmalade, dill and seafood — the unusual combination demanded to be sampled! When we lived in Germany, T once had a seafood choucroute in a restaurant near the French border and he loved the combination of sauerkraut and fish so I didn't think it would be a hard sell for him! ; )

We didn't have any shrimp, so I pan-fried a pink snapper filet to use instead. Also, when I was finished mincing the fresh ginger, I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the amount called for in the original recipe, and only used about 2/3 in the soup and the other 1/3 to season the fish when pan-frying it. Even with the lesser amount, the ginger flavor came through beautifully. We loved this soup — you don't taste "sauerkraut," but a lightly sweet and tart, yet creamy, flavor. It's quite remarkable how the disparate flavors come together. It reminded me of Chinese "hot and sour soup" — same balance of piquant and spicy. I know we will make this soup again. It is quick to prepare, tasty, healthy and a full meal with a slice of bread. If the idea of seafood and sauerkraut seems too strange to you, I think a nice sausage or even chicken will compliment these flavors well.

This recipe is categorized as "Food as Medicine" because the healthy dose of ginger makes this a very warming soup — what would be considered "yang" or warm energy in traditional Chinese medicine. And the tomato and orange rinds in the marmalade will contribute lycopene and Vitamin C, respectively. But did you know that sauerkraut is also very high in Vitamin C (much more than orange juice), some Vitamin Bs, and the lactobacilli bacteria that promotes good digestion? So besides being delicious, this soup just might cure what ails you! Guten Appetit!

Lavaterra's original recipe in German is here. Below is an English translation (suggestions for substitions that are not in the original German recipe are marked ** ).

SAUERKRAUT SOUP WITH SHRIMP (KRAUTSUPPE MIT KRABBEN)
(for 2 persons)

300g (10.5oz or 1-2/3 cup) sauerkraut (don't rinse)
40g (1 knob or 3 heaping
TBL.) fresh ginger
**500ml (2 cups) tomato juice
**1
tsp. chicken broth bouillon paste, such as "Better Than Bouillon"
2
TBL. orange marmalade
1 pinch of nutmeg

4
TBL. sour cream **(or strained plain yogurt)
salt and pepper
4-5 fresh dill branches, about 1
tsp. dried

100g (1/2 cup) baby shrimp (or one cooked fish filet)

Finely chop sauerkraut. Peel and mince ginger. Cook together with tomato juice, bouillon paste, marmalade and nutmeg for 20 minutes, covered.
** If you don't have bouillon concentrate or paste, instead of a bouillon cube (which is very high in sodium), use a 1/2 cup of chicken broth and reduce the tomato juice to 1 1-1/2 cups.

Mix together sour cream, salt, pepper and dill. Set aside.

Taste the soup and correct seasoning. Serve with dollop of seasoned cream and garnish with shrimp (or fish or sausage).
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What's in the pantry: Shiitake mushrooms

Dried shiitake mushrooms
Since I'm still battling the effects of this bout with the flu, I still crave things that support the immune system. I know that sounds weird, but don't you feel sometimes that your body tells you what it needs? (Yes, of course, the body can need chocolate . . . but that's another post . . .)

One such immunity booster is the shiitake mushroom. I was first opened to the healing possibilities of foods in Nina Simonds' book, "
A Spoonful of Ginger." It has remained a valuable and often sought resource in my library since 1999, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the healing properties of everyday food. In her book, Ms. Simonds notes that "[r]ecent research has credited shiitake mushrooms . . . with components that bolster the immune system, prolong life in cancer patients, and are useful in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome and AIDS." (page 165) A quick google of "shiitake" on the internet will give you many reports of shiitake's growing use in cancer treatment, and it's reported success in lowering cholesterol and battling hepatitis B.

You'd think that growing up with a n Okinawan-Japanese mother that I would have grown up liking shiitake mushrooms. Not true. I used to hate the taste of these mushrooms — I would carefully pick them out, sliver by sliver, piece by piece, out of whatever dish my mom put them in. I really didn't develop a taste for them until I returned to Guam in my mid-20s. Now, I not only keep a supply of the dried fungi in my pantry, I usually rehydrate more than I need, and cook and season them to have on hand as a quick side dish for lunch, as a topping for ramen and other noodle soups, or to add a quick umami boost to a dish.
Dried shiitake weighted down to re-hydrate

First, you need to rehydrate the mushrooms. Place them in a container at least 3-4 times larger than the dried mushrooms. Cover with cool water, trying to keep the gills of the mushrooms face down. (Many sources say to use hot water, but I don't think this is necessary) Weigh down the mushrooms to keep them submerged (they're going to want to float at the surface). In the photo below, a small plate provides just enough weight to keep the mushrooms below the surface. Leave for 30 minutes of more. When they are fully re-hydrated, the stems will be pliable and not stiff anymore.

Soaked shiitake braising in seasoned liquid

Gently squeeze the mushrooms to release some of the absorbed water (but don't wring it dry). Trim the woody stems using kitchen scissors. You can keep this soaking water as a base for soup or sauce, but strain it through a sieve to keep out the fine grit that will be at the bottom of the container.

To make a braising sauce:
1/2 cup/ 120ml water or soaking liquid
1/2 cup/ 120ml mirin (Japanese seasoned cooking wine)
if you don't have mirin, you can use sake or dry sherry PLUS 1 tsp extra sugar)
1-1/2 tsp sugar or brown sugar
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Combine all ingredients in small pan and lay shiitake gill-side down (so the mushroom can absorb the flavor of the sauce) — the liquid should be about half way up the mushroom caps (add more water or soaking liquid if needed). Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until liquid reduces by half. Taste braising liquid — it should be sweet and the alcohol flavor gone. Add another teaspoon of soy sauce and turn mushrooms over and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid becomes a glaze, thick and syrup-like. Turn off heat, cover, and let mushrooms cool in pan.

Braised shiitake cooling in pan

The finished mushrooms are delicious eaten as is. Try them in a sandwich, or as a side dish with any Asian rice meal. Or, as here, as a topping for ramen, saimin, udon, wonton or another noodle soup. You can also chop them finely and add to meatloaf or meatball mixture, season with teriyaki sauce and enjoy a different and healthy twist to your meatloaf. I think once you get used to having these tasty shrooms handy, you'll find many uses for them. I'd love to hear from anyone trying this recipe at home.

Seasoned shiitake in ramen noodle soup

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Food as Medicine: Ginger-scallion "tea"

Ingredients for ginger scallion tea

Most of this week we've been dealing with the flu. First T, now me. Our first line of defense during cold and flu season is ginger-scallion-cinnamon "tea." Making this drink, I can't help but think of the gifted healer and friend who taught me how to make it. During our first winter in Boston I was having a hard time dealing with the bitter cold, and any little cold often turned to bronchitis. Pam taught me how to make this drink to boost my immune system. In traditional Asian medicine, ginger, cinnamon and members of the Allium family, which includes scallions, are considered Yang, or warming energy. By the end of that winter, almost everyone in our office was drinking some form of this tea!

First you need a "hand of ginger" which is the large piece you see in the picture above. Washed well and lightly scrubbed, the ginger need not be peeled, but should be sliced. Then 2 large scallions, including the roots. (Pam was very specific that the roots must be kept intact.) Finally, a handful of cinnamon bark. If you're using the thicker rolled "cinnamon," you'll need 2 rolls. An optional ingredient is a pear, either the Asian nashi pear (in photo) or your favorite variety. The pear provides a very mild natural sweetness, and may be eaten separately as a treat or to soothe a cough.

Place all these in a large pot and cover with at least 4 quarts/liters of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer. After 30 minutes, remove the scallions and continue simmering for another 30 minutes.
Cooling tea bag full of cinnamon
After simmering for an hour, use a ladle to serve yourself some "tea" and enjoy while hot. This beverage, like the friend who shared its secret with me, is strong and full of energy, with only a hint of both sweetness (cinnamon) and earthiness (scallions) beneath it. It is most beneficial if drunk as is, but if you want to sweeten it, choose a natural sweetener such as stevia, agave or fresh fruit juice. Processed white sugar has actually been found to lower one's immune response for 5 hours after being consumed, so should be avoided.(A) Artificial sweeteners are increasingly shown to be cancer-causing and likewise should be avoided.(B)
Finished ginger tea

Let the pear cool for awhile in the liquid, then enjoy separately. In traditional Chinese medicine, pear is considered a "cooling" fruit that lubricates the lungs and quiets coughs.

Gingered pear is soothing for coughs

You don't have to wait for a cold or the flu to make this for yourself, in fact you may avoid getting either if you start boosting your immunity now. When we lived in places where the change of seasons was more noticeable, I started making this drink when the air started to get crisp, but here in Hawaii it's easier to forget that seasons still change and flu is always around the corner. Stay healthy, Everyone! And to Pammie, we will always think of this as "Pam's tea" — thank you for all your generous gifts to us!


(A) See the article: "Sugar's effects on your health"
(B) Learn more about the benefits of natural sweeteners and the dangers of artificial one: "Sugar substitutes and the potential danger of Splenda"
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Food as Medicine: Artichokes

Artichoke in bloom

Food as medicine is an ancient concept, of course. It has a documented history over 5000 years in Asia, and at least a couple millenia in Europe. And now much of traditional lore about chicken soup to treat colds, and garlic to ward off illness is now backed by scientific study.

To explore this further, I've borrowed a book from the library called, “Herbs, Demystified” by Holly Phaneuf, PhD. It’s not part of
Linda Bladholms’ similarly-titled series explaining the mysteries of ethnic groceries, instead Dr. Phaneuf writes in plain-speak (most of the time) about the medicinal value of and clinical research, if any, behind some of the herbs and plants that are gaining popularity as medicinal and wellness foods. (The book is subtitled: “A Scientist Explains How the Most Common Herbal Remedies Really Work”)

Take artichokes, for instance. I love artichokes, but never thought of them as a medicinal food until earlier this year when I saw a local TV program highlighting healthy eating. The show featured 2 local naturpathic doctors who use both food and alternative therapies as medicine in their practice. One of the doctors is of Vietnamese descent and described how her grandmother would make a “tea” by simply boiling halved artichokes. She recommended it for maintaining good liver function and said it promotes clear skin.

When I had cooked artichokes before, it was always in highly seasoned (lemons, onions and peppers) water, which was then discarded. I'm always drawn to “grandmother wisdom,” though, so we decided to try it. We were expecting a bitter or funny-tasting brew, but were happily surprised it had a clean, mildly sweet, and pleasant taste. In fact, it tasted exactly like an artichoke heart. We’ve since adopted the practice of boiling artichokes in plain water, so we can also drink the “tea” afterwards.
Lovely organic chokes Halved artichokes 2 Treats: Artichokes and
And now we have Dr. Phaneuf’s explaination about why this may or may not be a good practice. She concludes her six page review of research into artichokes by saying:
  • they contain beneficial anti-oxidants,
  • may reduce cholesterol,
  • may improve both HDL/LDL cholesterol ratios and
  • may improve bile production (hence, digestion).
She also warns, however, that further research is needed about whether artichokes can worsen an existing gallstone condition, and whether they deplete valuable CoQ enzymes. She also cautions that people who are allergic to other members of the daisy family (which also includes chamomile, milk thistle, dandelion and echinacea), may be allergic to artichokes too. Please refer to pages 31-37 of Dr. Phaneuf’s book for her full article. And of course don’t attempt any changes in your medical program (for instance, stop taking your prescriptions and eating artichokes instead!) without consulting with your medical provider.
Artichoke
If Dr. Phaneuf's caveats don't apply to you, then "A Santé!" "Zum Wohl!" "Kampai!" "Salud!"

(UPDATE - 7 APRIL 2008 - To wash artichokes, especially if you intend to drink the "tea," it is important to clean away as much pesticide residue as possible from non-organic produce. Following the advice from this NPR story, "
What does it take to clean fresh food," instead of just spraying the vegetables, I prefer to soak the artichokes in a solution of 1/2 cup of white vinegar in 1 gallon of water (2 TBL. of vinegar to 1 liter/quart water). This allows the solution to get between all the packed leaves. Then rinse under running water, and drain.)

What do you do with the artichoke after making "tea"? Try
Stuffed Artichokes with Italian-style Dressing or South Asian Style Stuffing.

Read more about the health benefits of artichokes at LifeScripts.com,
here.

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11 September: Heal yourself, heal the world

Dragonfly emerges

Two years ago this day fell on a Saturday, and I went with T to a Reiki class that was taught by a colleague from work. He had come home from work a couple of weeks earlier with a brochure for this teacher’s class, and said he would like to sign us both up to learn the technique. What was it, a type of massage? I asked. He wasn’t really sure, something about energy transfer, he thought. I read the brochure, and said, why not. With no other preparation or understanding of what to expect, I went.

Six years ago this day fell on a Tuesday. It was a clear cool New England morning and I was excited about the prospect of my parents finally meeting T’s parents in their home in Maine. T’s parents were not able to attend our wedding so this was a much anticipated first. We lived in Boston at the time and my parents and my mom’s best friend were visiting from Guam and Okinawa, respectively. As we began the drive north, the radio was reporting strange events in the skies around the East Coast. It was unclear, but it sounded like there was a plane crash in New York City and a building was hit.

Our instructor, CB, talked to us about the history of Reiki, its precepts, and how it worked. Reiki is a form a energy healing and balancing that was developed and named by Japanese researcher and teacher, Usui Mikao, in the late 19th century. Dr. Usui studied many ancient healing arts in Asia, including India. He distilled what he learned into the practice he called, Reiki -- a term coined from the Japanese word, Rei, meaning “universal” and Ki, meaning “life energy.” For me, the most intriguing thing CB said was that in Reiki, the healer does not direct or in any way control the energy — she is only a conduit; instead, it is the patient’s responsibility to accept the energy, which flows always where it is needed most.

We were not expected at T’s parents’ house until the late afternoon, but planned stops at the LLBean store and a visit to T’s adolescent home near Bowdoin College for a lobster lunch. At Bean’s, there was a wall-sized TV screen that was tuned to CNN and was following that strange story we heard on the radio. While my mom and my “aunt” and I trolled the floors, T and my dad gravitated to the TV. After about 20 minutes, T came looking for us with the horrific news — another plane hit another building, maybe a third in DC, more somewhere else. There was speculation it was all coordinated. As we all headed to the TV, the first tower in New York collapsed on screen and cries and gasps filled the store. Everyone stood dumbstruck. Many people started crying. Someone mentioned Pearl Harbor, and looked right at us.

More Reiki instruction and a meditation session preceded lunch, after which, revived in mind and body, we were initiated into healing. Immediately afterward, each student took a turn as a “patient” to receive Reiki from the others. This was our opportunity to see what Reiki felt like as a recipient, and gave us 5 chances to practice hand placements in healing others. Although a patient may lie (fully clothed) on a massage table, as we did that day, Reiki may also be administered to someone sitting upright. When I took my turn, I was surprised by how relaxed I felt. The second thing I noticed was the different degrees of heat I could feel in different parts of my body, except at my feet. Gentle pulses of coolness radiated from the tops of my feet and up my leg. Around the other five parts where a healer had placed his or her hands, although no one was physically touching me, I could feel heat. Some felt as hot as an electric hot pad on the high setting (one was T, I learned later), another a milder but more focused warmth. The overall feeling was one of deep relaxation. Half of the students fell asleep when it was their turn on the table.

T’s dad was the head of aviation safety for the state of Maine six years ago, and as the extent of the disaster dawned on us, T knew his dad was going to be called to coordinate the state’s response. A call home confirmed that he was already on his way in and that there was talk about completely shutting down US airspace. Given the uncertainties of the day and the days ahead, we all decided to postpone the meeting until a more auspicious time. Instead, we found ourselves like everyone in the country, in the world — glued to our TV and watching in disbelief and anguish the 24-hour coverage. It was planned. It was coordinated. It was an attack. It was aimed at us.

Before our Reiki class ended, CB extracted from each of us a commitment to practice self-healing for at least 30 consecutive days. After that, it would either be a practice we couldn’t live without or we might find it didn’t do anything for us and leave it. The night after that group healing session I had the best night’s sleep of my life, I think. At the time, I was averaging about 6 hours sleep each night. That night I slept for 9 and woke feeling rested and with a wonderful sense of well-being. What I wanted most was to become a Reiki master so I could teach my family and friends how to do self-healing every day, too. I couldn’t believe I had been given such a profound gift so unexpectedly.

11 September. September 11th. 9/11. It will always be a day tinged with grief and memories of horror. I‘m grateful that it also came to mark a day that was filled with healing and the gift to share healing. The second in no way erases the first. But the knowledge that healing is available to us — as close as our own hands — is a comfort in a world where evil can imagine steering a plane into a building on a cloudless autumn day, and a gift in a world that still needs so much healing. Reiki teaches that before you can heal anyone else, you must first heal yourself.


Five Precepts pf Reiki

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Nourish body and mind

Bo Tree at Foster Gerdens

Last night was the third training sessions in my new Tai Chi (Yang, short form) class. It’s been over 5 years since I was last in a Tai Chi class and it feels great to be back in training. Even with only half an hour of actual exercise --- and that was with very gentle movements --- I can still feel those little-used muscles at the front of my thighs starting to burn. It always amazes me, too, how such gentle-seeming movements can really warm up your insides. It feels like your sweat comes from the center of your being.

The instructor, JC, puts great emphasis on strengthening muscles to provide balance. Most of the exercises we have learned naturally strengthen the legs, especially the thighs. To build upper-body and back strength, he’s asked each of us to prepare a weight-training tool called a Roll-Up. It’s devised from simple implements: a 12” dowel, a wood screw, 7ft. length of nylon cord, and hand weights (1 lb. to start). He told us that one could purchase similar pre-made devices at a few of the national franchise gyms, but you get the feeling that making one for yourself is part of the discipline of the training. Two of his long-term students were on-hand to do demonstrations, and I had a chance to look at their Roll-Ups. After 2-3 years of daily practice, each had been burnished a dark brown from its original sandy color. I hope the Roll-Up I’ve made will one day testify to my adherence to such faithful practice. For now, doing 10 Roll-Ups brings a intense burn in my upper arms and I’m trying to push past that to 15.

I’ve been good about doing the warm-up exercises, called 8 Brocades, every morning. Each “brocade” is a set of movements with lyrical names like “Push the Sky,” “Circle Wind,” and “Cow Turns Face to the Moon.” The challenge is not only in learning the sequence, but also in timing movements, and coordinating movement with breathing. JC tells us to also pay attention to the body’s position (feet and hand placements, whether a movement starts from the waist or the thighs, etc.) and how it responds to a given movement -- feel the stretch, knee twisting, can you keep your balance on your toes? It’s a wonderful morning routine because it has such gentle flowing movements, but it really does get your blood moving and your mind focused.

After completing the Brocade set eight times (takes 20-25 minutes), I often go directly into a Reiki session while still in the standing Wuji position (feet shoulder width apart, knees soft). I decided to try this once as a way to maintain the Wuji stance and develop leg strength, and was surprised how relaxing it was to do Reiki self-healing this way. The session ends with long-distance healing for friends and family who have requested it.

The best part of this routine is that the day starts with healing and gratitude. Healing for my mind and body with these gentle exercises and meditation, then in gratitude sending healing out to people (and animals) I love, and for whom I am grateful to have in my life.
So if we’re training our muscles, mind and spirit this way, seems a shame to spoil it all with a breakfast of fried eggs, sausage/bacon and biscuits/bread/rice. (Don’t get me wrong, I love portuguese sausage and fried rice, and Belgian waffles as much as the next person -- but these are “treats” not routine meals.) We have oatmeal almost every weekday morning, and this feels like a natural complement to follow the exercise-Reiki set -- warm, filling, nutritious, and oh-so-tasty.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve had home-cooked oatmeal, then you owe yourself the favor of rediscovering this old gem. Forget the instant stuff, they’re packed with all kinds of preservatives and who-knows-what. And they’re expensive to boot. A tub of old-fashioned oatmeal (cooks in 5 minutes or so) and water are the basics, but oh-yo-can-have-so-much-fun with the flavorings! Have a different flavor every day. We add fresh, dried and frozen fruits (apples, pears, plums, peaches, mangoes, bananas, cantaloupe, blueberries) while the oatmeal is still cooking. Want chocolate oatmeal? -- add your favorite chocolate drink mix (recommend the less-sweet European Ovaltine) to the cooked oatmeal. How about apple pie? We add fresh apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pat of butter to the pot, and sprinkle brown sugar on the cooked cereal. (Yes, this one is a bit decadent with that pat of butter, but you’d be amazed how much it does taste like pie.) Another favorite is double blueberry: frozen and dried (sweeter) blueberries cooked in, and maple syrup poured before eating (T is from Maine so the blueberry-maple syrup connection was a natural for him). For applesauce oatmeal, sweeten the cooked oatmeal, then stir in home-made or natural applesauce. When we lived in Germany, our hands-down favorite was Pflaumenmuss oatmeal. Pflaumenmuss is thick homemade cooked plum sauce -- kind of like apple butter, but not as highly spiced. The point is, put in the flavors you like. There are so many possibilities: nut butters, fruit preserves, fruits, spices, sweeteners (brown sugar, condensed milk, honey, maple syrup, flavored “coffee syrups”).

I like cereal or muesli and milk (or yogurt), too. I often have that as a snack or lazy-persons lunch. But there’s something comforting and soul-satisfying about starting your day with a warm bowl of cereal. It sets the tone for the day in a different way than cold cereals do. Maybe taking the time to cook something for yourself in the midst of a hectic morning intuitively says to yourself, I’m worth this effort. Maybe it’s the deep glow you feel as the warm cereal makes its way down the gullet. Maybe it’s just the fun of feeling like you’re eating apple pie or chocolate when you’re really eating oatmeal. Reclaim breakfast! Don’t just feed yourself. Nourish your body and your soul.

Double blueberry oatmeal
Tandm Oatmeal
(2 servings)

3 ¼ c. water (up to a ¼ cup more if you’re using only dried fruit)
1 ½ cup”old-fashioned” oatmeal (label usually says “cooks in 5 minutes” -- “quick”= “cooks in 1 minute”)
½ tsp. sea salt (you can omit if medically necessary, but sea salt has less
sodium than table salt; and salt will really round out the flavor of your oatmeal)
2 Tbl.
wolfberries (aka goji berries)

Bring water and wolfberries to a hard boil, add salt and oatmeal and anything from the following list or as your imagination calls forth, and cook for 6 minutes on medium high heat without a cover. Turn off heat, cover and let rest for at least 2 minutes. Serve. This will make 2 servings of the “heart-helathy” amount recommended to reduce cholesterol -- at first, a single serving may look quite daunting, but you’ll soon adjust.

To this you can add any thing your heart desires. Some suggestions:
  • 1 c. frozen and ½ c. dried blueberries (this combo gives you the juciness and rich color of the frozen berries, and the intense flavor and swetness of the dried)
    • 1 diced apple, or half diced apple and ½ c. cranberries, AND ½ tsp. cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 diced pear and ¼ c. candied ginger
    • ½ c. or more your favorite mixed diced fruit, raisins, cranberries, mangos, etc.
    • 1 overripe banana and peanut butter or chocolate

If fruits are cooked in, often additional sweetening is not necessary. If you want a touch of sweetness, try:
  • Ovaltine (less sweet European blend is available in Oriental markets), Milo or Horlicks chocolate powders
    • Peanut or other nut butters
    • Maple syrup
    • Honey
    • Malt or brown rice syrups
    • Agave syrup
    • Brown sugar
    • Fruit preserves and butters
    • Nutella (Hazelnut-chocolate spread)
    • Flavored syrups (Often sold as coffee or soda sweeteners -- just be wary of ones with high-fructose corn syrup HFCS)
    • Condensed milk or dulce de leche (check for the HFCS)

Add oats and dried berries

Instead of milk, try
  • soy milk
  • rice milk
  • almond milk
  • going bare -- no milk at all!

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