Nutritional Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Introduction

Written by Sabine Schmitz, a TCM practitioner and Singing Dragon author of Treating Acne and Rosacea with Chinese Herbal Medicine and Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine. Sabine’s upcoming title Treating Eczema and Neurodermatitis with Chinese Herbal Medicine will be published with us in September 2024.

In this blog post, Sabine delves into the topic of Nutritional Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), highlighting its significant role as a fundamental component within every TCM treatment.

Nutritional Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine

There are many things to love about China, and one of them is undoubtedly its wonderful cuisine. As delicious and diverse as Chinese food may be, did you know that the Chinese also use food as a means to regulate and restore balance to the body? This form of nutrition is known as Chinese nutritional therapy, and that’s exactly what I want to talk to you about today.

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“I feel my tension begin to melt away”: How water treatments increase the effectiveness of bodywork

Written by MaryBetts Sinclair, author of Hydrotherapy for Bodyworkers: Improving Outcomes with Water Therapies.

           In combination with skilled touch, water treatments are perhaps the very oldest and most revered of all healing modalities. Pain from injuries, issues from damaged muscles and joints, circulation problems, chronic tension, chronic pain and emotional stress have long inspired healers to relieve suffering this way.

From ancient Rome’s great baths to Russian saunas, Indian Ayurvedic steams, Native American sweat lodges, Turkish baths and Japanese hot springs, peoples the world over use and love hydrotherapy and massage together. In Germany, the warm waters of Baden-Baden have been used for over eight thousand years, and in Bath, England, for ten thousand. 2800 years ago, Irish sweat houses made of sod and stone were used for rheumatism.

As a bodywork student or practitioner, you may be wondering what is the advantage of adding water treatments to your skill set. Here’s how it can improve your effectiveness:

*** Like massage, hydrotherapy can relieve discomfort and pain, stimulate the flow of blood and lymph, and make connective tissues more pliable and comfortable to the touch.

***Hydrotherapy is soothing and stress-reducing. The ancients realized the effect depression and stress can have upon a person, and over centuries, chronic depression was called everything from gloom or melancholia to neurasthenia or dysthymia. In ancient Greece, while warriors bathed to reduce fatigue and promote wound healing, warm baths were also ordered to relieve “dejection and low spirits.”  The founder of modern psychiatry, Philippe Pinel, (1745-1826) recommended warm baths to calm “overwrought nerves.”

In the 1800’s, many fashionably wealthy Victorians who suffered from depression spent their lives travelling to spas in hope of a cure, especially those diagnosed with mania, hysteria and other “nervous disorders”. For the first half of the twentieth century, hydrotherapy was a mainstream treatment for mental institutions, complete with bathtubs, steam baths and fomentation stations. Treatments were intended to make mentally ill patients more comfortable and compliant, and thus less likely to be violent. Fomentations were soothing, while hours-long baths calmed restless or agitated patients. But in the late 1940’s, even though the American Medical Association still affirmed the value of spa therapy for “nervous conditions,” the introduction of psychotropic medications put an end to the use of hydrotherapy and massage for sufferers.

So what is it about hydrotherapy that helps release stress and tension?

According to cognitive psychologist John Bargh, physical feelings of warmth are linked early in life to feelings of safety, and we subconsciously associate physical warmth with emotional warmth.  “Especially with animals that breastfeed their infants, the experience of being fed and held and protected goes hand in glove with feelings of warmth and closeness…the positive response to heat is hardwired into our brains.”  This helps to explain the deep enjoyment and relaxation our clients experience when we use any warm treatment before or during a session.

Whole-body heating has antidepressant effects because it activates specific brain areas that are important for the regulation of mood and body temperature and so a steam bath, sauna, or even a warm shower before a session will help the client calm and settle before the bodywork begins.  A simple warming body wrap can be made with blankets and the client’s head, neck and feet massaged while the wrap is in place. Partial-body treatments have that soothing effect as well. For example, a warm moist pack over the spine, a paraffin dip for arthritic hands, warm compresses over the face for TMD, a heat lamp or heating pad over a painful knee, and many other local heat treatments can help clients feel safe and relaxed and get the most out of their sessions. When clients arrive for sessions chilled, tense or uptight, a warm treatment is a great help and also a treat for them.

Because hydrotherapy is so beloved, new treatments are being invented all the time, such as flotation therapy for chronic pain, Watsu for relaxation, water exercise baths for tiny hospitalized premies, and special hyperthermia treatments for depression. With such a popular modality, likely more new water treatments will be brought forward as time goes on.

For a deeper dive into hydrotherapy and water therapies, click here to learn more about Hydrotherapy for Bodyworkers by MaryBetts Sinclair.

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Why smoking makes you look older: the damaging effects on the skin

Written by Sabine Schmitz

In my Chinese Medicine Dermatology book series Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine and Treating Acne and Rosacea with Chinese Herbal Medicine, I extensively discuss the topics of nutrition and lifestyle habits. Today, let’s shift our focus to another pivotal factor influencing skin health: smoking (nicotine).

We all know that smoking is detrimental to our overall health. The adverse effects of tobacco consumption extend to nearly every organ in the body, with the skin being no exception. In this article, we will unveil the specific reasons behind this and explore the intricate impact that smoking has on our skin.

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What is the True Scope of Osteopathy?

Written by Tim Marris, author of An Inner Approach to Cranial Osteopathy (August 2023), published by Handspring Publishing.

During the last 40+ years of my career, I have always wondered: What is the scope of osteopathy?

Whilst a student at The British School of Osteopathy in the 1970’s I was taught much about the musculoskeletal system and its physiology. This was furthered by supervised clinic tuition. Then I was sent out into practice life to explore these skills with patients.

However, I always had this strong feeling that something was missing, that osteopathy had much more to offer than was being clinically practiced by most osteopaths at that time. I then went on my first cranial osteopathic course, directed by the late Colin Dove. This and subsequent courses that I attended were significantly eye opening, expanding my vision of the true clinical potential of osteopathy. Then, as frequently happens, the more you know and understand, so the trickier the clinical condition your patients present with. Hence practitioner frustration for more knowledge and skill continues!

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Embodied awareness as a path to healing

Cultivating deeper attention and mind-body connectivity can be the key to unlocking held trauma and patterns of holding. We explore how to embody awareness through mindful attention and the breath.

By Charlotte Watts and Leonie Taylor, co-authors of Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health.

What sets the physical aspects of yoga aside from mere exercise is the quality of attention that we bring to focus. A mindful attitude brings us towards embodiment – inviting our mind to where our body resides in the present moment – and allows us to fully tune in and gauge appropriate response. This ‘listening and responding’ is the basis of a meditative practice, and the route to registering safety through our whole system as the nervous system can settle. As in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1:2;

“…stilling the fluctuations of the mind”.

The importance of the pause

Within practice, we can slow down to truly feel the experience – yoga as ‘moving meditation’ – and also punctuate movement with places of pause, where we allow processing through tissues and integration of experience. Within the heightened input of information from the ‘doing’ of movement, points of stillness offer a chance to drop beneath the mind imposing its will or story upon our practice.

“The ultimate purpose of inquiry is that it allows us to pause. In the space of a pause, truth can shine through.”

Tara Brach

Whether this is in response to what has been (eg judgment, comparison or analysis) or what is to come eg (ambition, anticipation or expectation); a pause is a place for presence. Brought into the body and physical experience, this might show as noticing we’ve ‘checked out’, are changing planes (such as moving from low to high) or observational enquiry between sides one and two of an asymmetrical position.

When a physical yoga practice simply keeps moving, we lose the opportunity to catch up with breath, to let the ripples of the motions settle and to integrate their effect. Slowing down to ‘simply be’, we can explore the mindful quality of the experience rather than simply where to move a foot or limb.

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Grounding Through Root Connection

Exploring muladhara chakra as an interoceptive pathway back to your gut

Written by Charlotte Watts and Leonie Taylor, co-authors of Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health and Yoga and Somatics for Immune and Respiratory Health.

So often in modern society, we are habitually ‘up in our heads’. To do lists, competing stressors, perpetual analysis… All of which can lead to dissociation from the body on a personal level, but also a disconnect from our environment, those around us. We have become more like machines in our conditioned drive for productivity. Perhaps this is why so many of us are drawn to modalities such as yoga and Somatics, which bring us back into connection, which literally earth us.

An interesting lens through which we can access a sense of grounding is the chakras. Perhaps no other spiritual map has taken up human imagination as much, allowing us a framework through which to explore the polarities of light and shadow, spirit and matter, and embodiment as part of a healthy psyche. For digestive health, the polarities of nourishment and elimination are a potent expression of this animism. The chakra system has morphed from its eastern roots – much through the work of 20th-century psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, as well as the Theosophy and ‘New Age’ movements of the 1960s-80s – as a way of mapping how we feel and respond throughout life. As a universally acknowledged topography for mind-body symbolism, this can be a useful route into modern body psychology, psychosomatic and trauma work.

As our digestive tract is such a repository for the unconscious conditionings we can push down and continue to act from, self-enquiry through mind-body work provides some sense of the journey. Western developmental ideas can work so well in conjunction with the lineage of yoga.

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Tracking the Meridians: How to Understand Them

Meridians are one of the most fascinating gifts we got from Traditional Chinese Medicine. And they are much more than abstract energy lines flowing through the body.

Imagine the following situation: you’re returning home from a journey late at night. You’re tired and hungry since what the airlines serve these days as a main course leaves as much to be desired as the leg space in economy class. You throw your bag in a corner, make a beeline for the fridge and take stock. Perhaps you’re lucky and, despite your hasty departure, it not only harbours the expected appearance of the duo Foul & Mould but also a couple of pleasant surprises. Okay, after a week’s absence, the remains of the veg have seen better days, and a few other items seem to have developed a life of their own despite the overdose of preservatives contained in most foods these days. At least the smoked ham looks acceptable. But better be on the safe side and cautiously guide it to your nose. The odour test delivers what the eye had hoped for. The stomach approves the result with a demanding growl. Together with the emergency ration of crackers you come up with a passable midnight snack. Done and dusted.

Eating: a completely normal everyday procedure with a logical order. Looking, smelling, chewing, swallowing, digesting. A completely normal process requiring many parts of the body to cooperate with each other and interact in a well-orchestrated manner: eyes, nose, teeth, tongue, chewing muscles, oesophagus, and stomach: they all form a functional community for the purpose of food intake. But before we even get to the point when we target and devour the desired titbit there has to be a stimulus, a need to be satisfied, initiating the entire process. Be it hunger, the mood for food or the desire to fill the terrible emptiness of a broken heart with calories. Whatever triggers the stimulus, it encourages us to carry out the relevant actions, one after the other.

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Sensing Through the Skin

Leonie Taylor & Charlotte Watts explore how our skin is the first line in communication, both to our internal landscape and the world around us.

The integumentary system (aka the skin)

The integumentary system, otherwise known as our skin, is both a boundary and a contact surface, a sensory organ. Every inch of our skin hosts over 2.5 million bacteria. The make-up of the skin microbiome varies greatly between individuals as well as where on the body it is, influenced by:

  • Physiology: sex hormones, age and site
  • Environment: climate and geographical location
  • Immune system: previous exposures and inflammation
  • Genotype: susceptibility genes
  • Lifestyle: occupation, hygiene
  • Pathology: underlying conditions
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Meeting the author – Carol Rose

Below is a chance to get to know Carol Rose, author of upcoming Integrating Clinical Aromatherapy in Palliative Care, publishing 18th May.

How did you become interested in essential oils and aromatherapy?

My first encounter with essential oils happened in the 1980’s as a newly registered nurse specialising in oncology at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital.  During that time, I observed patients receiving gentle hand massages using simple blends of lavender and sweet marjoram, fragrances that captured my attention and also my curiosity. In those moments of connection, where touch was non-medicalised, a different level of communication was taking place. Patients were visibly relaxing by this compassionate form of physical touch and tangible act of caring.  For me, something transformational happened as I listened to these patients speak of their restful night’s sleep and tranquil dreams; a paradox given this was a busy hospital environment and they were all confronting a life-threatening diagnosis of cancer.  This discovery of a different level of patient care spoke straight to my heart.

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How Trauma Affects Our Health

…And how yoga – both physically and philosophically – can ease the path to healing

By Leonie Taylor & Charlotte Watts

From content covered in their books Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health and Yoga & Somatics for Immune & Respiratory Health.

To talk ‘health’ in a modern context is to recognise the need to be ‘trauma-informed’ and meet the recognition that we are all holding the stories of the past in various ways, much of which is unconscious and comes out in reactions that may overwhelm or that we don’t understand. This is not to teach a specific ‘trauma class’, but to be aware of holding compassionate space for the subtleties that tuning in and embodiment can uncover.

We don’t need to identify or even mention trauma but whether teaching a class or holding space for ourselves, recognising that tuning into our needs, boundaries and responses is to allow any nature of experience to arise. Whether we are holding intergenerational, shock, developmental or vicarious trauma, embodied awareness (tuning into the sensory, bodily  experience of each moment) can help us navigate towards a relationship with grounding and even calm. It may even be the gateway towards post-traumatic growth.

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