A gentleman brought his 94 year old mother to me asking for help with her 4 months of bowel incontinence, which was making her miserable and exhausted, not to mention the loss of dignity that goes with that sort of thing.
Her doctors had prescribed all sorts of medications, but nothing worked and she was getting weaker every day. In my office, she covered up with her winter coat, looking frail and pale, but I could see the feisty woman she really was underneath the weariness.
A warmer diet for a weakened person can make all the difference
One solution jumped out at me right away, but I questioned whether her caregivers at the nursing home would get on board.
I suggested the staff hold off on serving her fruit juices, cold fruit, iced tea and cottage cheese, all of which are known to contribute to loose stools and digestive problems for those with the TCM pattern of Spleen Qi Deficiency.
It’s a clinical term that describes a pattern of disharmony in Traditional Chinese Medicine. People with this pattern have sometimes been weakened by a long period of stress like an illness (my patient had suffered a stroke), or excessive cold, damp foods, or both. In her case, a very long life even by today’s standards, contributed a large degree to her deficiency patterns.
A week later, the patient’s son called to say that even before starting the course of herbs I recommended, she was 50% better. The staff was shocked at how much just a simple diet change, including warmer foods, soups and hot teas, did to improve her quality of living.
Holistic healing isn’t always about taking an herb or supplement. It takes into account everything from lifestyle factors to diet and even spiritual practices. Even a minor adjustment like the temperature of your food can make a big difference in the whole you.
Could there be one simple practice that needs a tiny little turn-of-the-dial in your life or the life of someone close to you?
Are you focusing on health but running into roadblocks? Are you confused by all the free advice you’re getting? Do you need some health sorting through the obstacles to find answers?
If you can squeeze one more thing between all those graduations this weekend, I’d love to have you in my class Saturday morning.
The class is Savvy Health for Women Over 50 – but don’t let that age thing keep you away. Women of ALL ages are welcome to attend.
In this class, you’ll:
- Learn health secrets for eating, sleeping and feeling better than ever.
- Find support and discover a community of women with passion for healthy, happy living.
- Watch or join in a demonstration of movements for longevity, fitness and lifelong health, with guest instructor Sarah Brandt from 5elementharmony.com.
Take a little break for some ‘Me time’ from 10-11:30. Discover profoundly simple ways to make these the best years yet!
Bring your friend, sister, mom or co-worker. It’s $35, including handouts and herbal women’s tea. Call 402-933-6444 to register or email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us you’re coming!
A funny thing happened when I hit the ‘Send’ button this morning. I accidentally told my mom, and about 12 other women friends, that I was glad she didn’t embarrass me in front of them at a mother-daughter event last night.
And you know what she said in her email reply? “I’m glad I didn’t embarrass you. The thought had crossed my mind.” My mom is a total good sport, but I almost never give her credit for it. I wonder if it occurred to her that I might embarrass HER?
I have a not-so-loving relationship with my mother. It’s not her fault. People always tell me how charming and funny and lovely she is. How much they enjoy having her around. But all I see through my judging eyes is someone who struggled with bipolar disease and didn’t pay enough attention to me.
I never stop to remember that she gave birth to 5 children in 7 years, moving with her military husband to at least 5 different bases, with no ‘I’m too tired to cook’ processed food dinners on the days when everyone was sick or crying or snowed in.
It rarely occurs to me that she was an inspiration for my holistic-style career, insisting on whole wheat bread and a ‘no sugary snacks’ household when Wonder Bread and Super Sugar Crisp were standard fare in 70’s suburban homes.
I always forget that she was the one who told my sister and I (I guess she assumed it was a given for my brothers) that we could do anything we want with our lives, and proved it by doing exactly that. As soon as we kids were all in school, she put her Chemistry and Physics degrees to work in a series of jobs that landed her in a professional engineering career.
That’s the kind of life that would make a grown kid proud of their parent. Even if I stopped right there, it would be plenty of reason to knock me upside the head for missing opportunities to tell her.
There’s more. Last year, we saw Mom flirt with death at least 3 times while she struggled through major surgery and a 4-month recovery. None of us kids thought she would live to see 2013. But her incredibly resilient constitution allowed a full recovery and in some aspects, allowed her even better health than ever.
Instead of sending accidental emails about how embarrassing my mom is, I can only hope to be a good sport and take the high road with her a little more often. That’s how I’ll honor Mom on Mother’s Day.
That little email has me wondering, now, if my own kids feel this way about me. I guess what goes around, comes around…
The answer to the Mother’s Day Herbal poll: Roses
Healthy cleansing can be the push you need to better health
Below is a guest blog that started as an enthusiastic email from a friend who was tired of being ‘stuck’ in her old patterns, and found a way to break through after a couple weeks of seasonal cleansing. With some light editing of exclamation points, I’ll let her tell the story…
I was recently guided to attend one of Mo’s classes – a Spring cleanse. What a good idea, I thought. Get a little healthier, feel a little better, you know…the usual. Little did I know that this 2 week cleanse would completely change my life – healing my unhealthy patterns at a very deep level – and giving me a renewed sense of self.
The class turned out to be a cooking class, meant to prepare us for this 2 week, nearly vegan life-style. Mo, by showing us the actual “to-do’s”, empowered us to go find the healthiest foods we could, and re-engage with our kitchens. And her enthusiasm and commitment to each of us was contagious.
It was tough, but because I’m married to an amazing man who also loves to cook (and who realized quickly that life was simply going to be easier by getting on board with this one). We made our collective way through it. I won’t give the details of everything this diet pushed us through in this blog (but perhaps over a healthy lunch??) but on the other side of 2 weeks….here’s what we are experiencing: my diarrhea (my companion for the last 20 or so years) is completely gone. We’re both sleeping through the night (rare!). My husband’s snoring….gone. He’s lost 13 pounds, I’ve lost 7, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Seriously, the energy that we are experiencing and the way our new bodies feel has changed us. We can never go back to drinking wine nearly every single night. Miracle of miracles, the desire is gone! Who knew? And who wants a huge chunk of beef in their stomachs now? Not us. Of course, we’re enjoying these things again, but in moderation as opposed to gluttony. We’re the “all in” types….enough said. The way our bodies feel now has actually become our dietary compass, and it’s joyful!
Last but certainly not least, because I’m getting a full night’s sleep, I’m getting up earlier, finding time for breakfast again, and have gotten back into a morning meditation practice – something I haven’t had in my life for years.
We are changed…
Carolyn and Kurt Johnson
Seasonal cleansing is a gentle and safe way to bring about subtle (or in Carolyn’s case, not-so-subtle) change when you’re feeling stuck or stagnant. It could turn out to be just the nudge you needed to break a bad habit and start some new ones. Take cleansing to a holistic new healthy level – schedule a personal visit with me 402.933.6444 or gather a group for a class at your school, church or workplace. Email email@example.com for more information.
Take a detour to natural health and get out of your comfort zone
When was the last time you took a new route to work or changed the part in your hair? Did you decide a really long time ago you didn’t like a certain food, like brussel sprouts, so you never, ever tried it again?
It’s easy to to make a habit of behaviors that feel comfortable, flow smoothly and only require occasional minor adaptation. Routines provide a safe feeling, you know what to expect, and you come to identify with the person you see in the mirror.
Granted, there’s something to be said for making a habit of regular dental hygiene, for instance, or driving to work using a route with predictable stoplights and traffic patterns.
That’s part of the benefit of habits – they become so much a part of you that you can funnel less mental energy into them. And that frees up your mind for creative thoughts, like ‘what’s a seven-letter word for organic fertilizer?’
The flip-side of routines is this: after a while, we pay so little attention that sometimes we don’t notice a problem until it’s a BIG one. In our bodies, minor annoyances become chronic pain, insomnia and outright misery because we follow the same patterns day to day despite that tiny warning light that says ‘stop and check engine’.
While I struggled to recover from the depleting drugs and the emotional drain of chemo, it frustrated me that habits which used to comfort me – eating sweet, rich food, drinking coffee to wake up, and even complaining, and blaming other people for my problems- didn’t satisfy me anymore. My habits had formed a roadblock to healing.
Having a health problem or crisis has a way of making you re-examine how you do just about everything. That’s how I discovered the truth about this old maxim – if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
When it comes to health care, we’ve been trained to get results without requiring a change of patterns, habits, or ways of thinking. A pill or surgery gets the depression, the pain, or chronic irritation to stop bothering us. But this approach often masks the real issue, and we end up having to go back to deal with the core problem later.
There’s no way around it. Getting genuinely healthy means making permanent CHANGE. And there’s no time like the present to start. My life coach calls these ‘small, sweet steps’.
- Start by observing habitual behavior, like midnight snacking, mindless refills of coffee all morning, or even checking and re-checking email, twitter or Facebook 14 times a day (the national average for smartphone users).
- Decide ahead of time what you’ll do when faced with the temptation to snack, fill up your cup or tap into social media to fill space in your day.
- Be specific, then write it down. “I will only check my [insert social media platform] twice a day at [insert actual times].
- And then stick to it. Give yourself a week to catch on. And eventually you’ll get un-stuck, lose weight, sleep better, feel less pain, be less stressed out. And happier.
Every now and then, it’s healthy to fluster and confound your brain, shut down the cruise control driving those habits. Make new connections.
Like freshly hiked paths, these brain connections have to be ‘trod on’ over and over until the new behavior/thought is learned and becomes the new routine. That takes some work. It will frustrate and irritate you and tempt even the strongest of you to slip back into old patterns.
Without a plan, I always fail at this. I’m a genius at coming up with excuses for unhealthy behavior – the best one is “I don’t really have PROOF that this is a problem for me, so one more [insert behavior] won’t hurt.”
By mapping out my detour, I know where I’m going and what success looks like. At the new destination is a sense of accomplishment, pride, and a more flexible, creative me, with brain connections that lead to crossword answers like ‘compost’ [raise your hand if you got that one 🙂 ].
Fashion was never my thing…even in second grade.
If the seasons were people, this year’s Spring would be a late-bloomer. I’m getting a little fidgety waiting for some daffodils and tulips. Can you blame me? I’ve spent most of my life expecting Nebraska Spring to prove that winter doesn’t last for-EVER.
The thing is, I can totally relate to a season that takes its time showing up. I’ve always been a little late to the party myself. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been hopelessly behind in personal fashion, trendy fads and hairstyles (but that didn’t stop me from trying to style my own hair for second-grade picture day).
And for someone who’s always in a hurry and gets described as impatient about once a day, it surprises me as much as anybody that it took me so long to figure out my vocation. For Spring and me, it’s been fits and starts the whole way. One day we’re radiant and hopeful, the next, we’re plunged into gray and gloomy.
I didn’t figure out this herbalist thing until way after 40. By then, my younger sister was already retired, my brothers were well into their careers, and my friends were accomplished teachers, attorneys, dentists, and the types of professionals I was encouraged to be as a kid.
Then, like a fluky Spring snowstorm, the defining moment of my life came along out of nowhere. Instead of losing all hope of finding my calling, treatment and recovery from breast cancer planted the seed for my herbalist roots. Sitting in the chemo room watching the pink stuff draining into my veins, I hit the proverbial rock bottom. I finally gave myself permission to start healing all the wounds that got me there. Like those seeds in Yellowstone, the ones that need an intense fire to germinate, I needed a trial by fire.
It took me a few years to get it all straightened out, but some perennial force has kept me going and growing. I dug up buried emotional and physical pain, pulled it apart and used it as compost to grow into an herbalist. All those years of pain finally make sense. I like to think of my healing and recovery as the life experience I needed to appreciate the suffering my patients carry with them.
Yeah, I took my time, tried on a couple suits that didn’t fit. Raised three kids I’m seriously proud of. It hasn’t been a wasted life by any measure. And now, I get to put it all together with a lifelong curiosity and love of learning, into my work as an herbalist who’s just emerging after a long winter (and some seriously bad hair days).
Winter really doesn’t last forever. Maybe just another week…
Like mother, like daughter, when it comes to health
“Overall, I’m liking the cleanse a lot more than I thought I would, and I feel really great,” said the email message from my daughter – my Starbucks-drinking, Chipotle-eating, meal-skipping daughter. This is the same girl who turned up her nose as a kid when I dished out green vegetables.
When they were growing up, my kids always thought I was a little weird, trying new foods, practicing yoga, not like other moms. “What’s she doing now?” they must have been thinking. Now my daughters are asking me to send them herbs at college and gently offering tea and chinese herbs to their sick roommates. And this cleanse thing has apparently caught on…
It started when she put in a request for “that cleanse stuff” over the Christmas holiday. I thought she was humoring me, since her sister and I were making plans to cook yummy Winter Cleanse recipes over break. But this was serious business, I soon learned.
I humored her back by sending a list of cleanse-friendly foods, herbs and recommendations like ‘get a massage’ and ‘let yourself rest’. I figured there way no way was she gonna take this seriously, so I didn’t bother to lecture about sticking to it, the importance of discipline and how to forgive herself for sneaking chocolate.
To my surprise, she emailed me a 300-word description of her cleanse experience that sounded like the perfect testimonial for everything she’s ever heard me say about health.
Now, she’s one-upped me by downloading an app to track daily percentages of protein, carb and fat consumption. She’s using words like bean burger and ‘getting creative about cooking’. Seriously. Ask anyone. This girl hates to cook.
It just goes to show that your kids, no matter how much they object to your healthy choices and green foods, really do listen and pick up a few pointers along the way.
And we learn from them, too. Time to download that app.
Getting grounded in old growth lends new perspective – photograph by Erin Horner
My 15-year old daughter and I couldn’t decide what to do for Spring Break this year, so we compromised. She wanted an ocean and I wanted trees. A tall order for a land-locked place like Nebraska. So we recruited her buddy to join us, found a couple cheap flights and spent a week with some old friends in San Francisco, one of my all-time favorite cities.
Since we’re city people, after 4 days of driving the twisting, turning highways of Northern California, a trip to Muir Woods, named for naturalist John Muir, seemed like a great escape.
The two girls giggled their way down the cool path of this awesome redwood forest, snapping Instagram pics and pointing like the rest of us at mammoth trees the width of small houses and ‘approximately the height of a six-foot person stacked head to toe 45 times’, according to the National Forest Service website. It was as easy and natural as if we were walking Omaha’s own Fontenelle Forest on a Sunday morning.
You don’t have to vacation a thousand miles away to get that lift of spirit that vacations bring. But it helps. Standing next to a couple of these trees, nestling up against their surfaces worn soft by the touch of visitors through the decades, none of us wanted to move anymore. We could have stayed there all day, soaking up the quiet, solid energy that made us all feel so grounded. Knowing those trees were hundreds of years old put our own few years of life into perspective.
I wish I could personally thank John Muir for making it his mission to preserve Muir Woods for my daughter and her kids and grandkids. It made me wonder if I’m doing enough to keep something I treasure safe for generations to come. Heavy thoughts for a Spring break getaway. But hey, I did get my trees.
A pair of worn jeans is like herbal medicine. Tried and true.
A pop song I heard on my kid’s iTunes last week got me thinking…so, here I go again…
Everyone’s got that favorite sweatshirt or pair of jeans they keep for weekends at home. You know, the ones you slip on when you wanna feel comfortable and relaxed.
Over time, the color’s faded and the newness has worn off, but you’re not completely at home unless you’ve got that soft, worn fabric against your skin. Do you remember why you stopped wearing those jeans in public?
My guess is that something new and trendy came along and made them look dull in comparison.
Something similar happened to herbal medicine. The comfort of our grandmothers’ folk healing was replaced by a trendy, shiny thing called modern medicine.
Traditional ways of staying healthy and healing at home were relegated to the back of the closet. Somehow, we convinced ourselves that newer was better. In the process, safe, natural, remarkably simple methods of prevention and natural healing were written off as dated and out of style.
Isn’t it time we put some old-fashioned common sense back into health care? Let’s take a page from fashion by pairing the best of today’s chic new healthcare with classics that stand the test of time.
Herbal medicine blends well into today’s eclectic cultural sensibilities. It’s more than just vintage, thrift-store medicine or trendy ‘folk’ healthcare. There’s powerful healing in that simple cup of tea your grandmother brewed for you.
What could be more comfortable than medicine that grows in your own back yard, right?
I’ve never celebrated Chinese New Year. I had to Google ‘Year of the Water Snake’ to figure out what to celebrate tomorrow, February 10th, the first day of the Chinese New Year.
One website told me not to sweep the floor or clean on Sunday because I might sweep away my good luck for the year. I’m not to use knives or scissors or I may ‘cut away’ my good luck. And red is the color to wear, particularly something brand new.
Easy enough any day of the week.
You know what I like about these cultural holidays? They remind me that people everywhere have their own special ways of honoring what’s good about living. And in a world where there’s so much bad news, I like to stay plugged in to joyful and optimistic thinking wherever I can get it.
The Chinese say that good health starts with good thoughts, or at least that’s how I interpret 5-Element theory. It’s certainly been true in my life. I’ve always been optimistic, but I learned a valuable lesson during cancer recovery. My intentions become my reality.
So this Chinese New Year, I intend to show appreciation for kindness, have more fun, see the humor in life, and expect abundance. Doesn’t that sound more interesting than “lose 10 pounds” or “get in shape”?