The blog of Peninsula Family Acupuncture, serving North Portland since 2003

My recent trip to Japan to study acupuncture

My acupuncture teacher, Ms. Kiiko Matsumoto, took an international group of acupuncturists to Japan in December 2013 to study with some noted practitioners there. I was privileged to be part of this wonderful group.

Kiiko Matsumoto style acupuncture is one of the more unique practices I have come across. It is founded on the work of Master Nagano, one of Kiiko’s important teachers during her time in Japan. She has continued to grow and evolve in the practice and now has her own unique style of acupuncture. I am completely enamored of it, finding it to be superiorly effective for a great many patients I see in my clinic.

I could not pass up this opportunity to travel to Japan. I am a huge fan of Kiiko, and this was a chance to study with teachers she thinks are great. So on the first day of December, I packed my bags and headed to Osaka for five days of study and camaraderie with my colleagues from around the world.

The teaching was amazing. Tsuyoshi Shimamura, also a student of Master Nagano, spent three days going into great depth with just a few different treatments. We watched him treat all kinds of conditions with the same basic treatments over and over again. It was a very profound demonstration of acupuncture’s ability to get to the root the matter. Tsuyoshi sensei has a very refined hand with needling, and seeing the care and focus with which he approaches his craft was most inspiring. I was also witness to incredible collaboration between Tsuyoshi sensei, Kiiko sensei, and our translator, Tak sensei in hunting down the very best treatment for whoever was on the table. I finished those few days with a deep desire to rededicate to the practice of medicine and be a better clinician.

We also had the privilege of spending a day with Master Matsumoto (not Kiiko), who brings some 50 years of experience and a wealth of scientific knowledge. Master Matsumoto has a precise anatomical approach to acupuncture, considering carefully the western anatomy. He showed us a style of local needling (needling where it hurts) that was elegant and sophisticated. And best of all, not to painful! Part of the reason a lot of acupuncturists move away from local needling is it can be hard on patients. Master Matsumoto has such great anatomical knowledge, clear intention, and careful needling that discomfort is kept to a minimum. He really inspired me refine my needling technique, and as a result, local needling is back in my repertoire!

We also visited the acupuncture museum in Osaka, which houses a good collection of old texts, tools, and scrolls related to acupuncture and moxibustion. Thinking about the contribution of my acupuncture forebears always makes be proud to be a part of this venerable tradition, and I am grateful for their hard work and contributions to the development of the art.

After my studies in Osaka, I had the great joy of doing a bit of travel. I visited Kyoto, Uji, and Tokyo, and had an absolutely marvelous time! Japan is a wonderful country. I made some great new friends, studied with some awesome teachers, and came back smarter and inspired. I am so grateful to have had this amazing opportunity!

Adults need play

Goodness, it’s been a long time since I posted anything! Play has been on my mind lately, and I am moved to write. The gist of this blog post is adults need play. Not rest, not exercise, but play.

Much is made of how young creatures of several species instinctively engage in play as a way of developing their physical and mental skills. We observe this regularly in the world around us when we see puppies, kittens, children and other young creatures playing tug-of-war, peekaboo, engaging in mock fights, etc. We all agree that children who are allowed to go outside and play for recess have fewer behavioral problems and appear to learn better once they are back in the classroom. But what is play for adults? Why do we stop playing? What are we missing out on?

I treat almost exclusively adults in my acupuncture practice. Many of my patients have several small complaints that can be classified under one word – stress. They have minor aches and pains, their sleep is a little off, their blood pressure and blood sugar are creeping up, along with their weight. They are anxious or depressed. These things can all go back to stress. Our stress response is essential, and some interesting research has shown that a little bit of stress is actually good for us! However, our stress response is best designed for acute stressors such as famine and immediate physical threat (think saber-toothed tiger). Adrenaline and cortisol flood your body, giving you laser focus, strength and speed. This gives you your best shot at successful hunting, defense or escape, thereby preserving your life.

Most of us today, thankfully, don’t have to deal with intense, immediate threats like famine and random violence. Rather, modern stress is typically of a lower level, and more constant. Our stressors today include money, job and family pressures, environmental toxins, inflammation from poor nutrition, and poor spiritual health. You get the adrenaline, you get the cortisol, but there’s no burst of physical activity to escape the tiger or take down the mammoth. There’s only sitting… in your cubicle… reading another vaguely insulting e-mail from your coworker or boss. Or just barely paying the bills… again… just like the last six months. Our natural stress response is designed to be followed by a burst of physical activity, which is intended to be augmented by the adrenaline. Responding to your angsty teen’s surly comments with a fearsome shout and battle stance, however, is usually not the best choice. Research also shows that over time, the chronic exposure to stress hormones adversely affects your brain. Chronic stress literally gives you brain damage! So what should we, as modern adult humans, do with all that stress?

My answer is play! Play, play, play! So often we are told that exercise is essential, we need to do it for our health, we will feel better, it will relieve stress. But my patients get stressed about adding exercise as another thing on their “to do” list! Isn’t that counterproductive? And my stressed patients get home from work and just want to lie on the couch and zone out. The thought of getting out and exercising is just more than they can bear. This is why play is the answer. Any kind of play, but physical play is ideal.

When you get home from work exhausted, unless you do heavy labor for a living, what you are is mentally or emotionally exhausted, not physically exhausted. It is your brain that is tired, not your body. And in my opinion, the best remedy for brain fatigue is play. Play is rejuvenating for mind and body. It restores your spirit and energizes your body. Play gives you your life back.

But what does it mean for an adult to play? Each must answer this question for themselves. Usually, as adults we don’t play the same as we did when we were children. (Although I can vouch for the restorative qualities of impulsive running, the swing set, and exploring in the woods.) What does play mean to you today? Is it building something, or taking something apart to see how it works? Sitting down at the sewing machine and working on a project? Cooking a meal from scratch? Maybe it’s playing with your dog, or your kids. Do you remember your kids can be a great source of play? Maybe you like to ride your bike, or go dancing, or take a walk and spy on all your neighbors’ gardens. Whatever it is that is fun to you, make a date to do it!

“But Donna,” they all say… “I have to…”, “and there’s….”. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, homework, the gym, whatever. What is all that busywork that occupies you between when you get home and when you go to bed and fall asleep with the TV on? Are those your priorities or someone else’s? Are you really bothered by a messy house, or are you just worried what others will think? If you have time to zone out in front of a TV show you don’t even like for an hour every night, you have time for play! Engaging in some play after a tough day at work or school will give you time back. Time that you are sacked out on the couch, unable to do anything because you are mentally exhausted is lost time. Half an hour of play will revive you, and you will get back three hours of productive time for that half hour investment.

So go on and play! Whatever that means to you! You outgrew recess, not play.

Why I do the medicine

Greetings, Internet! I am taking a few moments to reflect on why I do the medicine. What do I mean by “do the medicine”? I use this expression to be inclusive of all who are engaged in healing work. Acupuncturists, doctors, massage therapists, counselors, shamans, energy workers… all of us are “doing the medicine”. We are engaged with suffering people in an effort to bring them back to health and happiness. So why do I do the medicine?

First, I love puzzles. My innate optimism leads me to believe that most problems can be understood, most problems can be alleviated or cured, and there are very few that cannot be either. I love the process of discovery, where I attempt to both understand and ease whatever trouble is bothering my patient. Each problem is a unique puzzle, with different parts, and a different landscape. When I do the medicine, I get to explore those parts of the puzzle, and their landscape. Nothing is ever the same! The thrill of being on the hunt for the solution draws me in again and again. And when I can land on a solution, the key that unlocks the whole thing, that is very satisfying!

Second, I love people. Each one of us is precious, and in all our diversity we have the capacity to bring something wonderful to the world. It is a pleasure and privilege to meet all the wonderful people who come to see me. They are unique, interesting, and a joy. I am often in awe of the crazy, beautiful patchwork that is the human family. Up close, each one of us may seem flawed or damaged, but when we are all together, our strengths magnify and our weaknesses are supported and we are absolutely magnificent!

Third, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s level of suffering. There is an awful lot of suffering out there, and if I can make a little piece of it a little better, I have done something valuable. I am humbled by role I am allowed to fulfill, and thankful each and every day.

I love my job. To every one of my colleagues who do the medicine, I say you better bring the love. Bring the love of discovery, the love of people, the love of healing, something. But you better bring the love. I try to, every day.

Welcome to the blog of Peninsula Family Acupuncture!

Greetings! Peninsula Family Acupuncture is a Chinese medicine and acupuncture clinic located in the St Johns neighborhood of North Portland. I am your hostess, Donna Stewart, L.Ac., PT. I opened the clinic in St Johns in 2002, and have been here ever since. I offer acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and shiatsu massage. I have a general medical practice, treating a whole range of patients and conditions. You can visit the website for some more information about the clinic.

This blog is a place you can visit for some of my thoughts on random things, most of which should be at least tangentially related to Chinese medicine. But, I am passionate about wellness as a whole, body, mind and spirit, individual, family, community, and world. So the blog may venture into some far-flung places! I invite you to come back and visit once in awhile, and see if I have any tidbits to interest you.

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