This extremely basic soup contains some of the healthiest ingredients you can find for digestive health, including probiotic cultures (miso base), anti-inflammatory herbs (tumeric) and whole system nourishment (spinach, chickpeas). The chickpeas thicken the soup to make a creamy texture, and the greens keep in light and refreshing. The marinated chickpeas (from MOMs Organic Market) and the miso season it with both sour and salty flavors. No added salt or herbs are necessary, although adding a handful of garden fresh herbs is always optional.
I drew the ingredients for this recipe based on what was in my fridge the other day, and after tasting it I really wanted to share it. It was surprisingly good for a thrown together meal, and I could also feel the impact of all those ingredients on a physical level. I've made the soup a few times since then and it's worked out with different variations on the basic components (switching out parsley for dill, for example.) A potato or yam could also be added to make it even creamier and heartier in cooler weather.
If you're familiar with Chinese Medicine, you'll know we love our soups. They support the stomach and spleen which means they engender overall vitality and clarity of thought.
Miso chickpea base
Divina marinated chickpeas (MOMs Organic Market)
1. Simmer 2-3 cups filtered water
2. Grate tumeric root to yield 2 teaspoons
3. Add several handfuls of spinach (2 cups), chickpeas (1/2 cup), and grated tumeric to simmering pot to lightly cook (2 minutes)
4. Turn heat on low and add fresh dill, simmer for a minute and remove from heat.
5. Add 1-2 TBSP of chickpea miso to taste.
6. With an immersion blender, blend all ingredients until creamy.
Serve hot with white rice.
Chickpea miso can serve as a base for endless veggie soups.
On the Main Line, all ingredients can be found at MOMs Organic Market in Bryn Mawr.
There is also a new MOMs opening up in Center City Philadelphia. We are excited.
Summer is the time of year when the most yang qi is available, both in nature and in our bodies. This means there is a great amount of energy available for healing and transformation. Many people observe that they feel at their best in the summer.
For this reason it is important to continue with self care and wellness in the coming months - not only with acupuncture, buy with vacation, rest, and activities that bring you relaxation and joy.
The summer season in Chinese Medicine relates to the Fire Element and therefore, the expression of joy and love in connection with ourselves and others. The organ systems under the auspices of the Fire Element include the Heart, Pericardium, Triple Heater, and Small Intestine.
The The Fire element is vital to our sense of feeling at home in ourselves.
This season directly relates to the Heart, which ensures steady peace.
Signs that fire may be out of balance and treatment/care is needed include:
When imbalances are not resolved during the summer, it often leads to an imbalance in the next - late summer or fall - which is why treatments for seasonal balance are always encouraged in traditional healing. It is always easier to stay healthy than to treat an entrenched illness. Self-care is often learned after one becomes totally exhausted, but it doesn't have to be the case.
Schedule an acupuncture appointment here or call (215) 680-2362
Just as joy is the natural emotion of the summer, sadness may also arise. It is important to acknowledge it, allowing it to pass away naturally. Acupuncture can also help with the processing of emotions so that they do not become stagnant or pathological.
Making the most of summer: the season of the heart's joy
According to Chinese Medicine, the heart is the metaphorical emperor of the the body, mind and spirit. When the heart is happy, the rest of the kingdom is ruled effortlessly efficient and peaceful. This state of being is known as wu wei.
Wu wei translates as effortless being through active surrender. The heart thrives on unconstrained being (in contrast to doing or straining) and spontaneity.
Allow some time to be unstructured this summer. This doesn't have to mean a big endeavor, it's just creating a little space for nourishment, play, and creative exploration. This could be exploring a new place, or returning to an activity that brings you joy, or, in the bigger sense, discarding old assumptions/beliefs you hold about yourself and others to allow for a new experience of presence and possibility.
Looking forward to connecting with you this summer, and wishing you joy and good health!
Inquiries and scheduling
The root of the Bai Shao (Peony) is often used in Chinese Medicine. A patient brought in these beautiful flowers from her garden yesterday not knowing that they were related to the symptoms she is seeking to address through acupuncture.
Bai Shao is used often for women's health, with gynecological disorders such as irregular menstruation, cramping, and heavy blood loss. It is used for headaches, muscle spasms, and stress-related tension disorders. Signs that this herb might be utilized include: pale complexion, dizziness, blurred vision, muscle spasms, headache with dizziness, and spontaneous sweating.
This herb is said to "nourish the liver blood" creating more suppleness throughout the body. The layered pillowy flowers seem to speak to the plant's ability to create this cushion of ease and flexibility on both the emotional and physical level.
Signs and symptoms of blood deficiency in Chinese Medicine can include fatigue, a pale complexion, poor memory, dizziness or vertigo, blurred vision, insomnia, tremors or numbness, and even hair loss and early graying of hair.
One sign that your acupuncturist will check when blood deficiency (the body is either not making enough, or losing too much) is indicated is the color or your tongue, which will be pale rather than pink or light red.
Nourishing blood deficiency can be integral to alleviating depression in many cases, as the heart and liver are nourished by the blood, two organ systems central in the smooth flow of emotional processing.
The blood, in Chinese Medicine, also houses the Shen, or spirit - an intangible and ineffable part of ourselves that makes us who we are. When there is not enough blood, that dryness doesn't only manifest physically, but also on emotional and spiritual levels, as indicated in the symptoms above.
Fortunately, there are many good foods you can include in your diet to help nourish blood, including:
Limited amounts of meat, eggs and liver, particularly bone broth soup also help to nourish blood when there is chronic or prolonged blood deficiency. See my recent post on heart health and meat consumption for information.
However, a diet rich in the above foods will go a long way towards better health and longevity!
I am always so grateful to work in a medicine that effects positive change in people's lives. Symptoms - physical signs of distress, often dissipate with treatment as underlying imbalances are addressed.
Working as an acupuncturist in Narberth, and on the Main Line of Philadelphia, I realize that this type of care is not the standard for most. The system of Chinese Medicine and a holistic approach is truly foreign to our culture and time, It certainly was to me when I first started receiving treatments while living in Oregon, and struggling with Lyme Disease, over 10 years ago!
There is a huge difference, however, in allopathic care and holistic care and their approaches.
Patients will often come in for treatments and stop when a pressing symptom is resolved. However, the goal of treatment isn't only to deal with the expression of an illness, but also to keep the body healthy and well and maintain that balance once its established. With any holistic approach, the goal is to allow the body to restore itself - and to maintain that ability.
It's important to realize that by the time a symptom is expressed, the imbalance or underlying cause is most likely a pattern in your life. For example, neck pain chronic stress, overwork and perhaps an inflammatory diet. Once the pain is gone, the body is no longer screaming out for attention, but that doesn't mean that attention and care is no longer needed.
Re-establishing balance can take several seasons of care, which doesn't mean intensive, weekly treatments, but perhaps every third week or monthly once balance is established. Self-care isn't only a luxury, it's a part of being present to your needs.
I know that when I go in for treatment, I'm always reminded in some way how to better care for myself. To sleep more, or earlier, to allow room for emotions to surface and be processed, to schedule time for creative work, the list goes on. We all need reminders throughout the day to stay present, conscious, and to kindly attend to ourselves. My relationship with my practitioner, whether it's acupuncture, massage therapy, cranio-sacral, or cupping therapy, is like a benevolent mirror.
I named my practice The Present Sage Acupuncture because my goal has always been to remind each person of their own inner wisdom, and to be present to their own healing capacities. Words can serve as reminders, and acupuncture points have the capacity to anchor and support healthy changes. To our shared presence and kindness towards our selves both in sickness and health!
You may already know that our intestinal flora play a huge role in our immune health, but our gut bacteria also plays a role in many other functions, including our cardiovascular health. It is true that what we eat defines much of us!
"Bacteria make a whole slew of molecules from food, and those molecules can have a huge effect on our metabolic processes” (Woolston, 2013). We have 300 to 1,000 different species of flora in our guts, and they build our immunity, produce vitamins, and even produce hormones (Most, 2016).
Beyond all of those incredible functions, microbes in the gut can play a role in plaque formation and heart disease. L-Carnitine is a nutrient found in red meat and dairy products. “Gut microbes digest L-carnitine and help turn it into (the) artery-hardening chemical TMAO” and “high blood levels of TMAO are accurate predictors of impending hearts attacks, stroke, and death” (Most, 2016). Evidence from research suggests that TMAO is a compound that can “alter the metabolism and slow the removal of cholesterol that accumulates on arteries’ walls (Woolston, 2013).
Recent studies showed that vegetarians and meat eaters had very different bacterial profiles in their gut, with vegetarians having much lower blood levels of TMAO. This study suggests that beyond immunity and digestive health, our gut flora also protects the health of our blood vessels, and that red meat and egg intake should be limited if not avoided.
The best ways to keep your body’s microbiome (healthy bacterial profile) in good shape is to:
Fermented foods include:
My new favorite recipe source for plant-based nutrition comes from Angela at Oh She Glows.
Her warm winter salad is delicious, and is aligned with the dietary principles of Chinese Medicine (to avoid cold, raw foods in the winter and use primarily cooked, steamed, roasted veggies.)
According to Chinese Medicine, red foods such as cherries and beets nourish the blood. Hemp seeds nourish heart qi (energy), cinnamon, and saffron help with circulation of heart qi. To nourish the heart, as well as the whole body, keep a diet rich in plant sources, high in fiber, and low in refined sugars.
To your heart and good health,
Happy Valentine's Day from the Present Sage Acupuncture!
Most, H. (2016). Mind-Body Science History [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from
Woolston, Chris. "Red Meat + Wrong Bacteria = Bad News for Hearts." Nature.com.
Nature Publishing Group, 07 Apr. 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.
Recently I was asked to give some examples of how mind and body influence each other in health and illness.
The understanding of the interconnectedness of the mind and body in health and illness has been such a huge part of my own journey as a healer. I have found in my personal experience of health (as well as in my clinical experience as an acupuncturist) that receiving and providing compassion and nurturance changes and positively affects the healing process.
This connection was understood for most of human history and a shift away from the integration of mind, body and spirit only started in the 17th century when more mechanistic view of the universe and our place in it became the predominant belief (Most, 2015).
The effect of the mind over the body and vice versa is something that I’ve always known intuitively but has become more and more apparent over time. A primary example is one of my first patients who was diagnosed with liver failure. His doctor informed him that he had no other option but to have a liver transplant. This patient had suffered from drug and alcohol addiction throughout his life. When I met him, he was at a turning point and sincerely wanted to change, not only his physical state but also his entire lifestyle. We talked about the nature of healing, and how the body and mind could heal from any imbalance given the proper nourishment and care.
Within a month and a half of treatment, his lab results had changed dramatically to the point where they no longer necessitated a transplant. His doctor was confounded but the patient was taken off the transplant list. This sort of outcome has happened repeatedly over my six years and counting of practice as an acupuncturist, and I know it happens regularly in the practices of my colleague’s as well. With this particular patient, I had no extraordinary clinical approach or skills other than classical Five Element care. Meaning, I helped to remove some of the blocks his own body, mind and spirit carried that would prevent him from being well. The Acupuncture treatments did their job of clearing emotional imbalances and pathological patterns, which fostering the true qi (healthy, natural energy) of the organ systems. The patient was not receiving any other care, allopathic or holistic.
Because he responded so quickly in what was perceived by his MD to be a dire situation, it was clear that something more was happening and creating an outcome beyond the grasp of Cartesian-based scientific expectation. It was also the relationship between the practitioner and patient that provided hope and compassion-and changed his thinking about what was possible-assisted his body to heal.
There are now many studies showing the propensity of mental perception to help patients heal. Speaking to the mind body relationship Pim Cuijpers asserts that “Many randomized trials have shown that when depressed patients receive no active treatment, e.g. they are administered pill placebo, a large part of them improve anyway. This improvement can be partly explained by natural remission or by the patients’ expectations that a treatment will have an effect on their problems (even when they receive pill placebo).” It’s clear that patient’s seeking care for depression do not always need a physical medicine or “active treatment” as it is called here – they are able to heal when being offered the space and possibility to do so.
The power of the mind to create health or illness is also demonstrated in research by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal. Her research on stress and our perception of stress really changed my own thinking. What she discovered in her clinical studies was that stress itself, often thought of as the culprit and pre-cursor to illness, is not necessarily harmful. What is harmful is our mental perception of the ill effects of stress.
Her study showed that “people who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who also believed that stress is harmful for your health.” However, “people who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress” (McDonigal, 2013).
I found her research and her TED talk to be truly amazing. For years I had warned patients about the detrimental effects of stress, only to realize that I was possibly creating an unhealthy route of thinking for them. If we frame stress as a natural and potentially positive motivator, any potential harmful effects on the body can be avoided. She also found that compassion and creating community reduced overall stress. Her full TED talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” can be found here: http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend
I've also been recording a before and after of my mind and body with each meditation session this year (started Jan 1 and going strong!) My own state is more relaxed and my breathing deeper. The simple awareness that meditation is a tool that is always available to brings me a sense of peace, which I experience as less tension held in my body. This supports research showing that meditation may also lower blood pressure (Berkley Wellness, 2014.) I also notice that meditation improves my circulation, bringing warmth to my hands and feet.
See how sitting quietly, with the intention of "dropping into stillness" changes your daily experience. There are many options are far as ways to meditate, but the basic premise is to sit still, without any outside distraction. First thing in the morning or before bed is usually easiest.
To start, you can silence your phone, and set a timer for 11 minutes. You can focus on your breath. As thoughts come up, allow that to happen, but return to a place of stillness and non-reaction to those thoughts. They're like bubbles and twigs flowing down a river. Your focus is the river's depth and peace. Keep breathing deeply. Try writing down how you felt before and after meditation, without expectation.
Cuijpers, P., & Cristea, Ioana. (2015). “What if a placebo effect explained all the activity of depression
treatments.” World Psychiatry: official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)
Most, H. (2015). “History of Mind Body Medicine.” Module 1 Class Power Point. Online Course. Mind
Body Science 2016 1/3/2016-4/16/2016. Maryland University of Integrative Health.
McDonigal, K. (2013, June). Kelly McDonigal: How to make stress your friend. [video file]. Retrieved
“The Body-Mind Connection.” Berkeley Wellness. Berkeley University of California, 24 June 2014.
Web. 09 Jan. 2016.
"We must risk delight...We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world."
"We don't see things are they are, we see them as we are."
I recently came across the Chinese Nutritional Strategies app, which is a great resource that can help you find the foods best appropriate for your condition. Often in a session there is just enough time to go over dietary recommendations specific to your needs, but not enough time to go into great detail. This program can serve as in-home back-up when the question of "what should I eat?" comes up.
For more information on this Chinese Nutritional Strategies app, here's the description:
"The heart of the Chinese Nutritional Strategies app is the database of more than 300 common foods, along with their temperature, flavor, actions, indications, notes, seasonal recommendations, and differential diagnosis categories. The database is searchable by any of these criteria and sorting through it allows the practitioner to compile a list of recommended foods, and then share those recommendations via email or as a hard copy with the patient."
Click here for a link to the app store
Remember that eating well and nourishing yourself is a practice, just like exercise any other self care routine. Make big changes slowly and see what works best for you as you go!
Nutrition from a Chinese Medicine Perspective
The earth element - the stomach and spleen - are the foundations for good health and energy. You can have a strong earth element but how you nourish your body over time will create lasting effects. "Good nutrition" from a Chinese Medicine (CM) perspective is quite different from what we consider healthy in the west. In CM, many more properties and actions of the foods are considered. Essentially, it is the energetic properties of the food that are taken into account. Salads, for example, are not considered universally healthy because they are raw, and therefore cold and often injurious to the stomach qi (warm, easy to digest foods are best for supporting the energy of the stomach.) The stomach qi is thought of like a furnace to be kept warm, working together with your Spleen to keep digestion and metabolic processes running smoothly. The easier a food is to digest, the less taxing it is the Spleen and Stomach, and the more energy you will have.
Keep in mind some general recommendations that are useful for almost everyone:
Fresh, prepared home cooked food from a local organic source is always best.
Grains and legumes should be well-cooked to aid with digestion, while vegetable should be cooked lightly to preserve vitamins and enzymes.
Avoid ice water and cold drinks in general, as the cold it injures the qi of the stomach and spleen.
Raw foods should be eaten sparingly by those with low energy or weak digestion. (Salads, raw vegetables.)
Soups and broths are some of the best foods to replenish and hydrate. Drinking water isn't always enough to hydrate. Soups, or congee, or wet porridges are required, and are one of the best foods for maintaining health in general.
Over-consumption of refined foods & refined sugar will weaken the digestion and create imbalance in the body.
Dairy should be taken in moderation, and avoided when digestion is weak or with allergies, as its cloying nature creates more phlegm in the body.
Eat at regular times, with gratitude!
These practices are best with good rest, adequate movement/exercise, and a healthy mindset. These form the pillar of great health.
My first tree stories go back to my some of my earliest memories. When I was quite young, my grandmother gave me the nickname "Squirrel." Summers spent with my Oma Elsje and Opa Hugo led me to time in nature. I would spend endless hours in the garden and pitch pine forest behind their small cottage on Cape Cod, and somewhere along the way I realized that a necklace could be made from pine needles. I would daily return to the cottage with chains of them, having mercilessly de-needled the pines at a pace that could only be compared to the rascally red squirrels that then populated the forest.
Those red squirrels were cute but they were also major pests. They stole the bird's food! And ate other things they were not supposed to-like bird eggs and, yes, pine needles! (It should also be noted that my Oma, had always made it a concern to feed all the animals who passed through her yard.) "Squirrel", then, was a name given with classic unapologetic Dutch humor. But it forever linked my memory to some of my best childhood memories.
Trees have always been a source of inspiration for me. When I begin to draw or paint, the theme is almost always tree-related, or layered in to some part of the meaning. Rooted here, taking up water and nutrients, and growing towards the light, giving food, shelter, shade, and life-oxygen to all life.
Trees are simply heroes. For example:
"A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year" (Arbor Day Foundation). And, "a single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs./year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support 2 human beings" (McAliney1).
When I began studying Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture I learned that the tree represented the Wood element, the axis between heaven and earth, representing our hope, our flexibility, both physically and mentally, and our ability to have clarity and vision in our lives.
It is a theme that takes me back to a post from several years ago that I am compelled to share again now. As an acupuncture student, one of our classes focused on cultivating relationships with the environment around us so as to heighten our sensory awareness. As a class we went to a state park and were sent out individually into the woods for an hour or so. I ended up sitting at the base of an enormous oak tree, and hearing a stream of consciousness narrative run through my head as I did. What I was hearing seemed like instructions and reminders for how to live. I wrote it down as fast as it came in my journal.
This was eight years ago now, but the experience and message (in italics below) feels just as vital and present as ever, and even more so with this past weekend and the visit of Pope Francis in Philadelphia. While I am not religious in the traditional sense, I do resonate with the truth and love found at the very heart of all faiths. An elder made the good point that seeing Pope Francis and the joy and happiness he inspires reminds us that we all have the potential for that great love and happiness within us. He is an embodiment of a state of love that each of us can live into-what an incredible message!
I hope the sharing below reminds you of lessons that you may have forgotten, or inspires you along the way to create greater peace and freedom in your life.
I am just being, parts of me rustle in the wind. But at my core, I am dark, expanding within, rings upon rings; water is slow moving up, but I am still within it all. What clings to my bark I hold; seed pods, a worker ant; I am old. But I am here, now. I know it may not always be so, so I am certain of my life's expression. I will nurture and hold indifferently, my purpose is unaffected by this. I seek the clear, open spaces, and the only road there is through union with everything that surrounds, through disappearance. Yet I am one, unique, nothing else exists like me, and nothing else ever will. I point to the sky even as I am rooted here in the earth; look, listen, I point to the sky! I give shelter as I do my work; I enjoy the natural benefit of life without design. I am content to be. In my leaves there is joy and I know that they will fall. But I do not seek to dampen any expression.
The cycle is without end; human life is precious, having capacities for action that a simple tree cannot; but know that each has a purpose nonetheless. While humans can confuse and muddy the water, we cannot, and humans can learn from our purity of being and faith in simple expression. There should be no question. Be at peace with the way each one is. Receive light where it falls, nutrients where they are provided. Winds move around and some through. They give us strength, courage, and body; they shape our destiny. Fear is unreal. You only have to look at my roots to know it. We go to the deep, dark, places; reservoirs of Qi live there in the unknown where people rarely go--afraid of the still, afraid of the deep; but this is where we gather strength, this is how we manifest outward and know our inner nature simultaneously. This is love, this is not a guarantee, it is a labor into the unknown moved by a Source within. It is a truth allowing us to manifest in our true form. Don't you know what you were meant to be? To meet me on this day? Be reminded by the worker ant, how to live, unselfishly, from pure consciousness. Seek the open spaces that exist in the crowded creation forest. You can be part of it all and still know this spaciousness.
Questions to journal on:
1. How comfortable are you with simple being (as opposed to always doing?)
2. What is your life's unique expression?
3. How are you fostering it?
4. Are you willing to look deep into yourself to find strength and courage?
Daily contemplation, walking, and acupuncture can help you attune to knowledge you already have within, but may have trouble hearing at times. The often busy pace of life, as well as our conditioning/fear that keep us in a loop of unsatisfying but addictive habits are broken by these practices. For more information on how to live with intentionality visit my previous post: "Four Points for Living with Intention."
1 McAliney, Mike. Arguments for Land Conservation: Documentation and Information Sources for Land Resources Protection, Trust for Public Land, Sacramento, CA, December, 1993