Dogs Do It: Healing Naturally

There's an intuitive sensing ability in our canine friends. Most of us have experienced dogs seeming to know when we're feeling down and gloomy as the most appropriate time to jump in our laps and lick our faces. Or perhaps they've woken you up when the alarm clock failed to do so. They can also sense illness, pregnancy, and emotional stress, making them an excellent friend to have along life's strange and beautiful journey. And beyond the love and companionship dogs offer us, there are lessons about health and healing to learn from our furry four-legged friends as well.
The trust and unconditional love offered by dogs can work magic on anyone—even those of us traumatized by great tragedies like war. Their love and trust help us feel safe, which can be a big challenge for sufferers of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) who may be reliving images of situations that challenged their ability to trust and feel secure.
Dogs are effective at supporting veterans suffering from PTSD due to their similar behavior to that of the buddy system used in the military. They will let you know when you're really in danger, and if you are, they will support and protect you. The ability of dogs to take orders may be helpful for veterans conditioned by the standard military communication based on giving and getting orders. Dogs respond well to having a dominant alpha human, and while spouses or friends may not find this appropriate, veterans may be more successful easing into civilian life with an outlet for their military training.
As important as dogs are to our health, we must do our best to support them, too. And because dogs are prone to so many heath problems (from breeding, diet, genetics), acupuncture is an effective tool that can be used to treat a variety of conditions including cardiovascular disorders, respiratory conditions, neurological disorders, allergies, arthritis, paralysis and skin disorders. Acupuncture works over time, and dogs may need several sessions for acute conditions and regular sessions to treat ongoing illnesses.  If your canine friend is experiencing any mild or serious health issues, talk with your vet about adding acupuncture into the treatment program.
Maybe we can credit the dog's openness for his or her own receptivity to acupuncture treatments, too. Animals, including dogs, have been treated with acupuncture for thousands of years. (Unlike humans, they don't have inner critics or skeptics about natural treatments to deter them, either.) And proven time and again are the results themselves that show how well dogs respond to the balancing effects of acupuncture. It's believed to be so effective that there are now more than 150,000 vets and 700,000 paraveterinary assistants using acupuncture to treat their canine patients!
We all know that the bond, extra exercise and happiness experienced from our floppy companions have magical ways of boosting our energy, increasing our lifespan and improving our overall health. The purity and loyalty with which dogs love their humans is unrivaled; and that unconditional love allows us to love back in a way that's sometimes not easy to do with humans. Probably that's because unlike humans, dogs have no expectations, no rules, and no limits to their love and loyalty. It's an easy indulgence, a healthy dose of love at its most simple.


Fertility Gods and Goddesses Then and Now

Throughout history, cultures the world over have relied on mythological stories and beliefs that help advance their societies and deal with the many mysteries of being alive. One such story with no clear answer was that of fertility. An obviously critical role in the propagation of tribes and cultures, there were gods and goddesses of all kinds—not just for human fertility, but also for that of fertile soil so that crops would grow and feed their hopefully expanding society.

When we fast forward and look to modern times, we're overwhelmed by images of fertile-looking women—be they pop music stars, supermodels, cheerleaders or actresses—they are indeed the fertility goddesses of modernity. These gorgeous examples of sexual allure remind us of the power of fertility—its innate effects on the desires that must exist in order for procreation to occur.

And what about the celebri-moms like Nadia Suleman the "octomom" or Kate Gosselin and her sextuplets? These feats of abnormal gestation leave us in awe of the power of childbirth, reminding us that even with the help of modern science, it is indeed a miracle far beyond explanation.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Kwan Yin has been known as the goddess of fertility for thousands of years. But she's also the goddess of mercy and a great healer. Do we think of those attributes today in the same way we think of fertility? Seems like we parse those roles out: Supermodels are rarely doctors and lawyers, yet study after study links good looks to higher paying jobs and better success in the job market, regardless of whether or not the candidate is the most qualified in experience.

The Egyptian goddess of fertility and magic, Isis, married her brother, Osiris, and together they conceived a son: Horus. While Isis was many things to many Egyptians, the marriage to her brother is an important reminder of how connected the human family really is. Are we all not brothers and sisters? Ancient cultures lived in much different times, of course, and being aware of the connection to one another was a critical tool in forward progress. It's a lesson that will be relevant as long as humans exist, and perhaps no more significant than right now as we wage wars over oil, try to keep same-sex couples apart, and insist our faith is worth dying for.

In Greek mythology there were two significant goddesses of fertility: Gaia and Aphrodite. Gaia represented a fertility of the earth—abundance of the seasons. She's often representative today of the environmental or eco movement towards sustainability and working more harmoniously with the planet. As we treat the earth, so we treat ourselves.  

Aphrodite offered a long lineage through many lovers and children, infusing the culture with tales of beauty and jealousy. Aphrodite's story is an interesting one, especially as it relates to fertility challenges for people today. She was thought to be too beautiful, so Zeus thought she would be disruptive and married her off. How does this compare to our modern challenges with fertility? Think of the envy a couple trying to conceive may feel over couples with children. While wanting a family is a very normal human feeling, is jealousy and anger really a healthy response to the situation?

Parvati was the Hindu goddess of fertility. She practiced a great many austerities or disciplines in order to please her husband, Shiva. Her steadfast devotion is not unlike many modern mothers-to-be committed to creating a healthy and responsible environment for bringing a family into.

Though just a small number of the fertility goddesses worshipped around the world, all of these examples are similar in some ways to how we approach fertility today. These deities were praised in a sort of one-dimensional way—a god or goddess for every situation. So perhaps it is fitting then that we categorize and judge ourselves and others based on few criteria. The best/worst-dressed celebrity gawking and gossiping…are they our modern versions of worshipping subtle (and not-so-subtle) sexual energies vital in a successful conception?  What would have been a prayer or meditation a thousand years ago is now a hushed murmur, or a TMZ episode, but nonetheless, a distinct invocation of the powers of these energies.

Elaborate stories of divine beings who had the power to make rainy seasons and healthy babies appear are creations of the human mind and spirit eager to take this experience as long and as far as it can go. While you may have your own religious beliefs and practices, looking back at fertility stories of our ancestors is a helpful way of understanding the role surrender and faith have in the process. We can't control everything. It's something our ancestors certainly knew, but in the world today we seem to think our smart phones and iPads can solve any of our problems. Certainly when it comes to fertility, we may think that science, too, can make anything possible. But sometimes miracles just happen, and those are worth pondering, even adulating, if just a tiny bit.


Fertility or Futility…a Question of Responsibility?

Personal responsibility from the perspective of many Americans is...well, personal.

Gorging at an “all you can eat” buffet is a matter of personal choice and certainly downright ‘merican..."I’ll have cheese with that cheese…thank you very much… and please don’t skimp on the fries…and oh yes a coke with a scoop of ice cream in it would be friendly."

Though we see cases of fast food restaurant chains and tobacco companies being sued for contributing to the health problems of Americans, we can't deny that laying the blame outside of ourselves is oddly paradoxical. We should be able to eat whatever we please, but ultimately are we not responsible for our choices?

Certainly there are confusing and misleading messages from marketing agencies about which foods we should eat, why we should still smoke cigarettes and other influences bombarding us regularly, but are we really not capable of choosing wisely?  It is not a big mystery.  Whether it's the sick feeling we're left with after a night of excessive drinking, or the greasy, heavy feeling in our stomach after downing a KFC Double Down; when we listen intuitively to our bodies, we know these choices are probably not the most responsible ones we could have made for ourselves.

Nearly 1/3 of our nation's adults are overweight or obese. Children are at an all time high risk of developing Type II Diabetes—which was once only referred to as "Adult Onset" diabetes, because it rarely affected our young. Now, it is one of the most prevalent risks for our children. Heart disease—an often-preventable condition—is the number one killer of adults in our country.

When we start to look at the diseases affecting the world outside of our wealthy American ways, we do not see obesity and all the ailments related to it … or conversely, anorexia and bulimia, addictions and other physical disorders that stem from unstable mental states, body image issues and our  lifestyle choices.

Our wealth has in fact co-opted our complacency and led us to have blind faith in corporations whose only real interest is increased market share and consumer demand.

Countries whose citizens live on less water per day than a single Western toilet flushes are of course susceptible to a number of potentially lethal diseases, but they come mostly from parasites, water and food borne illnesses, or degenerative diseases caused by a lack of quality nutrition. There is rarely a case of gluttonous obesity or bulimia in war-torn regions, or within the tightly woven fabric of tribal cultures who focus less on their own personal gratification and direct their efforts towards the collective benefit of the entire group.
What we put into our body—whether it’s food, media discourse or intercourse, it affects our clarity of thought, and our ability to be fruitful.

What we consume is our responsibility.

We must look for ways to make sure our lives and our communities are fertile environments so that we not only create healthy children, but healthy businesses, healthy schools and healthy workplaces.

What we create is our responsibility.

We inhabit this planet, but are we spending time in whatever form of Earth’s natural bounty is accessible to us? Are we cultivating our relationships with lovers, family, co-workers? Are we reading books, looking at art, watching movies that develop our personal aesthetic? Are we joyful in our acceptance of inspiration? Are we making good choices?

The more we cultivate a fertile relationship with the world, the more we’ll recognize and appreciate the family we’re seeding all around--if not within us.

All of it is our responsibility.


To Be or Not To Be...

For couples facing challenges with conception there are often many more questions than answers. The path to pregnancy and childbirth can become a gauzy labyrinth full of doubts, anxiety, questions and fears.
The most overlooked question of all may be the most important one: why do you want to have a baby, anyway? It deserves an answer. And that answer might be the most critical of all in helping you conceive.
There's no denying that for women, especially of a certain age, hormonal surges can be indistinguishable from genuine longing. Human bodies are after all, a miraculous soup of chemicals and hormones that largely determine our every action, especially when it comes to pregnancy.  As a woman hits her late 30's and early 40's, the desire to have a child can become overwhelming, even distracting, as the hormones seem to increase their influence saying "have a baby now!" And who are we to argue with ourselves?
Additional influences are no less stubborn. We are driven to have families perhaps because we so enjoy the ones we are part of, or even if the opposite is true—growing up in unhappy homes can create a need for us to fill that void by starting our own family. Being good parents ourselves offers us a chance to right wrongs, to give love we ourselves were so deprived of as children. It can help us overcome pain and live vicariously through our children a life that everyone deserves.
Social pressure often works in unconscious ways. We see our friends, once carefree and unfettered, now bogged down with soccer practice and ballet classes and yet somehow seeming all the more at peace with their life of service to these little wonders. Without even knowing it, watching them can call us to share that experience ourselves. It can also be strange and awkward to be the childless friend whom everyone seems to smile at sympathetically. Wanting to participate in this ritual of species propagation in synchronicity with friends and siblings can increase desires to conceive that you didn't know you had.
And of course there are our own deepest and darkest fears of loneliness. Who will love us when we're old and senile, drooling and decaying? Marriages have a fifty percent failure rate; it's hard not to wonder if yours will have what it takes to stand the test of time, but a child, a child is forever. There's a comfort in knowing someone was born to bury you, look after your grave and tell the stories of your life to people you'll never meet.
If it were simply companionship we sought, then millions of homeless animals who are euthanized each year and would be forever grateful for an ear rub and a bowl of food could be saved. But as much as we do love our pets, especially in the US, we do not see them as replacements for the love of a child.
Babies around the world too are desperate for homes, but the stress of adoption, the fears of raising a child not truly your own can deter would-be parents who would rather spend tens of thousands of dollars in fertility treatments in hopes of conceiving their very own child.
Having a child can also help us love those parts of ourselves we have often struggled with. After all, a child is us in every possible way, and what we adore in them is something that has its origins within us. As conscious beings, it's no wonder we're drawn to watching other beings become self-aware, especially if they are going to emulate us in unimaginable ways. Which parent will they look like? Who will they sound like? Will they get your wit or your partner's empathy? All these wonders make a child a bit like opening a Christmas present every day as they become their own person still so much like us. We are a culture of self-deprecating and sometimes self-loathing individuals, not good enough until we have the right job, the right mate, the right house and then the right child and even still we're plagued by our insecurities. Staring into innocent eyes born of our bodies provides us renewed love of ourselves for here is something we did, something pure and good and perfect.
But are any of these reasons really the right reason to have a child? We can no longer hide from the inescapable truth that our species stands at the edge of grave danger. We're in a population crisis with more than 1.2 billion starving people in the world and 9 billion people estimated to be on the earth at once within the next 30 years. Fresh water access will become more limited than ever before in history in our lifetimes. Natural resources deplete every day. Those beloved family camping trips of your youth may not be options for the next generation as forests are cut down, rivers drying up and land being bulldozed for more houses, schools, factories.
Still, being kind parents, raising thoughtful children capable of caring for this world amidst its peril and ruin is maybe the least we can do. Isn't it after all, honorable to leave someone behind to clean up our messes? It would seem so, at least, we hope that to be the case, but we know we've made a far bigger mess than our grandparents and their grandparents. How long will that continue?
What seems to matter most is perhaps that we—like most life on the planet—procreate. If we do nothing else, we know this is something requiring few skills and little effort, unless of course you are one of the millions of people with fertility challenges. And perhaps this is in itself the reason couples who can't have children want them so desperately—because it is for most people an effortless act, often an accidental by-product of an entirely different agenda. To be deprived of fertility is to be deprived of something intrinsically human and it is enough to lead to extreme acts of pursuing that completeness. But we also must ask ourselves why. Why do we want to have a child? Is it because we can't? Is it because we have so much love to share? Is it because it's just "what people do?"
Diving into our own spirit and seeking answers to this question is critical in becoming pregnant. It may not change your physiological challenges, but it will help prepare your mental and spiritual soil for nurturing a new life.


Patience with the Process

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've heard about those Chilean miners who happen to be stuck in one. They've been there for well over a month, in total darkness, waiting. Most of us can't handle being stuck in our cars for a noisy, congested commute home. Can you imagine living half a mile underground for weeks? If it weren't for the support of each other, their friends and family and the rest of the world, it's probable that they wouldn't be dealing so well, either. They have been forced to be patient, and it's surely much easier making that shift in consciousness knowing that there is a world ready to embrace them once it's over.
This story is a wonderful metaphor for our lives.  In how many ways have we also been trapped in mines, either of our own making or from situations out of our control? Relationships, jobs, illnesses, tragedies can all sometimes feel like they're inescapable.  Often, seemingly unknown forces can jettison us into states of severe depression and loneliness.
If you're one of the many people dealing with fertility challenges, you know it can often feel like a deep dark pit—confusing, scary and stressful.  But, little changes can help you get through the challenges. A shifting of your consciousness may in fact, be your number one ally.
We've all heard the saying "you are what you eat." It is an impossible statement to argue with and there are thousands of well-documented studies that support this claim. People who subsist on junk food develop diseases that many people eating a well-balanced, healthy diet do not. What we put inside of our bodies becomes us, literally. This is one of the foundations of Chinese Medicine, which has been successfully practiced for over 2000 years. Countless numbers of people have had transformative and healing experiences through changes to their diet..
There is also other ways in which we become what we consume, and that is through the inevitable permeability of our thoughts and reactions. While most of our behavior is learned through watching our parents, teachers and other adults in our formative years, we also develop the ability to reprogram and relearn how we respond as we mature. Where attention goes, energy flows and if our thoughts and reactions are negative, self-doubting and even harmful, we cultivate an internal environment—both mentally and spiritually—that is the product of our negative thinking. Though more abstract than how food affects our bodies, there is a significant correlation to how our thoughts affect every aspect of our beings.
This is why if you are facing fertility challenges, you will benefit enormously by cultivating patience and a positive relationship with the process. Shifting your consciousness will help give your body the ability to eliminate cortisol, the stress hormone linked to diseases and infertility. It can also help improve your digestion, blood flow and relax your entire system so that it may become a healthy environment for enjoying a successful pregnancy.
You do not have to entertain a particular belief system .You do not have to meditate or pray.  There are no special rituals that you must engage in. While these practices work for some people, they don’t necessarily resonate with everyone.  However, it is important because every one of us in body and spirit has a different way to recognize what motivates us to feel, calm and ready to embrace whatever happens.
What brings you peace? What helps you feel patient? Perhaps it's taking a long walk. Maybe it's cooking or cleaning or singing a song. As you incorporate these little daily calming practices, you'll notice they become easier and more regular in your life. You're creating healthy habits that relax and inspire you and this is a wonderful thing whether you become pregnant or not!
Those trapped miners in Chile have surrendered to their situation. The reality has set in that even though they are so close to being rescued, anything at any moment can change their situation. It has not altered their faith; it has not stopped their hope. But resigning to the reality of a situation can offer a great sense of peace. The same goes for your body. While there are many proven treatments for fertility, each case is truly unique. Subtle shifts in your relationship with your body image and your expectations can bring gifts that are going to benefit you in all areas of your life.
When you develop patience with the process of fertility treatment, you will have patience to share with your child. You will have patience to share with your spouse, partner, family, friends and co-workers. This relationship with patience—surrendering to the process of things you cannot control—adds up over time.. These tools can quickly become an integral part of your life, shifting your consciousness forever. 
Take some time to work on shifting your consciousness. Forgive yourself when you fall back to your old ways. Know that every little step adds up to a much bigger picture for you and your child.


Understanding Your Basal Body Temperature

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) extends back thousands of years to a time hardly fathomable in our age of modernity. Without the distraction of emails and text messages, video games, microwaves or television, people were more closely connected to the rhythms of the planet, and of their bodies.
Much like our fertile homeland, the body cycles through shifts of its own seasons, temperature and soil conditions. This is especially true for a woman still in her childbearing years. The climes of the menstrual cycle can be extremely effective indicators of fertility if one knows what exactly to look for. Without the distraction of running full steam in our daily lives, we might be more intuitively connected to our body's phases and temperatures. But surely it's the last thing we're aware of while sitting in a board meeting or traffic or on vacation trying to forget about everything.
The realization that many of us are quite disconnected from our bodies can be a little frightening. It's kind of like realizing you forgot to pick up your child from school. This is, after all, your body—the only one you get—and how easy it is to disregard its delicate intricacies.  The slightest oversight can have detrimental and lasting effects.
I've discussed it before in this blog, and it's worth repeating: stress is often the number one cause of fertility challenges. This recent article in Wired magazine does a great job in discussing just how detrimental stress can actually be. More over, when trying to establish your most fertile time, it's extremely important to be as stress-free as possible.
Detecting Basal Body Temperature (BBT) has been a TCM method in use since the early 20th century to determine ovulation as well as other menstrual issues like amenorrhea (lack of period). By taking the body's temperature in the same place (mouth, rectally or vaginally) at the same time each morning upon waking, a pattern emerges that shows when the temperature indicates fertility.
A regular menstrual cycle is considered to be anywhere from 21-35 days. When ovulation is about to occur, usually in mid-cycle (day 13-15 for a 28-day cycle), the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) will cause the BBT to drop. Shortly after this drop, a raise in BBT in what is referred to as "post-ovulation" will follow. The LH spike is detectable typically only for a few hours and a woman with a regular cycle who is following her BBT will be able to notice this. The ideal opportunity for becoming pregnant occurs within the 24-hour period before and after ovulation because cervical fluid creates an optimal environment for sperm survival. Yes, your womb literally becomes a "man cave." It can take several days before conception occurs—after all, the sperm has to travel up into the fallopian tubes to find the egg, and we all know how difficult it is for men to ask for directions.
This chart gives an example of what a woman's BBT will look like throughout the month. It may sound complicated, but once you get started charting your BBT, you'll pick it up in no time.  Notice ovulation's occurrence at the lowest temperature and the immediate spike afterwards.

While it's unlikely that most of us will ever be as harmonious with the Earth's and our own rhythms as women once were, we can shorten the distance somewhat.  There is a great joy in reconnecting with your body's rhythms and cycles. As you get to know yourself on this new plane, you automatically begin to decrease your stress levels by developing a deeper sense of understanding and self-awareness. In other words, tracking your BBT is a bit homeostatic as well—the more you nurture it, the more capable it is of self-correcting, and that seems worth doing even if fertility isn't your goal.


Stress and the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Evolution is paradoxical; while we humans may appear to have come a long way from our club-wielding caveman days, we still bear remarkable similarities to our, grunting forefathers. One intractable characteristic, which aided our Neanderthal ancestors in their hunt for food and avoiding their own fate as prey, is the body's involuntary release of the stress hormone, cortisol, a.k.a. the fight or flight response.
While most prehistoric potentially life-threatening disasters no longer loom, cortisol's ability to categorize threat levels has not developed much. In other words, while your boss may seem like he wants to kill you if you miss another deadline, the reality is that his urgent tone is most likely not life-threatening, but even still, your body cannot tell the difference.

The sympathetic nervous system, which runs through all of our organs, puts us on alert when a threat—real or perceived—is detected. We all know the signs: elevated heart rate, sweating, face turns red, pupils widen so that we can see more clearly if a co-worker is running toward us with a full stapler pointed at our head. Yet our fast-paced lives may include a dozen or more cortisol releasing situations every day. These may include everything from waking up from a bad dream about opening for Lady GaGa to a hideous traffic jam full of really big cars.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), emotions, especially strong negative ones, can disrupt what should be a smooth flow of energy, or Qi, throughout the body. If you are a woman or couple working to become pregnant, this can be a devastating block in promoting fertility energy.

 If the stress of dealing with infertility issues isn't enough on its own, all these other daily nips at our sanity certainly can take their toll. The effects of too much cortisol can disturb digestion, cause stiffening of muscles and joints, prevent sound sleep, suppress immune system response, and cause ongoing anxiety or even long-term depression. All of this can be disastrous to enhancing fertility and your marriage.

From a TCM perspective, the female reproductive system is a collective energy system easily affected by imbalances of Qi throughout the body. The tight blocks that stress causes can wreak havoc on the parasympathetic nervous system, which includes smooth muscle, cardiac muscle and glands, such as the ovaries. As the sympathetic nervous system responds to cortisol by causing stressed reactions within the organs, the parasympathetic system tries to process it all in what is commonly referred to as "rest and digest." But as we all know, it's hard to rest or digest when there's a steady stream of anything coming at us. This is how the blockages can form, and if not dealt with, they keep building and building and causing more damage to our bodies, making our chances of becoming pregnant less and less.

Unblocking energy can be achieved through treatment with acupuncture. TCM practice often relies on using acupuncture points to release the build up in the bodies sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. All the stress can leave residue in our bodies similar to a ten-car pile-up on the freeway. Sometimes traffic can scoot around it, but most often, there's a dead standstill until the roadway has been cleared. Think of acupuncture like the tow-trucks and emergency response team capable of getting in and clearing out the mess as quickly as possible.

Acupuncture pinpoints (literally!) the blockages allowing the energy to release and letting the Qi begin to flow smoothly again back where it's needed.  Routine acupuncture sessions can relieve the symptoms of stress build up, and in some cases, can relieve the tendency towards anxiety and stress in the first place.  The improved circulation stimulated through acupuncture can move the cortisol out of your tissue bringing balance to the body. The common symptoms of stress such as anxiety, short temper, headaches, digestive disorders and disrupted sleep can begin to disappear in as few as one or two acupuncture sessions. As the body begins to adjust to its new, stress-reduced stasis, fertility is much more likely, but the benefits extend well beyond fertility.


Stress and Fertility

 “Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those who are in touch with it." - Jane Wagner

While the Eskimos have at least one hundred words for snow, we only have a few words for stress, which for us is equally ubiquitous. We may or may not realize it but most of us are consistently balancing large levels of stress. From performance expectations encountered at work to the various physical challenges our jobs might entail, earning a living is a largely stressful part of our lives, even when we absolutely love what we do.

Then we go home. Often, instead of being a rejuvenating sanctuary our home life resembles an exhaustive “to-do” list. We mow the lawn, pay the bills, shop for food and walk the dog…for starters.

Unfortunately, some of the activities we use to relieve and release ourselves of the daily pressures—exercise, a night out, vacations—can actually maximize the strain to our bodies rather than minimizing it. Lots of exercise programs can be harsh and aggressive. When we lived more in harmony with nature, our bodies got all the exercise they needed. Thanks to cars, computers, television, video games and the refrigerator, we're not getting 'natural' exercise as much as we used to. So we simulate it. We isolate muscle groups and place large amounts of stress on our bodies in an effort to keep "fit" and work out the pressure from our jobs, our relationships and our debts.

We work hard at managing all this ‘noise’ so of course we like to reward ourselves. A night out with friends or family can include heavy foods loaded with too much salt, too much sugar, too much fat and too much alcohol. We probably spend more money than we planned and a woman might look great wearing  uncomfortably high heels, but most often they make her wish she’d never left home.

Finally we take a vacation. After rushed packing, busy airports, crowded jets, negotiated accommodations we vow to relax. By the last day (with any luck) we are breathing normally and feel like we have gotten away. We then return home facing the same challenges as on the outbound. While the saying goes: “A change is as good as a rest,” there are those who would argue otherwise.

As our bodies try to manage these pervasive, demands, cortisol is released.  It's the 'fight or flight' hormone.  As cortisol levels increase and become elevated we become irritable, prone to frequent illness and often suffer insomnia. As if that wasn’t enough, our ability to focus becomes an issue, and  we develop a tendency to overeat.

If you're a woman who is also working to become pregnant, this excessive stress is compromising on the Hypothalamic Pituitary Ovary Axis (HPO), which regulates the hormones needed for fertility. It's almost as if the body is allergic to stress. It starts doing strange things like pulling blood from the ovaries and balanced hormonal functions become difficult for the body to respond to normally.

Balancing stress includes a combination of actions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), yang foods such as meat, eggs, fish, poultry, nuts, and seeds are recommended to eat in the morning and at lunch as they are a good source of protein and energy, which help combat the effects of stress by keeping us focused and strong, and not craving sugar. Processed carbohydrates may seem like a good idea before a workout, but they actually deplete the body of energy by spiking and dropping our blood sugar levels.

Green foods are also important to consume regularly. According to Chinese medicine, the way that green foods grow—straight up—means they stimulate life energy, or Qi. Green plants are loaded with B vitamins, magnesium and calcium, which we need for energy and to help the body process stress.

Hydration is also closely linked to stress. The less water we have in us, the harder the body has to work. Think of your body as a car—when there's not enough gas in the tank, oil in the engine or air in the tires, there is increased stress on the whole vehicle. Water is like this in our bodies. The more we have in us, the more fluidly things work.

A healthy dose of natural sunlight every day is another important ingredient to preventing and decreasing stress. Sunlight makes vitamin D; too little of it can cause fatigue and muscle weakness. Taking supplemental vitamin D may also be recommended.

Try trading in your isolated muscle workouts for a more holistic full body exercise. A long brisk walk works every muscle in the body. It's also a great way to calm the mind, and it can be done virtually anywhere. Tai Chi and yoga are also low-impact ways to exercise while decreasing stress. They focus on the breath too, which can calm and relax the entire body.

Implementing activity that cultivates relaxation every day is nurturing to your body and, according to TCM, is "preparing the soil for the seed." Did you know that your baby's most important time is 3-4 months before conception? Which egg will be released is determined that far in advance, so readying the body by decreasing stress and cortisol levels helps to ensure conception. Meditation and nurturing practices such as spending quiet time in nature, reading, getting acupuncture, massage or simply working in the garden can reduce cortisol and increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy.

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." -Chinese proverb


Foods to Maximize Fertility

Our modern, fast-paced and often frenetic lifestyles can make proper nutrition feel like an almost impossible chore.  With the ubiquitous “quick food solution," frequent trips to the market, meal planning and preparation may seem unnecessary and inconvenient.  This is particularly true when we aren't sure exactly what it is we should be eating.

While we may do our best to avoid high fat, high sodium and high fructose corn syrup found in the usual suspects a la fast and frozen food, donuts and other processed and packaged snacks, there are many more considerations when seeking out the most healthful foods. A good diet can produce a higher level of health, which in turn creates awareness and optimism that is of utmost importance when trying to conceive.  As Dr. Dean Ornish recently stated in the LA Times the “joy of living is much more sustainable than the fear of dying.”

Over the last decade, a lot of attention has been given to the benefits found in foods that are certified organic, a process that restricts the use of pesticides and fertilizers on fruits and vegetables and prohibits the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in animal products. Certified organic foods may have more nutritive qualities than non-organic options and many people have reported more flavor in the organic options versus their conventional equivalent. Organic foods also leave less of an environmental footprint, which is healthy for us in other ways such as cleaner air and water.

In addition to organic, many people have also been making an effort to eat locally. What does that mean, exactly? Eating locally is synergizing with the seasons in your area and eating the freshest foods available at that time of year. Here in California, we have an abundance of fruits and vegetables year round, but the selections change over the months, offering a tasty variety of foods to choose from. Little else can match the excitement of waiting for your favorites to come into season. Right now, there's lots of fresh California berry picking and of course there are the grins of happy peach lovers who've waited all winter for their fuzzy favorite.

Eating locally is also sustainable, cutting down on the use of petroleum to transport foods across the globe. Because the food is being grown closer to your home, it may also retain more vitamins and minerals versus food that has traveled a great distance, likely sitting in a truck for days before ending up in your shopping cart.

But perhaps there is no more important consideration when it comes to food than how it affects your body. Food is medicine. It is what gives us life and strength, or, too often, discomfort and disease. If we are not eating the right foods for our bodies, we become imbalanced. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on bringing balance to our systems for a healthy life. Balancing is especially important for women trying to become pregnant. As "Generation X" is waiting much longer to start families, many women are turning to fertility treatment programs. TCM can be used in tandem with fertility treatments, and adding certain foods to your diet can greatly improve your chances of becoming pregnant.

Kidney Essence is vital to fertility and can be balanced by eating healthy salts found in foods such as miso (fermented soy paste), mineral or sea salts and seaweeds, and salted cultured vegetables such as sauerkraut or kimchee. Be very careful not to over eat salt as it can have the opposite effect. Cutting out salt from processed foods is one very easy way to avoid "bad" overuse of salt. The less salt you eat, the more sensitive you will become to it, making it easier to self-regulate and insure that you are only eating the right types of salt for kidney health. Lean, hormone-free red meat is an excellent source of iron and helps prevent anemia. It is useful in the production of red blood cells and is also an excellent source of vitamin B 12, which is key in the maintenance and development of the nervous system.

Nature carries a doctrine of signatures. This means that foods often look like the correlating organ that they benefit. Foods that are kidney shaped will enhance kidney essence. This includes all beans and seeds, especially kidney beans, black beans and mung beans, and pumpkin, flax and black sesame seeds. Dark berries such as blueberries, blackberries and mulberries, all of which are currently in season are also very beneficial to the kidneys.  Nuts too can be very balancing, especially walnuts and chestnuts. California walnuts are incredibly delicious and versatile. Try adding them to a salad or soaking and pureeing with seaweed and flax oil for a creamy pate.

Eating wild caught fish and shrimp can support the water element, also vital to fertility. If you live in a coastal area, there are typically dozens of fresh fish options available.  Check with your local market on where and when their selections were caught, especially if you live inland, you'll want to know as much as you can about the fish selections. Avoid "farmed" fish, as these conditions are incredibly unnatural and poorly regulated. You are what you eat, so keep in mind how your food was grown or raised.  Other animal proteins can be helpful too, such as stock made from beef bones, which is rich in collagen and amino acids good for the elasticity of the blood vessels. Chicken is rich in zinc, which is very nutritive. Buy the freshest, free range and holistically treated animal products available.

Dark leafy greens are an excellent source of folic acid known to be crucial in fetal health. This is not the same as laboratory made folic acid found in prenatal vitamins. When we eat foods rich in naturally occurring nutrients, our bodies recognize them quicker and can integrate them faster. Dark leafy vegetables, such as collards, cabbage, kale and mustard greens can grow in most any climate. They are easy to prepare and can be incorporated in to most any dish. They cook quickly and taste great.

Eating for fertility can be a delicious and rewarding experience. By putting intention towards your healthy diet, you are helping to create the ideal environment for a pregnancy. You are also helping the planet and your local economy, which is creating a better world to raise your children in!



Traditional Chinese Medicine and Fertility

By Sharon Barr L.Ac.

Recently in the news, actor John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston announced that they are having another child.  After suffering the devastating loss of their son, Jett, to a seizure in 2009, it's a completely understandable choice.  It's not uncommon for families who lose a child to want to have another. What's surprising and impressive is that Kelly Preston is 47 years old. While they have not stated publicly if the pregnancy happened naturally or if they worked with the assistance of a fertility doctor, it's still quite a significant step at that age, no matter how it happened.

Did you know that in 1900, the average life expectancy was just 47 years old for men and 50 for women? Though we may not be able to feel the evolution as it has occurred over the last century, clearly the human body has been rapidly changing. From the foods we eat, to the medical technologies that are able to extend and enhance our quality of life, many people are now living to see 100 and beyond.  A spry 88 year old Betty White made all the headlines when she hosted the 2010 season finale of Saturday Night Live recently. Our expanding life expectancy gives new meaning to our agility and our ability to have and raise families later in life.  Perhaps like Kelly Preston, 47 will become the new normal sooner than we can imagine. Maybe our great-grandchildren will look back amazed at 'young' women who had children as early as their 20's and 30's.

Just as our life expectancy has drastically increased over the last century, so have the opportunities for women. Once strictly homemakers, often giving birth before age 16, women are now CEOs, Secretaries of State, Senators and, Supreme Court Judges.  We've sought higher education, entered and changed the landscape of the work force, and this of course, affects our lifestyle, and most especially our families

A woman who now chooses to finish college and start her career may be 30 by the time she's married and ready for children. For many women, the right time to start a family could be an even longer wait.

Even though there are many successful natural pregnancies for women in their late 30's and early 40's, as the body changes and egg production begins to slow, there are many women who are no longer able to become pregnant as easily as they may have in their 20's. Infertility affects nearly ten percent—almost 2.8 million couples—in the United States alone.

While Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) have given options and promise to thousands of women who may otherwise never have been able to bear children, often the results are depressing.  According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s research for her book, “Creating a life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children” even young women using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) techniques have only a twenty-eight percent chance of conceiving. After age 34, chances fall to eight percent and four percent after 39. On average, a woman can go through 6 – 7 cycles at $ 10,000 each. The physical and emotional side-effects are daunting, to say the least.

 While this costly quest speaks to women’s in-exhaustible determination and perseverance, it's important to understand that many women choosing to start fertility treatments are not necessarily incapable of becoming pregnant naturally. Certainly there are situations where this is the case, but, for many women, it's a matter of stimulating the body to behave as it should normally.  These women are not really infertile, but perhaps rather in need of  “fertility enhancement”.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Kidney Essence is the most critical aspect in the function of growth and reproduction.  Stored in the kidneys, this essence circulates through the body, controlling the body’s sexual maturation and reproductive capacity, and is essential for sexual energy and fertility. The aging process in the body is evident by observing the normal physiological decline of  ‘essence’.

It would seem that if our life expectancy has doubled, so would our window for having healthy natural pregnancies later in life. But, as we've seen, the lifestyle of the modern woman is a busy one. Whether she's in school, the military or busy with a career, often times her diet suffers by eating on the go. Quite likely she may be too busy to eat at all, let alone consciously create a diet with the right balance of nutritious foods. This can be a huge contributing factor to kidney dysfunction causing a vast array of preventable imbalances.

There are many other stress factors and/or lifestyle choices that can accelerate kidney  (essence) deficiency or loss and therefore trigger an inability to become pregnant, or to carry to full term. Unrealistic expectations, too often self-imposed, can be insidiously damaging. The workload that women of today are handling can too often cause her to strain and put unnecessary pressure on her body, which will cause the kidneys to become deficient. Lack of sleep and exercise or too much of either, can also harm the reproductive system.

Today's woman may also face challenges as a result of hormone imbalance. This can be genetic or caused by a number of outside factors, including birth control pills that may have been used during those busy years when starting a family wasn't practical. There are other physiological problems that can affect a woman's ability to reproduce. Ovary dysfunction, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis are just a few fairly common challenges that may prevent pregnancy.

TCM can work to restore balance, bring harmony and revitalize these systems. Diet changes can bring about hormone balance and kidney health. Acupuncture can tone the system, preserve and strengthen kidney essence and move Qi and blood. Herbs can stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and reverse deficiencies. Gentle movement such as in Qi gong or Tai Chi can also stimulate the internal organs to begin functioning normally again.

As a Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner specializing in fertility and women’s health, I know the tremendous desire and willingness ‘to go to almost any length’ couples experience when they want a family.  I ask my patients to take a step back and consider all the contributing factors that might aid or detract from this goal.   If you are reading this, chances are you or someone you know is in the throes of trying to conceive.  Please consider consulting  with  a Chinese Medical doctor in your area to see what might improve your chances for a stress-free and healthy pregnancy.

Acupuncture and herbs used alone or in conjunction with a reproductive endocrinologist can greatly contribute to a healthy and happy result.

In blog posts to follow I will give you some more practical suggestions and information to help you make your dreams conceivable.

Sharon Barr,L.Ac. MTOM is a licensed (NY & CA) acupuncturist and herbalist practicing in Los Angeles. She specializes in Fertility Enhancement and Women’s Health. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used effectively for over 3000 years in China and is currently employed worldwide as a reliable method for fertility enhancement. drsharonbarr.com