Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Energy Flows Where Attention Goes, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

Did you know that your brain can’t tell the difference between what you are imagining and what you are actually seeing? Why not use that to your benefit? If you experienced a difficult situation one time, but then play it over and over again in your mind, your brain thinks that you are re-living it and it floods your body with stress chemicals each time. If you focus on things in the past, present, or future, that either bring you joy or for which you are grateful, your brain bathes your body in chemicals that are calming and uplifting.

We all have a choice about where our energy goes, whether in our thoughts or our actions. Whatever you focus on will appear magnified to you. If you focus on problems, they start to appear larger than they are. If you focus on positive parts of your life, you will begin to notice even more things that are going well. Try expressing gratitude for things that haven't even happened yet and see what happens!

How do you want to feel? What would you need to do our focus on to feel that way?

Acupuncture and the Balance Method

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Balance Method Johanna Utter Acupuncture Davis

At the end of May I took a 4-day class in the Balance Method, a system of acupuncture developed by Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan, which aims to bring immediate balance to the body. What I learned in this class has completely changed the way I treat, especially the way I treat pain.

In Chinese medicine, disease is considered to be due to a state of imbalance. So treatment of any kind (food, herbs, Qi Gong, acupuncture) is always attempting to bring the body back to a state of balance, harmony, and health. The Balance Method uses acupuncture to achieve this.

In the Balance Method, pain is generally not treated directly. We locate the channels closest to the painful area, then place needles in other channels that can balance it, frequently on the opposite side of the body. Most often we use points on the arms and legs, which means that the whole body can be treated while the patient remains clothed.

Acupuncture points are chosen based upon internal connections between the acupuncture channels. One connection is the way body parts can be mirrored or imaged onto another area. For example, arms and legs are similar to one another. Shoulders are like hips, elbows are like knees, and hands are like feet. Points on one limb can be used to treat another limb. So, for example, pain in the right knee would frequently be treated by palpating tender points on a related channel on the left elbow and then needling those. Or the lower back could be treated by using points on the hand.

Once needles are placed, patients are asked to move and to locate the current location of pain. Often the pain will have moved, so again we palpate tender points, needle those, then have the patient check for again for the location and intensity of pain. Amazingly, a few needles can be enough to make the pain disappear on the spot! Then the patient is left to rest with the needles in. In the clinic where my teacher practices, patients will rest for an hour or so, often falling asleep while their body resets itself.

Pain may return, although it is usually less intense. It’s generally recommended for patients to come in for treatment 2-3 times per week for 3-4 weeks, then to spread treatments out and gradually taper them off as the pain subsides. While the Balance Method cannot correct structural problems, it can still lessen pain.

The Balance Method can also treat pain in multiple locations, including arthritis and fibromyalgia. It is also useful in treating insomnia and respiratory, cardiac, digestive, hormone, and mood disorders.

Volunteer Acupuncture with California CareForce

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

California CareForce Johanna Utter Acupuncture

I was invited to volunteer with California CareForce in Chico the first weekend of August. California CareForce is a group of medical professionals, community leaders, and engaged citizens who provide free medical, dental and vision care to those in need at temporary clinics across California. Their volunteers believe that everyone, regardless of their background, deserves access to healthcare. As such, they make no restrictions based on income, employment, or immigration status. They do not require insurance or ID to serve patients and all services are provided at no cost.

The services offered at most California CareForce clinics include: general check-ups and physicals in our Medical Section; cleanings, extractions, and fillings in their Dental Section; and, eye health checks, vision exams, and custom prescription glasses made on-site in their Vision Section. Acupuncture and chiropractic is offered at some clinics, depending on volunteer signups.

In Chico, we worked at the Silver Dollar County Fairgrounds and makeshift treatment rooms were set up using metal poles and curtains to separate them. The set-up reminded me of the TV show M*A*S*H, except that we were not near a war, thankfully!

People who were interested in services showed up the day before to obtain a wrist band. They could receive medical services on both days, but because vision and dental were so popular, they could only do one of those on any given day and needed to come back the next day for the other one.

As folks arrived on the weekend, they needed to go through medical triage to assess whether they could have dental or vision services. If their blood sugar or blood pressure was too high, they had to first receive treatment (usually medication), then wait a bit to recheck. Once they passed, they could then move onto the next step, either vision or dental. Because of increased medical care coverage through Medi-Cal and Covered California, fewer people needed other medical services.

The mornings started off a bit slow because people needed to go through the triage section first, but it was so busy in the afternoon of the first day that we had a long waiting list and asked people to come back the next day. The volunteer chiropractor did not show up, so some of those patients chose to see me instead. I provided approximately 30 treatments the first day and over 20 the second day, with some people coming in twice.

The most common things I saw were back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, so I got a lot of practice treating those over and over. Using the Balance Method system that I learned at the end of May, I palpated and needled tender points that were away from the painful part they wanted treated. Results were pretty quick and both the patients and I were amazed!

About a half dozen women I treated only spoke Spanish, so I worked with an interpreter.  It was fun watching all of their faces as pains disappeared and they were able to move stiff body parts more easily. I was also shadowed on the first day by the teenage daughter of one of the volunteering physicians.

California CareForce’s Sacramento Clinic will be at Cal Expo on October 25th and 26th. The event scheduled after that will be the weekend of January 11th and 12th at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley. If you are interested in supporting California CareForce, you can volunteer your time (in Sacramento) or donate You can also visit their website or their Facebook page for more information.

California CareForce is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that relies solely on funding from grants, sponsorships, foundations and individual donations. Any support they receive helps provide thousands of dollars worth of dental, vision and medical care, at no cost, with no restrictions based on income, employment, insurance, residency, etc. to thousands of Californians with nowhere else to turn. 

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA
A few years ago I posted about Maternal Mental Health Week (the first week of May) and the Blue Dot campaign. Well, it is such an important topic, affecting the entire family, that the week has now been expanded into the entire month of May!

I often hear women say "postpartum" when they mean postpartum depression, but the term "postpartum" actually means the period following delivery, not necessarily depression. The correct term for mood changes during or after pregnancy is Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), which can include anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and bipolar disorder. It is not limited to the immediate postpartum period nor is it limited to mothers; fathers and other family members can also experience PMADs during pregnancy and for up to a couple of years after the birth of the baby.

The transition to motherhood is, in my experience, the biggest life transition you, as a a woman, will ever experience. Your entire identity changes, both in your own eyes and in the world’s. If you have had careers where you have been competent and in charge prior to having a baby, the transition can be a rude awakening. All of a sudden after a life of being competent, you are thrust into a world of sleep-deprivation, a sore body, rapidly fluctuating hormones, piles of laundry, and a crying baby (and often mom!) who does not do things according to your schedule. Because of these changes, it can be hard to know if what you are feeling is a normal part of adjusting to a life with a baby or whether it is something that needs treatment.

Approximately 1 in 7 women experiences PMADs. If you find that you are having disturbing thoughts, such as “I’m not a good mom,”or “my baby doesn’t love me,” please reach out to your care provider for help. Postpartum Support International (PSI) has a helpline that you can call and they will connect you with local help. As PSI says, “You are not alone, you are not to blame, with help you can heal.” PSI’s Helpline is 1-800-944-4773 or you can text them at 503-894-9453.

The therapies most prescribed for PMADs are talk therapy and medication, but Chinese medicine (including acupuncture, herbs, and moxa) offers a powerful, personalized form of treatment. There is a long tradition in Chinese culture of postpartum practices that support the physical, emotional, and mental health of the new mother. She is fed deeply nourishing foods and herbs and is encouraged to get lots of rest, while others help her care for the baby.

I encourage every woman to come in for postpartum treatments. After the baby is born, so much attention and energy is focused on the new arrival that the recovery of the mom is often forgotten or overlooked. After labor, a new mom's hard work is not done! She and her body need pampering. Caring for a newborn is exhausting and getting support in the form of moxa, herbs, and acupuncture can go a long way towards replenishing energy reserves and preventing future health problems.

Emotions and Chinese Medicine

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Emotions and Chinese Medicine, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

In Chinese medicine, disease has both internal and external causes. One of the internal causes is emotions. Each of us experiences all emotions and that is normal. However, when an emotional state persists, or we “dwell” there, it can become pathological. Traditionally, the seven emotions are anger, joy (over-excitement), worry or overthinking, grief, sorrow, fear, and terror. Although each emotion affects the whole body, it is believed in Chinese medicine that each emotion most affects a particular organ system. Ultimately, all emotions have an effect on the Heart.

In Chinese medicine, anger affects the Liver. Imagine what happens when you become angry. You tense up, your face becomes red, your voice becomes louder, you might clench your teeth, have headaches, or experience neck and shoulder tension.

Over-excitement affects the Heart, a little bit like falling in love! You might laugh inappropriately, find it hard to settle down and fall asleep, or even suffer mania or hysteria.

Worry or overthinking affects the Spleen. The Spleen is the major digestive organ in Chinese medicine, which includes digesting and assimilating ideas, as well as food. Worry can cause either an increase or a loss in appetite.

Grief and sorrow affect the Lungs. This shows up as a lump in your throat, heaviness and emptiness in the chest.

Fear and terror affect the Kidneys, causing uncontrolled urination.

According to the Su Wen, part of the Huang Di Nei Jing (the Yellow Emperor’s Canon) which was compiled over 2,200 years ago and is still used today, the emotions disrupt the flow of Qi in the following ways:

When there is anger, the Qi rises up.
When there is elation, the Qi becomes loose.
When there is sadness, the Qi disappears.
When there is fear, the Qi descends.
When there is cold, the Qi is gathered.
When there is heat, the Qi flows outwards.
When there is startling with fright, the Qi is in disorder.
When there is fatigue, the Qi is damaged.
When there is obsessive thought, the Qi is knotted.

There are several ways to reverse the detrimental effects of emotions: Acupuncture is very good at moving Qi and releasing stagnation in the body.  Using your breath and consciously feeling tension release from your body as you exhale is also helpful. Another way is through meditation – sitting silently and having no relationship with whatever arises, realizing that it’s temporary. And yet another is to recognize that only part of you feels a particular emotion, while the rest of you is fine.
As Pema Chödrön says, “You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

May I See Your Tongue, Please?

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

May I See Your Tongue, Please?, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

"May I see your tongue, please?"

Have you ever wondered what I’m looking for when I ask to see your tongue? In Chinese medicine, the tongue is thought to be like a map showing the health of the body, similar to foot or hand reflexology charts where different areas correspond with different parts of the body. When looking at the tongue, It’s best to view it in natural light, if possible. I need to look at it relatively quickly, because the tongue body will start to become more reddish-purple the longer that it is stuck out.

So, what exactly am I looking for? I am assessing the color, size, and shape of the tongue body, as well as the color, thickness, and distribution of the tongue coating. A normal tongue is pink (or light red), with a thin, white coating.

What does it mean if your tongue doesn’t look like that? Some variations indicate a condition affecting your whole body, while others may just be associated with a particular are of the chart.

For example, the tip corresponds with the chest (Heart and Lungs), the center part with the middle of the abdomen (Stomach and Spleen), the back corresponds with the lower abdomen (Kidneys and Intestines), and the sides correspond with the Liver and Gall Bladder. All of these organ names refer to the understanding of functions of organs and channels within Chinese medicine, not necessarily their Western anatomical counterparts.

Tongue body colors might be: pink or light red (normal), pale (deficiency), red (heat), or purplish (stagnation). A red tip is often associated with poor sleep, although it may also be due to heat damage to the Lungs from an illness or smoking. Sometimes there are raised red or purplish dots, which shows that there is more longstanding Heat or Stagnation.

Tongue coating that is thick usually indicates Dampness, often caused by a weak digestive system. A yellow coating indicates Heat, a “map” or “geographic” coating or no coating can mean a lack of fluids in a particular part of the body. A gray or black coating that is not due to a medication, such as Pepto Bismol, indicates a more serious problem.

Tongue shape: thin can mean a lack of fluids, swollen can be excess Dampness, toothmarks can either be from Dampness or a deficiency. Shaking indicates Wind, but can also show up with anxiety. Some cracks are congenital, but generally cracks indicate a more chronic lack of fluid.

Some practitioners also look for sublingual veins (swollen veins on the underside of the tongue.) The more prominent the veins, the more longstanding the stagnation.

The tongue is just one part of the diagnostic process. I put together my observation of all the different parts of the tongue: body color and shape/size, coating, and sublingual veins, along with what I observe about a person's overall physique, what I feel in the pulse, and their responses to my questions to form a diagnosis. Although Chinese medicine uses some very basic tools of assessment, they are based in thousands of years of empirical evidence.

Year of the Earth Pig

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Year of the Earth Pig, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA
It's the Year of the Earth Pig!

The Lunar Year of the Yin Earth Pig began February 5, 2019. The system of 12 animals combined with the five elements creates a 60-year cycle, with the Pig as the final animal of the cycle. The end of each 12-year cycle means that there is a lot of energy around completion and concluding things, so it’s a great year to finish projects, even if they are not done perfectly!

The Chinese character for ‘home’ is a roof with a pig under it. The Pig is the ultimate symbol of nourishment, nurturing, and generosity. The qualities of the Yin Earth Pig make it a good year to focus on home, farming, health, good food, rest, relaxation, and comfort. It’s a time to visit with family and friends, cook family recipes, do home projects, work in the garden, and revel in the senses. Enjoy yourself! Pig energy can be somewhat sedentary, so weight gain is likely this year, so light exercise, massage, stretching like yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi and walking are also good and enjoyable forms of exercise.

Paying attention to relationships of any kind will be important: family & friends, community, internal affairs, diligence, infrastructure, healing, compassion, introspection, social justice, conflict resolution, reconciliation and truth. Resolve past conflicts and practice forgiveness, lovingkindness, and compassion for yourself and others.

While this is a year to focus on family, friends, and community, it’s also a time to dig deep and start exploring the inner workings of your mind, the nature of who you are, and how you show up in the world. This is a time when that which has been hidden gets rooted out and comes to the surface.

The main goal of the year is contentment and enjoyment of life. Develop strong rhythms and routines, resting and healing to prepare for the next cycle, all while having fun and enjoying the moment!

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