Summer Summer Summertime - Time to Sit Back and Unwind

Image by Amit Nayak

Image by Amit Nayak


“Now we send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun. Now our minds are one.” - translation of the Mohawk version of the Haudenosaunee Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen developed by the Six Nations Indian Museum and the Tracking Project

Summertime is wild and sublime, transformative and dynamic, and at the epicenter is growth and joy. The season of the Sun represents the outward expression of energy, expansiveness, movement, and activity and is ruled by the element of fire. Life and energy culminate here. 

We can experience a particular spiritual awareness between the heart and mind in this season: enthusiasm, warmth in human relationships, conscious awareness, sensitivity and expression, and true fulfillment. Now is the time to realize our life’s potential, and find joy in the hot summer days and warm summer nights. We have an opportunity here to harness the power during this annual zenith of the Sun and stand up for what our hyperaware hearts know is right for the world, right for humanity and for our planet.

Henry Beston writes, "In the old Europe which inherited from the Bronze Age, this great feast of the Solstice was celebrated with multitudinous small fires lit throughout the countryside. Fire and the great living sun — perhaps it would be well to honor again these two great aspects of the flame. It might help us to remember the meaning of fire before the hands and fire as a symbol. As never before, our world needs warmth in its cold, metallic heart, warmth to go on and face what has been made of human life, warmth to remain humane and kind."

Rising early in the morning, going to bed a bit later in the evening, and resting midday when the Sun has peaked allows us to absorb all that good light juju without overheating and overdoing it. While the fire element can bring joyful transformation, the intensity of heat has the potential to cause imbalances: agitation, nervous exhaustion, heartburn, and insomnia. Be mindful of the beginning of these imbalances, and try to correct them before they take root. Diet holds a lot of power here. Eat light meals and foods with cooling properties that reduce toxins from your body and generate fluids such as cucumber, lemon, mint, watermelon, dill, watercress, seaweed, bok choy, summer squash, and fish. 

Drink, drink, drink…… water! Keeping your body hydrated is the challenge of these steamy summer months. Water is life. Traditional medical systems usually advise against iced water, preferring warm or room temperature water. On a hot summer day it’s unlikely you’ll want a hot cup of tea, but try cool instead of iced. The logic behind this theory is that cold water contracts and slows your digestive system while room temperature or warm water helps to maintain fluidity, protects the internal organs, and increases healthy blood flow and circulation. You can add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar (with the mother) into your water to replenish electrolytes. Watermelon is also one of the best remedies for dehydration and summer heat symptoms. It cools and cleanses your system and is a water heavy fruit to aid in the battle against dehydration. 

NB: Your plants are extra thirsty too!

Acupuncture Rewires your Brain: New Carpal Tunnel Research

Image by Khara Woods

Image by Khara Woods


By Alexandra Garcia

The verdict is in: acupuncture works.  

It’s been half a decade since the landmark 2012 study that definitively proved acupuncture works to treat pain.  This Sloan Kettering research included results from over 17,000 patients and established that acupuncture is not simply a placebo effect.

The Joint Commission - the major accreditation body for hospitals - now includes acupuncture as a standard non-pharmacological care that can be used for pain management in hospitals.

Now that we’ve cleared up the basic “does it work?” question we can start talking about the really interesting stuff - because anyone who's up-to-date with the literature knows that acupuncture significantly impacts the body’s anatomy and physiology.

One of the coolest recent studies shows that acupuncture not only works at a local anatomical level, but that it actually causes the brain to rewrite its mental map of the body.  In this randomized control experiment, researchers looked at patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. What they found was that acupuncture relieved the local pain symptoms in the wrist, and led the brain’s cortical map of the hand to change shape into a healthier looking version of the wrist.

When compared to fake, “sham,” acupuncture, real acupuncture literally reshaped the way the brain saw the wrist. These changes at the brain level were correlated with longer lasting positive effects from the real acupuncture treatments than the fake intervention.


Spring Equinox - Get into the Groove

Image by Jeff Cooper

Image by Jeff Cooper


Spring is rejuvenation and nourishment - it holds a deep sense of renewal. Here lies the energetic oomph of the reappearance of the Sun - a time when slinky green sprouts unfurl, vibrant colors and smells erupt from a cool, dank ground. The fertile earth feels the warmth seeping in again and begins to boast its bounty. 

This season is a period of creation and rapid growth. As such in the spring of ones life, we can establish a lot of core rituals here. They will be unique to each individual, but in the process of doing so, be observant and inquisitive and accept the ubiquitous strength to face obstacles in your quest to grow. 

Begin spending more time outside again. Nothing outshines a fresh, dewy Spring morning stroll. If you don’t have your own, volunteering in a community garden allows for unbeatable intimacy with the root of Spring and harvest perks to boot! Eat the young, fresh, leafy greens and sprouts. Don’t shy away from weeds either! Purslane is a nutrient-rich “weed” abundant in gardens and easy to grow in most places. 

Spring is an ideal time for cleansing the liver, lymph, and blood. Dandelion, nettles, violet, sage, sassafras, red clover, and milk thistle are several herbs that facilitate the release of waste and unwanted patterns. Movement, such as stretching and breathing exercises, will facilitate the smooth flow of qi and remove obstruction, stagnation, and toxin build-up in the body. 

Rejuvenate and nourish yourself. 

Image by Alberto Restifo

Image by Alberto Restifo

One last thing… I write these seasonal posts about what we can do to align with nature and how our bodies can benefit from certain practices during each change. I’d like to add: now and always, we must practice stewardship of our planet. In wild harvest know when, how much, and what parts to take so there will be bounty left behind. And give back in every way you can.

Look at this planet! We are so fortunate!

How to Heal Broken Hearts (and Immune Systems)

Image by Jia Sung

Image by Jia Sung


By Sandra Gelbard, MD

In the weeks since the election results came in, my office has been filled with people suffering the aftereffects of the country's monumental and controversial decision. Someone should be doing a study, I've said aloud, on how stress and despair is leading to illness. To be clear, these people are not complaining of being sad or depressed. Their ailments range from pneumonia and sinusitis to diverticulitis. Their immune systems, along with their hearts, are broken. 

I have always been a firm believer in the mind-body connection. The idea that our thoughts and emotions play a role in our physical health seems logical to me, given how fundamentally connected our bodies are to our brains. At this point, I think most medical doctors believe in this connection. And if any doubt remained, the postelection despair has provided an overwhelming body of evidence that supports it. 

During my training years at Bellevue, I often remarked how miraculous it was that we budding doctors didn't contract any of the serious ailments we spent hours exposed to. We were surrounded by tuberculosis and virulent airborne diseases. Yet, somehow, we came out unscathed. We were doing what we felt we were meant to do, and that gave us a tremendous amount of satisfaction. Our work ethic was serious, if not pathological, and we often worked for hours on end — but I rarely heard complaints. We remained healthy because we were happy. As a result, our immune systems were strong. 

When we are stressed, our nervous system releases a flood of stress hormones. These include cortisol, which increases sugars in the bloodstream, and adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and elevates blood pressure. This is helpful in some situations, as it allows our bodies to engage in a "fight-or-flight" response by elevating our level of focus, concentration, physical ability, and stamina. It's our bodies' way of protecting us when we come face-to-face with a threat. 

However, what happens when this response is prolonged? When these hormones are released at times when there is no immediate threat to combat, they linger in the system and can have severely detrimental effects. Over time, they wear away at your immune systemwhich can lead to problems such as flu, viral syndromes, bacterial infections, and even heart attacks. In addition, stress lowers your pain threshold, causes digestive problems, increases reproductive issues, and has been linked to a decline in cognitive and memory functions.

So what can we do to combat stress?

To start, there's no need to get stressed about being stressed! A few simple lifestyle changes can have a massive impact on your anxiety levels and dramatically boost your quality of life. Firstly, exercise is one of the most underutilized antidepressants and stress relievers there is. Exercise releases endorphins into the system, which act as natural painkillers. You'll find it easier to sleep, too.

Meditation, acupuncture, and yoga are also incredibly effective for reducing stress levels. As far as meditation goes, there are various types, and just like with anything, different practices resonate with different people, depending on their issues and personalities. For individuals with extremely high levels of stress or anxiety, guided meditation and visualization work best. The sessions can be done in a very supportive way, with the teacher talking throughout the meditation to support the experience.

Your happiness is important. Feel-good moments throughout the day have real effects on your overall immune system, so remember to take care of yourself. Even the little things that make you smile — like playing your favorite song, or reminiscing about a happy memory — can elevate your mood and result in a shift in your hormones. So be sure to take a couple of moments every day to assess your stress levels and do something to reduce them.

Additionally, there are a number of supplements you can take to boost your immune system. These bring health benefits of many types when taken daily, but are especially important during times of stress, as they help combat stress's negative effects. I recommend vitamin D and probiotics to all my patients, as well as fish oil, which is rich in omega-3. You can introduce more fish oil into your diet by either eating two meals a week containing fatty fish like mackerel and salmon, or by taking tablets. These supplements will benefit your overall health and mood, as well as support your immune system.

The election was a shock to the system, and many people are still recovering from that shock. We're all going to need our strength for the years to come, so remember to look after yourself both physically and mentally. Understanding how to take care of yourself is the first step toward engaging positively in the community, better preparing you to provide support to others. Women are by nature givers and caretakers, but if we don't start with ourselves, we are unable to achieve our greater purpose in life. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival." —Audre Lorde


Winter Solstice – Rest, Restore, Revitalize

Image by Anna Popović

Image by Anna Popović


By Alicia Genna

“Tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the Eastern glow.” — Robert Plant

The winter solstice marks the end of the annual cycle of birth, growth, and decline. It is a time of hushed darkness, internal rewiring, and deep meaningful dreams. 

The days approaching the winter solstice are of dim, shallow light. The nights are prolonged and “the beads of time pass slow.” Movement that is unhurried, steady, and calculated is characteristic of this time. It is a turning point marked by a bone-penetrating cold that gives birth to warmth again — the midwinter moment from which new life seeds. From this deep mood, the days are reborn and slowly begin to grow. It is Yin transforming into Yang in nature. 

Solstice derives from the Latin “solstitium” which means stopped, stationary, or still. Though there is always movement in nature, to the naked eye, the sun appears to be suspended in the sky during this time. Here in New York, the sun makes a bashful appearance above our horizon for a mere nine hours.

The darkness, slowness, and deepness should encourage us to remain quiet, still, aware, and reflective. This is a time to meditate, for as perspective is most profound in the winter of one’s life, so will be perspective at the end of the seasonal cycle. We are in a space between death and rebirth, the most mysterious place. You can find volumes of knowledge here.

In this time surrounding the winter solstice, go to sleep early and rise later, as hibernation is the way of winter — let the sun’s rays warm the atmosphere before you expose yourself to the elements and let your dreams fill the night. Find respite from your stressors — allow the best potential for your immunity by decreasing its antagonists. Pamper your body, mind, and soul with slow practices — Epsom salt baths, warm massages, hearty broths, meditations, and introduction of rituals. 

Following the solstice will be a new beginning. Continue the practices discovered in your wise, old season. Continue to listen to and nurture yourself. From this point forward, the darkness will recede. Replant yourself into the world on the best platform as the sun slowly begins to take the stage again. 

Oh, and don’t forget… “dance in the dark of night, sing to the mornin’ light.” 

The Art of Medicine: W.H. Auden on What Makes a Great Physician and How He Influenced Oliver Sacks

Image by Patrick Pilz

Image by Patrick Pilz


By Maria Popova

“A doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist.”

The poetry of W.H. Auden (February 21, 1907–September 29, 1973) was among Oliver Sacks’s formative books. When the two men eventually became friends in the final years of Auden’s life, Dr. Sacks was still a thirty-something neurologist with little more than a weightlifting record under his belt, a long way from becoming the Dante of medicine. Auden became an invaluable mentor as the young writer was honing the singular voice that would later render him the greatest science-storyteller of our time.

In the pages of A Certain World (public library) — Auden’s terrific commonplace book, that proto-Tumblr of fragmentary inspirations fomenting the poet’s imagination — I was delighted to discover the surprising seedbed of the kinship of spirit between these two otherwise rather different geniuses.

Under the entry for Medicine, Auden writes:

I can remember my father, who was a physician, quoting to me when I was a young boy an aphorism by Sir William Osler: “Care more for the individual patient than for the special features of his disease.” In other words, a doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist.


It is precisely those members of the medical profession who make the bogus claim that they are “scientific” who are most likely to refuse to consider new evidence.

Radiating from this private reflection is the sudden illumination of why Dr. Sacks, that poetic humanist of modern medicine, was so enchanted by Auden’s work and the spirit from which it sprang. (In my own life, I have found that all of my close friendships with people whom I’ve first encountered through their work are based on something larger than aesthetic admiration for one another’s work — they are based, rather, on a certain resonant affinity for the spirit undergirding the work, of which the work is only a partial expression.)

Writing shortly before the publication of Dr. Sacks’s groundbreaking Awakenings — the record of his miraculous work with patients frozen in a trance-like state by sleeping-sickness, brought back to life in large part by music — Auden offers a beautiful figurative counterpart to Dr. Sacks’s literal solution:

As Novalis wrote, “Every sickness is a musical problem; every cure a musical solution…” This means that in order to be a good doctor a man must also have a good character, that is to say, whatever weaknesses and foibles he may have, he must love his fellow human beings in the concrete and desire their good before his own. A doctor, like a politician, who loves other men only in the abstract or regards them simply as a source of income can, however clever, do nothing but harm.

In his magnificent autobiography, which remains one of the most rewarding and life-expanding books I’ve ever read, Dr. Sacks recounts the advice Auden gave him as he was writing Awakenings:

You’re going to have to go beyond the clinical… Be metaphorical, be mystical, be whatever you need.

How marvelous to uncover, buried amid the pages of his forgotten commonplace book, the seed of this wisdom, which helped Dr. Sacks write the book in such a way that Auden himself would later laud as a masterpiece.


Philosophy-Based Medicine vs. Science-Based Medicine

Image by Matt Briney

Image by Matt Briney


By Alicia Genna

"Care more for the individual patient than for the special features of his [or her] disease." - Sir William Osler

I am innately scientifically-minded - a quality I thought would drive me mad while studying an ancient medicine heavy on the empirical evidence and light on the controlled trials. But as I delved into the deepest crevices of this medicine, two invaluable realizations altered the way I approached healing and the human body: that those thousands of years of empirical evidence do hold some significant weight, and that science and philosophy, when applied to a human-being, are invariably interconnected. 

When I first started my graduate program, one of my professors offered some advice I’ll never forget. To a classroom full of eager healers, eyes wide and pencils poised, he said, “The first thing you all have to do is forget everything you know about medicine so far. And then, once you finally break down all those notions, you’ll be able to start learning this medicine.” 

*Blink, blink* Hold the phone. Queue fear, self-doubt, back-peddling. 

I immediately started questioning my post-collegiate choice. I thought I loved this medicine, but is it even medicine? How am I supposed to forget something of that magnitude? What would life be, what would my body be, what would the Milky Way be if I erased biomedicine from my mind? 

I’ve always felt most akin to my left brain - logistical, analytical, factual. And, needless to say, I didn’t follow that very first instruction. For the next four years, I challenged and dug my heels in the whole way through. I critically observed and questioned everything. I mused on the ways in which acupuncture could fit seamlessly into a biomedical mold. 

As I observed acupuncture continually healing patients of an array of ailments, I needed to understand why, in my terms. The ancient concept of qi - your body’s vital “force,” an “energy” that carries along with it an uncanny healing “power” - wasn’t cutting it. Left brain: Force, energy, and power are different qualities of physics. How can qi be all three simultaneously? Qi? Even the name sounded unscientific to me. 

I continued to muse: Could qi be neuronal? Could it be hormonal? Could it be muscular? I studied the primary pathways searching for similarities between those connections of neurons firing through one synapse to the next, or hormones traveling within the bloodstream, or engaging the myofascial meridians.

I began at the human body as a whole and broke it down into systems: the motor system, circulatory system, nervous system, visceral system. I further broke each system down into its constituent parts, trying to understand the cause-and-effect, the influence of acupuncture on each fragment to explain the effect on the whole. But no sole biomedical system ultimately described the ancient theories. The questions still remained: From where did this comprehensive medicine arise? What hidden pattern do the channels follow? How do they so effectively heal? 

After years of studying this medicine, I found my answer in the beginning. Rewind from atom to molecule to cell to tissue to organ to organ system to organism. A human is an organism, a living system made up of many parts, but conceived as a whole. A single fertilized human ovum proliferates wildly to create a person, comprised of many systems and dividends. But these parts grow together, live together, and die together. They are inseparable. They are mutually dependent, co-evolving, intrinsically woven into the smallest fibers of our being and simultaneously into the most grandiose form our our existence. The soul, perhaps? Or the mind? Consciousness?

So what is qi? The answer that I’ve settled upon is that qi is all of those things - it is electrical and chemical and physical. The channels follow neuronal pathways, blood vessels, and planes of connective tissue alike. An acupuncture needle can engage a muscle, trigger conduction of a neuron, and encourage secretion of the epithelia all at once. 

I view the primary pathways as a map, not of one system, but as if you layered a projector with slides of all the systems together, as a whole. Eastern medicine is comprehensive - therein lies its beauty. And a good practitioner will gather information from and incorporate ALL systems into the healing process.

Acupuncture was developed thousands of years ago. The healing practices of the time were part of what is called philosophy-based medicine - a medicine based on astute observation, trial and error, repetition, and refinement. And while the doctors of the time may not have used a scalpel to dissect the human body down to its smallest parts to be analyzed under a microscope, those thousands of years of observation yielded an integrative medicine that is able to address the physical, chemical, and electrical components of imbalance all at the same time, and without side effects.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. 

In retrospect, I understand what my professor was really saying to us novices. He wasn’t telling us to forget anything, but to be open to all possibilities. He wanted us to always remain critical - critical yet unconfined. 

Navigating by the Sun, Through the Falling Leaves

Image by Kelly Sikkema

Image by Kelly Sikkema


By Alicia Genna

“We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.” – Henry Beston

Henry Beston, Nietzsche, those composers of the ancient Chinese medical doctrine the Neijing, and countless other great thinkers, writers, and admirers of the natural world describe this undeniable connection between humanity and the Sun and seasons. From the Gregorian calendar to our individual emotional inclinations, our worlds have been shaped by the rotation of Earth around Sun, and we’re never more aware of this connection than when the seasons change.

Living in harmony with the orbit - the cyclical variations - allows us to understand and transcend our relationship with the Sun. As the days sink into quieter rhythm, gradually cooling and darkening, we too should begin a transition from the transformative and dynamic movement of Summer to refinement and returning to the root – a transition into our internal Autumn. 

Aligning yourself with the nature of this season is a valuable practice for the improvement and support of health: Eat vegetables and whole grains to aid in the autumnal cleanse. Consume warm and hearty foods like nuts and roots to ready your belly for Winter. Relax in the late afternoon and evening hours to reinstate a calm and restfulness. Focus internally to cultivate body and mind. Breathe deeply to clear impurities from the blood. Take long walks outside (with a scarf) in nature to absorb the dwindling sunbeams and relish the beauty.

Leaving behind the wild and sublime nature of Summer often carries with it a feeling of loss, a “fall” from that higher plane where life is full and the world seems to be spinning faster than normal. But it’s important to let things go gracefully (as the fall of leaves) – keep only the pure - and ground yourself (take root). Autumn is about harnessing the essentials and eliminating the exorbitant. It is a time to offer your body, mind, and soul the very best stores for Winter.