Abdominal Breathing Technique for Nervous System Regulation

Abdominal Breathing Technique

Breathing exercises such as this one should be done daily or whenever you find yourself under stress, your mind dwelling on upsetting thoughts, or when you are experiencing pain. Abdominal breathing is just one of the many breathing exercises, but it is the most important one to learn before exploring other techniques. The more it is practiced, the more natural it will become, improving your mind and body’s internal balanced rhythm.

  • Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This ensures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
  • After exhaling through your mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose, allowing your mind to focus on the undersurface of the nose where the air enters the body. Inhale for a count of 4.
  • Slowly exhale for a count of 6-8. As all the air is released with exhalation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air in your lungs. It is important to remember that we deepen respirations by completely exhaling air, rather than inhaling more of it.
  • Repeat the cycle 19 more times for a total of twenty deep breaths.
Can’t Sleep? Feeling Anxious? Irritated? Depressed? Stress May Be The Cause. 

Can’t Sleep? Feeling Anxious? Irritated? Depressed? Stress May Be The Cause. 

Meditating GnomeStress is a cause of many chronic illnesses. When we experience stressful life situations, the body releases hormones that are biologically intended to keep us safe from danger by kicking the body into high gear. This is the ancient human response to “the tiger is going to eat me, I have to run really fast in order to survive”. The heart rate increases, digestion is suppressed, energy increases as more glucose (sugar) become available for the brain. Because survival is the primary goal, stress hormones suppress otherwise necessary functions like digestion and excretion. 

Chronic Stress

The stress response is absolutely necessary in times of acute danger. But the body can’t always tell the difference between the proverbial tiger about to eat us and sitting in hours of traffic, so we experience chronic stress. Under chronic stress, our bodies often stay in a state of ‘fight or flight’. We experience tension, anxiety, insomnia, stomach problems, headaches. These chronic stress symptoms are really common, and with all of the overwhelm in the modern world, to say we are all stressed is probably an understatement. While many of us have learned to cope with stress, stress hormones may still be, well, stressing us out.  Over time this can negatively impact our quality of life.  

In Western medicine, the release of chronic stress hormones into the body causes chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is understood to put the body at greater risk for diseases such as heart and bowel disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.  In short, it affects all systems of the body.  This is because, as Eastern medicine teaches us, chronic inflammation sets off a cascade of reactions, throwing our system off balance.  

In Eastern medical thought, the body is striving for a balance of Yin and Yang, and plentiful, free-flowing Qi and Blood. Chronic stress interrupts that delicate balance and over time can deplete our reserves, causing us to “burn out”.  Just know that when we are constantly in fight or flight, the body doesn’t get to rest, restore, and repair. This leads to imbalances, which show up in different ways, depending on your unique constitution.  This is why it can be confusing to understand just how stress may be a factor in causing sinus issues, or PCOS, for example.  

Natural Ways to De-Stress

Our bodies are incredible and have natural ways to release stress hormones, but there are some things we can do to help the process along.  If you notice yourself feeling tense, worried, anxious, or in pain, trying some of these techniques will help your body relax and increase your overall health.  

Exercise. Moving your body, whether gently or vigorously will get the blood and qi flowing, releasing tension that gets stuck in the body. Walking, running, dancing, yoga, tai chi are all great ways to release endorphins and improve your overall well being. 

Laughter. Laughter really is the best medicine.  Laughter increases your oxygen intake, getting your blood flowing, stimulating your organs, and releasing endorphins, the happy chemicals in your brain. 

Deep breathing and meditation. Sitting quietly for just 5 – 10 minutes a day, practicing deep breathing activates the vagus nerve, allowing the body to relax from its fight or flight stage into rest and relaxation. The heart rate slows, digestion resumes, and stress hormones are no longer released. Meditation also quiets down the overactive chatter and worry we often have in the mind. 

Crying. The next time you feel sad or overwhelmed, you might want to let the tears flow.  Interestingly, crying is an excellent way to release cortisol, one of the main stress hormones. This is one of the reasons we sometimes feel better after crying a little.  

Hugs. A warm hug from a pet or a friend, often makes us just feel good.  This is actually because hugging releases oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle hormone”. Oxytocin may be a factor in reducing inflammation, and even if it isn’t, it sure feels good. 

We can’t take away the pressures of life and society.  In the modern world, stress is a part of life.  But we actually have a lot of simple tools we can use to support our body in releasing stress hormones and getting back into a restful state. Along with regular acupuncture, these techniques support the body’s natural processes and improve our quality of health. 

Chicago Acupuncturist: How to Find the Right Person for You

Chicago Acupuncturist: How to Find the Right Person for You

You’re in pain. Or maybe struggling with infertility. You could be feeling anxious. And someone mentioned that acupuncture could help you. It sounds a little strange. How could those teeny tiny needles help me feel less anxious, help me get pregnant, or cure my pain? Your friends swear it’s true, and the research shows it’s not just in their heads. So, you decide to give in a try. But where should you start?

In Chicago, we are lucky to have many acupuncturists to choose from. But all those choices sometimes makes it harder to find the right acupuncturist for you. Here are 6 things to ask yourself once you’ve decided to take the plunge:

1. Did you know that not everyone who does acupuncture is a licensed acupuncturist?

It’s true! There are a number of professions that can legally perform acupuncture (in Illinois) without becoming licensed in acupuncture or attending acupuncture school. This includes chiropractors and MDs, who only have to attend a few hours of training to start treating clients with acupuncture. Physical therapists can also perform ‘dry-needling’, which is a form of acupuncture, with minimal training. Acupuncturists (the licensed kind) earn a Masters degree, spend nearly 4 years in school, must pass national board exams, and keep up with continuing education to maintain their license. I think a licensed acupuncturist is the way to go, but whoever you decide to see, make sure they have sufficient training under their belts.

2. Would you like to find a practitioner with a particular specialty?

One of the best things about getting acupuncture, is that it has the ability balance out so many aspects of your health. That said, many acupuncturists choose to specialize in a particular area. For instance, I specialize in women’s health and fertility, pregnancy, and anxiety. This makes me especially comfortable treating in these areas, and I have learned much of the Western medical treatment and lingo that these patients are getting and hearing.

3. What kind of needle technique are you comfortable with?

Hold on now. I’ve gone ahead and decided to jump on the needle wagon, and now you’re telling me I need to think about how I’m going to get needled?

Well, yes, but I’ll keep it simple. Most acupuncture techniques fall into two broad categories: Japanese-style or Chinese-style. I could go on and on about this, but what you need to know is that Japanese-style tends to be much gentler while Chinese-style tends to be much stronger stimulation. At Four Flowers Wellness, I primarily practice the Japanese-style. I love how gentle it is for my clients, and in my experience, the results are phenomenal!

4. Would you benefit from other Eastern Medicine techniques, such as herbal medicine, guasha, or moxibustion?

Despite calling myself an acupuncturist, it would actually be more accurate to say I’m an Eastern Medicine practitioner. Eastern Medicine is so much more than acupuncture and includes a highly sophisticated herbal medicine tradition, manual therapy, techniques to benefit the muscles and fascia such as guasha and cupping, and moxibustion (aka moxa). You may or may not know that one of these therapies could add another layer to your healing. You don’t need to know-that’s my job! I’ve got a full toolbox and I know how (and when) to use it.

5. How much experience does your acupuncturist have?

It’s always good to know you’re in experienced hands. I’ve been in acupuncture practice since 2010 and started my shiatsu practice in 2008. During school, I also had 3 years of experience working in the student clinic and a year doing an amazing internship at the Chicago Women’s Health Center. Woah! I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for over 10 years already!

6. Can you start with a free consultation?

I really believe that no matter how good things look on paper, for a healing relationship to really work, you need to have trust and a good rapport. This is why I always encourage people to come in for a free consultation before getting started.

Would you like to connect with me to see if I can help you with my unique and effective approach to holistic health care?

Request a free consultation and we’ll meet to discuss your case. We’ll sit down, review your health history and goals, and see if you are a good fit for our services. You will have an opportunity to ask any questions about our approach and if you feel confident that I can help, you’ll have an opportunity to learn how to move forward and work with me.

Don’t Press There! Acupuncture’s Forbidden Points for Pregnancy

Don’t Press There! Acupuncture’s Forbidden Points for Pregnancy

As the popularity of acupuncture has grown, so has the notoriety of the so-called ‘forbidden points’ of pregnancy. As someone who’s been through a couple of pregnancies, I know well the anxiety it can provoke to have such a small and vulnerable person so reliant upon your care. Pregnancy can make the most benign of daily encounters feel dangerous-turkey sandwiches, canned tuna, hair dye, pedicures, massages.

In acupuncture school, I learned (as all acupuncturists learn) about a certain set of points that should not be used in pregnancy for fear of causing labor or otherwise putting the pregnancy at risk. I do believe that knowing about these points is very important, but I also think that their danger has been greatly exaggerated, especially amongst the general population. Research looking at side-effects of acupuncture for pregnant women has not uncovered any increase in miscarriage, preterm labor, or any other danger to the pregnancy.

Pedicures & Massages

One area that I’ve noticed a lot of fear amongst pregnant women is around having a massage or pedicure. There is an unfounded belief that a massage therapist or nail technician could inadvertently press on one of the ‘forbidden’ points are cause miscarriage or labor. Please, I urge you, go get that massage or pedicure! There is no danger!

For an average, healthy pregnancy, no amount of pressing or prodding these acupuncture points will have a detrimental effect. To give a little bit of perspective, when I’m working with women who are at term and trying to get labor started, I’ll have them press these points deeply for several minutes at a time, a couple of times per day in order to jump-start the labor process. Even a deep massage won’t give the points that kinds of stimulation.

For women who have had threatened miscarriage or experienced pre-term labor, intense, direct pressure at the ‘forbidden points’ should be avoided. You may feel more comfortable in a massage situation if you are aware of which points can be problematic, just in case your therapist isn’t.

The ‘Forbidden Points’ of Pregnancy

Spleen 6

The point Spleen 6 is located on the inside of the lower leg, about a hand’s width above the ankle bone. This point is very commonly used for increasing circulation in the uterus and also used to induce uterine contractions to kick-start labor. As one of the most powerful points to cause contractions, it should not be used before 38 weeks of pregnancy.

Bladder 60

Bladder 60 Acupuncture Point

Bladder 60 is located on the outside of the ankle, just behind the ankle bone and in front of the achilles tendon. This point is most often used for low back pain as it is considered a highly effective point for opening up, creating space, and increasing movement in the low back. However, this point can also be considered problematic for pregnancy for the same reason. Holding a pregnancy requires a good deal of strength and holding in this same are of the body.

Gallbladder 21

Gallbladder 21 Acupuncture PointUnless you’ve mysteriously avoided using the computer for the last 10 years, you probably have a tight spot at the acupuncture point Gallbladder 21. This point is usually a favorite focus of any shoulder massage, and it feels great to have this area worked on. This point is generally considered to have a regulating effect on the pelvic floor, meaning it can be used to strengthen weakness and to relieve excess tension. The concern in pregnancy is that it will cause weakness in the pelvic floor, which is responsible for supporting the weight of pregnancy. If you have a history of incompetent cervix or preterm labor, it’s probably wise to be cautious and gentle when working this area. If you’re having a normal pregnancy, go ahead and get that shoulder massage. Especially in the third trimester, I find that most women are actually holding too much tension in the pelvis (which can be a source of weakness) and would really benefit from using this point. (When in doubt, ask your practitioner!)

Large Intestine 4

Large Intestine 4 Acupuncture Point

The last ‘forbidden point’ for pregnancy is Large Intestine 4. This point is located on the hand, in the thicker muscle between the thumb and pointer finger. It is typically quite sore with pressure. Large Intestine 4 is used in many different situations, but always has the general effect of getting things moving. It can be used to relieve and headache or aching neck and shoulders, get the digestion moving, clear blocked sinuses, and many other ailments. It is that strongly moving quality of the point that also makes it great for getting labor moving and helping the uterus to contract more strongly. Large Intestine 4, along with Spleen 6, are the major points for inducing labor or speeding up stalled labor. For these reasons, this point is avoided until mom and baby are ready for labor. This point does require a good deal of pressure to be effective, so unless you’re pressing hard enough to feel that achy soreness, it won’t have much of an effect.

Would you like to connect with me to see if I can help you with my unique and effective approach to pregnancy care?

Request a free consultation and we’ll meet to discuss your case. We’ll sit down, review your health history and goals, and see if you are a good fit for our services. You will have an opportunity to ask any questions about our approach and if you feel confident that I can help, you’ll have an opportunity to learn how to move forward and work with me.

Fertility, Emotions, and Acupuncture

Fertility, Emotions, and Acupuncture

As any woman who has struggled to conceive knows, emotions are a key part of the pregnancy puzzle.  Fertility problems are stressful, and often cause a woman to feel anxious, depressed, or inadequate.  Depression and emotional turmoil can delay or even prevent conception altogether.  Addressing the emotional side of fertility can lessen the emotional pain and increase the chances of becoming pregnant.

Yawning BabyMany women feel a great pressure to become pregnant quickly, after waiting to establish a career or finding a partner later in life.  There is often an expectation that pregnancy should occur within 1 to 2 cycles, and then a woman begins to worry that she is infertile, or that she has waited too long.  I meet many women who are concerned that they will not conceive, not for any reason except that it has become so common.  Although 10-15% of couples in the United States will experience infertility, there is no cause for concern unless pregnancy has not occurred after 12 months of unprotected sex (or 6 months if the woman is over 35).  Once the cycle of stress and anxiety begins, it can become very difficult to overcome.

Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between depression and infertility.  A study from Brown University showed that women with a history of depressive symptoms were twice as likely to report infertility than women without a history of such symptoms.  Another study from the University of California demonstrated that depression can interfere with fertility treatments as well.  Women in this study who were the most depressed were the least likely to conceive through IVF.

Women experience a vast range of emotions in relationship to their own fertility.  There are exasperation, desperation, worry, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy.  In Eastern medicine, the spirit, called Shen, is said to come from the Heart and to be directly connected to the uterus through the acupuncture meridians.  This connection explains the impact that emotions can have on fertility and the importance of addressing stress and emotional disruption when a woman is wanting to conceive. Many women know that they may have a period arrive late or early when they are going through particularly stressful times. This disruption to the menstrual cycle is simply the obvious manifestation of the disruption that is happening to their hormone cycles internally. A small change to the menstrual cycle can reflect a significant impact on the inner workings of fertility.

How to Manage Emotions and their Effect on Fertility

Get Acupuncture

Acupuncture can play an essential role in balancing emotions that might be preventing pregnancy.  It relieves stress and depression, and lessens anxiety and worry.  Through addressing the emotions, acupuncture can make the journey to conception smoother and easier. The best part is that acupuncture can also be an essential part of balancing hormones and improving fertility while also managing the emotions that can sometimes get in the way.

Try Meditation

Starting a regular meditation practice can be a major help during periods of stress, and functions as a way of learning how to process that stress more effectively. You’ll still feel stress, but you’ll get better and better at letting go of it and not letting it affect your physical body. I recommend starting with something simple that doesn’t take too long, like this “loving kindness” meditation or this simple breathing exercise. As you get deeper into your fertility journey, you might find these fertility focused guided meditations from Circle & Bloom helpful.

Trust and Patience

If you haven’t yet been trying to conceive for at least 12 months (6 months if over 35), try to remember that you have no reason to worry. Conceiving a healthy baby sometimes takes time. Everyone is different. Maybe you just need to give it a bit more time.

Try not to give in to comparing yourself to others. Yes, there are plenty of people who conceive their first try, but there are just as many who don’t. Sure, some people get pregnant on accident and that can feel very unfair, but that in no way reflects on you or your ability to conceive. Yup, the health cards you’re dealt sometimes feel like you’re getting a crappy hand. I can promise you, everyone has their own challenges to work through, and there are a lot of people who likely think you’re one of the lucky ones.

Realizing what a profound role your emotions play in your fertility journey is the essential first step. Once you do, you’re in a much better position to make sure they’re not interfering with your daily life and fertility journey. Pregnancy happens when the body is given a chance to find harmony and rhythm-reach out and get help if you’re having trouble finding yours.


Would you like to connect with me to see if I can help you with my unique and effective approach to fertility support?

Request a free consultation and we’ll meet to discuss your case. We’ll sit down, review your health history and goals, and see if you are a good fit for our services. You will have an opportunity to ask any questions about our approach and if you feel confident that I can help, you’ll have an opportunity to learn how to move forward and work with me.

Audrey and Charlie’s IVF Journey

Audrey and Charlie’s IVF Journey

When I first met Audrey and Charlie, they had been trying to conceive their first child for over 4 years. When it became clear after a year that a pregnancy wasn’t going to be as easy to achieve as they’d hoped, they began looking for answers. Not long after, Charlie was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and went through 6 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. Luckily, Charlie was declared cancer-free at the end of his chemotherapy treatment, but the side-effects on his fertility were devastating. Charlie’s treatment wiped out his sperm counts and left him feeling fatigued and anxious.

Audrey and Charlie decided to pursue the only avenue left to them to conceive a child of their ow, IVF, using Charlie’s sperm that were frozen prior to his chemotherapy treatments. At the time we first met, they had already completed two IVF cycles, unsuccessfully, and were preparing for their third.

By this time, Audrey and Charlie were quite anxious about every aspect of their fertility. They were feeling frustrated to be heading into yet another IVF cycle without an understanding of what had caused the first two to fail or how to improve their chances of success. They were anxious to begin the next phase of their life – as parents – and the longer it was taking, the more out of reach it felt. They were worried about the toll their fertility journey was taking on their bodies, spirits, finances, and relationship.

Although in a very challenging situation, Audrey and Charlie had all the qualities that help couples to persevere and go on to have a successful pregnancy and healthy baby through IVF. They worked hard to fine-tune every aspect of their health, and understood that anything that would improve their overall health would also boost their chances of IVF success. And they knew how to seek help and get assistance in their journey.

Fertility, like every aspect of health, is incredibly resilient. Our bodies already inherently know how to heal. The goal of any holistic healing practice is to help us step out of our own way and create the space for our bodies’ innate healing mechanisms to unfold. In my practice, I use acupuncture, herbal medicine, and shiatsu massage as tools to create that healing space for my clients, as well as helping my clients find their own tools to continue that journey at home.

Everyone needs help to heal. What most people ‘know’ about healthy living might actually be pulling them further away from their goal and true health. Finding the right help and the right path is the hardest part of healing. I always encourage my clients to learn to listen to their bodies, follow their body’s guidance, and ask for help when they need it.

To help Audrey and Charlie prepare for their third IVF cycle, we began weekly acupuncture sessions, along with customized herbal recommendations, and a few small adjustments to nutrition and stress management practices. Within a few weeks, both were feeling less anxious, more energetic, and better able to handle stress.  After initial testing revealed that Charlie’s sperm counts were still at zero, and it became clear that they would be using frozen sperm again this cycle, we continued sessions only for Audrey.

With Audrey, we focused on regulating circulation, managing stress, and the quality of her sleep, all of which improved quickly. We continued with weekly sessions through the IVF process. Audrey and Charlie conceived that cycle and Audrey continued treatments until the end of her first trimester. The following spring, Audrey and Charlie welcomed a beautiful baby boy into their family!

A couple of years after I last saw Audrey, I had the pleasure of running into her and her son at the store. I was so happy to see them and to see how well they were doing. I was delighted to see that Audrey was pregnant again with a miraculous ‘surprise’! I’ll never know for sure, but I like to think that our work together started them both on the pathway to healing that made such an amazing surprise possible.

You may have heard people say the natural medicine isn’t powerful. I disagree. I think that our bodies’ ability to heal is profound and amazing, and that anything that can help the body along that path, however gentle, can also be profound and amazing. That healing path can be yours to find and follow, so if you’re ready to transform your health, choose to never give up, and seek the help that can guide you along your way.


Would you like to connect with me to see if I can help you with my unique and effective approach to IVF support?

Request a free consultation and we’ll meet to discuss your case. We’ll sit down, review your health history and goals, and see if you are a good fit for our services. You will have an opportunity to ask any questions about our approach and if you feel confident that I can help, you’ll have an opportunity to learn how to move forward and work with me.