ACH Blog

Harvest Time

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

In Chinese Medicine we move through five seasons in the year. Winter occupies the darkest, coldest months. Plants and animals, farming communities in the old days, rest in Winter by going to bed early and rising later. Bears give birth during this resting time in their caves, and their cubs spend the first weeks of their lives inside, protected from the cold.


green and red trees during daytime


The beginning of Spring can be stormy, as the early days of the season may be blown in during equinoxial gales. From the second half of March, there is a burst in plant growth and animal activity during a period of re-awakening after Winter ends. The energy of Spring, known as the Wood Energy in the 5 Element Tradition in Chinese medicine, allows us to revise our lives, plan for the next year, and make decisions about where we go next. Spring is an important time for us to make plans for how we can grow, flourish and move forward in our lives.


The Summer Solstice in late June gives us a time with the longest days, which can usher in the warmest part of the year.  Summer may start before the solstice, as it did this year. We had very warm days in late May and early June, and because the warmth came early,  plants flowered early, and we have basked in the sun for 2 months already. In late July we find ourselves moving from the expansion and colour of full Summer into what the Chinese Medics call the next season: Late Summer.



green plant


This time from late July, through August and September, up to the late Summer/Autumnal solstice is the time of Harvest, which is such an important moment in the reproductive year. This year the rowan trees already have their bright orange berries appearing (at least they are in London, where I live). Peas were ready early, and apples and pears were filling out and ripening too.


Growing up in the hills of Northumberland, I knew that Late Summer was beginning when the moors turned purple as the heather started blooming. In the North this was later, on the “Glorious Twelfth”, which is when the grouse season starts on August 12th. This is the time in the year of “plenty”, when farmers gather in their crops to sell or store for the Winter. Every culture has celebrated, and given thanks for their harvests over many millennia.


person holding red and orange tomatoes


And how do we celebrate and express gratitude in the 21st century? We have festivals, religious and pagan, campfire meals, barbecues and meals in the garden or by the sea, and picnics in the countryside.


In the 5 Element system of medicine we learn that our digestive systems are at their annual peak during harvest, so enjoy your picnics and late Summer feasts. Bears eat food in late Summer to last them through hibernation.

Let’s all make the very most of this rich and plentiful time of year by taking in the nourishment of late summer warmth and light, as well as the mellow abundance of the food available right now.


Enjoy filling up with the special qualities of the natural world at this unique moment in the year.


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Coming out of Lockdown

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, July 07, 2020

This week, I feel a little like a bear coming out of hibernation, after a long winter of staying inside. Where do I go for food? How do I meet with mates? And where and how is safe to play? 


black bear near trees

There is so much uncertainty within most aspects of our lives. Will there be a second wave? And how do I do social distancing with 1 metre instead of 2 metres apart? There also seem to be so many decisions to be made. When will I go back to working in the clinic? How many people can I see in a morning? How will it be to work wearing masks? These are all questions that I have been asking myself in preparation for the movement from digital treatment and supervision back into face to face contact. 

However, coupled with this is the joy of being able to see family and some close friends; of sitting together in gardens, in the park together, having picnics. It feels so very different being able to connect in person, instead of on screen.


people on green field


At home, I am now eating my courgettes I planted this March, picking peas and broad beans that are ready to eat and add to

dishes. The broccoli and kale are still growing though, as they are harvested later in the year, and we have to watch for bugs and caterpillars, which are getting in first if we don’t keep a close eye on them. 


green and black caterpillar on green leaf


As we move into July, Summer energy is in full swing. Gardens are in bloom, with roses, hydrangeas and lilies opening everywhere. Because of recent warmth we have enjoyed, rowan trees have their orange berries appearing, and there are early signs of blackberries, indicating that late summer is slowly edging into view. There will be more about this transition next time. For the moment, enjoy the long days, beautiful sunsets, and early dawns with birdsong. 


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Mid Life Transitions

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, June 30, 2020

I am doing a Webinar, “40 years of Treating Menopause” this week, and I have been reflecting on all of the life transitions we go through.


So many school leavers have been unable to do a proper ending with friends, teachers and mentors this year. This is a big loss for each student, as acknowledging this ending facilitates the process of moving on into work or college. In a similar way, those who are graduating from University or college this Summer are doing so without the familiar rituals which have marked the end of higher education. There has been a loss of closure.


group of fresh graduates students throwing their academic hat in the air


After graduation, we begin to form our adult lives, both professional and personal, between the early 20’s and early 40’s. In Chinese Medicine it is understood that the period from 42 to 49 is a time when we can make some lifestyle changes. In the West we now call this time Peri Menopause. Chinese doctors have long understood that to transition through a healthy Menopause we can prepare by making sure that we start paying more attention to eating well in our 40’s. Instead of coming home late, and having a main meal at 9 in the evening, we can eat protein early in the day [as it takes 6 hours to fully digest protein] and have a lighter meal earlier in the evening.


cooked dish


To avoid menopausal symptoms such as night sweats and insomnia, daytime hot flushes and dryness, anxiety and low moods, we need to find a different rhythm to our working days, taking short breaks, drinking more water, avoiding intense exercise so that we can wind down slowly before bed. And perhaps most important, we must challenge and put aside the negative cultural messages we hear in the West, that maturity and reaching Mid Life is inevitably accompanied by physical decline. We are told that “ 50 is the new 30”, and encouraged to “stay young” by continuing to do intense exercise regimes in gyms, stay up late, drinking or clubbing or both, eat as we have always eaten: to ignore the changes in our hormones, and in our lives and bodies in general as we enter the Mid Life phase.


bird drinking water


These messages undermine the work we all have to do to make the transition from Peri Menopause into Menopause, and into the mature time in our lives. Moving from youth into maturity brings many opportunities and gifts. Transitioning from a predominantly Yang stage of life, which usually is career and action oriented, into a more Yin phase, offers us the chance to have a deeper relationship with ourselves, and then with others.

Life can move at a different pace, we can go through our days more gently, having more time for reflection, for creativity and for contact with those we love and care for. We can move into the next stage of our lives as Second adults, who support and nurture the growing alpha adults of the next generation.


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Transition Out Of Lockdown

Isobel Cosgrove - Wednesday, June 17, 2020
What can we all take out of this period of lockdown, which is valuable and relatively new for us in the next stage of our lives?

For myself I have been fortunate to have an extended family, husband, daughters and grand daughters, who have all, in their different ways, helped me to expand my online skills and the platforms I use. For example, since March, I have been working on Zoom with clients who want some time with me as a practitioner. Through acting as a practitioner online, I have been able to help patients in many different ways. I have also used twitter to widen the readership of my blogs and my digital presence. I hope I will take all these attributes forward into the next part of all of my life. To further the therapeutic connection, I will also be doing a webinar on Menopause later this month.


Flowers, Flower, Tulips, Menopause

Colleagues I know have designed new websites, and updated existing ones. They are also offering Tai Chi classes, yoga groups and meditation online. I have personally gained a great deal from spending some time each morning doing Qi Gong exercises, followed by a meditation before bed. Both have given me a sense of somatic awareness which I want to continue to develop as I get older. I need all the help I can get to take care of myself in the later years of my life. These professions have offered many different forms of support for health and wellbeing to people of all ages, which can be taken forward into the future.


The other highlight from lockdown is that I now know many more of my neighbours. We had a socially distant cello recital in early Spring, when we stood under umbrellas in the rain and heard part of Beethoven’s 9th. Later we had a gathering when we all brought drinks outside, still maintaining social distance, and exchanged greetings, news and names, while children rode around on bikes. Since then artists of all ages have given us wonderful foxes, fish, birds and uplifting messages as chalk drawings on the pavements. And more recently, Bramshill Forest, a big and very beautiful wall mural, has appeared, and is the collective expression of an enlivened community spirit in the street. Connections with neighbours are more alive and well now than I have found them in the last 10 years, and I very much hope they will continue.


  



So what will you take into late Summer and Autumn this year? How will your life be impacted after this time spent differently, increasingly at home? What opportunities have we been given to change how we live and work? And how can we continue to grow and develop our new skills, contacts, connections and perspectives? 

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All health is connected to nature

Isobel Cosgrove - Thursday, June 11, 2020

While doing ‘the sphere’, (one of my Qi Gong exercises) this morning, I had a moment of insight. When holding ‘the sphere’, we connect to nature around us, the wind in the trees, sunlight on leaves, a birdsong. We bring this energy from nature into our energy centre, or sphere. We hold this connection for a few minutes, while taking in the gift of nature. 


Bird, Kingfisher, Twigs, Bean Bird


When I was young, I spent weekends and holidays with my grandparents and relatives who farmed in Northumberland. I helped make hay, with lambing and milking cows. I learnt to love and simply connect with the natural world. During lockdown, many children have had time to connect, through sowing seeds, planting vegetables, and listening to bird songs. Chinese and East Asian medicine, which I have studied and practiced over 40 years, has enabled me to stay connected with nature, even while living in cities. A connection with nature is forged through the plants used in herbal medicine, bringing ancient wisdom into modern life. 


Chinese Medicine, Western Medicine


The 5 element teachings were brought from Taiwan and China to the UK in the 1960’s by J.R. Worsley. Those of us who were able to study with him in the 1970’s and 80’s learnt that our energy, and that of our patients, is closely linked to the energy of the seasons and the natural world. Spring is a time of growth and opportunity for change. Summer warms the heart, gives us the outdoors to play and rest. Late summer is the harvest time, while Autumn mists and shorter days ask us to quieten and re-connect with our inner lives. Winter is the end of the reproductive year. The energy of the trees, flowers and shrubs returns into the Earth, and we need to learn to slow, quieten and settle down in the Winter. 


Sky, Clouds, Landscape, Sunset, Beach

Here are some wonderful writings which can inspire you, and your children to have stronger connections with the natural world. In ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes of indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. 16 year old Dara McAnulty has written the ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’, in which he details a year in his home in Northern Ireland, spending the seasons writing. Finally, Patrick Barkham’s ‘Wild Child’ aims to inspire future generations by showing us how to help reconnect our children with nature.  


"Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

  


"Diary of a Young Naturalist" by Dara McAnulty


"Wild Child" by Patrick Barkham 

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Chinese medicine and our connection with the Earth

Isobel Cosgrove - Monday, June 01, 2020

In previous blogs, I have written of how we have been able, through lockdown, to plant seeds, grow vegetables and fruit, and cook from simple raw ingredients in a way we could not in our previous working or school lives. 


Here are some further pieces of Chinese wisdom on how we can eat to promote better health and wellbeing:


Our bodies take in nourishment most effectively early in the day. Our stomachs have more digestive energy in the morning, before 11am. When we lived on the land, before the Industrial Revolution, our day began early. We milked the cows, checked animals out in the fields, fed those in barns, and then came in for a farmhouse breakfast. In the 21st Century, we are more likely to grab a coffee and pastry on the way to work. 


fruit sandwich on a blue ceramic plate

 

In 2020, since March, we have had more time to prepare and eat breakfast. Maybe we soaked porridge oats, or made a pancake mix, or we cooked bacon, eggs and beans. Either way, we are probably eating well. At lunch, we can sit down together for salad, soup, or leftovers. Or we may cook a steak on the barbeque. This is much better than snacking or buying fast food during a working day. 


Eating protein at breakfast, and/or lunch gives us much better, longer lasting and stable levels of energy during the day. Because this is when we are most active, daytime is when we need most energy. If we wait to eat protein in the evening, after work, our stomachs do not have the same ability to digest as they did in the morning. For example, if we eat a lot of protein at 8pm, it will take a further 6 hours to digest. This may well disturb our sleep, as supper at 7pm will only be digested by 1am. 


bowl of fried rice


Eating a light meal in the early evening will help us unwind, and won’t disturb our sleep. However, Chinese doctors do recommend that we meet up around the dinner table, in the evenings, to enjoy contact with family and/or friends (when not in lockdown). 


So do have supper, and catch up on everyone’s day, because it is nourishing for the heart to connect with those we love as the evening arrives. At the same time, although the heart needs warmth and contact late in the day, the stomach needs a rest, so have vegetables with rice, or baked potatoes with fillings, or samosas. 

Eat something light which digests quickly, so that you can wind down slowly and have a restorative night’s rest. 


These books may inspire you to try some new kinds of cooking: 


“Everyday & Sunday Recipes” by Guy Watson & Jane Baxter

Picture 1 of 2


“Abel & Cole Veg Box Companion” by Keith Abel


“Chinese Vegetarian Cookery” by Jack Santa Maria 

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When online am I an acupuncturist or a health consultant?

Isobel Cosgrove - Monday, May 25, 2020

Since the end of March, I have held just under 40 ‘acupuncture’ sessions online, with clients who have been working with me for some months, and occasionally longer. The main intention in holding the sessions has been to continue, through lockdown, to support the improvements in general health, and in specific symptoms, with each person. 


You may well be thinking - how is this possible? We have all been reflecting on how to honour the therapeutic relationship and maintain duty of care through a time when face to face contact is not possible. Here are some of the ways in which I have been working during April and May this year. 


white iphone 5 c on macbook pro


In ‘normal’ times, during a treatment: 


1. In a conversation I will be listening to hear how a client has been since the last time we met. This can take between fifteen to thirty minutes depending on the time between and how much change has been happening, which I need to know for diagnosis. 

2. Then I take pulses, examine the tongue and palpate some channels of energy again so that I can make diagnostic decisions to plan the day’s treatment. 

3. I then needle the appropriate points, and may use moxa, a warming herb, to facilitate more energy movement along channels which are depleted. 

4. During the treatment with needles, I may direct energy with some massage, which helps to unblock areas of tense holding. 

5. After the needles are taken out, I sometimes give Qi Gong/Tai Chi exercises to help maintain the flow of energy, which the treatment has enabled. 


Lateral Epicondylalgia (Tennis Elbow): Evidence Based ...


Recently when a session takes place online, all of these can be part of our time together, except pulse taking, channel palpation and needling. I have not treated any new clients since March. I have chosen to work with only those whose pulses, and channel energy pictures I already know well. 


Instead of needling, I have indicated to a client which points they themselves can massage, to keep calm and influence sleep, anxiety, and overstimulation (a drop of lavender in massage oil and a couple minutes quietly holding the point location). If more energy movement is needed, e.g. to stimulate slow digestion, or low lung activity, then other points will be used, massaged more firmly for longer, to create more energy movement in the specific organ which is running on empty. 


votive candle


Online, I can also show a client how to use an exercise to strengthen (or soften) an area of muscle deficiency (or tension). With these exercises, I can give some massage instruction, again to unblock tense holding patterns. 


If a client has learnt to use a moxa stick with me when face to face, then I know they will be able to safely use one (which I can post to them at home). The use of moxa, on leg points on the stomach channel, not only aids digestion, but also fills the energy reserves, helps alleviate fatigue, and enables better metabolic activity. 

As you can see, without needling, so much can be achieved in an online acupuncture session, and the therapeutic connection is continuing.


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Family connections are the Earth we stand on

Isobel Cosgrove - Wednesday, May 20, 2020

In Chinese Medicine our family and our community is our Earth: the ground we stand on. It is our land, our territory, where our tribe lives and gives us a place called Home. It is where we find nurture, where we can feel loved and accepted. As children we need a safe place in which to grow and flourish. As parents providing this space, we need support from extended family, and/or the wider community. We also need loving times together.

selective focus photo of woman lifting child during daytime

How has the virus disrupted community life?

There has been no school for most children, and so no time to play with friends. There have been no conversations at the school gates, no contact with other children’s families. And no grandparents providing back up. Nor is there very much time in the day or evening when parents can just chill out together, reflect on the day, or quietly be with themselves. Working at home while homeschooling is a big ask.

 

So what have we lost?

The familiar shape and structure of the work/school day. Walking-to-school time with friends, and parents of friends. Checking in with teachers to see what’s working well/not working so well. Hanging out at lunch time, playing football in the playground.

The whole spectrum of after school clubs and sporting activities.


boy in green sweater writing on white paper

 

And what have we gained?

Time to plant seeds, to watch them grow and produce food for meals. Time to paint, draw, learn the guitar, cook, sew, knit, read, sing, watch films together. Time to explore and find a new rhythm and shape to the days. Maybe you have started the novel you have been waiting to write. 

What will we keep from this time?

We will have learnt to value the structure of the school day [instead of complaining about it]. We will have learnt to know ourselves as a family more intimately, and hopefully have more understanding for each person we share our home with. How can we carry these leanings with us as we move out of lockdown? If you'd like to talk further about this, get in touch, I'm really interested to hear your thoughts.

 


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Health in Spring

Isobel Cosgrove - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Lockdown this year has interrupted the usual context in which we experience moving into and through Springtime. Energetically, Spring is a powerful moment of awakening from the darkness, cold and inward quality of Winter.

 

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During lockdown this year, we have so many constraints imposed on our lives, which have prevented us from physically and emotionally joining in with the awakening that Spring offers.

 

What is in the way?

We can’t go to join friends for coffee. Tennis, football, cricket games are cancelled. How much we can exercise is limited. Our diets are changed. We are drinking more alcohol. And stress and anxiety levels are much higher than usual. Some of us are mourning the death of friends or family. 

 

What have we lost?

As families we have not been able to celebrate Mothering Sunday, the Easter holiday, which is about Death and Rebirth, and this week the big events marking V.E. Day have been cancelled. What impact has all of this change had on our health?

 

How are we managing?

Children are out in the streets, drawing with chalks on pavements, and painting rainbows to show their support for the NHS. Without time at school have their creative instincts had more time to flourish? Spring is definitely a time for creativity.

Many of my clients have been cooking, crafting and painting too. This feeds the body, the mind and the spirits of those both doing and those just enjoying/being fed.

 

Connecting to Spring with Chinese medicine

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Make the most of all of the greens which Spring offers...garlic leaves, dandelion leaves, kale, chard, spring greens themselves!

They help the body clear out the residual debris from a Winter of more Yin [slower, quieter] activity. The sun and warmth of this year’s season, has given us a chance to fill up with the more Yang energy of Spring.


Sit in the sun each day if you can, for at least 1/2 hour. And some gentle stretching can give you more flexibility, and may put a spring in your step. Follow the example of the trees, and extend your body more each day as you walk/run/cycle. And most of all, enjoy!


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Webinar: Working with End of Life Clients

Isobel Cosgrove - Monday, July 06, 2015

Over the past 30 years I have worked with many clients who were in a dying process. This work was very inspiring, and I learned a great deal which I wanted to share. In the last few years I have run workshops at conferences, where those attending have joined discussions on how to use Chinese Medicine most effectively with those in our practices who are at the end of their lives. Read More