Monthly Archives: February 2011

Portland Bicyclists + Acupuncture = Love

I live in Portland, and I have to admit it. I have a passion for biking.

Fun Reflector HeartCog

When I moved here to attend Reed College in 2000, little did I know that my bicycle would be my only form of transportation (besides walking and bussing) for a healthy seven years. Three bikes and many happy bike-adventures later, I still have an abiding love for this form of transportation, sporting, and pleasure. Recently I joined women’s biking and business group Portland Society, which keeps me up to date on the latest developments in Portland’s renowned bicyclist scene. Through them I had the opportunity to guest blog at Bicycling Hub, a local bike-gear business and hub for bike events/advice/stories. I shared my article on self-care for winter bikers here. But wait, there’s more!

Image credit Christine Sterne on Flickr; original image by Fritz Kahn- National Library of Medicine

I have been thinking about my experience as a biker ten years ago, before my adventure with Chinese Medicine began… I remember all those times that my low back hurt, my shoulders felt permanently hunched, and my calves knotted up for hours… I didn’t know about acupuncture or herbal therapy, and much less did I care about attending to my body when I had important papers to write, books to read, people to talk with. I even had an accident one rainy night- I flipped over the hood of a car which had barreled through an intersection, landed on my messenger bag full of books which cushioned my fall (no major injuries), and was so rattled that I just straightened out my bike tire and wobbily rode home, in shock. I never considered getting therapy, being a poor college student with no major ill-effects other than nagging neck and back pain which I could ignore. Throughout my undergrad experience I was living totally in my head, and although my body received plenty of exercise, it wasn’t exactly a happy and pain-free body.

Ten years later, I fully realize the value of preventing chronic pain or tension from developing, but I also recognize the fact that preventive care is not on everyone’s radar. I wrote the self-care for bicyclists article for all the hard-working commuters and racers who may assume that the state of the physical body will remain constant until it experiences a major problem, or else may recognize the value of preventive care but not act on it. We often don’t realize this neglect until we take a look at whether preventive care is a part of each exercise routine or a daily routine.

Every ride (and workout) both builds up and breaks down muscle tissue and joint tissue, altering the morphology of the body. In order to take advantage of the workout while minimizing the pain and inflammation, we can do simple self-care techniques beyond stretching, such as drinking ginger tea and doing self-massage or moxa. A few self-care habits can make a huge difference. And when self-care doesn’t reach these repetitive motion aches and pains, it is definitely time to get acupuncture! This short article from Life and Fitness Magazine Ireland recognizes the increasing popularity and recognition of acupuncture as a go-to therapy for cyclists and athletes. This article also touches on several studies that found acupuncture to benefit athletes and cyclist-athletes.

Old-time Sheep-Shearer with 3 days provisions; from the State Library of Queensland, Australia. Looks like he could use some acupuncture and a relaxing foot bath!

Cycling creates strain throughout the body, but it often brings more extreme pain to the low back, hips and knees. The IT band has become notorious for its susceptibility to tightness; tight inner thigh ligaments pose problems as well. Luckily, acupuncture has great success with loosening muscles and ligaments that may seem impossible to stretch or relax. We utilize many therapies to treat the specific area of tightness and pain, such as moxibustion, cupping, gua sha, and electro-acupuncture. However, simplicity is also a basic tenet of acupuncture, which we can follow by treating two meridians that complement each other in their actions of regulating inner and outer muscles and ligaments of the leg as well as regulating the flow of energy between upper and lower body to bring motive power to the legs. These two meridians are the Yin and Yang Qiao Mai, or the Yin and Yang Motility Vessels.

Yin Motility Vessel (Chest, Abdomen, Inner Leg)

The point KD6 is the Master Point of the Yin Motility Vessel, and the point UB62 is the Master Point of the Yang Motility Vessel. The former is located on the inner ankle, and the latter is located on the outer ankle. Used together, they can significantly reduce tension and pain of the legs, hips, and low back. When combined with Motility Vessel intersection points like UB1 and GB20 on the head, SI10 behind the shoulder, GB29 at the hip, and KD8 and UB59 on the lower leg, we can multiply the effect of the two points to also strengthen and regulate the muscular function of the legs, low back, and abdomen.

Yang Motility Vessel (Lateral Neck and Ribcage, Low Back, Hips, Outer Leg)

The name of KD6 is “Shining Sea,” “Luminous Sea,” or “Reflective Ocean,” which indicates that the point accesses vast amounts of energy in a way that brings clarity and illumination to the patient. This point treats nervous exhaustion, chronic stress, and adrenal fatigue, while helping to balance hormonal expression in the body, in addition to its fantastic musculoskeletal effect. This is a great example of how acupuncture can treat a very specific musculoskeletal complaint while simultaneously helping to balance and nourish the entire body, mind and spirit.

Luminous Sea (credit: Francois Roche on Flickr)

Reflecting Ocean (credit: tanakawho on Flickr)

If only I had known that during my time at Reed College, when I refused care for a bike accident and simultaneously blew out my adrenal glands from studying… 🙂 Now that I have been receiving regular acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, I am a much happier biker; I feel super strong and can easily weather the freezing and rainy Portland winter!


Pirog, John. 1996. The Practical Application of Meridian Style Acupuncture. Berkeley, CA: Pacific View Press.


Group Exercise Benefits and The Mighty Boosh

I was recently reminded of a brilliant clip from British comedy show “The Mighty Boosh,” which illustrates the process of empathy involved in group activities.

The question of group versus individual participation came up when reading this article about Ride the Divide, a movie about the 2,711 mile off-road mountain bike Tour Divide 2008 race. The article points out different ways that people deal with cycling in grueling conditions for a month straight in their race from Banff, Alberta down the Continental Divide to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The point of the article was that many competitors (including a group that tied for third place) preferred to ride in groups, and in one case the leader waited for the second-place competitor to catch up in order to ride together for a while. Interesting mental and emotional changes must occur over the course of this intense race, as with any long-distance race, and we’re still just beginning to learn about how exercise and social exercise in particular influence brain chemistry. What creates the urge for people to exercise in groups, especially in a competitive setting, rather than taking a more individual approach? How does one choose to take part in a group activity rather than celebrating our independence “in somber isolation?”

A 2006 study showed that running in isolation increases stress levels and can minimize the positive effects of running, unless one runs for a very long distance. In my home town of Portland, Oregon we are experiencing an upswing in “bootcamp” classes, aimed at giving people a quick burst of exercise in a group setting, reducing the stress response and maximizing the positive neurotransmitter response of exercise. The merits of both the Portland Adventure Boot Camp for Women and the Mount Tabor Boot Camp have been lauded by friends of mine who can’t say enough about how fun and supportive the groups are. We already know that aerobic exercise in general stimulates the brain, increases neural plasticity and decreases degenerative changes (see this literature review). But the addition of social interaction actually synergystically alters this effect, potentially targeting additional areas of neural tissue. This can be a great reason to make sure that you’re having fun with or at least identifying with friends who share an aerobic activity like running or biking.

Of course, since I am a student of Chinese Medicine, I must include a mention of Qigong. I am continually inspired by how different I feel when practicing Qigong movement and meditation in a group rather than alone. The group classes allow me to relax more quickly and achieve a higher level of focus and deeper relaxation. Group acupuncture can create a similar effect as well; often times I feel more relaxed in a group acupuncture treatment than in an individual treatment setting. During a treatment at Working Class Acupuncture, for example, one person started gently snoring in their comfortable recliner, which stimulated mild snoring from a few other patients in quick succession, creating a gentle white-noise of sleepy sounds! In the group setting, it seems that people can somehow mirror the beneficial effect of treatments for each other, in a similar way that we feel empathy via neural mirroring.

Neural mirroring has been postulated as an evolutionary trait that allows us to learn extremely quickly via mimicry. It also allows us to function optimally in social settings by actually experiencing in our own minds the mental state of someone else by observing the physical manifestation of that mental state in another person. This is one definition of empathy. Here is a fantastic video by NOVA that explains neural mirroring (the transcript is a nice summary as well).

And now back again to The Mighty Boosh. Now you may see some further parallels with this goofy yet on-target clip:

Vince and Howard exhibit excellent neural mirroring during their “crimp” session. The humor lies in Howard’s excellent ability to empathise with Vince for a short time, yet he ultimately resists this companionship and insists (unconvincingly) that humans are meant to be alone.

And if you’d like to measure how well your brainwaves are mirroring someone else’s, now thanks to these guys, you can give it a try yourself!

Thanks for making it through a bit of a ramble here… let me know what you think about group versus individual exercise, meditation, or acupuncture! What gives you the most benefit?