What Should I Eat To Stay Well

We are bombarded almost daily with information about what to eat and what not to eat. So, who’s word should we trust?

What Should I Eat To Stay Well

Family eating dinner at a dining table

In this article I will attempt to answer this question through the long lens of Chinese medicine. The idea of food as medicine goes back at least as far as the publication Recipes for Fifty-Two Ailments (ca. 200 BCE), recommending as it does recipes for different medical conditions. Sun Simiao’s Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold which was completed in the 650s has a chapter on food. This contains 154 entries divided into four sections – on fruits, vegetables, cereals, and meat – in which Sun explains the properties of individual foodstuffs with concepts borrowed from contemporary medical texts.

We will look at some of these ideas through modern eyes to help make sense of our dilemma. Although each food item will have different effects on your body, it is possible to draw broad conclusions. It can be helpful too to see each food item in the context of the place and time of year that it grows naturally.

Fruits

These are often cooling, due in part to the high water content. This makes for the perfectly refreshing summer food. Tropical fruits such as pineapples are often more cooling that our local varieties. Too much fruit is not well suited to waterlogged individuals (e.g. those with oedema).What Should I Eat To Stay Well

Tip: Try to blend fruit rather than juice it so as to preserve valuable fibre. Serve at room temperature to help digestion.

Nuts and Seeds

These are packed with nutrition for powering new plants, which makes them a good source of energy for humans. Many varieties are heavy and oily which can help moisten sluggish bowels.

Grains

These are basically grass seeds. The old texts hold that grains build and vegetables cleanse. Grains include wheat, oats, rye, quinoa.

Tip: Try and eat a variety of grains, avoid too many refined ones (especially wheat).

Beans and Pulses

Sweet and nourishing. These can be helpful to drain excess fluids from the body and will combine well with grains. Soya beans, especially in the form of tofu or miso is a south east Asian staple and is wonderfully nourishing.

Vegetables

These are known to be cleansing, especially when raw. This form though is not recommended, especially in colder weather as it is harder work for the digestion.

Root vegetables are nourishing and warming since they are a store for the plant during winter. It is for this reason that they are popular in winter stews and casseroles. Carrots, celeriac, celery and fennel are great digestives. Brassicas are mild tonics and are useful for moving the digestive system.

Dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of nutrition for building blood.

Meat

Meat is the most blood nourishing food. Best eaten in small amounts as its heavy fatty nature can lead to stagnation. Slow cooking and good seasoning can aid digestibility.

Dairy

Sweet and rich but can be hard to digest, affecting especially the lungs. Fermented forms such as yoghurt are easier to tolerate and have probiotic properties. The warming effect of butter can help blood circulation.

Herbs and Spices

As well as providing additional flavour, herbs and spices can be used as a digestive (cardamom, cloves, cinammon), to warm (ginger), cool (mint), dry up phlegm (fennel seeds, lemon zest, rosemary), or act as a blood tonic (parsley).

And finally, it may be helpful to think of a good diet as comprising three elements;

  • General dietary factors
  • Your personal constitutional requirements (for example improve circulation)
  • Eat according to the season.

So that is it. We have looked at the properties of some common food groups in relation to your health. I trust that this will provide you with a broader perspective and trigger some interesting conversations around the dinner table.

Bon appetit!

Please call Martin Dean Acupuncturist on 07969 41 31 58

For further resources: http://www.meridianpress.net/

[What should I eat to stay well]

Tension Without Trying

The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way;

The name that can be named is not the constant name

(Ancient Chinese book; Dao De Jing)

tension without trying

The author goes on to add that ‘as soon as something becomes fixed by words, form, language it loses its capacity to adapt, to be everlasting’.

As an acupuncturist I have many patients who hold tension in their shoulders. If I suggest they relax, the first thing they will do is to sit upright, stiffening their back muscles. If I ask them to relax their shoulders they will attempt to pull them down. In effect they are holding their shoulders up through tension and pulling them down with another set of muscles. This is no less than a tug of war and can be very tiring! An easier way is to just let them go and allow gravity to do its work. ‘Not so easy’ do I hear you say? Of course it isn’t otherwise there would be no problem shoulders.Subscribe To Our Blog

What the author of the text is saying is that to really understand something somatic we also have to feel it. Traditional techniques such as Pilates, Tai Chi or Yoga and also progressive muscle relaxation techniques allow us to feel what our bodies are doing, to improve our understanding of these strange bodies we inhabit through endless repetition and practice.

When you walk briskly do you power swing your arms? Do you walk upright? Perhaps you lean back or stoop forwards. When you reach for the kitchen cabinet do you raise your whole shoulder or just your arm? The more I think about it the more remarkable it is how little body awareness we all exhibit. This is of course a survival tactic as we simply do not have the capacity to process every single sensation.

The buzzword on everybody’s lips at the moment is mindfulness. What I have come to realise is that you don’t need to sit in a darkened room and listen to relaxation CDs to be mindful. No self-help book will tell you how to be. You have to find your own truth. Feel your way through life. Wake up to your body and relax.

[Tension without trying]

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Why Is My Tongue Sore

Patients will sometimes ask me why their tongue is sore and what they can do about it. Their GP may have diagnosed a bacterial infection or perhaps prescribed a medicine to ease symptoms. Are there any other perspectives that might be helpful in this situation?

Western medicine, so often good at saving lives, will sometimes compartmentalise issues, and so a sore tongue is a sore tongue. Isn’t that obvious, I hear you ask? It is a cornerstone of Chinese Medicine that our wellbeing depends on the efficient functioning of interrelated systems, presided over by our internal organs. A delicate balance is struck between these organ systems which operate like a team. When one member misbehaves it may affect the whole side. Yin and yang, and the five elements are ancient models that describe these associations in detail and form a framework for our understanding of human functioning. To illustrate this point, our lungs hate being dry, but unless the kidneys take away any excess moisture they will flood (pneumonia). Hence the lungs and kidneys work in partnership.

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In regular practice acupuncturists rely on a variety of indicators to assess a patient’s state of health. We ask questions (how are your bowels?), make observations (you are looking a little pale today) and assess through touch (pulse diagnosis). And of course there is tongue diagnosis.

Why Is My Tongue Sore

The tongue represents a complete microsystem – that is a representation of the whole organism. Whilst a sore tongue may just be the result of accidental biting, by carefully observing the it we can arrive at observations about the patient’s state of well-being. Specifically we can make observations about energy levels, hydration and blood flow. Similar microsystems include the hands, ears, feet (foot reflexology exploits this), eyes and the abdomen. Tongue diagnosis is a pillar of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. To take an example if the tongue is dry we may assume the patient’s tissues are dry. By observing which part of the tongue is dry we can make further assumptions about which part of the body this pertains to.

Broadly speaking the tip of your tongue represents your head and the very rear your lower trunk and legs. ‘But what about my sore tongue?’ I hear you ask. This commonly points to anything that triggers the build up of heat, such as  weakening of specific organs from (for example) worrying or aging. As well as soreness your tongue will probably be dry and your urine dark. You may suffer from night sweats.

Acupuncture treatment will focus on nourishing the affected systems and reducing the heat. You may be advised to avoid dietary factors such as spicy foods and eat easily digested food such as porridge, fish, vegetables and soup.

Give us a call today on 07969413158

Also see related blog If Only We Knew How To Listen

[Why is my tongue sore]

 

If Only We Knew How To Listen

In an age of technology where medical marvels emerge at a seemingly prolific rate, it is sometimes good to remember that our bodies tell us what they need when we are unwell. If only we knew how to listen . From hair to skin, taste to smell the body is talking to us all the time in its very own language.

If Only We Knew How To Listen

Have you ever noticed how your hair lacks condition when you are feeling below par? In Chinese medicine there is a saying that the state of the Kidneys [system] is reflected in the hair on the head. Your locks may feel lank, dry or just lifeless. Ask yourself – does this match how I feel in general? What will I do differently?

Let us consider too our skin. If we view this as the bag that wraps our body, it becomes a no-brainer that the wrapping somehow reflects the interior. Is your skin dry, mottled, podgy, scarred? Dryness frequently reflects insufficient fluid intake but may also occur as a result of stress interrupting the normal supply of nutrients to the skin layers. What life changes do we need to make to improve the situation? I find it curious that so many skin problems are treated topically without recourse to what is going on inside.

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If you’ve ever sat in a café and ‘watched the world go by’, you’d be aware that people have very different ways of walking. Next time you are in this situation take a look at how someone strolls and ask yourself the question ‘why are they walking like this’. Try mimicking their walk and become aware of which muscles you have to hold tight to act this out. If you are brave you could ask someone to do the same for you!

Common expressions such as ‘the face we present to the world’ and ‘face up to the reality’ make us aware of the significance we place on our countenance. You might recall an occasion when your best friend was feeling peaky. Something different about his/her face that you can’t quite put your finger on. Five element acupuncture uses the five palette colours of the face (red, yellow, green, white and blue/black) as one of the four key signs to figure out what is going on internally. For example when the red hue drains out of the face we see ashen grey. Think too of the sallow shade when someone has a stomach upset.

If Only We Knew How To Listen

There are numerous other ‘message channels’ you can tune into with practice including the pulse, tongue, finger nails, eyes and so on. It is like learning to appreciate a fine wine. Using the faculties of smell, touch, hearing and asking we can remove so much mystery from the human complex and tap into our hidden potential. Go on give it a try. Learn a new language. If only we knew how to listen.

[If Only We Knew How To Listen]

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Onions and Garlic – Acupuncture Medicine

Too Common and Crude?

According to Ayurveda – traditional Indian medicine – onions and garlic can be ‘stimulating to the desires’. For this reason it is usually avoided by those who practice meditation and other spiritual paths. In Chinese herbal medicine, garlic is often considered too common and crude to be included in classic herbal recipes. So why might we consider onions and garlic acupuncture medicine?

onions and garlic acupuncture medicine

Are Onions and Garlic Acupuncture Medicine?

So how should we regard onions and garlic? Does they have a good side? Could it be helpful for improving our health?

According to traditional Chinese acupuncture dietary theory onion and garlic, both of which hail from the Alium family, are pungent in nature and warming. This can help to move stagnant Qi (energy), activate the lungs and act as a digestive.They are considered excellent for improving circulation, and for resolving phlegm and dampness (fluid retention) in the respiratory system. This makes these foods a great asset during the autumn cold and flu season in the UK, set against a backdrop of increasing damp and cold.

onions and garlic acupuncture medicine

According to author Henry C. Lu ‘onion is used in Chinese folk medicine as a diuretic and an expectorant’. Other members of the Alium family including spring onions, chives and leeks offer up similar properties.

Feeding Gut Bacteria

An analysis of 64 studies by researchers at King’s College London found prebiotic fibres in onions and garlic which are known to have a positive effect on ‘good bacteria’ in the gut, specifically Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These bacteria are required for a healthy digestive system to function effectively. Also refer to http://theacupunctureblog.co.uk/the-microbiome-diet-bugs-that-count/

At this time of year therefore a good addition to one’s diet would be a hearty vegetable soup created from a stock of onions, garlic and leeks. Enjoy good health this autumn.

[Onions and garlic acupuncture medicine]

I Can Never Get My Temperature Right

Bright Red And Rolling With Sweat

You never know what to wear. One moment you are frozen and the next you are bright red and rolling with sweat. You put on layer after layer of clothes so that you look like Michelin man! Your hands and feet are always blue and freezing cold.

Full or Empty?

If any of these apply to you then acupuncture might be a helpful friend. But how does this ancient treatment deal with temperature regulation? To make sense of this let us boil the possible variations down into two key questions. These are –

  • Hot or cold?
  • Full or empty?

So what does this mean in practice? The distinction to an acupuncturist is important as each of the four possibilities requires a different treatment strategy. Distinguishing whether we are hot or cold might seem obvious – do we prefer a warm or a cold room, do we look pale or red and flushed, do we like our drinks hot or cold? Does heat or ice help? Do we wear more or less clothes than other people around us?

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But what about full or empty? Full conditions are generally stronger and give rise to fuller symptoms, with a stronger presentation. Empty conditions on the other hand arise from deficiency and may become worse when we are tired.

To give a couple of examples, mild menopausal night sweats are usually characterised as empty heat and often show their hand in the afternoon and at night when we are more tired. They come and go as flushes, as does the redness in the face.  Full heat would be exemplified by tonsillitis. Symptoms of this condition  include a sore throat aggravated by swallowing, along with  a continuous fever. The symptoms will often feel more intense than with the first example, and less inclined to variation. We may feel more restless.

The Red Tip Of This Tongue Indicates The Presence Of Heat

A similar set of principles applies to cold. It is curious to note that many of my fertility patients that exhibit low progesterone levels also present with empty cold. Commonly their abdomen will  be cold as will be their hands and feet.

Deciphering The Signs

The skill of the acupuncturist lies in deciphering the signs presented by the body which involves listening, touching, asking, looking and smelling. This will include a reading of both the tongue and pulse. Treatment such as clearing and nourishing will be applied as appropriate until the signs diminish. Lifestyle changes can help too. Foods can be added/subtracted to your diet to cool you (avoid ginger and chili), warm you (soups and stews, ginger, black pepper) and nourish you (miso soup, beetroot soup).

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You may also exhibit a combination of these symptoms (eg freezing during the day and hot in bed), which would require two parallel treatment principles. And yes men do get night sweats too!

Would you like to be better regulated? Call Martin Dean on 07969413158

[I can never get my temperature right]

Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

A large Chinese randomised control study carried out recently found acupuncture as good as drugs for constipation.

Three Different Point Combinations

Researchers tested three different acupuncture point combinations and compared these against the drug Mosapride. 684 patients were randomly assigned to one of the four groups.

Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

The acupuncture patients were given 16 sessions over a four week period. In each of the three groups treatment points were stimulated by passing a pulsed electrical current through the needle. This technique allows for increased acupoint stimulation over needle insertion alone.

Outcome

After four weeks all four groups experienced significantly improved bowel movements, but at eight weeks the three acupuncture groups were showing significantly better bowel movements than the drug group. Stool consistency improved equally in all four groups.

Comment

Among the points that were chosen for this study Stomach 37, known as ‘Upper Great Void’ refers to the large bowel. This point, located on the lower leg is known for its ability to regulate the large intestine, and when used in combination with another point used in the study (Large Intestine 11) is said to lubricate the passage of the stool. This point combination was first discussed in a text book (The Spiritual Axis) compiled in the first century BC.

Acupuncture As Good As Drugs For Constipation

For more information on this study click here.

 

Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

Patients who book in for acupuncture treatment don’t usually ask for needles – they are much more likely to ask for help with a condition, for example stress. Here we talk about fine tuning the controls: stress.

According to Google, stress is ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances’.

If we look at the potential causes of stress, we will end up with a list as long as our arm. There are usually however contributory factors resulting from the way we perceive the world around us. Inserting needles into acupuncture points to free up stagnation can help to engender a feeling of calmness, creating a break in which real change can take root.

Patients ask what else they can do to help. It is at this point that I will discuss the traffic light approach.

Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

In this model we are invited to rate the issues that demand our attention according to three labels – full control, partial control and no control. For example, we have no control over the weather, have full control over whether we submit our annual tax return, but are likely to have some control over the final tax bill (depending how we fill in our form).

The Wrong Label

In my experience, stress symptoms seem to point all too often to key tasks and decisions that we have attributed to the wrong label. A feeling of pushing against a brick wall may be just that, trying to change something we have no control over.

So here is my suggestion for you. If you are a habitual list maker why don’t you experiment with labelling each task according to the traffic light system. This technique will free you to focus on those items you have some or full control over and improve your efficiency. If you find this helpful please leave a comment here.

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Fine Tuning The Controls: Stress

See also http://theacupunctureblog.co.uk/pluggerz-good-nights-sleep/

The Microbiome Diet – Bugs That Count

Modern research shows us that we have more biologically important genetic material in our guts than in our DNA. It also seems that to be healthy we need a wide diversity of these bacteria. So how do we ensure such diversity? According to Professor Tim Spector when interviewed on Radio 4 recently, the answer is to eat as wide a variety of plant material as possible. This is the microbiome diet – bugs that count.

Although each one of us carries a unique mix of bacterial species (the so-called microbiome), it is true that they thrive on fibre – from fruit, vegetables and cereals. The key therefore is to eat well and with variety.

In this article I try to sum up some of the best foods to add into a microbiome friendly diet in order to promote gut bacteria diversity.  [Source:  https://draxe.com/microbiome/]

FOODS TO INCLUDE

Fresh Vegetables

beets, carrots, cruciferous veggies, leafy greens, onions, peas, salad greens, sea vegetables, squash

Whole Pieces Of Fruit

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, oranges, pears, pink grapefruit, plums, pomegranate, red grapefruit, strawberries

Herbs, Spices and Teas

 The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That CountThe Microbiome Diet – Bugs That Count

turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, green tea, organic coffee

Probiotic Foods

yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kvass, cultured veggies

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Wild Caught Fish Cage Free Eggs and Grass-Fed/Pasture Raised Meat

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Healthy Fats

grass-fed butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

Ancient Grains and legumes/Beans

The Microbiome Diet - Bugs That Count

ansazi beans, adzuki beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, black rice, amaraneth, buckwheat, quinoa

Red Wine and Dark Chocolate/Cocoa (in moderation)

FOODS TO AVOID

Refined Vegetable Oils

canola, corn, soybean

Refined Carbohydrates and Processed Grain Products

Pasteurized Dairy Products 

(devoid of natural bacteria)

Conventional Meat, Poultry and Eggs

Added Sugars

packaged snacks, breads, condiments, canned items, cereals

Trans Fats/Hydrogenated Fats

packaged/processed products, fried foods

Remember the key to a diverse set of gut bacteria is a diverse diet, as opposed to an exclusion diet.

This is the microbiome diet – bugs that count.

 

 

The Role Of The Spleen

The use of food as medicine in Chinese culture and the role of the spleen can be dated at least as far back as the  Western Zhou dynasty (11th c BC to 771 BC) where food and beverage hygiene were one of the four specialities a doctor could follow (as well as internal medicine, external medicine and veterinary). The ‘Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine’ describes how

used in the right combinations, everyday food can prevent illness.

The Role Of The Spleen

It is with this in mind that we can view the idea of ‘going on a diet’ with fresh eyes. A quick Google search of the word ‘diet’ defines it as

the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.

 

It may come as a surprise when your acupuncturist starts talking about your spleen as an essential part of your digestive process, after all many people live perfectly well without one. In Chinese medicine the ‘spleen’ is a set of functions involved in the breaking down of food into useful ‘fuel’ and the transporting of it around the body. You may liken the former to the function of a compost heap and the latter to a lorry driver who takes the compost away.

Current dietary advice is to eat 5 portions of fruit/vegetables a day, to cut down on fat and sugar and to reduce ‘bad’ fats. We instinctively know that too much of one thing may be detrimental, but what else can Chinese medicine theory bring to the party?

To delve into this further, let us take the example of chronic diarrhoea, with undigested food passing through the gut. In many such cases there is an underlying spleen weakness. Essentially the breaking down of food is being impaired and the lorry driver is out of control. So how might we address these issues purely through dietary adjustment?

This reveals, in my opinion, some of the essential differences between Western and Eastern dietary practices. In the Eastern model food choices and practices may be advised which reduce the load on the digestion. For example to avoid overeating, especially late at night, and to chew everything well. As the old expression goes

breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, supper like a pauper

Foods to avoid might include excessively fatty and deep-fried foods, dairy products and raw or chilled foods. But of equal importance are foods which help to strengthen the spleen function. Many of these foods are yellow/orange in nature (which is often said to be the natural colour of the Spleen). Especially helpful examples are:-

apples, apricots, kiwi, lychee, peaches, pineapple, bamboo shoots, spinach, turnip, oats, tomatoes, brown rice, barley chestnuts, walnuts and pumpkin. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

These choices are summarised in more detail in the accompanying diagram, but in general the spleen appreciates a freshly prepared range of nourishing foods. If you are in doubt at this stage what to eat, why not try the colour test. Take a look at your dinner plate and look for a balance of the five colours, which are:-

Red (orange), yellow, blue/black (which includes most foods from the sea), green and white (eg onion, garlic).

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Mindfulness and Meditation With Buddhify

How things have changed! The art of meditation, once the realm of hippies and buddhists is now mainstream, rebranded as mindfulness. This is a basically the art of being in the here and now, and is the mental equivalent of going to the gym. Benefits are said to include reduced stress, better focus and improved sleep.

I have been testing a new kid on the block. Buddhify is available for Android and iOS smartphones, and according to its authors :-

“is the most convenient, best value and most beautiful meditation app available today. It is helping people around the world reduce stress, be present & get better sleep in even the most busy of lifestyles. Peace of mind for just the price of a cup of coffee with no hidden or additional costs.”

Mindfulness and Meditation With Buddhify

When you first open up the app’s colourful wheel (see picture), you are confronted with a series of choices based on your current activity. These include going to sleep, working online or eating. For example, ‘waiting around’ brings up 3 meditation options ‘stereo’, ‘curious’ and ‘base’. Ranging from 5 to 11 minutes in length these are audio tracks which will take you through a range of guided lessons based around this scenario. The tracks are thoughtful and relevant to modern living – a lifetime away from the ‘imagine you are in a meadow’ meditations of yesteryear.

According to its authors, Buddhify comprises “over 80 custom made meditations for wherever you are”.

Altogether I found listening to Buddhify a surprisingly pleasant and thought provoking activity. The voices are very pleasant to listen to – both male and female – and not an American accent anywhere! For these reasons I have been recommending Buddhify to some of my stressed acupuncture patients, and the feedback so far has been positive.

Buddhify website

The Four Pillars of Health

What are the four pillars of health and how can they help us? Dr Rangan Chatterjee, 38, a GP from Oldham, and presenter of the BBC’s ‘Doctor In The House’ series was recently interviewed on the BBC Breakfast TV sofa. He asserted that most GPs these days are too busy to properly investigate complicated medical conditions, and it is therefore much easier to prescribe a pill. As part of his TV experiment Dr Chatterjee was allowed the luxury of spending time with patients in their home environment. As a consequence he was better able to get to the bottom of their medical issues, with some heartwarming outcomes.Four pillars of health

The four pillars he described are:-

  • Eating
  • Moving
  • Sleeping
  • Relaxing

It all sounds too easy, but what can we really learn from this approach? We are bombarded with health messages on a daily basis. Which ones should we really pay attention to? Let us take a look at each pillar in turn.

Nearly every day there is a new story in the media about healthy eating, which frankly can be really confusing. For me the key questions are about how often you eat freshly cooked food? Perhaps convenience wins over quality. Are do you allow adequate time to ‘rest and digest’ at mealtimes?

Have you ever had a conversation with your GP or practice nurse about taking more exercise? What was the outcome? Perhaps you started with good intentions but something more important came along.

four pillars of healthAnd on the topic of rest, the sleep council (http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/) notes that ‘nearly half of us are getting just six hours sleep or less a night. And an alarming four out of five people complain of disturbed or inadequate – or ‘toxic’ – sleep’. Go to their website for answers to these and other sleep related issues.

According to an online dictionary, the word relax means ‘to make or become less tense or anxious, to make (a rule or restriction) less strict’. Which rule could you relax? For all you schedulers out there, do you ever pencil in R & R breaks?

Here is a tip to make your four pillars work for you. I like to score each one from one to ten (where ten is perfect), and then write alongside each score one action I can take that will improve my score. Go on and have a go.

Martin Dean is an acupuncturist with over 23 years practice experience who practices in Nottingham. www.acupuncturepaincentre.co.uk