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The teeter totter and your health

Free Press Article – June 1 , 2012

April Schulte-Barclay

Occasionally, I will hear from one of my patients something like, “I didn’t used to be sensitive to wheat” or “I’m not under any more stress than usual,” when I point to something like wheat or stress as being a causative factor in the person’s current state of “dis-ease.”

To explain why emotional, physical or spiritual stressors can tip us into a dis-ease state at one time in our lives but not at others, I use the analogy of a teeter totter.

Imagine you are sitting on one end of a teeter totter. Imagine stressors piling up one at a time on the other end. As those stressors pile up, you are going higher and higher in the air, and if the stressors become too overwhelming for the teeter totter, you will topple over into a dis-ease state of being.

While your body gives you clues that your system is becoming less and less stable as you are rising on the teeter totter, often you will not notice your system is in trouble until one stressor causes you to tip over into the dis-ease state. This often catches us off guard as the process is gradual and can happen over a time period of many years.

For example, consider a 33-year-old female patient sitting in my office with a chief complaint of menstrual cramps. The patient reports that her cramps began seven months after she gave birth to her third child. Upon collecting a complete health history, I learn the patient has a history of a dairy sensitivity and that the family pet passed away six months after the patient gave birth. She also describes chronic tendonitis in her left elbow, neck pain and fatigue.

Upon examination, I explain to the patient that from a Chinese medicine perspective she has “blood deficiency leading to blood stagnation with cold in the uterus” which is causing her painful menstrual cramps. I explain that pregnancy and childbirth along with the stress of raising children are at the root of her diagnosis.

She reasons that if that were the case she would have had menstrual cramps long before now, as she has been a mother for several years already. I explain the teeter totter phenomenon to her. Without realizing it, she was teetering on tipping into a dis-ease state before her third child was born. After her third child was born she was closer to toppling over than ever before, and when the family pet died, that was the breaking point. When we discussed the pet’s death further, she admitted that was hard on her because of her having to deal with her own grief while also worrying about her children’s grief.

I explained that in Chinese medicine, the emotion of worry specifically causes blood deficiency and that stress causes stagnation. Furthermore, she and her family developed a habit of having ice cream in the evenings. I explained that the cold damp quality of the ice cream was also contributing to her cramps as it caused cold in her uterus. We discussed how, when her system is stronger and under less stress, the dairy is less likely to cause problems for her.

Understanding this dynamic can be helpful in learning what to do to make us more secure on our end of the teeter totter. While we can make it less likely to tip over into a dis-ease process by eliminating some stressors, we have much more power in increasing our “weight” and security on our end of the teeter totter. For example, we can make our bodies more resistant to illness by eating in a way that balances blood sugar, meditating, exercising, receiving care like acupuncture and bodywork, biofeedback, counseling, etc.


Back to the example of the woman with menstrual cramps. In order to balance her teeter totter, on the stressor side we were able to remove dairy, but the other stresses in her life were not going to change any time soon. To balance out her stressors we formulated a plan to strengthen her system and alleviate her menstrual cramps. That plan included acupuncture at one week prior to menstruation for pain, a dietary plan that included eating red meat and dark green leafy veggies to nourish her blood, herbs to nourish her blood and move stagnation, exercise time away from her children, learning biofeedback to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of the nervous system, massage to open her lower back to help the menstrual blood flow more freely, and life coaching to address balancing motherhood with other aspects in her life.

By taking a well-rounded approach and addressing her health from a holistic viewpoint, the patient’s menstrual cramps subsided significantly in the first month and by the third month they were completely alleviated. Furthermore, the patient is able to tolerate an occasional ice cream cone without toppling over into the dis-ease process. It is important to know we are actually able to change the way our bodies physiologically respond to any kind of stress, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual stress. We have the ability to harness healing power at any level we desire.

Because each of us have individualized life circumstances and constitutional differences, symptoms of dis-ease are likely to show up in different places. Therefore, individualized treatment plans are required for optimal healing. If you have any questions regarding how an integrated approach to your health care may help you, feel free to contact us at Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions or email me directly at


April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine and is a licensed acupuncturist. She is licensed by the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners and is certified by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She is founder and clinic director of Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions, located at 2139 N. 12th St. #7. For more information, call 970-256-8449.

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