How to Deal With Stress, Digestion, and Sleep, According to an Acupuncturist

Updated 06/05/19

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by your own energy levels. Yeah, thought so. You can put your hand down now. We can blame a lot of outside factors for causing us to feel out of whack—work stress, friend drama, lack of coffee, the person who ghosts you but watches all your Instagram stories—but according to Eastern medicine, it all relates back to your chi. Your chi, for those of you who don’t know, is the energy or life force that flows through your body. In Indian culture and yoga, it’s referred to as the life force, or prana.

There are a lot of things that can throw your chi out of balance, most of them having to do with, well, living in the modern world. “Unless you’re in the Himalayas meditating 24/7, chances are your chi is out of balance,” says Juhi Singh, acupuncturist, Oriental medicine specialist, Chinese herbalist and founder of the Juhi Center in NYC. “Mental and physical stressors, lifestyle, environmental factors, genetic predispositions, sleep... life. Anything can cause your chi to be out of balance.” An unbalanced chi can lead to things like digestive issues, sickness, insomnia, low energy and more—all ailments most of us have experienced in some way or other at least once.

So, how do we get our chi back in balance (or as Singh describes it, “remaining as happy and healthy as possible”)? 

The first thing is to know is that “balancing” your chi just means that you’re allowing it to circulate evenly throughout your body again. A lot of things can block your chi (see the whole stress and lifestyle factors list above), which is why it’s important to do things to get it flowing. “Some of my favorite ways to maintain health and happiness is through meditation, yoga and pranayama,” Singh says. “Other ways to do this is by exercising, taking vitamins, eating well. Acupuncture should be thrown in the same bucket, in that we do these things prophylactically to ensure nothing goes wrong in the future.” We asked her to share some easy ways to help with digestion, stress and sleep specifically below.

Stress

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When life feels overwhelming and your stress levels are at an all-time high, Singh recommends taking a hot bath with Himalayan salt or Kosher salt—she says that doing this will mimic the ocean and help cleanse the energetic body. Another idea to help your chi start moving and de-stress: add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to amplify the benefits of your bath and allow “the ability of the scent to cross the blood-brain barrier,” according to Singh. No time for a bath? Singh suggests soaking your feet in warm water and placing a golf ball under your feet and rolling them back and forth—instant relaxation.

Digestion

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If you’re having digestion issues, Singh recommends turning to Ayurveda (you can get the lowdown on what Ayurveda is here). “First, figure out what your constitution in Ayurvedia is,” she explains. “ My favorite quiz to use is by the Chopra Center.” When you figure out what your dosha is, you’ll learn what foods to eat and avoid for your unique digestion situation. For a universal at-home remedy, Singh suggests using castor oil. “Liberally apply castor oil to the abdomen and massage it into your skin in a clockwise motion,” she says.

“Place a towel or sheet on top of the oil, place heating pad and lay down for 10 to 20 minutes.” For nausea, gas and bloating, she recommends ginger. “A favorite recipe of mine is to combine a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, 1/4 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt.” Lastly, she says that chewing fennel after eating meals will act as a natural digestive aid. 

Sleep

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Sleep—we all want more of it, but when it our heads hit the pillow, it can suddenly become elusive. To remedy this, Singh says to first make sure to put your phone away at a certain time each night, and preferably out of the room. Next, try clearing your mind with a guided meditation (here’s a list of our favorite meditation apps, though we recommend downloading them so you don’t have to use your phone to access them). If sleep still eludes you, Singh says to mix 3 mg of melatonin with magnesium before bed to promote sleep, as well as drinking chamomile tea a few hours before bed to help you relax—and keep another cup of tea next to your bed if you wake up in the middle of the night.

In general, Singh suggests upping your intake of foo stoa contain high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleep and supports your mood. Foods that are high in tryptophan include eggs, salmon, poultry, spinach, seeds and nuts. 

Doing all of these things—coupled with acupuncture, meditation and deep breathing—can help get your chi flowing again, but make sure to check with your physician before making any changes in your diet and lifestyle. 

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