This summer, during our trip up north, I had the privilege of visiting and meeting one of my guy’s dearest friends from college at her home that rests on an apple orchard in Los Gatos, CA. Between her incredibly endearing husband, Benji, their amazing dog, and pending magical addition to the world, I stayed inspired during our whole visit. Her strength combined with her knowledge of integrative medicine and lifestyle kept me asking for more information on all things Abby, acupuncture, herbs, and pregnancy. I’d love to share her plethora of information—meet Abby Rappoport.
How would you explain acupuncture and herbal treatment to someone looking to try this method of healing?
Chinese Medicine, which encompasses acupuncture and herbal medicine, as well as Qi Gong (movement healing) and dietary therapy, is all about creating balance in the body. Rather than the western approach to healing where the practitioner focuses in on one specific ailment or symptom and treats that. In Chinese Medicine we view the body as a complete ecosystem. If there is too much or not enough of any one element, it throws the entire system off kilter—thus creating disharmony and disease. So, through acupuncture, herbs, diet, and Qi Gong, we are able to create harmony within the body, and not only expel any disease that may be presenting itself, but prevent future illness from developing. It is effective as both an active and preventative medicine.
Best Advice you received during training?
You are a facilitator of health. You do not have a magic wand that can make patients better. You have a wealth of knowledge, and must use that to educate your patients on how to heal themselves, and promote their own health and wellbeing.
Super herb or food everyone should know about?
Wow, there are so many good ones. But one that hasn't quite made it into the modern American kitchen is Long Yang Rou (this is the Chinese name). It's also known as Longan fruit, or Dragon Eye Fruit.
This culinary herb is awesome. It's in the same family as goji berries but even more nourishing. Fresh, it looks similar to a lychee fruit, though it's most commonly found dried. This tonifying herb helps to build Qi and blood in the body (the building blocks of wellness); and also helps to calm anxiety and aid in sleep. Our society tends to be so overworked and stressed out, adding this herb to your diet is a great way to help calm your spirit and boost your energy and immune system.
I keep a jar of dried Long Yan Rou in my kitchen. Since it's sweet to taste, I add it to anything sweet that I'm cooking, and always throw some in the pot when I'm making a large soup. I'll even put a few dried fruits in the bottom of my water bottle each day for a little cold infusion goodness!
Favorite cold buster?
This is always and interesting topic in Chinese Medicine. In our system of diagnosis there are dozens of different types of "colds", and they all need to be treated differently to be effective. I think that's why so many people say that herbs don't work for them when it comes down to treating a cold, for they're just not using the right herbs for their specific condition!
There are two main types of colds: we call them wind-cold or wind-heat. And they need to be treated pretty differently (Note: legal disclaimer--any changes in your herbal or health routine should always be approved by your healthcare provider).
Wind Cold: If you have a wind-cold, you're experiencing some chills (no fever), generally feeling achy in you neck and shoulders or entire body, you're sneezing more than coughing, your throat might be itchy but not painful, and you've got clear or white mucus.
In this case, a great home remedy is a warming tea with cinnamon, fresh ginger, kudzu root, and honey. If you have access to a natural food store, you can often find a Chinese formula called Gui Zhi Tang—which will do the trick just nicely.
Wind Heat: If you have a wind-heat, you're experiencing some sweating (more of a fever, and less or no chills), you're coughing more than sneezing, you may have dry/itchy eyes, your throat is more painful than itchy, and your mucus is probably yellow or even green. In this case, there is an awesome Chinese formula called Yin Qiao San—that really does the trick! You can find it at any natural foods store, as it's super popular.
I also want to add, if you feel that you've been exposed to something but aren't showing many symptoms, elderberry fruit syrup (I recommend Gaia brand) is a great remedy to have on hand. A few spoonfuls per day can really boost your immune system. However, if you're already feeling sick, it really won't do much to stop the progression of the cold.
The most important thing that we can do for ourselves in the morning is to eat breakfast. Personally, I eat a little something, and then take my dog out for a 20-minute walk to get my Qi moving. I'm not a coffee drinker, and I've found that moving my body in the morning really charges my energy for the rest of the day!
By your bedside?
Wow, I've got a huge stack of books! I like to mix it up when it comes to bedtime reading, so they range from Ina May Gaskin's "Guide to Childbirth", Leslie Tierra's "Healing with the Herbs of Life", to an IPad filled with authors ranging from Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Bill Bryson and Barbara Kingsolover.
Then of course I have a jar of candied ginger left over from my morning sickness days (I'm 9 months pregnant right now), and a half full glass of water (half of which I obviously spilled while reaching for it in the middle of the night last night).
Book you're reading now?
I'm such a nerd! I spent the morning reading reference books including "Chinese Herbal Formulas and Strategies" and Michael Tierra's "The Way of Herbs" as I'm trying to learn more about treating kidney stones with Chinese medicine. The learning really never ends.
I'm also in the middle of Peggy Schafer's "The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm", as I'd really like to learn more about growing some of my own herbs for my apothecary.
How do you prepare for the fall?
Chicken Soup! I always make sure to have a freezer full of chicken soup—my Jewish grandmother's recipe with a few Chinese herbs, of course—as well as bone broth. Both are great for building up Qi for the upcoming colder months to boost the immune system and prevent the wintertime flu!
As a rule of thumb, as the weather gets colder, stay away from cold foods like raw salads and smoothies, and start eating more cooked veggies, meat—If that's your thing—and soups. Fall and winter are not the time of year for fasting and cleansing, wait for the spring for that!
Restorative techniques after a long day?
20 minutes of meditation. This could mean doing 20 minutes of moving Qi Gong exercises, or sitting quietly in Zazen meditation. It depends on my mood. But taking 20 minutes to separate myself from the chaos of the day really helps me to rebalance my mind and my energy.
I've also noticed that, while sitting in front of the TV may feel relaxing at the time, decreasing my overall screen time in the evenings (including TV and computers) really helps me to feel and sleep better.
Because you're about to welcome your first baby into the world, what are some prenatal changes you've made to your diet and routine?
I'm not usually a fan of vitamins and supplements. I tend to believe that we can get all of our nutrients from a well balanced diet and proper exercise, and only need to use supplements for short periods of time to treat temporary imbalances. However, being pregnant, I have been pretty religious about my pre-natal vitamins (hands down recommend New Chapter's Perfect Pre-natal), as well as additional probiotics, and liquid floradix (a natural iron supplement). I also have been drinking red raspberry leaf tea throughout my 3rd trimester. This herb helps to prepare the uterus for labor.
In addition, I've really worked hard to slow down my life. This is a precious time where most of my energy should really go toward my baby, and I have worked hard to decrease my workload, take lots of naps, and make sure that I am making the best food choices for me.
Most surreal moment of pregnancy so far?
It was important to me to have one comprehensive ultrasound during my pregnancy to ensure that my baby was developing normally. Seeing the 2 hemispheres of my baby's brain perfectly formed during an 18-week ultrasound was really amazing. My husband and I were both in awe of how perfect that little brain was! I wish the ultrasound tech had given us a printout of that image. Instead she gave us a print out of a view from the base of his pelvis so we could see his "boy parts."
What natural ways will you prepare for your home birth mentally, nutritionally, and physically?
When I first got pregnant, I was really scared of the experience as a whole. I knew I didn't want a hospital birth—as I believe that hospitals are where sick people go, and pregnancy is not an illness—but that's about as much as I was sure of. I found that there was a lot about birth that I didn't know, and educating myself has really been crucial for me.
Mentally, I first had to face my own issues including not letting other people's opinions get to me, for many people I have encountered are worried that I am taking a "Huge Risk" by planning a homebirth. I personally found it comforting to do a lot of research, so when I was approached by a naysayer, I had a host of scientific evidence to support my home-birth decision—including lower c-section rates (30% average in US hospital births, vs 2% average in homebirths), and healthier newborn scans. Beyond that, I read "Birthing from within", which is a great resource to get in touch with, face, and process my fears surrounding my birth. I also found it comforting to read many different womens' birth stories to become more comfortable with the whole process. For more about this, check out my blog post.
Nutritionally, I have tried to eat well. That being said, if I found myself craving chocolate brownies, I didn't deprive myself. It's so important that you enjoy life and enjoy your food! I strongly believe that being neurotic about every morsel that enters your mouth is not good for you or your baby. My biggest advice is to just do the best you can!
As far as exercise goes, before pregnancy, I practiced Vinyasa yoga 2-3 times per week. I was so sick during my first trimester that I was unable to keep up my practice. By week 40, I was taking 1 gentle yoga class per week and swimming at a local pool (by swimming, I mostly mean floating in). Swimming has been a lifesaver for me. The cool water really decreases the swelling in my ankles and being weightless is AMAZING. It's very important to rest and restore during pregnancy. Don't stop moving, but this is really not the time in your life to prove yourself physically.
The greatest piece of advice I have received throughout my entire pregnancy is to listen to the "advice" others are giving you, smile, nod, and then do whatever YOU want. No two pregnancies are exactly the same, and you need to follow your instincts and take care of yourself!
Herbal tea recipe or tonic for someone who is overstressed?
I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, so overwork and stress seem to be the number one ailment that I see in my clinic.
While it's not a Chinese herbal remedy, I have seen great results with many patients using Bach's Flower Essence brand "Rescue Remedy." It can be found at any major natural food store, and comes as a tincture, lozenge, or spray. I really like the spray. When you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed, three sprays toward the back of the throat really take the edge off.
If you're looking for a de-stress tea, try lemon balm. It's a great way to wind down at the end of a hectic day, and delicious with a little bit of honey! I usually harvest my own from the woods near my house (it's very common here in Northern California), but you can find the dried herb online or at many natural food stores. Both fresh and dried work great!