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Spring: Thriving in the Liver Season

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

If you tend to discuss your Chinese Medicine diagnosis with your provider, there is a good chance that the Liver has come up.  While the body requires all the organ systems to function in harmony, we see the Liver's function as central to the smooth flow of Qi.  The Liver is the General, directing the function of all the other organs, making sure that systems function with a regular rhythm and processes flow smoothly - from menstrual cycles to digestive processes and sleep rhythms. 

Springtime is the season of the Wood element, whose corresponding organs/channels are the Liver and Gallbladder.  Beyond the specific physiology of these 2 organ systems, Chinese Medicine associates some broader patterns with the Wood season.  It is a time of growth, awakening and movement.  Ideally we have rested more through the winter and have been gathering our energy and intentions for the year ahead.  Now it is time to move and make those changes happen.  We can turn that introspective energy outward, clearing out what we are ready to move on from, and starting fresh.  It is time to actively move out of confining emotional states like anger, stress and frustration and release emotional and physical tension.  

Process.  Release.  Grow.

Spring: Thriving in the Liver Season, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, OR

Problems that often show up in the Springtime are allergies, skin issues, digestive imbalance, insomnia or hormonal issues.  There can also be a building energetic and emotional tension, as we are ready to see a change, a shift.  When the Wood element is out of balance this can show up as anger, agitation, reactivity or a stuck feeling.  This is the body saying it needs something to move.  Movement itself can be the best medicine, especially something that makes you feel free, alive.  Dance, run, jump, breathe deeply, make love, stomp through the forest. 

Listen to what comes up.  What makes you feel stuck?  What still needs to heal?  What toxic nonsense are you ready to be done with?  What new thing are you ready to begin?

Spring is a great time to focus on eating fresh foods, especially plants.  Young plants are full of Qi and many mountain herbs are harvested in Spring.  While Chinese Medicine is not aggressive about detox (our bodies are not toxic cesspools!), it can be good time for a gentle cleanse.  Focus on hydration, eat more leafy bitter greens, vegetable soups, add sprouts to everything.  Get creative with salads, adding carrots, fennel, grapefruit, radish, asparagus, citrus peels, asparagus, chive, vinegar, grapes.  Sour, bitter and slightly pungent foods can help support the Liver Qi.

Some specific herbs that can benefit the Liver are  Bupleurum (Chai Hu), White Peony (Bai Shao), Scutellaria (Huang Qin), Nettles, Milk Thistle, Dandelion (Pu Gong Ying), Mint and Chlorophyll.  Many of these herbs are slightly cooling which calms inflammation, and some also help to circulate lymphatics, which helps with congestion and sluggish Qi.  Dandelion and Nettles are also both rich in Vitamins and minerals.

In Chinese Medicine, the Liver system will also thrive more if we nourish Blood.  Blood is the nutritive foundation that supports the Liver system.  Along with the common Springtime ailments like allergies and skin issues, with blood deficiency, we might notice more dryness, eye irritation, light periods, chronic muscle tension, and light sleep.  (We also look for a thin pulse, pale tongue and brittle nails.). Nourish blood by having a regular sleep rhythm and eating good sources of protein and fats in the diet such as avocados, cleanly-raised meats, organ meats, lentils.  Try to limit caffeine and alcohol - you will sleep better too.

Acupuncture and Herbal medicine is here to support you as well.  May you listen to your body and the rhythms of nature and find yourself in the flow.

  • Gather some fir tips for a tasty Vitamin C rich infusion (Spruce and Hemlock can be used also.)
  • Or take advantage of the abundance of stinging nettles (gather with gloves on!) and make an iron rich nettle soup.
  • Movement snacks:  incorporate short bursts of movement into your day with a quick routine or some Shaking Qi Gong.

Will Power and the Kidneys

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

Those first signs of Spring are starting to appear, but we are still in the depths of Winter.  As I write this, it is DÀ HÁN, “Major Cold,” the last of the 24 terms of the Chinese Solar Calendar.  The new year is coming soon and it is important not to rush things, instead allowing the cycle to finish and reflecting on the teachings of the past year.  Winter is a time of storage, self care, consolidating our energy as the seed of future growth.  What seeds are you planting?

Perhaps you have set some goals for the year ahead and have even started on them.  Wonderful!  And yet, there will likely be times when it becomes difficult to maintain these new routines, make the healthiest choices, or have the necessary conversations.  Whatever it is, positive changes often require will power.  

Will Power and the Kidneys, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, ORThe Chinese medicine concept of will power, Zhi, is associated with the Kidneys, which belong to the water element.  The water element is also correlated with the Winter season, surely a season that can test our tenacity.  Will power is our ability to follow through on the things that matter to us.  In Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys are a source of health and longevity, but their energy is finite.  We must choose how we want to expend our energy and how to invest in the things we love.  In this way, our vital force is preserved and can even grow.  

How do we balance a sense of ease and comfort, with the grit and tenacity required to achieve our goals?  Where is the Wú Wéi, “effortless action,” that finds us in this delicate flow?  Well, as David Goggins puts it, “there are no hacks, bro.”  Easy is on the other side of hard.

Amber Hincks offers Acupuncture in Beaverton, ORWhat I mean is, if we keep on choosing the easy path, things inevitably start to feel harder and more out of reach.  Instead, if we do the things that we have been putting off, the things that are important, we learn just how capable we are.  Does it get easier?  Maybe, maybe not, but regardless, you will know that you can do it.  And there is joy in the knowing, along with all the rewards that come with each accomplishment, be it better health, more restful sleep, loving relationships.

Let’s circle back to David Goggins, author of Never Finished.  He was a guest on a recent Huberman Lab episode - “How to Build Immense Inner Strength.”  And in this discussion, Dr. Huberman brought up that there is an area of the brain, the anterior mid-cingulate cortex, associated with will power.  This area of the brain grows when we do something that we do not want to do.  When scientists stimulated this area of the brain, subjects felt a sense of impending struggle, but they also felt ready to take it on.  

The Kidneys are associated with the brain (and bones).  Strong Kidney Qi supports healthy aging and ongoing physical and cognitive strength - longevity.  I personally do a lot of thinking about the ways I can keep myself and others healthy for a long time.  But it was still hard for me to sit down and write this blog on a Sunday afternoon.  In fact, I put it off for 2 weeks.  But now that I have done it, I can share it with you.  A little part of my brain just flexed, and perhaps my Kidneys did too.  

By needling specific points, acupuncture can amplify the Kidneys' power and therefore provide clarity around life changes or goals. Through acupuncture, herbs, and dietary education, Chinese Medicine naturally supports the Kidneys, provides balance to the overall yin and yang of the body, and cultivates essential Zhi, will power.  

*Examples of foods that nourish the Kidneys: cloves, ginger, cinnamon bark, quinoa, chicken, lamb, trout, salmon, millet, barley, most types of beans, & spirulina

Advice from Mom: Holiday Stress

frost on window


My mom is the person I turn to for advice.  She is very non-judgmental, which I find to be of the utmost importance in a confidante (it is something I strive for with patients).  She also has great advice - spent years doing social work.  And she is creative - has been writing Sci-fi for over a decade and recently one an Indie Book Award for Best Fantasy.  Go Mom!  So I asked her to write a guest blog for me, while I am busy with upcoming business transitions.  


Self-Care During the Holidays

For some, the holidays overflow with boundless excitement and energy. There’s much to enjoy:  community celebrations, gatherings with family and friends, shopping for unique gifts, and sharing laughter around a fabulous feast.

For others, family complexities, crowded stores, tight finances, and a packed calendar dampen any childlike enthusiasm. Stress prevails, and December becomes a curly checklist with the end goal simply to survive.

Granted, some challenges are beyond our control, but for many others, we have the gift of
choice, and how we take care of our bodies, minds, and spirits during the holidays is one of

Care for your Body:

The holidays are infamous for ruining healthy habits. We eat more sugar, grab a mass-
produced burger while running errands, and stay up too late catching up on emails. Hustling
through the mall qualifies as exercise, and just remembering to breathe feels like an

  • Eat Wonderfully – Allow yourself to enjoy the delectable offerings without overstuffing.
    Watch your portions, slow down, and savor each bite.
  • Stay Hydrated – And I don’t mean with hot buttered rum. Keep the water bottle handy
    during your busy days.  At celebrations, imbibe responsibly and drink water between those glasses of eggnog.
  • Indulge in Rest – Living with a stressed-out grinch isn’t fun for anyone, including the grinch.  Get a good night’s sleep if you can, and if that’s impossible, take cat naps to relax and recharge during the day.
  • Get Outside – Find time to exercise. You may not be able to stick with your routine, but
    even a short walk is better than nothing. Breath in the fresh air and sunlight and let the
    tension go.

Care for your Mind:

The holidays are a time for good cheer, but making sure the bathroom sparkles, the goose is
cooked, and the presents are wrapped can be overwhelming. Lack of time, finances, and
energy can bring us to tears if we think we can somehow do it all.

  • Prioritize and Simplify – Prioritize what brings joy, and simplify where you can. Buy a pie
    from the store. It’s okay. And it’s okay to politely say no when feeling overwhelmed. Those
    who care about you will understand.
  • Keep Expectations Reasonable – During the holidays, we often set our expectations
    impossibly high. Let go of perfection, relax, and enjoy yourself. Life doesn’t need to be
    perfect to be beautiful.
  • Plan Ahead – Create a thoughtful plan to tackle your to-do list so you’re still able to enjoy
    the season. Make under-scheduling an artform, and if you find yourself overscheduled,
    rustle up the courage to delegate, ask for help, and accept the help that’s offered. You can
    always pay it back by helping someone else.
  • Take an Internet Break – Minimize screen time in favor of connecting with others and
    investing in meaningful relationships. Trust me, the virtual world will still be there in
  • Make a Budget – Be realistic about what you can afford, set a budget, and stick to it. And
    remember, love is priceless. Focus on celebrating together and show how much you care
    by being present and kind.
  • Give Creatively – Sometimes the best gifts are those of the heart. Homemade gifts, heart-
    felt notes, or giving away something special of yours has the power to show more affection than something bought in a store.

Care for your Spirit:

Cultivating an awareness of how we wish to spend our time and energy allows us to better
enjoy the holiday season. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important when overwhelmed, and
self-care is essential in creating a life of contentment no matter what’s happening around us.
You can’t draw water from an empty well, so take care of you while you take care of others.

  • Bask in Gratitude – Take a few minutes each morning to acknowledge all you’re grateful for.  Did you know it’s nearly impossible to feel thankful and irritable at the same time? Gratitude has the power to make us both healthier and happier.
  • Be Intentional – Before committing your time and energy, check your intention and stay
    focused on what matters most. Do those things that nourish your spirit and light up your
    heart, and politely bow out of the rest.
  • Be Generous with Kindness – Holidays can be difficult for those who are alone. Reach out
    to those who are without family and friends during this time of year. Found families can be just as warm and rewarding as biological ones.
  • Give to Others – If within your means, nurture your spirit by giving a bit of your time, talent, or treasure to a cause you believe in. It’s an act of kindness that can remind you of all you’re grateful for.
  • Give to Yourself – As you run around determined to ensure that everyone else has a
    wonderful holiday, remember to make time to do something special for yourself. You’ll feel re-energized and ready to tackle the next task. As much as possible, during this holiday season, laugh, let go, and love.

I wish you a happy, healthy, and joyous holiday season.

Preparing for a Winter Hike

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

Mt. Hood had its first significant snowfall of the season this week and with a sunny weekend predicted, we could not resist an excursion to our beloved mountain neighbor.  It was spectacular and the weather was gorgeous.  On a Saturday, it was hard to believe we only crossed paths with 4 people, despite being on a stretch of trail that belonged to both the Timberline Trail (goes around Mt. Hood) and the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and leaves right from the majestic Timberline Lodge, just over an hour from Portland. Timberline Trail

Preparing for a Winter Hike requires some different planning and is a good time to revisit the 10 essentials.  This list refers to the things that you should have with you when entering the backcountry.  What is not on this list is a couple of necessary steps to take before you go. 

  1. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.  Make a plan for what to do if they don't hear from you. 
  2. Check the weather forecast and make sure that you are prepared for those conditions.  Also, be especially mindful that mountainous environments can have their own weather systems and can change more rapidly.  Bring extra layers.

There is some additional gear that you may want to have for winter hikes.  Some things are easy to overlook like sunglasses and sunscreen!  Here are some tips about stuff I have found helpful.

  • Snowshoes:  snowshoes are not my favorite, but they are essential when hiking in snow deeper than about 1 foot.  They keep you from sinking into the snow (post-holing), which can be funny the first couple of times, but you won't get very far.  Consider renting if you don't want to invest in a pair.  Make sure they fit you, especially if you have small feet.  Many are one-size-fits-all.
  • Crampons, microspikes or yaktraks:  essentially these are different types of attachments that you can get for the bottoms of your boots that increase their grip on ice.  You would use these in lieu of snowshoes when the snow is either not deep, or very firm and potentially icy.  Yaktraks are the most basic, light-weight option and will work in most conditions.  With more elevation (steeper) and really icy conditions micro-spikes or crampons are a safer bet.
  • Sunscreen and Sunglasses:  On a sunny day, while the sun is less powerful than in summer, the snow is reflective.  I sunburned my eyeballs on St. Helens.  Do not forget sunglasses!
  • Extra socks:  whether snow gets in your boots, you accidentally step into a stream, or you simply want a fresh pair at the end of the day, extra socks are always worth including.  Wool is generally best.
  • Gaiters:  To avoid the above snow entering your boots, gaiters are worth having unless your snow/rain pants are secure over your boots.  These wrap around your lower leg and generally loop under your boots so nothing can sneak its way inside.  

In general, don't expect to go as far as you would in the summer, especially if there is snow or ice on the trail.  That being said, winter can be a great time of year for mountaineering.  Snow can make it easier to cross a boulder field or a frozen stream.  Mountaineering requires a whole different level of preparation though, so let's stick with winter hiking for the sake of this post.  Here are a couple winter excursions that I would recommend.  

  1. Old Salmon River Trail:  I have mentioned this one before.  It's an absolute favorite, especially in winter.  It begins in Rhododendron and the trail has multiple entry points.  It follows along the Salmon River and most sections are fairly level, though if you continue on into the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness you will meet some elevation.  It is a mossy wonderland.  If you are interested in others like this, check out Falls Creek Falls Trail or Siouxon Creek - both in Southern Washington, or Silver Falls State Park (Oregon).Amber Hincks
  2. Mirror Lake or Trillium Lake:  Both of these lakes are located on the Southern side of Mt. Hood and provide breathtaking views of the mountain on a clear day.  Easily accessible from Hwy 26, these lakes are a relatively short hike (you can drive to Trillium when there is no snow), but offer some options to extend your visit.  When you get to Trillium, you can choose to hike or snowshoe around the lake.  Consider doing this under the light of the full moon.  From Mirror Lake, you can continue on to Tom, Dick and Harry, which will take you up above Ski Bowl Ski Resort.  You might even be able to take the chairlift down if it is operating.                                                                       Mirror Lake, Mt. Hood

Acupuncture + Chinese Medicine for Painful Periods

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

I’m getting ready to teach part of the Chinese Medicine Gynecology class at NUNM this Spring. This class covers the treatment of all things related to our reproductive system - periods, fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause. I also said that I wanted to do a class about sex (yay!) so I am going to teach about sex in Chinese Medicine too. I will be discussing painful sex too (boo!), which is a super important topic.

Sometimes I take for granted how amazing Chinese Medicine is for gynecological issues, because it was a big part of my introduction to acupuncture while working in women’s health and fertility clinics. I saw that many of these patients were also benefiting from acupuncture and realized that was the type of care I wanted to offer these patients. Most people associate acupuncture with treating pain and may not know about how comprehensive acupuncture can be for internal medicine issues. I figured painful periods is a great place to start this discussion.

Painful menstruation is called dysmenorrhea, and refers the pain that occurs around the menstrual, or bleeding, phase of the cycle. There may be other associated symptoms like nausea, fatigue or diarrhea. While many people experience some cramping with their period, some have pain severe enough that it keeps them from doing their regular activities. They may rely on pain relievers and heating pads, but sometimes that is not enough. There are many possible causes for dysmenorrhea that can be explored with a gynecologist - endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, cysts, hormone imbalance, heavy periods, low back injury, past or present infection, pelvic nerve compression, pelvic inflammatory disease.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, most dysmenorrhea is related to Blood Stasis. Blood stasis is diagnosed through questioning, observation and palpation. Here are some of the signs that would indicate blood stasis:

  • sharp, stabbing or paroxysmal pain
  • dark colored blood, possibly with clots
  • firmness in the abdomen, particularly at the location called “oketsu”
  • a slippery or wiry pulse
  • a purple or dusky tongue, possibly with distended sublingual veins
  • cold hands and feet

There may be other factors that contribute to the blood stasis - heat (inflammation), cold (constricted blood vessels and hypo-function), Qi stagnation (stress and emotions), dampness (fluid retention) and so on.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs are amazing for treating blood stasis and therefore painful periods. Acupuncture increases blood circulation, as shown in many research studies that document things like uterine blood flow. (Do you like reading research studies?) We use points like Spleen 6 on the lower leg as well as points on the abdomen or around the sacrum. Typically for menstrual issues, patients come in weekly for about 3 months for significant relief. Then returning in the week before the period for another few months. Though treatment plans are always individualized. Herbs can help significantly, because this brings the treatment home and works on underlying imbalances and inflammation.

Abdominal massage is also amazing for treating dysmenorrhea. While I offer abdominal massage sessions called Chi Nei Tsang - translates to internal organ massage - I also recommend having a self massage routine. A few drops of frankincense (invigorates blood and promotes healing) in some almond oil can make this rather enjoyable. Make sure to work in a clockwise direction and put a pillow under your knees to help relax your abdomen. You can view a quick instructional video here.

I have so much more to say about this topic, but it starts getting more and more individualized. I will save it for my class next month and for the treatment room. Hope to see you there!

Acupuncture + Chinese Medicine for Painful Periods, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, ORWarm needle moxibustion with the herb mugwort is fantastic for painful periods. Mugwort is also used internally as a guiding herb to warm the uterus.

The Year of the Water Rabbit

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

The Year of the Water Rabbit, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, OR

We are currently transitioning into the Year of the Yin Water Rabbit according to the Chinese calendar. It’s also going to be the year 4721! As I have been enjoying reading about the coming year and learning more about my chart as well as some of yours, I am reminded that astrology can provide an interesting prompt for exploration. Many of the customs around the new year serve to give us that opportunity - to celebrate, to set goals, to consider the value of relationships and the direction of our lives. Astrology, rather than fortune-telling, is a playful mirror to explore our potential. What follows is largely summarized from Tiger’s Play Astrology. I encourage you to read more there.

Last year was a Yang Water Tiger Year. Yang Water is more like a tidal wave, tumultous compared to the underground grotto of the Yin Water Rabbit. Water is associated with death and last year was intense. Now in the Yin Water Year, we faced death and we are dead…or at least in the liminal space of early morning dreams. Down the rabbit whole we go. While this is a dark place, it can also be quiet and peaceful, a time for introspection. A great year for therapy! Also a wonderful year for sex. We all know that rabbits are associated with a prolific ability to reproduce, so now is the time to make babies, or practice. Water (death) generates Wood (birth). The rabbits typical nature is Wood, so the Water nature of the year is supportive of the growth to come. Next year is a Wood Dragon year!

Intuition will be strengthened in the coming year. While this can be helpful, there is a also a vulnerability that rabbits have, with their big ears they can hear everything. For the people who are more empathic, they may feel overwhelmed or even paranoid. But rabbits have great social instincts and in general are very happy in the domestic sphere. They are gentle, charming and compassionate. Close friendships are key and its a great time for nesting and enjoying home.

The rabbit’s health and well-being has everything to do with how they handle their emotions. More than in other years, how we perceive of our situation will have a significant impact on its outcome. “Anything repressed, suppressed, or unacknowledged can manifest in the body.” So singing to your tumor may shrink it and medicines will be more effective if we believe they will work. But illness will be exacerbated by worry and conflict.  It is a good year for less-scientific forms of healing.

I could keep going, but I think this gives you an idea of some of the central themes. Don’t forget to check out Tiger’s Play Astrology to read more in detail and look at the other signs and how they might thrive in the coming year.

Podcast Share: Huberman Lab

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

Podcast Share: Huberman Lab, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, ORI first heard about the Huberman Lab from my partner, Allen.  He had previously been listening to a doctor who claims vegetables are toxic, so I don’t always take his recommendations.  However, I was intrigued by some of the research he was citing and Andrew Huberman, PhD has some solid credentials as a Stanford-tenured neuroscientist.  

The podcast covers a range of health topics including fitness routines, nutrition for mental health, caffeine science and uses (everything you want to know about cannabis and alcohol too), and how to improve happiness.  It is all research-based and features conversations with experts.  I’ve learned some fun facts, like if you are in ketosis (keto diet), your blood alcohol level may be 5 times higher after having a drink than someone who is not in ketosis (rodent study).  And mice who are on the keto diet almost never get pregnant, unlike the mice who are eating all the things.  The keto diet mimics a fasting state, which can be helpful for many health conditions, but most likely not for fertility! I like listening to this stuff while I work out because it is motivating.  Almost always there is a reminder that there are no quick fixes in health, and staying active and mentally resilient are the true longevity all-stars.  I know that some of you enjoy the science of health too, so I hope you can check it out and find some inspiration.

Maybe there will be an acupuncture episode in the future?!