Episode #03 – HEALING GENERATIONAL TRAUMA w/ DR. ZELINA – how she recovered from lupus and why healing is more than just physical
- Published on: 20 January, 2020
- Last update: 18 May, 2020
What role does spiritual wellness play in the healing of the physical? This is a question I’ve asked myself over and over throughout my entire health journey. While I’ve made major strides by dialing in my nutrition and learning the art of herbal medicine… whenever I hit a wall, it always has a LOT more to do with the things I can’t necessarily see, eat, or buy.
Processing my own trauma, managing stress (often related to the way I speak to myself in my head), working hard to rewire negative belief systems that have been ingrained in me since childhood, going to therapy, and perhaps most importantly – connecting with COMMUNITY – have honestly been more powerful than any habit or nutrition change.
When I originally set out to record this podcast, I planned to touch on this with every guest at some point in each episode. How have these spiritual/emotional aspects have played in their own healing (or the healing of their patients)? A talking point, perhaps. A one-off question that we address and move on. What I didn’t realize, is that each conversation would ultimately lead back to this not just as a factor, but the base. The non-negotiable. The foundational of healing.
When you’re truly ready to do the work… this is the nitty gritty you have to face. When you’re ready to treat yourself like you love yourself, you have to first understand why you weren’t for so many years. It’s not just about changing our habits, but rather the beliefs that are driving them. THAT’S the hardest part to tackle, because so often these beliefs are not even our own. That negative voice in our head when we beat ourselves up is the voice of our mother, father, or another caregiver that perhaps felt they weren’t good enough. It’s difficult to distinguish between the s**t that’s our own, and the s**t we’re taking on from others… but it’s even more difficult to change it. When you start to face trauma, shame, or feelings of unworthiness head on, it can be messy and even painful – yet when you start to see how worthy you truly are DESPITE what happened to you, your whole life begins to reflect it.
In this week’s episode I sit down with Dr. Zelina Medina, who was led to her career as a doctor of acupuncture after being diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease. Together we explore the steps she took to heal, and chat about the root cause of autoimmunity in the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
While changing her diet made a huge difference, she credits her progress even more so to shamanic medicine ceremonies such as soul retrieval in order to tackle the many layers of disease.
Dr. Z explains that a part of the soul gets lost, or detached from the self, when we experience childhood trauma — this affects us physically, and even gets passed on generationally. Luckily the science is catching up, and thanks to tools like the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) questionnaire, we now have concrete evidence that early emotional trauma can increase your risk for chronic illness later in life. If you’re someone who likes to connect the dots, this episode will validate and hopefully inspire you.
As we talk about being disconnected from our sense of self, this leads us to her number-one take home: the importance of being a part of a community, feeling loved, and having a purpose. We chat about how this circles back to Chinese Medicine by sharing the concept of the “Shen,” which is the spirit, consciousness, and our connection to earth & each other. The same way there are herbs to address the physical, there are also herbs that calm and anchor the Shen or spirit, and we cover all of our favorites (including Holy Basil from Mood Juice) at the end of the episode.
I can’t wait for you to listen and I know you will LOVE Dr. Z as much as we do. Plus, she’s a Gemini and you know they’re one of my favorite signs — right after Libras and fellow Leos, of course 😉
(to read the full transcription of this episode, click HERE)
I couldn’t believe how much Dr. Z and I have in common when it comes to our stories. When she was diagnosed with lupus, she not only went through depression, but addiction as well, and felt like she didn’t know who to trust. (My teacher Richard says this is actually very common in autoimmune disease, as the boundary between “the self” and “other” becomes ‘leaky’ and distorted. Sometimes we let too MUCH in, while other times we shut down after seeing ourselves as too separate from the collective. Neither of these are healthy, because at the end of the day no man is an island and we need each other. He says “ultimately, it is a dysregulation in the relationship we have with the world.” I’d love to do an episode with him about autoimmune disease and boundaries!)
Her kidneys were failing, she couldn’t urinate (contributing to the edema of lupus), her skin was covered in the classic “butterfly rash”, and her mouth was full of ulcers. Doctors kept telling her they didn’t have answers other than steroids. This is a theme I’ve noticed with so many people who have overcome health issues and go on to help others in their careers. The passion begins with the chaos and frustration of hitting a wall with conventional medicine, which leads us to taking matters into our own hands and trying a less conventional (sometimes even extreme!) approach.
At the same time that she received this diagnosis, she was grinding non-stop in the fashion industry, neglecting her body’s needs and living her real life ‘Devil Wears Prada’ moment.
Dr. Z says that she didn’t feel like she could be vulnerable with anyone in her life… SHE was the one that was supposed to have it all together. The pressure came crashing down on her shoulders, and the turning point came when she was admitted into a psychiatric ward. That week, she says that she started seeing reality for the first time in a while. Her whole family showed up for her and it moved her deeply. In her words, she was surrounded by the love she was avoiding, convinced that no one loved her and she wasn’t worthy. The truth was that she had so many people in her corner — yet when we are self-sabotaging, it is so easy to believe the opposite narrative and get stuck in it. She acknowledges that her self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors were a result of the layered mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical illnesses she was battling at the time. She realized it was a lot deeper than just the physical, and knew something had to change.
Starting with nutrition, yoga, and hiking, she started to make small changes and noticed incremental improvements. One day she picked up a book titled ‘Lupus: Alternative Therapies That Work’ – the only one on the topic she could find at the time – and started eating a diet of brown rice and vegetables rather than the fast food she was used to. Her mother suggested she try acupuncture, and that’s when she found Michael Fox. After her very first treatment, she felt hopeful for the first time in years. She knew she was going to commit to this modality and most importantly, she believed that she was going to get better. There were many moments where she found herself lying on the acupuncture table, tears streaming down her face, thinking “why isn’t everyone doing this?”
Within a week of deciding she wanted to use her experience to help others and pursue acupuncture as a career path, she was enrolled in school. (When you know it in your bones, the universe moves QUICKLY huh!) And after graduating with her master’s degree, she went on to get her doctorate the same year she gave birth to her daughter, Luna. I am just in awe of all she has accomplished, even when she was still in the thick of healing and lupus flares. Dr. Z is a wonder-woman and now sees patients at AcuVida Acupuncture in Highland Park.
So, What’s the Juice?
• In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), our SHEN is our spirit. It’s what connects us to each other, inspires us, and allows us to dream a better vision for the future.“Shen” is like the heart and mind all in one… and when anchored, helps us to make our decisions from a soul level. Wild dreams at night can be a sign of shen disturbance with a need for grounding, calming herbs. Often, you can see shen disturbance in the eyes of others — when someone can’t be present and it seems like they’re always “somewhere else.” The best way to nourish your shen is to get back to nature and unplug from technology (and the opinions/energy of others) – plug back into the earth and yourself.
• TCM principle states that “yin deficiency” (think dry skin, perpetual chapped lips, heat in the soles of your feet at night when you stay up too late and burn the candle at both ends) is common in women because every month we lose fluids via menstruation. Think of yin as our juiciness, yang as our fire. We need to spend more time in parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode in order to nourish our “yin” / feminine energy.
• It’s important to know that with ANY autoimmune disease, whether it’s Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (which affects the thyroid), or Lupus (which affects the kidneys), the organ that’s affected is not the root issue that needs to be treated first. Meaning Hashimoto’s is not necessarily a disease of the thyroid, it’s a disease of the immune system. Lupus is not a disease of the kidneys, it’s a disease of the immune system attacking the kidneys. The immune system is what actually needs to be treated, balanced, and regulated. We need to calm that overactive immune response in general (medicinal mushrooms come in here beautifully), and this also means calming the nervous system & HPA axis.
• In Chinese Medicine, the Wei Qi (or Protective Qi) is our immune system. It is our energetic boundary that protects us not only from pathogens, but from taking on others’ energy and emotions too deeply as well (empaths – read up on Wei Qi)!
• Wei Qi is circulated and spread by the Lung Qi / Lung meridian, and it is supported by the energy from the Spleen Qi (aka the digestive system). In autoimmune disease, the Wei Qi is dysregulated and overactive, so the first thing that TCM practitioners treat is the Lung meridian that circulates it.
• In acupuncture, the Lung-9 point is known as “Tai Yuan” or the “Great Abyss,” and it’s one of Dr. Zelina’s favorite points for autoimmunity as it nourishes the protective energy of the Lung. She also likes Lung-7 and Stomach-36 (since the Spleen/Stomach Qi also supports the Wei Qi).
• Emotionally, the Lung meridian is related to grief, sadness, loss, and most importantly — repressed/unexpressed emotions. This is why emotional trauma is linked to autoimmunity, asthma, and so much more. These emotions are a huge piece of the puzzle.
• Dr. Z explains that the way we talk to ourselves also has an impact on our immune system and autoimmune disease. In TCM, this can be thought of as the “lung-mind” (we also have a heart-mind (shen), gut-mind, etc). Our thoughts affect our organ meridians and vice versa.
• The Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire A.C.E. is a resource that confirms the connection between childhood trauma and chronic illness later in life. There are many studies being done which suggest that the higher you score on this test, the more at risk you may be for physical ailments long term. While this is a very validating resource for many, I also want to share a reminder that this correlation is not final – when we do the work to unpack and process our childhood experiences, we can break the cycle.
• Dr. Z shares that soul retrieval, a shamanic medicine ceremony, was one of the most important pieces of her healing puzzle. Native tradition states that there is a part of your soul that gets lost or disconnected when something traumatic happens to you as a child. This can include feeling left out or bullied, or can be more severe (like abuse or neglect). Ancestral trauma can also be encoded in our DNA. She is committed to doing the spiritual work that she can in this lifetime in order to break the cycle for future generations.
• What does it mean to have a will to live and to fight for yourself? Dr. Z says that we all have a way of suffering by choice, whether it’s an addiction, vice, relationship, or habit that we know doesn’t serve us. It’s an escape and a way to escape the self. This self-sabotaging comes in because: somewhere, somehow, it was translated to us that we are not worthy.
• We also spoke about sugar and how to break up with your sweet tooth when we got into a conversation about her father who has been battling lung cancer (his most recent scans are clear!) The first thing she told him was to load up on fermented foods. To get rid of the bugs that make us crave sugar, we have to modulate the microbiome w/ fermented veggies and probiotics.
• Sugar cravings are also related to a Spleen Qi deficiency (remember both the Spleen and Lung Qi play a role in autoimmunity). Sweet cravings are not your enemy; they are a representation of an inner knowing. Sweet food (and the flavor itself according to TCM) is grounding. It’s that nourishing, earth energy that we’re looking for (found in root veggies like sweet potatoes and adaptogenic herbs like astragalus). When our Spleen is extremely deficient, we go for the candy-level-sweets and overdo it, when in reality we should be listening and loading up on the root veggies, squash, adaptogens, and ferments!
More Quick Bites:
• Studies show that our body needs at least three days away from technology in order to start producing higher levels of Natural Killer (NK) cells. Three is the magic number when the immune system sort of ‘comes back online.’ If you can’t go on a camping trip off the grid rn, start by sleeping without your phone in the room.
• In TCM, the Stomach Qi and Spleen Qi are involved in digestion. (Most Americans are suffering from Spleen Qi deficiency because we eat on such an irregular schedule with cold/overly sweet foods).
• Think about a cooking pot – The “Stomach” is the pot itself, and the “Spleen” is the digestive fire that warms the pot up. The Stomach cooks and breaks the food down, sending the pure part of the food to the Spleen to be distributed to the rest of the body. It is crucial to maintain a strong “spleen,” or digestive fire – otherwise our food just sits in the pot, right?
• Sweet foods nourish (or harm in excess) the Stomach and Spleen (remember, not the ACTUAL spleen but TCM’s “Spleen” organ system and meridian). Sweet foods lubricate and nourish the body and intestines. They strengthen the Spleen Qi, nourish the body’s fluids, and relieve inner tension. Excessive “empty” sweet foods weaken the kidneys.
• There are two categories of sweets: empty and full. Empty sweets are simple sugars and have no nutritional value. They cause blood sugar to rise rapidly and then drop, which can lead to fatigue. Full sweets actually consist of complex carbohydrates that have a strengthening and nourishing action. They are the beneficial sweets that build your spleen energy as I said. Examples: honey, dates, shiitake mushroom, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrots, rice, peas, apples, pears, cherries, chestnuts, grapes, lotus seed, etc.
• The “Kidney” or “Kidney Qi” is considered our foundational energy/essence in TCM. Just as the “Spleen Qi” / Spleen meridian does not actually mean the spleen organ itself, the Kidney Qi / meridian does not actually refer to the anatomical kidneys alone. It instead includes the adrenal glands, kidneys, bladder, uterus/reproductive system, water distribution throughout the limbs, and even bone marrow. Kidneys are ruled by water. All about fluid strength and willpower. Our bank of energy. Adaptogens can help but you really have to protect your kidney energy by taking care of yourself and not over-extending.
• Thick hair at birth is an indication of strong ‘kidney’ essence or Qi. If you have decreased kidney function, this can affect hair growth and is associated with the following symptoms: fatigue, poor memory, frequent urination during the night, irregular periods, low libido, impotence and early menopause.
• Ginger tea strengthens both the Kidney and Spleen Qi and is a great addition to your regimen especially if you run cold.
Herbs that Nourish the Shen (and often the kidney/spleen Qi):
Holy Basil – considered a sacred plant in India. As an adaptogen, Holy Basil works to restore balance to the physical by modulating blood sugar and reducing stress hormones like cortisol. As a shen tonic, it works to restore balance to the emotional body and ground the spirit. Great as a tea or tincture!
Mimosa (aka Albizia) – another shen tonic that is especially wonderful for grief. Its flowers and bark are used in Chinese medicine to relieve anxiety and depression. Pairs well with rose and is wonderful in tincture form.
Hawthorn Berry – strengthens the cardiovascular system and helps with “food stagnation” / indigestion in the gut according to TCM. It is a powerful shen tonic that encourages joy and openness. Delicious as a tea with some honey.
Rose – Rose carries the medicine of both softness and strength with its petals and thorns. It reminds us that softness must exist in order to have strength. As a shen tonic, it connects us to the heart. It also protects our boundaries and nurtures the feminine.
Dr. Zelina: http://acuvidaacupuncture.com/about-1
PNI (Psychoneuroimmunology): https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305921.php#1
Chart for acupressure: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324699.php
Lupus: Alternative Therapies That Work: https://www.amazon.com/Lupus-Alternative-Therapies-That-Work/dp/0892818891
Adverse Childhood Experiences and Chronic Illness: https://chronicillnesstraumastudies.com/adverse-childhood-experiences-and-chronic-illness-boyhood/
Gabor Mate: https://drgabormate.com/
My favorite book that explains western herbal energetics in the lens of TCM: https://amzn.to/38hSvfo
Generation zapped: https://generationzapped.com/
Mane Magic: https://www.organicolivia.com/product/mane-magic/
Dr. Z’s Meditation Circles: http://acuvidaacupuncture.com/events-1
Next week we’re tackling mental and emotional health even further by exploring codependency with therapist and relationship specialist, Tana!