A Fertile Interview with Acupuncturist Kathleen Funk
I met up with Kathleen of Acufunkture at Define Living Houston where she teaches Qi Gong every Thursday. 'Qi Gong (prounouced “Chee-Gong”) is an ancient Chinese system of energy cultivation. It can be described as a moving meditation that syncs breath with continuous, flowing movements. "
This was my second time visiting the class that leaves me feeling both relaxed and buzzing. Kathleen's classes are always warm and inviting, this time there were eight women in the class, and we each shared our intentions for our practice and then moved beautifully into Wuji posture.
After class I sat down with Kathleen, who is also my acupuncturist to sip tea, and discuss her views on fertility and women's health.
B: What called you to being an acupuncturist?
My formal training and degrees are in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but my roots and lineage are in Traditional Filipino Healing and Curanderismo. For most of my practice, I approach traditional ailments with TCM, but for the things beyond medicine, I go to my roots.
My great grandmother was a Spanish noblewoman and Curandera. She was a devout Catholic who worked with what can best be described as a blend of indigenous Filipino Healing, Curanderismo and Oriental Medicine. Elders have told me stories about her abilities and how everyone from fishermen to priests, and even the president of the Philippines at the time sought her advice and healing.
I’ve never met her, but in my heart I know her. She is one of the biggest influences in my life. I feel her Spirit guiding me in healing and cultivation.
B: Out of the women you see in your practice, what is the most common issue?
Emotional issues, anxiety and internal frustration. In Chinese Medicine they call it Liver Qi Stagnation, and I see that the most. I think it's because women are incredibly stressed. They work really hard and they know that to establish themselves in this world they have to work even harder then their male colleagues.
And then there's the domestic side, and the guilt that comes with choosing a career life versus domestic life. There's also all the social expectations. You can't show up looking a hot mess. So you have to be everything and look good at the same time, while having your emotions in check. So many women come in and they don't realize how much they put themselves through. Even in our Qi Gong class, there's this internal dialogue that we have to meditate a certain way. Because that's what we're told in every day life. That is what was told to us when we were growing up, and it encourages that very aggressive kind of Yang dialogue. As women we are naturally Yin, and there are other ways to achieve goals than to approach things aggressively yang.
I think it's in the power that women have to be Yin and to naturally attract things to come into their space.
It's something I am learning within myself. Growing up I always felt I had to hustle to make things happen, and I was always trying to reach for the next thing.
But then I realized that many things have come into my life, and beautiful changes have happened when I allowed myself to be still. I allowed things to be drawn to me. The timing is better, it's far more effortless and I am not burned out at the end of the day.
B: So when women come in with Liver Qi stagnation or emotional issues, how do you treat it?
It really depends on each person, and the cool thing about acupuncture is that there could be one disorder and there could be 100 different ways to approach it, and it really just depends on what the person presents that day. While I might say something is Liver Qi Stagnation, sometimes it's sadness in the lungs, or maybe it's heart heat that's causing anxiety. The beauty of acupuncture is finding the root. What is the catalyst in all of that? Where is the root cause so that we can harmonize all of it.
B: What is TCM philosophy on fertility and preconception health?
That's a bit of a tough question but for the most part they believe that a healthy baby requires two healthy and harmonious people to come together, and the conception surrounding that has to have 'Shen' or "Spirit". It's when those two fluids mix together that creates this beautiful miracle. So there is something very sacred about preparation in Chinese Medicine, and there's a huge focus on women's health specifically because what you bring to the table when you conceive, you give to your children. So depending on your essential "Jing", how much Jing you have is what you give to your child. So if you're deficient in that and you give that to your child, they're congenitally deficient.
B: How would TCM approach something like Endometriosis or PCOS?
PCOS and Endometriosis both have similar pathologies in stagnation. The way to describe it is a river, and your Qi is your river and if it's deficient your'e not moving nutrients, so your river is sluggish. And when the water is stagnant then things start to grow.
With endometriosis there is blood stagnation. Blood is really big in TCM for women's fertility. You want to make sure it's nourished, not only is it nourished but it has to be moving correctly. There is typically a coldness in the uterus when it comes to endometriosis and the way to treat that is to warm the womb and get the blood moving. With PCOS, there are a number of approaches to it too, but when you think of cyst, you think of dampness and stagnation in Chinese Med. That's why when women are diagnosed with PCOS, typically they're put on a low carb, probably Keto diet which is helping to remove all the dampness from the body. This is why you stay away from sugar. And you also use Metformin which helps with insulin sensitivity. All of this helps to drain the dampness and it's clearing so it is not stagnating in the lower abdomen.
B: Your dissertation was on treating PMS with acupuncture, I found that very interesting. Can you expand on that more and what you found in your research?
I think it's interesting that there isn't as much research on PMS in general, so when I wanted to do PMS it was because a lot of the research and the approaches in traditional Chinese Medicine and women's health were all towards fertility, all towards procreation. But there are a lot of us who are simply not interested in that, but we also want a healthy cycle and we still want to be able to be fertile. Being fertile is essentially and indication of having a fertile life, and being balanced.
So when I went into PMS I first had to do a literature review of Chinese medicine and what has been done on it and yes all of this works, but there are maybe five good studies that are of decent quality. There simply was not enough research out there.
There were a few conditions that the World Health Organization says is treatable with acupuncture. There's pain, depression, low back pain, nausea, these are all common symptoms of PMS. But PMS doesn't have a confirmed status to treat with acupuncture and that just didn't make sense to me.
Empirically speaking we have a lot of people who come through the clinic, and we know it treats PMS but it simply doesn't show in the research. I tried looking more into PMS research in general and even in Western medicine there doesn't seem to be much out there. So theres this area of women's health that has been overlooked specifically because of the history surrounding it, like hysteria.
It wasn't until maybe the late 80's that people started to really recognize PMS and even still today, they don't. They say "it's all in your head, it's all in your head" but every month around 85% of women experience it, which is a crazy amount. Women who have to take time off of work, it impacts their relationships, and quality of life. Research has shown hormones are the same between people who don't have PMS and who do, there's no particular hormone that is more than another.
It's each persons sensitivity to these hormones essentially. There are a lot more severe options to treat PMS aside from hormones, and it's anovulation. You're basically stopping your ovulation so that you don't have the luteal phase. From a Chinese Medical prospective that leads to disharmony because you want to be able to be fertile even if you don't want to procreate.
I felt very strongly about getting into a space and understanding this in a creative way. Rather than focusing on the research of PMS. I focused on the research on acupuncture for depression, acupuncture for low back pain, and so on so that I could bring it all together and say - hey, if it works for all of these that are W.O.H. approved and their have been studies that say that it works, so it should work for PMS also.
An interesting thing that I found was that PMS is treated very effectively by SSRI's, and SSRI'S are basically what's given for depression. It isn't legal to do this in a lot of countries, specifically because when you give SSRI'S you see a lot of sexual deficiencies or low libido. It throws off your hormones. It doesn't make you feel good. So is this really the only way to treat it?
And there's another study that I link that to with acupuncture having SSRI like effects so its equal to or better than SSRIs at treating depression. So I link those studies together because if acupuncture has an SSRI like effect on depression then it should also have an SSRI like effect for PMS. And it should be just as effective for PMS. So basically acupuncture could be an amazing resource for women because they wouldn't have to take all these crazy hormones and they don't have to take medication. They can approach this monthly and cyclicly without being so invasive.
I think a lot of people see PMS negatively, because they feel so many emotions are out of whack and there's of course that negative history of hysteria that was attached to it. But women's cycle allow for flow. So when the luteal phase comes around what I have found is that the Shen or spirit comes to the surface. In order for blood to flow correctly in Chinese Medicine you have to be able to resolve the stagnation internally. So I believe that the function of all those crazy emotion at that time is to allow it all to flow down to the surface so that the body can become aware of it, and ideally process it so that you can move into the next phase of menstruation.
I think it would really help if we approached it differently and we saw it as an opportunity for us to get in touch with those emotions we typically don't deal with during the rest of the cycle.
B: Do you have any advice for women who want to prepare their body for pregnancy?
Oh yes! Start with your diet. And just take care of yourself. If you're trying to get pregnant the best thing to do is to just really get in touch with your body. I think that is a beautiful thing to do for yourself and for your baby. I have met a lot of women who feel very alienated from their body when they're going through pregnancy and they sometimes regret not getting more in touch with themselves. So I think it's a really beautiful process to be able to get in touch with the processes of one self. That's what I think of when I think of fertility, I really want to feel what's going on. I want to be present for all of it. I want to be less concerned about hormone levels or testing. Because then I think you're almost missing the point of the process. So tap back into your body, do things that bring you back into yourself make you feel centered.
B: Like Qi Gong?
Yes! Exactly. Emotional processing for women is really more effective when its physical. We can think circles around stuff all the time. But sometimes you really have to physically move it out and I think Qi Gong is perfect for that.
I think self care should be at 100% when you're trying to conceive because sometimes that's what's missing. You can take all the supplements, and shots, take all the classes, but if you're not taking the time for yourself. You have to create time for yourself. You have to create space.
KATHLEEN FUNK, L.AC.
Founder of Acufunkture & Licensed Acupuncturist
Kathleen Funk received her BA at Baylor University where she studied Philosophy and Medicine and went on to receive her Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine from the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (Houston, TX). Kathleen completed her residency in China at Zhejiang Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine located in Hangzhou and the Affiliated Integrative Hospital of Luzhou Medical School located in the Sichuan Province. She is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine and is licensed in Acupuncture by the Texas Medical Board