Living in Balance: A Chinese Medicine Primer

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Balance is Key
Chinese Medicine is based on the principle of living in harmony with the world around you. Adjusting your life so it is in balance with your health, the outside world, and your values will lead to a happier, more satisfying life.

  • The basic principle of Chinese Medicine is balance.  You should not be too hot or too cold, but “just right.”  You should not be restless and jumpy, or exhausted, but calmly energetic.  You should balance activity and rest so your muscles are exercised but you are not exhausted.
  • Living in harmony with your personal constitution can also enhance your well-being.  If you have a chronic illness, catch cold easily, or tire easily, you need to be more careful of your health.  Build more rest into your schedule and minimize stress.
  • Decide to live life according to your beliefs.  Few things are more stressful than ignoring your dreams every day. Decide what you want your life to be about, and focus on building that future for yourself.

Living Harmoniously with the Weather
It sounds like common sense, but it can really help your health and comfort.  Here are some tips, along with some of the problems associated with different kinds of seasonal changes.

  • Temperature: If it’s hot, wear lightweight comfortable clothes, and if it’s cold wear warmer clothes.  Try to stay dry in wet weather, and avoid extremely hot or cold temperatures.   
  • Wear a scarf on windy days:  wind is associated with increased headaches and other pains in Chinese Medicine, as well as with catching cold more easily.
  • A hot environment (whether an overheated room or a hot summer day) aggravates anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.  Those with acid reflux or migraines may find them worse in hot temperatures as well.  
  • Cold tends to increase stiffness, pain and digestive problems.
  • Damp weather aggravates lethargy, edema, allergies, and foggy thinking.

Eating for Health AND Enjoyment
Chinese Medicine strongly emphasizes proper food choices to maintain health.  

  • Have all food or drink room temperature or warmer.  Your stomach acts like a soup pot.  It should constantly and slowly “cook” food so all your body systems can “come and eat” and use that energy to live your life.  Eating cold food forces your body to use more energy to digest food, and often digestion is incomplete, leading to excess mucus, stomach or abdominal pain, and bloating. 
  • Eat in peaceful surroundings. Scientists now know that stressful situations cause your body to make hormones that affect your digestion.  While managing stress throughout your day is important, try especially to have peaceful meals and peaceful rest.
  • Eat according to your situation.  If you are in frail health, you should eat very well cooked, easy to digest foods.  If you feel cold, emphasize warming foods, such as cinnamon or ginger, as part of an overall balanced diet.  If you are hot, emphasize cooling foods (that are served room temperature or warmer) such as green tea, mint, and green leafy vegetables. 
  • Eat food that is as unprocessed as possible.  Try to avoid artificial ingredients, such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavorings.  Opt instead for natural sweeteners (if you cannot have sugar you can use stevia or agave nectar ), and foods that are freshly prepared.  Emphasizing vegetables, simply cooked meat, and water or fresh-brewed tea over processed chips, soda, and frozen meals helps you digest your food more easily.

How an Acupuncturist can Help
As you can see, Chinese Medicine focuses on living in harmony with the environment.  But if you have a chronic illness, you may be “out of balance” in several areas.  An acupuncturist trained in Chinese Medicine can help you improve your health using gentle techniques such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas.  

Acupuncture is the use of tiny, sterile, disposable needles on points along meridians to improve health.  A regular course of acupuncture visits can help most chronic illnesses, especially those involving depression, anxiety, digestive problems, fatigue, or any illness aggravated by stress–and what illness is not helped by reducing stress?  Chinese herbal medicine can be of great help in this process by gently giving your body the raw materials it needs for health.

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I Want to be Alone

Photo Credit: trubluboy
I am cranky today. I admit it. My husband is trying to be sociable, asking me questions to show he is interested in me and my day. I do not want to answer these questions. I want quiet. I want to read by myself, and write by myself. I want, in short, to be alone.

Christine Lavin wrote a funny song about this desire, and in the end decides being alone eventually becomes being lonely, so she thinks better of it. I will, too. But right now, a world without another person or animal craving my attention, affection, help, or action seems wonderfully attractive.

Why should this be so? The world, it seems, is made of introverts and extroverts. I’ve known this ever since I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile  in college. My results showed me right on the introvert/extrovert line, leaning slightly toward introversion. I usually don’t notice how this affects my personality until I have a lot of time either alone or with others. This week, I’ve had to be “on” a lot in business. Seeing lots of people, many of them new faces, trying to remember all the relevant facts you need in business interactions–names, details, running your words through a filter to be as congenial as possible. 

It left me drained, even though I usually find working with people rewarding and energizing. So this week, I come home, craving the quiet I expect with my also-introverted husband. . .and he’s been alone too much. He wants to talk. He wants to connect. He wants interaction. He tries to be funny. I struggle not to snap at him.

Is there a lesson, or an encouragement, to be pulled from this limited time of tension in the Green household? Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

  • People need what they need. Trying to be happy and cheerful in the face of demanding (or even not-so-demanding) patients and spouses and friends will only have limited rewards. If it’s downtime you need, make some downtime. If you can’t take a day and a book and head to your bedroom, then take 15 minutes in the middle of the day and run away, or go for a walk. Take five minutes and hide in the bathroom, if that’s the best you can do. Take some time to be alone. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Recharge. Repeat as necessary.
  • Realize it could just be you. When I was younger and people got on my nerves, I immediately assumed that the people were irritating, or intentionally pestering me. Now I realize that the attention I want to flee today is the same attention I usually crave. It is not fair to my husband, or the patients who have the right to expect a friendly demeanor, to blame them for my state. Situations like these are exactly the reason that self-care is so important. If you don’t give yourself what you need, you aren’t the only one who is miserable. Anyone within earshot–or in this day and age, within Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail contact–will be affected by your bad mood.
  • No one is perfect, and you can only expect so much. My crankiness reminds me that other people will not always be predictable and friendly, either. Whether illness leaves a friend feeling less than one hundred percent, or a serious stress distracts a server at a restaurant, we live among humans. Cutting each other some slack is part of our job as fellow beings. So smile and give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
Thankfully, Jim has found a book to read, and I am (almost) happily typing away, immersed in my own writing world. Tomorrow I will probably want to grouse about not going out, and not being around people for an outing. For tonight, I will get ready for bed, and curl up and sleep, or sit and stare at the ceiling and think, or find a book and read–any activity that only needs me. Being alone, or being allowed to not interact with the wonderful person who shares my life, will allow me to recharge my body and soul and be ready to embrace the world and my husband again very soon.

How can you tell that it’s time for you to regroup and get centered? Please share in the comments!