By Wendy Stein, MS, LAc
“To cure disease is like waiting until one is thirsty before digging a well…’” – Li Shizhen
It’s not hard to argue that preventing illness is easier than treating it. Classical Chinese Medicine is rooted in this idea, excelling in wellness and prevention of disease, not just treatment of it after it becomes symptomatic.
Using Chinese Medicine
COMMON, NORMAL, AND WELL-BALANCED
There are plenty of common health issues that we have come to accept as normal. For example, PMS, though common, is not considered normal in Chinese Medicine. It is seen as a treatable imbalance.
Chinese Medicine excels at the practice of tonification–diagnosing and treating weaknesses before symptoms develop. Working in partnership with a well-trained practitioner of Chinese Medicine, a patient can discover what is working well in their systems and what may need to be attended to in order to live one’s life to the fullest.
In addressing the weaknesses, the patient’s constitution becomes better fortified and they will be able to navigate the twists and turns of life with greater resilience and peace of mind—even evading or prolonging the onset of certain illnesses and conditions.
We are born with ‘essence,’ which is likened to our inherited genetic material from our parents that we also pass to our children.
Essence is like a candle; qi, the vital energy that makes processes happen in our body, is like the act of the candle burning; and our spirit is like the flame. Once the flame goes out, our life is over.
~Three Treasures of Classical Chinese Medicine
If someone is fortunate to be born with abundant essence, that person may have a long and healthy life—depending on how it is used. If we choose to live an efficient life, sleep well, exercise, and promote strong digestion, then it is possible to augment how our body uses its essence. Efficient living will supplement our prenatal essence with more postnatal essence, thus making a person more resilient and prolonging life.
If we overtax ourselves with our lifestyle choices, the essence becomes depleted faster, and it doesn’t matter how much essence a person is born with— when it is gone, our life is over.
During an intake with a Chinese Medicine practitioner, a patient is given a thorough and individualised assessment, bearing in mind the mental, emotional and physical state of the patient, seasonal influences, diet, lifestyle, sleep, and more. The practitioner will feel your pulse, look at your tongue, and may even palpate some points on your body.
The result is an individualised treatment plan geared to diagnose and treat a patient’s condition and to look at the road ahead. We can’t evade death forever, yet we can learn how our body ages, and to lessen that impact through lifestyle choices and treatment. Even if you feel great now, our tendencies can be seen and we can learn how to minimise or prolong the threat of disease.
Chinese medicine is sensitive enough to gather diagnostic information, and sophisticated enough to provide targeted remedies in the form of acupuncture, herbs, moxibustion, nutritional counseling, lifestyle recommendations (including exercise), and massage therapy.
WHAT CAN I DO ON MY OWN?
Well-being in body-mind-spirit is like sailing a boat, noticing when veering off course, and gently bringing oneself back on track is the aim. With practice, the boat won’t veer too far, and one’s health will remain balanced and more able to return to states of harmony. Simply follow your practitioner’s instructions, and ask questions when you don’t understand, as these concepts rooted in classical Chinese philosophy may sound foreign.
Using Chinese Medicine
WISDOM OF THE SEASONS
Eating seasonal, well-sourced foods is often a good place to start your journey towards a stronger you. Food can be used as daily medicine. The winter is the time to build up resources in our bodies through eating rich, nourishing soups and stews with warming spices such as cinnamon—bone broth is especially good. It is a time to go inward and to get more rest and regenerate in preparation for the activities of the spring. This is often a missing piece of living in modern western cultures.
The heat of summer begs us to consume lighter fare as we tend to be more active, sweat, and discharge wastes. Our bodies tend to be more vulnerable to climatic changes in the spring and fall, so care should be taken during these seasons to protect against colds and flus, and dramatic changes in the diet should be avoided. Following the seasons can put us in greater harmony and flow with the world around us.
Cultivating The Mind
BECOMING MORE AWARE OF ONESELF
Sometimes our busy lives can deplete our internal resources making it difficult to replenish what is missing—unless we alter our lifestyle. It is akin to trying to fill a sieve. We keep adding tonifying treatments, yet it leaks out faster than we can fill it. Often, that is a result of not having enough “yin time.” Find some time each day to reconnect to the source of who you are through yoga, meditation, or just quietly sitting without phones or media screens.
PARTICIPATING IN COMMUNITY
Whether we are introverts or extroverts, we are still social creatures who create and are created by our social groups. Take a look out at the world and see where you want to direct your energies. Reach out, join up and connect with others. It will benefit your emotional well-being, which will lead to better physical well-being, as was discovered in a study by Cambridge University on the elderly in Italy.
In all, the concept of health is approached in a sophisticated and systematic way in Chinese medicine. There is usually opportunity to strengthen one’s constitution through targeted therapies that will not only prepare a person for a better tomorrow, but also provide for a better today.