Look around. You may have noticed that our lives are faster and more hectic than ever before. The pace of everyday life has accelerated and we want quick results. This is true in our professional lives (how many emails did you have to answer today?), our personal lives (instant status updates on Facebook, anyone?) and even when it comes to our health. While chronic conditions like pain, arthritis, inflammation and even obesity can take years for our body to develop and affect us, we often want to fix them instantly with a pill or even a surgery.
Chinese Medicine is built upon a wholly different approach and philosophy. Your health is a long-term investment, one that you make in yourself and are personally responsible for every day. It is achievable when you invest in it, open yourself up to it and make it a priority in your life. Healing your body and maintaining your health is a result of putting long-term effort into balancing your body, your mind and your energy. Exercise. Healthy eating, relaxation techniques to calm your nerves. It’s all about self-cultivation and pursuing activities that engender your spirit and pique your passions.
So, it all starts with the individual. Simply put, maintaining your health is a matter of self-responsibility.
I’ve recently read some great articles and blog posts that talk about this and how it ties in to some of today’s hot topics – the health care debate, the economics of health care treatments, Americans’ increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I think it’s very telling that more Americans change their car’s oil on a regular basis than go in for regular medical or dental check ups and that it’s become entirely normal for someone to spend 4 hours a night watching TV but to get less than 15 minutes of physical activity a day.
The good news is that if your health has not been optimal, YOU can make changes and empower yourself towards better health. Like many other things, health is achieved by working at it, one day and one small effort at a time. Also like many other things, being healthy (or unhealthy, for that matter) isn’t something that happens instantly – it takes time. For this reason, it’s very important to be patient and to be strongly committed to your goal.
Chinese Medicine approaches the cause of disease more broadly than traditional Western medicine, outlining five root causes:
- Emotional factors
- Dietary factors
- Environmental causes – exposure to excessive coldness, heat, wind, damp, dryness, and environmental toxicities
- Lack of movement, or exercise
- Our inherited genetics
In Chinese medicine, these five factors are seen as the cause of interruptions to the body’s normal physiology. The body will work to quell and block damaging habits and activities, but if it’s trying to do so on a daily basis, it often will compensate – this can result in symptoms like heartburn, chronic constipation or diarrhea. Your body is trying to tell you that it is stressed and working hard to compensate for another illness or problem. Today, many people will take an over-the-counter medication to counter these symptoms, but that is only a temporary fix. Chinese medicine asserts that you should “listen” to what your body is telling you and work to fix the root cause, not just the uncomfortable or undesirable symptom.
To do that, we look for stagnations or obstructions in the flow of humors or vital energy – these obstructions can create blockages and over time will manifest as disease. And it’s not just a physical phenomenon. Emotional issues like stress, if unresolved at the source, can also affect your body and its systems. If dealing with them is pushed to the bottom of your “to do” list, your body will work to compensate in some other way and these type of issues can take a negative toll on your health.
So, what do you do? How should we practice self-responsibility and take ownership of our health?
I am suggesting that we all work to create mindfulness toward better health. Take a moment to see – really see – the everyday factors that could be affecting your health. Factors like stress, anger, frustration or junk foods and a sedentary lifestyle. What is negative in your life and how might it be affecting your health? What can you do to change it?
You can change it.
In fact, even small changes like a 10 minute walk or an apple instead of chips can be hugely beneficial for your body. Also, an overall healthier outlook or attitude can have an impact. You can reach your health goals if you take tiny steps forward…and keep taking them.
All this being said, I do want to be clear that there are health conditions that can strike anyone and are devastating in their anonymity. What it does mean is that there is a whole spectrum of entirely preventable conditions that by staying in tune with your body, treating it with respect and care, YOU can combat. You are your own best champion for health and balance.
And, in the end, don’t you (and your body) deserve that?