Yang Sheng — Nourishing Life
My relationship with Chinese Medicine began in Taiwan. Having finished university, wandered around a bit, and still unsure what I really wanted to do with my life, I decided to have an immersive living and working experience teaching English for a year, which ended up being five years. Taiwan is a remarkable storehouse of traditional Chinese culture, knowledge, and wisdom; as Chang Kai Shek retreated from the Communist army he was losing a war to, he took with him many of the most important relics. The National Palace Museum in Taipei has an enormous collection of priceless national treasures of China. This may have turned out to be a blessing, as the cultural revolution embarked on the destruction of much of the traditional culture in China. But it wasn’t just objects that found refuge in Taiwan. Martial arts masters, Qi Gong masters, and Chinese Medicine thrived there.
Working as an English teacher, I was automatically subscribed to national health insurance, which includes greatly subsidised Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is great for treating all the things that the Western Medical system is terrible at: depression, “not sick but not well”, non-urgent but persistent ailments all can find effective treatments within TCM. It is a holistic system of medicine where everything in one’s life is relevant to one’s health. In Taiwan I got useful treatment for things like tension headaches and allergies, which the doctors would look for root causes of in imbalances in my overall physical condition. On any given visit I might be prescribed acupuncture, herbal medicine in little sachets to take twice a day, or “tui na”, an at times excruciating but always highly effective form of medical massage. If you feel like your energy or your body is “stuck”, then TCM can be of great help to get things moving again.
But being a system highly influenced by confucianism the doctor was always really the boss in that relationship, and there wasn’t usually much dialogue between the patient and the doctor, just an analysis which would usually include examining the tongue, a special pulse checking method that feels for more than beats per minute, and lifestyle questions, after which the prescription would be given. It’s been great to find a skilful TCM practitioner in New Zealand and the interaction has been quite different. I regularly see Mary at The Health Clinic, she’s a wonderful practictioner who used to lead a university department of Chinese Medicine but is now practicing at The Health Clinic. I sought her out when my digestion had basically ground to a halt a few months ago, and that has been the start of another chapter of a well being learning journey. I’m primarily taking Si Jun Zi Tang which is a combination of herbs designed to strengthen the digestive system, which so much of my health depends on. It’s costly, but extremely beneficial, and the great thing is how the consultations are 45 minutes, so Mary doesn’t rush, she takes in the whole context of how my life is affecting my health, things like my sleep, my food, my work, things going on with the family, exercise, and so on. And if I ask curious questions about her diagnosis and how the herbs work she’s generous in helping me to learn and understand more. It isn’t a mental health consultation or a physical health consultation because this false dichotomy doesn’t exist; one of the key ideas of TCM is that everything is connected to everything else, so therefore everything is connected to one’s health.
Recently, this got me thinking: if all the elements of life affect health, then does TCM have something to say about how to configure and design one’s life, lifestyle, and habits so as to best support good health? I asked Mary about this, and the first thing that she said was “Yang Sheng”, which translates as “Nourishing Life”. I found a good book on the topic: “Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-Healing” by Katie Brindle. The book contains an almost bewildering array of Qi Gong movements, ways to eat meals, notes on how to live with each season (since one’s personal qi and well-being is intimately connected to the environment and weather), acupressure points and energy channels in the body relating to different organs and emotions they are connected to, and so on. It’s much too much to take in, in one reading, so I settled for letting it all wash over me, and then I’m starting to apply bits and pieces as they occur to me during each day, creating a gradual organic change.
But probably even more helpful than the myriad of specific practical suggestions is the overall, big picture mindset shift that’s implied: everything we do, everything in our life, is our health. Or rather, if we adopt a Qi view of the universe (and Einstein said “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way”) then everything is qi, everything has qi, and the qi in everything flows into the qi in us, influencing us. That being the case, everything we do, all day and night long, influences our well being for better or for worse. A messy house feels like stuck qi. Too much time sitting in front of the computer stagnates qi in our shoulders and neck. Arguing with family members too often creates excessive tension in our body. Swimming and being in a spa pool moves qi beautifully. Motion is lotion (so my physiotherapist taught me the other day). When we have been outputting lots of active work (strong yang energy) we may need to sit down, lie down, or meditate, really sinking into the outbreath and activating our parasympathetic nervous system. And since everything and everyone is connected, it doesn’t have to be an individualistic, “self-care” exercise either. How we lean on others and allow them to lean on us matters.
I recently sustained a concussion, which has led to me taking a couple of months off work. I didn’t understand how deep and significant the physiological impacts of a concussion could be. It affected me at a metabolic level. My system got stuck in a heightened “flight or fight” state, leading to emotional hypersensitivity and acute anxiety. What’s worse, I wasn’t aware of the support available from ACC so tried to soldier on and keep working. But a good friend who’d been through a concussion experience gave me the skinny on how to recover. It’s been a massive well being challenge, which has lead to a lot of reflection, learning, and experimenting to figure out a way through. Beginning to apply Yang Sheng to my life as a result seems like it will make me a happier, healthier, and morew adaptive and effective person than before the concussion. Yin begets Yang and Yang begets Yin.
What do you sense needs to happen with your qi today?