"This porridge is too hot! This porridge is too cold. But this porridge is just right." Goldilocks tried them all to find the right one. We hear so much advise about diet, about exercise about everything. It can be hard to know how to find what is just right for us.
Chinese medicine holds an individualized concept of health which means the answer is unique to each of us! This makes a lot of sense and the medicine provides ways for us to understand that balance. We just need a bit more insight into our own bodies and minds and spirits.
Our mission, should we accept it, is to preserve our unique allotment of life-force energy. How much we each get is a mystery ..... it is in our DNA if you will. Or maybe it is our Soul's journey if you adhere to that idea...or God's plan. Whatever the origin, it is a mystery how much we have. Some have a lot and some seem to have less. We see social media stories of those 90 year olds who can do Yoga headstands, drink their Bourbon every day, and enjoy their daily cigarette. Then, there are the rest of us mortals trying to eat our vegetables, teetotaling, and going to bed early and still dying young.
So what are we to do?
According to Chinese medical theory, the best we can do is preserve what the Universe gave us by healthful and moderate living. Those 90 year olds might have been able to live to 100 if they had a few less smokes! Too much OR too little, mental, physical and sexual taxation are considered to deplete this essential life resources. Life is a balance not an absolute dictate!
Classically, the Chinese spoke about Five typical Taxations including
Excessive use of the eyes: AKA reading too much and now days...digital devices
Excessive lying down or hunching over (like over your computer :)
Excessive overwork (including exercise, sexual activity.
Do any of these sound like you?
How Can We Preserve our Life Force Energy?
Basically, whatever you do a LOT, you need to be aware of and counteract. So here is the list again with how you might find what you need to do for balance:
1) Excessive use of the eyes injures the Liver and subsequenty the Heart: Do you spend a lot of time looking at computer screens, digital devices, your Smart Phone, NetFlix? Maybe? Our eyes were designed for scanning the horizon and finding berries, not for identifying small black squiggles on either a printed page or digital display! In another metaphorical sense----how much time do you spend "looking" with desire at things you want, people you want, relationships you want? Both kinds of looking impact the Blood according to Chinese medicine which also houses our spirit or Shen. Western research validates the problem with looking at digital displays and how that negatively impacts our sleep.
The Remedy: throughout the day take a visual breaks. Close your eyes for a count of 5 breaths for a brief contemplative meditation. Open your eyes and softly gaze the horizon outside. Try closing your eyes a moment right now as you are reading this. Amazing right?
2) Excessive lying down or hunching over injures Qi (the Lungs): AKA... Lack of exercise is as damaging as too much and we likely suffer this when we sit at our desks all day, or playing video games into the wee hours, or by watching NetFlix, or sleeping all day. In this case, the issue is that our lungs do not get strengthened.
The Remedy: here the prescription of course is to move more. Do some Qi Gong or get outside for a walk, a swim, a run---- get in some deep breath to in oxygen to power and feed your body.
3) Excessive sitting injures the muscles (the Spleen): This sort of dovetails with #2 and so you can see how we can become weakened in several ways by not moving enough. In Chinese physiology, the Spleen is also associated with worry and so if weakened, our minds can go in circles. Sitting all day weakens our muscles and then we can't move as much and get into a vicious cycle. Sitting --> lassitude and fatigue --> difficulty digesting --> gaining weight --> chronic disease including diabetes.
The Remedy: get up every hour at work and do a walking circuit, or walk down a flight of stairs to use the restroom, or gather some colleagues for 7 minutes of Qi Gong. Walk outside for a moment and breath in some fresh air (20 minutes of nature can reduce stress and hormones). Get up and go say hi to someone and you'll get a dose of seratonin which is also a de-stress hormone.
4) Excessive standing injures the bones (the Kidneys): Are you on your feet a lot during the day? Some of us are in occupations requiring a lot of standing. Nurses, doctors, flight attendants, car mechanics, Baristas, acupuncturists :). Such long activity is fatiguing and in Chinese Medicine is considered to impact our Kidney function.
The Remedy: sit whenever possible and put your feet up, even if only for 10 seconds as often as you can during your shift. I'm not kidding....try it and you will be amazed. If you can lie down for 2 minutes even better. this will preserve your energy, soothe the adrenals from firing pushing out cortisol stress hormones and bring relaxing breath into your body. But another thing is this----if you have been on your feet all day, it is injurious from a Chinese medical perspective to then come home after work and launch into a foot-bearing activity. instead, on such foot-heavy days, consider doing a non-weight bearing form of aerobic activity such as bicycling or swimming. I don't know about you, but after being on my feet all day, the last thing I want to do is a walk or run or even standing Qi Gong. Did you know you can do all the Qi Gong exercises sitting too?
Excessive exercise or overwork injures the sinews (the Liver and Kidney): Some folks in our very Yang and young culture are at risk of over-exercise and overwork which taxes both the liver and kidney from a Chinese perspective. We tend to overwork, over play, and generally over do! The "right" amount of exercise is tricky and depends on your age and prior training. But excess can deplete our overall foundation of life force energy available to us. Doing a Marathon a couple of times a year might be ok but every month might be too much. A half hour run may exercise your heart and feel invigorating.
Remedy for over-exercise and over-do: The question to ask yourself is whether you feel invigorated or depleted after whatever you did, and how long does it take you to replenish? Note...this changes as we age. A young, healthy and vibrant individual has much more to work with....and yet too much even at this age might be depleting. The remedy is It is to do less or do differently. HOW? We are so enculturated to do more, that doing less or doing differently is a major mind trick! Pay attention to your body-mind-and spirit. Are you energized or draggy? You can tell if you are over doing exercise by whether your sinews are juicy and resilient and you feel great. If you are dragged out for 3 days, you'll want to ensure you aren't working on fumes with little resource to fund your level of exercise. If you have to pee 3-4 times a night you may be over doing it. Are you getting injured a lot or recovering slowly? Are you tired a lot? Your acupuncturist, can help you assess and work with you to understand some of the indications from a Chinese medical view by listening to your pulses and seeing how your organ systems are playing together. For more guidance on our cultural value for doing , see "The Daze of Doing."
Remember, nothing is set in stone ..... it is a matter of finding the balance for YOU. I did two years of 200, 300 and 400K bike rides and ended up with osteoporosis. I was 50 years old when I started and post-menopausal and this may not have been the best activity at this time. My husband seems to be doing just fine. It all depends on what you've got in the tank to start with and how you manage it. For me, a 5 mile vigorous little bike ride or a hike is just right.
Wishing you ease, health and balance. And as it is is SPRING and asparagus are in season, here is an asparagus soup recipe for you to try :)
Acupuncturist at Mend Acupuncture