Balance Your Yin & Yang: Preventive Medicine Techniques for Restoring the Smooth Flow of ChiKate Kent, R.TCMP, R.Ac. May 1, 2007
It would be wonderful if we were each born with a set of instructions on how to look after our bodies. But we’re not, and usually illness has to strike before we become aware that we are on the wrong track. Then it’s a matter of sorting out the jungle of information available to find some treatment that suits our own individual needs.
The human body is endowed with the ability to resist invasion of various kinds of disease and to keep a relative balance in the interior of the body, as well as between the human body and its environmental conditions. Even when we overtax this ability, before getting sick our bodies send us endless warning signals which, if acted upon, can restore the balance before serious illness sets in.
ANCIENT CHINESE APPROACH
In Chinese Medicine, which utilizes the ancient therapy of acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies, well being is monitored by the balance of a vital force or energy called qi (chee) which circulates through the body via channels or meridians. The circulation of blood depends on this free flow of qi, and when the flow is impeded in any way the resulting stagnation causes an imbalance of energy which leads to illness.
This energy is polarized into a positive phase (yang) and a negative one (yin). Yang represents activity, the male, heat, day, summer, and lightness. Yin represents the opposite; rest, the female, cold, night, winter, and darkness.
Insomnia, irritability, night sweats, palpitations, red or itchy eyes, dry skin, constipation, and yellow tongue coating all indicate an excess of yang (heat) in the body. A feeling of extreme well-being can also mean excess yang and that’s why it’s important to know your body – to know the difference between feeling good and topping the scale.
If you’re tired and have cold hands and feet, loose stool, and a white coating on your tongue, your imbalance would be a deficiency of yang and therefore an excess of yin (cold) in the body. In this case a herbal concoction containing warming herbs, or simply adding cinnamon, ginger, cloves, or fennel to your cooking will help dispel the cold.
COLDS AND COLD SORES
The cold sore virus (herpes simplex), an unsightly, highly contagious disease, hibernates in the body. Sores will errupt when there’s a combination of too much heat and low immunity. It can, in most cases, be prevented if warning signs are heeded.
Many people complain of cold sores breaking out on holidays, which they find confusing because they’re relaxing. Here’s a scenario for a cold sore sufferer.
It’s winter and you’ve been working flat out at your job, accumulating lots of stress, so you decide to take a holiday. Off you go to the Bahamas, taking all this stress with you, intending to leave it on the beach. The moment you “let go”, you catch a cold (how many people have you heard complain they always get sick on holidays!). But this is your holiday, so you sit out in the sun or go sailing, get out the rum and go for that gorgeous spicy food, a specialty of the island.
Meantime, the stress you’ve been under has silently been depleting the body of energy, so your immune system is already a little weakened, hence the cold. This creates internal heat, a perfect climate for that emergence of a cold sore. Add the heat of the sun, stronger when reflected off water, and the spicy food and alcohol, and you’ve got a beautiful example of excess yang.
Here’s the same scenario only minus the cold and sores. You counteract your stressful job with a diet of fresh fish and vegetables. You also include sea vegetables such as dried dulse, nori and kelp, plus whole grains, beans and fruit because food, above all, is the constant cure and forms the foundation of Chinese preventive medicine. If proper dietary habits are cultivated, even when disease strikes its effects are far less debilitating and the recovery is quicker.
In addition, you meditate daily, and do some form of exercise with deep breathing.
Furthermore, when you do go on holidays, recognize that you are probably tired, making you more prone to colds and cold sores. Visit your Chinese medicine practitioner and get some Chinese herb cold remedies to take with you.
It’s also very wise avoid the invigorating, heat-producing spicy and fried foods, fatty meats, eggs, or ingredients soaked in wine, and choose instead “cold” foods such as vegetables, crab and fish, fresh oranges or limes, watermelon (the coolest of all) or papaya.
Wear a hat in the sun and use good protection on your face.
In this scenario there is no need for a cold or cold sore to develop during your holidays, and you can still enjoy all that the island has to offer.
In Chinese Medicine theory there are exogenous factors to watch for in order to prevent an imbalance of energy:
1) Wind (sitting in a draft or exposure to wind after sweating).
2) Cold (too little clothing, getting cold after sweating and being caught in the wind and rain).
3) Summer heat (sitting in the sun for too long or sitting in a hot room with poor ventilation).
4) Damp, a cause of much joint pain (living in a damp place, sitting on the wet ground, sitting in wet clothes).
5) Dryness (excess of air conditioning, sitting too long by a roaring fire).
Factors such as stress, anger, grief, and depression have a powerful effect on the body’s immune system. In his book Love, Medicine and Miracles, Bernie Siegel points out that “within one day any uncontrollable stress lowers the efficiency of the body’s disease-fighting killer cells.” He also cites studies demonstrating that when people meditate regularly their physiological age is much lower than their chronological age.
A good way to control stress and emotions is with deep breathing. Qi is the body’s great energizer and is involved in every vital function. It constitutes the best form of preventive medicine.
A simple and very effective method of deep breathing is as follows: lie flat on the floor and feel the weight of your body and the sensation of various parts in contact with the hard surface. Make sure you have a warm blanket under you and a pillow under your knees. Be aware of your natural breathing, the easy expansion and contraction of your rib cage, and try to isolate yourself from the noise around you so you are enveloped by a shell of peace. Slowly, start your deep breathing by imagining the qi (energy) being sucked in through your feet (like the air in a vacuum cleaner) and up through your legs into your abdomen. Really expand this part. Slowly take the qi up into the chest areas, trying not to use the shoulders, visualize it filling the head. Hold it for the count of five and slowly release it. Imagine breathing in energy and breathing out tension.
If you’re finding it difficult to “see” the energy, then try visualizing a colour. This is like an oil change, only it’s a qi change. Do this ten times in the morning and ten times at night and you’ll feel a world of difference.
In ancient China doctors were expected to keep families healthy and were held personally accountable when their preventive medicine failed. A daunting task indeed, but perhaps one we can each emulate with a little time and trouble.
Kate Kent practices Traditional Chinese Medicine and Experiential Dynamic counselling. She has been in private practice in Toronto since 1985. For an appointment, please call 416-466-5849, or visit her website: www.katekenttcm.com See more of Kate's articles in Vitality magazine at: http://tinyurl.com/hw2ocfn