I’ve been seeing a lot of stress and tension lately and, as the seasons change and the news cycle swirls, it makes sense that people are feeling a little unsettled. As a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner and health coach, though, I can assure you, dear reader, that there is a lot you can do for yourself if you integrate a few small yet healthy actions into your daily life. What is your best ideal of health and wellbeing? If you can, try to make several of the following points a regular aspect of your self-care practice. If it’s overwhelming, just pick one and see what you can do with it. Small changes lead to big results if you find the right ones for you and stick with them.
~~~Maintain a simple awareness of seasons~~~
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) entails much more than one approach to health and interconnectedness. Five element theory, for instance, constructed a model of the five primary groups in nature. It draws connections between seasons, colors, organs, flavors, and more, and it serves as a basis for a profound understanding of nature and natural law. Spring is the time period associated with the color green, the Liver and Gallbladder organs, the tendons and eyes, sour flavors, anger, and wind. It may seem odd, and yes, this is a complex theory, but if you ponder it…what happens during spring? Things sprout and the color green returns, right? (If you are interested in following up with five elements theory, see here). We all sprout and begin to bloom, after our own fashion, during springtime once the winter season has passed.
So notice how this affects you. You may be irritable or have more headaches. You could find that you have more rashes and other skin conditions that TCM associates with wind. You could also feel happier, more expansive, and distinctly ready to go out and start something new right now. And if you’re attentive to it, you can begin to notice what, in your life, is due to seasonal changes. The good stuff? Keep it and enjoy it! The parts that make your life less pleasant? Well, if it’s skin rash, creaky joints, or crankiness (to name a few), a good TCM practitioner can help you, either with acupuncture, herbs, and/or bodywork. Time spent outdoors can be helpful too, as can a change in your diet.
Tip: Simply noticing and maintaining an awareness of how the changing seasons affect you can help you to plan your self care routine.
~~~Acknowledge impermanence and go with the flow~~~
All cultures and philosophies deal with the notion of impermanence and change. Traditional Chinese medicine doesn’t have a patent on this theme. One such example? A famous discussion of this topic includes (but is in no way limited to) Machiavelli’s treatise on Fortune in his seminal work, Il Principe. (And before I digress too far afield–here is an interesting look at how the Italian’s theory plays out in business, linked, and an even more intriguing resource–a scholarly comparison of the Chinese Dao and the Italian’s thought, titled Fortune and the Dao: A Comparative Study of the Doadejing and the Han Feizi, here). Point being? Everything changes, fluctuates, shifts, reverts, and moves further afield once again. How, given this fact, can you remain steady and on course?
Much is made of TCM’s affinity for balance. As it appears in the popular imaginary, balance is somewhat mystical and not necessarily scientific. My take? Meh. If you’re applying the notion of balance to health, then science would call it homeostasis. We’re not hugging trees and crunching granola over here in TCM. We read the body in our own way and with our own vocabulary. Whatever you call it–balance or homeostasis–it’s simple: not too much of one and not too little, either. Yin and yang, the two poles of balance in TCM, are umbrella concepts that encompass what is truly a valuable way to live a healthy and nourished life. Where do you have too much? Where do you have too little? And are you able to live with the reality that everything changes and nothing stays the same? These are challenging concepts, but letting go here and acquiring (at least for a while) there are skills to practice for the rest of your days. It’s not always easy, which is why philosophers and spiritual guides spent so much ink on the topic, but awareness and practice can make for a much happier and more fulfilling life.
Tip: Either on your own or maybe with a health coach or other source of support, see if you can check in with your feelings about change. Figure out how it affects you. Explore your patterns of response. Decide, then, if anything you’re doing could be–yes, I said it–changed for the better. Choose to nourish your healthier tactics but know that, in order to be healthy, they can and should evolve.
~~~Constitution is a factor & self-acceptance makes a difference~~~
Everyone has a certain body type and a history. There is no one single way to be beautiful and there is no one and only way to be healthy.
I’ve written about body acceptance and weight loss elsewhere (here) but it bears repeating: each and every one of us has a body type and some times, our type is in fashion and other times it is not. (One of my favorite articles that I found on that topic is a short history of how women’s body styles changed in Italy beginning with Sophia Loren up to current times, linked here). Basing your sense of self-worth on your weight, when attitudes towards weight are cultural, gets you nowhere. What matters is whether or not you are healthy and able to do what you want to do at your current size. If you’re not and you can’t, then consider TCM’s ideas about food and nutrition.
There really is a lot that TCM can do for you when it comes to your weight. If you’re heavy because stress has caused you to cling to excess poundage, bodywork can help. Ear seeds are great for hunger pangs (check this article, here, for more on ear seeds) as you readjust the amount you consume. Acupuncture and herbs can be of great benefit. Work with a health coach who can help you to identify your patterns and make a plan to do something about them can work wonders. But what you need is inside you already, never forget, and your health coach or TCM practitioner is there really only to help you to unpeel the onion layers over whatever it is that keeps you where you are now.
Tip: Loving and respecting yourself as you are lightens the load. A TCM practitioner or health coach can help you to achieve a greater level of self confidence as you move forward with your health and wellness journey. No matter what or how, though, it is a truism for a reason that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Get ready, and then open your eyes to all the ways you can feel better about yourself and your capacity for change.
~~~Focus and work hard, but remember to rest too~~~
It is certainly a challenge to turn off and tune out, especially if one keeps one’s phone always at hand. As an extension of the above-discussed mindfulness and self care habits, it does make a difference when you shut off your phone and close your laptop. Certainly, there is satisfaction in working hard and getting the job done. Yes, achieving is a most excellent accomplishment. But so is being able to say “I’m tired and I deserve some rest.”
This goes back to the subject of balance. Not too much and not too little. If you are a perfectionist, or driven, or forced by circumstances (Hello, graduate students! How’s it going, working parents? And what about you over there, driven professional? Had a nap lately?) then achieving balance is harder than it sounds. Chinese medicine can help you here, too. We believe that too much thinking (ruminating) damages the Spleen and frustration and anger constrain the Liver. For this, we prescribe bodywork, maybe herbs, acupuncture, and soothing practices such as qi gong. If you’ve tried yoga and don’t like it, qi gong might be just the thing for you. (See here for a lovely video clip of qi gong practice).
Tip: There is more to life than hard work. Give yourself a break. Your Spleen and your Liver will thank you and, you may find, you have more energy than you thought you did.
~~~Self care and regular treatments~~~
My clients are sometimes surprised when I tell them that I go for acupuncture treatment every two weeks. It’s my self-time and my mini vacation. Whether I’m feeling great or I’m feeling under the weather, I go for acupuncture twice a month, end of discussion. I’ve worked with twelve different personal trainers over the course of my lifetime, two of whom were Olympic athletes (see here for a post on one of them). Several of my trainers were competitive bodybuilders. Instead of working with a health coach, I am my own guinea pig as I acquire more and more certifications. Bottom line? I’m always learning and I definitely make time to take care of myself. However that translates for you, do it. It is extremely important to do something, even if it’s just one treatment a month, for your health maintenance and sanity. It can be fun and frivolous, like a pedicure, if you like, but do something nice for yourself (added bonus if it’s a health nice something).
Tip: Set aside an hour or two per month, minimum, for some dedicated self care. Be a lifelong learner about one of the most important people in your life, if not the most important person: you. Find and use that wisdom well. You are worth it.
~~~In conclusion (at least for the moment)~~~
We all want to live our best lives and at our optimal level of health and wellness. The surrounding culture and the stories we tell ourselves about our lives may get in the way of that. If you haven’t found ways to be at your best via more widely-known modalities, ranging from yoga to meditation to allopathic care, then maybe traditional Chinese medicine can open up new vistas for you. Why not try it and see?
Your health and sense of wellbeing will thank you, don’t you agree?
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
Note: Material on this web site site is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease, illness, or ailment. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Material on this web site does not purport to identify syndrome patterns.