Recently Huffington Post included Sara Calabro’s acupuncturists’ tips.
It’s all very sound advice. Some of it you’d hear from your western medical doctor, personal trainer, mother, spiritual or religious adviser, therapist or a combination thereof.
But why would an acupuncturist tell you to be in bed by 11 specifically? What is the acupuncturist’s take on belly breathing? Or conscious eating? The advice to change up our pets’ food should be applied to us as well, why? What is the Chinese medical explanation for why exercise is good for us?
Hopefully, you will find below the short answers to the Chinese medical perspective on these tips. It is not exhaustive and if you ask another acupuncturist they may say “yes….and….” or “yes…..but….” or they might just sagely nod.
Breathing deeply into your belly:
Just like the network of acupuncture meridians that run through out the body, the dan tian is not a physical structure. It is an energetic locus (my words) or the “sea of qi.” It is said to be at the same location as the uterus in women and the space in front of the kidneys in men. When someone practices qigong or tai chi, they are actively trying to build and fortify qi at that location. When you breathe deeply, you are pulling qi in from the environment around you and you are integrating that qi into your dan tian. The result of breathing deeply is increase qi and therefore life force.
Aside from the more familiar benefits of exercise, acupuncturists say that exercise has the added benefit of moving “stagnant liver qi.” When we are stressed out from dealing with the pressures and frustrations of everyday life such as work, kids, finances, traffic, relationship issues, dietary/beverage indiscretions our liver qi gets stagnant. Symptoms may include—but are not limited to–headaches, irritability, depression, anger, menstrual difficulties, and PMS. So if you swim, walk, run, surf, ride your bike or whatever moves your body to a moderate degree, you push that qi out of the congested liver—it’s mental, emotional, and physical therapy.
Getting to bed by eleven pm.
Most people are familiar with the biological clock, the internal clock, and biorhythms. The Chinese medical system has a clock too. We look to this Chinese clock to tell us when our organs are at their energetic high and low points. Here comes the liver again: you want to be in bed by eleven so your liver can be at rest when its time rolls around. Have you gathered that the liver is an important organ? I hope to discuss this at greater length in a future blog.
Another way to gum up your system is to eat mindlessly. It is advised not to watch TV, read, or have arguments over a meal. These activities do two things.
The first is to excite or upset you. Most people have experienced a stomach upset when they have heard disturbing news or sat through a meal when people are having a heated political argument or discussion. This makes it harder for the digestive organs to efficiently break down the food as we may swallow without completely chewing, we may hurry through the meal, and/or we may eat too much or too little. When you are upset or overly excited while you are eating it’s like trying to ride you bike uphill on a gear that is too high.
The second is if you are not paying attention to eating because you are distracted by an engrossing book or TV program you may eat in a manner similar as described above…again creating difficulties for optimal digestion. Additionally, we are not satiated. If you take out the half of leftover birthday cake, a fork, and pull out a magazine or sit down in front of your favorite show, you are looking to treat yourself. The next thing you may notice is that the cake is gone, or at least you are surprised how much of the cake is gone. Disturbingly, you don’t remember tasting the cake or truly enjoying each bite. You might notice the feeling of guilt more than pleasure of eating cake. So, what to do? Use the old standby advice: cut a regular slice of cake, sit down and enjoy it, savor and relish each and every bite. Practice mindfulness as you eat the cake without distracting yourself with the TV or book. You will be satiated and you will experience more pleasure than guilt.
Further advice: it’s best not to eat alone. I know this isn’t always practical in our busy rushed world. Ideally, eating should be a social occasion (without the banter). Eating bites of your meals between bits of conversation slows you down. You hopefully can enjoy the company and conversation as well as the food. Food–hopefully–will not be the sole focus of the meal for nourishing your body. Which brings me to:
Variety and Moderation
Ideally we’d eat perfectly. But what is perfect? Dietary advice seems to constantly shift: vegan, paleo, Mediterranean, vegetarian, no carbohydrates, low fat, no red meat. This is annoying at the least, possibly dangerous, and certainly hard to keep up with.
I inevitably smile and think of Woody Allen’s Sleeper. Check out this Youtube clip
So what is the best basic timeless approach to ensure good health?
The Chinese are known for the variety of foods in their diet. There is wisdom in this. If you eat the same foods everyday you are absorbing the same nutrients and blocking the same nutrients each day. If we truly could eat a variety of different foods in different combinations we are exposing our bodies to all the nutrients that our bodies need.
Moderation is another guideline that the Chinese (ideally) apply to their diet. Moderation in all foods. Again, it would be ideal to get rid of all refined sugars, but is it realistic for you? If not, denial might lead to a backlash: a binge. It might be more detrimental to ban a substance inflaming the rebel in you. So, permit yourself that cookie but not the whole package of cookies. Again, it may be easier said than done.
In short, we are all works in progress. Healthy choices can be difficult, overwhelming, frustrating, boring, unsatisfying, and the advice can shift beneath you. So, be kind to yourself as well as others. This is the most important tip of all.