As an acupuncturist, my job is to tailor the Chinese healing traditions of thousands of years to fit the health concerns and lifestyle of modern Americans. I work with a medicine that was originally developed to treat things like infections, malaria, and fevers that could easily kill the patient if things didn’t go well. In contrast, today American acupuncturists treat a number of symptoms and illnesses related to our lifestyle choices. Using ancient medical traditions to treat modern illnesses can be a challenge, but within the paradigm of Chinese medicine, there are some very clear health effects of our fast-paced lives.
If you’re reading this post, chances are that you’re doing lots of things to benefit your health. However, here are a few of the patterns I regularly see in my patients that are the result of lifestyle choices:
Lack of Exercise. When you move your body, you are also moving your energy and creating flow. Most people who can find the motivation to get moving will tell you that they feel much better after having done so. That’s because they’ve gotten their heart rate up, they’re breathing a little faster and deeper, the feel-good chemicals in their brains are moving, and the blood in their muscles has circulated a little better. In contrast, the couch potato lifestyle lends itself to stagnation–lack of flow, aches and pains, and um…weight gain.
Eating Trans-Fats, Sugar, and Processed Foods. A typical American supermarket diet is loaded with sugar, food additives, and trans-fats, and it lends itself to metabolic changes and weight gain. In Chinese medicine, excess weight is considered a build-up of dampness, which is essentially your body’s inability to metabolize water effectively. Dampness is a little like wearing wet clothing; it feels heavy, is hard to get rid of, and can be the cause of other health problems. And basically, the more you eat this junk, the heavier you get (that’s right, fat is damp tissue!), and the more damp you become.
Working Too Hard. This one is a no-brainer. Over work depletes your energy. Even if you love your job, working 60, 70, and 80 hours a week just wipes you out. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing manual labor or brain work, too much work zaps your energy.
Lack of Adequate Sleep. Like overworking, not getting enough sleep can also deplete you. In addition, your body heals and rejuvenates while you’re sleeping, so not getting enough shut-eye may lower your immunity or slow down the healing process. So turn off the TV, go to bed, and aim for seven or eight hours.
Stress. The effects of unrelenting stress are far-reaching. Besides feeling bad, in Chinese medicine, a common consequence of stress is poor digestion. This is one of the most common patterns I see in my acupuncture patients, and it can cause things like heartburn, stomach aches, gas, bloating, and loose stools. Your ability to digest foods well and turn them into nutrients and energy is impaired when you’re ringing the stress bell. In some cases, that same stress can create a sensation of heat in your body, which may feel like hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, or inflammation. You learned in sixth grade science class that heat moves upward, and when it does in your body, it can cause high blood pressure, migraines, or dizziness.
These are just a few of the common patterns of a typical American lifestyle. What would the ancient Chinese say about how we live? Perhaps they would tell us to eat real foods, get a little exercise, balance our work and rest cycles, slow down, and get some sleep. Simple.