In part one of this series, I reflected (as we often do when Mercury goes retrograde) on the memories I had of my last home and how very important it was in my spiritual development. (*If you missed it, click link here http://tinyurl.com/n4gspv7).
Although I talked about the importance of the plants and the people associated with my sanctuary, I didn’t delve into why selling this house was a stressful yet transformative process in my life. For me, my breaking point was pulling up roots that had been planted deep (selling my home & moving). Leaving wasn’t easy, but staying would have been a whole lot harder! Turtle had to go, but – like turtles do – this one unwittingly carried some of her baggage with her. The specific details of my physical, emotional, mental & spiritual challenges are irrelevant at this point. For you, you, AND you, your stressor may be something totally different but equally (or perhaps, more) challenging. Yet suffice to say, know that if you don’t take care of yourself when you are going through significant life events, the changes can bring you to your knees. What does any of this have to do with acupuncture or Chinese medicine? In part 2 of this series, we will explore further how change – whether you resist it or totally cave under its pressure - can result in physical, emotional, mental and spiritual symptoms, and we’ll look at ways in which Chinese Medicine and other forms of complementary therapies may help support you on the journey.
Stressful Effects of Change
Change is inevitable - matter of fact "There is nothing more permanent than change itself” (Heraclitus), so let’s take a look now at some symptoms that may present themselves when the stress of change affects you:
Headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, stomach ulcers, GI distress → decreased immunity → quicker susceptibility to illness & infection. Most of the patients that come to me for acupuncture primarily complain of bodily symptoms that can be traced back to the stress of trying to deal with change.
Insomnia, cloudy thinking, forgetfulness, scattered thoughts, monkey mind, mood swings, impatience, easy to anger, and emotional lability/outbursts are often manifestations of trying to keep up with changes going on around you - changes that overwhelm to the point of not being able to shut off the mind or disengage from the causative factor – if only just for a minute to “reboot” your thought processes.
Despair, depression (note I put depression in the category of “Spirit” versus "Mind" - I will explain later), feelings of hopelessness or abandonment by God… AND man.
Role & Response of the Chinese Organ Systems:
In Chinese Medicine, we speak of various “organs”, but these are more than just the physical structure/organ themselves. The term is used to include the channel/meridian as well as the emotions, senses or element of each system. These organ systems play an important role in Chinese Medicine, & yes, they too are affected by the stress of Change. Here’s a little blurb about a few of the organs from a TCM perspective (it’s waaaaay more complex than this of course).
The Lung system is the Yin (wife) pairing to the Large Intestine (Yang partner), and is responsible for the emotions of grief. It is appropriate to mourn your losses. In our culture, we are told to be brave, be strong, suck it up, be a big girl (be a man!), and it’s frowned upon when we show the emotions of grief. We feel cut off, lifeless, disconnected, empty… I’m here to tell you, a good cry can be very cathartic. Inappropriately or perpetually holding on to grief or sadness serves no purpose other than eventually lodging in your cells and manifesting in dis-ease. In Chinese Medicine we say the Lung is a “delicate organ” that is very susceptible to heat & cold (I won’t even talk about smoking!), and when the Lung channel is stressed, you are more susceptible to coughs, colds & flu, asthma, all kinds of breathing problems, even allergies as examples (the Lung is also known as “the container for Phlegm” :-) Let it go….. Breathe…. Breathe deep from your belly, and on each exhale ….. LET…. IT....GO.
Helpful tip #1:
Massage, tap or squeeze these 2 acupressure points when you feel down/blue/sad:
a) Kidney 27: located just under the clavicle about 1 or 2 fingerbreadths on either side of the middle of your chest (poke around until you find the most tender spot).
b) Lung 3: Stick your thumb in your armpit, place the other 4 fingers of that hand on the upper arm (about 3” down from the armpit) & wherever your pinky lands on that bicep muscle, poke around until you find another tender spot. Massage, tap or squeeze this spot while you take some deep belly breaths (breathe in for a count of 5, lower abdomen expands out; exhale for a count of 5, lower abdomen returns to base). Now I must emphasize the caveat here is to seek professional help if you feel you cannot handle your grief, sadness or depression.
◦ Large Intestine
The LI system is responsible for the process of letting go, literally & figuratively - much like a two-year-old who is in potty training and learns the art of selective control which (if taken to the extreme) can result in constipation as we hold on to what no longer serves us. For example, during my move, many of my Buddha statues, china & glassware broke, and I was sooooo tempted to glue them back together, but I had to remind myself to throw away what was no longer salvageable. It is according to the Law of Impermanence: nothing lasts forever, and very much like the Turtle, we can take our home with us wherever we go, but there are some things we will need to let go of to ease the burden that we carry. On the other hand, to the other extreme is feeling so overwhelmed by the change going on around us that we feel helpless, immobilized and totally out of control that we may have diarrhea-type symptoms.
Helpful tip #2:
Constipation may be due to Heat (for example excess hot, spicy foods; or not enough fluids (“Yin deficient”) so watch your diet & liquid intake. Practice the art of positive affirmations while setting intention to release that which you have no control over. One of my favorite techniques to use when I’m stressing out about things over which I have no control, is EFT. EFT aka “Emotional Freedom Technique” helps to repattern the neural pathways through tapping while repeating affirmations. The technique comes from Gary Craig; Check his website here for further info: www.emofree.com .
The Heart in Chinese medicine is known as the Monarch, and we say it is a reflection of the Spirit. If we are stressed by change, are not content or at ease, then we can end up having insomnia, palpitations, all sorts of chest discomfort as well as circulatory system challenges. There are Chinese herbal formulas that can be used to treat insomnia (for example Tian Wan Bu Xin Dan, Suan Zao Ren or An Mian Pian), but it is important to discuss these symptoms not only with your acupuncturist (who will select the right formula for you based on Tongue and Pulse diagnosis as well as a full system review), but with your PCP (western MD) as well. The caveat here of course is to call 911 in case of an emergency!
Helpful tip #3:
A most wonderful method of breathing & visualizing that brings the heart, body, mind and Spirit back into a coherent state and promotes a harmonious feeling can be found in a program called “Heart Math”. Whenever my Spirit (Heart) needs a boost, I take a quick minute to practice Heart Math’s Quick Coherence Technique and in just a few seconds of breathing from my heart space, my heart is warmed and I am brought back to a state of bliss. Visit www.heartmath.com/quick-coherence-technique/ for your step by step guide to restoring balance and harmony from within.
◦ Stomach & Spleen
I had problems eating, actually had no appetite, and I had problems digesting. If you're not at peace or you're stressed, whatever you eat will challenge your Stomach and Spleen organ systems. The 2 are perhaps the most important organ systems in Chinese medicine because the Stomach is responsible for digesting whereas the Spleen is responsible for transforming everything that you ingest to support the flow of Qi (energy), blood flow & nutrients to all of the organs and the cells in your body. While the Lung is the ‘container of Phlegm’, the Spleen it’s said ‘produces Phlegm’, and so poor dietary choices (like too much cold temperature/energy foods) can result in you coming down with cold & flu symptoms, GI distress or being more susceptible to viruses, allergies and infection. There are acupoints on the Bladder & Small Intestine channels that we can needle to boost your immunity & fight infection or inflammation, and there are points on the Stomach/Spleen channels that - when stimulated - will strengthen the transformative powers of these 2 important meridian systems.
Helpful tip #4:
Practice mindful eating. Eat with your senses & take some time to look at your food, smell its aroma, savor every mouthful. Never eat when you’re stressed or on the run – simple steps, yet when the daily grind flares up around us, we scrimp on the time we should take to enjoy our meals. Stomach 36 – an acupoint on the Stomach channel – is a great point to stimulate (through daily acupressure). It’s located about 4 fingerbreadths below the lower border of your kneecap (patella) & about 1 fingerbreadth from the anterior border of the tibia. Its Pinyin (Chinese) name is “Zu San Li” - Leg 3 Li (meaning: if you stimulate this point daily, you can go another kajillion steps – okay, I exaggerate). It is an important one for strengthening your body’s energy, preventing fatigue, building immunity, and strengthening the Stomach, Spleen & Intestines.
◦ 2 Other Organs:
¬ The Liver is in charge of planning & strategy; The Gallbladder is in charge of decision making. At their best, they give us the courage to follow through and take action on the choices we make, and give our Solar Plexus the strength to tackle the stresses of change. At their worst, we become timid, indecisive, wishy-washy and namby-pamby when it comes to making decisions, or stay stuck in unfulfilled desires, frustration, anger and resentment. Some of us women even get a bad rep for being PMS-ish when the Liver/Gallbladder is not in balance.
Helpful hint #5:
Move that Qi! When you start feeling cranky & irritable, go for a walk, dance around the house, scrub the bathtub. Ok, maybe not the bathtub thing. And be kind to your Gallbladder – drink warm lemon water 1st thing when you wake up. It’ll help flush toxins and wake up its bile-releasing function so you can digest food better. Practice flexibility exercises (like yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates) that promote flexibility not just in your joints but in all areas of your life.
¬ The Kidneys are very important to life. In Chinese Medicine, some of its responsibilities include reproduction, your life force, how much stamina or endurance you have, and how well (or poorly) you age as a few examples. The adrenals – the 2 little organs sitting on top of the kidneys contribute to the stress response (“fight or flight or feed & breed”). Change can be really stressful, which means it can tax your Kidneys leaving you feeling run down, develop low back/knee pain, premature grey hairs, decreased hearing, and bone/teeth problems. Emotionally, we may even feel immobilized and stuck in fear mode if we don’t take care of our Kidneys, unable to move forward in life.
Helpful hint #6:
Eat foods that strengthen the function of your Kidneys: black sesame seeds, black beans, black walnuts, seaweed and kelp. Get enough rest so you can recharge & strengthen the Fire at the Gate of Vitality - Ming Men aka “Life Gate” is a point located just below the spinous process of the 2nd lumbar vertebra. Give yourself a treat and massage the entire low back area & around this point to warm it up and keep your Qi flowing.
Helpful tips #7, 8, 9..etc, etc, etc…..
There are many other ways that you can help support yourself during stressful events and times of change, and maintaining good health is key. We must not forget the role of right nutrition, adequate rest, prayer or meditation, the comfort of friends, and any of the numerous energy modalities that are available. Reiki, Healing Touch, chakra balancing, craniosacral work, rolfing, massage, journaling, color therapy and essential oils (aromatherapy) are some that come to mind.
And finally, my acronym for Change: which do you choose?
C : compromise vs. control
H: harmony vs. hanging on
A: agenda vs. adaptability
N: negotiate vs. negate
G: growth & gratitude vs. growl & give-up
E: embrace vs. endure.
What will be your #ChineseNewYear resolution? What will you do differently to deal with the stress of change? Drop us a note in the comment section below for what works for you. Kung Hey Fat Choy - Happy Chinese New Year!
2015 – Year of the Goat. *Now accepting patients at our new location in Seminole, Florida. Call for appointment and a free consultation to discuss how Chinese Medicine can assist you in your best health yet!
Audrey Steele, L.Ac.
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr)