From Issue 2 of Life's News Newsletter
The Mind & The Body:
Does the title of this article make sense to you? Did you do a double take or wonder if you read it wrong? Maybe it made sense, but your not sure why. No matter what your response, read on to learn more about how a holistic view can benefit your body and your mind.
The greatest mistake in the treatment of diseases is that there are physicians for the body and physicians for the soul, although the two cannot be separated. ~Plato
Over 1,500 years ago one of the most influential philosophers in Western civilization, unequivocally stated that it is a mistake to separate the body and the mind. This seems simple enough and a bit like common sense, but with the dawn of medical advances such as autopsies and human dissection this concept was soon forgotten in Western medicine.
When patients died of pneumonia and autopsies revealed lung disease, or died of stroke and showed brain damage, there was a dramatic shift towards medicine only acknowledging what it could measure and see. Anything that could not be seen became psychology - a separate field of medicine (one that was often criticized as being “less legit”). Today, thanks to the development of new technologies and patient demand, the mind is slooowly making it’s way back into Western medicine. But in Chinese medicine it never left.
In the Chinese medical model the body and mind are seen as one. Emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability and fear are just as important indicators of health as blood pressure readings, hormone levels and other Western diagnostic measures. Here’s why:
When you go to a doctor for Western medicine you are taught to view your body in pieces and told the pieces must be treated separately... You can see a reproductive endocrinologist for reproduction, a psychologist for emotions, a cardiologist for the heart, a podiatrist for the feet... When you see the right doctor who specializes in the right “part” you tell her only about your main complaint and her job is to find out what’s wrong within that already narrow view. It’s a bit like you handed her a microscope slide - you’ve already limited the area that will be examined and her job is to look smaller and smaller and discover the problem.
Chinese medicine on the other hand relies on the “big picture” or holism. In holism it is impossible to treat just one part of the body because the whole is greater than the parts and everything is interconnected. In holistic medicine, your main complaint isn’t a microscope slide, it’s a single puzzle piece. It wouldn’t do to focus on the one piece and guess what it is, because it only makes sense when you get more pieces, put them together and look at the whole. So, what are all the other puzzle pieces? Every emotional and physical symptom a person has!
The benefits of this “big picture” holistic view are numerous: It is easier to see minor imbalances and treat them before they become more severe when you are looking at the big picture. It is easier to improve more than one health concern at a time when you focus on the whole. It is possible to see the interconnectedness and treat the physical and emotional as one. And, perhaps most importantly, it is easier for a patient to be aware of and in charge of his/her health. Where Western medicine often requires a detailed diagnosis and is doctor centered, holistic medicine allows the patient to see how they can take their health into their own hands and empowers them by showing how general changes can improve not only the big picture but specific concerns.
Begin with these simple suggestions and see how they can improve seemingly unrelated area of health - including emotions!
1. Dietary Adjustments: In Chinese medicine eating/digestion and breathing/respiration are the only ways to make more of the things your body needs to function properly. Improving the diet, therefore can improve every aspect of health immensely. Eat natural, unprocessed foods that are local and in season. Eat a variety of natural colors and flavors for a balanced diet. Enjoy your food and eat slowly and mindfully.
2. Breathing Exercises: Breathing is the other half of making what your body needs and how you breathe is just as important as what you eat. When we are stressed we tend to clench our muscles and hold our breath. The reverse is true too. When we breathe shallowly we tend to clench our muscles and feel stressed. This leads to a cycle of the breath supporting a perpetually stressed state. When we slow down and deepen the breath it allows more oxygen to revitalize the body, the muscles relax and we feel less stressed.
3. Physical Movement: Exercises such as walking, qi gong, yoga, and moderate aerobics can help you feel better all around. In fact, physical exercise benefits emotional health as much as it benefits physical health. Be sure to choose appropriate exercises and rest during your period.
4. Emotional Movement: Because the body and mind are interconnected, emotional “exercise” is just as important as physical exercise and just as beneficial. Journal, meditate, be creative, talk with friends and express your emotions in healthy and timely ways instead of letting them linger or stuffing them. Emotional movement benefits physical concerns as much as it benefits emotional ones!
Try to make small improvements for big results!
Whether you want to improve something physical such as your menstrual cycle or digestion or something emotional such as anxiety or stress making a change in any one of these areas will improve the whole and will support the changes you need. Good Luck :) Nicole