For the next few weeks I’ll be sharing information about the practical applications of Traditional Chinese Medicine in order to shed light on the many ways you can help yourself deal with some commonly experienced emotional and physical afflictions. To begin with, I’m looking at Sleep Apnea, Snoring, Insomnia and Anxiety
Traditional Chinese Medicine was originally developed as a preventative medicine. The system of moving qi (energy) around the body, storing it within us to nourish and strengthen the body, and integrating deep, mindful breathing to further harness our natural healing capacity, keeps us balanced and healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. Now that people are often only taking up the practice once they are already sick or overwhelmed, TCM’s power as a restorative medicine also comes into effect. Due to us growing up with the idea that we’re helpless without pills prescribed by our GP, or that we shouldn’t trust our own lived experiences of pain and discomfort without consulting a ‘specialist’, there is a lot of resistance in the West to the idea that you already have natural healing capacities, and all you have to do is learn how to balance and clear and nourish your own physical problems.
The funny thing is, a lot of the techniques that we could be using to help balance and clear our problems, used to be widely known and used in the West too. I remember teaching a group of 30 or so older women a Keep Fit class in Greater Manchester about 15 years ago. I would always incorporate some qigong and acupressure massage techniques into the sessions as well as the expected knee raises and lunges to music. One day when demonstrating a technique where you massage around the abdomen to harmonise energy in the internal organs and aid digestion, the ‘ring leader’ of the crew of older ladies looked up and commented, “This is exactly what my Mum used to do to help me when I had a tummy ache.” A lot of TCM practice is innate wisdom that we’ve unlearned because we’ve been lead to believe we have no power to help make ourselves healthy. Simply put, do the exercises, know how to balance and heal yourself every day to stop imbalances progressing to become illnesses, and strengthen your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Obviously I’m not advocating never going to the GP or hospital again if you have an illness or injury that requires attention. But while you’re waiting for your appointment, or in order to not need to make one in the future, I’m going to share several common issues that can be easily and effectively dealt with by practicing qigong, meditation, deep breathing and acupressure massage.
The topics below are just a handful of the illnesses and imbalances that can be helped by Traditional Chinese Medicine practises. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like support with anything not yet mentioned.
Something to bear in mind is that our body, mind and spirit are interlinked and an imbalance in one area will affect everything else, so for example if we don’t breathe properly this imbalances our emotions and causes other physical side effects. The way Western medicine deals with an issue is often to look at it in isolation, rather than from a holistic point of view where a root cause might be identified and rectified. So in the topics below there may be some surprising symptoms grouped together.
I’ll be sharing a breathing practice in my Facebook group on Wednesday lunch time (19th May) which specifically benefits all of the problems described below. A link to the group is at the end of the blog.
Along with descriptions from people who suffer with anxiety and depression who practice slow, deep or rhythmic breathing through the nose, many scientific studies have shown that patients have not only healed damaged lungs but overcome serious emotional imbalances by simply improving how they breathe. There has been found to be a two-way connection between the amygdelae (which help govern our perceptions of fear and emotions – fight or flight) and the chemoreceptors that signal to the brain that it’s time to breathe. People who have become anxious (and that’s a lot of people) tend to habitually breathe shallowly as a physically learned attempt to keep their carbon dioxide levels low and stave off a panic attack, (thought to be caused by raised carbon dioxide levels).
Sleep Apnea, Snoring and Insomnia (bad breath and cavities)
A quarter of Americans suffer from sleep apnea, airways narrowing and preventing you from breathing when you sleep. Breathing through the mouth leads to snoring, apnea and insomnia. It is also a greater cause of cavities than sugar, bad hygiene and poor diet. When the body doesn’t have an adequate amount of deep sleep, physical triggers cause us to both need to drink and urinate more. Which of course further disrupts sleep. Chronic insomnia has been found to be less of a psychological problem as previously thought and more of a breathing problem. It’s estimated that possibly half of us in the modern world suffer from poor posture as a result of us trying to adopt a position which will increase our oxygen supply due to poor breathing.
The ancient Chinese put a huge emphasis on the importance of breathing properly for our health and wellbeing. In the ancient Daoist text the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu wrote “The breath inhaled through the mouth is called ‘Ni Ch’i’, adverse breath. Be careful not to have the breath inhaled through the mouth.” To put it plainly, how we breathe has a dramatic effect on our health and wellbeing. Breathing shallowly and through the mouth is the biggest cause of serious physical and mental health problems like apnea and anxiety. “Like other parts of the body, the nasal cavity responds to whatever inputs it receives. When the nose is denied regular use, it will atrophy…Snoring and sleep apnea often follow.” From Breath, by James Nestor (highly recommended!) Breathing slowly in a rhythmic way, first taught thousands of years ago in India and Tibet, but also practiced during prayer in many other countries and cultures including Native America, Christian and Africa, increases blood flow to the brain and causes the functioning of the heart, nervous system and circulation to enter a state of balance and to work at peak capacity. TCM is often combined with Daoist (Taoist) wisdom, which talks about the infinite presence of our unity with the Universe and nature and our harmony with everybody. We’re all made of the same stuff as each other and as the stars and planets, all energetically linked. Tapping into this connected way of being in the world benefits our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Follow the link below to my Facebook group for a breathing exercise which increases lung capacity and balances and strengthens the body and mind.
Next week I’ll be sharing support for problems with digestion.