Wisdom of a past long forgotten...
How do we get sick?
Traditional Chinese Medicine states that there are three ways in which a person may become sick. The first way is from external negative climatic influences, such as over-exposure to wind, dampness, cold, heat, dryness, or any of their combinations. The second way is from a negative influence from within, or how much we indulge in excessive emotions. The third way is from trauma, overwork, improper diet etc. --a direct attack from neither our environment or ourselves.
How we maintain health...
Inside all of us exists a life energy that is constantly working to maintain balance of mind & body functions. In Chinese, it is called Zheng Qi, or the Righteous Qi. When a negative influence affects our functioning, the Righteous Qi battles it to maintain optimum balance. It is the struggle of opposites, between the negative influence that causes impairment of function, and the Righteous Qi that repairs, readjusts and eliminates this negative assault on our body’s normal functioning.
In the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, it states: “If the Righteous exists internally, evils cannot strike.” This means that if our Righteous Qi is strong enough and functioning properly, then our person will not be susceptible to internal and external pathogenic attack.
What this means...
What this means is that to keep ourselves in relative health, we need to protect ourselves from over-exposure to the various changes in our climate, conduct ourselves and live life in a constructive way, prevent overwork, improper eating, and avoid dangerous activities or environments.
When we catch cold, heat, or are effected by the extremes of our climate, we must take proper care, seeking timely care to prevent these attacks from going deeper inside ourselves and disrupting our organ functions. We need to regulate our emotions so that we do not overindulge and cause any unbalanced bodily or organ function. And when we become injured, eat bad food, or overwork ourselves to the point of weakening our Righteous Qi, we need to take rest, adjust our lifestyle and seek appropriate treatments.
If we neglect to do these things, an acute imbalance may cause further and more complicated problems. i.e. chronic disease. Let me give you a common example from my practice that illustrates how an acute problem can become chronic.
Often patients come in to the clinic complaining of catching a cold that they haven’t been able to get over. One variation of this might be someone who experienced stiff neck and headache with some nasal congestion or clear runny nose after being exposed to wind or cold. (Often this happens in the summer from air conditioning as well.) They thought they had a headache and decided to take an aspirin or motrin. The next day they woke up with a sore throat. They worked through it and a cough started up as well. After dealing with this for another day, they decide to come in for some acupuncture.
At this point, what has happened is that this patient has caught cold and mistreated them self causing the pathogen to invade deeper in the body. Without proper treatment and rest, it goes even deeper disrupting the lung function, causing a cough. (The cough here is the body’s way of try to expel the pathogen that has entered in the body.) Luckily in this case the patient did not take over the counter cough medicine. If they had, the pathogen would have gone deeper, often disrupting the digestive system next.
This is one example where western medicine often does well at relieving the cough, but only at the expense of causing the pathogen to morph and invade the body even deeper. It does this because it suppresses the body from coughing out and expelling the internal pathogen.
Now if the patient had come to the clinic right away with the initial symptoms, with one treatment, some ginger tea or herbs, they mostly likely would have rested well through the night and woke up fine. Now that the pathogen has entered deeper, they will need more treatment in order to support the Righteous energy within while expelling the pathogenic factors from deep inside the body. If left untreated, these pathogens can affect the body’s internal organ functioning and cause chronic disease, like various digestive diseases, immune problems, cancer, you name it. It all depends on the strength of the pathogenic influence and the persons internal energy and functioning as well as how long it remains latent within the body.
Now that we understand a bit more about how are body fights disease, we can put it in its proper context.
Acute & Chronic Disease
In Chinese medicine, we say something is acute when it is a relatively new disharmony in which the body is undergoing or battling. At this stage, the Righteous energy is still strong and is battling the problem.
As we have seen, disease becomes chronic when the negative influence is not properly expelled, harmonized, neutralized, or healed properly. When acute problems are left to linger like this, they injure and weaken the Righteous energy within, making it more difficult for the body to rectify the imbalanced functioning. This is the main reason why most acupuncture patients need so much treatment. Because of the chronicity of the problem, we must first strengthen their healing ability, their Righteous Qi as well as eliminate the pathogenic factor(s). If the negative influence is internal or a lifestyle factor, no matter what therapy the patient chooses, the results will be dependent on them correcting bad habits and preventing further harm. Here Chinese medicine can help accelerate this change by strengthening their Righteous energy within so they can make these appropriate changes.
What to do if your suffering with a chronic problem
First of all, every problem is different. And sometimes, once damage has occurred, our body is never able to regain full functioning again. This is a fact of life, and why life is so precious. It is why ancient Chinese physicians advocated self-care, prevention and avoidance of self inflicted harm.
But generally speaking, when our bodies are dealing with a chronic problem, we must first un-do. What this means is in order to help ourselves overcome a problem, we must first prevent new problems. In Chinese medicine, this means supporting the function of the Righteous Qi by keeping a tranquil mind free of excessive emotion, avoiding dangerous activity and behavior, and adapting to climatic change to prevent new sickness.
Secondly, we may then seek gentle care to restore our internal functioning and eliminate any residual pathogenic factors.
Obviously, all these things are easy to talk about, but are often hard to maintain when we are sick. This is why we must rely on the help of others from time to time, to help set us straight and keep us on a constructive track, focused on attaining our goals.
If the problem is one that cannot be totally healed, then acupuncture and herbal medicine along with appropriate exercise and lifestyle can help reduce symptoms and protect the rest of the body from being weakened by its unbalance.
I hope this short article is helpful and gives you a wholesome and new look at how we can maintain a healthy, constructive life free from reliance of harsh medicines. Prevention and timely treatment of minor problems are the best way to beat a chronic disease!
Live with balance!