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Traditional Chinese Medicine

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The Ultimate Guide: Traditional Chinese Medicine Through the Seasons

All the information you need to get familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine and how to follow its system through the seasons. 

Ruby Deevoy & Christopher Handbury

Holistic health has become a mainstream interest in recent years, spanning a wide variety of industries from wellbeing, lifestyle and beauty, to fashion, interior design and medicine. The idea of looking to the natural world as a means to keep ourselves in good health has become somewhat of a trend, but this system was around long before it became trendy.

One of the most ancient medical systems is Traditional Chinese Medicine - a practice that has evolved over thousands of years and that is still used today in many Chinese hospitals. It’s also at the heart of a variety of holistic health systems and contemporary forms of natural wellbeing practices. But, despite being a part of many natural remedies and rituals we use today, the complexities of Traditional Chinese Medicine remain in the background. Until now!

In the spirit of Dermactiva, we’re here to educate you with amazing facts from those in the know. We interviewed TCM consultant and Qi Gong teacher, Christopher Handbury, author of ‘What is Qi Gong?’, to give you all the information you need to get familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and how to follow its system through the seasons.

Chinese medicine practitioner

Image by Oriento    Chinese Medicine   

Q.  What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

A. 
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the theory that the activity of the body and mind move in
specific pathways or vessels. They are often described as oceans, rivers and streams. These
pathways carry blood, fluids and nerve messages to maintain the functions of the organs, tissues, muscles and bones. When the system is functioning efficiently, we have good health, less illness and feel a sense of well-being.

Much like the rivers and streams in life, if they become restricted or blocked the flow can become weak, over-bearing and reduced. Circulation is affected and the messages do not move freely. When this happens we can feel pain in the physical body and our mind can present us with emotions that help us to take action and restore the imbalance. It’s a very natural process, yet one that often feels uncomfortable.

Chinese scriptures

Image by  Leon Gao.     Chinese Scriptures  

Over time and with great study and observation of the how the body and mind presented with pain and illness, various systems were developed and put in place to help restore the internal energy system and maintain the health of the organs. Meditation, herbs, physical movement (Qigong) and self-massage were the initial forms of health care, and later discoveries led to the formation of Acupuncture. The seasonal patterns, climate changes, energy of foods and presenting emotions all play a vital role in the landscape of individual health. Its these very patterns that a TCM practitioner is trained to de-code and build a picture of health for treatment. The whole being is important.

I find the easiest way to see our energy system is this: We are like self-charging batteries that rely on the sun, water, good food, physical movement and the representations of love. When these are in steady supply, we are healthy, happy and feel connected. When we lack these needs health can suffer and the battery becomes weak.

Q. What is Qi Gong?

mindful exercise

Image by  Monica Leonard         Tai Chi Practise

A. 
Qigong is the practice and study of regulating the body and mind through specific methods like
active movements (Qigong forms), static postures (Zhan Zhuang) and meditation (Breath work). All are intertwined with each other to form a complete system of health and healing. Other, equally important Qigong practices are Qigong Self-Massage and a diet that contains the correct foods for greater health.

When practiced in harmony with the seasons and cycles of life, we can create a strong, resilient and efficient body and mind that allows us to grow spiritually and discover our true self that often becomes lost along the way. 

When we have balance, we experience life with less stress, less pain and have more physical energy. Feeling ‘youthful’ is not just for the young!

Q. How does TCM work with the seasons? Can we use these principles as seasonal self care?

colourful nature

Image by  Chris Lawton          Chinese Medicine through the seasons  

A. 
In TCM each season relates to a specific organ system, body part and its elemental quality. Within each season certain organs are more vulnerable to the changes in weather, emotions and climate. In spring our liver is more susceptible to unforeseen changes like the winds of emotions that can change rapidly and stir inside. 

TCM in Spring
  • Spring is related to wood, a time of growth and transformation.
  • In weakness we can feel frustrated and angry and the body will feel tight and restricted.
  • Alcohol, processed foods and heavy meats can be reduced now.
  • Getting treatment for emotional health is good at this time. 

TCM in Summer

  • Summer is our earth phase of the seasons, a time for building health and healing the physical body. 
  • It’s a time to be grounded and create foundations for future things to come. 
  • Energy around us become abundant now and we naturally feel active and alive with life. 
  • In weakness we can worry and feel anxious, the muscles will ache and lose strength. 
  • Damp can easily reside in the body at this time bringing feelings of muzziness, heavy joints and poor digestion. 
  • Getting treatment for digestive problems is good at this time.

TCM in High Summer

  • High Summer or Summer heat is a phase between summer and autumn where the heat is higher.
  • Sometimes this is referred to as ‘Indian summer’. This phase relates to fire and our heart. This is our last reprise, a time to express our full energy and release the excess or cultivate this additional energy for self-healing. 
  • In weakness we feel exhausted and hot. There may be problems with blood and its harmony of flow. 
  • Dryness can easily upset the balance and we have thirst, heat and a feeling of being overwhelmed. 
  • Getting treatment for physical pain is good at this time.

TCM in Autumn
  • In Autumn we move into the metal phase and the lungs are vulnerable. 
  • Metal can be hard, reflective and very much to the point. It is a time of certainty and there is work to be done! This is a time of reflection, realising what we have built over the year so far, where have we invested our time and energy. 
  • It’s a time to decide what has been useful and what we wish to hold onto and work with in the future. Its also a time of letting go of the things that do not serve our journey forward. 
  • Our lungs relate to sadness, grief and a sense of loss. The leaves on the trees are falling and with it goes the activity of nature’s magical array. The animals begin to store foods and create warm homes in preparation. It’s time to get affairs in order and prepare for the cold and stillness of winter. 
  • In weakness our immune system is low, we feel vulnerable and sometimes low in spirit.
  • Shoulders can be problematic at this time of year. Aches, pains, and injuries in the shoulders are most common now. As this is a time to let go, carrying the burdens of emotions can weigh the shoulders down.
  • The lungs bring us fresh Qi and Wei Qi (protective energy) for the body and mind so being mindful of efficient, relaxed and deep breathing is paramount at this time of change.

TCM in Winter

  • The colder, winter months are a time for stillness, restoration and nourishment. This is our water phase and relates to the kidneys, our energy storage.
  • Good foods that bring warmth and supply the body with the essential building blocks that repair and restore the reserves we use through the more active seasons are needed now.
  • As with water when it is frozen, life becomes less active with less natural flow at this time of year. In weakness, as energy lessens, we can feel a lack of will power and the back and bones may ache. We sit more than we should, and rest more than the body needs so getting out into nature and keeping the lungs and blood moving is needed now. 
  • Qigong, walking and Tai Chi are great remedies for winter. 
  • Salt and raw foods can be reduced, cold foods and drinks can drain much needed warmth now. Soups, broths, casseroles and foods that require lengthy cooking are recommended now.
  • Winter is a time to just sit back, relax and wait for the emergence of spring and a new cycle of activity.
  • Getting treatment for lower back pain, achy bones, fatigue and chronic headaches is good at this time.

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