How Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help Us Live Healthier Lives

The human body is a complex and often mysterious place to inhabit. Some days we feel great, some days we feel terrible, and we often struggle to understand why. With so many factors at play when it comes to our health – diet, physical activity, the strength of our immune system, stress levels and more – figuring out what went wrong when we don’t feel good can be baffling.

TCM is the culmination of a couple of thousand years of smart people exhaustively trying to answer these questions. What went wrong? How did it happen? And how can we make it better?

The language TCM practitioners use might sound strange, but it’s not abstract theory. It’s real and practical, and applies to everyday life. I use it every day to understand the way my body feels. When I’m feeling tired or frustrated, I look back at what I’ve done over the last few hours or days, and I can see all the factors that led to the way I feel now, and that tells me what I need to do to feel better.

Let’s take stress and frustration as an example – something most of us experience from time to time. In TCM, feelings of frustration are related to the Liver Qi not flowing smoothly. Liver Qi stagnation sounds weird and unintelligible if you haven’t studied TCM, but I’m willing to bet that you know exactly how it feels: you get easily frustrated and aggravated, you find yourself snapping at people, you take deep, exasperated sighs, and feel restless in your body. If you have an illness or injury, the pain gets worse. You might feel the start of a tension headache, or find that your shoulders are up around your ears.

Even gentle exercise like walking helps to move the Qi and decrease stress and frustration.

Even gentle exercise like walking helps to move the Qi and decrease stress and frustration.

How do take care of yourself when you feel this way? Many people unwind with a beer or a glass of wine. It works because alcohol moves Qi, helping to relieve the tension, at least temporarily. A healthier option is getting some exercise – physically moving is one of the best ways to move stagnant Qi. Getting outside for a walk or bike ride will help to move what’s stuck, while sitting in front of the computer is a sure fire way to make it worse.

It can also be helpful to understand what causes this state, so we can make better choices next time. Obviously, if exercise helps move the Qi, living a sedentary lifestyle is likely to lead to feeling stressed and frustrated. Using the language of modern science, exercise releases endorphins, leading to feelings of wellbeing and lower stress levels; using TCM terminology, exercise makes the Qi flow, leading to feelings of wellbeing and lower stress levels.

Another factor, perhaps counterintuitive to the Western mind, is the strength of the digestive system. All the systems of our body are interconnected and impact each other, but there’s an especially close relationship between the Spleen (which is said to govern digestion in TCM) and the Liver. What this means in practice is that when we overtax our digestion by doing things like overeating, eating too much sugar, or eating at irregular times, we’re more likely to get stressed, frustrated, and irritable.

One of the things I love about TCM is that the theory really does apply to real life. I see these patterns play out in my own life all the time, and because I know what they mean, it helps me take better care of my physical and emotional health. One of the big reasons I started this blog is that seeing health through the lens of TCM helps us treat our bodies better and can make a huge difference to our quality of life.

So next time you’re feeling stressed or frustrated, don’t ignore it and keep sitting in front of the computer or TV. Do what your body needs – get outside and get moving!

Moss Andrewes is an acupuncturist and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, specializing in women’s health and chronic illness. Originally from the UK and now residing in Canada, she is a writer, speaker, and event organizer, focusing on health, sustainable living and community. Her lifelong passion for making the world a happier, healthier place has led her through many adventures, including off-grid sustainable living, disaster relief, and various community health projects. She currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with her partner and two cats.

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