By Kyle Smith, Dipl OM
I have trained in Tai Chi Chuan for years and, as any martial artist can attest, one of the prevalent instructions given, especially to beginners, is “relax.” Ironically, most people hear this and think, “But I’m already relaxed!” The truth is that most of us do not know what that means. The concept is clear enough, but the actual ability to clear the mind and allow the body to let go of tension is far more difficult, and oftentimes even elusive.
Life can be very demanding. Personal and professional responsibilities provide a near-constant state of push and pull… ups and downs. Add in technological factors such as cell phones and computers, and sometimes it feels nearly impossible to escape into a mindset of total relaxation. Like that beginning Tai Chi student, we need the reminder to slow down, get in touch with what we are thinking and feeling, and breathe.
Both Western and Eastern medicine agree that stress can be a serious detriment to overall health. But unlike the medical practices typically found in the U.S. and other countries that rely on one doctor for the body and another for the mind, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) identifies the connection between the two, and treats them together through the internal pathways located inside the body.
Stress-related symptoms can reveal themselves in a number of ways, including sleep issues, digestive disorders, a compromised immune system, anxiety/panic attacks, and over-reliance on both over-the-counter and prescription medications. Rather than specifically addressing these outward manifestations, TCM instead focuses on anchoring and nourishing the mind. Stress can be viewed like waves across a body of water; when the mind is quieted and drawn down, the person as a whole can then better withstand the force of the waves when they roll in again.
From a physiological perspective, acupuncture releases endorphins – chemicals that can be regarded as our own “personal opiates.” Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are produced as a response to certain stimuli, especially fear, pain or stress. Because they work throughout the central nervous system and interact with receptors found in regions of the brain responsible for blocking pain and controlling emotion, they are prime natural resources to facilitate relaxation and restored health. Tightened muscles are often the body’s response to stress; acupuncture addresses this, as well, and loosens the muscles to provide relief for headaches, and neck and back discomfort.
Diet plays an important role in health at all times, but particularly so during times of stress. A common reaction to increased anxiety is to eat “junk” food… choices that run the spectrum from salty to greasy to sweet. The reality is that fried and spicy foods, sweets and pastries, and alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine should be avoided, if not eliminated. These all tax the system, and even generate heat within the body, which results in an “excited” mind that is already finding it difficult to unwind. Smarter options include green leafy vegetables, lean meats, and herbs and seasonings such as mint, turmeric, basil, rosemary and thyme.
Unfortunately, stress can never be fully avoided or erased… but it is possible to learn how to engage it more effectively. Listening to the cues that signal a time to slow down and breathe is the first step. From there, working with a qualified, caring TCM practitioner to unite the mind and body is a sound step toward a natural way to relax and heal.
Kyle Smith, diplomate of Oriental medicine (Dipl OM), graduated magna cum laude from Midwest College of Oriental Medicine. Kyle has also studied and taught Tai Chi Chuan for a number of years, including a trip to China with his instructor. As a dedicated practitioner of TCM with Heaven & Earth Acupuncture and Wellness in Brookfield, Wisconsin, he offers free initial consultation and first treatments, and free insurance verification. For more information, visit www.heavenandearthacu.com.