Hey all. I guess you are feeling a little of the anxiety, the fight, the defiance, the collective empathy and the shared fear of the current situation in the world. It doesn't help that we are all at home (most of us anyway - the real heroes are out there fighting for us each and every second: the nurses, paramedics, cashiers, grocery clerks, bus drivers, cleaners, police, EMS responders, cleaners, doctors....and so many more) feeling cut off from the world. But if there is any one thing I take some comfort in, its knowing that we are not completely alone in this. For the first time in my life I am feeling a sense of a shared "mission" that is calling us as a World Team to come together and fight a common enemy. It's not a super nuke nor a wonderful superpower that we can use to take down the bad guys. But it's a shared camaraderie and a feeling of forming a common alliance that always lifts my spirit when the day feels like its just a little darker than I last remembered.
I always had a soft spot for movies where the good guys, no matter how battered and torn they are, how down in numbers they are, or how hopeless they are in a situation where the evil forces look like they will sweep over the forces of good, come together, reaffirm their grand mission and face their foe with a feeling of "togetherness" and the strength and courage that comes from a team doubling down and standing firm in the face of fear.
I cannot offer much in terms of what I can do as an Acupuncturist with my hands tied by being at home and not being able to work with people in a clinical setting. But if there is one thing technology allows us, it's the ability to keep us all connected. I'm not a real bard or wizard of words but I can certainly fight back with my writing and being connected to the internet to the rest of the world.
I haven't come up with too many new things lately here but I will soon. I have however, revamped an old article "Yang Sheng and The Art of Self Care" and tried to make it more relevant to today's current situation. When I wrote it, it was written as a cautionary tale of burnout - something most members of my overworked and underpaid "gig economy" generation face and deal with.
I have come to see that it may help give our self isolation and socially distanced lives more meaning than just being reduced down to living only by hunkering down, hiding out or laying low. Yang Sheng is a term that means "nurture life" and is often used by clinicians in TCM as a daily habit of self care and regular self check ins to prevent a person from spiralling into ill health when they don't look after what they eat, how they speak to themselves, what they do for exercise or their sleeping habits. It may sound counter-intuitive to say that this offers some "oomph" and "firepower" to combat this new COVID-19 threat. But in a roundabout way, it advises each of us self isolating at home to help our frontline heroes out by making sure that we stay healthy and keep our immune systems and our mental health in top notch function so that we can wait out the storm without devolving into bad health or despair.
We need to because we are being enlisted for a fight that is greater than any that we have seen in this decade. We help our frontline medical and essential services soldiers by staying at home and isolating in whatever way we can so that they can do their jobs without us getting in the way by walking around, potentially spreading virus particles to others and exponentially adding to the numbers of those who are infected. If we each do this, we prevent the situation from spiralling out of control and we help by preventing our medical systems from being overwhelmed.
Our nurses and medical staff are already feeling the pinch of having very few protective personal medical garments and are rationing out life-saving medical equipment like ventilators. We don't need to add to their burden and we need to remember that our sacrifice of our personal freedoms (which pales in comparison to theirs) is needed at this time. They need us. The elderly and immune-compromised need us. The world needs us right now. Self isolation is one way that we can all defiantly rise up now and help in the good fight. That's why we owe them the duty of keeping ourselves healthy, at home and mentally and emotionally resilient enough to batten down the hatches and ride out this storm with them - albeit, at home and not walking out and about.
That's why I chose to re-do this article a bit. I hope that it helps you to find some direction (and maybe even learn a little something about TCM and acupuncture) and meaning for the thing that we are all being called upon to do.
I'd like to believe that future generations will look back in time and see us as Generation Rise Up, Generation Together or Generation Stormrider....instead of Generation Selfish or Generation NotonMyMarchbreak. Let's roll up our sleeves and do this. As Nike said it:
And the article - here its is (be well World!):
Yang Sheng and the Art of Self-Care
Nope, it's not the name of a master meditator/martial artist/holy monk who lives in the woods.
It's a concept; a philosophy of living; and when practiced on a daily basis, it becomes part of the fabric of your daily routine. It isn't really a singular task that you do and check off at the end of the day. It's really more of the way you approach your tasks and the mindset (or your attitude) that you take when you go through the mundane, daily motions of living. And what powers the beating of the heart of the concept of Yang Sheng? The idea of nurturing and self care.
Ever heard of the concept of "an ounce of prevention is better than an ounce of the cure" or, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"? Well, that's one facet of the concept of Yang Sheng; that when practiced as part of one's daily routine, helps a person look after themselves well enough so that they prevent certain problems from becoming (through neglect and constantly dismissing them as minor nuisances) full blown health conditions.
And given that we are living in extraordinary times right now with this new Coronaviris / COVID-19 threat looming over the horizon, this concept of nurturing the spirit and taking good preventative measures to look after yourself becomes so much more important.
When broken down into its two characters, "Yang" and "Sheng", this phrase quite literally means (or as literally as I can try and explain it with my limited - but hopefully ever-growing in vocabulary - understanding of my mother tongue) "Cultivating Life" or "Nourishing Life".
The first character 養 means "nurture" and the second character 生 means "life". I could get into the whole etymology of the character and how it signifies what it means but man, that would require another filibusterin' saga so I think I'll give this attempt a pass. (However, for the acugeeks out there who may want to have a look at the character breakdown and how it relates to this concept, start here with this pretty academic but rather insightful article: https://www.monkeypress.net/blog/yang-sheng-養-生-nourishing-life)
In simplistic, modern day terms, this concept of nurturing a life can be compared to being given your first tamagotchi as a kid and being told that to help it thrive, you'll have to care for it in a way that goes beyond just giving it just basic food and water. You are nurturing a (quote unquote) living being and need to play with it, pay attention to it, give it love and care lest it shrivels up and dies due to your neglect and constant dismissing of it's needs. (Now if you are all old enough to remember tamagotchi's, you've made the writer of this article feel a little less alone in her Jurassic-period age cohort!).
Well, if you imagine that your own health is the equivalent of your childhood tamagotchi, you get the idea then that dismissing your body's "check engine" lights on a regular basis means that you're headed towards internal tamagotchi self-neglect and at some point, your body is just going to curl up, stop working and make you stand up (or lie down), take notice and finally take care of it.
However, if you practiced the philosophy of Yang Sheng and made good on your promise to look after your internal tamagotchi as part of your regular self-care routine, then the "check engine" lights wouldn't go on quite as often and typical conditions of the 21st century (common ones I see regularly in my practice like: adrenal burnout, insomnia, chronic generalized stress and anxiety, digestive upsets like IBS, thyroid conditions, menstrual irregularities, acne breakouts; and the list goes on) won't have much of a foothold on which to develop into full blown distressing and chronic, long-term conditions.
So what does Yang Sheng look like when applied to everyday living?
In most eastern-oriented medical (this is my side of the TCM camp), lifestyle (meaning diet, sleep and daily activities), martial and esoteric (this is where the flying kung-fu monks and mediation fit in) arts, it looks like daily rituals and routines that help a person nurture their physical, mental and spiritual health. Given that we’re all self isolating and taking preventative measures to protect our most vulnerable in our communities, the concept of Yang Sheng comes in handy because ALL OF US are being asked to stay healthy and strong so that we can ride out the storm and emerge healthier and stronger than when we started.
A daily ritual can be as simple as doing a simple day to day check-in with yourself mid-day at work ("did I breathe / drink water / have lunch today?"); to making sure you take an hour before bed to "power down" and switch off all your devices so that you can wind down before sleeping; to taking the time to plan out well balanced meals each day so that you can manage energy spikes (and their corresponding slumps) and attend to your day's priorities; to simply just making it a habit to be kind to yourself in thought, self-directed internal dialogue (replacing "You did that sales presentation with all the gusto of a wet noodle!" to "Dust yourself off and get up again tomorrow. That wasn't your best pitch but you've had great days and you'll have more of those once you get a good night's rest") or going slower and taking it down a notch when you're trying something out for the first time.
Now that we sort of get the idea of the daily ritual part of self care, let's now bring back the idea of prevention being better than the cure. Think of the concept of prevention this way - regular self check-in rituals and self nurturing routines put into daily practice. What happens as a cumulative result of regular checking in with yourself is a nice protective "warding" effect that occurs in the body when nasty stuff gets thrown at it.
I'm talking about the sort of "protective warding" that happens on the preventative side of things with the daily cultivation of self care rituals. The more you make these routines a normal part of your everyday life, the cumulative effect of practicing self-care enable both your body and mind to become essentially, more RESILIENT.
Resilience is often defined as "1. the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened; 2. the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed" (taken from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/resilience). This is what we are all being called upon to be at this time no matter what sort of things this COVID-19 threat throws at us.
Think of yourself as a sort of super-stretchy person that can be pulled, stretched, warped out of shape and squished by life's various pressures. If you practiced the concept of Yang Sheng (by making sure you slept well, that you ate today, that you are nourishing your spirit with calming techniques in times of stress, connecting with your loved ones etc), all that stretching and squishing by the demands of life and unexpected circumstances wouldn't knock you too badly out of shape because, well.....you're stretchy....and able to bounce back through having the protective benefits of a solid self check-in and self care routine.
That's daily resilience working for you and that's what makes us able to get through a week (or several weeks, a month and so on), where you're suddenly slammed with work commitments; while, unannounced, your family also shows up at your home "for a visit and short stay"; and, if that wasn't enough, a pipe bursts in your apartment somewhere and it's 11pm at night (and you're up because you also realized you forgot to pay this month's rent)! Now if we're already on top of the game with our self care routines, despite the unforeseen interruptions, we can still stop, breathe, put things into perspective, prioritize and execute what we can do now and plan what we can do the next day without too much of a collective dent to our physical health, egos and mindsets!
ASICS, the Japanese running shoe company, got its name from the acronym "Anima San In Corpore Sano"; meaning "a sound mind in a sound body" (Really! True stuff! Check this page out: https://www.asics.com/us/en-us/about). It often makes me think of the idea of "holistic health" when I pass by their store on my way to and from work on Queen St; of the harmonious coming together of the happy mind, body and spirit (sounds a little like Yang Sheng doesn't it?).
This concept of the magical trinity of mind, body and spirit working together as one isn't new. It can be traced back to Ancient Rome, to a philosopher named Juvenile, who believed in the correlation between healthy mental functioning and good physical well-being (this article from Psychology Today was pretty interesting and though told more from the standpoint of sports medicine, it still correlates quite neatly to the idea of Yang Sheng - you get the drift: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/smart-moves/201407/healthy-body-and-sound-mind.)
In other words, if you look after your body by paying attention to its state of health (think of it as ordering up daily health "status reports") and adjusting your behaviours or mental attitudes to bring it back to a state of relative healthy balance if that "check engine" light starts flashing, it will respond by looking after you by being able to bounce back better after a long bout of illness or injury or, find a way to better make peace with things and shrug off the stresses of being cut off in traffic on your way to work this morning (or outlasting and thriving in the face of what I now term “viral attack”).
In ancient China, Yang Sheng was cultivated in daily eating practices as well as in exercises like qi gong or tai qi in the pursuit and practice of preventative health. If anyone has ever witnessed a group of tai qi practitioners in a park, you'll notice how calm, focused and quiet they are. This is what happens when the mind and body work together in harmony and it is what tai qi practitioners aspire to do when they cultivate a spirit of mindfulness in present, focused bodily movement that harmonizes with one's breath.
The nurturing of the body's internal qi or vital energy is what allows the body to become resilient to disease, and prevent common health conditions from settling in and becoming full blown chronic problems later in life. This practice of tai qi developed during the transitional period between the Ming and Qing Dynasty and has spawned several schools or styles; many of which are still currently being practiced today - mainly with the aim of cultivating health (through the harmonization of breath, mind and body).
It is this same qi that Acupuncturists work with when patients come in and ask for treatments. Instead of using movement and breath to cultivate the internal qi of the body, needles are used to nurture, move, slow down and gather qi when they are inserted into the meridians of the body. Although I have to admit that 80% of the patients I treat are actively seeking treatments for conditions that they already have, I always add a component of preventative treatment when I select the points that I wish to use.
Because qi can be gently encouraged to flow during a treatment, not only do I direct the flow of qi down a certain meridian to ease tension / pains or brighten the mood of a heavily weighed down mind, I will add specific acupuncture points to keep the healthy flow of qi moving for longer periods of time post-period. The more the body's qi flows freely, the more easily the obstruction (whether physical or emotional) is removed. When that obstruction to qi flow is removed, the longer the body is able to maintain this healthy flow of qi for longer periods of time and hence, prevent the settling in of disease states or conditions that become chronic if left unattended for too long a period of time.
Yang Sheng can be applied to preventative healthy eating habits as well and makes up a small but sometimes highly effective component of what I call "take home homework" post acupuncture treatment. Patients are sometimes told to eat certain foods that will help them recover faster and allow their bodies (and / or minds) to become less susceptible to certain conditions recurring. For instance, I sometimes advise patients who come in for cold or flu treatments to abstain from drinking chilled or icy cold drinks or consuming cold, raw foods after their treatment until their symptoms get better. The idea behind this is to keep the lungs warm as external cold conditions (i.e. introducing cold foods or drinks into the internal bodily environment) injure the lung and prolong the severity and duration of a patient's cold symptoms. Instead, patients can warm up their internal environment with warm / hot foods like garlic, ginger or turmeric which are all foods that warm, strengthen and regulate the lungs; thereby strengthening the body's immune system and preventing colds.
So in a quick wrap-up, Yang Sheng really is more than just a routine and a laundry list of "I must do this to feel this way and look this zen". It becomes a natural way of living and is a philosophy on how to live life by the habitual practice of self-nurturing and self-care.
Its a nice way of being able to check in with yourself, self-assess and do the work to make sure that if there are any nicks on the frame, any bumps on the exterior or any squeaky noises emanating from the insides, that you attend to them before they become an unsurmountable health problem.
Sometimes, taking a step back and slowing down really is the best way to get ahead. The wise and often quoted entity called "They", say that "You cannot pour from an empty cup." So perhaps today, make sure that you take a moment to slow down, smell the roses and enjoy that coffee sitting down - instead of running with it sloshing around in an adult sippy cup, towards the bus, while frantically trying to get to work. Otherwise that cup really will be empty when you pour it accidentally on yourself on your epic bus-chase! (Been there, done that!)
So if anyone gives you any heat for taking a half hour afternoon nap, or rain-checking on dinner plans because you're feeling a little under the weather or just a bit stretched out, tell them you are practicing the art of Yang Sheng and working on "nurturing life" while you strengthen your ability to bounce back from adversity and life interruptions.
And lastly, I leave you with this. Right now we are being called upon by the world to really practice self care, to slow down, to check in not only with others but reconnect once again with our own selves and our own souls. Yang Sheng used to be a concept I would toss out to patients when I felt that they could use a bit of “extra care” and “bonus extra padding” as part of their post treatment care.
Yang Sheng, now more than ever for me, has taken on a whole new meaning as a collaborative world effort to really slow down, nurture the body, the mind and the soul so that when we are called upon for it to hold the fort and really do our part to help flatten this curve, we are able to not only do so with strength, we will be able to rise up from adversity once again and thrive as one human collective.
Take good care, lay low, be kind and together, we will beat this and get through stronger than ever (and I get to use an Avengers gif! Because I can).