Far eastern traditions of medical practice were created thousands of years ago through a deeper understanding of human existence in the context of our natural setting. The origins are based on the philosophies of yin and yang and five phases and the belief that all living beings on this earth and in the universe are interconnected and a microcosm of a larger existence. These historical roots explain the holistic nature of the medicine and how it was often practiced as a way of life and not just a method of treating illness. The understanding is that sickness arises when there is an internal imbalance, which can make us more easily affected by external factors such as extreme weather, poor air and or food quality, and the interactions we have with others.
Eastern traditions of medicine also place an emphasis on the prevention of illness, which is particularly essential as we approach the cooler and drier autumn temperatures and get ready for the possibly windier and colder winter season. And as Charity also mentioned in her most recent post, autumn is a time to gather and go inward. Although our seasonal changes in San Francisco are not so dramatic, we still have subtle changes that give us an opportunity to go inward and cultivate our sense of balance.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), we call the first line of defense in our immune function, the Wei qi or protective/ defensive qi which circulates on the surface of our body and protects us from external pathogens that can lead to such cases as the common cold. The defensive qi is controlled by the respiratory system, skin and lung as they are often the first to get affected by a ‘Wind’ attack or microbial infection. Therefore the strength of our Wei qi will determine whether or not we catch that seasonal cold or flu.
From a holistic perspective, there are a multitude of ways we can begin to build our Wei qi / immunity so that we can more effectively fight off a potential external pathogen through proper lifestyle modifications. One can consider incorporating regular exercise i.e. yoga, taiji, and qigong practices, and restraining from excessive sexual activity and overwork which impair the immune system.
Although diet recommendations are based on an individual’s unique constitution and case, some general suggestions are to eat whole organic local foods, eating your last meal ideally before 7 pm, mindful preparation of food, chewing food thoroughly, avoiding overeating and intoxicants and practicing gratitude and forgiveness. Whole food supplements such as wheat or barley grass concentrates, sea vegetables, chlorella and spirulina and a good probiotic source can help maintain healthy immune function, as the gut microbiome plays a huge role in our immunity as well. (Pitchford, 2002)
A balanced lifestyle considers not just diet, exercise, but also our environment and how we address our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Holistic medicine recognizes the powerful connection between the mind, body and spirit, and how our thoughts and emotions can create our state of health. Many of our physical ailments arise from disharmony in our mental, emotional and spiritual realm. Listening to our inner wisdom can guide us toward more balanced dietary practices and in turn better diet can support our spiritual practices. Incorporating some form of spiritual practice can help build a strong immune system and overall quality of life.
Eastern medical practices such as acupuncture and herbal medicine work synergistically with these lifestyle changes to help support immune function by realigning the patient’s energy with the natural state of flow and vitality of the universe. The intention is for the patient and practitioner to work together to find a balance and as a result, enrich all aspects of their life.
Learning how to navigate through the various challenges we face give us opportunities to grow and mature in this precious and mysterious life. How fortunate and grateful we are to live in a city like San Francisco that is overflowing with access to healing communities like Zazen that help foster this growth.
Patricia J. Kim, L.Ac.
PItchford, P. (2002) Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.