Chinese medicine is so helpful for us in the West because it offers a different view of life and health.
In our culture, a dominant theme with excercise and fitness seems to be “no pain, no gain” or “go hard or go home”.
If this doesn’t gel with you, read on to find another way of seeing things. It begins with the Heart…
“Heart” in Chinese medicine isn’t just the physical organ that we think of in our culture.
In Chinese medicine, we do say “the Heart governs the Blood”, which means that it’s the intelligence that guides life-giving sustenance throughout the entire body, at every moment.
But it’s deeper and more fundamental than that.
“Heart” means all thoughts and feelings, emotions and memories, awareness, perception and consciousness.
And there is a saying that states “The Heart is the Emperor“.
In ancient China, the Emperor was said to have a special connection to “heaven” – the underlying intelligence of life, the Dao, the energy behind nature’s movements. When the Emperor could reflect calmly and then issue orders to the Empire, then this order came through the intelligence of Nature – bringing peace and wellbeing to the whole Empire.
The Heart’s relationship with the physical body is parallel to the Emperor’s relationship with the Empire.
If we have an idea – something we wish to do, to say or to create – then this idea arises first in the Heart, as a movement. This movement in the Heart ripples into the awareness and the body to create our physical movement that allows this idea to take form in the world outside.
Similarly, when the body needs something – food, water or shelter – then messengers (we say “nerves” or “hormones”) bring this information to the Emperor – the Heart. The Heart feels it and issues the order towards movement. The Heart’s movement creates physical movement towards food, drink or shelter – towards whatever the body is needing in that moment to be alive.
So, whether we are wanting to create something or respond to the body’s needs, all movement arises first in the Heart.
Just as the Emperor has a special connection to the intelligence of Nature, so does the Heart. This intelligence guides us towards what is good and steers us from what is harmful.
All things being equal, things that bring pleasure are good for us and things that bring pain are not.
Although we can become hooked on pleasure-giving things in order to avoid pain, such as with addiction, underneath those harmful patterns exists our natural birthright – this pleasure-seeking/pain-avoiding mechanism that, given the chance, creates wellbeing at the core of our experience.
Every organ system in Chinese medicine has an emotional state that resonates with it.
The Heart’s emotion is joy.
Joy is the “vibration” of life – the feeling of everything happening smoothly.
It’s a balanced joy – gentle and sustained. The best English word might be “contentment“.
Too much joy is euphoria and this harms the Heart’s ability to “govern the Empire” of the body. Too little joy starves the Heart of inspiration and clouds the connection to Nature.
In Chinese medicine, the aim is to restore harmony. Harmony means returning the person to health, which includes the feeling of contentment.
“Moving from joy” means finding a relationship with physical exercise that is sustaining, nurturing and life-giving.
Many people nowadays become very stressed from their work or other demands of modern life. Often the pattern is to build up toxic stress in the body and then to blast it away with vigorous exercise.
The short-term result is to feel calm, because stress stagnates the energy and we are designed to be flowing with nature’s movements. Stagnation feels bad, flow feels good.
The long-term problem with this strategy, though, is that it’s too demanding on the body’s resources. It’s like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other – stagnated and stressed… swinging over to moving yet exhausted… and back again. Being exhausted means being less resilient to stress, and so the cycle goes.
The beauty of moving from joy is that the Heart stays “connected to heaven” the whole time. An experience of calm joy means that the flow in the body is dynamic but not draining, and you are moving from the “pleasure principle” only. It feels good, it’s good for you and after a session you enjoy a feeling of vitality without the energy crash that comes later.
It also allows you to use exercise as a mindfulness technique – tuning into the body and the feelings at the same time, connecting body and mind. This helps you to begin to better trust your inner signals. It’s a great way to “meditate” for those who can’t tolerate sitting still.
For some people, this will be the key to starting their regular exercise routine.
For others, it may initially mean slowing down.
If you’ve been feeling guilty that you’re not exercising enough, then maybe it’s because you’re simply not doing what you love.
Other people may enjoy running, or swimming laps, or doing classes at the gym.
If you love these too? Great!
Pick your favourite and find out how to start making it happen (see last week’s article to help overcome starting friction).
But maybe you look around and see what everyone else is doing and you feel uninspired? If this is you, then maybe you can think a little deeper about what really floats your boat.
Dancing? Martial arts? Dragon boat racing? Hula hooping? Rock climbing? Beach walking?
There are plenty of ways to move the body – and the chances are that one or more of these ways are joyful for you. Pick one, and try it!
If you feel like you might be using exercise to blast away stress, or if you feel like it needs to be increasingly vigorous to get a high, then this could be a sign to slow down and find your middle ground.
Our article on using the breath while exercising will be a great place to start.
And then maybe you can think a little deeper – if you’re a runner, tune in to the feelings that you have when you’re running. Is it joy? Or just relief from the dark cloud of stress?
Is there something that you could try, maybe alongside what you’re doing now, that’s more playful? See if you can open up to more creative and fun ways of moving, and start mixing these into your current routine.
Acupuncture is a beautiful way to release stress, settle the emotions and open the Heart to feel calm.
Contact us to book in or to find out more.