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Portrait of Smiling Beautiful Senior Woman
Thu, January 1, 2015
Chinese Medicine and Aging Well
Aging. In our culture of youth there aren’t many positive associations that go with that word. All too often aging is seen as a period of decline leading down the slippery slope to the inevitable. But although we’re all getting older, many of the problems that we associate with aging aren’t necessarily due to our age, they’re problems of premature aging that are the culmination of years of pushing our bodies without giving them the nurturing that they need.

According to the Huang Di Nei Jing, one of the most important texts in Chinese Medicine, humans have the potential to maintain good form and function until they are at least 100 years old. But, the Nei Jing tells us, to do that takes skill in understanding the body’s needs and daily effort to make sure those needs are met.

So according to Chinese Medicine, the first rule for aging well is to be proactive. Take an interest in your health on a daily basis. Take two minutes in the morning with your eyes closed, breathing quietly and turn your attention inward. What do you sense? Is your lower back a little sore, do you feel some heat in your stomach, is your breath free and easy, do you feel like you are full of energy or are you a little lethargic? Whatever you feel write it down. This is your starting point.

Now write down your personal ideal of how you want to feel. This is your dream. Turn your dream into a goal by writing down three simple things that you can do this week that will get you one step closer to your dream. Do at least one of them today. That’s being proactive.

In Chinese Medicine, aging well requires that we build and maintain our reserves by living in a way that is conducive to health. Our life force is called jing. Think of it like money in the bank (cha-ching). When we’re born, we inherit a certain amount of jing from great genetics, proper intrauterine environment when our tiny organs were first developing, etc. We don’t have control over this, it’s the hand we are dealt, but for most of us, it’s a reasonable amount of what Chinese Medicine calls pre-heaven jing. This type of jing is what we come into the world with, and if we burn through it by living on the edge, it can’t be replaced.

But we aren’t limited to living off the interest in our genetic trust fund. We get to take over. Every day, if we treat it right, our body maintains our life force and makes what Chinese Medicine calls post-heaven jing as part of its normal physiology. Any post-heaven jing that is made beyond our daily needs is then stored and available for us to use when we need it on days when we’re not making enough because we have too much stress, didn’t get enough sleep, didn’t eat right or exercise... you get the picture.

The jing essence is stored in the Kidneys. Yes, the Kidneys. Notice how Kidney is always capitalized when we talk about it in Chinese Medicine? That’s because the Kidney refers not just to the small organ that filters out waste and helps maintain homeostasis in the body. Kidney, with a capital K, refers to a whole network of bodily systems including the brain, bone marrow, and reproductive capacity. The kidney itself is the dominant organ that influences proper functioning.

So we can make our own post-heaven jing and build our reserves. But how much post-heaven jing or life force capacity can we possibly make and store? According to Chinese Medicine, the potential is basically limitless. If we are proactive and make aging well a priority, we can build a sizable reserve and protect our precious pre-heaven jing. And it’s never too late to start. I have many acupuncture patients in their 80s who are seeing significant improvements, building their reserves back up, and looking and feeling better than they have in years.

According to the Huang Di Nei Jing, “the wise nourish life by flowing with the four seasons and adapting to cold or heat, by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang, and what is hard and soft.” It sounds simple and intuitive, but grasshopper, mastering this one sentence can take a lifetime of practice and attention to detail that is only possible when you commit both your heart and mind for a common purpose.

Take some time to reflect on the ways that you already nourish life and brainstorm things that you can improve. Here are some hints. The four seasons can mean the four seasons of the year or the seasons of our lives. To flow with them you need to understand the natural challenges that your body faces in each season and make sure that you are meeting its needs through proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise, using acupuncture and Chinese Medicine to release blockages and assist in creating and maintaining the correct flow where necessary.

The ability to adapt to cold and heat refers to our ability to maintain homeostasis under a variety of conditions. Homeostasis is a dynamic equilibrium in which the body constantly self-regulates in response to changing conditions so that it is able to maintain a uniform internal environment. Again, this isn’t something you just do once in a while when a polar vortex drops down from the arctic or a heat wave rolls up from the south. Good homeostasis should be an everyday thing that you may just appreciate more because you’re comfortable when everyone around you is shivering or overheated. There aren’t any shortcuts here. When you take care of yourself every day, enhanced adaptability is the result.

Create a tranquil dwelling for yourself and find harmony. There are few things worse for our mental and physical health than chronic stress from bad relationships and poor finances. If something’s not right in this area, do something about it. If everything’s OK, make it better. Make your home an oasis of peace and joy where anger and stress can easily melt away. You’ll live better longer.

Balance yin and yang and hard and soft with acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and see a skilled licensed acupuncturist to get the best results. According to the Nei Jing, “in harmonizing the yin and yang, the essence and qi will glow with the joining of the physical body and the qi energy”. I’ve seen it happen with my patients as they leave my office moving freely and glowing with renewed spirit. Make aging well a priority and it can happen for you too.

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