This week we’re joined by Samantha Hamilton-Stent, a Reigate based Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practitioner to look at the concept of nurture from the perspective of Chinese medicine.
Nurture from the Chinese Medicine Perspective.
To nurture oneself, or another person, are the collective activities of taking care of, nourishing and protecting, so that the person or individual can grow, develop and flourish.
Nurturing others can only be truly successful when we ourselves feel nurtured. That nurturing comes from without (other people, environments, nutrition) but also from within, from ourselves.
Therefore, self-nurturing ideally should be at the centre of our efforts to nurture other people, who in turn will nurture us, and in doing so wonderful helping cycle is established. I believe this is the foundation of a co-operative society and how we have evolved as a species. No small thing, this nurturing business!
In my clinic, I work with lots of people who are driven to help others, and I see very frequently a tendency towards helping other people at the expense of themselves. Our ability to help other people successfully and over the long term is, in no small part, reliant on our own robust health and ability to first nurture ourselves.
In Chinese medicine, physical and emotional health flourish when there is balance across all the systems in the body. Our ability to connect with others, grow, live, learn, laugh and reproduce, are in a large part dependent on the state of our QI (pronounced ‘chee’). We can think of QI as the substance of life, indeed our classical texts say “QI is the root of a human being”. According to Chinese medicine, there are many different types of QI ranging from the tenuous and rarefied, to the very dense and coarse. All the different types of Qi however are ultimately only one QI, merely manifesting in different forms. Due to the centrality of QI in health, nurturing, protecting and building our Qi is vitally important to maintain wellness, longevity and quality of life. We nurture and build our Qi through a variety of different mechanisms; in the first instance through taking in food (via the stomach) and air (via the lungs), and combining it with our ‘ancestral’ or ‘inherited’ QI (which underpins our constitution). This Qi then drives all the activities and actions of the mind and body and enables us to survive and ultimately, thrive.
Nourishing ourselves with the correct foods (and the correct food will vary from one person to another depending on the state of their Qi and individual constitution), getting sufficient rest and sleep, adequate movement and exercise, challenge and mental stimulation, and connection with others, all contribute to helping us maintain balance in the body, and also in life. This is the essence of self-nurturing.
“Physical and emotional health flourish when there is balance across all the systems in the body”
So How Can We Nurture Ourselves According to the Principles of Chinese Medicine?
There are five components to Chinese medicine that make up a complete system of healthcare – Nutrition, Tai Chi/QI Gong, Tui Na, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine.
The first, Nutrition, is concerned with eating the right kinds of food, at the right temperature, in the right quantity, at the right time of day and at the right time of year (do you really need to eat cold food when it is wintry-cold outside?). It is also about making sure that when we eat, we do so with focus and intent to allow our bodies to easily digest food to help make QI (do you really need to type that email while eating your lunch?).Tai chi/QI Gong are physical movements and exercise rituals which help us to generate and maintain our QI. Doing simple tai chi exercises daily helps us to protect, maintain and generate our QI. Acupuncture is one of the most recognized elements of Chinese medicine. Acupuncturists use very fine needles to stimulate our QI to have effects on blood or body fluids and organs to bring us back into a better state of balance physically and mentally. Tui Na (pronounced ‘twee-nar’) is a form of physical therapy which helps to move stagnating QI, nourish the organs, muscles, and sinews, and induce a feeling of profound well-being.
Chinese Herbal Medicine uses specific plants and minerals to warm, cool, move, drain, build, transform and maintain QI, blood, and body fluids to treat disease and help bring the individual back to health.
Of all the elements in Chinese medicine, people tend to think that acupuncture, Tui Na and Chinese herbal medicine are measures to be used only when we’re sick or unwell. In reality, and certainly in the case of acupuncture and Tui Na, we can use these very effectively to maintain our health. Indeed, in ancient China where the only medicine was traditional Chinese medicine and all doctors were acupuncturists-herbalists, physicians were not paid for their services if the Emperor or any of his family were unwell. This is because Chinese medicine is about maintaining health rather curing disease (although of course it can be very good at this latter point), and the court doctors were seen to have failed in their job of maintaining health if the Imperial family became unwell. This is quite different to prevailing use of Western medicine as being the identification and curing or management of sickness and disease.
Nurturing ourselves ties in with the philosophy in Chinese medicine of health being activities that help balance the body and mind. Paying attention to what and how we eat, our movements and exercise, getting acupuncture two or three times a year (even when we feel well), and periodically having physical therapy (Tui Na) to ensure the QI is flowing are meaningful ways to nurture ourselves. What’s more, it helps us nurture each other.