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Health, Humility and Mother Nature

Today I heard some outraged people on the radio complaining about the disruption the current British weather is having on travel. Now it may well be that the government, airports, rail companies and others are culpable in various ways, but it seems to me that the outrage expresses a misunderstanding we have about nature. That misunderstanding is that we are in control of nature, or should be. I’m afraid not. Nature is bigger than us. Right now we are getting a relatively gentle reminder of this fact – relatively gentle, compared with the reminder the victims of tsunamis or earthquakes get. Or, perhaps, the people on the Titanic got with that iceberg.

What we need is a bit more humility, a recognition and acceptance of our dependence on the natural world, an understanding of how utterly dependent our well being, and even our continued existence, is on that world. One of the advantages of Traditional Chinese Medicine is its insight into this interconnectedness between human beings and the natural world. It does not see us as isolated autonomous entities impervious to wind, cold, rain, heat etc, but as integral parts of the web of nature, deeply influenced by the elements. In fact we are influenced by these elements all the time; it is just that at times like these the influence becomes more noticeable.

Maintaining health, from this perspective, means we need some of this understanding and humility. We need to respect the elements and understand how they affect us. What effect does a strong cold wind have on us? What effect does the damp climate have? What effect does a sunny day have? We need to relearn how to tune in to the natural world around us, and to sense the way our bodies respond. More particularly, we need to know our individual weaknesses. How does the weather affect any health problems we have? We need to understand that and take the appropriate precautionary measures. We need to learn to live in harmony with nature, rather than getting all splenetic when nature intrudes too much into our best laid plans.

For instance, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, cold can ‘invade’ the body, or certain parts of the body. This often leads to pain and stiffness, since cold contracts tissues and obstructs the circulation of Qi and blood. The low back, for example, is especially vulnerable to cold, which is why many Chinese people traditionally wore a silk scarf wrapped around this area under their clothes during winter. Cold can also invade certain organs; for example, if it gets into the uterus, acute dysmenorrhea (period pain) can follow.

The prevention and treatment of these problems does not require a degree in rocket science. In the first place, especially if we know ourselves to be vulnerable to the cold, we need to wrap up well. In the second place, we need treatment that counteracts the cold with warmth. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this often involves the use of a herb called moxa, or mugwort, which is burnt so as to input heat into the body at the appropriate location. For example, in the case of low back pain which is caused or exacerbated by cold, moxa may be burnt on the end of acupuncture needles located at key acupuncture points in the area; alternatively, a ‘moxa box’ is used to warm the area. Similarly we use a warming topical balm, ‘red tiger balm’, which can be rubbed into the area to expel the cold. In these more technologically advanced times, we also use infra red heat lamps to the same end.

Written by Vimalaprabha

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