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What makes us get ill? A big factor in a lot of cases is the kind of life we are living; a lot of the patients we see are suffering from symptoms which have been brought on directly or indirectly, by what is regarded in our society as a ‘normal’ life. This ‘normality’ involves a lot of activity. It involves working hard, perhaps for long hours, sometimes in a job which we do not really like. And then, when work finishes, we either keep on pushing our self, making sure we and our family don’t miss out on all the goodies which society has to offer – making sure we see the latest film, buy the best hi-fi, book the best holiday. The advertising industry, of course, ensures that we know that we mustn’t miss out on all these things.

A ‘normal’ life, then, involves pushing ourselves. When our energy has run out and what we really need is to relax and recuperate, what we do is to keep pushing, keep doing, keep achieving, keep getting (or trying to get). In this way we gradually draw on and expend our natural reserves of energy. Periodically we collapse in front of the telly, which unfortunately is not so effective as a means of revitalising ourselves.

This might be fine for a while, but sooner or later – depending on how strong our constitution is – it starts to affect us. Maybe we don’t sleep so well any more, or we start getting headaches, develop digestive problems such as IBS, or start suffering from anxiety or panic attacks. Different people are affected in different ways. Often we are mystified as to why these things are happening to us. This isn’t, after all, what it is like in the adverts. In the adverts, people do all the things we do, and seem perfectly healthy and happy. There must be something wrong with us.

The adverts are misleading. All the time we are being told about what is a ‘normal’ life, about how to be happy and fulfilled, but what we are being told is skewed. And then there is the ‘keep up with the Joneses’ factor. If everyone else has bought their kids the latest high-tech gadget, we are under pressure to do the same. If everyone else is working overtime to make more money, we don’t want to miss out ourselves. We don’t want to be abnormal.

In Chinese Medicine and in traditional Chinese thought in general, a key concept is the balance between Yin and Yang. In this context we can think of Yang as the active, outgoing, achieving aspect of human beings, and Yin as the receptive, reflective aspect. Health involves keeping these two in balance. In our civilization, they are out of balance; there is an over-emphasis on Yang. We don’t spend time quietly, we don’t ever get in touch with the stillness at the centre of our beings (in fact we maybe have no idea that it is even there), we don’t have time to meditate, go for a walk in the woods, or even to just drink a cup of tea for ten minutes whilst doing nothing other than gazing out of the window. (Slobbing out is not the same thing as this at all!)

What this means is that the Yin, which is not nourished in the ways it needs, gets depleted. This happens gradually. Yin deficiency results in such things as insomnia (night is the time of Yin), a low-level anxiety, and muscles that are under-nourished and tight. It can lead to things like migraine and tinnitus. And the more it is depleted, the harder it is to restore it – we can’t nip out to the supermarket and buy Yin, and we can’t just get a pill from the doctor, or a herbal pill from people like us for that matter, which will magically restore it.

This is not to say that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine cannot help to restore Yin over a period of time, but if meanwhile we are continuing to live a life which prioritises Yang over Yin, we will probably be just delaying the inevitable. A Chinese medical practitioner worth his or her salt, of course, will be looking to find ways of helping us to realise this as part of the treatment they provide.

We may protest that we have no choice in the matter. We have to push ourselves at work, maybe working long hours at a job we don’t even like, because we need the money. Maybe we’ve got kids who need a lot of attention, not to mention a lot of money. But there is always something we can do to change things; if we understand that our life is out of balance, if we understand what that is doing to us, we will take steps to restore some sort of harmony. The hard part is the understanding, because we are constantly being told, by the advertising industry, by the media in general – or at least some of it – what ‘normal’ is. If we don’t develop the ability to see through this, to be critical of it, we will suffer the consequences. Just accepting what we are told is ‘normal’ without thinking for ourselves is like being one of a pack of lemmings running for the cliff edge.

Fortunately there are places to turn to for support. Rather than just passively sitting in front of the TV when we have run out of steam on an evening, and passively imbibing the same old story, we can look around for alternatives. After all, over the centuries, some quite clever people have taken the trouble to sit down and think about human life and write about it. What is the best way for a human being to live? What is the best way to live a healthy life, healthy on all levels? People have asked these questions, and some of the answers they have come up with are at least worthy of our consideration. (Of course there are some TV programs which are worth watching for the same reasons – the point is not to knock TV, but to knock the passive acquiescence in a way of life which is unbalanced and unhealthy.) And there are groups of people around who are doing this, who are developing wiser ways to live, and we can hook up with some of them, perhaps. There are people around whom, whether they put it in these terms or not, live a life in which the Yin is nourished and the Yang expressed, in equal and balanced measure. Surprisingly enough, they tend to be healthier.

Written by Vimalaprabha

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