Aging and Illness

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Aging is a bit of a touchy subject, at least it is for us here in the West. In our culture, aging is often seen as something unpleasant, something to be “fought”, and generally old age is a place none of us want to be headed. Our view of aging is largely a product of the culture in which we live. In many cultures around the globe, aging is seen as a joyful process, ultimately leading to wisdom that can only come from having had many years under your belt. In many cultures elders are revered and respected for all of the life experience that they have, and all of the knowledge they have acquired. But for us, aging seems to mean one thing - getting sick.

In the West so many things are seen through the lens of disease. Natural processes are treated like illnesses to be conquered and not life processes that are natural and healthy. Aging itself is seen by many as a disease that should be fought and conquered, with the goal of living as long as possible instead of as WELL as possible.

I have treated a lot of senior citizens in clinic, and I have seen over and over again that many accept the aches, pains and discomforts they have because they think they are a natural part of the aging process. In my experience, if you live in a healthy, conscious way, you do not have to resign yourself to feeling crummy, your body hurting, and various diseases taking up residence in a body that instead of being seen to be the beautiful temple that it could be, is seen as a vessel in a slow process of decay.

When you get a cut, does it not heal? Why can we not imagine that the body has this healing capability on every level if we only give it what it needs to accomplish that healing? So much of this is a state of mind, and one that is hugely cultural here in the West. How many times do we hear the doctor say - "well, you have arthritis, that is just part of getting old." And "yes, you have cancer, which, if you live long enough, is inevitable." You do not need to be resigned to ill health because it is what our culture expects. We need to take responsibility for our health, and we cannot do that if we accept sickness because we are getting older.

It is difficult to stay healthy with the same bad habits that brought you to a sick place. If you have eaten badly and not exercised your entire life, of course, something has to change for your body to get well. This is even more important as we age, as our bodies are not as resilient as they were when we were younger.  In Chinese medicine, the yin and yang energies of the body are seen to gradually decline as we age. We may have to work a little harder to keep healthy and maintain that balance, but we are absolutely capable of remaining healthy and active until the end of our lives. You may be wondering, if you lived a hard life, partying, drinking, working long hours and abusing your body how good your chances are of being a healthy senior citizen… well, you might have a little more work to do than someone who lived a more balanced lifestyle as a younger person. But isn’t it worth it to live as well as possible with the life you have left?

seniors and medications

Medications are a wonderful invention and help in many situations, but I find that in our culture and in this time, they are insanely overused. Medications tend to treat symptoms, meaning that they will need to be taken forever and will never resolve the problem. This is not a solution, it is a band aid. Chinese medicine always endeavors to find the root of the problem so that it can be corrected. All modalities are tools used to reach this goal. Once the root is discovered and corrected using acupuncture, Chinese herbs, moxibustion, nutritional therapy, etc.. then the symptoms disappear and health is restored.

Getting Back to Health

So how do we get back to health? Of course, we all want to be healthy, happy beings. But there are things we must do to make that happen. It is entirely our responsibility to keep healthy, and we should know that we have that power. Everyone at every age has this ability, but I think that a lot of people believe that as we get older, we will all get sick, it is just a matter of time. Prescribing medications for every symptom is certainly not going to help, but you have to know that you are in charge of your health. It is up to you, you don’t have to be sick.

So what can we do as we get older to make sure we are staying as healthy as we can? They are the same things we do when we are younger. As we age though, the body is not as resilient as it once was. This means that it is all the more important that we take good care of ourselves. Here are some suggestions…

eat clean food

Eat Clean Food

Eating clean, natural foods is important at any age, but sometimes becomes harder as we get older as we sometimes have less energy to shop and cook - but once you start eating fresh, natural foods that are grown in season, you will see how amazing and full of energy you feel!

sleep for health

Sleep

Sleep is the time the body uses to repair itself. Even though as we get older sleep can sometimes become more difficult, getting enough rest is an important way for the body to repair itself and build the reserves it needs to get through the day.

water

Drink Clean Water

The body is more than 70% water, and that water needs to be supplemented constantly as it is very important for all of the body’s processes. Staying hydrated will give you energy, help you to think clearly and keep toxins moving out of the body.

health and aging

Move Your Body

One thing I often hear my senior patients say is that moving has become more difficult because of aches and pains. This is a common complaint, so I tell them acupuncture is an excellent way to relieve pain, and pain is seen as stagnation in the body, a blockage of the flow. Acupuncture is very moving, and able to unblock these stagnations, but moving the body does this as well, things like walking, yoga, qi gong and tai chi are all wonderful ways to move energy and help keep things flowing to keep pain at a minimum.

positive thinking for health

Positive Thinking

A positive attitude has been proven to be a very important part of a persons overall health. Getting older can be fraught with difficulties, especially if you are not feeling well and depression and grief are common in seniors. But making a conscious effort to be positive and in an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness will do wonders for your health and wellbeing, and make you feel better from the inside out.

Although it is difficult to undo unhealthy behaviours from the past - staying up late, working long hours, drinking too much, copious drug use (prescription and otherwise), do you not want to enjoy the life that you have left? I believe, and the Chinese medical model suggests, that you are at the helm of the ship that is your health. If you eat well, drink clean water, sleep, exercise, express your emotions, and have a happy inner life then you can be a healthy, happy individual, at any age.

health and aging in Chinese medicine


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You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

~ Buddha

Happy Valentines Day from Chinese Medicine Living. <3

 


How My Curse Became My Gift.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I was a sensitive child. I felt things deeply. But when you are little you don’t understand this about yourself.

I always found it hard to be in a room with a lot of people. I could FEEL what everyone in the room was feeling. It was overwhelming. Because of this, I spent a lot of time by myself. This wasn’t the only reason. I grew up an only child, and we moved a lot. I was good at being by myself. I could spend hours playing by myself, I lived in my imagination. The external world was intense and overwhelming for me, sounds always seemed too loud, smells too strong. When it came time for me to go to school, the experience was terrifying. I was painfully shy and had a hard time in crowded classrooms full of excited children. I begged my parents to let me stay home, but alas, I could not. I had to go to school. These reactions prompted some concern for my parents. I think this is why my father took it upon himself to try to “toughen me up”, which for most children would have been fine, enjoyable bonding perhaps, but for me bordered on brutality. They were worried about me and how I was going to survive in the cruel, harsh world.

Daydreaming

It was at this point that I started to realize that perhaps something was wrong with me, or that I was different in some negative way. I started to notice my parents reaction to my sensitivity to things even though I didn’t know it as sensitivity then. Whenever animals got hurt, I would cry. I still can’t watch humane society commercials. I worried about the environment. I worried about my parents dying and where they were going when they did. I worried a LOT.

But, there were many things that were my solace from the worries of the world. I felt deeply connected to animals, especially my pets. I could feel what they were feeling and always knew what they needed. I loved being outside in nature and the gentle hum that came from the plants and the environment was comforting to me. I spent hours outside playing, building, walking. I was a daydreamer. I still am. I thought up entire worlds, people and complex scenarios where I would spend time in my imagination. This is what made me happy as a child, I had a rich inner life, but the real world and all its darkness, violence and death worried me deeply.

The importance of imagination

I think that my parents were really worried about how I was going to make it. Of course, they loved me and thought I was wonderful, but I suspect they wondered how I would deal with the harsh realities of life. I had heard them tell people what a “sensitive” child they had, and this was always accompanied by an expression of concern and received with a knowing look of sympathy. Being a sensitive kid was tough. My best friend's mother died suddenly in her sleep one night when we were 11 and I cried for a week because I was so sad for her and terrified my parents were next. When my pets died I was beside myself and couldn’t function. When I saw injustice or cruelty, I became angry and depressed that people couldn’t be more kind to each other. I worried about the state of the planet and the people on it. I still do.

Making it through high school was a miracle. As a shy, awkward teenager, high school is a special kind of hell. Thankfully, I went to an art high school and found a lovely group of people just like me, and we all got through it together.

Much later when I had a little more life experience and some more tools at my disposal I figured out a way to explain the way I was and why I was so easily overwhelmed by certain situations and felt everything so deeply. I realized that the bandwidth in which I take in stimulus is waaaaaaaay bigger than it is for a normal person - so, for most people parties with lots of people are fun and a place to relax and enjoy themselves, but for me, they are overwhelming, over stimulating and exhausting. For some people seeing an animal being hurt is sad but manageable, but for me, it is devastating and will haunt me for years.

Years later when I was in school learning Chinese medicine something amazing happened. In those years, you are learning to heal by first healing yourself, and it is an intense process that can take you to unexpected places. In second year we began our clinical hours in the student clinic treating patients.  I began to realize that I was easily able to tell why someone wasn’t feeling well and what they needed. I could organize my questions around what I felt from them instead of following a protocol or instructions. Instead of feeling three levels of the pulse, I could feel eleven. I could tell within a few minutes when someone in the clinic was sad, or depressed or afraid and that this was the reason they weren’t well, often without ever speaking to them. I knew when holding a patient’s hand would do more than sticking them with needles. I knew when listening was far more important to someone's recovery than herbs or dietary therapy. I knew the problem and the reasons for it, even if the person's words were telling us something completely different. It was incredible, I knew what people needed without even trying.

It was while I was in school that I changed the way I felt about myself. Instead of being someone who had a weakness that needed to be overcome, I became someone with a gift. I just hadn’t ever known how to use it before. This thing I had, it turned out, made me very capable of helping people feel better. Figuring out why they weren’t feeling well and what to do about it. This sensitivity allowed me to feel on many deep levels and ascertain the root of the problem and how to correct it.

Now, after being in practice for many years, I have been able to hone my sensitivity which allows me to get to the root of a patient’s problem quickly and efficiently. I use what I “feel” from them as much as listening to the words they are telling me to diagnose and treat them. Because of this, I am able to resolve their problems because I know what caused them and how to best approach their treatment. What I love about Chinese medicine is that it is about the person you are treating, not the disease. The way they feel is just as important as what is happening inside their bodies, and being sensitive is the best tool I have to be able to help people rebalance and get well.

I am so grateful that I was able to find a profession that allowed me to realize that this thing that had always made life more difficult, actually made me a better healer. Accepting that being sensitive was not in fact a curse, but something incredibly valuable was very healing on many levels. The whole experience made me realize something else… that there are no such thing as curses, there are only gifts.

The gift of sensitivity

I urge you to find yours, and go out and use it to change the world.

words of wisdom

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How my curse became my gift | Chinese Medicine Living