Martial Arts for Over 50's

By Cameron Cromwell

A commonly asked question is, ‘Can I start martial arts if I am over 50?’ The short answer is, absolutely yes! It is never too late to take up martial arts. This is especially true with the variety of martial arts and training programs available today. Many schools are offering classes that are ideally suited for older beginners.

There are a lot of reasons why someone over 50 might be contemplating taking up martial arts for the first time, or even returning to martial arts after many years away. I have provided a list of benefits specifically this age group. If you decide to give it a try then there is nothing stopping you. However, to help you get the best start I have also provided some advice that you may find helpful.

The Benefits

Fitness

Strength is perhaps the most obvious benefit because martial arts is a physical activity. Any type of resistance training helps to keep the muscles strong and healthy. In turn, this helps you to stay active and mobile while reducing the chance of injury from normal daily activities, such as moving heavy items around. It also helps to keep pain and discomfort away as you get older.

Balance & coordination improves form the strength and conditioning of your muscles and by ensuring your core remains strong. Good balance and coordination help to avoid injuries from falling or not getting out of the way quickly.

Flexibility comes from good stretching of all parts of the body. This is an important part of any good martial art training because flexibility helps you to be more effective with the skills and techniques you are taught. Good flexibility can help you in all parts of your life by reducing the risk of injury from normal day to day activities. Muscles will lose their elasticity over time if we allow it and this increases the chances of pulling or tearing a muscle or ligament. Injuries like this can take much longer to heal as we get older.

Cardiovascular improves when you regularly exercise and get your heartbeat up. This has many known health benefits. By improving your circulatory system, which includes your heart and blood vessels, your body is able to efficiently deliver nutrients and oxygen to the tissues of your body and to remove carbon dioxide and other wastes. In turn, this increases energy levels, makes it easier to sustain energetic activities, and recover faster from exercise and even injuries.

Weight loss becomes more of a consideration for us as we get older. Most of us find it too easy to put on unhealthy weight. Life transpires against us by slowing down our metabolism and getting us to spend more time behind a desk or doing things that require less physical activity on a daily basis. On top of this, going for regular runs or hitting the weights at the gym does not burn off the fat like it
used to.

Excess weight takes a significant toll on our health and ability to enjoy life. This is especially true if weight gain continues unchecked. However, it does not have to be an irreversible trend. It does mean that as we get older we need to exercise differently, and perhaps a little smarter. There is a lot of evidence today that controlled, high intensity, bursts of exercise and muscle strengthening, such as that offered by most martial arts, is more effective for burning fat and reducing excess weight for people over 40.

Keeping active

Simply put, staying active slows down the ageing process and helps you to get more out of life. With better fitness, you will not become tired as quickly. This is important for everyday life, but it can really make the difference of enjoying yourself when it comes to enjoying our precious weekends and vacations.

Some people want to be able to keep up with their grandchildren when the time comes. Why not make it so that your grandchildren struggle to keep up with you.

Posture

Muscle strength, flexibility and greater self-awareness of your body help to improve posture. A better posture makes you feel better about yourself and to look more self-confident. It also helps to prevent neck and back problems that can develop over time.

Self-confidence

It is amazing how much more confident you look and feel when you maintain your fitness and strength with the knowledge that you can do things that many people cannot, even those half your age. It signals to others that you may be older but you should not be underestimated.

As we get older we learn to appreciate the value of not relying on physical strength alone, even if we know we can. Martial arts help to develop an inner strength that can be drawn upon when needed. This, in turn, helps us to remain calm when the situation calls for it.

Self-defence

The martial arts have always been about self-defence. Even non-contact activities like Yoga and Tai Chi owes its roots to combative forms of martial arts.

Do you need to learn self-defence? Well, hopefully not. However, it is a sad fact that some people will try to intimidate and even prey on older people. But, getting older does not mean you have to become more vulnerable.

However, don’t expect to become Bruce Lee. It would be irresponsible to suggest that simply practising martial arts will make you invincible. The truth is that most martial arts today have developed into a sport whereby very specific rules are followed. In the real world, where things can quickly become dangerous, these rules don’t exist.

Saying that, if you train to box and you find yourself in a fistfight you will punch, block and dodge hits better. This improves your chances of not getting seriously injured. Most attacks and street brawls end up on the ground and this is where Judo or Jiu-jitsu training comes in handy.

It is true that you will become fitter, stronger and more self-confident, and these will no doubt help you defend yourself if the need arises. Your posture and body language alone may discourage someone from becoming aggressive toward you.

Mental health

Martial arts are not just about physical abilities. The tradition of most martial arts today, especially those of Asian origins, place as much emphasis on a healthy mind and positive mental attitude as they do on good physical abilities. For hundreds of years, what we have come to call ‘mindfulness’ in recent years, has always been a valued part of martial arts training. The good news is that even a healthy inner self remains an important benefit of modern martial arts.

Social interaction - Martial arts provide wellbeing in lots of ways. For example, just by participating you engage in social interaction and you are likely to make friends. Friends help to keep you going when you are tired or feeling low. As we get older it is easy to allow ourselves to become lonely and isolated. Joining a martial arts class is a great way to prevent this from happening.

Endorphins - Classes with periods of intense training will increase your levels of endorphins. Sometimes referred to as a ‘runner’s high’ this is a natural way of creating a good feeling. Regular exercise and release of endorphins are linked to improvements in mental health in people of all ages. Just because you are older doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the type of training that releases endorphins, even if start gradually and build up over time.

Personal achievement - As you learn new skills and are capable of doing things you could never do before you will enjoy a sense of personal achievement. This is enhanced when you are feeling more physically fit. Once you start training it will not take long to start feeling the boost to your self-esteem and general good feeling.

Cognitive function - Martials arts require learning very precise and accurate movements. Often these movements become a trained response to other stimulation. The more complicated the response and movement the more practice that is needed to perfect it. This training develops a good connection between your brain and muscles. There are studies that show an improvement in the cognitive ability of people over 50 after only 8 weeks of practising Tai Chi.

Reduced stress - Unfortunately, getting older does not necessarily mean you will become less stressed. This is especially true if you have greater responsibilities at work or demands from your family and life in general. Stress, if not managed correctly, can have serious health consequences.

Martial arts teach you to relax as you train to be more effective. Most people find that the focus during training causes them to temporarily forget all the things causing stress in their life. Then there are the physical exertions of martial arts to vent any pent-up, negative, energy. The endorphins that are released help to reduce pain, and they also help you to sleep better which helps
to reduce stress.

Getting Started

If you are reading this then you are probably aware that as you become older your body becomes more vulnerable to injury. Not everyone shows signs of ageing at the same rates, but nevertheless we are all ageing. While there is a lot that you can still do, probably much more than you might think, you will need to consider two things:

1) Your starting point
2) The limitations of your body

If you are already reasonably fit you will find it easier to get started with martial arts, just as you would with any new sport. If you have not been doing any form of physical exercise for a while your muscles will need time to strengthen. Beginner classes are intended to help you gradually build up your fitness while learning basic techniques.

Can’t kick someone above their shins? No problem. If it is a flexibility issue then you will improve. If you have a permanent restriction, such as bad hip or knee, oftentimes it is possible to learn how to safely adapt. Martial arts can even help to improve some injuries. For example, if you suffer from lower back pain then martial arts will keep your core muscles strong which protects the spine. A slimmer belly from exercising takes considerable strain off the lower back.

Still not sure? You can always get a medical check-up. Use the results to help you decide the type of training that is most suitable for you. You can discuss the results with a potential school instructor when looking for a martial arts school or club to join.

Of course, there are some limitations and disabilities that will make most martial arts impractical. You will need to decide this for yourself, but don’t be too hasty in telling yourself you can’t learn martial arts. It is worth exploring the different types to find out if there is one for you. I have recently seen a martial arts program that teaches the use of a cane for self-defence, which included students in wheelchairs.

Types of Martial Arts

This would become a very long article if I attempted described every type of martial art that is practised today. Even the more commonly practised martial arts make a long list. For an idea of popular martial arts that might appeal to you have a look at A Guide to the Most Popular Martial Arts.

Selecting a Martial Arts School

In many ways, the martial arts school, its attitude, its culture, and the available programs are more important than the type of martial art that you choose. When making a decision here are a few things you may want to consider:

  • Ask to join a taster session – these are usually free.
  • Ask to observe a few beginner classes to see what they are really like – avoid clubs that focus on training fighters
  • Find a school that you can easily get to – you are more likely to stick with it if it is reasonably convenient to get to the classes.
  • Take a friend or family member. This can make it more enjoyable to get started.
  • Women only classes - some schools offer a friendly and less intimidating environment for women to get started.
  • Senior only classes - some schools offer classes that provide a training program designed for older participants.
  • Speak to the owner or lead instructor -
    • What are his/her credentials?
    • What is his or her attitude toward training?
    • What is his or her approach to helping older people to get started?
    • Can techniques be adapted to help students with physical limitations?

All martial arts have benefits. The best way to find out how you will personally benefit is to give it a try. Start with one and discover what you like about it. Sometimes it is the type of martial arts, sometimes it is the type of training, and sometimes it is just the class and the people in it that make it appealing.

If you are not sure about the school that you joined, for whatever reason, try a different school or martial art. Lots of people try more than one martial art for many reasons. You can even join more than one at the same time.

What to Expect

There is nothing wrong with engaging any type of martial arts at any point in your life. There are plenty of examples of people in their 70s earning black belts. I recently saw a video of someone in their 80s learning military-style self-defence for the first time, albeit in a suitably structured one-to-one lesson.

No matter how much you want to jump in with both feet and start training like could in your 20's and 30's it just isn’t going to work exactly the same. Even if you are reasonably fit, once you are into your 40's and beyond you need to think differently about your training. This is not to say you can’t be strong and fit, it just takes a different approach. Martial arts can provide ideal training as you get older.

Many schools that traditionally taught the hard-impact martial arts like boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai now offer non-contact classes. These are perfect for beginners and anyone wanting to enjoy the physical and mental benefits without the aggressive sparring that could lead to injury. These classes are just as fun and challenging.

 

Cameron Cromwell is the creator of Absolutely Martial Arts, a website aimed at introducing people to martial arts and helping them to get started.



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The Positive Impact Of Chinese Medicine On Men’s Health

By Sally Perkins

There is an undoubted disparity in how men and women engage with healthcare globally, with the global life expectancy of men five years lower than that of women, according to The Lancet. With this disparity more present in highly developed countries than the converse, this indicates that the problems are not merely related to gender but are actually a holistic reflection of the lives men are leading. In this respect, the all-encompassing approach of Chinese medicine can have a wonderful impact on men’s health.

Mental Health

Mental health is a key driver behind many of the problems impacting men. From simple mental illness to heart disease, there are a wide range of problems in men of which the risk factors are enhanced by mental health conditions. As one influential study published by The College of Family Physicians of Canada found, the idea of being masculine and keeping a stiff upper lip contributes to this. The impacts of mental health can filter into several areas of life that you might not expect. For instance, even a relatively mild diagnosis of depression can lead to weight loss or gain, feelings of resentment for family and physical conditions such as erectile dysfunction. The spiritual basis of Chinese medicine provides a good remedy to mental health conditions; Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism all provide a philosophical and spiritual basis on which to live life and ultimately keep people feeling mentally healthy.

Protecting the Heart

Mental health and the heart have a symbiotic relationship, and using Chinese medicine to protect against vascular disease and stress can have an all-round positive impact. Tomatoes, beef, cherry, saffron – there’s a long list of foods that will benefit the heart and also produce a feeling of wellness and content. With this feeling the body can protect against the types of stress that men will often harbor when not paying close attention to their mental health. In turn, this can provide a safety jacket against the stresses of the world as a whole and improve health overall.

Relieving the Strain

Prevention is one matter; remediation another. A powerful way that Chinese medicine can rectify issues is through acupuncture, which is noted by The Mayo Clinic to have studies showing it’s efficacy. The act of acupuncture itself is often described as relaxing and stress-relieving, and the impact after the fact is long-lived and has a great benefit on all-round health. Men can work towards all-round areas of health that intersect, like the heart and mental health, and likely feel greater ranging benefits as a result of the holistic treatment.

In holistic treatment lies the key to improving men’s health. The issues that predominantly impact men and lower their life expectancy have an impact on one another, with vascular and mental health being particularly interlinked. Reducing stress and protecting those vital systems is an ideal pursuit for Chinese medicine, and can possibly help to close that life expectancy gap wherever men are in the world.


Featured image Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
Man image Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash
Tomato image photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash



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Can Chinese Medicine Help People with Autism?

By Sally Perkins

Around one in 68 children in the U.S. have autism, and following a diagnosis of their child, parents consider a wide range of options that includes educational interventions and, at times, alternative approaches. Among the many natural approaches utilized with autism, one of the most often discussed is Chinese medicine. Relatively few studies have been conducted on the efficiency of this approach, but those that have been carried out show promising and positive findings for specific symptoms and behaviours.

Herbal Medicine Treatment for Children with Autism

Parents of children with autism often turn to traditional therapies, including behavioural treatments such as applied behaviour analysis (ABA), occupational therapy, and the Early Start Denver Model. Each child or adult with autism has unique talents and challenges, though, and for some parents, combining one or more of these therapies with Chinese medicine has been useful. A 2017 review of existing research on the efficiency and safety of herbal medicines for the treatment of autism found that when used alongside conventional therapies, the use of Chinese medicine in relieving symptoms led to a significant improvement of the patient's Child Autism Rating Scale (CARS) score.

Commonly Used Herbs

Some of the herbs which are commonly used to reduce autism symptoms include Poria cocos, Panax ginseng, Acorus gramineus, Schisandra chinensis, and Glycyrrhiza uralensis. These herbs have been studied in different settings. For instance, Acorus gramineus has been found to have a sedative effect, as has Poria cocos. Researchers have stated that these herbs may aid in the reduction of some behaviours as well as inattention. However, they added that further research would be required to demonstrate the specific behaviours that each herb could address, and to see if polyherbal formulations could wield similar benefits.

The Use of Ukgansangajinpibanha Granule in Children with ASD

One small trial currently being led by S Haeng Lee is focusing on the efficiency of Ukgansangajinpibanha (UGSJB – a legitimately prescribed herb for nervousness, insomni, and night crying) in the treatment of children with ASD. The trial is set to conclude at the end of this year. Currently, the trial has already established that this herbal treatment can reduce aggressive behaviour by suppressing the excess activity of a particular neuron type in the hippocampus. It has also been found to successfully reduce anxiety and insomnia.

Acupuncture for ASD

A review report by academics at Cochrane has found that needle acupuncture might be linked to an improvement for people with ASD, specifically in the area of communication, linguistic ability, cognitive functioning, and global functioning. Other small studies have limited the success of acupuncture to cognitive and global functioning alone. Two additional studies, on the other hand, showed no benefits for acupuncture when compared to conventional treatment, yet acupressure did seem to lead to small improvements.

Although herbs and acupuncture are considered ‘alternative therapies’ for autism, few studies have been carried out on their efficiency. Those that have been carried out seem to indicate the utility of some herbs, and one current trial is seeking to discover that of UGSJB. Acupuncture does not seem to be too effective overall, but as stated by the Cochrane scientists, this may be because we have only a small number of studies to rely on, and all of these have been carried out on children. Further research, therefore, needs to be conducted to see whether or not acupuncture can make a positive difference in the treatment of ASD.

Featured image photo by:

S. Laiba Ali



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Practical Qigong - A Quick Mental Tune Up

by John Voigt

After I do qi work with someone I email them a reprise of the session: notes of what we did so that they may practice it by themselves in their dedicated times to do qigong work. This also frees them of the drudgery of taking notes when I am working with them.

What follows was sent to a middle-aged woman with whom I have been working for several years. She has been suffering from intense sleep disorders which she believes are caused by various spiritual forces. Within the context of her suffering, I believe hers is a valid conceptualization of the problem. I work with her by using Daoist and Christian prayers, and with external qi sending and acupressure with my hands and fingers (no needles).  She continues to improve: she is successfully working, going to college, performing as an art-rock vocalist, and having her writings published. She is also working with medical doctors, which I think is necessary.

My email begins:

Be Seated.

Relax. Breathe softly, deeply, gently, silently into the lower abdomen. No forcing, be comfortably natural.

Feel yourself as a physical being.

Feel yourself as an energy being—and/or be aware of your breath/breathing.

Be aware of being aware. Like Zen Mind. No words in the mind; when words appear let them pass and float away.

Smile. Like the Mona Lisa. Really. It works.

For Mental Tuning Up.

Rub, tap, massage, squeeze these points; as you do this continue doing the Mona Lisa Smile and being aware of your slow, deep, silent breathing. 

Remember most acupressure points are bi-symmetrical meaning that they appear on both sides of the body, or both arms, or legs, etc.

Yintang.

"Hall of Seal." Calms the mind.


This image from A Manual of Acupuncture by Peter Deadman

Earlobe.

[it functions as your head when you were a fetus].

Taiyang.

"Great Sun."  Head pain. 


This image from tcmpoints.com

Bl-15. Xinshu.

"Opening to the heart." Nourishes the spirit and calms the mind. Sleep issues. 

This image from tcmpoints.com

Si Shen Cong.

The four points around the crown of your head. Light finger tapping. 


Image from A Manual of Acupuncture by Peter Deadman

GV-17.

Nao Hu "door to the brain." Heaviness in the head. Also tapping as well as penetrating massage.


This image from tcmpoints.com

GV-18.

Qiang. Sleep issues.


This image from tcmpoints.com

GV-16.

Fengfu. "House of the Wind." For fear and/or fright, and depression.  it is an opening into the center of the brain.

This image from tcmpoints.com

The Bladder Channels.

The bladder channels run down the sides of your spine (and backs of legs). Helps tone and harmonize water issues. Be like a bear rubbing her back against a tree.


This image from tcmworld.org

Kidney-1.

Flushes out the schmutz (bad stuff). 


Image from A Manual of Acupuncture by Peter Deadman

For now all you perhaps might do is with gentleness and love massage the points where they feel blocked.  Approximate guessing where they are will work. There is a lot here, just take your time and do what you comfortably can and go for what feels good. These perhaps can be instant fixes, but more likely the Chinese thing works better over time, like practising music.

To end, make a Clockwise Circle on the lower Abdomen with your left palm over your right palm. 24 or 36 times. This helps absorb any excess cultivated qi in the dantian.

Then Shake everything like a Trembling Horse. 9x. Relax between each Shake. Then take a walk, or whatever.

Biophilia: Ways to Connect With Nature in Your Daily Life and Watch Your Spirituality Grow

Contribution from freelance writer Sally Perkins

We are a species of biophiliacs. In 1984 an American biologist called Edward Wilson published a book on man’s innate love of nature: biophilia. Wilson’s hypothesis is that human beings have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. This means that connecting with nature will improve your physical, mental and spiritual health. Since Wilson’s thesis, a hoard of science to back it up has been published including this 2015 study from Nature, showing a strong link between health and green spaces in cities.

Of course this only confirms what practitioners of Chinese medicine have known for centuries: the universe and the human being are interconnected. But these days many of us live in cities, doing technology focused jobs that keep us inside all day. Here are some ways to connect with nature and reap the spiritual benefits.

Understanding the link between spirituality and nature

The first step is to understand and accept that nature and spirituality are inevitably interconnected and both are necessary for your happiness. New research has found that spirituality leads to better mental health across the course of an individual’s lifetime. Spirituality is an intimate connection between our inner selves and the outer world. Thus while spirituality is related to your inner being, your place in nature and the world is equally important.

One you accept the importance of nature to your spiritual growth, you will find yourself drawn to natural spaces without expending much effort and the next steps will come naturally, integrating nature into your life.

Travel

The most obvious way to connect to nature is to travel to a natural space. When we think of ‘travel,’ exciting journeys to exotic places come to mind . These kind of trips can also be hugely beneficial but you don’t have to cross the earth to connect with nature. A day trip to a forest or a hill an hour outside your city will do. This works better if you can turn off your digital devices for your trip and really allow yourself to be in the moment. Done right, you will come back to your daily life spiritually refreshed.

Find natural spaces in your city

Of course, in our hectic life, opportunities to take a day trip may be few and far in between. Never fear, nature doesn’t stop at town borders. Search for parks, gardens and rivers in your area. Even fifteen minutes in a small park during your lunch break can make you feel more spiritually centered and ready to face your afternoon.

Bring nature into your space

For the days where even getting to a park sounds too much, make sure you have a little bit of nature in your home. The benefits of houseplants are numerous and well documented, including cleaning the air, helping you breathe and work better.

Even for urban dwellers, there are many opportunities to connect with nature and indulge your inner biophiliac. Integrate nature into your daily life and watch your spirituality develop and your happiness grow.

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The beautiful featured image photo by Beata Ratuszniak on Unsplash


Alignment - Part 3

By Steven Lubka

Performing a Cranial-Spinal Reset

Alignment : Chinese Medicine Living

Finally, I want to offer a technique for resetting the whole system when it is under stress. Anytime you feel tension or discomfort you can perform this to initiate a relaxation response.

The first step is positioning oneself in the above posture. The key points are as follows:

  1. You are lying on a firm surface
  2. The angle of your thighs to your spine is close to 90 degrees
  3. The angle of your shins to thighs is close to 90 degrees
  4. The ankles and feet are pointed
  5. The hips are positioned directly over each other, as well as all joints in the legs.
  6. The forehead is resting on the hands. It is very important that you are not resting the head on cheekbones or jaw joint. Resting the weight on one of these areas will be counter productive

Once one is in the following posture it is important to spent a moment attending to the breath. Allow the breath to shift into the lower belly, this will often happen automatically as the chest is pressed to the ground through the position. As one breathes they will feel an opening in the sides of the back. This mechanism of the breath force kicking back against the chest which is pinned to the floor serves to reset the spinal vertebra.

After one has spent a moment in the position it is time to address the skull. While in the position you now move to adopt correct oral posture. To really perform the reset you want to bring the molars together with a degree of force as you push the tongue against the roof of the mouth with 80% of the total force available to you at that time. If the amount of force available to you at the time with your tongue is enough to overpower the strength of the jaw muscles which keep the molars together decrease the force of the tongue. The aim of this is to release the jaw joint and it will only occur if the bite muscles are being engaged in this way. Performing this oral exercise while the body is rotated in this will serve to remedy any twisting of the skull, as well as the rest of the body. Once you have performed this on one side of your body flip yourself over and perform the same exercise on the other side. I recommend this highly as correcting the various ways the body is rotationally imbalanced is something which is often neglected.  

Finally, there is a quality which is essential the individual cultivates to really bring the total force of their being towards the journey of physical healing. This quality is the driving force of the whole process and if one were to do nothing else, I would simply suggest they cultivate it. The quality I am describing I would call , in my own words, a “felt sense” of the body. In other terms would could call it interoception and proprioception, the sensing of the internal condition of one’s body. This means that one must deepen their awareness of what their body feels like and be able to respond intelligently to the feeling state of the body. This carries emotional connotation as well. It is the refining of one’s sense of the emotional energies that circulate in the body, and the cultivation of a perspective of consciousness which is able to simply observe the impact of emotions without being drawn into reaction or identification with them. This quality can be cultivated through practicing continuous awareness of the various tensions once experiences in the body, as well as attending to each body part individually. What this means is to take a moment in meditation to feel what each body part is feeling. In one sense this is a coming home to the flesh, which we often turn away from or neglect. In another sense it is simultaneously important to develop an observer consciousness which is not attached to these things. This is a coming home to the spirit. If one does nothing else, cultivate these essential qualities.

I clearly remember the first time I ever tried to make myself feel better. Such a normal and commonplace action yet it struck me even at the time. I was 8 years old and I was looking forward to going to a favorite store when I found out it was closed. In that moment my mind reached for something else I could do to cope with the disappointment, something that might bring me pleasure. This is something we often do, and we even raise our children in this way. When there is emotional upset we seek something external to change our experience of those feelings.

However this represents a turning away from Self, from the ever present ground of being. It was my first encounter with the aspect of the ego which is focused on how it feels and is always desiring to feel better. What a mechanism! This was the beginning of my later drug addiction, at 8 years old. Addiction could not possibly exist in a being who is not seeking to experience pleasure and push away pain. And yet this function of egoic consciousness exists in many forms besides that of drug addiction. I think if we look at ourselves with an honest sense of inquiry we will find that we are all seeking a better experience most of the time. If we look with an even more discerning gaze we will also see that in doing this we actually create more pain for ourselves than if we didn't try to do anything about our negative feelings.

It is an important step in our journeys to heal the state of our body-mind, indeed this whole article has dealt with the process of healing. However, it is important to be aware of our motivation for doing so. Are we attempting to run from pain, to push it away as unacceptable, or are we seeking to meet our pain with the redemptive force of our loving attention?  For the rare individuals who are after Truth and not simply a better experience this is of the utmost importance. The path of self-improvement and healing is an ENDLESS path. One never reaches an end point. The only thing left for those who’s goal is something beyond this is direct insight into the nature of the Self. The act of trying to heal oneself or feel better is a pointer and a path in of itself, however this path does not lead to the ultimate goal. It prepares the seeker to be able to recognize and accommodate the divine perspective which will emerge later.

For me remembering the first time I ever engaged in the act of turning away from my pain, also always reminded that there existed something outside of it. It indicated that there was another state of being which was not concerned with how it felt and never attempted to change what was.

As always, this is a fantastic teacher for me. In remembrance of the Great Self, we turn ourselves towards our source , with endless devotion, without ceasing. The true God is a silent one, and a small one. There is nothing other than this.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Chinese Silk Pulse Cushions : Chinese Medicine Living


Why Acupuncture Works for Seniors

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

For more than two years I worked at a pain clinic that happened to be attached to a long term care facility inhabited by elderly patients. Many of them were my patients, and although their treatments at the clinic were multidisciplinary (seeing many types of doctors and receiving different types of treatments depending on their issues), I found that acupuncture really worked wonders on the eldery patients from next door.

Older patients present some unique problems. Firstly, many of them are on a myriad of medications for a wide variety of conditions. I found that I really had to sit down with them and take the time in the initial consultation to document what medications they were on and then research and make sure that none of them could be reacting with each other and causing any of the problems they were coming to see me for. I was really amazed at how many medications my elderly patients were taking. Many of them weren't sure what they were for, and others had been on them for so long that they had forgotten why they had been given.

In Chinese medical theory, as a person ages, their vital energy, life force or "Jing" is seen to be in a gradual decline. This is healthy and a natural part of aging. However, we are only born with a finite amount, and the way we live our lives determines how it is used, wheather it is wisely, or not. This is illustrated by a person who has lived hard, done a lot of partying, drinking, drugs... they usually have a worn out appearance and often look older than they actually are. They have been depleting their Jing, and it is aging them prematurely.

The other thing that I noticed about the seniors that I treated, was what a huge difference taking some time to sit and speak with them made. Making a connection and showing that I was really listening to them made a huge difference in their treatment and ultimately, their prognosis. This may seem obvious, that a little kindness goes a long way, but often in the medical profession, and in particular with seniors, doctors don't have (or take) the time to really listen. Of course, they are the experts on disease and illness, but who knows their body better than the patient? Allowing a patient to relay to you their experience of what is happening, what is out of balance or causing them pain is an important aspect of the treatment and subsequent healing process.

Another thing that I noticed is that my senior patients were rarely touched. Touch is such an important part of our lives. Important physiologically for things like the nervous system, and emotionally for a feeling of connectedness, affection and purpose. I found that sometimes they would hold my hand while telling me how they were doing just to feel a connection to another person. So, I always tried to incorporate some massage into the treatment which they always loved. Because stagnation occurs often in the elderly, massage (and acupuncture of course) are very moving and stimulating to the body helping to move stagnation and keep things flowing freely.

Why Acupuncture is So Good for Seniors

Because of all these factors acupuncture works very well for seniors. You don't have to worry about drug interactions (which are especially dangerous in the elderly), and it can be applied in as gentle a fashion as needed depending on the patients requirements.

Because many seniors exhibit long standing deficiencies, they are not as sensitive and by the time a symptom is felt, it is often very serious (children are the opposite), and acupuncture is a powerful tool and able to be used on sensitive or very deficient patients. It's many modalities are also useful like dietary therapy (I found many seniors were not eating a balanced diet), emotional wellness (which I was attending to by speaking with them and allowing them to express what they were feeling), and the importance of exercise. Many did not get out or even do much moving around. As part of their treatment I always advised walking, even if it was around the halls, but going outside and getting some fresh air and being out in nature is always preferable. This is good for moving energy, getting the blood flowing and improving mood.

We had a physiotherapist in the clinic and we set up a program for her to go next door 3 times a week to do an exercise class with the seniors. It was so popular the class was always packed and the staff noticed a marked improvement in the overall health and mood of the residents.

Another common problem is depression. Often senior citizens are living in facilities like this because they are unwell, unable to take care of themselves, and have lost a spouse. These all take a toll on our psyche, so depression is common. Any of these on its own is a huge adjustment, but they often come together so it isn't hard to imagine that many people become depressed when these major life changes occur. Some withdraw and shut down, some become angry and frustrated at their situation, and some become sad and depressed. I found that the more connected to the world and other people, the better they did. If they had visitors, saw their friends and children, or went on outings, they were happier and more balanced and overall, healthier.

Thankfully, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have many ways to deal with depression. Like everything in TCM there are many types of, and reasons for depression to take up residence, but a thorough intake and accurate diagnosis can help the patient on their way to recovery. I saw many patients improve dramatically, and seeing their healing was perhaps the most rewarding of my career. My senior patients were some of the most interesting (the stories! They have seen so much of history!), most kind hearted and appreciative patients I have treated.

We live in a society that does not value its older citizens the way most cultures do. In many cultures around the world the oldest members of the family, village, or town are the most revered as they have something the younger people do not... wisdom. And wisdom is something that can only be gained by living, so the oldest among us are the wise. In our culture in the West we do not have the same reverence for our elderly, and they are often put into homes, abandoned and forgotten when they have so much to offer and to teach us. I learn so much from all my patients, but I think I have learned the most from my senior patients who have lived longer, seen more and experienced life to an extent that I have not, at least not yet... ;)


The Importance of Emotions in Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The emotions are an extremely important aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Emotional wellbeing is an integral part of health in the TCM model. Each emotion is associated with an organ, which, if out of balance will cause specific symptoms.  These are what the experienced acupuncturist or practitioner of TCM is looking for when you walk into their office with a complaint.

Emotions are of course a natural part of being human. Feeling joy, sadness and anger are all perfectly normal experiences we have in our day to day lives. It is when these emotions become excessive or are repressed and turned inward that they can become pathological and cause disease. The belief is that balancing the organ associated with the emotion will balance the emotion. Sometimes the organ is out of balance and produces the emotional imbalance. But sometimes the emotional imbalance can produce the organ imbalance. The difference to the practitioner is important only in preventing a recurrence of the problem. For example, if a person is experiencing extreme fits of anger, frustration, red eyes, problems sleeping, migraines and constipation, they are seen to be suffering from an imbalance of the Liver. This can be corrected with acupuncture and herbs. The liver returns to balance, the migraines disappear, sleeping improves and the bowels return to normal. But, if the patient is in a job he hates, with coworkers that make him angry and is constantly fighting with his wife, his anger will remain and the Liver imbalance will return. This is why during the diagnostic process, the practitioner asks many questions, and to the patient, it might seem like they have no bearing on the presenting condition. The job of the practitioner is to evaluate all aspects, not just the physical so that once the imbalance is corrected, the environment that created that imbalance no longer exists.

It is important to remember that cause and effect in TCM is not linear but circular. We usually think that something is the cause of an act, or effect such as - eating too much will give you a stomach ache. Eating too much is the cause and the stomach ache is the effect. This is linear thinking. In TCM linear cause and effect does occur when symptoms are present, for example - going outside without enough warm clothes on in the middle of winter will cause you to catch a cold, resulting in symptoms like a runny nose, achy muscles and a fever. These symptoms are the effect of the cold which was the cause. However, in some cases, the symptoms are not a result of such straightforward reasoning which is especially true when we are dealing with emotions.

One very common cause of emotional imbalance in TCM is repressed emotions. TCM is all about balance and flow. If emotions are not being expressed, they are being stuck which can lead to a blockage of the flow or stagnation, which in turn can lead to disease. How the disease manifests is completely individualized depending on many factors, and it is up to the practitioner to determine the “how”. Releasing emotions can heal disease. Even things that are considered extreme and long-standing stagnation in TCM like cancer. Diseases which, in the West, are seen as incurable.  Emotions that do not have avenues for expression and release can create disease and disharmony in the body manifesting as physical symptoms. So, it is very important to have a healthy emotional life, expressing your emotions freely and not allowing things to build up.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Here is a breakdown of the emotions, their related organs and some symptoms when an imbalance occurs...

HEART

Emotion - Joy
Emotion out of balance - Lack of enthusiasm and vitality, mental restlessness, depression, insomnia, despair, confusion, anxiety, fidgeting, easily startled
Organ Function - Regulates the heart and blood vessels, responsible for even and regular pulse, influences vitality and spirit. Connected to the tongue, complexion and arteries
Symptoms of organ imbalance - insomnia, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, excessive dreaming, poor memory and concentration, dizziness, spontaneous sweating

SPLEEN

Emotion - Worry, overthinking
Emotion out of balance - Dwelling or focusing too much on a particular topic, excessive mental work
Organ Function - Food digestion and nutrient absorption, the first step in the formation of Blood and Qi, holds blood in the vessels, connected to the muscles, mouth and lips, involved in thinking, studying and memory
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Tired, loss of appetite, mucous discharge, poor digestion, abdominal distension, loose stools or diarrhoea, weak muscles, pale lips, bruising easily, excessive menstrual blood flow, other bleeding disorders

LUNG

Emotion - Sadness
Emotion out of balance - Excessive sadness, grief, or detachment, uncontrolled crying
Organ Function - Respiration, controls sweat and body hair, creates energy (Qi) from the air and redistributes it throughout the body, works with Kidney to regulate the water metabolism, an important part of the immune system and helps protect the body from viruses and bacteria, provides moisture to the skin
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, catching colds easily, fever with chills, sore throat, runny nose, headache, asthma, chest oppression, pale complexion, dry skin

KIDNEYS

Emotion - Fear
Emotion out of balance - Fearful, no willpower, insecure, aloof, isolated
Organ Function - Responsible for reproduction, growth and development & maturation, connected with lungs in water metabolism and respiration, responsible for bones, teeth, hearing and head hair
Symptoms of organ imbalance - Frequent urination, urinary incontinence, vertigo, night sweats, dry mouth, poor short term memory, low back pain, sore or weak knees, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, hair that turns grey prematurely, hair loss and osteoporosis, lowered libido

LIVER

Emotion - Anger
Emotion out of balance - Explosive anger, resentment, frustration, irritability, bitterness, moodiness
Organ Function - Stores the blood, responsible for the smooth flow of Blood and Qi throughout the body, regulates the secretion of bile, connected with the tendons, nails and eyes
Symptoms of organ imbalance - chest distension, red face, bitter taste in the mouth dizziness, ringing in the ears, jaundice, menstrual problems (cramps, irregular or heavy periods), headaches, tendonitis, nausea, vomiting, sighing, breast tenderness, swelling and/or itching of the genitals, blurred vision, floaters, dry skin and hair

Here are examples of some combination patterns:

Heart & Kidney

If a patient is experiencing extreme mood swings between Joy (mania) and Fear (depression), it indicates an imbalance between the Heart (Joy) and Kidney (Fear). We would see symptoms such as insomnia, dream disturbed sleep, heart palpitations and dizziness.

Liver & Lung

If a patient is experiencing violent mood swings between Anger and Grief, an imbalance between the Liver and Lung is present with symptoms involving breathing problems, issues with bowel movements and waking between 1-5 am.

The way the TCM model views emotions is very specific. For example, there are many different types of depression. It depends on which organs are involved. Here are some examples:

Liver

If the depression is actually anger turned inward on itself, which is common with many women, the Liver is out of balance. Symptoms could include PMS symptoms, cramps during the period, vomiting and nausea.

Spleen

If obsessive thinking or worry characterizes the depression, we would suspect the spleen and look for symptoms such as decreased appetite, diarrhoea, fatigue, heavy bleeding with the periods, and bruising easily.

Kidney

Sometimes the depression comes with panic attacks (Fear). In this case, we would suspect the Kidneys.  We would look for urinary changes (usually an increase in frequency), low back pain and weakness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), poor appetite and diarrhoea.

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

Emotions are not the only factor contributing to disease. Another thing to consider is lifestyle. It is difficult to always avoid getting cold, having an umbrella for when it might rain, getting enough sleep and eating properly. We live in a fast-paced world full of stresses on both our minds and our bodies. We always seem to be rushing and there never seems to be enough time. And although sometimes we can’t help getting sick or feeling a little under the weather, it is important to remember that the cause of an imbalance may be occurring from events in your life. There is no needle for a bad relationship, stressful job or frustrating coworker. A practitioner can help you to deal with the stress in your life that may be causing the imbalance, but we can’t remove the stress. Only you can do that. Sometimes we feel that we are unable to change the circumstances that are causing stresses in our lives, but a practitioner can help you to deal with that stress by advising on how to eat healthily (eating with the seasons, and the incorporation of the 5 flavours - Sour, Salty, Spicy, Bitter, Sweet), and how to incorporate exercise and meditation techniques such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong into your life. The TCM practitioner is trained in how to live or the “Tao” (which comes from Taoist philosophy) helping both to rebalance a patient and educate him on how to retain that balance by living a healthy balanced life.

We are all living full, busy lives. Imbalance is everywhere, and staying healthy isn’t easy. I have found that in my practice people often feel overwhelmed and exhausted. I always suggest that they be kind and gentle with themselves, and to try to do at least one nice thing for themselves every day, as our happiness is so important for our health. We are living in a time when we are dealing with so much, so it is important to take the time to do things for yourself like have a bath, read a book, spend time with your children, or walk outside in nature. Whatever brings you happiness and makes you feel good. It is these small things that are the keys to wellness. Life is the journey we all share, and if we live it with mindfulness and wisdom, that journey will always lead to balance and happiness.

Photo by Blaise Vonlanthen on Unsplash

Lovely featured image photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash


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