I’ve written about my affinity for acupuncture and Chinese Medicine before, and I’m going to talk about it a little more today. So, if you think it’s hogwash or are offended by it, you might want to pass this one by. But, it might be a good opportunity to think about a different concept of illness. I’ve always read that almost 100% of illness and disease are caused by stress. Now, this is not necessarily a direct correlation, but keep in mind that stress is what causes our bodies to wear out, age, attack itself and otherwise decrease its effectiveness. And stress is simply, wear and tear on the body. There’s good stress and there’s bad stress. There’s normal stress. But, if we’re not babies, we have some kind of stress. And, eventually, something’s going to give.
A woman in my office at ServiceMaster came over to get some yoga advice one morning. She was young, in her 20s, and she was having tightness in her chest. She asked for some stretches to help lengthen the muscles there and loosen them up. So, I took her to a conference room and showed her some. She kept going on and on about how tight it was, how confused she was about it being that way and how it hurt. Intuitively, I asked her, “Who are you protecting your heart from?” She stopped and looked at me incredulously. “My boyfriend,” she said. I told her she didn’t need to stretch her chest. She needed to protect her heart by setting some boundaries with him or getting rid of him. I knew that because the action of protecting your heart causes you to concave your chest and protect it with your body. It’s just natural to do that. And, if you’re having to do it a lot, you’re going to increase tension on those muscles, and they are not going to want to stretch.
I learned this from yoga. Whatever we do frequently becomes part of us and our anatomy. I loved an analogy that Kathleen Flannagan, my teacher in Long Beach, IN, presented to us in class one day. She said that however we approach our yoga practice is how we approach life. If we approach our practice by comparing ourselves to the other practitioners and always coming up short, that’s how we approach life – always comparing ourselves to others and coming up short. If we push beyond our capabilities and try to do something because we “should”, we probably do the same thing in life. What an eye-opener that was for me! The key was that I could change my life by changing my practice. So, when I started slowing down and working at my ability level and being more meditative, my life began to take on those qualities. What you practice, you become.
Christopher Reeves’ wife Dana, died almost exactly a year after his death of lung cancer. She was a non-smoker. When I mentioned to my acupuncturist how weird that was, she said she was not surprised. She said in Chinese medicine, the lungs hold grief. The fact that she had lived with the chronic grief of her husband’s injury and then his death and was probably unable to process it because of the demands of their life, the cancer probably developed. I asked my acupuncturist if she could help me with a chronic upper back injury that I had for several years towards the end of my marriage and after my divorce. It was very painful and was a motivator in my doing yoga most days. It hurt so bad, I could never forget it was there. She gave me a needle in my right hand, and the pain literally melted away in 5 minutes. She said that was where I was holding my emotions. The pain never came back.
When I was training for my first marathon, I was plagued by tightness in my right IT band which caused a lot of pain in my right hip. I was constantly stretching it, getting it massaged and favoring it. I asked her to help me with that, and I had learned that there was probably something emotional tripping me up. “What’s that about?” I asked. She said, “Do you have any resentments?” “You mean other than the horrible boss I have and can’t stand,” I laughed. Now, when I have a resentment, I deal with it, and the pain has never resurfaced. I run more than ever these days. But, running wasn’t the issue. When I went to Costa Rica, a friend of mine was complaining about chronic pain in her right hip that she was killing herself trying to get fixed. Nothing was working. I asked her, “Do you have any resentments?” She and her buddy busted out laughing. “Duh….yeah – big time!” she said. I told them the story about my experience, and I think she was convinced it might just not be a medical issue.
This is not to say that an injury or illness is the sufferer’s fault. I hate it when people tell people that it’s their own fault that they are sick. We all have ways of coping and surviving that are a bit dysfunctional. It’s just a way of looking at health and injury that might give you some perspective on what could be done to fix things on a holistic perspective. It also might be food for thought to prevent something from happening in the future. Are you always anxious and stressed? Maybe it’s time to learn a new way of looking at the world. Are you overworked and ignoring your own needs? Maybe it’s time to focus on you before your body forces you to. I can tell you this. If you don’t listen, the message will keep coming at you….harder….louder….and more impactfully…until you heed it. Trust me on this.