There is a saying in Chinese Medicine: “When the mind is calm the Qi flows smoothly, and conversely when the Qi is made to flow smoothly the mind is calm.” If you practice Yoga, you probably know that for the past 5,000 years, Eastern philosophy has stated that the smooth flow of Qi is essential to your wellbeing. A healthy flow of Qi leads to the Holy Grail of a healthy lifestyle: Balance. As time marches on it seems balance is more and more illusive in our daily lives. Thankfully, many of us have made the practice of yoga part of our routine, but is it enough to achieve the balance that we all desire?
“Yoga is all I need to be healthy and balanced.” As an herbalist and acupuncturist, I hear that a lot. You know what I also hear a lot? “I hurt my back doing Ustrasana 3 weeks ago and it’s not getting better.”
I’d tried yoga a few times before I started graduate school for Traditional Chinese Medicine. But it wasn’t until I started learning this ancient medicine, that I really got it. Once I understood the theory behind the medicine, it all fell in to place for me. Yoga and Chinese Medicine have been practiced for over 5,000 years to increase longevity and prevent disease, and when used in combination, the results are incredible.
Yoga does reduce pain. Many Asanas (yoga poses) along with deep breathing help the brain’s pain center regulate the secretion of natural painkillers in the body. Because muscles relax when you exhale, lengthening the time of exhalation can help produce relaxation and reduce tension. But often this is not enough. Our stressful lifestyles, combined with poor eating habits and a polluted environment can create systemic deficiencies and toxin buildup. Receiving added support from Chinese herbs and acupuncture can help to correct most health concerns. The Chinese pharmacy is the largest and most advanced categorization of plants, animals, and minerals. This means that there is an herb, or several herbs, which can treat any imbalance or illness you may be experiencing.
Most people don’t know what effect certain yoga poses have on their body, but acupuncture can provide a framework to understand which poses are best for a particular condition. Specific poses invigorate certain meridians and organs, and nourish yin, yang, Qi, and blood. For example, backbends energize the yang aspect of the body. Meaning they generate heat and energy by stimulating kidney yang production. While forward bends emphasize the yin or cooling and calming aspects of the kidneys. So, if you have insomnia or are going through menopause, forward bends are great for you. The kidneys are the root of yin and yang, which makes them very important in the treatment of almost any illness.
I discovered early on that the poses I hated doing were the ones I needed most. The areas of weakness or decreased flexibility are usually sites of stagnation or weakness. This goes for everyone. For example, I dreaded doing twisting postures for such a long time. I’d use any excuse not to do them fully, if at all. Twisting postures literally help squeeze out toxins from your liver and other organs. Guess what? I had liver issues! Surprise! So you should look at which poses are hardest for you to see where you might have imbalances. But please don’t try to diagnose yourself. A qualified acupuncturist will able to help diagnose and treat you.
Along with treating an injury or health issue (emotional as well as physical), Chinese medicine can prevent injury and sickness. This means you can go even deeper with your practice. Acupuncture also allows you to go deeper into meditation. Several patients of mine who meditate have noted this improvement after just a few sessions. Isn’t that we all want? Allowing your body and mind to go places you might not have thought possible can be achieved with the support of acupuncture, herbs, and proper nutrition.
Yoga and Chinese medicine work wonders for pregnancy, and more and more pregnant women are doing a combination of the two. Well, this one study in Sweden proves they’re doing something right. A recent study proved the efficacy of acupuncture and yoga in regards to relieving pelvic pain during pregnancy. Pelvic girdle pain is common among pregnant women, as many as 1 in 3 are suffering severe pain. It is most likely caused by Relaxin, the hormone that softens ligaments and tissues during pregnancy and provides increased flexibility in the joints of the lower back and pelvis in preparation for childbirth.
A research team from Gothenburg’s Institute for the Health of Women and Children compared standard treatment (a home exercise routine), home exercise plus acupuncture, and standard treatment plus stabilizing exercises/yoga aimed at improving mobility and strength, each treatment was given for six weeks. The women given acupuncture had significantly less pain than the other two groups.
The researchers concluded that treatment with acupuncture and yoga offers clear advantages and can be seen as a useful addition to standard treatment for pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy. This finding is supported by previous evidence of a beneficial effect of stabilizing exercises adapted for pregnancy as well as evidence that acupuncture can have a pain-relieving effect for patients with low back pain.
The next time you hit the yoga mat, think about where you are holding tension. Consider using acupuncture to help the flow of Qi in these areas. Then take stock of any past injuries, traumas, or chronic issues like fatigue, indigestion, or menstrual problems. Instead of ignoring the problem, or taking harmful prescription drugs, which could have side effects that cut into your yoga routine, consider using herbs to help your system heal. If used properly, Chinese medicine and yoga work together in perfect harmony, helping you live a long and balanced life.
Live natural. Live well.