Finding your rhythm - Why we should follow Nature's lead.
The most important tenant of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to live harmoniously with Nature. As the sun rises and falls, we should wake and sleep. As the seasons change, so should our diet and activity level. Ancient Chinese practitioners understood that the elements found in Nature are also present within our bodies. After all, we are created from same raw materials as the natural world. Our bodies are literally a product of the Universe.
From that perspective, illness can be understood as a disharmony of nature within the body. TCM looks at all diseases in elemental terms: Fire, Water, Wood, Metal, Earth, Wind, Heat, Cold, Damp, Dryness, Excess and Deficiency. Each organ of the body has an associated element, season, emotion, time of day and preferred state of being. By balancing these natural elements within, health and well-being can be restored. This can be achieved through the use of herbs, acupuncture, diet, etc., but following and respecting natural cycles is of utmost importance. In doing so, we can prevent imbalances and ward off many ailments.
In modern terms, we understand this as our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is based on a 24-hour cycle and it exists within every living organism. Our circadian rhythm affects our sleep/wake cycle, among other important functions, and is dictated by the light and dark phases of day and night. So ideally we are awake and active while it is light, and resting while it is dark. These rhythms change with the seasons and with age, and are also be affected by lifestyle.
Many of our modern habits disrupt this natural cycle. For instance the advent of electricity and artificial light has had a significant impact on human health, particularly for those with the most nighttime exposure. According to an article published by the National Institute of Health (linked below), nighttime exposure to artificial light has been linked to higher incidence of breast cancer and is a known cause of disruption of melanin, a sleep hormone. This is particularly true for shift workers who have to work during late night hours, going against their bodies natural sleep cycle. Disruption of natural sleep cycles and poor sleep wreak havoc on the body and make us much less resistant to illness and disease.
Living in perfect harmony with nature is nearly impossible for most of us, but the closer we can get, the better off we feel.
Here are things you can strive for that will have a positive impact on your health and well-being:
Get up each day at the same time and go to bed each night at the same time (or as close to it as possible)
Eat on a regular schedule at the same times every day
Walk every day for at least 10 minutes outside if you're able
No screens (phone, tablet, tv) at least 30 minutes prior to bed time
Eat locally grown food as much as possible
Eat food that is in season
Stop eating by 7pm each night
Engage in "Nature Bathing" each week and spend time in wooded areas
In my practice, I tell my patients that the most important thing you can for your health is to be on a regular schedule, and to get outdoors as much as possible. This concept is so undervalued. I can't emphasize enough the mental and physical health benefits these efforts can make. You don't have to do ALL of these things, and you don't have to be perfect, just consistent. Start with one or two from my list and see for yourself. It's free with no side effects, so you have nothing to lose!
If you'd like to read more articles about some of these topics, I've linked a few of the ones I found useful below.