Energy- It’s always in demand isn’t it? There are the energy sources we need for outside-our-body functions like lighting our light bulbs and running our washing machines but what about the energy we need for our inside functions like thinking, loving, moving? Much like a car needs an ongoing supply of gas (aka energy source) to work, humans also have energy sources crucially needed in order for us to “work”. According to the traditional Chinese medicine view point we have three energy sources we rely on after we’re born: something called jing, the food and drink we take in and breathing.

Jing is like a savings account opened in each individual’s name at the time of their birth. It holds the  genetic potential  we receive from our blood-family members, i.e. moms, dads, granddads, grandmoms and so on up the line. Some of us are born with big savings accounts. That group would include those of us who can routinely abuse our bodies and minds with “bad habits” and show very little wear and tear. Then there are those of us who are born with a small savings account and can be faced with physical and mental challenges sometimes from the very start of life. It’s in each individual’s best interest to be “fiscally” conservative with the energy dollars we have in these savings accounts because we have to make those energy dollars, or jing, last our entire lifetime. Or, you can spend this energy like a drunken sailor and severely deplete this resource and pay the physical and/or mental consequences. For example, have you ever known anyone to be just a little too reckless with how they play in life? Maybe they burn the candle at both ends too often and end up looking old before their time? This is a sign that they are living outside of their energetic means. Their body has had to dip into their jing savings account to pay their energetic bills,  so to speak. I always get the question, “Can you build up the savings account if it gets depleted?” The answer is a qualified yes. Your jing account can be filled again by living within your energetic means by having good living habits. Examples of good living habits would include:  healthy routines with eating and sleeping and healthy sexual practices. However, the original bills in your jing start off crisp and brand new. When you go to refill your jing account through good, healthy practices the bills are no longer the crisp, clean new ones. So, protect your jing! As often as you can: eat healthfully, have a regular sleep routine that leaves you feeling rested when you get up, and practice other healthy habits.

If jing equals an energy savings account, what makes up your everyday energy checking account? This would be the account to which you need to have immediate access  in order to take care of your daily energy demands, such as making decisions, getting the kids off to school or processing a strong emotion. What you eat and drink and how well you breathe are two of the main sources that keep this checking account full.

As well as your jing, the things you eat and drink and your breathing practices are the gas for you. You can choose to fill your “car’s” gas tank with sludgy gas or you can fill your car with clean gas.  Once or twice choosing sludgy gas and you may not notice any change in your car’s performance ability. Eventually though, it will show. You’ve probably heard the expression a million times, “You are what you eat”? It’s the same idea. Not having regular eating habits (such as not eating breakfast or having erratic eating times), or eating poor foods (such as highly processed, nutrient poor foods), equals sludgy gas. Taking the time to have great eating practices ensures that your car stays on the road for as long as possible in the best shape possible.

Breathing takes even less concentration to do than eating. It’s so important to the body that it is a semi-voluntary act. Just like you don’t have to remember to make your heart beat,  it’s also not necessary, under normal circumstances, to remember to breathe. Your body will go on breathing whether you are thinking of doing it or not but you can also take over manually from automatic pilot. That’s where the fun begins. By experimenting with different breathing techniques you can therapeutically affect the body. You can calm yourself or energize yourself just to name two benefits. It surprises me sometimes that whoever is responsible for all the exercise fads hasn’t come up with a slick exercise routine using simply breathing. Yoga and Tai Qi and Qi Gong have long made use of deliberate breathing techniques to bring about balance in the body. If you decide to play with this yourself, use common sense and be careful, start slowly because breathing can be heady stuff. Better yet, get yourself to a yoga or tai qi class and reap more than just the breathing benefits!

So the next time you find yourself contemplating how to boost your energy, remember your jing, review your eating and drinking habits to see if you need to change anything and think of what my illustrious teacher Dr. Cao once asked my class, “Energy sources are important. How long can you live without food? [About 45 days give or take] How long can you live without water? [About a week depending on conditions] But most importantly, how long can you live without breathing?”

The Healthy Living Pyramid

Healthy Eating Pyramid

Originally uploaded by stevegarfield

Hi Everyone! Around here at the beginning of October, it’s all about pyramids. You’ve heard of the healthy eating pyramid right? If not, take a look at this post’s picture. This same concept can be used to describe health care and its included idea of healthy living. I love the idea of organizing the concept of health care in this form. It’s an easy visual aid you can carry around in your head to help organize your thoughts and actions surrounding being healthy. Health care isn’t just about visits to your health care practitioners. In it’s most complete meaning it’s about everything that can be done to care for your health.

As with any pyramid, the base is the foundation of the structure. It’s the crucial section that holds up the rest of the pyramid. It has to be strong, stable and constant. In regard to caring for your health, the base of the pyramid should be prevention-oriented fundamentals. The blocks making this part of your health pyramid will be the things that hold up all the rest of your health and its care. This base will contain all the pro-active things you do to express healthy, balanced living. There are no complaints, pains, problems, chief concerns or imbalances at the base. They come later. Think of your health care pyramid foundation as blocks of  health sustainers used to keep you from becoming unhealthy in the first place.  It’s an idea that is like the saying, “the best defense is a great offense”. These things include but are not limited to: regular exercise (both strengthening and aerobic), regular attention given to eating healthy and getting the rainbow of nutrients necessary for daily living,  regular and restful sleep, meditation, daily hugs and other expressions of love, a spiritual practice (whether it’s going out and hugging a tree or organized religion or volunteer work, everyone should connect to that which is larger than self), learning new things, having a hobby, caring for a pet, balancing connecting with people to connecting with self and expressing balanced emotions. Lastly, and I may get flack for this idea, I believe that a good foundation also includes prevention-oriented visits to a varied cast of health care providers ( a chiropractor or nutritionist or ND or your family MD or, OF COURSE, your acupuncturist! Whoever you have the best relationship with). Why? They can make sure that there isn’t a health tempest about to brew out of a tea cup. You use the visits to make sure that your health stays on track. This doesn’t mean you are looking for a problem or that you’ll become a hypochondriac. It’s to confirm you are doing all the right things and to make sure that nothing needs to be added or changed about your routine. Your health is not frozen in place.  It changes in response to your physical and mental environment.  Health influences  come from both inside the body and  outside the body. All  factors  help  determine which health care practitioner will be the best choice at that time.

Let’s say you do all the above and more. You are an EXEMPLARY human being and have a long history in excellent preventative living. Does this mean you will NEVER experience physical or mental health challenges? Of course not! To be human means to occasionally have these kinds of challenges. Maybe you were dealt a genetic wild card, maybe you were exposed to some kind of environmental toxin, perhaps you were involved in an auto accident. Who knows what an individual might experience in his or her lifetime? That’s one of the reasons to spend so much time and effort on the base of your pyramid. Having a healthy foundation means you are in the best possible shape to address the surprises of life.

This leads us to the middle of the pyramid: the issue-centered section of health care. You still have to do everything you were doing for your base but now you must also act with a chief concern or concerns in mind. Now you may have to add or subtract things into or out of your diet or adjust your exercise regime to try to effectively change whatever imbalance has occurred. Maybe it becomes appropriate to add in daily supplements. It also may mean visiting the appropriate health care provider(s) to help with the chief concern(s). At this point the health care practitioners will dig into their bag of tools to supplement whatever you are doing to improve your health back to a balanced state. As you move from the bottom of the pyramid toward the tip, the intervention methods become more invasive.

Just as the tip of the eating pyramid is reserved for the foods you should have in the smallest amounts,  the health pyramid tip includes health care you should rely on the least to maintain optimal health. This area contains the most invasive health care to be used sparingly and specifically. Rarely, unless there is an acute trauma or sudden onset, does a patient first rely on things like significant surgery or chemotherapy or radiation. They are definitely part of health care but hopefully needed only in the smallest amounts. If you have a solid foundation you are doing the most to ensure this. Hopefully, the health care tools found at the tip are not the first tools you use to address an issue unless something traumatic or sudden occurs. It should always be the right tool for the right job at the right time and place.

And there you have it: the base, middle and tip of health care. Here’s hoping that everyone works hard to spend the bulk of their time hanging out at the bottom of their pyramids!