Stress is a normal part of the human experience and can even be positive. The right amount of stress can give you the short-lived boost you need to tackle your to-do list, meet a deadline, or escape from a dangerous situation — but there’s a catch. While your body and mind are designed to process these short bursts of stress, the demands of modern living have mutated stress into a lifestyle instead of an event. When left unchecked, stress can push your physical, psychological, and social well being out of balance and over the edge. Setting aside even a few minutes to practice self-care can help to reduce your stress levels and improve your overall health.
The impact of chronic stress
In simple terms, stress is your brain’s response to a challenge or perceived threat. To prepare you for action, your brain activates your sympathetic nervous system (known as your fight-or-flight response, or SNS), triggering a rush of cortisol and adrenaline (your stress hormones). As your breath quickens, muscles tense, and heart rate increases, your body diverts fewer resources toward other vital functions, such as digestion, elimination, reproduction, and immune function.
Once the demand or challenge is complete, your body is designed to recover from stress via the parasympathetic nervous system (known as your rest-and-digest response, or PNS). In this state, your hormones stabilise, pulse and respiration normalise, muscles relax, and organs return to their vital work of digestion and elimination.
Stress begins to take its toll when that “burst of action” is not a burst at all, but rather a marathon with no finish line in sight. Long-term activation of the fight-or-flight response and overexposure to adrenaline and cortisol can interrupt the optimum function of your body’s systems and processes, increasing your risk of physical and mental health problems.
Classical Chinese medicine (CCM) teaches that stress interrupts Qi (life energy) from freely flowing throughout the body’s meridian system. Meridians are invisible energetic pathways that run through the body and correspond to a vital organ. When overexposed to stress, the meridians become blocked and Qi can become stagnant or excessive, leading to compromised bodily functions, decreased vitality and immunity, and lack of health and wellbeing.
Like modern Western medicine, CCM views prolonged exposure to stress as the root cause of many physiological and psychological diseases and illnesses. Stress is believed to disrupt the balance of yin and yang, the two branches of Qi energy. The overactive nature of stress is believed to exacerbate yang and create excessive heat or acidity in the body, ultimately leading to “burn out.” What follows is an overabundance of heaviness and inactivity (yin), which can cause lethargy, fatigue, weight gain, and lowered adrenal and thyroid function.
According to CCM, common manifestations of stress include depression (liver meridian), indigestion (spleen meridian), headaches (gallbladder, liver, or kidney meridian), and sexual dysfunction (liver meridian in women and kidney meridian in men). The aim of CCM treatment is to identify the root cause of imbalance, clear the meridians from excess heat (yang) or stagnation (yin), and reestablish the free flow of Qi throughout the mind and body.
[Read “Energy flow and you: understanding where your qi comes from” to deepen your understanding of qi, yin, and yang]
Restoring balance through Chinese medicine
Recall a time in your life when things flowed smoothly. When your body and mind felt healthy, open, resilient, and clear. When you were able to adapt and readapt to the ebb and flow of life’s changing circumstances. When, perhaps without even realizing it, your body, mind, and spirit felt harmonious. That, in a nutshell, is the state that Chinese medicine aims to help you achieve.
An original form of self-care, the wisdom of Chinese medicine has been supporting and restoring human health for thousands of years through mindful living, proper nutrition, adequate movement and work-life (yang-yin) balance. The principles of Chinese medicine ascertain that by taking some time out of a busy week to practice a form of self-care, you can restore the balance in your body and allow Qi to flow freely through the body’s system of meridians.
Rather than merely treat a symptom, Chinese medicine considers how the yin or yang qualities of your lifestyle, environment, thoughts, emotions, and behaviours influence your physical, psychological, intellectual, social, and spiritual wellbeing.
Classical Chinese medicine, and its movement practice of Qigong, can inform and empower your self-care routine by helping you identify your personal sources of imbalance while creating practical lifestyle solutions that restore and optimise your wellbeing.
Qigong for self-care
Many modern and evidence-based antidotes to stress have been integral to classical Chinese medicine from its earliest beginnings. Qigong, the traditional mindful movement practice of CCM, is now internationally recognized as an effective practice for reducing stress, lowering anxiety, normalising blood pressure, and increasing one’s overall physical and mental wellbeing.
As a mindful movement practice, White Tiger Qigong can help you recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed (yang imbalance) or heavy and unmotivated (yin imbalance). Once you’ve learned how to properly practice White Tiger Qigong’s movement and breathing techniques, you can incorporate them into your daily or weekly self-care regimen to soothe stress, increase mental clarity, improve sleep, and experience life with greater calm, resilience, and harmony.
Self-care can help you experience your greatest potential for physical health and mental wellbeing. To learn more about how Qigong can benefit your mental wellbeing, read our upcoming article: “How do Medical Qigong exercises boost mental wellbeing?”