In December, I re-learned the discipline of downhill skiing during a blizzard, taking a class by myself. I admit I was afraid. But even worse, I couldn’t ignore my choruses of self-doubt, negativity and self-criticism. Crowds of preschool snowboarders sailed down the bunny slopes while I narrated my every trudge. It took the full two hours of class for me to focus on my own progress and shift my weight by instinct, in response to the ground.

Eventually, I found myself in awe of being in motion. It was unbelievably freeing.

I admit that part my negativity loop was due to sweets. At one holiday dinner, a relative had a crate of Middle Eastern mini-pastries crammed with pistachios and walnuts. We’re talking hand-made pastries, hand-delivered from someone who currently lives in the Middle East. I just had to taste each one.

But no, I didn’t. In the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine, there’s a specific clinical pattern that leads to “sticky” thoughts — meaning worries, arguments or news articles that replay in the mind.

Contributing factors include excess:

  • Sweet-tasting foods (including artificial sweeteners, fruit, juice and jelly);
  • White flour in foods (baked goods, cereals and crackers);
  • Portions and frequency (overflowing plates or frequent snacking)

To be fair, no one exercise, diet, family dynamic, job, geographic location or sleep habit unpacks this clinical pattern. Everything contributes, for better or for worse. So my self-chatter didn’t just poof into existence from a couple pastries. Shucks!

In my 11 years as an acupuncturist, control is a common theme. We may ricochet from strict limits to none, or from grueling regimens to indifference. These extremes can exhaust both our bodies and our minds. Moreover, what we notice and how we prioritize our symptoms varies.

Maybe we suffer with a stiff neck for a decade, but the minute we get hip pain that interferes with dancing to the radio, we seek help. Or we deal with chronic indigestion until we feel stressed out at every meal, yet perhaps our chronic-held stress contributed to the stomach upset.

Traditional Chinese Medicine does not prioritize or divide between mental and physical symptoms; they are part of one circuit. Moreover, symptoms can cross known Western structures and functions.

While I had clogged thoughts on the slope, I could have also experienced clogged sinuses, skin or digestion and elimination; or knee or ankle swelling and pain. All of these symptoms are offshoots of the same clinical pattern.

Granted, I was sore at lunch. I hadn’t skied in decades, and I barely stretched beforehand. Moderation won’t make us asymptomatic, but it a more sustainable, preventative strategy.

Scarfing down my lunch? You got it, not moderate either. But for the first time ever, I packed some of my food back into my backpack. I recognized the sensation of being full and curbed my eating. And I went back into the blizzard, to see if I could stay present.

The snow was so deep, it was like skiing in Velcro, but at least the J-Bar had short wait lines. Flakes flew at my face until I started to laugh and eat them, while I gently slid down the little hill. I wasn’t even narrating!

By shrinking excess in the lifestyle, we can develop more open minds.

Trina Lion

Trina Lion is an acupuncturist at Mercy Medical Center and Sinai Hospital. She also treats adults and children privately in Mount Washington Village. She has lectured on Traditional Chinese Medicine at institutions ranging from NFL China to International Channel Shanghai (ICS-TV) to Yale University, and can be reached at trinaliontcm@gmail.com .

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