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Back in Balance

Two of the fundamental principles of Chinese Medicine are balance and harmony. In this system of medicine, the body is conceived of as a complex network, with each part reflecting the whole and connected to every other part via the neurovascular and fascial vessel systems that I have discussed previously. Beyond this, each person is also seen as a part of a wider network formed by the outside environment, a part of nature, receiving nourishment and support from the various external sources like food, water and the warmth of the sun, but also from personal relationships and social group interactions.

All of these interconnected networks exist in a state of dynamic balance, fluctuating according to our actions, emotions, activities and events that befall us. When disease or dysfunction occurs, it could be seen as a disruption affecting this state of balance leading to an imbalance. However, another way to look at it is that the state of dynamic balance has simply shifted to a new state that represents the body’s best attempt to cope with the various circumstances. Let’s take the case, for example, of an office worker, who has a particularly stressful job, with constant deadlines and performance markers to attain. This person might also work at a computer for large portions of the day, breathing shallowly and hunched over. They may also come back to a home life filled with family responsibilities, looking after the needs of young children etc. Over the past few months it may not come as a huge surprise that this person has developed very tight, painful shoulders and a stiff neck. It may be tempting for them to see their body as ‘letting them down’, and ‘going wrong’, but in fact, with all the stress that is going on and the poor posture the body is simply finding the best way to maintain balance and function given the demands placed upon it. Unfortunately the longer the body stays in this less desirable state of balance the more it becomes ingrained. Also, a vicious cycle can occur whereby an already poor posture is worsened in attempts to relieve the tension, and the chronic pain can lead to irritability which tends to make personal and work relationships suffer leading to yet more stress and tension…

So how can acupuncture help with this? Firstly, by placing needles in certain parts of the body, we can help to move the body into a different, more desirable state of balance, relieving the tension that has accumulated in one region by stimulating a complementary region. When this region has been correctly chosen, patients will usually know pretty quickly, as they will feel the pain and tension ease. As the tension eases, that person then has a chance to reverse the vicious cycle. Using insights into their condition that can be offered from a Chinese Medicine perspective, they can make changes to posture and perhaps engage in some simple breathing exercises to help reduce stress. These lifestyle changes combined with the acupuncture can quickly help to bring long-lasting relief from the condition and minimise the chance of recurrence.

Rob Veater Acupuncture: providing effective acupuncture services for Colne Engaine, Earls Colne, Pebmarsh, Halstead, Sudbury, Colchester and surrounding areas

Thoughts, Emotions and Wellbeing – Part II


Hand in hand with the positive effects of acupuncture, there are many other ways to improve one’s emotional and mental balance. Qigong is an ancient Chinese exercise that uses slow, meditative movements and mindfulness to gain awareness of the inner state of one’s body and mind and can help to clear the body of biochemicals associated with chronic stress by increasing blood and lymphatic flow and reducing muscular tension. The Chinese have dedicated a huge amount of research into the therapeutic effects of qigong, and exercises are routinely prescribed for patients with a variety of conditions, including cancer, as an adjucnt to standard treatment.

There is a bewildering array of information available regarding qigong exercises, and this can seem overwhelming for somebody who wants to start learning. Undoubtedly, practical tuition with an experienced practitioner is the best way to go, and a Google search will often find a class in your local area. If qigong isn’t explicitly available, a tai chi class will often include qigong exercises as the two practices are very similar.

Failing all that, from my own experience I have found both Bruce Frantzis’ Dragon and Tiger Qigong and Lam Kam Chuen’s teaching of his version of Zhan Zhuang (or ‘standing like a tree’ posture) to be easy to learn and very effective. Both practices can be learned from the books: ‘Dragon and Tiger Qigong’ and ‘The Way of Energy’ (the latter being out of print but available second-hand at quite reasonable prices on Abebooks or Amazon. The Dragon and Tiger system also has a DVD available, and there are probably clips floating about on YouTube. Zhan Zhuang instructions are certainly widely available on YouTube. For those in the vicinity of Colne Engaine, Earls Colne, Halstead. Colchester or Sudbury, Nick and Liz Cahill offer Dragon and Tiger Qigong tuition (see www.nextsteptaichi.com)

Despite the gentle movements, qigong practice isn’t easy; it takes dedication and perseverance to see results. Zhan Zhuang practice, from the outside, simply looks like you are standing still. Yet with the correct alignments and mindfulness it becomes incredibly challenging. Try following this routine  and see how you find it.

In contrast to Western exercises, a fundamental principle of qigong is to use less effort to bring about greater results. When doing the Zhan Zhuang standing practice and other qigong forms, you aim to continually try to let go of unnecessary tension held in the body and mind. As you practice, within the stillness, all the built up mental and emotional stress will start to manifest, often with sudden feelings of irritation and restlessness; ‘what is the point of doing this?’ ‘I’m probably doing it wrong anyway’ types of internal dialogue frequently occur. Take all this as a symptom of how much nervous tension you have been carrying around unaware; it is a clear sign that you really need to be doing qigong to clear it out. After a few weeks of daily practice for 10 or 15 minutes that physical, emotional and mental tension will have begun to dissipate and your energy and wellbeing will be greatly enhanced.

Finding 10 spare minutes a day isn’t all that difficult considering the potential benefits of qigong exercise, though I appreciate it might not seem worth it without any proof of its positive effects beyond taking my word for it. So I guess to start with you could do Zhan Zhuang while doing other routine activities such as watching TV, listening to the radio or to music, and then you haven’t lost any time and you can begin to see if it is useful to you.

Acupuncture and qigong can both do wonders for enhancing wellbeing; however, I generally find that the most long-lasting transformations for patients occur when they have an insight into the patterns of thought and emotion that have contributed to the manifestation of their health complaint. While there is no failsafe way to provide such an insight, there are certainly ways in which it can be facilitated. In the final part of this blog post, I will discuss one such method, which doesn’t require learning any techniques, but instead offers an understanding of the mechanism by which we perceive and interact with the world.

Thoughts, Emotions and Wellbeing – Part I


As my first post, I thought I would say a little about the link between emotional and mental wellbeing and physical health. Most people have an appreciation of the many negative influences that result from ‘stress’,  but how many of us really consider the potential impact of our day-to-day fluctuating emotional states on our health? Chinese Medicine recognises that our emotional state plays a major role in determining both our physical and mental wellbeing. Excessive or supressed emotional responses, such as fear, anger and worry, over a prolonged period cause significant physiological imbalances that may eventually lead to disease. This notion is one of growing acceptance in the West, with fields such as psychoneuroimmunology demonstrating a clear physiological link between our emotional and mental states and the health of our body.

While this concept may be interesting, it doesn’t offer much in the way of practical advice for managing one’s thoughts and emotions. Fortunately, there are several things that we can do to help achieve this and thereby lead a happier, healthier life. Obviously, as an acupuncturist, my first recommendation would be acupuncture! However, the reason that this is my chosen profession is that I have seen its effectiveness time and time again in transforming people’s lives, sometimes dramatically, other times more slowly and subtly but, nonetheless, significantly.

So how does the seemingly mechanical act of acupuncture influence someone’s emotional and mental wellbeing? We know that the organs of the body contain the same neurotransmitters as found in the brain, in particular the gut. We also know that stress hormones are released from thoughts of fear, stress, worry etc. If these thoughts are habitual these stress biochemicals may lead to a chronic feeling of insecurity, edginess or irritability. Over time blood flow to the organs can be restricted by muscular tension so that, for example, the liver is less able to remove stress hormones from the blood efficiently.

By releasing muscle tension and increasing blood flow acupuncture can help to restore a sense of wellbeing by helping to naturally correct biochemical imbalances. In addition, this can help resolve physical complaints that may have been caused by these same chemicals. As the person’s health improves, their mental wellbeing rises and they are better able to see how their thoughts and emotions have contributed to their condition. They can then make healthier choices, both in terms of physical activities like work, diet and exercise, but also in terms of their responses to stressful situations and their inner outlook on life.

In Part II, I’ll be talking about some of the other interventions that I’ve found effective for improving mental and emotional wellbeing alongside acupuncture.