As it was Mother’s Day last weekend, this week’s blog is all about the concept of Mother in Chinese Medicine. We are hugely connected to our mothers and profoundly influenced by them, whether we like it or not! Even if you don’t, or didn’t, get along, we will certainly still feel a connection to them. So let me this week take a look at the idea of Mother from a Chinese Medicine perspective.
Mother as connector to the world
It is impossible to come into this world without a mother (at the moment anyway). Even if a baby is conceived via In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), there has to still be an egg and it still has to develop in a womb. If by some miracle of science a child could develop outside of the womb, there would still be no escaping a mother/child connection.
It is our mother who helps us to connect to the world and we gradually learn to have our own identity. In the best situation our mother feeds, supports and loves us unconditionally. She comforts us by holding and caressing us. By taking in nourishment from our mother we gain stability.
Inheriting the best of our parents
In Chinese Medicine it is said we inherit from both our parents what is called pre-heaven essence (so not only their annoying habits). This literally means that we have the essence of our parents within us. The Chinese therefore put huge importance on the health of parents, particularly at the time of conception. For instance, if the parents are unhealthy or quite old when a child is conceived, and therefore pass on weak Qi, the future health of that child could be affected. And not only their childhood, but quite possibly into adulthood. This applies equally to the influence of drink or drugs (recreational or medicinal).
The unborn child’s future health can also be influenced while it is in the womb. These days, of course, it is common knowledge that drink and drugs or an unhealthy lifestyle affect the fetus in general. But in Chinese Medicine it is also believed that the mother’s emotional state has a big impact on the fetus, such as a shock.
Losing the ability to Mother oneself
In my day-to-day clinic I see a lot of conditions and illnesses that haven’t appeared over night, but rather have developed over years and years. Those little bowel niggles that you ignored for decades gradually become colitis. Or that stiff shoulder that once went on it’s own gradually becomes a frozen shoulder. That tension headache that painkillers can no longer touch.
But what I see mostly in many of my clients is the inability to connect with their ‘inner mother’. That is, they have all the time in the world to look after others, but never enough to look after themselves. The root to not being able to mother oneself is complicated of course. It is a minefield of guilt, shame and emotional pain. As you know from my blogs, any prolonged emotion will eventually have a negative effect on the physical. People who do not or will not allow themselves to be mothered, either by themselves or by others, generally present with common symptoms (in my clinic anyway): weight gain, digestive and bowel problems, exhaustion and depression. We mother ourselves with TV, food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, consumerism, anything in fact that releases dopamine, the pleasure chemical that the brain releases reward certain behaviour.
It is our mothers who provide us with support and security when we are young.
Over time we learn to care for others, and ourselves so it seems obvious that separating a child from its mother will have a negative effect. Short periods of stress are usually harmless, such as divorce, but studies have shown that “toxic stress” (caused by long periods of separation and trauma) can cause developmental problems of a child’s brain and behavioural issues. This can lead to a possible disruption of a child’s ability to regulate their emotions and cope with future stress.
The Mother/Child Generating Cycle
This same cycle can be seen in the Sheng Cycle (or the Generating Cycle) in Chinese Medicine, particularly the five elements system. We call this the mother/child relationship. In this cycle the child is dependent on the mother, but also vice versa, the mother is dependent on the child. So, if the ‘child’ element is deficient, then it may be because it is not receiving enough qi from its ‘mother’. And on the other hand, if a ‘child’ element becomes too full it can adversely affect the ‘mother’ element.
This how it works.
Water generates Wood – Wood generate Fire – Fire generates Earth – Earth generates Metal -Metal generates Water
Water allows the trees to grow (Wood); the trees can then be burned producing Fire; the wood becomes ash which becomes Earth; the Earth hardens and we mine minerals and Metal; and over time the minerals become mountains from which flows the Water, and so on….
As an example, let us say that a person is being neglected by their inner-mother. They are avoiding exercise, eating the wrong foods and as a consequence putting on weight and generally feeling miserable. All symptoms typically related to the Earth element. It could be said that the Earth element (the child) is not being nourished by the Fire element (the mother), so as an Acupuncturist it would make sense for me to treat the mother element, the Fire. Using the analogy in the box above, creating more ash from the fire will reinforce the earth.
What can you do to nourish your own inner-mother?
You should treat yourself just as you would want your mother to treat you. Be kind to yourself. Eat well and get plenty of rest. Treat yourself to something nice on a daily basis, but free of guilt. Exercise for fun, not because it is expected of you. Remember that the philosophy of Chinese Medicine is one of balance, moderation and free flow of energy. Be like a young healthy tree – feel the wind between your branches, bending and swaying in the wind without breaking.