Exercise and Acupuncture Steve Coster

I was a running junkie!

The Yin & Yang of Running

When it comes to health, exercise is a lot like food.  What I mean is, we know greens are good for us but if that was all we ate, then they would soon become bad for us.  And I think that is true of exercise.  In the acupuncture clinic I see a lot of sports injuries caused not necessarily by the type of exercise (unless you consider darts to be exercise), but the amount.  I’m talking about running.  If you are into running then you know how addictive it can be.  You start off just jogging around the block, and before you know it you are signing up for your first ultra!  But maybe that was just me…..

Unlike activities like martial arts or dancing which take an element of skill, running is much more accessible.  It is literally just putting one foot in front of the over,  or controlled falling over.  You don’t need to spend loads of money on equipment and clothing.  You don’t even have to join a club. A good quality pair of running shoes is probably the only thing that will set you back a bit.  And no one needs to show you how to run, we’ve been doing it for a long time!

running Steve Coster acupuncture

There is nothing new about running of course. 

There is evidence that ancient man used to run for long periods in order to track and wear out prey, known as persistence hunting.  The idea being that animals cannot regulate their body heat by sweating as man can, so they eventually cannot flee any further and so succumb to the hunters.  In fact it is a method still used by bushmen in the Kalahari desert and Rarámuri people in Mexico.  It has also been hypothesised that the gluteus maximus muscle evolved to enable man to run.  So it’s not just for sitting on.

What is new, however, is running for fun.  It was Jim Fixx who started the craze of jogging in the 1970’s.  Unfortunately he died of a heart attack at the age of 52 while out jogging.  Despite this irony, there is no doubt that jogging is better than sitting around smoking and eating crisps.  Most probably Mr. Fixx would have died at 47 if he hadn’t started jogging. 

So when does running become not so good for you?

Basically, doing too much exercise is as bad as doing none.  I used to run a lot.  At the height of my training I was running 75 miles a week.  I thought nothing about getting up at 5am on a Sunday and running for 5 hours.  I loved running, but looking back I can see I was mostly chasing the fix.  Like any addiction, the pleasurable part is satisfying the cravings, not the actual thing itself.  

Steve Coster acupuncture running injury

A used hinge does not rust.

There is no doubt that exercise is good for us, and there is much evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, to support this.  But little is mentioned about the negative aspects of exercise; not only over-doing it, but the emotions associated with it too – fear, shame and guilt.  If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know what these emotions can do to your Qi.  Shame and guilt tangles Qi up and stops it from moving, and Fear descends Qi.  Joy (or more accurately lack of Joy) needs something out of the ordinary to move it – like running 26.2 miles.  And finally, Anger, which can be the result of Qi not moving (which we call Qi stagnation).  We all know that runner who is unbearable to be around if for whatever reason they can’t get out for their run.  It might even be you.

anger Steve Coster acupuncture

Exercise is important in Chinese Medicine.  It keeps the qi moving which is good for body and Mind.  It also prevents the accumulation of Dampness.  Think of a wet tea towel that has just been screwed up and left in a corner.  After a while it becomes a bit stinky; it needs to be hung out to let the air circulate.  Your body is the same –  the cells need oxygenating.  

It is important to keep moving, whatever age you are.   But balance is key: Chinese Medical theory makes it clear that any type of extreme is not a good thing.  The ancient Taoist masters state that people should not only avoid overindulging, but also over exertion, which they say exhausts the sinews and bones.  

When running goes bad

Which brings us to the tale of Pheidippides, who you probably would have only heard of for two reasons, 1. If you are into ancient Greek literature, or 2. If you have ever run a marathon.  Pheidippides was a professional runner (or a courier on foot) who in 490 BC ran 280 miles over a period of 2 days (the actual mileage and period differs depending on what you read, but we can safely say he ran a long way in a short time) and then an additional 40km from Marathon to Athens to announce the news of the Greek victory over Persia.  Unsurprisingly, after delivering his message he dropped dead.  The marathon is of course named after this incredible feat.

running Steve Coster acupuncture

While there is evidence that jogging (that is, running between 1 and 2.5 hours a week at a slow or average pace) can increase your lifespan by 6.2 years for men and 5.6 for women, the reverse is true for more running.  Studies suggest that by doing more doesn’t mean more benefit, in fact it can mean the reverse.  Excessive exercise can cause damage to the heart and coronary arteries, increasing the risk of heart problems and risk of stroke.  Although a slow resting heart beat (as low as 40 bpm in some athletes) is considered to be a sign of good health, this may not be the case once they stop engaging in high levels of exercise.  Other studies have also shown that endurance athletes have weak immune systems and are more prone to colds and asthma.  Over-exercising in young women can also cause amenorrhoea (periods stopping) and other menstrual disorders, as well as reduced bone density.

Exercise addiction  

For some people exercise can become more and more important in their routine, to a point where it disrupts their work and personal relationships.  They feel frustrated and depressed when they can’t get their ‘fix’.  As I stated above, this is related to Qi and Blood stagnation.  The more hooked we become, the more we need to move our Qi and Blood and so feel invigorated.  

The free flow of energy can be blocked by emotions and stress, which is why running can feel so good for our mental health.  But although you feel good for a short time after exercising, it doesn’t deal with whatever is causing your Qi to be blocked.  So it is a vicious circle of depletion.  And it’s tough physically on those who have to run 30 or 40 miles a week to get their qi moving.  

Running can become an addiction.  Just the same as having to use caffeine, alcohol or drugs to get moving, running is the same.  Although I’ve focused on running, the same applies equally to any endurance sport.  But whatever your fix is, it’s deceptive.  These things provide an initial high, but then an immediate slump.  So at risk of repeating myself, it’s all about balance, just as Yin and Yang informs us that one extreme will only ever lead to its opposite extreme.  Somewhere in the middle is needed.

Next week – What is considered ‘good’ exercise? 

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.

five voices of acupuncture southend

The Sound of Chinese Medicine Part 2

To conclude my series of blogs on sound and Acupuncture, this week I’m looking at using the voice as a diagnostic tool.  Or, what does a person’s tone of voice tell us about their state of health?

When a patient comes in to the clinic to see me for acupuncture or tai na, there are a number of things I do before I’ve even asked a question.  Firstly I observe them.  I look at the way they walk; do they have a limp, favour one side or have any difficulty walking in general?  I also look out for any observable telltale signs of ill health, such as a sallow complexion or bloodshot eyes.  The quality of a person’s skin or hair can also be a giveaway sign of something else that is bubbling away under the surface.  I even take note of the colours a person wears.  All of these things, and much more of course, give me some idea of a person’s general healthy.

The 5 voices of Chinese Medicine

Next I will ask them about why they have come to see me for acupuncture.  And while they are speaking, I listen; not only to what they are saying to me, but also to their tone of voice.  A person’s tone of voice can tell us a lot about their state of health.  Differential diagnosis is a tricky business of course.  If someone raises their voice while telling a story, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are angry.  It could be just the punch line to a funny story!  So it’s important to take the context of what someone is saying into consideration.  Ask yourself, is the tone of voice appropriate?  For instance, if someone is telling me how happy they are but their voice is flat and lacking joy, alarm bells should be ringing.  

So let’s take a closer look at the five voices.

In line with the five element system of Chinese medicine, each of the tones of voice correspond to an internal organ and an emotion.

Wood – Shouting

The shouting voice is associated with anger, the Liver emotion.  Anger makes the Qi rise which gives the voice forcefulness.  Sometimes a loud and assertive voice is needed, especially when you want things done or you need to be heard, such as in an emergency.  Ever felt like you are being talked at rather than talked to?  This voice may not be loud, but could instead be abrupt and clipped, but the emotion behind it is still one of anger.  Anger is an important emotion, as you know, but without anger nothing changes.  Remember my blog about anger?  An effective general needs enough force to defend his territory, but not enough to start an all out war.

shouting acupuncture Steve Coster

An imbalance is Indicated when this tone of voice is used out of context.  Remember that the healthy Wood element has flexibility in its strength.  Someone who reacts to everything with anger or irritation clearly lacks flexibility.  Imbalance is also evident when anger (or assertion) is lacking when it is clearly called for.  This means the Qi is failing to rise.

Fire – Laughter

In a time long ago, in a universe far far away, I worked in an office.   I know, it’s hard to believe, it was another lifetime ago.  I remember during my initial training being told to answer the phone with a smile, which changes your tone voice.  And it does!  This is the same with Laughter therapy – the brain doesn’t know the difference between real laughter or fake, so by just pretending to laugh endorphins are realised.  Fake it to make it, as they say.  If you listen carefully though, I think you can tell if someone is truly happy.

laughing acupuncture Steve Coster

Laughter in the voice is different to actual laughter; it is simply having joy in one’s voice.  Listen to someone telling an amusing story and you will hear this voice.  There could be an imbalance if the voice is lacking laughter when telling a funny story.  Or on the other hand, when laughter is present when it is out of context, like talking about an upsetting experience.  In addition, some people laugh when they are nervous, or they laugh to mask their true feelings.   It can be an Earth laugh (sympathetic) or a Water laugh (masking fear), or a Wood laugh (laughing with anger).

Earth – Singing

singing acupuncture Steve Coster

The singing voice can be heard when we are cooing to a baby or speaking to a pet, or tending to someone who is in pain.  The voice is soft and modulates up and down.  There is an imbalance if you were to talk to everyone with this tone of voice.  But don’t get caught out; in some languages and dialects, such as Welsh, this tone of voice can be normal.  In these cases, you have to listen carefully to hear when the singing tone has more emphasis and whether or not it is appropriate.  

Metal – Weeping

weeping acupuncture Steve Coster

People with this voice can sound as if they are about to cry.  There might be a faltering in the words, or a chocked sound as if they are struggling to keep control of their voice.  Some people with a weeping voice might also sound weak, as if they are struggling to be heard.  A good example of this type of voice is that of Theresa may.  This voice indicates a weakness in Lung qi.  Theresa May not only has the voice, but she also has the grey, ashen skin associated with a Metal element imbalance to accompany it.  The emotion associated with the Metal element is sadness and grief, so such a voice would be appropriate in the right context, i.e. someone has died.

Water – Groaning

unhappy fish acupuncture Steve Coster

The groaning voice lacks animation and can sound as if it is dragging, much like someone who is lacking laughter (Fire).  The element associated with Water is fear.  As fear sets in and the Qi descends, the voice descends too, losing it’s force and vibrancy.  Think of someone trying to alert someone that there is a spider on their back people – in order not to panic them they speak in a quiet, flat tone.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this series of blogs on Music and sound in Chinese Medicine.  Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

If you have any questions about acupuncture, or any of the topics in my blogs, please do contact me.  Find out more about me, or my treatments  here.