A few months ago, I decided to try a different healing approach to my serious allergy problem- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). After trying the conventional treatment; otherwise known as “immunology” (I’d say that TEN years of weekly allergy injections was more than giving this a chance to work), and spending thousands of dollars on naturopaths and the mountains of supplements that come along with that, and still finding little relief, I decided to give TCM a try. I had heard lots of good stories and read a lot about the effectiveness of acupuncture to relieve allergy symptoms and thought I might as well give it a shot.
When I went to see a local Doctor of TCM, I was so miserable coming out the worst of the allergy season. My body was completely fatigued and wiped out. After two acupuncture sessions, along with a good dose of Chinese herbs (and at an affordable price), I had my pre-allergy season energy back. This really impressed me and I’m now hooked. I am working with my TCM doctor regularly to support and strengthen my system so that I will not be so susceptible to allergens in the future. Fingers crossed.
Being a studious type, I decided to learn more about TCM. I wanted to understand how sticking tiny little needles into specific points in the body could provide such health-enhancing results. And being a woman’s psychotherapist, I wanted to learn specifically how TCM could help my clients with various ailments they present with.
My favourite author on the subject, Xiaolan Zhao, CMD, practices TCM in my hometown, Toronto, in an integrative clinic she oversees called the Xiaolan Health Centre. If I still lived there, I would be a regular there for sure! Zhao has written two wonderful books on the TCM approach to keeping women healthy and vibrant throughout various stages of their lives. I read both of them and highly recommend you do too.
For an overall primer of TCM and women’s health, start with Reflections of the Moon on Water: Healing Women’s Bodies and Minds Through Traditional Chinese Wisdom. Not only will you learn about how to stay healthy and balanced through every phase of your life- you will also learn the beautifully poetic Chinese descriptors of each of these phases and what they represent. For example, a woman’s period is called, “Heavenly Water”. I’d say that’s a much more positive sounding description than ones we often hear, don’t you?
Her second book, Inner Beauty: Looking, Feeling and Being Your Best was just as wonderful and I really resonated with it because of my work with women and body image. This book gives a fabulous ‘reframe’ to our approach to women and ageing in the West and offers some much-needed empowering, uplifting, and affirmative alternatives to facing midlife and beyond.
My favourite part of the book was about “Second Spring”- a lovely Chinese metaphor for the menopausal years- and growing old. I absolutely loved her positive take on menopause and growing older as a normal, healthy, natural, and celebratory concept. My guess is that a lot of this perspective comes from her cultural background. In fact, she talks at length about how in Chinese culture, older people enjoy a very honoured place in families and the community in which they live. She says that for Chinese people, ageing is not abhorred but instead, embraced by the cultural value placed on “acceptance”- this is a deeply practiced spiritual value stemming from Buddhism- accepting what is; being here in the now and letting things be as they are. I don’t know if you’re like me and struggle with this practice on a daily basis; but I really believe it’s the key to inner peace and overall happiness.
Along with that is accepting the impermanence of life. In other words- we are born, we live, grow old (hopefully) and then we die. Buddhist tradition embraces the impermanence of life and teaches people that the only constant in life is change itself. This can be very helpful when faced with ageing skin and bodies. This implies that we might be better off going with the flow of the natural cycle of life, rather than trying to fight it (think cosmetic surgery).
Lastly, I was deeply moved by her stories of being raised by her wise and loving grandmother who in her words, was “the most beautiful woman on earth”. From this perspective, Zhao learned early on that beauty comes in many different forms, especially in wrinkles! She learned that beauty is so much about our characters, how we conduct ourselves, what we give to the world, and how we love. I like that definition much more than the one being sold to us by mainstream media.