Has anyone actually looked at their belly lately? It’s squishy and a bit wobbly at the moment after little exercise and a sedentary lifestyle. This article will give you some ideas about what Traditional Chinese Medicine-related health issues can occur from sitting down for too long, and some self-care activities that are easy and accessible.
Sitting is the new smoking
Like the Happy Buddha, we are all putting on weight. Sitting on your butt for too long as we have done during isolation as a collective, can be detrimental to your health in many ways. Aside from the COVID “Muffin Top” (thanks Kath & Kim) from a purely superficial body image perspective, there are a lot of ways that sitting too much without regular exercise can affect the body adversely and create health problems.
What happens from a TCM perspective?
When we don’t move around, several things occur in the view of a Chinese medicine practitioner. They obviously don’t all happen to every person, and it depends on your metabolism & constitution as to how this will express itself in your body. Sometimes it doesn’t cause you any health problems, as weight fluctuates naturally. Unless you have been overdoing it and have changed your normal routine, it’s not necessarily advisable to eat less, just eat smarter.
Qi Stagnation: Qi Stagnation is usually happily brought to you by the Wood element, which governs the Liver & Gallbladder in TCM physiology. When we sit down a lot and don’t move around as we have had to do during COVID it’s not only the flesh that stagnates, it’s the Qi as well. When we have Qi stagnation we get moody or anxious and grumpy, depending on the organ where the Qi is accumulating. Best to get checked out by your TCM practitioner to see where it’s coming from and why. Stomach & Spleen Qi are responsible for moving food through the internal organs, and if it stops, guess what?
Food Stagnation: With Qi Stagnation can also come Food Stagnation where the food just sits there after you eat and doesn’t seem to move through the gastrointestinal system. This can be due to overdoing it, not moving around enough or a general deficiency in Stomach or Spleen Qi (which is responsible for generating the movement of food down the digestive tract from an Eastern health perspective). TCM herbal formulas designed traditionally to combat this particular issue are readily available but you might also need some diet & lifestyle advice to support the change you hope to achieve. A popular patent medicine that most TCM students learn about in 1st year is Po Chai Pills (Bao Ji Wan), which are very readily available and commonly used in China for when people have partied too hard or eaten too much and get food stagnation. As with every herbal medicine it is advisable to seek advice before you take them because they may not agree with your constitutional type.
Fluid (Jin Ye) accumulation from Kidneys. Kidney is ruled by Water in TCM, and its season is Winter. A good part of our bodies are made up of water, so it’s important to look after it and make sure it’s circulating properly, like a babbling brook or deep flowing river instead of a stagnant pond. In biomedical physiology this equates to fluid & electrolyte balance and kidney/bladder function but Chinese medicine has a complex but different explanation for how it all fits together. The Oriental understanding is that if water does not move, it stagnates & accumulates. So therefore logically if you spend a lot of time sitting, muscles, meridians & collaterals do not circulate fluids effectively – especially if you have Spleen or Kidney Qi or Yang deficiency issues. This may result in swollen limbs, oedema, plantar fasciitis, numbness & “Damp-Bi Syndrome” (pain from fluid accumulation). The diagnoses we arrive at if these particular issues arise are usually related to Kidney or Spleen Qi Deficiency because in Chinese Medicine physiology it’s the Kidney’s job to hold the water and the Spleen’s job to separate the useful water and the pathogenic water. This is usually complicated by Cold and gets far worse in Winter given that it is ruled by the Water element.
Phlegm accumulation from Kidneys or Spleen: On with the fluid physiology flow of things in the Oriental Medicine version of our bodies – once we have passed the fluid accumulation stage and fluid starts to harden if it sits there too long, and we end up with phlegm accumulation which may manifest in soft, fatty tissue deposits around the joints (which later result in pain but in the beginning just look a bit different); may also be the cause of Shen Disturbance (psychoemotional pathologies); Bi Syndrome (pain pathologies); and weight gain.
What can you do for self-care?
Eat warm foods and avoid cold ones:
This is to avoid adding extra Cold to the digestive system, prevent your Stomach Yang from being damaged and slowing down your metabolism. Eat energetically warming foods as well, with Chinese herbs in them (Ew! We hear you say! But no!) like curries without too much chilli. Warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, star anise & pepper will warm the Qi in the meridians and prevent food stagnation as well as adding heat. From a biomedicine perspective, spicier foods tend to contain volatile oils and act as peripheral vasodilators, thus improving circulation. In other words, they stimulate Yang to circulate the Jin Ye (body fluids) and prevent stagnation, as well as speeding up the metabolism a bit.
Avoid walking on bare feet on cold floors:
This might sound a bit odd but from a TCM perspective the Kidney meridian has its opening point, Kidney 1, on the sole of the foot (see image). If you walk around in bare feet, the TCM view is that the Cold from the floor enters the Kidney channel, invades the Kidney and makes the Qi generating process slow down. As well as possibly causing leg, knee or lower back pain. So get your socks, slippers or moccies on, put in some foot warmers, and keep your feet warm!
Keep moving! Even if you don’t go outside and chop wood, go to the gym, swim, roller skate, or walk, you can still keep moving indoors. Do some Qigong, Tai Chi, yoga or pilates, use some indoor fitness equipment, do some light strength workouts like core exercises & lower back strengthening things like leg raises, planks & situps, and get your Theraband happening. All of these light cardio activities keep fluid metabolism going and help prevent fluid accumulation.
Moxa Moxa Moxa! Your TCM practitioner will most of the time recommend the use of moxibustion over the Winter months as a means of specifically directing heat to a particular area. More about moxa can be read on the “Therapies” page. Just scroll right down to the bottom.
If you would ike to book a Chinese medicine session with Dr Rebecca Tolhurst (TCM) for a full health assessment, herbs & acupuncture with cupping & moxa, or if you would like to see our massage & reflexology therapist Ulrike, please do so by clicking here. We look forward to seeing you.