John Aguilar, Jr., L.Ac., R.Y.T., M.S.TCM

Licensed AcupuncturistChinese Medical HerbalistYoga and Tai Chi Instructor

Ten Steps to Better Health

One of the great things about Chinese medicine is that it has a tremendous amount of information on simply how to be a healthy human being. Beyond the ability to treat disease after its full manifestation in the body, the theories of Chinese medicine indicate simple things we can do everyday to live healthier. The following is list of ten areas that, if paid greater attention, will improve life.

(Note - These are generalities. They are accurate, in general, for human beings. Any given individual, however, may have developed unique conditions limiting or altering the effect of the following suggestions. The bottom line is always to consider, on your own, what is best for you, and then, just as importantly, pay attention to your body, mind, and spirit to see how you are being affected.)

1) Eat when hungry - Stop when not

Diet is fundamental to good health, and fundamental to a healthy diet is following the appetite. Appetite arises both as indication that the body is in current need of nourishment and that the body is prepared to digest that nourishment.

Eating when not hungry burdens the body in two ways. One, the lack of appetite indicates the necessary energy is not present in the digestive system for proper digestion. If you eat then, energy is pulled from whatever other process was receiving it, leaving that system acutely deficient. You're essentially robbing another bodily system of the energy it needed.

Secondly, as the digestive system was not prepared for the act, it will underperform. You won't digest the food as well as you could, further burdening the body with undigested matter. Obviously, you will also not get the energy and nutrition from the food as you ideally would have.

Overeating is similar to eating when not hungry. We can think of the energy of digestion as being like  a fire. When an appetite is present the fire is strong and ready. As we eat and digest food the 'fire' is comsumed. Overeating burdens the body with the task of digestion that it no longer has resources for. At this point, we pull excessively on the system, draining its energy, and then, again, we get the double whammy of adding the burden of undigested food.  

For more on diet, please click here.

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2) Sleep at night

Sleep is another absolute basic requirement for good health. Though thorough discussion isn't appropriate, here, sleep is the primary means of the human being to recuperate and rejuvenate. This process occurs best at night. Most of us know this from personal experience. We stay up late then sleep-in until noon, and despite the fact that we got eight hours of sleep, we feel drained all day. The general rule is to sleep while the sun is down, waking with sunrise. (Note- It may take awhile for this pattern to develop, but once it does, it tends to be persistent (as it's what the body naturally wants!)).

For more on sleep, please click here.

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3) Allow space for all moods

Emotions and moods are often categorized as 'positive' and 'negative', implying that some are good and healthy, while others are bad. This type of judgment corrodes our health. We could no more avoid
'negative' moods then we could avoid the need to urinate. 'Bad' moods are just as natural as other basic bodily processes, such as urination. If we sit with the bad mood when it comes, experience it and allow it to pass into us, we will realize the richness of the emotion, the 'purpose' and place of it in our life, and most times it will then pass through on its own accord.

This can be taken to far to the other extreme, which we've all seen in those who seem to love drama in their lives. While, for ideal health, we would allow a place for all emotions, we would not hold on to or accentuate any emotion (positive and negative). The basic idea is to experience the mood, then allow it to pass.

Note - It is easy to write, read, and understand the above, but in some cases it is all but impossible to actualize. It is possible to reach a state of imbalance, formally referred to as 'disease', where the above just isn't possible. Bad moods may dominate, drastically and negatively impacting our lives. Similarly, there are 'manic' states where a person is experiencing what is technically a 'good' mood, but it is so extreme as to be detrimental to their lives.

As with all advice, especially that relating to health, you must pay attention to yourself and decide what is working, what is not, and when to seek more potent therapies. I believe in (and practice) the above, but if it does not work for you, please seek further assistance and care.

For more on the role of the mind and mood in health, please click here.

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4) Move your body

It's been said so many times, but regular exercise is simply necessary. The thing that perhaps isn't so often said is what exactly constitutes 'exercise'. And perhaps here's the good news. Exercise doesn't have to be hard and undesirable. In fact, if you don't enjoy your exercise routine I would strongly suggest changing it. You should look forward to exercising and feel great afterwards. Further, 'going to the gym' or running are not the only options. In fact, they are often only borderline 'healthy'. There are very simple exercises that are more healthy than either lifting weights or running. In Chinese medicine we call these exercises 'Qi gong' (aka 'chi kung'). Nowadays there are classes offered all over for qi gong of different types. For example, Tai Chi Chuan is one type of qi gong, and it is available in many places. I give instructions for a very simple form of qi gong here.

For more on exercise please click here.

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5) Enjoy emptiness daily

I'm intentionally avoiding the word 'meditation' because it has so many meanings, the most common of which is not what I am referring to. For me, meditation is 'best' when it's the most simple. For this step to better health I suggest simple seated meditation with the goal of just sitting there. Simply sit comfortably and do nothing else. If you absolutely must 'do' something, then follow the breath, pay attention to your breathing (with no effort to control it). Such emptiness, overtime, is a powerful counterbalance to our days full of doing.

Fore more on meditation, and its necessity for good health, please click here.

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6) Pay attention

Truly, this could be the single stand alone prescription for better health. Whatever you do, pay attention to your doing it. When you eat, look at your food, smell it, taste it. When you walk, feel your feet contacting the ground and carrying your weight. When you speak, be fully present to your intent and the words coming out of your mouth. When you listen, give the person you are listening to your full attention. I guarantee that if you do this, your life will change.

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7) Listen closer to yourself (and less to others)

There always seem to be many around us who 'know' what we should be doing with our lives. Some of them care for us and truly want the best for us. It's important to keep in mind that no matter how much they may care, they cannot understand either the situation or your experience of it as well as you. They also will not have to live with the consequences as directly as you.

Recently, I have had two patients give spontaneous report that they are realizing how important it is for their health that they follow their own instincts. Up until that point I had never really thought of that as an isolatable aspect of good health. These patients helped me realize this.

Allowing the advice of others to override our own logical and intuitive process also limits our ability to develop through the very personal involvement in life. When those who care for you talk, listen, but always make your decisions according to your own thoughts and instincts.

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8) Let go of what no longer serves you

A primary function in life, and health, is taking things in from our environment, such as food, events, situations, etc., processing and making use of them, and then letting go of what we have no further use for. Too often in life we accumulate things, possessions, thoughts, feelings, etc. that no longer serve us.
This tends to create clutter, physically and psychically, that is not only draining, but also obstructs the natural influx of new and different experiences. 

To balance this take moment and review your life. I'd shy away from outright analysis; instead simply observe your life. Think about - experience - your home and what you have in it, the people you know and interact with, the reoccurring thoughts and feelings you have day-to-day. Simply bring these things into consciousness and then get a sense for their appropriateness on your current life. Pay close attention to what spontaneously arises in your mind, your heart, and your 'gut'.

It is likely some things will seem old and out of place, no longer needed. Others may seem like they should be 'let go' of, but you hold on. Get a feel for why. And, of course, much will probably seem good and serving real need. (Take a moment to experience genuine appreciation for these things!)

I would suggest practicing this on a regular basis. Without conscious effort, some things, perhaps material possessions, maybe old, repetitive thought patterns, or maybe even some people in your life, all will slowly disappear, freeing your time and energy for fresh experiences.

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9) Include more things in your life that actively support and nourish you

Following #8 above, after conscious observation of your life and all it entails, there may be some areas that are lacking proper support or nourishment. Perhaps after coming to a realization that many of your social interactions serve only surface needs of yours, you spontaneously become more attracted to closer, more meaningful friendships. Or maybe you realize that those dozen magazine subscriptions you have only serve to burden you by subtly obligating you to skim through them. Maybe you could cancel those and instead buy a single novel that offers a brilliant and enthralling story to entertain you in your free time.

Similarly, perhaps there are certain ongoing obligations you once volunteered for, but now only sap your time and energy. What once fueled and excited you, now only 'gets in the way' of things you really want to do.

The idea, here, is to incorporate more things in your life that truly serve your needs. A review of how you spend your time and where you use your energy may reveal many opportunities to improve your health and quality of life.

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10) Look at your life as if it were a movie

This came to me during a session once and I immediately fell in love with it as, perhaps, the most 'sagely' of advice I've ever given. When we're watching a good movie, we get totally caught up in it. We feel the events as if we were the characters. Our bodies react as if we were in fear; we cry as if it were our hearts being broken or our wildest fantasies materializing before our disbelieving eyes. When the movie ends we sit and watch the credits, holding onto the feelings coursing through our bodies. And then we leave the theater and get back to 'real life'.

There is a deep lesson to be had here. Imagine, for a moment, your life as if it were a movie you were really, really caught up in. You experience all the emotions, the highs and lows, all the moods and physiological processes associated with them. You really feel as if it is 'you' experiencing the story as one of the characters. In fact, try saying aloud your name, and see your life as the story of this character.

Just as while watching Will Smith's character with his dog in I Am Legend, we get caught up in the story, but when the story ends, when the movie is over, we let go of the emotions. It would seem silly, after all, to get totally lost in the movie and mistake it for 'real life'.

Well, in 'real life', all things, all situations, all events, all friendships, all love, is ultimately fleeting. All things are transitory. It makes no more sense to hold on to the feeling of that kiss from last night than it does to spend the next week crying over the tragic end to Will Smith's dog. Yes, we experience these things fully, completely, in the moment and perhaps for the few immediate moments after, but then we realize it is not real. 

By all means live and enjoy life, let the story of 'you' envelop you completely, but take a few moments every day to step outside of the theater of life, breathe deeply and let go of it all. Once you've 'regained your senses', re-enter, re-engage and enjoy the excitement.

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