I love a lot of things about Chinese Medicine and a lot of things about my job, but the intake process of sitting with someone for 30 to 40 minutes and asking them particulars about the formation of their bowel movements, the color of their menstrual blood and how vivid their dreams are seems like my most powerful service and tool.
Most people don’t know what healthy is. Most of the time they are aspiring towards something that may be unhealthy or settling for something thinking that is working for them. Western Medicine does a terrible job about informing people what is healthy. A great example is the western definition of constipation. Constipation requires a minimum of 3 days without a bowel movement. Now my patients use that word all the time for various situations (incomplete bowels, difficult to pass bowels, skipping a day or only having one bowel movement a day or bowel movement late in the day). My patients intuitively know that if they don’t have a bowel movement in the usual time without effort and feel complete it feels awful. Western Medicine describes the disease, not the health.
One of the main goals of this blog is to advocate for what is healthy. What is normal. I’m not a purist. I don’t advocate for strict diets and extreme exercise regimes. But I am staunch believer that health systems are black and white. You either have a healthy respiratory tract or you don’t. You can certainly have one that is continuously improving, but it is always easy to know from a Chinese Medicine perspective if there is more work to do.
In addition to thinking about the definitions of normal, I like to bring in the idea of constitution. According to Chinese Medicine the constitution of a person is determined at the moment of conception and is based upon a blend of the constitutions of both parents at that moment. One can definitely strengthen one’s constitution (or weaken it) but some of us will just never be as strong as other people. How many people can imagine living Baraka Obama’s life? He has an amazing constitution. I for one would love to stand in line to listen to his pulse and see his tongue. They would probably be very impressive.
The more patients I treat the more “normal” seems obvious. There are certain symptoms that most people don’t have and the ones who do have more symptoms because of it. So here is my list of red flags. Things that mean that no matter how well you take care of yourself you still are not as healthy as you could be.
- Daily well-formed, easy to pass bowel movements
- No night urination
- Solid wakeless, dreamless sleep all night long
- Consistent energy all day long (with desire for exercise/activity)
- Manageable periods that don’t require painkillers or time off
- Consistent explainable emotions
- Pain free body
- Recover for sickness/injuries quickly
- Good appetite and good thirst
- Reliable temperature fluctuations
- Ability to change with the seasons gracefully
This list is not age dependent. I work with a lot of patients in their later years who still sleep like babies and have excellent appetites. And I’ve worked with a lot of young people who don’t have any energy at all. The complications that age brings is only an encouragement to slow down, be more purposeful and more deliberate about self-care. It is not an excuse for body break down. Pain at age 30 or 40 is not due to age. It is due to exhaustion of the body and poor body-maintenance. I’ve worked with enough 70 and 80 year olds to know that.
The next time you bring your car in for an oil change or inspection, ask yourself when was the last time you had a thorough check-up, examination or wellness treatment. Has it been longer than 5,000 miles? Our bodies are machines too and normal is simply fully functioning. If one thing isn’t working well the rest of the machine suffers.
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