“The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease. ~ ” Thomas Edison
The 8 Branches represent the areas of one’s life that should be aware of and develop practices for for maintaining a holistic and preventative lifestyle. This is peak of preventative medicine – a literal hierarchy of willful cultivation of awareness to take care of one’s self. This is a cornerstone of Asian medicine (Chinese medicine) and a that I focus heavily on when teaching clients and students. How do we care for ourselves? The list shows what we can incorporate as healthy habits into our lives to maintain health and then moves into more invasive methods to manage health and healing if necessary. Here’s a quick overview. Remember – this is a hierarchy with the first being the ideal starting place.
1 – Meditation – By meditating we are able to connect with the deepest aspects of our being, and therefore be able to engage in our lives with greater purpose and direction. It provides the opportunity for deep introspection, creates connection with life and greater space within ourselves. Truly, this is the first step in finding out who you are, why you are here and what you can do. Regular meditation also has innumerable physical benefits such as lowering blood pressure and helping to manage emotions. It is not uncommon in our culture to hear people say they have tried meditation and simply ‘can’t do it.’ I’ll call BS here. First, let’s look at the self defeating narrative. Please use the term ‘can’t’ only for that which you can not change – like who your birth mother is or your ethnicity. Applying the term to things that can change leads to you restricting your own potential. The practice of meditation is simply that – something that you need to continue to practice. Sitting in stillness for 15 minutes a day of focused breathing is a fantastic start. Though there are many forms of meditation I use two main forms – meditation with seed like focusing your thoughts on your breath or a candle, and meditation without seed – sit still, focus on nothing. The thoughts and emotions that flow in and out of your awareness are merely the weather, just let them float on by, in time you slip out of time. Again, I cannot recommend enough (see what I did there?) the importance of meditation in one’s life. Begin again if you’ve dropped it. Seek out guidance if you’ve never tried it.
2 – Exercise – Appropriate exercise is a key to maintaining body and mind health. Finding the correct exercise for the individual needs is a priority. A lack of exercise or over exercising is also detrimental to overall health. Yang (very active exercise) like vigorous martial arts, power yoga, marathon running and mountain biking, may be appropriate for a person with a strong constitution and physical strength. Yin (restorative and calming exercise) like restorative yoga, and gentle Qi gong or t’ai qi are great for those needing to replenish, stretch, and deeply nourish. For the overall healthy individual you need a little a bit of both, but for someone recovering from serious illness, gentle Yin activity is the start. The client with collapsed Yang (chronic fatigue, exhaustion, post viral syndrome) needs to start very gently and slowly build – no bootcamp style workouts, please.
3 – Nutrition and Tonic Herbs & Foods – How we nourish ourselves is a direct reflection of our state of consciousness and willingness to nourish ourselves at the deepest of levels. Here we are not treating acute disharmonies, rather we are flowing with the seasons and their bounties, acknowledging our state and stages of life. It’s not just what we eat that is important, our state of mind and habits around what we eat are equally important to our ability to transform food into vital energies. Choosing foods vibrant in Qi, that are mostly local, organic, sustainable and seasonally appropriate sustain not just our bodies but support our communities and our planet. When I first started this line of work, I was highly aware of the issues surrounding our culture’s practices of food growth, production and management. In just last 25 years, this has reached a crucial point for our world. Although I have always put heavy influence on local, organic and sustainable, I encourage it even more as my ethics and integrity will not allow me to overlook the issues facing our world and this awareness is reflected in my recommendations and considerations for clients.
4 – Astrology – Know who you are. Stars aside, knowing what makes you tick is key to learning how to live with joy and vitality. Astrology here refers to understanding your nature from both the physical and spiritual nature. Evolving and self improvement through education, guidance, spiritual enrichment and self-exploration fall into this category too. Where do you start to learn yourself? Meditation and contemplation. The homework I give students and clients are 3 questions to help get you rolling. Who am I? Why am I here? How shall I live?
5 – Geomancy – Know where you are. Geomancy, including feng shui, refers to your place in the world. Not just your physical location, but your work environment and your relationships. Do they support your life, personality, goals and values or do they create excessive tension and stagnation that hinders growth? Perhaps you should move your desk around or maybe you need to move cities or countries.
6 – Bodywork – Before there were acupuncture needles (or bones) there was bodywork. Least invasive of the 3 major limbs of Asian medicine (bodywork, acupuncture, herbs) bodywork moves the Qi, stimulates the immune system, calms the nervous system—and so much more. Ideally, bodywork forms including Amma therapy are used as preventative medicine. Aiding the client in maintaining health through treatment, lifestyle and nutritional recommendations. But Asian medicine is not limited to prevention. It shines with treating acute and chronic conditions as well. Amma therapy, is a unique form of bodywork that utilizes the meridians of Qi in the body and pressure to points based on what the client has going on and what the practitioner assesses through tongue, pulse and other Asian medicine observation tools.
7 – Medicinal Herbs & Foods – We have to use a little nuance here to understand the difference between this category of food and herbs and #3. In this category we are talking about using out herbs and foods, often of strong clearing natures, to treat specific illness or conditions, for short periods of time. Nearly every culture has some form of its own herbal medicine and medicinal foods. The study of Asian (Chinese) herbs is highly refined and a lifelong study. Ideally, tonic herbs and foods are to be used in times of wellness to strengthen and maintain. Is it time for you to start that Gan Mao Ling formula and drink strong citrus peel tea and ginger to fight off the cold? Here we are consciously altering our herbs and food intake to treat disharmonies.
8 – Acupuncture – Acupuncture inserts hair fine needles into specific points along channels of Qi in the body. The acupuncturist chooses these points based on assessment from tongue, pulse and other methods to treat the individual needs. Both powerful and gentle, acupuncture can be used to move stubborn blockages of Qi and pain and/or used to treat psycho spiritual imbalances.