Category Archives: mind and body


Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease that effects up to 5% of the population. Being an autoimmune disease it has no definate cause, no permanent cure, no definative diagnostic test and it does not manifest the same in all the people who have it.

A person of any age can get fibromyalgia, even children. Women suffer from it more often than men do and one in four sufferers can no longer work because of it.

The symptoms can be severe and varied, everyone who suffers from it will have muscle and joint pain which is where it’s name comes from (fibro-fibrous tissue such as tendon and ligament, myalgia-muscle pain), but other symptoms can include insomnia, fatigue, rashes, weakness, depression, headaches, nausea, menstrual problems, poor memory, foggy thinking and weight gain.

Some sufferers can notice a big improvement after a year while others others  have a hard time with it for much longer. One single “magic bullet” will rarely bring the symptoms under control, the best results usually come from using several different strategies and treatments together.

Medications both pharmacuetical and non-pharmacuetical, massage, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture, stretching exercise and alkaline based diets all work to some extent for fibromyalgia sufferers.

Fibromyalgia like polymyalgia rheumatica is most intense first thing in the morning, it can make you feel much older than you really are. Sufferers tend to loosen up a bit as the day progresses but even on a good day with active fibromyalgia resourcefulness is required to go about your daily business.

If your knees are effected getting on and off the toilet can require extra thought and planning, showering will be easier than getting in and out of baths and using a long handled shoe-horn might come in handy too.

If your shoulders are effected getting in and out of coats might become an embarrassing task on a crowded bus and reaching objects off the top shelf at the supermarket might make you feel like a croc too.

Maintaining an upbeat outlook on life can be seriously tested with fibromyalgia and it can create pressures in even the best relationships. Despite how bad you might feel with it you can still look quite normal and because blood tests cannot detect it you might feel like a hypochondriac, it is hard to avoid suffering over your suffering with fibromyalgia.

Unfortunately it is not just hale and hardy physical people who get down about this condition because of the way fibromyalgia can effect your powers of concentration, even something passive like reading a book is more difficult than usual.

If meditation isn’t your thing learning some other form of mental relaxation using breathing techniques or even hypnosis might help you take your mind off it. If you are not a person who would normally entertain using alternate medicine you might need to change your mind because being stubborn won’t do you any good atall with this condition. Likewise if you don’t normally like “taking drugs” you might need to if want to keep working.

Climate change and TCM

Whether climate change is an acute crisis brought about through human behavior or an as yet little understood natural cycle there will be implications for our health, even the fear of  it can have an effect. The prospect of tropical diseases becoming  active in previously sub-tropical environments is one of the more obvious possibilities not only for people but for plants and animals too, whatever effects our agriculture impacts on us . If we were to properly study how our attempts to control our own environments impacted on our health we may be surprised, air conditioning is a good case in point. Even though air conditioning has been with us for decades now we still have not come up with a system that can be kept germ free past the twenty year mark, keeping hospital infection rates down is difficult for this reason alone. How ironic it was when CFC’s in our refrigerators and airconditioners were found to be effecting our ozone layer.

Long distance air travel often exposes us to sudden climatic change too, perhaps some of what we experience as jet lag may be a bit of climate shock effecting the body in a weakened state from body clock interruption. Climatisation is thought to usually take a healthy adult about two weeks when they travel to a place with a different climate to home. When a person  lives in a cold climate they acquire better immunity (all other things being equal), but lose their extra natural resistance after several weeks in a warmer climate.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the last two weeks of the current season and first two weeks of the next is called “doyo”, doyo is considered to be like a lunar year (one callender month) of transition from one season to the next. Many herbal, acupuncture and even chi gong practices are oriented to not only observe the current season but the next also, in all five seasons- summer, autumn, winter, spring and doyo* (in four parts).

There are no doubt other traditional medicine practices around the globe that innovatively and effectively deal with severe weather, in Russia for instance kindergarten children are marched bare foot in circles through tubs of icy water just  before winter hits and few children seem to get colds later on.

Maybe too many of us urban dwellers just don’t go outside enough anymore, we now know that not everybody gets enough vitamin D from sunlight so in a sense climate induced disease (and the fear of it) is already with us but we are only starting to notice it. Some urban and city environments because of the orientation of their streets and buildings create some very unpleasant wind tunnel effects and not much sunlight falls to the ground in high rise areas in winter time, making them fashionable climate ghettoes.

I have never had a client ask me to tune them up for the next season with acupuncture but I treat plenty whose problems are in some way connected to climatic factors, even the wind entering your car window on a still day creates a very localised wind that your body can react to, weather is not what it used to be for many reasons.

Climate, Health and TCM III

Heat, whether it comes in the form of an unseasonably hot day in a cooler month, during normal summer weather or as a result of a hot  artificial environments has  health significance in TCM. People are considered to be more accident prone, have headaches more often, suffer “hot-blood” conditions like psoriasis, suffer more from cardiac conditions, febrile diseases and insomnia, when exposed to heat and hot weather.

Psychological illness can be exacerbated in the heat too, people tend to be more manic and excitable when it is hot and crime waves have been known to correspond with heat waves. Many become reckless in the pursuit of having a good time in summer, in TCM summer is the season of accidents. Just as the heat can quicken your pulse, so too do “heat causing” food and drink like alcohol, coffee, chilli, chocolate and drugs that rev you up like ice and speed. In Summer time people are more sociable, venture  into nature and celebrate alot. In Australia more babies are born in August and Serptember than in the other months of the year, in TCM Summer is the season of joy.

People who dislike the heat often have a tendency to suffer from the energy states listed above just as people who prefer summer to winter often find that things like their osteo arthritis and blood circulation worse when it is cold. There is a feature of perceived heat in TCM too, where a “full heat” condition like heat stroke, hyperthyroidism or malaria does raise your body temperature, “empty heat” often does not.

In TCM empty heat is viewed as a condition caused by deficient body fluids rather than a fever, in my time as a nurse I encountered quite a few elderly people who would kick their blankets off and complain of feeling too hot even when the air temperature was not particularly warm.  These poor souls often looked emaciated (due to chronic dehydration) and were flushed across the nose and cheeks (malar flush). They even looked dried out  but would rarely drink water when it was offered, much to the frustrations of the nurses and doctors looking after them.

Empty heat (Yin deficiency) can be experienced by younger people too in the form of AIDS and Lupus. Whether heat is full or empty when you suffer from it it makes it hard to properly relax and be still. Burn out from living a frantic life style for too long is regarded as a heat condition in TCM also.

The five pernicious climates (cold, damp, dryness, wind and heat) interact with each other, heat and damp cause “hot damp” conditions- high humidity during monsoon can literally drive people mad who are not acclimatised to it because the moisture in the air will not allow your sweat to dry and cool you. When cold and wind combine the cold and flu season starts and wind dryness plays havoc with allergy sufferers.

In TCM so long as the transition from one season to the next is gradual rather than sudden and weather extremes do not occur we adapt and are less susceptible to illness.

Climate, Health and TCM II

Dry arid environments in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) were considered to be damaging to the health of the airways, skin and colon, these 3 organs were grouped together in TCM because they were all considered to be organs of excretion. Two of these ofcourse have ongoing continuous contact to the air around us and if we suffer from a condition such as eczema with asthma for instance the dryness of the air can have a profound effect on the way we feel.

Dry air can come from air conditioning indoors and drought outdoors, dusty and smoky places tend to dry the air too. Our airways are not suited to such conditions because an important part of what protects our lungs is the moist lining of the nose, pharynx and trachea- our whole windpipe. If the lining dries up then dust, pollen, germs and soot do not get trapped in the sticky moist airways mucosa (skin that is naturally moist like inside your mouth).

Smoking is a common cause of airway dryness too and also has the effect of suppressing the fine hairs (cilia) lining your windpipe that normally help brush trapped airborn particles backwards out of your lungs. Dryness in TCM when applied to it’s effects on the colon explains alot of constipation. Dryness is said to help dissipate chi, like water leaving through our breath, we lose far more water through our lungs than through our bladders.

Coldness in TCM is said to make your energy sink, it can really stiffen you up particularly in your joints, most of our joints are not very well padded at all so if it is cold outside our knees and spine lose mobility particularly as we get older. Bones are easier to break  in cold weather and the action of the kidneys and bladder were considered impaired in the cold too, it always seems harder to withhold yourself from urinating when you are cold and we then even feel colder once we do so because something warm (urine) has left  the body. Our procreative potentials were regarded as the domain of our kidney chi, this is why TCM explains the feeling of sudden heat loss after sexual climax.

The action of the adrenal glands in TCM were considered to be part of your kidney energy or chi because they are physically attached to the top of the kidney,  in Western Medicine (WM) the adrenals are considered to be a part of the endocrine system because they secrete hormones, the most well known of which is adrenaline. It is considered in TCM that too much coldness exhausts your adrenals faster and lowers the libido too. Coldness is considered in TCM to be strongly related to the emotion of fear and is often one of the last things a person feels before they die.

TCM explains health concepts as a series of relationships, it is a science of pattern identification where all things can be considered as connected through a web of influence between diet, rest, stress, environment.

Climate and Health in TCM

As the experts debate the climates’ present and future trends locally and globally, the question of what it all means for human health crops up.  Tropical disease can creep into sub tropical zones with a rise of mean temperature and extreme weather conditions can cause quite acute health concerns for us but day to day how do seasonal weather changes affect us?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) weather conditions have been considered relevant to human health for many centuries, not just in broad terms for everybody but for individuals too. This is obvious to some extent in the preferences that we as indivuals have for hot or cold, humid or dry and moving (wind) or still air. In TCM wind is referred as the “spear-head of all disease”, in TCM theory the wind is believed to cause colds and flu’s which somewhat stands to reason when we think about how viruses, bacteria, spores, pollens and particle pollution are swept up into the air by wind and are therefore much easier for us to breath in.

Wind was also thought to make people and even animals more aggressive, unpredictable and impatient, this is because wind is considered to be a “Yang” (male-like) force so something already quite Yang like a  man, a child or a dog becomes too Yang and over excited whereas women tend to like the wind more because they are usually not as Yang to begin with.

Ask any primary school teacher what they think of windy days and you will see them roll there eyes and tell you how unruly the kids can get on those days. My father when he was a boy living on a farm would set rabbit snares of a night time with his brothers and they always would catch more rabbits on a windy night because the rabbits seemed to run around more. Dogs seem to yap more too. In the Sahara being constantly buffetted by the Sirroc (strong seasonal winds) for days on end are said to at times drive men mad.

Women in TCM are generally considered to be more adversely effected by stints of damp weather rather than the wind*(unless a woman’s energy type is considered to be more “wooden”), digestive concerns tend to be more prevalent during rainy spells. An extreme example of too much rain is severe gastric and cholera in flood conditions.

Women in many cultures are considered to be more lunar and water like (emotional) than men are, the length of the lunar year is even the same length as the menstrual cycle. Women tend to suffer from fluid retention more than men do and feel less energised when it is wet than men do. Dampness tends to slow people in their thinking as well as their actions, even flies are easier to swat when there is high humidity in the air. As we age our climate preferences become stronger because our resistance to what doesn’t agree with us lessens.

You may have heard about a well known health study that concluded “feeling cold” doesn’t “give you a cold” Adding wind to the equation may have changed the conclusion.