The “M” Word

Everyone has an “internal dictionary” of words. The contents of ones’ internal dictionary reveals a great deal about themselves. Previously, you could have scoured the “M”s’ in my internal dictionary and not found the word “moderation” in any form.

For years, I have read recipes that suggested I use “leftover wine” in a particular dish – and I wondered who actually had “leftover wine” in their house. In my head, I assumed it must be the same people who believed the side of the box that said a serving of Girl Scout Thin Mints was, indeed, “two cookies” – rather than the entire sleeve I could easily inhale.

In my internal dictionary, the word “excess” is usually in uppercase, flashing capital letters. Even now, I readily admit that if it tastes good, feels good or makes me happy – I want more of it NOW. Any semblance of self-control goes right of the window once those deliriously happy feelings wake up.

While there is an “M” in the spelling of December, it is not a month for moderation.  Knowing this, and knowing my inner fondness for “excess” – I thought I would turn to the one thing that has helped me so much this past year – Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Both Google and WebMD will tell you that Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to harmonize and rebalance ones’ system rather than just treat symptoms. TCM believes that proper internal balance is the key to good health.

The holidays are a time of year where it is certainly difficult to practice moderation. However, doing so could greatly benefit your health in the long run.

For someone like myself, where “excess” is a way of life, balance has always been a challenge.

In “Good Life Habits According to Chinese Medicine”, the author writes, “According to Chinese philosophy, “Jing” (essence) forms the material basis for the whole body. Stored in the kidneys, Jing serves as deposited capital for reproduction, growth, development and maturation. Every metabolic activity consumes Jing and we can either nourish or deplete it through our behavior and lifestyle.”

Knowing this makes me view taking anything to the extreme – whether it be food, drink, or frenzied social activities – as something that lowers my Jing and therefore impacts my ability to stay healthy as I get older.  If, as the TCM practitioners believe, a regular and harmonious life helps us keep our stored Jing, then such a balanced lifestyle is – in a sense – a type of anti-aging remedy. The usual weaknesses associated with aging can be avoided.

As children “the Chinese are taught that negligence of one’s body causes illness, while living sensibly and taking good care of both body and mind are essential for well-being.” Unfortunately, for many of us with a Western mindset and upbringing, it takes an emotional or physical crisis for us to realize that extremes may well lead to emotional and physical downfalls.

It would behoove us to become familiar with the philosophy of Daoism. “The Dao is often described as “the path” or the “way of life” in Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture.” Dao advocates moderation, existing in harmony with nature and living in balance. The ancient Chinese believe that we are fueled by three things: Qi, Shen and Jing.

The Acupuncture Holistic Hotline further clarifies: 

“Qi is energy or the vital substance. Shen is the spirit and Jing is our essence. Qi is the life-force (or vital substance) and the organizing principle flowing through all things and establishing their interconnectedness. The Chinese believe that every living thing (both human and non-human) has Qi. In the body, Qi is found in the heart and lungs. Shen gives brightness to life and is responsible for consciousness and mental abilities. Shen manifests itself in our personality, thought, sensory perception and the awareness of self. Jing is responsible for growth and development.”

Unfortunately, while both Qi and Shen can be balanced and enhanced through acupuncture and Chinese herbs, a person is born with a finite amount of Jing. TCM tells us that by living a life of moderation we can preserve our Jing. By following the philosophy of Dao we can achieve that balance which is the key to good health and a long life.

Here’s what I know: I have a daily rhythm. I try my best to balance work and rest to ensure my ability to stay healthy.   I know that my Chinese herbs play an important part in what I eat and drink each day. More importantly, I believe my acupuncture and herbs play an even more important part in what I DON’T eat and drink each day. I believe that together, they help me keep a handle on run-away thoughts, and help me “etch-a-sketch” troublesome thoughts from my mind.

However, there are times when I need extra help. There are times when my new-founded “moderation” fades and hidden “excess” prevails. The month of December serves up multiple opportunities of sugary, high fat, salt-laden food that scream my name. There’s too many parties with too many open bars and home visits with too many offered glasses of “good cheer” to “toast the season” that invite me to join in.   Excess slithers over to my emotional reactions as well. One can choose to do a slow boil while stuck in traffic or waiting in line to check out. One can choose to rant and rave at the Post Office for delayed gifts and misplaced mail. Aggravating and disappointing? Yes, to both and more. But if I stop for a minute, think through the potential damage these excessive emotions may do to my body the answer suddenly changes to “Not so much”.

TCM views a person as an energy system in which the mind and body are unified, each influencing and balancing the other. Unlike Western medicine which attempts to isolate and separate a disease from a person, TCM emphasizes a holistic approach that treats the entire body and the mind. Acupuncture, along with herbal therapy have become essential tools for wellness for me.

Historically, acupuncture points were believed to be holes that allow entry into channels. These holes provide gateways to influence, redirect, increase, or decrease body’s vital substance, Qi, thus correcting any imbalances.

Research has shown that acupuncture stimulates the immune system. It also affects “circulation, blood pressure, rhythm and stroke volume of the heart, secretion of the gastric acid, and production of red and white cells.” It also stimulates the release of a variety of hormones that help the body to respond to injury and stress.

Acupuncture works off the belief that “we must maintain balance of our vital energy flow in order to remain healthy”. Acupuncture serves as the tool for realignment and serves as a sort of preventive medicine. For me, having my acupuncturist check and balance the flow of energy on the meridian points in my body is like my car receiving a tune-up before it is in need of a repair. Much like the blinking red light on my car’s dashboard that tells me I need to have the car serviced or to have the oil changed, my body’s dashboard lets me know there is something wrong with warning lights such as poor sleep, poor food cravings, and a poor attitude, complete with anxiety and depression.

Acupuncture – and TCM – have helped me identify my emotional triggers. I find that now I am focused on “balance” – and ultimately, “moderation” more than ever this month. My acupuncture sessions have helped me to restore my balance, both within the body and the mind; acupuncture has allowed me to live closer to the Dao.

I don’t have to go to every holiday party, to accept every invitation. I can celebrate with friends, I can eat drink and be merry – in balance. I don’t have to give more than I can do so comfortably, both financially and emotionally. I am allowed to step back, to care for myself like I usually do for others. I can be by myself – or I can be with others. It is my choice.

Just as I choose to make acupuncture a part of my life.

Written by Susan Tretakis


  1. Google/WebMD.