Integrating Principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine
I find Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) fascinating, but it’s not light reading. The authors of Dynamic Balance (Amazon Affiliate) do provide insight into TCM and how it can benefit athletes in an approachable way. They go into the basics of TCM and how it can benefit you as a fitness enthusiast.
It’s a holistic approach, looking at our diet, our emotions, and our fascia — pretty much all favorite subjects of mine!
The final chapters of this book give you simple tools to evaluate your diet, your emotional balance, your stress levels, and the health of your fascia. Simple exercises to improve your breathing are included, as is a chapter on 5 animal movements (which I admit I have not tried).
I’m linking up with My First 5K and More, Running With Attitude, Runs with Pugs, Zenaida and Run Laugh Eat Pie for Fit Five Friday. Today I’m sharing 5 tips/quotes about how athletes can benefit from delving into TCM for improved performance.
1: Everything is connected
Our bodies are always striving for homeostasis (balance), but we can’t get there just by focusing on fitness.
We treat our diet and fitness routines as something separate from the rest of our lives. We set specific fitness goals thinking that if we just strengthen a few specific muscles, we’ll perform better. That mentality is the exact opposite of what TCM teaches us.
We have to define our own range of homeostasis in its broadest sense: how to structure our diets, fitness routines, and emotional health to maintain our dynamic balance.
2: Living in Sync with nature
Athletes have a tendency to think more is better. More speed, more distance, more races. But did you ever stop to think about what season might be optimal for you to race in?
One of the causes of imbalance is that we are not eating and living in accordance with the current season. In other words, being in sync with the seasons is the key to maintaining balance and harmony with nature; being out of sync can lead to problems that interfere with your athletic performance.
Time is spent on Yin-Yang balance — in short, Fall and Winter are Yin (cool, passive) times, and Spring and Summer are Yang (hot, active) times, although TCM actually includes late summer as a fifth season. That doesn’t mean you can’t run a race in Winter, but if you live in the Northern hemisphere it might not be the best time for your goal race, although that also depends on the climate where you live. In the South it might be perfect!
3: Does balancing emotions help athletes?
In a word: yes. We all think about balancing our stressors when we’re training for a race, so we can optimize our training. Have you ever considered how the smaller stressors just might be harming your performance?
Emotions that are not properly managed will be reflected in a person’s performance and interaction with others. Emotions that are not properly managed will be reflected in an athlete’s performance.
Earlier in the book the authors outline areas of stress we often overlook — the little things that we can sometimes react to as if they’re life or death, which keeps us in code orange (high alert) as one of my teachers liked to say. Overreacting to the little things — or even some of the bigger things — is what causes us to burn out, and to lose sleep (which creates a vicious cycle of stress), and possibly get sick. Some examples from the authors:
- Getting stuck in traffic
- Being in a crowd
- Work stress
- School stress
- Home stress
- Cell phone usage
- TV watching
4: What is the right diet?
The $64 million question, right? TCM looks at food quite differently:
In the Chinese diet, the emphasis is not on macro-and micronutrients but rather the energetic properties of food. Each food has an associated nature, flavor, and Zang-Fu (described as functions that have loose anatomical associates). The nature describes the therapeutic effects on the body, while flavor describes the taste and the organ or organs associated with the food.
The authors go on to quote The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine:
Use grains to nourish, fruit to assist, livestock to benefit, vegetables to supplement.
The authors add to the advice above and say that the catch is to avoid excess of any one food, and also to consume seasonal foods.
5: Can your breathing keep you healthy?
An athlete must have core stability for optimal extremity movements and function, and high quality movements are not possible without a stable core.
It follows that you should focus on training those stabilizing muscles that wrap around the spine, starting with the deepest layer. What are the muscles that form the core of the core? Your breathing muscles!
If you can’t breathe correctly, you can’t move correctly. Breathing training, or respiratory muscle training, must be part of your core training routine.
The authors also point out that breath work can improve the lungs, which can improve overall immune functions.
Remember there was similar advice on breathing from my review of Darya Klishina’s book Breathe: you can read my mini review of that book here.
I know alternative health approaches are not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s a reason these systems have been in use for thousands of years. When it comes to health and alternative therapies I’ve always had an open mind and a willingness to learn more.
TCM is a very large, and nuanced, subject which the authors have done a good job of presenting so that anyone can follow. I believe athletes (and really, everyone) can benefit from the exercises offered, and especially the connection between our emotions and our bodies.
Have you ever used TCM? Acupuncture, for instance. I haven’t but I have used it for the furkids
Have you ever considered the seasons when it comes to your training?