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Regaining Your Balance As You Grieve

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How the fundamental concepts behind acupuncture can help you heal

Vivian Sobel, L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist who uses traditional Chinese diagnostic techniques including acupuncture, herbs, nutrition and micro current.  Micro current is a painless needle free modality that quickly reduces inflammation and helps heal musculoskeletal pain and injury. She can be contacted through VivianSobel.com.

If you’re grieving, regaining your balance may help you heal. Regaining your balance is a key aspect of acupuncture, which is part of traditional Chinese medicine.

While acupuncture is fairly well known for help with diverse ailments ranging from lower back pain to chemotherapy-induced nausea, it’s also used to help people while grieving.

The key to understanding how acupuncture can help with grief is to understand the basic premise of the Chinese idea of meridians. The idea is that the body is divided into 12 meridians, and each is associated with organs. One meridian is associated with the liver, one with the spleen, another the heart, another the lungs and so on.

Good health depends in part on all meridians being in balance.

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In addition, each meridian is not only associated with an organ, but also with an emotion. For example, the organ associated with grief is the lungs, which is why it is so important for anyone grieving to breathe fully and deeply.

As anyone grieving knows, grief can call up different emotions at different times. Grief can express itself as anger — “why did this happen to me?” — or depression, fear, sadness and so on. The emotion associated with the spleen, for another example, is rumination, which can be manifested in someone grieving as an inability to let go of a negative thought or image — thinking the same thing over and over and over again.

This brings up a big difference between Western and Chinese medicine. With a Western doctor, if you’re suffering from depression as part of your grief, you’ll describe your symptoms and they’ll prescribe an anti-depressant, or sleeping pills.

In Chinese medicine, we look at it a little differently. We see where this emotion is coming from and determine which organ is out of balance. If you’re grieving, the question is — How are you grieving? Are you feeling more depressed, or more anxiety? In acupuncture, we first determine how you are expressing your grief, and then treat everything associated with that meridian because we look at the whole self as being connected.

With this background, then, here are some tips to help you work through the healing process as you grieve — things you can do to help regain your balance. Emotions are normal and necessary, but unduly experiencing the emotion is to become trapped in the emotional state, and finding a balance is the key to escaping the trap.

  • Keep moving. One of the worst things is to stagnate — to sit or lie down and just not move. Stagnation breeds stagnation, and stagnation is never good. At least once a day, make a point to take a gentle walk, do gardening, dance, whatever you enjoy to keep the body moving. Movement forces you to breathe. When we’re grieving, our lungs do not function properly if we stop moving. Shallow breathing means we’re not exhaling the CO2, the toxins.
  • Eat a balanced diet. In Chinese medicine, you need five flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and sour. That means you need a variety of foods. When we veer toward one type of food — salty foods, or fried foods — that’s going to throw the liver and the spleen off balance, and that affects the emotions associated with those particular meridians.
  • Get some sunshine. Sunshine is important. It’s good to get 20 minutes of sunshine first thing in the morning, without sunglasses. This is because we have a circadian rhythm, and the body goes through day cycles and night cycles. At the end of the day, to phrase it in Western medicine terms, the serotonin level goes down, and melatonin is stimulated. Melatonin helps you relax, allows you to go to sleep. Daylight then stimulates the pineal gland, behind the eyes, which then stimulates serotonin, which gets you going first thing in the morning. So, take a walk around the yard. Being in nature is better than being on the pavement, but if you have to walk on the sidewalk that’s fine, anything works. Just give it 20 minutes — without sunglasses. The reason for that is that sunglasses inhibit UV rays, which are needed to stimulate the pineal gland.
  • Maintain your community connections. Talking with family and friends is another way to regain your balance. Community, including grief support groups, is invaluable for thorough healing.

By Vivian Sobel, L.Ac.