How do we decide what is in our mind and what is in our body when it comes to health? How do we know if our bodily symptoms are due to an illness that requires a doctor’s care and medication? If for example we were to experience extreme fatigue, unexplained pains, chest discomfort, foggy mind? The first reaction for most of us would be to go and see a doctor, and that is good. It is absolutely necessary when unusual physical complaints appear to check them out, especially if they start interfering with normal function at home or work.
But then what happens if your doctor orders tests and they come back normal, or you are referred to a specialist who also does tests and they also come back normal? You may be told that nothing physical is obviously wrong. What if one of these doctors tell you that the cause must be from some mental disturbance, depression, or anxiety? Well you may want a third opinion and that is fine, but what if that doctor also says he or she cannot find anything wrong with you?
Our natural inclination is to reject that idea, in part because the things that we feel in our body are real. We feel it! It is also hard to accept that it may be connected to our minds because there is a social stigma against mental illness and yet again in part because we can’t believe that these symptoms could be caused by the mind. There is no doubt in our mind that what is happening is in our body.
On the one hand we embrace the idea of body/mind connection but on the other we are so inculcated with the idea that mind and body are separate that it doesn’t make sense to us for instance that anxiety could be felt as chest pain. We may also believe that mental problems are a sign of weakness or deficiency. Given these cultural prejudices it can be difficult to accept the concept of how mind and body really work together.
Most modern Western doctors know and can clearly see the results of depression or anxiety on physical health yet they too see the mind and body so far apart that they often have no idea of what to do beyond recommending a psychiatric consult, an antidepressant or an anxiolytic. This attitude perpetuates the idea that body and mind are separate and are to be treated separately.
Radical Connection of Mind and Body: Tibetan Medicine Theory
In Tibetan medicine and in many other ancient medical systems there is a clear recognition of the way the mind and body are intertwined and there are many effective treatments. rLung (pronounced loong) energy is one of the three basic energies of the body. Any disturbance of these three energies can have physical or mental outcomes but loong is always involved. It is the energy of movement and is associated with circulation, the nervous system and the movement of consciousness. It is said that the mind rides on the loong.
Loong has many pathways through the whole body. Loong energy can be excess, deficient or disturbed and is effected by both physical and mental circumstances. These include such things as a traumatic event; a death or a loss of some sort; extreme grief; blood loss of any sort such as from an accident, surgery, tooth extraction or childbirth; working excessively either physically or mentally; a long term lack of food, or lack of nutritious food; being exposed to cold and wind over a long period of time; going without sleep for a long period of time; prolonged vomiting or diarrhea. An excess of loong can cause weight loss, constipation, flatulence, insomnia, dizziness, fatigue, bluish complexion, always feeling cold, weakening of eyesight. A deficiency of loong can show as poor memory, fatigue, moving aches and pains. Signs of disturbed loong include restlessness, sighing, unstable mind, a dry, red, rough tongue, moving pain, insomnia, a need to stretch & dry heaves. These are just some of the symptoms associated with loong. The point is that because the causes of our symptoms can be either mental or physical, the symptoms can often be changes to our body or mind, therefore treatment also can be a material, physical treatment or one that uses our mind.
So getting back to loong and the example I started with. It is not uncommon for disturbed or excess loong to show up as changes in sleep, pain that moves around the body, depression or anxiety, fatigue, etc. Some of the simple but effective treatments for this kind of problem include: meditation or breath work; Tibetan style massage using oils; warm compresses and pressure on certain points; changes in behavior, such as avoiding cold, windy places, and vexing company; seeking out warm places with calm, happy friends; eating certain foods and avoiding others; taking herbs whose nature is warm, smooth, heavy or oily. All of these things tend to calm and balance loong. A trained and competent Tibetan medicine practitioner can help to identify and treat the imbalance of energy.
Relax and Take Stock
The important thing to remember is that mind and body are most definitely connected and that it is not a sign of weakness or insufficiency if we cannot find a direct physical cause for our physical symptoms. If our family doctor cannot find an obvious cause for our symptoms it doesn’t have to be a cause for frustration or concern. It can be the realization that we won’t have to take strong pharmaceuticals and there are still ways to treat our problems. Not only that but most of these treatments are very pleasurable. A warm oil massage on a regular basis can feel wonderful as well as calming the mind, relaxing the muscles and easing pain. So do see your regular doctor and eliminate any serious diseases if you are experiencing new or unexplained symptoms, but remember that if no ‘disease’ is found it could be caused by an imbalance in your body that can be assessed and brought into balance with Tibetan medicine.