Traditional Chinese Medicine and Allergies
Health in Traditional Chinese Medicine is always understood in the context of an inter-relationship between the external environment and the internal health of the person – body and mind. External factors like excess heat, dryness, damp, wind, cold, pollen, smoke, dust, chemicals in the environment and certain foods can become “pathogenic factors” for individuals with a predisposing sensitivity to those substances or phenomena. However, the allergic reaction that some people experience cannot be attributed 100% to the environment, but also depends upon the relative health of the chi of the individual. Chi (or Qi) is a nebulous concept and is often translated roughly as life energy or life force. In Chinese medicine, there are three main divisions of chi – that which we inherit from our parents called “jing” which is stored in the Kidneys. The Jing or essence is like the batteries we inherit for life and the relative strength of our Jing depends upon many factors such as the age and health of the parents at conception. There’s not much we can do to increase our Jing because it’s thought to be a fixed quantity that we receive at birth. However, we can take care not to deplete our Jing excessively which can occur due to overwork, chronic stress, excessive drug use– both prescription and recreational, excessive sexual activity, etc.
The second level of chi relates to that which we take in and generate daily. The chi that our Lungs breathe in from air can be increased and refined through various practices such as QiGong, TaiChi, meditation, and even aerobic exercise in general which helps to increase our lung capacity. The food that we eat is transformed by the Spleen and Stomach into “gu chi” which gives us energy to function. Both of these (the chi derived from air and food) increase the strength of the “wei chi” which is the protective layer of the body that prevents pathogens from penetrating into deeper energetic layers of the body. In other words, it keeps the kooties away and minimizes the effect of allergens.
The third and final division of chi is that of the mind or ‘shen”. Shen chi – residing in the heart – is the most subtle and refined of all three kinds of chi and is dependent upon our psychological and emotional habits. Emotions such as anger, excessive grief, fear, anxiety, worry, excitement, doubt, and overthinking tend to disturb the shen and prevent the more subtle harmonizing that occurs when one feels happy, contented, and at peace. Meditation on the breath, love, compassion, and the interdependent nature of reality refine the shen and have a balancing effect on all the internal organs and the chi flow of the body in general, enhancing overall health.
“Jing, chi, shen” are considered the three treasures in TCM and are all inter-related and must be properly balanced for optimal health. While there is no magic cure for allergies in Chinese medicine, the overall health of the individual can be increased through a balanced life which includes getting enough sleep (but not too much), exercise, clean air and water devoid of toxic chemicals, eating a balanced diet of local, fresh, organic, whole (unrefined) food, exercise and fulfilling work, practicing mindfulness of toxic emotions and patiently working on one’s emotional, psychological and spiritual health. Of course, acupuncture and herbal medicine can help strengthen the lungs and immunity. However, neither allergy shots or acupuncture needles are a substitute for the foundational care of body and mind required for good health. Included in this recipe is the concept of living an ethical life of non-harming which increases our virtue karma, which is the root of good health in Buddhism.
Other ideas: Some people recommend locally produced honey. Avoidance strategies – while not ideal, can be useful in the short term. As the climate crisis worsens and nature’s regulation of the external environment becomes more erratic and unpredictable, the challenge of allergies may intensify for all of us. Bookmarking a website that predicts pollen levels for the week may be helpful. And of course, doing whatever you can to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to solutions to the climate crisis.