The COVID-19 pandemic has created a foul brew of pain of devastation and widespread misery, but perhaps it will encourage us to transform ourselves as well as each other.
By Ken Rosen
Looking for the causes of all disease, you will find them in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and epidemics is on the list:
- External Factors: weather such as dampness, wind, heat, cold and dry
- Internal Factors: The seven emotions
- Miscellaneous causes: constitution, diet, trauma, poisons, fatigue/overexertion, excessive sexual activity, and epidemics
COVID-19 has become a long drawn-out perfect storm. It perhaps had been building for some time but when it hits, it spread fast. In reality it is now like two epidemics colliding, creating a reckoning of global life.
There is a SLOW moving epidemic which TCM would call dampness or obesity or comorbidities. DAMPNESS in TCM is said to be slow to come and slow to go. Like a slow-moving rising tide; our damp dietary excesses of the past few decades have caught up with us. This dampening of diet is a global phenomenon.
With the SLOW moving epidemic of dampness and obesity, enters the fast-moving epidemic of COVID-19 and its ever-changing novel coronavirus. The key word here is novel. It is something new. The important conversation is how do we improve our immune systems to weather this new storm.
The immune system is best defined as the on-going process of distinguishing self from other. By becoming a prayer and setting your boundaries, you improve your immune system. Doing transformational exercise also helps improve your immune system.
COVID-19 in TCM terms gets at the lungs. The damp congeals with the virus and causes blood stagnation in the lungs. Doing exercises that opens the chest, deep breathing exercises, can help the lung energy from tightening and causing premature blood stagnation in the lungs, or anywhere in the body for that matter.
Acupuncture can also clearly help with prevention and recovery, improving the immune system. Likewise, TCM herbal medicine can play a big role in prevention and recovery from mental or physical medical challenges that we may face.
IN TCM, there is an expression. “Different diagnosis means the same treatment while the same diagnosis means different treatment.” We are all unique and each case with the COVID label or not needs to be addressed individually.
As Chuang Tzu said, as translated by Stephen Mitchell:
“You may dream you are at a banquet and wake up miserable, You may dream that you’re sobbing your heart out and wake up to find yourself at ease. How, in the middle of the dream, can you know you are actually dreaming? In the middle of the dream, you may even try to interpret your dream; only after waking up do you realize you were dreaming. Someday there will be a great wakening, when we know that this was one big dream. And when I say that we’re dreaming, of course I am dreaming too.
Social isolation and economic fallout
The third stream in this pandemic is more like a psychic Tsunami than a rising tide of dampness or a fast moving novel corona virus waterfall. This psychic Tsunami is possibly the hardest to deal with but also holds the most opportunity for inner and outer transformation.
The social isolation and economic fallout from the collision of a slow-moving epidemic and a novel fast-moving epidemic are immense. It is good to remember at these tender times that this not just the ride of your life but the ride of life itself. We are all in the same leaky boat.
Unfortunately, the isolation and economic fallout is the perfect trap for people who have been overdoing damp dietary habits and becoming more sedentary, hyper-fueling an already damp and doughy situation.
Spending days online, scrolling here, taking the click bait there, we have created our own infodemic where the amount of information coming at us is overwhelming and builds up static in our bodies and minds. With all the channels of information that are deluging us, we have to constantly remind ourselves to take a deep breath and rise above it.
Taming the firehose of information, finding peace amidst all the noise, seems to be our most urgent goal for the practice of contemplation during these wobbly world days. Whatever the weather on the outside is, make sure that the weather on the inside is calm first. And look for the precious humble blessings throughout your day.
A passage from the Tao Te Ching (道德经) is worth considering in this context:
Can you marry your spirit to your body to the oneness and never depart from it?
Can you ride your breath until your entire being is as supple as an infant?
Can you cleanse your inner vision until you see Heaven in every direction?
Pandemics of this magnitude are momentous events in world history. How we are transformed by this one is up to us. How we seize the momentous opportunity to better ourselves and our planet and our fellow humans in the face of such incredible and challenging time is the challenge that we face. And regardless of the threat and the pain, almost remember this:
Even after the stormiest of long nights; dawn can crack the most magnificent sunrise.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Pathological Dampness commonly results from poor food choices and eating habits.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Dampness is associated with the Earth element, the sweet taste, and the digestive system. When the digestive system gets overloaded or overburdened, dampness and weight gain set in.
Dampness is a Yin pathogenic factor. It is sticky and difficult to get rid of. It is also heavy and dirty.
On the positive side, dampness in moderate amounts comforts us. Like fat, dampness insulates us, protects us, and stores energy.
Manifestations of bodily dampness:
- Extra weight on the body
- Greasy sweat
- Sticky taste in the mouth
- Fullness and distention after eating
- Swollen, painful joints
- Urinary tract infections
- Numbness in limbs
- Vaginal infections, yeast, Candida
- Heavy feeling in body and/or head
- Snoring, sleep apnea
- Phlegm or mucus problems
Causes of a damp pattern: Overeating, lack of exercise, and eating overly damp foods.
All food is damp. Some foods are more damp than others. Everything is on a continuum. Damp food tends to be sticky, cloying, and calorie-rich. A thick soup is more damp than a thin soup.
Sweet taste goes way beyond just sugar. In Chinese, the character for sweet shows a hand and mouth. The idea is that anything that can be held in the mouth and give satisfaction is considered sweet. The sweet taste is dampening. The more sweet and calorie rich, the more dampening.
- Refined flour food including baked goods, pasta, and breads
- Dairy products including cheese, ice cream, and milk
- Oils and fats
- Grains such as rice, wheat, and oats
- Dense meats such as beef are more damp than fish like salmon
- Calorie rich beverages such as alcohol
Portion sizes have increased dramatically in the last 20 years. Of course, this is closely related to the obesity epidemic. Reducing the amount of food you consume during a day helps drain dampness. Remember, your stomach is only the size of about your fist.
Remedies for Dampness:
- Exercise to burn up dampness! Move your blood and lymph to drain the damp.
- Restrict your diet from overly damp foods for a period of 1-2 months to promote change.
- Avoid eating cold raw food. Choose steamed vegetables over salads.
- Avoid eating late at night.
- Ask yourself why you want to reach for the cookie.
- Fiber-rich foods help make you feel full, but not overly damp.
- Drink more water. 1-2 glasses upon rising in the morning.
- More bitter taste. Bitter taste helps dry damp and clear heat.
- Eat until about 70% full. Wait 20-30 minutes until your brain gets the message that it is satisfied.
- Try new things. Damp is not only what we put into our mouths, but how we live our lives.
- Chew! Chewing really helps the body digest food and makes you feel fuller sooner. “Your stomach does not have teeth.”
- Eat lightly around the full moon every month for a period of 2-5 days.
- Plan a dietary cleanse in the Fall and Spring regularly.
An old TCM saying: “When the Liver tightens or stagnates, one craves sweet.” In other words, when you cannot meet life as it meets you, then you will crave sweet things to help smooth out your life. If you repeatedly use the sweet taste to smooth out your life’s frustrations then this will lead to pathological dampness over time.
It is great to be able to enjoy the sweet things in life without constantly overdoing them. There is also a Zen saying as follows: “Bitter practice makes a sweet mind. Sweet practice makes a bitter mind.”
Ken Rosen has a Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In 2006, Ken moved to Thailand to become resident TCM therapist at Chiva Som International health resort. He presented at SpaChina Summits with topics of sweat and rest being highlights. Today, because of his own health challenges, Ken has gone from being a type of Bob Dylan of Chinese Medicine to a Johnny Cash of wellness. He continues to be based in Bangkok, seeing clients, teaching, and writing. His website is http://www.spatcm.com