Calming the Shen – Part 1

Anxiety, depression, suicide, drug use, domestic abuse, violence – with all of the various lockdown measures continuing to be put into place with the Covid-19 pandemic, not only has it had a devastating effect on businesses and our economy but it has also had a severe negative impact on our health, including a dramatic increase of cases of mental and emotional health issues.

In fact, one lawyer recently filed a lawsuit against all levels of the Canadian government for the direct harm that their actions have caused many Canadians, not just economically but also to their physical and mental state.

With so much stress and uncertainty in our lives right now, what can we do to help regain control of our health and well-being?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is considered to be the most important organ of the body and was often described in ancient textbooks as being like the Emperor that ruled over the rest of the body. Besides its role in allowing for the proper circulation of blood and energy throughout the body, the Heart was also considered to be the place where a person’s Shen resides. The Chinese term Shen is difficult to translate directly, but it has the concept of heart, mind, and spirit, or the inner core of our being.

When a person’s Shen is disturbed, it can manifest in various ways. Insomnia, anxiety, depression, frequent mood changes, agitation, irritability, and outbursts of anger are just a few of the common emotional symptoms. It may also show up in other ways such as headaches, pain, digestive issues, and other physical symptoms. As more and more stress is added to our lives, it can disrupt us even further, leading to a vicious circle of imbalance and instability, much like a boat getting tossed about by ocean waves during a storm.

When our Shen is calm, stable, and relaxed, our body and mind works together in harmony. A person with a healthy Shen has life and sparkle in their eyes and acts with a certain measure of calmness and composure, even during challenging and stressful circumstances. It is always interesting to observe patients when they come in for acupuncture treatments – some walk into the clinic with a dullness or darkness to their face and an inwardly contracting body posture but after the session they feel a sense of relaxation, lightness and expansion in their body, and sometimes even comment how much brighter and radiant their eyes look in the mirror. Many of us may have known an elderly person who carried themselves with a quiet inner strength and outer dignified presence. These are all examples of observing the healthy Shen of a person.

In these stressful and turbulent times, what are some steps that we can take to help develop calmness and strength for our inner selves?

  1. Disconnect from the media – Facts, data, and rational thinking don’t sell newspapers; bad news and sensational headlines do. Mindless arguments on social media are just that – mindless. Turning off the media and doing our own research and critical thinking is one of the best ways to calm our minds, live our lives, and not get caught up in fear and panic.
  2. Reconnect with Nature – Did you know that spending time outside in Nature can have many health benefits, including boosting our immune systems and de-stressing our bodies? Research continues to be conducted in Japan on the health practice of forest bathing. Different than just going on a hike, forest bathing is a meditative type of practice in which the person engages all of their physical senses in order to connect their bodies with the surrounding natural environment. Taking the time to become fully immersed in the present moment helps to calm our minds and allows us to be in direct contact with the healing power of Nature.
  3. Breathe & Relax – The Eastern concept of Shen overlaps with the Western medicine concept of the autonomic nervous system which regulates many of our unconscious body functions including heart rate, breathing, and digestion. The “fight or flight” response is an example of what can happen to us under stress, and when that stress is continuous, it becomes more difficult to return back to a healthy and normal state of being. Traditional practices, such as martial arts training or yoga, realized thousands of years ago that by learning how to properly breathe and release tension from our bodies, a person can consciously have an effect on what are otherwise unconscious processes. By cultivating these methods of development, one can learn how to stay more relaxed and calm whatever the circumstances, whether it be an emergency crisis or everyday life.