03 October 2010

City Life

This is a response to a student paper. One of my first year students wrote that half the planet now lives in cities as of 2008, according to the UN:

"A good question for your classics teachers is: who were these scholars of ancient Chinese medicine? Cities existed in China for a long time. Scholars were a small subset of the population, male, and--urban? Most were not farmers.

We've got some rough characters like Hua Tuo who were 'close to the land.' He was an amazing Daoist sage-doctor. But most medical scholars were not of his class, literally and figuratively.
Hua Tuo, with herbs

My own experience was growing up suburban, moving out to the country as soon as I could, then moving to the city with children to work in inner city public health clinics.

My finding was that Chinese medicine could bring nature to the city. On lunch breaks when stuck indoors, I could do qigong to feel almost like I was in the woods. The effects of qigong went beyond what I experienced just being in nature, and enhanced my experiences of wilderness as well.

China is experiencing the largest migration in human history as it urbanizes. The findings are that physical health may improve with urbanization, but that psychological health can decline. For example, Chinese longevity increased since 1950--doubled in fact, due to a lot of what you are setting out to learn. However suicide rates are now a big health issue there (#1 in female suicides on the planet).
Another finding is that Chinese medicine can help anything. I worked in an acupuncture clinic in Nanjing that was dedicated to treating depression in young patients. They are losing about one a day from a scenic bridge over the Yangtze river, a bridge that when built was a symbol of national achievement over nature. The results of the acupuncture were encouraging, and I use the methods here on many of my patients.

In the end, it can all be expressed as yin and yang. My perception is that living in the woods both allows and requires the cultivation of light. However urban environments foster the conscious attraction and cultivation of yin, since that is often what's missing (as peace, quiet and inner focus).

In clinical practice, we treat what presents. My finding was that inner city patients often manifested yin deficiency: night sweats, agitation, insomnia, etc.
I thought it was anomalous, until reading in the Inner Classic (Nei Jing), our oldest and best acupuncture classic, that one encounters more yin than yang deficiency, since yin is more delicate.

This is a medicine you can take anywhere...."

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