At our central London clinic, a large number of patients present with a distinct – and very modern – imbalance. In Chinese medicine theory this pathology is expressed as ‘Liver yang rising’ or ‘excess above, deficiency below’, but a more vernacular description of this disharmony is ‘hot head-cold feet syndrome’. Essentially this involves excess qi (‘energy’ is the best of a bad bunch of translations) and blood rising up to the head and getting stuck there. Whilst not a particularly dangerous health problem (if you are relatively young and vigorous you won’t die from it), it does bring with it some fairly unpleasant symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, headaches and fatigue to name but a few, as well as, quite frankly, feeling downright uncomfortable in one’s own skin (a cool head with warm feet tends to be a much more pleasant experience for most people). This pattern is often an exacerbating aspect of many other health problems. For instance, many of our patients at the London Acupuncture Clinic come for acupuncture treatment for infertility, and for such patients it is much more favourable to have the life-giving nourishment of blood flowing around their nether-regions rather than throbbing away in their heads.
The cause of this modern epidemic (for I kid you not, that is what it is) is due to the perfect storm of stress (working long, fast and anxiously), sitting (at a desk all day with poor posture) and technology (staring at screens all day). The effect of this relentless staring, thinking and worrying is to pull all the energy and blood up to the eyes and brain. Add to this the ubiquitous stiff shoulders and ‘computer neck’ due to poor posture and lack of movement, which act like an efficient tourniquet to prevent blood flow back down into the body, you have the perfect daily practice that will gradually tear your body and nervous system apart, wreck your well-being, and eventually either compromise your health permanently or put you in an early grave. A possible aggravating factor is the as-yet unknown effects of wifi and the electromagnetic stimulation from our technology. Particularly powerful adverse effects come courtesy of the seductive glow of our devices in the late evening as we slouch semi-comatose on the sofa, swiping away at our ipad and iphone (other devices are available) while the 42-inch flat-screen burns away in the background. And we wonder why when we eventually drag ourselves to bed we experience that peculiarly unpleasant mixture of exhaustion and feeling utterly wired.
So what can be done about this, given that most of us are not able or willing to ditch our jobs and devices (they ain’t all bad after all, right)? Essentially we need to bring our energy and blood back down into our body on a regular basis, and help them to circulate more freely. As a short-term fix this can be done by ‘wiping’ with ones hands down from the head, across the shoulders, and down the arms, legs and trunk towards the floor. You literally try to squeeze the blood out of the head down to the trunk and feet. Acupuncture is an excellent way of rebalancing your circulation, and the effects on well-being tend to be tangible and immediate – one feels calm, warm, happy and well, cool-headed and warm of feet. Exercise is many people’s go-to method of redistributing their stuck circulation, though if they suffer from underlying exhaustion, this will only be a temporary fix. Perhaps the most powerful long-term antidotes for this problem are qigong, yoga and meditation practice. The relaxed movements of qigong and yoga open up the body and balance the circulation, whilst meditation allows the energy and blood to settle back downwards and resume their normal, healthy circulation. Another useful method is walking meditation – which is concisely summarised by the Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh as ‘walking with your feet, not your head’. In this practice – which you can use at any time, even whilst beetling around the most frenetic urban sprawl – you bring your mindful awareness to your feet, and use the contact they make with the ground as an anchor for your mind. Combined with relaxed breathing, this encourages the circulation to move down to the body and feet – bingo. Whatever your method, if you are working and playing hard in a modern urban stylee, use it regularly and keep a cool head and warm feet!