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Doc Says I'm Fine…
by Margaret Smith Peet, ND
and Shoshana Zimmerman, ND
Have you ever had the experience of visiting your doctor because you didn't
feel well only to be told there was nothing wrong with you or that you were
"perfectly healthy"? Perhaps you were given this information after a
battery of tests or after a routine physical exam. In either case, you left the
office still wondering why you didn't feel well. Was it all in your head?
"If I am so fine," you asked yourself, "why do I feel so
bad?" Perhaps you were told that the doctor wanted to keep an eye on things
and that you should return for another office visit in a few months.
"Keeping an eye on things" meant your doctor wanted to make sure you
had not gone from "healthy" to "unhealthy," in an effort to
ensure that any disease was identified and treated at its earliest detectable
This kind of experience is quite common, because our Western medical model is
not equipped to deal with the disease process prior to the diagnosis of an
identifiable disease. That is because the Western model IS a disease model:
physicians treat disease.
When you know "something is wrong" and no disease is obvious, you
can be left with a feeling of bewilderment. What can you do? What are the
Whatever is causing you to feel bad, to feel out of balance, is reflected by
your body in ways you can learn to observe. Each kind of imbalance you
experience has certain characteristics. You may, for example, have imbalances
that can be characterized by the idea of coldness -- cold feet and hands, always
feeling cold even in a warm room, feeling emotionally cold, etc. Or you may
experience the opposite characteristic, too much heat. This can manifest as
rashes, infections, fevers, even hot flashes, irritability and anger. It is
possible to have both excess cold and excess heat -- you can alternate between
cold chills and a fever, or have cold hands and feet but also have a hot
heartburn from an overly acid stomach.
For you to be able to understand the nature of your imbalances, two things
need to happen. You have to develop a conceptual way of looking at yourself, and
then you have to know what to look for.
What we see is determined not only by where we look, but also by the
questions we ask. Legend has it that the local residents who lived on the tip of
South America had a truly unique experience. These "natives" literally
could not see the ships of the early explorers approaching. They had no concept
that a ship even existed. Not until the explorers got out of the ship and onto
the land were they seen.
Some of the concepts we describe may feel as unfamiliar to you as the ships
were to the "natives." However, once you "see" them you can
immediately apply them to understanding what's happening in your own body.
Using concepts from Eastern medicine, primarily Chinese and Ayurvedic
medicine, there are five interrelated ideas that can help you understand what is
happening in your body prior to the onset of disease:
- The concept of qualities: how certain qualities such as hot and cold, dry
and wet, and light and heavy impact your health.
- The relationship between qualities and balance: imbalances can be created
by "too much" or "too little" of any quality. For
example, "too much" heat can lead to inflammation.
- The interaction of matter and energy: the transformation of matter into
energy and vice versa is constantly occurring in every human being. Food,
for example, is a form of matter we ingest to create energy. Exercise
converts more matter into energy. Lack of exercise can lead to weight gain.
- The nature of body type or constitution: each person is a unique
expression of body type, mind and consciousness. This uniqueness is
expressed at the physical, emotional/mental and spiritual levels, together
referred to as one's constitution.
- How constitution is affected by qualities: "too much" or
"too little" of any quality affects all levels of our basic
constitution. Too much heat, for example, can make one physically hot,
mentally and emotionally agitated, and spiritually exhausted.
Western medicine focuses on the physical, what we call matter. Eastern
medicine, in contrast, focuses on life force energy and how that energy is used
in ways that either foster or prevent illness. "Life force energy" is
energy that sustains all life, and without which life does not exist. It
consists of many types of energies, which taken together we call the "life
force." The interaction of this subtle life force energy and matter creates
patterns of health and illness, and these patterns are reflected by our bodies
in specific markings.
For us Westerners, this approach may be new and radical, not to mention fun
and exciting. In the East, however, it is ancient wisdom. These concepts have
been used in India for thousands of years and in China and Japan for almost that
This moment in the history of medicine is exciting. We believe that
healthcare is at the cusp of a new era and is in the midst of a paradigm shift
to new ways of viewing health as a reflection of the relationship of all parts
of an individual -- our bodies, emotions, intellect, energy and spirit. The new
paradigm has not completely emerged, but we submit that the shift will
incorporate the best that medicine from both the West and East have to offer.
And it will enable a person to assume some personal responsibility for managing
his/her own health in order to create and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Here in the West, healthcare is largely based on technology and the body is
viewed in a mechanistic way. Disease is usually assumed to be the result of some
sort of outside interference, which ranges all the way from "catching the
latest bug" to identifying bacteria, viruses,and microorganisms that are
linked to specific conditions. While we are aware of unique individual
differences, our Western system of medicine cannot anticipate or explain those
In Eastern medicine the sources of health and illness are rooted in how we
perceive and experience life -- the way we live, including the way we think,
feel, act and eat -- the way we use our life force. These individual differences
are viewed in relationship to individual constitution and to the concept of
balance. While we recognize that external pathogens can make us ill, the
emphasis is on examining the way an individual responds to the external,
including invasion by external pathogens that cause all kinds of infections and
illnesses. Two people may be exposed to the same disease. One remains well while
the other becomes sick. Why is this the case? Many say that one has a stronger
immune system than the other. However, Eastern medicine, particularly Ayurveda,
goes beyond that to explain why one person is stronger and the other is weaker.
That our physical markings reflect the condition of our health may seem a bit
radical to some. However, we apply this approach when we look for clues about
the condition of a building. There are markings on a building that reveal it
needs repair: i.e., peeling paint, wet carpeting, buckled flooring, dampness
around plumbing fixtures, drips and leaks. All these are symptoms that there is
too much of one quality -- wetness. If the owner pays attention, finds the
source of the wetness and cuts off the source, in addition to making needed
repairs caused by damage from wetness, the building will remain in good
condition. Different markings on a building could suggest just the opposite set
of problems -- dry rot, cracked dry walls, blistered siding. All these markings
relate to another quality -- dryness. Problems in any building can result from
too much wetness or too much dryness. Both are relative terms. It is hard to pin
down an exact meaning for "too much." However, when you see a building
that is in disrepair, it does not take a giant leap of imagination to realize
that significant underlying causes are present.
We can see this same principle applying to the flow of electricity. When
there is an excessive amount of electricity flowing to a given piece of
equipment, the equipment can become overheated, short-out, or even catch fire.
If, on the other hand, there is too little flow of electricity, lights can
brown-out and equipment cannot operate correctly. The same processes occur with
the flow of life force energy in our bodies.
Qualities and Cause and Effect
Most of the time we make lifestyle choices about what we do, think or eat
without any particular awareness of the effect those choices have on our health.
All of our reactions have certain qualities. Let us look again at the qualities
of hot and cold. If we feel too hot, we instinctively look for ways to cool
ourselves. When too cold, we look for something to warm us. If we are cool and
we want to be colder, we look for something with cooler attributes, perhaps
replacing a fan with an air conditioner. In general, we search for like
qualities to increase a certain state, in this case to increase coldness. We
look for opposite qualities to decrease that state, as in replacing coldness
with its opposite, warmth. At any moment we can ask ourselves how we are
feeling, cold or warm, and make adjustments to maintain comfort. In this way, we
can look at every experience as encompassing associated attributes. Cold is
associated with constriction, condensation, tension, tightness, heaviness,
slowness. Warmth creates expansion, dryness, relaxation.
In Eastern medicine, an excessive amount of any quality is identified as a
cause of imbalance, and prolonged imbalances lead to onset of the disease
process. Traditionally, certain qualities have been examined for their impact on
a person's health. These qualities are listed below. There may well be other
qualities that you find helpful. Traditional qualities that have been used for
thousands of years are presented as pairs of opposites:
These qualities are present around you, and you experience them all the time,
at every level of your being -- body, mind and consciousness. Any action,
thought or event that increases or decreases a given quality has an effect on
you. If you eat a large Thanksgiving meal of heavy foods, you will feel heavy,
dull and static. You will probably want to take a nap rather than to exercise.
If you eat many heavy meals, you will become heavier, perhaps even obese. To
lose weight, you will eat foods of the opposite quality, which are light, dry
foods. Similarly, any form of agitation will increase feelings of being
agitated. Agitation involves the quality of mobility and can come from many
sources -- your mind running in circles, emotional upsets, too much travel,
constant physical movement, bodily restlessness, too much light and gas
producing food (such as beans), even too much wind (start checking out whether
you are more restless on windy days). To lessen feelings of agitation, of what
we would call excessive mobility, you can review what in your life is increasing
mobility and begin making changes to bring about the opposite effect. For
example, you might learn to control your mind through relaxation techniques,
change your form of exercise to a more calming type, eat heavier, non-gaseous
producing foods, stay out of excessive wind, etc.
When you start viewing what happens to your body, mind or consciousness from
the perspectives of qualities, you begin to have a handle on what you need to do
to bring that quality under control, to bring it into balance. You begin tuning
into your natural biorhythms and learn to do this moment-to-moment, daily, or
seasonally. When you begin to remove the cause, you begin to remove its effects.
This article is excerpted from My Doctor Says I'm Fine… So Why Do I Feel
So Bad?, ©2001, by Margaret Smith Peet, ND and Shoshana Zimmerman, ND.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Blue Dolphin Publishing. www.bluedolphinpublishing.com
About the Author
Margaret Smith Peet, ND, (right) is a naturopathic doctor with a specialty in
Ayurveda. She was a full-time student of Dr. Vasant Lad at the Ayurvedic
Institute in Albuquerque. In addition, Dr. Peet has studied extensively in the
areas of T’ai Chi, Chinese Herbal Medicine, and Shiatsu. Dr. Peet lives in
Shoshana Zimmerman, ND, (left) is a naturopathic doctor with a specialty in
Ayurveda. After early years in the Peace Corps and in the business world, she
turned to Ayurveda as her main career focus. Dr. Zimmerman spent a number of
years studying with Dr. Vasant Lad at the Ayurveda Institute in Albuquerque. She
maintains a private practice in California.
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