Traditional Chinese Medicine & The Bodymind Connection

By Doreen Bakstad

Have you ever found yourself worrying about something, and then noticed that your body is having a reaction to your worry?  Maybe your palms sweat, your heart rate speeds up, you get a headache, a stomach ache, your jaw clenches, your neck and shoulders tense up…. Any of these, all of these, or something different.  The point is, our bodies reflect our thoughts.  This is the mind body/ body mind connection. Interesting!  Especially when we realize that the worry is made up, it’s imaginary, a projection from our mind about a possible future.  


Or, maybe you catch a cold or a flu and find yourself laid low, in bed.  You notice your thoughts become “darker”, bleaker, less positive.  This is also the body mind connection. 


Simply defined, body-mind is that our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect our body and its’ functions, and vice versa, what happens in our body affects our mind and its’ functions.  


This is not a new concept.  The Buddha said, “What we think, we become.”


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other eastern therapies, North American first nations, indeed ancient and indiginous cultures around the world, have lived this connection, also known as wholism, since time immemorial. For thousands of years, health arts considered the human being as an integral part of nature, as are animals and plants.  There was recognition of cycles – daily, lunar, seasonal and annual, and their effect on us.   It was scientific thinking from such men as Newton and Darwin, that began a movement into separation and isolationism.  Rather than being seen as a whole, the human began to be divided into parts, and rather than inclusion of seen and unseen such as energy (qi, chi, prana), treatment for dis-ease began to be about what could be observed and proven. Rather than multiple issues forming a pattern, medicine became reductionist, more about cause and effect.   


As a Bodymind therapist, with training in Chinese medicine, I am interested in the whole person, not solely the physical or emotional challenges and problems which impel them to come to see me.  It is often pain or frustration, that will lead people to seek an “alternative” therapy. But pain or limitation is only a part of who they are.  I want to know as much as I can about them, before giving any treatment.  Let me share with you a couple of examples, variations of which I have heard many times over, in every location around the world, where I have worked.


Farhana, in her late 30’s, was overweight, complained of bloating, stomach pain and gas. She had tried numerous diets but had inability to loose weight and keep it off. Also, she wasn’t sleeping well. When she did, she experienced disturbing dreams.  The mother of three teenage children, she cares for her elderly parents, as well as working out of the home. When I asked about her main emotion under stress, she said she worries, always feels anxious about almost everything, and feels her mind never quits.  She admitted to sometimes feeling trapped and overwhelmed.   However, she also named relationships with her family, her greatest joy.


Sheik, in his early 70’s, had several health issues including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart palpitations for which he saw different medical doctors and specialists. He was taking several prescription medications.  Despite the diabetes, he enjoyed eating. In order to sleep, he used a sleeping aid.  He described feeling a lot of tension in his shoulders and neck, with frequent painful headaches. When asked about his personal life, he told me he was the head of a large family, and involved in his country’s politics. He described feeling a lot of responsibility and pressure, which left him unable to relax, even on days off.  When asked about his dominant emotion under stress, he didn’t hesitate to say anger, irritation and frustration. 


So, how to treat these people?  Let me digress with some information about TCM concepts.  Firstly, everything is seen as energy or qi.  Qi is a flow, an ongoing movement that follows nature and is influenced by the cycles of the seasons (of which 5 are recognized and described as the 5 elements).  Each season influences certain body parts, emotions, attitudes, times of day, energy pathways – called meridians - along with several other aspects.   Along the meridian pathways, are specific places where our deep energies and all the aspects can be accessed and influenced.  These places – called acupoints, can be stimulated in many ways: with touch – acupressure; needles – acupuncture; with heat; with laser; with intention/visualization; with sound vibration… Because of the mind-body connection in TCM, treatment considers the whole person, their thoughts, emotions, lifestyle, relationships, spirit, as well as their physical condition. 


Farhana, like many mid-life women, exhibits a predominant imbalance in the Earth Element which is also known as Late Summer, or Harvest Season.  This element governs the flesh of the body, and is associated with giving and receiving nourishment. It gives us the ability to be sympathetic and empathetic with clear thinking.  Out of balance, it leads to overthinking, worry, anxiety and to body issues and eating disorders, from extreme thinness and anorexia, to overweight and obesity.  As a mother, and caregiver to her parents, Farhana has been giving a lot of nourishment, while receiving very little.  Her account is depleted, and she tries to fill it by eating, often inappropriately. The imbalance generates worry and anxiety, which even affects her sleep through her dreams.  Treatment aims to balance the Earth element, to bring it back into harmony with the whole.  Specific acupoints are held or pressed, along with the invitation to allow herself to receive, to simply lay back and enjoy being cared for.  She is invited to be self-observant, to notice if this is easy… or a challenge.  If a challenge, we take it slow.  During treatments, memories may surface, connected to the original learning about herself and her place in the world.  Oftentimes, for this type of issue, the person will have learned that her/his value is conditional, based on doing for others.  Along with treatment, conscious self-care is advocated, taking time for self, even if only a few minutes daily for spiritual practice, journaling (especially gratitude), gentle exercise, or simply sitting quietly with a focus on abdominal breathing.  After a few sessions, Farhana reports that she is sleeping much better, that instead of dieting, she is choosing more healthy options, which has calmed the bloating and gas. As well she is experimenting with allowing her teenagers to become more responsible for things she has always done, such as making their lunches and doing their own laundry.  She feels increasingly better about herself, and trusts more in life and things working out for the best.  


With the Sheik, I am not looking to cure him, or heal him, I’m not a doctor, but rather I want to ease the predominant symptoms that bring the most discomfort. These being the shoulder/neck tensions, headaches and sleep issues. I’m pretty sure that helping with this, will have an enormous overall effect.  So, while still working with acupressure and the meridians, I am also going to consider segmental release, relaxing tension, back and front, in the neck, shoulders, upper back and chest.  I am also thinking of the Wood element which governs responsibility, keeping in control, planning and decision making.  Emotions include his distressed emotions of anger, irritability and frustration, but can also veer to the other end of the spectrum, depression and apathy.  Balance here would include assertion, in the way a plant fills out space as it reaches for the sun, as it becomes itself.   One of Wood’s two associated meridians has its’ pathway from the eyes, zigzagging over the head, then travels along the neck and over the top of the shoulders.  Tension in this pathway is often described as feeling like the head is squeezed in a vice.  This is where we start, opening/releasing the points which relax the tension.  With an incredible result!  After the first treatment, Sheik had a massive decrease in his systolic blood pressure (which was checked in the moments before we started and just afterward).  From 184 to 136. Extremely high to almost normal. Feeling hopeful, he came for a series of treatments over the next ten days. Each successive treatment found him experiencing more relaxation physically, and he would drift into a meditative like state, where he reported seeing beautiful colors and images.  Even with sleep meds, he had been waking in the middle of the night thinking of all the things he needed to do. This week he found himself, several nights in a row, sleeping through to early morning. As tensions in the upper regions released, I moved to points in the upper back and chest – an area which includes the heart center or heart chakra.  An area often highly protected as most of us have experienced heart ache of some sort or another.  Sheik was no different.  He began to speak of his life, and what he had really wanted to do – which was to become a poet or a writer.  Instead, as eldest, he was saddled with responsibility and learned to shut down his longing.  These treatments brought him to understanding how he had closed his heart, and done so with physical tension, not only in the chest, but also in the shoulders, which served to help hold his feelings safely inside. He vowed to put a journal in his car, so when stuck in traffic, rather than becoming frustrated and angry, he could compose.  


So, you see, the connection between our body and our mind is unending and impactful. So often, though, we are unaware. Often, we have been trained away from noticing this connection or have had our noticing minimized or outright rejected.   A child falls and scrapes their knee, starts to cry, scared and in pain, but is told by an adult, “Shh, shh, that doesn’t hurt, you’re ok”.  Many cultures value mind over matter, logic and reason over feelings.  Emotions, which are moving energy, are meant for expression in order to transform.  If that expression is repeatedly repressed/suppressed, done by body tightening, over time physical issues can manifest.  Life becomes painful, lonely and unsatisfying.


Many are now sitting at computers, for hours at a time, with mind focused on what is on the screen, completely ignoring the tensions or pains arising in the body.  Right now, as you are reading this, take a moment to stretch your arms above your head or out to the side while taking in a deep breath.  Feel your body, is there something it wants to communicate?  Bodymind connection is about letting the mind and the body communicate with each other, letting the body tell its’ stories, for the mind’s stories are often made up, not even true or real.  Bodymind therapy aids in learning self-awareness, and decoding the body communications which may be buried under years of conditioning.  With the knowledge of thousands of years of observation, Chinese medicine has linked diverse aspects into an interrelated whole, which over and over again, helps recipients to see patterns and connections, in turn leading to a deeper understanding and fuller sense of Self.  


I leave you with a simple Bodymind Exercise to enhance the release of oxytocin, your body’s natural anti-stress compound.   This can be practiced almost anywhere, anytime, and, if practice regularly, is especially useful at times of stress:


Hand on Heart

Place a hand over the heart.  Feel into this soft, safe touch.  Slow your breath by lengthening your exhalation.  Breathe in ease and goodness.  Do this for a few breaths.  

Now remember a moment with someone (spouse, friend, parent, child, teacher, spiritual leader… even a pet), when you felt safe, loved and cherished.  Feel the feeling.  Let a warm glow to move through your body. Feel a sense of calm and peace. 


Enjoy the change that comes over you.  


Since first encountering yoga and psychology in her teens, Doreen Bakstad has had an ardent interest in how our bodies and minds reflect each other. With 30+ years as a pioneering Bodymind Therapist and educator, she is based out of her home set amongst the big trees in a beautiful forest on Vancouver Island, Canada. For over 15 years, Doreen has been bringing her knowledge and experience to women and men, young and old,  rich and poor, around the world.  She has taught acupressure and given treatments in Canada, US, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  In Kuwait she can be contacted through Six Senses Spa at Symphony Style Hotel.


Doreen Bakstad


Her skills and training have helped people recover from traumas and injuries - physical, emotional and spiritual. Her work, in many parts of the world, has inspired others to live more fully into who they truly are and to live happily with vibrant health.  Her referrals come from medical doctors, chiropractors, naturopaths, psychologists and other health professionals. Doreen is an internationally renowned, senior Jin Shin Do® instructor. Sound harmonics are an optional addition to these treatments.

Available at Six Senses Spa at Symphony Style Hotel

23 February 2019 – 10 March 2019


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