In the health and wellness world, “mind-body connection” has become something of a buzzword. But in Chinese medicine, understanding the relationship between psychology and physiology is ancient — not trendy.
Mary “Cissy” Majebe, president of Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts in Montford, puts it this way: “From a Chinese medicine perspective, there’s really not even a distinction between the mind and the body. We are an integrated whole emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
It makes sense that, as a holistic view of health has become more mainstream, Chinese medicine has enjoyed more popularity among people seeking help with conditions ranging from pain relief to infertility to vertigo. Majebe has been practicing acupuncture for over three decades and, perhaps more than any local person, has experienced firsthand the shift in the way acupuncture and Chinese medicine has been received by the Asheville community. “It’s sometimes mind-boggling the changes that have occurred in 31 years,” says Majebe. “I think most everybody knows that in 1990, my offices here in Montford were raided by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.” The raid followed a formal complaint by the N.C. Board of Medical Examiners alleging she was practicing medicine without a license. After three years of legal proceedings, this claim ultimately was determined to be unfounded. The ordeal led to the establishment of the N.C. Acupuncture Licensing Board, which Majebe spearheaded.
“The interesting thing is,” she says with apparent satisfaction, “about three years ago, I helped write the rules and regulations for credentialing acupuncturists at Mission … and that shows just part of the changes that have happened.” She adds that physicians are now one of her largest referral bases.
While its popularity is growing, especially with the rise in research connecting the ancient practice to biomedicine, Chinese medical theory can still be quite foreign to the average American patient. For instance, each organ, explains Majebe, has a connection to a specific emotion. The lungs, she says, are a prime example. “If we look at what happens when a person gets really, really sad, one of the things that a person will talk about is a stifling feeling in the chest. It feels like there is a weight on the chest, and it’s really hard to take a deep breath,” she explains. “Well, the Chinese saw this, and from our perspective, the lungs are associated with the emotion of grief.” The kidneys, she says, are associated with shock and fear. “Everybody has heard: ‘I was so scared I almost peed my pants,’” she says. “In Chinese medicine, fear and shock basically impact the kidneys. And when that occurs, it is common to lose the ability to contain and hold the urine. So all of these things have basis.”
But beyond the theoretical connections between organs and emotions, the underlying concept for mind-body medicine from the Chinese perspective is fairly simple. “Everything that is impacting on us physically is going to also have an emotional impact,” says Majebe. “When someone comes in to see me, and they have back pain and they’ve had back pain for five years, and their doctors have said, ‘Well, I think you might also be depressed.’ It’s like, well of course they’re depressed. You can’t have pain without it creating other issues.”
This holistic viewpoint is why a typical intake appointment at an acupuncture office will include a long list of questions — some of which seemingly having nothing to do with the chief complaint. But getting a full picture of the patient’s health requires more information than a list of symptoms. “How would you think that you could help [a patient] to heal — whether it’s a pain disorder or a neurodisorder or any kind of disorder — if you don’t know who they are?” asks Majebe. “And this is something that is very similar to the family practice doctor when I was a child in the ’50s because the doctor knew the family. He knew the children, the parents, the grandmothers.”
This goes beyond any sort of psycho-emotional diagnosis as well. “When you are seeing a Chinese medicine doctor, it’s not just about the emotions, but it’s about lifestyle. Do you live in a home where you’re loved and supported, or is all of your life a struggle? … All of these things impact on our ability to go out in the world and be happy in the world. So you can’t just talk about symptoms, you have to go beyond symptoms to know a person more in depth.”
For that matter, says Majebe, the mind-body approach to health doesn’t cut it. “It’s not just mind-body, it’s mind-body-spirit,” she says. “And it’s not about religion, it’s about one’s own spiritual connection. From my perspective, we need to move to that awareness, rather than just looking at the mind and the body.”
Mary “Cissy” Majebe, www. daoisttraditions.com