Spring Has Sprung in Our Bodies

© 2017 by Dr. David Buscher, D.Ac.

Life has been a bit hectic lately for those of us keeping track of the seasons. Our warm Baltimore-area winter was unusual enough, but now as I type this, we are expecting a blizzard in mid-March. 

Our bodies, however, are attuned to the true passing of the seasons, that natural cycle our species revolved around.

No one thinks it’s unusual in the late fall, when the days get noticeably shorter, and some people start getting “depressed” about the upcoming winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder is the diagnosis, as if settling down, becoming thoughtful, and conserving energy for the winter is a pathology rather than a built-in feature of nature. If you take a walk in the woods, you’ll the trees and animals are doing the same thing. 

Springtime has the opposite effect, although this doesn’t get as much coverage. Outside, as the days get warmer and brighter, the sap has left the roots of the plants and they are growing almost visibly. The animal kingdom is active, mating, hunting, reestablishing itself after the colder and darker times. While the natural energy of winter is sinking, the energy of spring is shooting upward, and our bodies are responding.

This is my busiest time of year. Anxiety, frustration, allergies, headaches, acid reflux – everything moving upward in the body – has been off the charts in the past couple of weeks. I’ve seen more arguments on Facebook (and participated in some, to my regret) than I did during the election season. My patients keep saying, “I don’t know where this came from.” Yes, you do. Look out the window.

Acupuncture can help ease this phenomenon, certainly; help the seasons in of the body arrive more fluidly, with less stress and suffering. But in addition, you can appreciate it, this fresh burst of directional energy. Harness it. Use it to propel yourself forward into a productive year on your own terms.

Rx: Awareness

© 2017 by Dr. David Buscher, D.Ac.

I walk to work, about a mile each way (uphill both ways in the snow). About eighteen months ago, I made that journey twice each day because I would go home at lunch to take care of my sick dog, and after a few weeks of that, my left foot started to hurt. I could get the pain to go away with acupuncture, but it always came back after a few more days of walking on it.

After a while of this, I went to an orthopedist who diagnosed me with tendonitis and gave me a brace I was supposed to wear to relieve the stress on the tendon. He also recommended I take ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation. None of this had any affect on the cycle of pain, and on a follow-up visit, he seemed mystified, as if I had actually been suffering from an ibuprofen and foot-brace deficiency all along.

I never stopped walking to work, but after I stopped wearing the brace, I became very aware of my gait, how my left foot and calf flexed and extended differently—less smoothly—than my right. On some commutes, I would make a conscious effort to step more fluidly on my left leg, and it was on those that I realized that the pain did not manifest; the times I walked less mindfully, my foot would be throbbing by the time I got home. 

As a healthcare practitioner, I have studied pain in some depth. I am aware of the complex mechanics of it. I am also aware of my profession’s preoccupation with diagnosis, the freezing of a complex living system into one abstract phrase that describes only one mechanical aspect of it. So what is my diagnosis? Inflammation of the peroneus brevis tendon? That dreaded ibuprofen deficiency? Walking funny?

A lack of awareness?

One of my great mentors, Dianne Connelly, a great and sage healer, always says that the first thing a headache should do is remind us is that we have a head. The other, Bob Duggan, said that symptoms are a wake-up call from our body.

When I am awake, when I am reminded I have a foot, when I am aware of my presence in the world in a different way, there is no pain for a while. When I insert a needle into my hand to balance the meridians in my foot, there is no pain for a while. One of these is more empowering than the other, but both are teachers.

Is There Such a Thing as Health?

© 2017 by Dr. David Buscher, D.Ac.

My friend and mentor Bob Duggan passed away last year. He was the cofounder of my acupuncture school and a noted author and commentator on the topics of wellness, the art of living, health care, and culture. Bob’s own mentor, Ivan Illich, has been cited as one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. Ivan’s book Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemesis, published in the early 1970s, was a groundbreaking indictment of our healthcare system at the time – and while that book since became required reading in medical schools, he stated in the introduction to the 1995 edition that he had not taken his ideas far enough originally. 

In other words, the central premises and implications of our healthcare system were worse than he thought in 1974, and they have since gotten even worse than that. I’m not talking about our modern dilemmas of widespread coverage or quality of care or outcomes, but rather the most basic assumptions about what health is.

At various times, in various ways, and in response to various questions, Bob and Ivan are both on record saying essentially that there is no such thing as health. There is no Platonic ideal of health that we can all collectively aspire to, nor some personal pinnacle we can reach individually. There is only living from moment to moment, being mindful of our sensory awareness, enjoying the pleasant and bearing the suffering well. There is an image we used at acupuncture school of life (or wellness, or qi) as a rice pot: enough water, enough rice, enough heat, keeping it boiling appropriately, not boiling over, not burning or drying up. Living is motion, action, attention, awareness; it is not a “system,” nor can it be reduced to puzzle that needs to be addressed by a system.

According to Ivan’s work, our idea of health as an aspiration started during the Industrial Revolution, when workers needed to be separated into being fit or unfit to perform their factory jobs. This eventually resulted in seeing people as functioning or malfunctioning machines, and health as transactional, something tangible conferred by a doctor in exchange for money.  The art of living well – the rice pot – gets lost in that transaction.

This is a philosophy with broad implications for all of us. As a “healthcare provider,” someone who is apparently supposed to provide health, I feel I have a special responsibility to consider those implications. I consider my job mostly to help people keep the “rice pot” boiling, to keep life moving, to understand what living well means to them and help empower them to do so. The tools at my disposal are needles and words. I can get symptoms to go away easily enough, but I don’t consider my work done until I offer the idea that there is something to be learned from them about living well.