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meridian systemI was lying on a table in the back room of a two up two down terraced former mill-house in Chorley, pins sticking out of my arms, my legs and my face, and I felt weird, but in a good way. No, this isn’t the opening of a piece of fiction. This was 2007 and the beginning of my journey into the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, my first consultation with an acupuncturist – though my experience and subsequent journey into the esoteric, did go a long way in informing my romantic story “Push Hands”.

I’d felt I had no choice in trying acupuncture, being afflicted with a ringing ear that western medicine could do nothing about. And you know what? It worked – of a fashion. Over a period my ringing ear didn’t ring so much any more. And the sessions made me feel different in other ways. I was suddenly more relaxed, more clear headed and energetic. In short, I felt better and a good ten years younger.

Acupuncture’s not available on the NHS, and at thirty quid a session, and with anything up to a dozen sessions or more being required, depending on what ails you, you have to be sure you want to use it. But then I found you could maintain that calmness, that clear headed, relaxed feeling by practising Tai Chi and Qigong. And eventually as we practice, we feel unfamiliar sensations in the hands and the arms, and we wonder: is it Qi?

I began, years ago thinking to nail this mysterious business of Qi, because without it, I believed, TCM and all that mind-body stuff didn’t make sense. But I’ve ended with a more pragmatic view, and a greater understanding of western physiology which explains things well enough if you can only be bothered getting to the bottom of it. I still hear Qi talked about in classes, and it grates a little now, but you can approach it from different angles, both from the traditional, and the practical and the secret is not to get hung up on either. Just do the exercises, the meditation; visualise, rationalise it however you want. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is it works.

One of my biggest frustrations with the traditional path is there has never been a consensus among so called masters about what Qi is, at least nothing one can glean from reading their books. With medical science, the more you read, the clearer things become. With Qi, however, the more you read, the less you understand anything at all. I’ve come to the conclusion the whole business is more of a misunderstanding, born partly out of a rejection of science in the west among those largely resistant to or ignorant of it, and in the east a willingness to present concepts in terms of what we apparently want to believe. And what we want to believe in is Qi.

In that acupuncturist’s consulting room there was a dummy with all the acupuncture points indicated as dots, with lines joining them like the map of a railway system. The lines indicate the so called meridians along which Qi is said to flow, an idea that can be traced back to a book by George Soulie de Morant, an early translator of oriental philosophy. But the strange thing is even the most revered founding oriental work on acupuncture, the Yellow Emperor’s Handbook doesn’t mention meridians. The meridian theory appears to have been an early twentieth century, and largely western, invention. It caught on and we’ve been talking rubbish ever since.

The acupuncture points are real enough. They are what we would now call neuro-vascular nodes, areas dense in fine veins and nerves, situated along the routes of the major arteries. These are referred to in early Chinese texts, a link having been found between them and the function of the organs of the body, that stimulating them can bring about certain healing effects – reducing inflammation, pain, sickness. The precise mechanism is complex and not well understood, but appears to be a result of the stimulation of the body’s natural healing mechanisms. In short, TCM works and is very effective, but the meridian theory, the model underpinning it, as presented to the west, and all its talk of Qi, is misleading at best, at worst, plain wrong.

But having said that it’s sometimes still useful to think in terms of Qi, more as a metaphor of physical effects. In practical terms, Qi has two components. One is oxygen, the other is glucose. The oxygen we get by breathing air, while glucose comes from the food in our stomachs. Both are carried by the blood to every part of the body where they combine to produce chemical energy, either for motion, or for healing and regeneration of tissue. Practices like Tai Chi and Qigong encourage deep breathing, boosting the amount of oxygen in the blood – you also get hot and you sweat because the by product of the body’s chemical equation is heat and water. Heat and water are a good sign. The movements during practice stimulate the neuro-vascular nodes, drive the lymph, and the relaxed, mindful attitude encourages a return to homeostasis, a neutral chemical balance essential for a healthy body. To practice Tai Chi or Qigong for an hour a day is to experience a dramatic change in the way you see and feel your body and the world about you.

The problem for westerners has been the gradual erosion of any romantic notions regarding one’s existence. Medical science has reduced life to a series of mechanical functions, an approach that, while advancing our understanding to miraculous levels, has ironically sucked the life out of being, and what we crave is a return to the mysterious. Perhaps in Qi we have been seeking to put the soul back into the machinery, and to revivify belief in the reality of our selves. But the path of the soul is something else, a somewhat longer journey of which the mind-body stuff can be a part, but only in the sense that in calming the mind, in freeing it from the debilitating distractions of the material life, it can then, in quieter times, return more readily to a deeper contemplation of other things.

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girl meditatingIt’s a cold winter’s morning in a semi-derelict mill. A small group of middle agers lie silent on their backs on gym mats, their breath vapour rising in the unheated void of the makeshift training hall. They wear overcoats and hats against the chill. This is Qigong, western style, November, somewhere in the North West of England, and the group is exploring a variation on an esoteric Oriental technique called Microcosmic Orbit Meditation.

In the warmth of more conducive surroundings I can raise a tingle from my tummy by imagining I am breathing into it. Here in the mill though I’m getting nothing. It’s just too cold, and I can’t relax. Afterwards, discussion with my fellow adepts reveals I am not alone in this. Even our teacher is unable to claim success. There is also doubt about the precise nature of what it is we’re supposed to be doing.

Our knowledge of Qigong comes from similar sources: books, private practice, personal speculation and of course endless foraging among the online dross. We’re also drawn from a range of rational, technical professions, and we’re struggling to come up with a plausible psychological model for a technique that has for centuries been described in an arcane and very flowery language. On the plus side, I discover I am not such a beginner, that my knowledge is as comprehensive as my fellows’, if not my practice, but this does not alter the fact that none us really knows what we’re doing, and most of our combined knowledge is probably rubbish anyway. Oddly though, groups like this, scattered across the mills and church halls of England, are as good as it gets. This is not to demean such groups – indeed I would never trust a group incapable of doubt, nor a teacher who talks like he knows it all.

The drive home is sluggish with traffic, and there is a sluicing rain that overwhelms the wipers. I have plenty of time to ponder my doubts. Sure, I have always struggled to marry the esoteric language of Qigong with anatomical knowledge. Nor do I believe in “Qi” as a mystical universal energy. But without a rational explanation for the observed effects of Qigong practice I don’t see how there can be any way forward in bringing Qigong – especially the more esoteric forms like the Microcosmic – to a wider audience, let alone establishing any kind of regulation among teachers. And without that we will for ever be at the mercy of charlatans and poseurs.

In the course of a morning then the whole thing unravels and years of study, of practise, of speculation, goes back to square one. It goes back in fact to the dantien. You hear that word a lot in martial arts circles. They call it the centre of being, a powerhouse, a generator of Chi or energy, even a kind of reservoir that one can charge up for future use. It lies a couple of fingers widths below the navel, in the gut. But again most of what we read of the dantien is unsubstantiated nonsense. And yet,…

In Microcosmic Orbit meditation we begin with the dantien. Gentle breathing and focus upon this region in the lower abdomen does indeed give rise to powerful sensations – tingling, fluttering, vibration. What are they? What is their origin? With the effort of imagination one then leads these sensations through various sensitive connections up the spine, to the brain, then back down the chest to the dantien. The full circuit is a difficult thing to achieve, mentally. It requires a relaxed focus, but since the sensations aroused are entirely subjective it’s hard to say if one isn’t merely deluding oneself that something is happening when it isn’t.

Is the dantien real then, or imaginary? Well, recent medical discoveries tell us of a highly energetic nerve centre located in the region of the lower gut – a thing that might indeed be the source of sensation attributed to the dantien. This is the so called Enteric Brain, the centre of a nervous system with a very brain like nexus of neurons. Just as the brain in the head regulates the autonomic nervous system, so the Enteric brain seems to regulate its own processes in the gut. There is also an energetic connection between the two systems, an exchange of information that is not fully understood but appears rooted in the body’s digestive processes.

It’s logical then to work on the premise that it is the nervous activity of the enteric brain we’re feeling when we focus on the Dantien, that such focus may heighten its activity, stimulate it or at the very least relax it into a state where it might function properly. But this is as far as one can state with anything approaching certainty.

Progress in the martial arts – or at least in so far as they have been adapted as health systems in the west – is hard won against an ill wind of misdirection and utter tripe, especially in the popular literature. Sometimes the best we have to go on is that it seems to work, alleviating the symptoms of a variety of otherwise chronic conditions. The western scientist, however, can be scathing in his skepticism, throwing away the cure – not because it does not work, but because he cannot explain it. Thus anyone who tries to take these methods seriously carries also the mantle of being a bit “alternative”.

What brought me to Qigong was stress. Without it I would by now have been a Prozac junkie for the past twenty years. As it was I managed only a few weeks in that selective seratonin uptake inhibited twilight of a world before choosing the path of “alternative” quackery. The body is built to handle short periods of extreme stress. It can generate on demand huge quantities of energy, enabling us to fight or to flee. But the modern lifestyle puts us under stress all the time, while simultaneously denying us any escape. Eventually we forget how to return to a state of relaxed homeostasis, a state in which to carry out repair and recuperation. Mind-body techniques like Qigong are important in reminding the body what it feels like to be relaxed, and, once reminded, it seems capable of returning there of its own accord.

This alone makes lying on my back in a derelict mill in the middle of winter worth the effort, that and discussion with like-minded individuals. As for explaining the Microcosmic Orbit in rational terms, my instinct says the two brain theory is definitely a good starting point. By the time I reach home I realise my morning wasn’t wasted after all. Sometimes in order to find the answer, you have to be asking the right questions.

And two brains are clearly better than one.

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Baoding ballsTai Chi and Qigong are now very popular exercises in the west. Derived from Chinese martial (fighting) arts, they are also practised for their positive effects on mental and physical health. These benefits manifest as: improved vitality, flexibility, stamina, and a sense of well being, all of which makes them a valuable antidote to the stresses of modern living. The literature also talks of healing injuries and chronic conditions that defy conventional medical intervention. Calmness, a positive outlook, and an alleviation of the symptoms of anxiety and depression are also reported. So what’s not to like about it?

Well it depends if all those benefits have been proven, or are merely anecdotal and for a long time western medical science has taken a dim view of it, not even bothering to investigate them. Why?

Wel, due to differences in language and culture, it was long believed in the West that the Chinese attributed such benefits to a mysterious phenomenon called Qi (Chee). Since Qi could not be adequately theorised, let alone detected by the prevailing Western Scientific paradigm, Qi and any health system that is derived from it is bound to be dismissed as hocus pocus.

It’s not surprising therefore that scientific studies of Tai Chi and Qigong are few, and for a long time about the only documented benefit was that the practice reduces the risk of falling over. This might seem rather obvious, that the practice of movement will aid in the development of a heightened sense of balance, but it is important we be able to maintain this sense well into old age, where a simple fall can have serious consequences. Tai Chi, with its slow, gentle, low impact movements is the ideal solution and worth practising for this factor alone. But is that it? Is that as much as Science will concede?

Well more recent studies suggest practitioners of Tai Chi and Qigong are also at less risk of hypertension, and that practising while ill can aid recovery, or minimise symptoms, in particular of Arthritis, also the body’s physical reactions to harsh treatments for cancer. This suggests there is more going on, that the practise is impacting the body at the biological level. But does this also open the door to dubious claims regarding the properties of Qi?

Not necessarily.

My own conclusions, based on a reading of the various literature, both learned and popular, as well as my own practice, is that Qi is the manifestation of a colossal misunderstanding, both linguistic and cultural. It is western practitioners who have effectively invented Qi in its current and least understood form, namely a subtle energy that cannot be detected or measured, and have promoted it as a fiddle factor responsible for all manner of otherwise unverifiable phenomenon.

While it’s almost certain there are subtle aspects of energy we do not yet understand, it is not necessary to involve ourselves in speculation upon them before we can make sense of Tai Chi and Qigong. It is better to think of Qi as another way of expressing biological and mental process that are already accepted in the west.

The body uses Qi in order to support life. It is the energy that powers thought, as well the processes in the body, Qi that energises the muscles that grant us power and motion. It is also the energy that repairs injuries and fights illness, restores us to the natural blueprint of our original biology. When Qi is weak, all these things are impaired. When Qi is strong, we possess these things in abundance.

What we appear to be describing here is Qi as a life force, and not in dissimilar terms to the new agers and so called Qi masters, but let’s take a closer look:

Qi is gathered from the environment, but what we gather is not a subtle energy, more simply oxygen. Another vital aspect of Qi we gain from food, namely glucose. The natural processes of the body combine the oxygen with glucose to create energy at the point of use, that is at the cellular level. It is the circulation of the blood which carries the components of energy to wherever they are needed. Motion, healing, normal function all draw upon our energy reserves. If energy is lacking, function is impaired. If circulation is impaired, the components of energy, the oxygen and the glucose, cannot get to where they are needed.

Tai Chi and Qigong combine movement, breath and mindful focus in such away that regular practice naturally and gently improves the levels of oxygen in the blood, and the degree to which it is circulated. But where Tai Chi and Qigong differ from other exercise systems is in their emphasis on an induced relaxation response. In other words we relax the body by mentally willing it. This engages the autonomic nervous system, enabling to it to carry out its primary function of restoring the body to a state of balance and it is in this state that healing takes place naturally.

There are many books on Tai Qi and Qigong which begin with the unproven assertion that Qi is a subtle energy, then proceed to build a thesis on top of it. This requires the reader to buy in to what is essentially a belief system, one which unfortunately cannot always be adapted to answer the questions raised during practice. For many years it was a stumbling block in my own study, and it is only by a return to a more grounded analogy I have been able to make any real progress.

The relatively new field of Quantum Biology may yet yield theories of life that will use a language reminiscent of the old “new age” notions of Qi, but it’s early days and certainly a long time before the first text books appear along those lines, if indeed they ever do. For now though it is not necessary to take that leap of faith. The current biological model, crude as it is, is sufficient to explain what practitioners have known all along, that Tai Chi and Qigong are good for you.

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body electricMany “New Age” books on topics as diverse as Energy Healing, Homeopathy, Tai Chi and Acupuncture, quote “The Body Electric” as a source. They do this because Robert Becker’s work adds a scientific respectability to what many might consider otherwise dubious topics. Alas, there is also a tendency for writers to misquote him or simply not bother reading the book in the first place and to quote instead what they heard or believe they heard Robert Becker might have said in this book. Thus there has grown around the man a myth that can only be dispelled by sitting down for a few hours with the book and actually reading it. But it’s not an easy read for the modern audience. Well written and engaging though it is, it deals with medical research; and as such it’s technical, it talks of results and conclusions based on logical reasoning. Even if you’re not put off by this, you might be too squeamish to get past the early chapters which deal with cutting the limbs off salamanders and bullfrogs.

Becker was a doctor and orthopeadic surgeon, also a publicly funded medical researcher with an interest in how the body heals. It comes as a surprise to the layman how little medical professionals know about how the body actually works. Obviously they know a good deal more than the layman, but many of its most intimate processes are still a mystery. Becker’s early work involved observing and speculating upon how salamanders can regenerate limbs and tails when they’ve had the misfortune to lose them, with the obvious question in mind: if they can regenerate to that extent, why can’t we?

His experiments with salamanders are detailed in the early part of the book, and they describe the discovery of how the electrical potentials in a living system change when injury occurs, that it is an electrical process that triggers, then monitors the healing. This goes for any living creature, from salamanders to human beings. His interest in the body’s electrical’s properties lead naturally enough to an exploration of its electromagnetic properties as well, how these relate to the body’s processes and immune system, a work that was then expanded to consider the living organism’s relationship with the electromagnetic environment in which it lives.

It has long been denied that fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field have any effect on human beings, contrary to my own instincts, so I was both surprised and reassured to discover Becker and many other investigators had established a clear, scientifically validated case by the 70’s. Becker was able to show that there is a significant “lunar effect” on human beings, as the moon modulates the earth’s electromagnetic properties in a regular cycle – hospital admissions, suicides and road accidents do follow a lunar cycle, peaking at certain times of the month.  Solar storms, which cause less predictable perturbations, can also have a negative effect on the psyche – things like mood, concentration and coordination. A reasonable case is also made for it effecting the immune system, rendering us more prone to disease at times of major disturbance. The picture that emerges is one of an organism with a complex bio electromagnetic field whose workings are as yet nine tenths unknown, but one that is never the less influenced by the complex, changing electromagnetic field of its environment.

Becker then develops his arguments further and begins looking at the ways man has drastically altered that environment with his technology, in particular radio and radar, also AC electrical transmission in power lines. The latter part of the book is concerned with how the effects of this invisible electromagnetic “pollution” might be harmful. Becker also expounds upon his belief that it was his outspoken opposition to corporate and military funded researchers in the 70’s -who were telling us everything is fine – that cost him his funding and eventually his job.

The Body Electric is often quoted when groping for a scientific explanation for acupuncture, and I admit this  is my own main area of interest. But out of 190 pages, only 3 discuss it. This is not to say the work done was not interesting, but it was certainly not so extensive as many who quote him have claimed. Becker was able to establish that the major acupuncture points, or nodes, do exist, and can be identified by measuring skin resistance. Nodes exhibit a reduced resistance when compared with surrounding tissue. It’s also an important observation that the positions of the nodes are the same irrespective of the person being examined, and to that extent there is a scientific basis to the traditional view of Chinese Medicine, one well worth investigating further.

Some readers have complained this book is dated, and certainly it only deals with work up to about 1980, but it’s a fascinating study all the same. Becker’s clear legacy is the insight that proper bioelectromagnetic functioning of the human body is fundamental to our well being, indeed to life itself. But these processes are still not very well understood, and I don’t know of anyone of Becker’s standing who has continued the work to deepen our knowledge of it since his time. This is a pity as it leaves us largely in the hands of charlatans and kite fliers who continue to misrepresent what Becker actually said and did.

For anyone trying to get to grips with this subject from an objective rather than a speculative point of view, I think The Body Electric, though somewhat dated, it still a good place to start, providing a firm foundation for further study.

Becker wrote a follow up to the body electric called Cross Currents which updates his work to about 1990.

I’ll be talking about that one when I’ve read it.

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tao of tinnitus cover - smallIt’s a while since I wrote anything on this subject, and until recently I’d largely forgotten what a big part of my life tinnitus used to be. A constantly ringing ear is definitely no joke, but in my own case I think I was fated to get it, because without it I would not have been forced down the path of investigating Traditional Chinese Medical theory. Nor would I have discovered Tai Chi or Qigong, which I believe were helpful in controlling my tinnitus. But more than that, the Tai Chi and Qigong have gone on to become a part of my life, to the extent that I no longer feel complete unless I’m practicing. The sense of calm-tingly-quietude that comes after even half an hour of practise is a very special thing indeed.

From the western medical point of view, there is as yet no cure for tinnitus – this in spite of the so called “evidence based” ad-served “miracles cures” we see online, at the cost of many thousands of pounds. But think about it, if there really was an evidence based, double blind tested reliable cure, it would already be available on the National Health Service for free. Given the degree of distress caused by tinnitus I’m sure health professionals are as keen as anyone to develop a lasting cure for it, but as of yet we don’t have one. Any other treatment therefore,  of the “alternative” variety, and more especially those treatments that cost a lot of money, we have to approach with considerable circumspection, and with our quack radar fully operational. We live in a materialistic society which means, sadly,  its would-be leading edge entrepreneurs aren’t interested in your suffering at all. They are only interested in your money.

Imagine my dismay then when I discovered a young man of my acquaintance suffering from tinnitus, and who had grown desperate enough to blow £40 on an ebook that promised miracles, but which, after a load of useless flim-flam delivered nothing. He knows of my own journey with tinnitus, but his rational mindset would not allow him to accept the efficacy of ancient mind body techniques that are essentially free. I understand this, because I didn’t believe in them either, and anyway the idea of having to practice something every day in order to remain free of tinnitus seemed just too onerous, requiring far more discipline than one has time for on top of all the other daily demands.

£40 is a lot of money for any book and I’d expect a lot from it in return – like the meaning of life perhaps. The scam-bells should have been ringing, but he was desperate enough to punt a day’s wages on it. The experience left him feeling only more empty and desperate. It reminded me how vulnerable I’d been during the darkest days of my own tinnitus, and I remembered too how, if you felt there was even a half chance an unbelievably expensive book, or a weird gadget would contain a single thread of wisdom that might set you on the path to recovery, you’d gladly pay up.

My response to all of this is another ebook, but this one is free. My book is based on my experience of tinnitus and, while offering hope, doesn’t promise miracles. It lays out a regime of simple meditation and qigong exercise for restoring calm, which will hopefully clear up the tinnitus in the process, or at least bring it under control to the point where you feel you can get by. All the techniques, all the information you need is freely available online. My book points you in the right direction, offers some side notes to get you going, and says yes, this worked for me.  It does not mean it will work for you too,… but it might.

My family still roll their eyes at my “alternative” outlook, and I accept that I may be something of a Qigong bore, but my experience of these methods has always been positive at least in terms of restoring a sense of well-being, and in any case I believe it’s better to be on one’s feet and doing something rather than lying flat out under a cloud of depression, doing nothing. But my main point here is you don’t have to risk your life’s savings on it as well.

If you’ve got tinnitus and you’ve surfed in looking for information, my little book at least gives you something positive you can try. If it doesn’t work, you can call me a quack but at least it hasn’t cost you any money. The downside to Qigong is that in order to realise its benefits, and to stay well, it must be adopted as part of a daily routine. Most of us will either simply not believe in it, or we’ll tire of the early sessions, and we’ll give up on it long before the benefits have set in. It therefore doesn’t suit everyone, but those who do take it up, and stick with it, speak well of it.

Click the pic to get the download. This book is served form my public Dropbox folder and will always be free. If you find it for sale anywhere, let me know and I shall wish down a shed-load of bad karma on the miscreants.

My success with Qigong is not unique. Other meditative methods, like Yoga also report positive results with tinnitus, attenuating the volume of the ringing, calming the associated anxiety and dealing also with the feelings of despair. The emotional dimension of sickness is not to be underestimated, and any method that addresses it is worth investigating. Yoga may suit you better but my knowledge of Yoga is limited to the gleaning of information on meditative breathing. I’m  lacking a good teacher in my area to get me going with it any further, otherwise I’d probably become a Yoga bore as well. Which brings me to my final point: if you need help getting going, or in finding the motivation to practice regularly, there’s no substitute for joining a class, if you can find one.

Tinnitus puts us in a dark place, a place where trusted forms of conventional medicine cannot help. The problem with Traditional Chinese Methodologies, like Qigong is that many of us of us simply don’t believe in them. We try everything else – medicines, the “top” specialists, even professional looking clinics with their “miraculous breathrough” adverts in the so called respectable press. We tend only to come back to the meditative methods when everything else has failed. Perhaps it’s only then we feel able to devote sufficient time and effort to the method, because we’ve nothing to lose. It would be better if more of us could give these methods the benefit of the doubt earlier on. They won’t cure everything, but by returning us to a sense of inner wellness, they free the body from the negative effects of our emotions, so it is better able to heal itself.

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noseIf you have a normal sense of smell, pause for a moment and think how much you would lose in terms of your experience of life if the world were entirely odourless. You might think you wouldn’t miss much, that you could easily do without it. I managed without it for many years, my sense of smell declining gradually, until I woke up one morning and realised I couldn’t remember what anything smelled like any more.

You don’t need a sense of smell to function normally, unless you work as a perfumier of course, but take it from me, one’s experience of life is so much more muted when one cannot smell, like viewing the world in black and white instead of colour. As a writer too, I found it difficult when penning descriptive passages because so often we use scent to implant an instant impression of our invented world. For example I don’t need to describe the smell of lavender to you. It just is. You know at once what I mean. But how authentic was I being, it being so long since I’d smelled anything myself?

The cause of my anosmia was nasal polyps – quite common in middle agers – small, benign growths in the mucus membrane of the nose, probably the result of long term exposure to allergens. The current western medical approach is to shrink them with a short course of steroids and antibiotics. If this doesn’t work, a minor surgical procedure is necessary, but it’s recognised that in both cases the polyps will probably grow back unless you take a tiny daily top-up dose of steroid based spray or drops, unless you can identify the allergen and permanently remove yourself from it.

After treatment my sense of smell returned, and was reliable for several months. Indeed it was super sharp at times, so I could experience the world of scent to a degree others could not – until I woke up one Sunday morning without it, and spent the whole day in a misery of anosmia again. Bummer!

The reason for my relapse?

Unsure at first, but I have a liking for single malt Scotch whiskey, also wine, and had enjoyed a drink on the previous evening. The complex aroma of a single malt is something that can transport me to another plane and, unlike lavender is not so easy to describe, unless you’ve experienced it yourself. I don’t actually have to drink it – just put my nose near it, so I’ve been grateful to have my sense of smell back, then I can indulge my former passion. But could my tipple have caused a return of anosmia?

By way of experiment, I refrained from alcohol and my sense of smell returned within 24 hours. Then I took a glass of wine – not terribly strong – just a soft red table wine, and I waited. As I took my first sip, I could smell the wine – pleasant, fruity, earthy, warm,… but by the time I’d finished the glass I could smell nothing, and it took a full twenty four hours again for my sense of smell to return. I’ve repeated this on numerous occasions now. If I don’t drink, my sense of smell remains intact. If I take a glass of alcohol, the anosmia returns, sometimes within minutes.

QED

I’ve always had my suspicions about alcohol, now confirmed, at least to my satisfaction. If it doesn’t actually cause anosmia, it seems to aggravate it – in my case anyway.  You don’t need to over-indulge; a single glass will do it. I’m hardly a perpetual drunkard, but I’ll admit  a glass of wine or malt whiskey was a regular companion, once the sun had slipped below the yard-arm. It seems I have a choice though: do I want to taste it, or smell it? I know which I prefer. If you’re anosmic like me, and you like a drink, you might not be doing yourself any favours.

Michael reluctantly lowers his pen, and signs the pledge.

Damn!

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tree of life and yin yangI’ve been reading a paper by Roger Jahnke, a much respected author of many works on energy  medicine, and Qigong –  a rare sane voice in a field otherwise beset by fools and charlatans. The paper is quite technical and discusses research into how the body functions at the cellular level, how it sometimes fails, and how it repairs itself. It basically says Qigong is good for you, and then presents the evidence.

There was a lot of hype a while back about Genetics and the mapping of the Human Genome. We were told you could read the profile of a person’s DNA then tell them what illnesses they were going to get, even when they were going to die. It was a scary idea and only the life insurance companies really took to it with enthusiasm. For the rest of us, it was a depressing concept; here’s the roadmap of your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But now we know better. Your DNA can present you with statistical data on those ailments you’re most susceptible to, but whether you fall foul of them depends mainly on environmental factors. In fact we have about the same number of genes as a rodent, but there’s clearly a great deal of difference between a person and a rodent, a lot more going on in the maintenance of our well-being than the bare facts suggested by a DNA profile.

What do we mean by environmental factors? Basically stress.

When early man roamed the wilderness with his bow and arrow, his stresses were obvious – an angry bear, a hungry lion, the threat of being killed by another man. Faced with an immediate and obvious danger of death, the body responds by pumping you up, it sets the heart racing and readies you either to fight for your life, or to run like the wind.

We still have this “fight or flight” response, but in modern living the things that scare us are less obvious. A powerpoint presentation in front of the top brass? The ever spiralling cost of utility bills? Rumours of redundancy at work? A two hour commute in heavy traffic? An endless list. But how do you fight or run from such things? You can’t. Modern man is presented with a new kind of predator, one against which the old responses are useless – indeed worse than useless, because if you don’t physically fight or run, your body’s response becomes toxic and makes you ill.

The fight or flight mechanism is Yang. It’s active, dynamic, hot, and potentially dangerous. It can burn you out. It pumps you up and it says: “Do something!”. But without balance, Yang is indiscriminate and self destructive. Fight or flight is important, but should be used wisely, and for that we need the Yin side of our nature. Yin equates to the body’s “relaxation response” – the mirror image of “fight or flight”, like the nestled tadpoles in the yin-yang symbol. It’s natural and we all possess it, but modern living  causes us to neglect it, to belittle it,… even to laugh at it.

Techniques like meditation, yoga and Qigong work by awakening the relaxation response – defusing and dissolving toxins, encouraging repair rather than corroding us with the bitter acid of a million nagging worries. The methods are quite easy to learn and they allow the mind to enter the whole body, to sense it, to enjoy its vibrant aliveness, and to soothe the parts that are tense and troubled. Over time, the stillness these methods induce becomes a part of who you are and you no longer see the old stressors in quite the same way. You react to them with more discernment. Instead of terrifying, your old enemies begin to look jaded and foolish.

Internal methods like Qigong are taken to their extreme in martial arts. When skilled opponents face one another, they do so, not in a state of tension, pumped up with the fight or flight chemicals, but in stillness. When action comes, it’s swift and purposeful, rising forcefully out of stillness. And that’s the healthy way to live: acting when required but out of a more general stillness, rather than being forced to run like the rodents those early geneticists tried to tell us we were, forever moving, jumping at shadows, for ever reacting to life’s imaginary enemies.

So stop. Think. Breathe.

Relax.

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