4 Tips for a Happy, Healthy Chinese New Year

4 Tips for a Happy, Healthy Chinese New Year

In the West, the New Year often brings a renewed focus on diet and exercise. In the East, however, the New Year means looking at the whole person: body, mind and spirit.

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In traditional Chinese medicine, we think of health and wellness in terms of balance. Everything — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual — is connected.

Illness can create a disconnect

Your physical well-being impacts your spirit, or what we call shen. When I see patients who have been in chronic pain for many years, their quality of life has been severely impaired. This impacts their spirit. Many lose the sparkle in their eyes, and brightness in their voices.

Traditional Chinese medicine clinicians use acupuncture and Chinese herbs not just to relieve pain, but also to restore shen. If you feel you’ve lost control of your health or other important parts of your life, Chinese New Year is a wonderful time to find your balance again.

RELATED: Are Chinese Herbs Right for You?

4 Ways to make a fresh start

1. Celebrate with Chinese food that nourishes you.

Be mindful of the extra fat and sodium in Chinese takeout options like General Tso’s chicken. Instead, cook a delicious meal with ingredients that are good for the whole body. For example, make your own “power bowl” with black rice (a powerful antioxidant), sautéed with immune-boosting shitake mushrooms, ginger and a touch of raw garlic.

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2. Look into Eastern options for managing pain and stress.

Living with chronic pain will wear anyone down. Extensive research finds acupuncture to be an effective non-surgical, non-drug option that’s also cost-effective. Acupuncture can also be a stress management tool. By engaging your parasympathetic nervous system, it triggers the relaxation response. Group sessions are a cost-effective, healing experience. Acupressure can also help relieve stress and anxiety. For example, I teach patients how to lightly stroke the area between the eyebrows (what we call your third eye). This can be quite calming.

RELATED: Stressed? Try This Easy 9-Minute Acupressure Exercise

3. Increase movement and body awareness the Eastern way.

Tai chi and qi gong are ancient exercises, rooted in China, that combine movement with breath work. Practicing them on a regular basis helps connect body and mind, which builds qi (healing energy in traditional Chinese medicine).

Tai chi is a slow, fluid form of exercise that is fantastic for balance, strength and stamina. Because it requires concentration, it is also good for the mind. Many people who can’t perform strenuous exercise do well with tai chi.

Qi gong is a meditative practice, which can be done in active or seated fashion. Qi gong helps you mentally declutter, manage stress, and gain mental clarity. In Eastern medicine, qi gong is also used to cultivate qi.

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4. Nourish your shen.

In making a new start, connect with yourself and your loved ones to renew your spirit. Here are some easy ways to do it:

  • Unplug from electronics. Enjoy the silence for one hour a day. This is especially important before bed to promote a deeper sleep.
  • Reconnect with forgotten hobbies. Whether it’s painting or woodworking, carve out time for yourself. For example, I love to cook. I enjoy choosing a recipe, planning the meal, cooking in my kitchen, and serving it to friends at a dinner party.
  • Slow down and reconnect with friends. Seek out friends who nourish your soul and support you. You know who they are. Have tea or coffee, or take a walk together.
  • Pamper yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything luxurious. Take the time to enjoy a long, hot shower or bubble bath. Splurge on a new perfume. Read the novel everyone’s talking about.

Modern life is so busy. We can be consumed with distractions: taking kids to activities, watching TV, browsing on phones or tablets. It’s easy to lose our sense of self. But we know when that happens. That’s our cue to reconnect — body, mind and spirit.

RELATED: Try Mindfulness to Improve Your Well-being

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Jamie Starkey, LAc

Jamie Starkey is Lead Acupuncturist at the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative Medicine, where she bridges the worlds of Eastern and Western medical philosophy.
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