The Jewish Magazine
August, 2005

Fahrenheit 451
By Annette Poizner, Ed.D., RSW

Eyes defocused, Ming took his position to read the pulses in my body, rhythms quite foreign to practitioners of Western medicine. For a long moment he listened with his fingers pressed into one wrist, then the other. His pronouncement was not good news: "Too much heat!"

Chinese medical practitioners perceive the body as an elegant composite of two different energy systems that function synergistically. Yin, the feminine principle, is characterized by coolness whereas Yang, the masculine principle, is characterized by heat. When balanced optimally within the body the result is dynamic, robust health. Too much heat, though, effectively burns up the necessary moisture in the system and, as a result, a person feels "burnt out." Symptoms include difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, constipation, dry mouth, racing thoughts and feelings of anxiety or irritation. Ever feel that way?

The heat state characterizes our physiological response to stress. To avoid the condition, Chinese practitioners counsel their patients to drink adequate water and avoid caffeinated beverages and other diuretics that dehydrate the body. They also recommend avoiding spicy food. People prone to heat as a chronic condition will tend to crave the hot, spicy foods which only create more heat in the body. Another obvious caveat: protecting from overexposure to sun and hot weather.

Lifestyle factors will determine a person's tendency toward heat. If you live a fast-paced, overscheduled life, getting by on adrenaline and lack of sleep, then you are depleting the Kidney Meridian that is responsible for cooling the system. If you try to compensate for a stressful lifestyle by taking vitamins, you may inadvertently create more heat, at least until your body acclimates to the nutrients. People often start taking vitamin B or "stress formulas" and find themselves feeling jumpy and with sleep problems. Also, the more vitamins you take (and the more medication you take), the more water you need in your diet to ensure hydration.

Chinese medicine also teaches that mental strain creates heat. There is such a thing as "thinking too much" and that's one good reason to avoid ruminating as a habit. Further, I have seen situations where people get something akin to a Repetitive Strain Injury of the left brain. One client I worked with was prone to obsessive thinking, but only fell prey to this symptom around exam time when she was studying intensively. We speculated that she was, in fact, "blowing a fuse" when she pushed herself in such a rigorous study régime. Her symptoms abated when she began to intersperse rest periods and other activities that would give her a timeout from the intense thinking her studying required.

The Chinese also tell us that experiencing emotional extremes also creates heat. The reason: the heart is the locus of heat in the system and is the homebase of all emotions. The trouble is that the heart is disturbed by strong emotion, on one hand, but on the other hand the heart always exaggerates every and any emotion it experiences. The best way to ensure health, then, is to deliberately decide not to (as the expression goes) "take things to heart." Hence the success of a recent bestseller: "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." I heard radio show host Dr. Laura Schlesinger respond to a caller who was worked up because her neighbour had not returned a casserole bowl. "Honey," said Dr. Laura, "Is this the hill you want to die on?"

There are many strategies we can use to counter the body's trend toward overheating. I would say the most important strategy is the latter mentioned idea. Learning to have a posture of equanimity helps us tolerate inconveniences and other non-optimal circumstances that pepper each life. I like the serenity prayer that circulates in the Alcoholics Anonymous community: May G-d grant me the strength to change what I can change, the patience to accept what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference. Enjoy the rest of the summer and stay cool, OK?

"When the diagnosis is correct, the healing begins."
Carl Jung, M.D.
"I think that true psychotherapy is knowing that each patient is an individual, unique and different."
Milton H. Erickson, M.D.
"The cure is to let the individuality come out and flower in all its particular genius."
Ernest Rossi,
Ph. D.
"Being under sentence of termination doth most marvelously concentrate the material."
David Malan after Samual Johnson