A few days ago I woke up with a stiff neck. The focus of the discomfort was more or less around a commonly used acupuncture point just below the occiput (the back of the skull), the Chinese name for which point is ‘Fengchi‘, meaning something like ‘pool of wind’. ‘Feng’ is wind, the same word as in the well known term ‘feng shui’, literally ‘wind and water‘. It so happens that all this week it has been very windy, and it also so happens that I have been out in the wind quite a bit, on one occasion more than I would like as I waited on a rather exposed railway station for a train that never came. It also so happens that, instinctively, I don’t like being in the wind.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, wind is regarded as a potential cause of illness or discomfort, and in fact has been so regarded for thousands of years. Imagine being a Chinese peasant working out in the paddy fields as a cold wind from the north swept across the country; or, if you don’t fancy being a peasant, imagine being an imperial official on the way to a distant outpost in the middle of a storm. That wind surely feels like it is not doing you a whole lot of good. And of course the neck is quite likely to be exposed to the wind.
Still, surely the windy weather here lately and my stiff neck are not related. After all, it wasn’t windy in my bedroom, I’m not one to sleep with the window open. Even though one of the quickest ways wind can affect us in Traditional Chinese Medicine is to give us a stiff neck. People who do sleep in a draught, or even who have an air conditioning unit blowing air on to them while they work, may know what I mean. Again, once I had got my stiff neck, I instinctively wanted to protect it from the wind.
Well, whether or not the wind had anything to do with my stiff neck, one of the beauties of Chinese Medicine is the way it locates us in a landscape, and reminds us of the intimate connection that surely exists between ourselves and the natural (or, in the case of aircon, not so natural) world around us. As such, it is an antidote to what might be thought of as a modern alienation from that world, which if you ask me is not a little involved in the health, (and maybe mental health) problems of many a westerner. As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I am constantly reminded of our connection with things like wind, dampness and cold, and find myself becoming, perhaps, more sensitive to how they affect me. I remember being on a meditation retreat in a somewhat exposed cottage on the North York Moors; one day it was very windy and blustery, and even though I was inside most of the time, I felt a subtle agitation creeping over me. Little children, apparently, can go a bit wild when it is windy outside. Some asthma patients report their symptoms get worse when it is windy.
So health in Traditional Chinese Medicine involves being alive to the way we interact with the world around us, which means being alive to that world. Modern medicine may sometimes poo poo this kind of thing – I remember a GP on TV saying the idea that you can catch a cold by going out with wet hair is an old wives tale – but for me one aspect of maintaining health is being alive to how we are influenced, all the time, by what is going on around us. On a practical level, that might mean wearing a scarf on a windy day. Or it might mean a nice acupuncture needle at Fengchi. But it also means a kind of return to nature.