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The Life-Changing​ Magic of Chinese Medicine

Little girl trying to catch a star

Everyone love’s Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” In it, she creates a road map to help people let go of clutter by choosing to keep only those possessions that “spark joy.”

I have resisted this movement, not because I disagree with it, but rather because, well, she is young. I’d like to talk with her in 25 years when life has left a more profound imprint, a few scars, and a longer story. I prefer the cheekier blog Unf*** Your Habitat, which speaks more directly to my inner New Yorker. Also, I am an only child. My parents have died, leaving me only with, well, stuff. Having said that, I agree with her principles. We needn’t be burdened with the weight of the past. When I clean a closet or organize my house, I donate everything to the thrift store or upcycle it through my community Buy Nothing Group on Facebook. I really love the feeling that someone else will benefit from things I no longer need or want. I also enjoy the tax write off from the donation. 

Last week, while treating a patient, I had an insight: My patient is struggling with a profound lack of structure in her life. An artist, she flows with her creativity sometimes deep into the night, thus, derailing her plans for the next day. Her lack of a regular schedule then undermines all her goal setting. This, in turn, undermines her health. She is overwhelmed by her cluttered home, yet she is at a loss about how to begin to dig out from under it. I found it poignant that she owns the Kondo book, yet can’t find it in the mess. 

When I am treating a patient, I am holding a space for them. Part of that space is to help reframe their life and their health within the context of Chinese Medicine. According to Five-Phase theory, we are in the Fire season. The Fire element is associated with summer, with the Heart and Small Intestine organs and the color red. The emotion associated with Fire is Joy. 

Marie Kondo may not know this, but her method powerfully speaks to balancing the Fire Element. When we talk about the Heart, we are not just talking about a blood-pumping organ. In Chinese theory, we say that the Heart stores the spirit. When a persons’ spirit is in balance, they move in the world, sleep, and interact with people appropriately with a sense of order and purpose. Further, the tongue is said to be the sprout of Heart, thus influencing our ability to communicate clearly. We know when someone’s spirit is clear and bright by the shine in their eyes. The Heart also rules circulation, moving blood throughout the body, and as an extension of this-is a connector of people, emotions, and experiences. Joy strengthens the Heart, but excessive joy (re excitement or stimulation) disperses the spirit. 

When we select our possessions based on whether they spark joy in us, we are choosing to keep what is nourishing to our Heart and soul. Excessive possessions, like extreme Joy, creates static that scatters our focus and our spirit. Unburdening ourselves of unwanted and unjoyful things helps create a peaceful, happy space within us and within our home. 

But there is another aspect of this equation. The Heart is paired with the Small Intestine Organ. In Chinese Medical theory, the Small Intestine is the organ associated with separating the pure part of food and fluids from the impure. The pure part becomes nourishment for the body. The impure part is passed along to be excreted as waste. Chinese medicine always treats the body, mind, and spirit. When a person has difficulty prioritizing what is important vs. what should be released, one way that we can support that is to treat the Small Intestine. Understanding what is essential (nourishing, joyful) from what is unimportant (wasteful, with a lack of joy) may be what Kondo’s method does best. 

It was in this arena that my patient needed support. Choosing acupuncture points as well as herbal formulas that nourish and balance her fire element helps create space to Let go of “stuff”. Supporting her process of decluttering and also strengthening a more rooted, core issue of making choices that spark her happiness.

About Cara Frank, L.OM.

Cara Frank, L.OM., was raised in a health food store in Brooklyn, NY. When she was 8, she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For nearly 40 years, she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17, she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20, she enrolled in acupuncture school. In 1998 she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with Chinese herbs. Since then, she has devoted her life to studying and teaching the topic. 

Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts and Six Fishes Neighborhood Acupuncture, both in Philadelphia, where she maintains a busy acupuncture practice and acts as the head fish of two warm and lively offices. She is also the president of China Herb Company. You can read her full bio or schedule an appointment.

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