Menopause, mindfulness and socks
You might wonder “what the hell do menopause, mindfulness and socks have in common?” The answer is not “blue”. It’s not “monkey” either (but that was a close one). The answer lies in the holistic view of the body we have in Chinese medicine.
According to Chinese medicine, we have two fires in the body. The first fire is heart fire. The element associated with the heart is fire. This is not surprising as the heat of the body, which is concentrated in the core part of the trunk, is distributed throughout the body via blood, which is pumped by… yes, the heart. This is why our feet are colder than our belly (more distance to the heart). But the concept of heart in Chinese medicine is not limited to the blood-pumping organ in the chest, it is also strongly connected to the concept of mind and especially consciousness. Consciousness is maintained by the ascending reticular activating system (or ARAS) which is located in the brain stem (a tube which connects the brain and the spinal cord). The heart fire is a metaphor of this system, which illuminates the brain and makes us being awake, conscious and aware.
The second is the kidney fire, which is also called the Gate of Life (Ming Men in Chinese). This fire can activate the essence (the stored format of our energy) to produce the primordial energy that will support all the functions of the body. The nature of the kidney fire is different from the nature of the heart fire, as the latter is pure yang (which is connected to function, heat, energy) while the former is yang within yin (which is connected to substance, cold and matter). Not surprising as the element of the kidney is water! In Chinese medicine, the kidney does not only store the essence, it is also responsible for hormones and aging.
At the age of menopause, after years of menstruation, pregnancy and lactation, the stock of essence stored in the kidney gets low. The water of the kidney is then unable to control the fire of the heart, which becomes excessively intense. This is why menopausal women have hot flushes, are agitated, irritable, speak fast, etc. Another possibility is that the kidney fire is too weak. In the kidney, essence and fire help each other. Try to think about a lamp, if the oil is running low or the flame too weak, in both cases the function of the lamp is not achieved. When kidney fire is excessively low, the water-essence cannot be evaporated to reach the heart fire, which becomes excessive.
Great, but what does that have to do with mindfulness? In mindfulness, we are trying to connect the heart and the kidney. The kidney represents our bodily root while our heart represents the extension of our energy into spirit. Because nowadays people are way too smart, we are constantly lost in our thoughts, concepts that our way bigger than our surroundings and thoughts about the past and the future. This brings us all kind of emotions (negative AND positive) which exacerbate the heart fire. At the same time, our fast-paced lifestyle consumes our kidney essence, and ultimately kidney fire as well. Mindfulness helps us to bring heart fire down in order to nurture kidney fire. The hands placed at the level of the belly or the focus on the navel are symbols of this movement. This makes us feel “rooted” and “connected”.
What about socks? We already covered the fact that a strong kidney (or lower) fire helps to control the heart (or upper fire). Sleep is a normal process of bringing the upper fire back into the lower part of the body. A recent study showed that wearing socks could at night could improve sleep quality. This can be explained by Chinese medicine theory, as keeping the lower body hot can make the upper body cold (i.e., controlling heart fire), therefore benefitting sleep. Once we understand this process, there are many ways to achieve this outcome. Foot baths are also a good way to bring down heart fire. We could also use herbal plaster or moxa (dried mugwort that is burnt) on the feet or lower belly. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it allows many solutions once we understand the principle.
In conclusion, there are two fires inside our body, the lower fire is connected to the kidney (think “hormones”), and we want to keep it strong enough, the upper fire is connected to the heart (think “mind”) and we want to keep it under control. An imbalance between these two fires is typically observed during menopause. Good ways to keep them balanced are mindfulness… and socks!
This text was written by Yoann Birling, a clinician and researcher in the field of Chinese medicine. Yoann studied 10 years in China, following some of the best clinicians in Beijing, is practising in Sydney and completing a PhD at Western Sydney University.