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Keeping a Basic Balance in Your Life

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The Mother with Depleted Qi
Qi - pronounced "chee" and sometimes spelled chi - is the "vital force" or subtle energy that flows in and around all life. In your body, Qi:

  • Originates and accompanies all movement, from exercise to the gyrations of atomic particles
  • Protects you, which links Qi, in Western thinking, to the immune system
  • Provides for harmonious transformations, such as the metabolism of food into usable nutrients
  • Holds things together; for instance, prolapse (dropping) of an organ would reflect a severe deficiency of Qi
  • Warms; a person who often feels cold probably needs more Qi.

You get your Qi from the "prenatal Qi" you were born with (like a battery), and from breathing, food, and herbs (like freshly generated electricity). A person cannot replenish her prenatal Qi - the battery won't recharge - and in Chinese medicine, motherhood is considered to irreversibly drain a large portion of a woman's prenatal Qi. It is thus vital to make sure you are receiving a healthy influx of Qi and that it is flowing freely.

Megan was an example of a mother with depleted Qi. She felt tired all the time, and she hadn't gotten her energy back since having Darrin, more than two years earlier. She weaned him early, since it seemed like she couldn't produce enough breast milk. She still needed to nap when he did, even though she was sleeping eight or more hours at night. Megan had gained fifteen to twenty pounds over her pre-pregnancy weight, but she was too tired to do anything about it. She felt physically tired much of the time, and her body would break into a light sweat from even mild exertion.

Besides feeling weary, Megan thought her digestive system wasn't working very well anymore. She often felt bloated after meals, and she had noticed that a number of foods no longer agreed with her. Additionally, she frequently felt chilly and vulnerable, with few reserves inside to meet the day, and she caught just about every cold her son brought home. She bruised easily, and she often felt dizzy when she stood up.

Simply eating nutritious foods and breathing deeply would increase Megan's Qi. But in cases of moderate to severe Qi deficiency, a classic Chinese formula - called Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang - is worth considering. One of the key herbs in this formula is astragalus. In Western herbal practices, astragalus is used for its energy-boosting properties and to strengthen the immune system.

The Mother with Constrained Qi
Besides being insufficient (i.e., depleted), Qi can be dammed up or constrained. For example, Susan had a three-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter. She often felt frustrated, edgy, and cranky. Her PMS was very intense, with bloating, sharp irritability, glum mood, sore breasts, and cramps. She noticed herself snapping at her husband and children when they didn't deserve it. Some days, she felt wound so tight that it seemed she could explode.

The Qi of this mother was not moving freely, and depression and irritability were among the results. Constrained Qi causes menstrual problems as well, including irregularities in the cycle, breast tenderness, cramping, and a sense of emotional turmoil. A mother with constrained Qi may have difficulty with lactation: the milk is present, but, like the Qi, it does not flow freely. She may have lumpy breasts or develop mastitis (breast infection).2 Headaches are also common in individuals with constrained Qi.

You can unblock Qi simply by shifting your body into a more comfortable position, pursuing a creative interest, or expressing something you've been holding back. You could also try the Chinese formula Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San. If this is not available, a more general formula called Xiao Yao San could do the trick. Either of these formulas could be helpful for any mother under high levels of stress.

2If you have mastitis, please see a doctor; the formulas we mention will not treat your condition.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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