May 24, 2012
A student of holistic healing dedicates years to the study and practice of Chinese medicine before entering the world as a practitioner. Time spent in school is often spread across diverse courses of study, and in different media. From textbooks to hands-on clinic practice or internships, students strive for a range of experiences to best prepare them to enter the workforce.
But in the midst of test cramming and clinic prep, what about taking a break? What are some ways to incorporate into a hectic lifestyle the beloved Chinese medicine principle that the mind, body, and spirit are deeply interwoven? And what if that ‘break’ not only brings the person more in touch with his or her passion, but teaches a rich new component of living the medicine? It was the scholar Miriam Beard who said, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Switching gears every once in awhile and choosing to travel may be one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences that someone within the Oriental medicine community can have.
It’s possible to pursue the same passions that inspired Oriental medicine schooling (and often improve knowledge of TCM and holistic healing) by getting out of town and living in the moment. As PCOM-San Diego Academic Dean Bob Damone, put it, “There is a long history in East Asian Medicine of valuing practices that balance mind, body, and spirit. In fact, East Asian medicine assumes no disconnect among these three. What benefits the mind, benefits the body, and vice versa. Practices such as qi gong, meditation, tai ji quan, and yoga are essential tools for stress reduction and health cultivation. They help healers and their patients prevent and treat illness.” The following are a few getaways that aim to inspire, enlighten, and empower students and practitioners to new heights of healing awareness, both for themselves and their patients.
Many people within the OM community are yogis. The practice of yoga is a great example of the mind/body connection. The breathing principles, meditation, and cultivation of mindfulness that yoga teaches directly align with many of the teachings behind ancient Asian practices like qi gong. Ironically, going out of town to practice yoga will force a person to focus on relaxing. Traveling to a remote, nature-oriented location to practice yoga repeatedly each day is a serious reboot of the mind and spirit for the year to come. Pacific College acupuncture student, Najah Abdus-Salaam, traveled to Costa Rica in April 2012 to participate in a yoga surf retreat. Held at the Montezuma Yoga Center in Costa Rica, the retreat that Abdus-Salaam embarked upon was hosted by two local San Diego yoga instructors, Heather Fenwick (Pilgramage of the Heart) and Sara Deakin (Little Yoga Studio). When asked what one of her favorite parts of the trip was, Abdus-Salaam says, “Doing yoga daily in an outdoor teak wood studio (in the shape of a bagua) in the middle of the jungle on a mango grove with the ocean just a few steps away. I really loved the nature – it truly became a part of each one of us on that retreat.”
The Montezuma Yoga Center helps organize yoga retreats and even collaborates with local restaurants to provide guests with a range of healthy options (including vegetarian or vegan specialties). “I especially think it is important for those in the OM field to go on mind/body oriented retreats to renew the body, mind and soul. Being in this field, we are constantly giving to others and our tanks can run a little low at times. Forcing yourself to go on a retreat guarantees that you will give your body time to relax, sleep, eat wonderful organic food, ground yourself with nature, and get connected through your yoga mat,” explains Abdus-Salaam. A retreat is so much more than just practicing yoga—it’s about the environment, the nutrition (often these retreats correspond to cleanses), and the meeting of like-minded travelers that can make it so rewarding.
Each year in the spring, Pacific College organizes a trip to China. This trip is available for both students and practitioners, and is a rare opportunity to experience Chinese medicine at its root, alongside experts in the field and experienced travelers. San Diego Academic Dean, Bob Damone, an organizer of the trip who goes each year with students, explains, “There is no better way to supplement your PCOM education than to have an authentic experience of East Asian medicine in its land of origin.” The annual PCOM China trip is more than a vacation to an incredible destination; it’s a look at the roots of Chinese medicine. Participants are taken to tour Chinese medicine college facilities, hospitals, and authentic Chinese herb factories and markets.
PCOM-San Diego MSTOM graduate Micah Arsham went on the April 2012 China trip with Damone. She reports, “Visiting different areas of China has given me an appreciation of how traditional medicine functions in various settings, from a family-run clinic that uses only traditional methods (Zheng Qi Tang in Lanzhou, Gansu province), to hospitals in Liaoning and Guangxi, where it is integrated with Western medicine.” The trip gave Arsham new insight into how traditional medicine can be implemented into a large healthcare system, “When you see traditional medicine used on a large-scale in China, not only to treat existing disease but also to ‘nourish life’ (yang sheng), it does not compare to anything in the States. There are many simple, inexpensive ways to improve the quality of life for patients.” Arsham was particularly interested to see how the use of TCM in China affected people’s attitude toward health and medicine.
“It is very inspiring to see the extent to which traditional medical practices are utilized by modern Chinese people. It helps to see the extent to which these practices are deeply integrated into many aspects of Chinese culture, not only in medicine, but also in philosophy, cuisine, and lifestyle.” Says Damone.
The Philo Apple Farm in Philo, California, hosts guests for “Cooking Stays.” The apple farm offers a variety of events from a weekend stay known as the “Relaxed Farm Weekend” to “Family Farm Weekend”. Guests will learn the ins and outs of sustainable living and farm life. In addition, cooking classes are taught, which incorporate the organic produce from the farm itself.
The farm has been hosting classes for over 15 years, but recently the farm reports, “We are now finding that many folks are eager to develop their homesteading skills and knowledge.” This includes practical garden and landscaping, vegetable farming, and animal husbandry. Visit the Philo Apple Farm website for more info.
Any one of these trips will leave the traveler with a relaxed mind and expanded tool belt. As Pacific College San Diego Campus Director Jaime Kornsweig says, trips “expand our consciousness and allow us to experience different cultures. If we as practitioners are constantly pushing ourselves to expand and grow, it is more authentic for us to ask our patients to do the same.” Traveling can be healing in and of itself, and if it’s to a destination that is of particular interest to the traveler, it can be a true growing experience.
San Diego Student Advisor Jason Rogers adds, “It’s also extremely important to travel and experience nature since Oriental Medicine is so closely connected to, and influenced by, the natural world.” Each of the trips detailed above have several things in common. Each involves nature. Each involves learning a new skill or viewpoint on a holistic practice. And, perhaps most importantly, each trip can inspire a sense of fulfillment and wellbeing that only travel can provide. As Lao Tzu said, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”