Climate Change and Chinese Medicine

The latest science on climate change warns that the Earth is in serious trouble. Sea levels are rising, biodiversity loss is accelerating, and extreme weather events—from the polar vortex to summer typhoons—are wreaking havoc. If we are to survive, we must change our lifestyle so that the Earth can regain its natural balance and return to equilibrium.

The idea of restoring balance is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. Recently practitioners of this art have been applying their expertise to the problem of climate change, examining it in a holistic way and taking into account the relationship between individual well-being and the global environment.

The Yin and Yang of Climate

One of the best known books on this topic is The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis by Brendan Kelly. Kelly, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, explains how the contrasting opposites of yin (contentment and coolness) with yang (unsettledness and heat) offers fresh insight into our changing climate.

“Chinese medicine’s understanding of yin and yang allows us to see that personal health comes from balance and that if we are to address the destabilization of the climate we need to address the condition of our internal environment.”            —Brendan Kelly, “Yoga, Yin, and Climate Change”

Kelly’s fundamental diagnosis is that the Earth is “yin deficient.” This means that yang-induced temperatures are dominant and are rising unchecked. Yang is all about being busy and active (hot), and yin is our sense of contentment and relaxation (cool). The problem is that people’s overly enterprising tendencies are heating things up. According to Kelly, people are under pressure to “do things” and advance material wealth at the expense of real contentment and relaxation. Lives thus are being thrown out of balance and—since everything is connected in Chinese medicine—the Earth, too, loses balance.

“It’s not a coincidence that so many of us in the U.S. are so overstimulated and lack a sense of fulfillment because we’re encouraged to live a yang excess life which compromises our yin,” he writes. When yin and yang are out of balance, diseases and disruptions take hold.

How to be Cool

Kelly recommends that individuals embrace “cooler” lifestyles, which includes things such as adopting less “inflammatory diets” and practicing greater self awareness through activities such as yoga.

“If we’re to address the rapid warming of the planet,” he writes, “it’s of vital importance that we understand how to create balance internally.” To counteract the overstimulating effects of yang, he also recommends that individuals ask themselves three basic questions: 1. Is “doing” better than not doing? 2. Is new better than old? 3. Is more better than less?  The answers to these questions will help to create greater self awareness and allow more yin to enter our lives.

The idea of fostering greater yin is gaining traction in many areas. For example, it is reflected in the minimalist philosophy of Marie Kondo, who is leading a wildly popular movement to reduce the clutter of material possessions and consider what really “sparks joy” in our lives.

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