Running From Nourishment

I drive to BigCity, NC to see Cissy, my Chinese medicine herbologist. It has been two months since my last visit and drinking two cups a day of her expert tea prescription. I have good news to report across the board and am eager to see her.

The patient room is sweltering as usual and reeks of moxa, or dried mugwort, which is used commonly in Chinese medicine to draw chi and warmth to certain areas of the body. I have come to know this smell so well that even a gentle whiff of it eases my mind and calls me back to center.

Cissy enters in a flurry; her long rat-tail trailing three-quarters of the way down her back offset by short bob-cut hair that is dark brown with a few strays of rusty golden. Today she wears jeans and a black suit-coat top. Her smile is bright and wise and she seems entirely alert.

“So what’s the report? How were your last two cycles?” she asks while scribbling in my chart and flipping through previous records. I tell her about my symptoms improving, about how I can notice subtle differences during the first 14 days and big differences during the last 14 days. She needs details so I pull out a little calendar in which I have been taking occasional notes.

“But April, see, April was difficult.” I explain the stress from grad school decisions, the move back into the little cabin, the lack of sleep and disturbances from the full moon, the upstart of the coffeehouse work. All of this is very brief but she can see and sense my exasperation and gets the point. “And the cravings, lord help me the cravings…”

“What are you doing for exercise?” she asks, tipping her narrow, elliptical glasses down the slope of her nose so she can look at me directly.

I tell her about my infatuation with running. How I want to start a strict regimen this spring and that I need to lose thirty pounds. At this she raises her eyebrows and gives me a knowing look. It is almost like, Oh, honey, don’t, and I can sense what is coming next.

“Why do you need to lose thirty pounds?” she asks without flinching her tone of voice.

“It’s silly really but I gained it after I broke up with my boyfriend a year and a half ago. See, and it was just twenty pounds then. But I keep adding a little more each season. It’s ridiculous and I just want to go back to the way I was before.” My speech picks up speed and I drop my eyes to the floor. If I have learned one thing in Chinese medicine it is the undeniable connection between the mind and the body, which is why I confess all to her and hope for the best.

“Why running?”

“I have a history with running. And it’s quick. You can do it in an hour and be done with your exercise for the day,” I say this but I know I’m about to get zapped. Cissy can tell when I’m not sharing everything and in this moment she just looks at me, expecting me to finish. “And so, yes, there is an element of toughness to it,” I admit. “There is a sort of pushing around that I do with myself. I am running to change my body and my situation. I know that goes against my spiritual practice and what we do here. But I always feel better after I run, always.” My sermon complete, I hold my breath and consider whether or not she’ll buy it.

“You can do intense, Katey. You’ve got that down. You can work hard and excel and be successful. That’s what you do,” she is looking at me strongly now, resting her elbows on her knees and leaning in towards my face. “But can you go on a walk? For you, for the sake of calming your chi. Just a walk?”

“I’m not good at that. I never have been,” I half-smile, relieved that she is so wise and can see through even my subtlest layers of self-deceit.

“That’s the point here. We’re dealing with a liver imbalance. Your body can’t move blood when it needs to, it can’t purify fluids when it needs to, and you’re not able to use all the food you put into your body even though you maintain a healthy diet. No matter what you eat at this point you’re likely to put on weight. Running is pounding and rough. It’s aggressive the way you’re approaching it.”

“Ok, what about biking?” I am holding on to the edge of a cliff made of the rock of my own insecurities and trying to find some other way around this whole thing. She is completely right. A change in body shape never lasts anyone if it comes from a place of I’m not good enough.

“Happy bike rides. Easy ones. At the speed where you can look up and enjoy the scenery. Not pushing pedal to the metal bike rides. The idea is to nurture. yourself. Bring more nourishment into your life.” Cissy smiles at me seeing fully what I’m doing. She knows the fight I’m putting up yet advices me with such grace.

“I don’t know how to do that. That’s not what I do,” I almost whine. I lean forward and put my hands on my head letting out a guttural sigh.

“You didn’t know seeing me would be this hard, did you?” she laughs gently, perfectly, to herself. I am not offended but rather, in awe. Then I feel her hand reach around my wrist slowly but firmly to take my pulse. I look at her and see that her eyes are closed in concentration, her brow furrowed in horizontal lines that parallel her eyebrows. She has fresh freckles on her face from the onset of spring and I consider asking her what she does for exercise but bite my tongue.

“It’s hard,” I say. “It’s hard to let myself not be productive, not do-do-do, not be the best at something. But I need to walk, right? Ok. I can do that.” I must sound totally unconvincing, or at least, disappointed. How fitting that I have described my relationship with running as “psychological determination” (yesterday’s post, ironically).

She opens her eyes and removes her hand from my wrist then writes something on my chart. “And come back in two months. I’ll bet you will have lost weight without even trying, as long as you walk and nourish yourself instead of this frenzied running. Five days a week for at least forty-five minutes. Two hours would be excellent though.”

“So if I keep my promise, and walk five days a week, we’ll see a difference next time? My period will be better? The PMS cravings will subside? I won’t be so fatigued all the time?” She stands and puts her hands on my shoulders while I speak. She is warm and light and there is a whirlpool of energy in her.

“The promise, dear sweet child, is to yourself,” she says cupping her hands around my head with the ease of a mother. “That’s what you’re learning.”

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