In college, I was training for a half marathon and successfully running 1.5 hour runs when bam! I couldn’t run for more than a few minutes before needing to walk. WHAT? I was supremely confused, and coincidentally I was also having shin splints. These two issues lead me to an acupuncturist.
At my first appointment, my acupuncturist asked me pages and pages of questions,
some most of which seemed unrelated to my problems. Among the multitude of questions in these pages, a few pertained to the following subjects: my recent sleep (sound? restless? dreamful?) and my diet (do you prefer sweet? spicy? salty?). To the sleep question, I answered that I had been having very active dreams that sometimes woke me up. This was a relatively new thing. As for my diet, I fought the urge to check ‘yes’ to everything and admitted that I tend toward sweet and spicy foods the most.
My acupuncturist read through my answers, took my pulse (actually she took three pulses, but one of them did pertain to my heart), and then told me that my heart was too hot. Huh. It seemed like weird thing to say, but like any good teacher, she explained what she meant:
According to Chinese medicine, the heart is an organ that is responsible for a lot things in our bodies, and among those are sleep and physical strength. (Obviously the heart pumps blood through our blood vessels, but this is not Western medicine class, and hence not what we are concerning ourselves with at the moment.) The heart has a type of energy called qi (pronounced chee), and this energy needs to stay balanced (as do the other energies) in order for us to feel our best. Heart qi can be thrown off for a lot of reasons, but a primary one is agitation due to diet. Certain foods can either warm or cool the heart, and you guessed it, sweet and spicy are heart-warming. I was eating a lot of sweet and spicy foods, which were warming my heart too much and causing a Heart Qi Deficiency. Not coincidentally, here are the primary symptoms of Heart Qi Deficiency:
-Unusual shortness of breath or fatigue brought on by even minimal exertion
-Spontaneous or excessive sweating brought on by even minimal exertion
-Weak, irregular, or quick pulse
-Pale, lusterless complexion
-Mild insomnia; night sweats
With the exception of a pale complexion, I had all of these symptoms but especially the first and second ones. There was absolutely no way that this wasn’t what was happening.
The treatment my acupuncturist prescribed included (surprise!) acupuncture, and giving up ALL sweet and spicy foods for a week. I would see her after a week and see if things improved. Well improve they did, and it only took two days. I felt completely rejuvenated: I had sound, dreamless sleep and ran the half marathon three days after my appointment with a personal best. Not even a hint of the fatigue or shortness of breath was anywhere to be found. It was incredible, and all from giving up my beloved sweet and spicy.
Well today, I discovered that my heart is too hot again. I experienced excess thirst, weird-feeling pulse and shortness of breath upon exertion. Textbook Heart Qi Deficiency. Even going up the stairs to my office made my heart race, and let me tell you, my 5.5 mile run in 82 degree sunshine did NOT go very well. I was hot to begin with since the weather went from mid 40’s/50’s to mid 80’s in two days, and despite my muscles and joints feeling recovered, my body was still tired from the 18 miler on Saturday.
Here’s what happened: I ran about 2 miles before needing to walk for the first time. Granted, I was moving along at just under 8 minute pace, but wasn’t feeling great doing it. From that point on, I had to stop and walk about every half mile, and even though I felt awful, I couldn’t get my pace under control. I looked down at one point and was running a 7:19 mile. I just can’t communicate how out-of-whack I felt. This was NOT me. Also, I did not run negative splits (despite that period of accidental half-sprinting), which is just not my style. I love to run negative splits and finish strong, and the only thing strong about the end of this run was my desire to stop. I ended up running 5.5 at a decent pace (8:02 min/mile) overall, but this was literally the worst run of 2013 for me.
Luckily, I recognize that what I experienced today was the same thing that I experienced 4 years ago, and I know that I can fix the problem. No more sweet, no more spicy. What I remember from last time is that once I rebalance my heart qi, I will be able to add back these two flavors, just in lesser quantities; all is not lost. Anyways, I wanted to share this experience and knowledge in case anyone ever runs into the same problems. Lastly, I didn’t give enough love to acupuncture in this post even though it was part of this journey, so I want to say that acupuncture is amazing, and for non-acute, chronic aches and pains, it works wonders.
P.S. To read about Heart Qi Deficiency and other related issues, click here.