The new Star Wars movie has brought back to the big screen some of our favourite fictional characters of the last several decades. Along with them, comes the Force, that mysterious life energy that gives both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader their super-hero powers. When George Lucas created Star Wars back in the 1970’s, he admitted to being influenced by Eastern thought, as well as the core story elements of mythology. In honour of the return of Star Wars to our current zeitgeist, I thought it would be interesting to examine the ways in which the Force mirrors key elements of traditional Chinese medicine.
In Star Wars, Obi-wan Kenobi describes the Force as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Just like the Force, the ‘qi’ of Chinese medicine not only surrounds and penetrates us, but also lifts us, supports us, and moves us. The Chinese character for qi is a combination of the words, “vapour, steam, or gas” and “rice” which is the foundation of the Chinese diet. So, qi then has both an immaterial form, like steam, and a more material form, like rice. This is why qi can simultaneously be referred to as the complex combination of forces which results in our protective immune system, and also as the conversion of food into blood and tissue in our bodies. It is the mysterious energy which propels our bodies into action, whether as protection, nourishment, or support.
Our emotions can either enhance or block the free movement of qi, which can have major consequences for our health. In the movie The Phantom Menace, Yoda famously says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”. In reality, all of these emotions can lead to suffering because all will block the free flow of qi throughout our bodies. According to Chinese medicine, unresolved anger can block energy in your liver, excessive fear can block energy in your kidneys, over-thinking or worry can block energy in your spleen/pancreas, and grief or sadness can block the movement of qi in your lungs. In all cases, when any of these feelings are felt routinely, or to excess, the respective organs will become stagnant or deficient and fail to perform optimally. This is why many chronic health problems can only be completely resolved when we are able to sort through old emotions and finally let them go, allowing qi to flow freely again.
An essential part of Luke Skywalker’s training to become a Jedi involves stilling and quieting his mind so that he can feel the Force move antidepressants within him. Likewise, the qi of your body is strengthened when your mind is stilled and no longer rocked about by difficult emotions. When we are still and quiet, we relax and can breathe more deeply. According to Chinese medicine, whenever you draw a breath, you are inviting qi into your body. It is the qi of the universe, and the deeper and fuller your breathing, the more of this qi you allow into yourself, which gives your body strength and your mind clarity. Deep breathing of this kind also facilitates letting go with your out-breath, so in addition to increasing the amount of positive qi that enters your body, you are also releasing the negative qi that blocks movement and creates poor health. This is why stilling your body and quieting your mind can strengthen your qi.
One of the central themes of Star Wars is the concept of the Dark Side. On the surface, this may seem like just another term for evil, but we know that Darth Vader was not completely dark. As Luke Skywalker said in The Return of the Jedi, “Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you, ” and in the same way, there is no absolute good or absolute evil in Chinese medicine. The two terms which are used are yin and yang, and although yang is defined as a substance with greater heat and light, and yin is more cool and dark, this does not mean that yang is good and yin is evil. It is understood that for optimal health, both yang and yin need to be kept in balance. Yang energy, such as a quick metabolism, and organ strength can easily begin to form too much heat in your body, leading to inflammation and hyper-activity. Likewise, too many yin fluids can cause coldness, sluggishness, and hypo-activity. To move towards greater health, yin and yang are both necessary, and each must be properly balanced against the other.
The opposing nature of yin and yang can mean endless variation in Star Wars movie plots, as either the Light Side or the Dark Side can gain strength and then inevitably cause the other to weaken. Nature rarely stays balanced for long, so we will always need a Jedi protector to balance the dark ambitions of a Sith lord, just as we will always need healing yin fluids to balance an over-heated yang lifestyle. This means that maintaining good health will always require vigilance, and for Star Wars fans, it also means endless fun in movie theatres. You can continue to reflect on the Force and on Chinese medicine as you watch “The Force Awakens” this Christmas season.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has an honours degree in English Literature from the University of Waterloo, and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.