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April 21, 2023

An Earth Day Conversation with AIMC’s Dr. Nishanga Bliss, DAIM, DSc, LAc

earth day
In honor of Earth Day, we had the pleasure of speaking with one of AIMC’s long-time community members and professors, Dr. Nishanga Bliss, DAIM, DSc, LAc, about her work to educate practicing and aspiring acupuncture and East Asian Medicine practitioners, her call to action to support a healthy environment, and her hopes for the future.
Nishanga has been with AIMC since 2008, and has been practicing Chinese medicine since 1999. She has always been interested in the public health aspect of Chinese medicine and health, but felt more drawn to it, especially living in the times that we’re living in today.

Becoming an Environmental Activist

Nishanga watched her father, an environmentalist, work with the East Bay chapter of the Sierra Club in a time of environmental awareness in the seventies. During the eighties and nineties, Nishanga witnessed a “retraction” in our society and culture with regards to the environment. With this foundation of environmental activism, Nishanga was drawn to holistic medicine because of its nature-based approach, which led her to study Western Herbalism. With the roots of Western Herbalism being based in energetics, and studying eclecticism, it was an easy and natural step into studying Chinese medicine.

Because of the power of food and plant-based medicine, Nishanga pursued a doctorate in Nutrition to better understand where her food comes from, and how it can support overall health. “We have to look at climate and how it’s affecting plants. I mean, we know in agriculture that climate’s already affecting the nutritional value of agricultural products. …there’s so many ways that we can connect our medicine to the climate crisis, but herbalism is very easy in that way.”

TCM & the Environmental Perspective

yinyangtreesNishanga described climate change in terms of a TCM perspective, describing the balance (or imbalance) of Yin and Yang. “Human beings are too Yang. So we’re heating the planet and… Yin and Yang are beginning to separate, and so we’re getting Yin deficiency… More water is mobilized in the sky, and then it’s coming down more forcefully.”

Let’s break this down a little bit more! When we think about energetics, Yin is slower, quieter, more peaceful, restful, and restorative. Yang energy is very active with lots of movement; it’s faster, consumes more energy. If human beings are too Yang, that means we are using lots of energy, like when we are driving cars, flying in airplanes, movement around the state, country, and planet. Even when we look at political discourse and the social issues we are facing. We are very Yang; we are moving, talking loudly, engaging with others intensely. This creates more energy in the form of heat, which in turn, heats the planet. With this imbalance, we see a lot of Yang energy, with very little Yin energy, causing a deficiency. This leads to an overall degradation of the planet and being, which is how we see these environmental effects, like the 12 atmospheric rivers this winter, compared to three last year!

Additionally, she described how fossil fuels, and continuing to extract them, is depleting the Earth’s Jing, or life force. “Oil is like the jing, the deepest reserves of the planet, the most precious. Like in your body, the Jing is the most precious substance that determines your lifespan, and we’re like depleting it from the earth.”

Actions You Can Take

While this may seem discouraging, Nishanga offered many ways people can positively impact the environment and combat climate change. One of her recommendations is actively advocating for political change, especially working to influence the Farm Bill Reauthorization. She uses the Climate Action Now app, which is an easy and quick way to send letters to your local legislators, connect with other community members, and gain points that accumulate toward a tree being planted on your behalf.

Also, “The Farm Bill connects to our whole food system in the [United States]. It connects to how food is grown, how food is processed. It connects to food in the public schools. It connects to legislation around, so if we bring a climate lens to that and a regenerative agriculture lens to that, it can be really transformative…people need to learn, learn what’s going on with it and where specific times to write their legislators.”

All of this starts with conversation. Community, education, and continual conversation around these issues will effect change. Climate impacts every aspect of our life, so it is important to talk about it with everyone and at every opportunity. Even in moments of waning motivation, Nishanga reminds us that we can’t ignore the emotion involved in this movement, and drawing inspiration from Chinese medicine as a way to process and re-energize. “It’s not just turn your anger into action. But you also sometimes have to just feel the negative feelings and let them work through you… Ideally you feel it, you channel it, you allow it to move you.”

Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights and wisdom with us, Nishanga!

About the Author

Molly wears a checkered dress in front of a wood panelled backdropMolly Pilloton Lam is a first-year Master’s student at AIMC with a background in working with BIPOC communities in education, educational leadership, public health, and trauma-informed youth mental health program settings. She is interested in expanding education and equitable access to acupuncture and EAM in BIPOC and communities, particularly to support people with the impacts of trauma. She is excited to be a student at AIMC for her pathway to acupuncture, and looks forward to uplifting its traditional practices and other BIPOC practitioners’ voices.

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