Blog Posts - General
- The Line Between Medical and Spiritual
- Worth the suffering...
- What's Your Priority in Life?
- Know Thyself for a Healthier, Happier Life
- The Quick and Easy Thing You Can Do Today to Improve All Aspects of Heatlh
- How Evil (Big and Small) Continues To Exist and What You Can Do To Stop It
- Today is a new day (change is gonna happen)
- Getting to Chicago
- The Good and Bad of the Momentum of Health Choices
- From the Facebook Fanpage
- Molecular Effects of Acupuncture
- In case you missed it (Part II)
- Medicine and Treating the Individual
- Honor as Medicine
- The Practitioner-Patient Role Continuum in Healing
- In case you missed it
- Boost Your Energy Right Now
- Theory vs Reality and the Implications for True Integrated Medical Care
- The Hidden Benefit of Exercise, Part II
- Meditating on Snowfall
- What is Qi? (The short answer)
- Seventeen Years Into a Forest, Seventeen Years Out
- The Wonderfully Miraculous Self-Healing Body!
- Two Varying Systems of Medicine, Two Varying Approaches to Medicine
- It Takes a Warrior
- 'new' vs 'New' - On the Potential Need For More Fundamental Change
- The Hidden Spigot
- Chinese Medical Terminology for the Everyday Person
- A Different Approach to Physical Beauty
- Oriental Medicine and Your Lil' Poochiekins
- Yin-yang and the NY Times
- Army to Use Acupuncture for Pain Relief
- The Perfect Timing of the Day
Honor as Medicine
The power of Chinese medicine allows us the sensitivity, in diagnosis, to interpret thoughts and feelings in a way that allows us to lead healthier, happier, more fulfilling lives. (Hence, my dedicating my life to it.)
In doing this, Chinese medicine opens up a whole new world of health and healing, truly redefining what “medicine” means, to incorporate all aspects of life – Everything is both a reflection of, and contributor to, your health. Chinese medicine, thus, empowers the person in a major way.
And it allows us to view rather abstract, but very real, tangible, even, concepts like honor. We all know what honor means, but no definition, or collection of words, could ever truly convey the richness of its meaning. You know what it means by experiencing it; you know it simply by knowing it.
Take a second and explore the idea of honor… feel it and let it work into and through your body…
How does it feel? What’s your reaction to it? What’s the visceral, body-level definition of what it means to be honorable, to have honor, to act in honorable ways?…
To me, there’s a rooted power, a strength in genuine righteousness to it, a standing up for – asserting – truth when it isn’t easy, when the temptations to lower your head and cower away are almost overwhelming.
If you really take some time with the feeling, you may actually notice changes in your body. You may sit up a little straighter. You may stick your chest out, just a little though, and you may even relax a little and find a true comfort in this simple concept.
This response is real; it’s genuine, and it’s not based on any mental activity or analysis. It’s knowable through the basic nature of being human. You could say it has a certain intrinsic “energy” to it. That is, it’s real, but difficult to pin down.
Part of the gloriousness of Chinese medicine is its ability to take this very real experience and apply it to medical practice, to health and healing. You could say it gives useful meaning to these experiences of the human being.
And that idea of it having a certain “energy” to it is an all-important link between your direct experience and the system of medicine.
Over thousands of years (no one knows how many, exactly; most likely, at least, two, quite possibly upwards of five), Chinese physicians have collected, investigated, and cataloged these experiences, correlating them with the physical functioning of the body in health and illness.
And, most importantly, they passed on this information from generation to generation.
So what is honor in the body? What can it do for health? How is it disturbed in illness?
Ultimately, those questions are best answered through your own direct, personal experience. However, I’ll share a little of my own experience, combined with over a decade of studying Chinese medicine and its sister system of thought Taoism.
Honor is the spontaneous action that occurs upon alignment of deeper spirit with momentary thought-consciousness. It’s when you know something to be true – you simply know it - and you fully acknowledge that fact.
It’s when you admit to yourself, often in very, very difficult times that what you know is right is, in fact, right. And how do you know you are really honoring the feeling? When you spontaneously act upon it.
It is the aligning of the most deep sense of what’s appropriate, for lack of a better word, with what you consciously acknowledge.
Some mental exercises may help to draw this out. Think of some time you’ve had a very strong feeling. You honor it, by allowing yourself to fully experience it, without holding back and without judgement.
Now, think of some interaction you’ve had with another person and your feelings of the situation aren’t the same as what you may be putting on. Dating is a good example. Maybe the other person is more into you, than you are into them, and maybe you carry this on, for a bit, you know, to give the relationship a chance.
At some point the incongruence, the fact that your feelings and their feelings don’t match, becomes too big to ignore. You honor that person’s feelings, as well as the relationship (and yourself) by being honest and letting them know how you feel.
Honor, thus, is closely related to truthfulness and sincerity (in my mind, at least ).
Now, in bringing your conscious thoughts in line with what you feel deep inside, you dissolve a blockage, of types.
Again, if you think about it, there is a very basic feeling better when you get those little “lies” or untruths out of your body. I mean, you’re “fine” with ‘em inside, but, man, is it a relief to be honest with yourself. It’s almost as if you function better, more optimally or something, when you get your conscious, day-to-day thoughts and mind in line with what you feel and believe deep, deep inside.
The fact that this is a healthier way to live needs no further argument – It’s obvious.
Chinese medicine simply codifies all this into specific terms and concepts to help us when things get so complicated we can’t figure ‘em out so simply on our own and we need the help of a professional.
Chinese medicine also follows the evolving line of poor health from the mental state of hiding our feelings from ourselves to the poor physical well-being, impeded physiological functioning, that inevitably arises when cognitive-emotional obstructions persist over time.
As always with Chinese wisdom, all the above is so simple and obvious, yet simultaneously challenging and elusive to practice in the “real” world.
Good luck and enjoy the ride!
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In case you missed it
In case you missed all the wonderful posts on my facebook page, here's some interesting info:
* New research on the benefits of Tai chi
* Acupuncture on CBS news
* Acupuncture for depression, on Fox News
* From the FDA, how to dispose of old medications
* New research on the benefits and challenges to more individualized care
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Boost Your Energy Right Now
The following is a simple breathing exercise that can boost your energy in under five minutes, for free, with no side effects or bad after taste. With a little practice, you’ll quickly master it –
1) Relax and exhale, actively pushing all the air out of your lungs.
2) Now, inhale deeply, pulling the air in as low into your stomach as you can. (It may help to place your hands on your abdomen, below your belly button. Then, imagine breathing directly into them.)
3) From there, allow the breathe to “fill up” your entire torso from the bottom, opening and expanding the ribcage, to the top of your lungs.
4) Once you’ve received that complete breathe, hold it for a second or two to allow your body to absorb all the oxygen it can.
5) Relax completely, allowing the breathe to ease out of you (and you might as well let some of that stress and tension ride that wave of exhaled air right out of your body, to!).
At first, when practicing the above, allow your body to breathe naturally for a couple breaths in between.
With a little practice you’ll notice you can inhale more and more air, and you will feel more and more energized (and you may notice the increased energy isn’t that buzzy kind of caffeine energy, but a relaxed, peaceful but alert energy – good stuff!)
P.S. This also makes for an outstanding foundation for meditation. Enjoy!
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Theory vs Reality and the Implications for True Integrated Medical Care
Over and over, I see a core piece of awareness missed in discussion of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AOM), in general, and in its relation to and interaction with modern biomedicine (“Western medicine”), specifically.
I will strive to keep this short, as this topic could easily lead to my rambling on and on. And I think everything I’m about to bring up will be agreed upon by anyone involved – I truly believe this is simply a matter of “shedding light” on the topic and not putting forth any new ideas.
I begin with that statement, because this next one may appear controversial; though, as I said, I really believe there’s no actual argument, once we look closely…
Biology, chemistry, and physics, those areas of knowledge upon which biomedicine is based, are models of reality. They are ways of intellectually investigating and developing rational stories to explain observed phenomena.
This is the essence of science – To observe some event, then seek to understand it by creating, and testing the fit of, a theory.
I believe this is science 101 and will be agreed upon by all. Chemistry is not “truth”; it doesn’t even claim to be. Practically speaking, it isn’t 100% right or correct. If it were, it’d be done. There’d be no advances or modifications. It’d be complete.
It is the same with the other sciences, such as biology and physics. If physics were the total picture of the way things are, there would be no need for the Large Hadron Collider and the excitement for the discoveries it may lead to.
In fact, the height of these fields is to advance them, to improve and refine that rational “story” they tell.
Perhaps a little unsettling, at first, this soon becomes obvious. Biomedicine prides itself on being cutting edge, reflecting the latest, most advanced understanding of medical knowledge. You want an MD who is up on their research, not one practicing based on the concepts and ideas of the 70's.
The single point, here, is that these scientific theories we are so profoundly accustomed to are specific ways of perceiving the world. They are an ongoing, ever evolving mental “picture” (however complex – and, boy, does it get complex) of the underlying reality of nature. Again, this is the very essence of science – developing a story, or model, to better reflect the nature of reality, itself.
And there is our foundation for truly integrated medical care. Why? Because Oriental medicine is based on a different collection of models, or stories, of reality.
It is that simple.
It is said that we do not know how acupuncture works. This is incorrect. What is meant is that, using the models of biology and chemistry, we can not explain the effects of acupuncture.
Again, no surprise, here. Acupuncture is a therapy based on the theories of yin-yang, qi, etc. not physics and chemistry. Where chemistry fails to explain the observed effects of acupuncture, it’s not acupuncture that is lacking, but the ability of the model, that is chemistry, to give an explanation for how it works. (If your car stops working and the mechanic can’t tell you why, that doesn’t mean the car does work…)
The trouble is we’re human and we tend to get lazy with things. We forget that we have been investigating the world and developing a specific line of thought to explain what we see. It’s one line of thought, one ever evolving conceptual framework which we continually revise and expand.
But it’s only one line of thought- not the only line of thought…
There are other perspectives, other ways of thinking about things. There are other ways of looking at the body in health and disease.
Taking nothing away from biochemistry, there may very well be clinical scenarios where that line of thought doesn’t lead to an effective form of treatment.
Again, I think we all would agree on that. All theories, especially clinical ones, have their limits.
When those limits are found, where a diagnosis eludes the fully competent Western physician, or the expertly executed treatment fails to effect a cure, then something else needs to be tried. And this does happen, but for some reason, though the corners of the box are investigated thoroughly – clinical research continues at a feverish pace – we, as humans, are very reluctant to look outside of that box.
It’s odd – We will search for new and different things, but not too different. We simply get used to one way of seeing, interpreting the world…
In medicine, as a science, where we meet the limit of theory, where it fails to match reality close enough to give us a treatment plan that leads to the alleviation of symptoms, we have to acknowledge that limit and seek new and revised theories in order to get effect. Otherwise, we’re no longer scientists, or good practitioners.
With biomedicine and AOM, we have an ideal set up. They are two very different approaches to medicine. They are not variations on a single theme. They aren’t the latest advance of the other – for better and worse.
This siginificant difference opens the doors wide open to find diagnostic and treatment capability that eludes one or the other. Where one theory is limited, i.e. doesn’t work, then we have a completely different approach. In terms of clinical science, the seeking of ever more effective/accurate theories, this is gold.
Unfortunately, specifically because they are so different, one is highly likely to be, at best, ignored, if not outright rejected.
What is happening is AOM is being forced to appear and act like biomedicine in order to be accepted. Acupuncturists are expected to explain a Chinese medical diagnosis in terms of the nervous system and hormones – theories alien to its paradigm.
In forcing AOM to compromise its uniqueness we lose that very thing – its different approach – that could lead to treatment where biomedicine fails.
This is not mere abstract philosophizing. Over and over, I have patients demand an explanation for their injury from a Western anatomical perspective. How many times have you or a friend demanded an explanation of an illness from a Western physician?
This is unfair. Biomedicine doesn’t have a perfect system of understanding illness and pathology. It can’t answer all questions, give explanations for all illnesses.
Neither does AOM. No system does – it is impossible. We all have our unique perspectives, the collective result of our own lines of thought.
And, there, is the essence of real integrative medicine: The coming together of varying theories of reality, different clinical perspectives on the suffering patient before us.
Importantly, forcing everybody at the table to conform to one approach defeats the whole purpose.
Personally, I’m rather reluctant to learn the intricacies of biomedicine (though, I do become very familiar with it). It’s too big a world and too different from my system of medicine. I’ll let the professionals of that system become experts of their approach; I’ll focus on mine. In that way, we can all approach the table of integrated care with professional integrity intact and best able to the find the best fit for any given individual patient.
… Now, as this is simply a blog, it’ll end here. The underlying discussion, though, does continue and get more complex.
For example, some would argue that it’s not so much the difference of the two systems of medicine, but, instead, the fact that one is backed by scientific evidence, while the other is not.
Again, however, this comes back to choosing one, more comfortable, approach over those that differ – The bottom line, here, being that there is not inherent distinction in value between the two.
The currently dominant paradigms of objectivity, materialism, mechanism, reductionism, etc. are not, inherently, “better”. They are just different, than holism, for example. And if they fail to give results, other approaches ought be sought. That’s all I’m sayin’…
Ok. Ending here. For real, this time.
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The Hidden Benefit of Exercise, Part II
After writing the post on the rarely spoken of benefit of exercise that is the occurrence of spontaneous epiphanies into life, I feel it needs to be added the prime, central role of this benefit in health, overall.
So often, in the modern world, and especially in modern medicine, the idea of health revolves around the idea of absence of major health complaints. At best, health seems to be having nothing, really, to complain about.
You go to your doctor for a cough, get medications, or not. Either way, once the cough is gone, you are said to have “returned to health”. You could go back to your doctor, but you no longer have anything to report to her; the cough is gone.
Even if you still have that vague feeling of being sick, it’s unlikely your MD could actually diagnose anything, thus leaving them unable to do anything more than make those gross physical symptoms go away.
Though many would likely be hard pressed to put to words what, exactly, it is that makes health bigger than mere absence of disease, there truly seems to be something.
I like to think of that difficult-to-define piece being awareness, and active pursuit, of your life’s meaning and, importantly, that subtle joy and sublime peace that comes with that feeling.
Health is not just feeling good enough to return to work, but the active manifesting of who you are.
I don’t believe “medicine” ends with making you feel better after an injury or illness. Once you’re “better”, then what? Truly, medicine, as it seems to be defined in modern times, is all emergency medicine. We seek “treatment” only when we’re so sick we are forced to.
Then, once we’re better, that is, back to the state we were at prior to the onset of new and bigger symptoms, we go back to our day-to-day life.
That is the point I would like to bring into focus, here. What is happening in that moment? What is that day-to-day life all about? Do you have awareness of your deepest skills and abilities – your gift to this world? And is your life the developing and putting into use those skills, that gift?
If not, that is the cause of disease, all disease. Every illness you will ever experience is born in your innate potential failing to be tapped into, failing to be brought up and out.
This may seem like an odd idea, but think about it. You are you. Everything about you is designed for you, so you can be you. That is the whole, and only, point of you – to be you.
If you are not you, if you are not active in learning about you and fully manifesting that you-ness, then you aren’t functioning according to design. You’re, by definition, not working properly. How could you possibly be healthy in such a condition???
It seems we can “get away with” not fully and truly being ourselves, for certain amounts of time, anyway, until we get sick. At that point, we have an opportunity to address the things that are off, the things that aren’t right in life and allowed us to be stopped from continuing our daily activities.
If we simply get rid of the symptoms – the warning signs that things are off – and, then, just get back to life as it was, without opening up awareness of the larger context, the larger meaning of life, if we continue with the fundamental dysfunction that is ignorance of self and ultimately directionless activity in life, then we may just break down again.
I argue that health is the presence of peace and joy found only with true connection with yourself and the resulting genuinely purposeful activity in life.
Exercise, then, being fundamental to good, real health, aids directly in attaining the above. It not only keeps physical disease away, and eases stress, but good exercise actually facilitates that inner awareness and righteous direction in life.
In a way, it just makes sense. Of course, truly feeling good means having a sense of who we are in our hearts, and doing what we love, what speaks to us, on a daily basis.
And when we don’t have those things, life just isn’t quite right, something’s off. When we don’t have those things, we could be doing better, feeling better… of course…
I’m just, here, stating the obvious.
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Meditating on Snowfall
I did my morning yoga practice in front of the window, this morning, while the snow was falling outside. During some of the more meditative postures, I allowed the pose to gently ease the movements of my mind to a dull roar, and I just peacefully gazed out the window.
It came to me that, in a way, there was a basic choice of how to watch the snow fall. You could either track individual flakes, one at a time, as they slowly swirled around and then floated down out of sight, at which point you pick out another to follow. The other option is to be perceptive of the snow coming down, but to not pick out any individual flake… It proved to be kind of difficult.
I found myself almost automatically latching on to a specific flake and following its individual path. I couldn’t just see the snow falling; it was always one flake at a time. There was almost a need to grab onto a specific flake, as if that was the only way to watch what was happening in front of me.
This struck me as a bit odd and, somehow, important, instructional even. With a bit of reflection on it, I came to realize there was a basic choice in approach to life arising, here. It’s very difficult to see flow or movement, maybe impossible. Think of looking at a river… It’s hard to not follow a certain current down the river. It’s a challenge to actually look at the river, itself, and not some smaller piece of it. It’s hard to truly see the river.
I think we do this in life a lot, and I think it’s what so many sages of so many traditions warn against. We are rarely part of the movement, or flow, of life; we usually latch on to specific events, like they were the snowflakes falling through the sky.
Something new and exciting arises, we give it our attention and get excited, “tracking” its movement through our life . When the excitement starts to wear off, we look for another new and exciting thing. Just as I sat there and had trouble simply watching the snowfall, getting caught up in individual pieces of snow falling, we too often get caught up in the events in life, perhaps missing the grand movement of life, itself.
You could argue, and I would agree, and I believe the sages would, as well, that the fun in life is in riding the waves of these individual events; that’s where the excitement is. Doing otherwise would be like watching a football game, but not rooting for either team. Where’s the fun in that?
Truly, emotions are products of the interaction between you and those things you watch, believe, root for, or invest in. Happiness, joy, loss, anger, worry, they are all generated by the interaction between you and the snowflake. When it first shows, you get excited. When it gets caught in a sudden gust of wind, you panic a little, maybe worry that it’ll blow away. Then, when it slips out of the wind’s grip, your anxiety eases and you feel a little peace. When it reaches the ground and melts, you feel a little sad. The ride is over.
Many would argue that this is what life is about, that this is life. Here’s where I believe the sages would suggest a slightly different take on things.
It is agreed that this is, quite typically, how life does play out. It is, indeed, very common. However, there is another way, another experience of life. That other way is, of course, watching the snowfall, and not just the snow fall.
The problem, if you examine closely, with the typical ride of life, is that for every joy experienced, there is a trade off. The emotional excitement always comes at a certain cost.
For example, imagine something you find truly fun. Now, imagine actually doing it. Keep doing it. Keep on doing it. Keep it up. More, more, more… Gets kind of exhausting doesn’t it?
Fun is fun, but you need a break. And you need that break because these things we typically consider fun and exciting come at a cost of energy. They, in very tangible ways, drain you of energy.
All of a sudden, then, “fun” loses some of its shine and glamor. We’re not questioning that it is fun, but we’re discovering more about it. Fun and excitement seem to convey a certain promise. That’s why we always go for it. But, if you stop and pay a little closer attention, well, it doesn’t fulfill that promise.
There’s that enticement that something will feel good. And it does, but it never lasts. And it always comes at a cost. The easiest, if not extreme, example is drug abuse. It feels good, but is fleeting, takes a toll, and constantly draws you back again and again, slowly creating a viscous downward cycle.
It seems life could so easily be lost to simply running around searching for bits and moments of feel good. They’re always, ultimately, empty, at best, and downright destructive, at worst.
Now, most of us don’t suffer quite that much, but does that difference in degree change anything? If what you’re holding onto, what you’re emotionally investing in, gives only limited, shallow “joy”, and if it is guaranteed to cause outright suffering through inevitable, eventual loss… If you’re honest with yourself and acknowledge the greater reality of the process, why not let go?
Though not rhetorical, the question does not require an answer, but perhaps it needs to be asked sincerely, that road traveled down, that inquiry, self investigation effected in earnest.
… There were moments where I could step back from any isolated, individual snow flake. There were moments where there wasn’t pieces of snow falling, but, instead, simple snowfall… I wouldn’t call it exciting or exhilarating in any way, but there was something beautiful about it, something beautiful, simple, real, something beyond words… Of course, one is always left only ever able to point at that which is truly great and beautiful, and, today, I point out the window.
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What is Qi? (The short answer)
Likely the most important term in the medicine, qi is also the most difficult to define. (In the most widely used introductory Chinese medical theory text, Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Giovanni Maciocia actually leaves the term untranslated due to its complexity.)
In my first theory course in Chinese medical school, our professor was quizzing us and asked what qi was. When put on the spot, a nervous student scrambled to give a succinct and accurate answer, and uttered “Everything?…” Though correct, a lot more could be said.
On the most practical level, qi is that which the acupuncturist directly accesses and manipulates to effect changes in the patient. It is directly, concretely experienced by the acupuncturist, and possibly the patient, and, in effective therapy, elicits an immediate, tangible response in the patient.
This response may be evident in any number of ways, including:
- objective symptom presentation, eg. reduction of redness or swelling,
- report by patient of physical or emotional/cognitive change, eg. change in mood, immediate reduction of pain, or
- change in pulse presentation (the pulses being a main pillar of Chinese medical diagnosis and, thus, view into the patient’s state, an immediate response to acupuncture therapy is expected).
In a way, the above direct experiences, reliably reoccurring over generations of patient-physician interactions, combined with a theory, or comprehensive, coherent system of thought drawn from the above experiences, constitute sufficient “definition” for clinical use. It does, however, leave one wanting more.
Qi is understood to be the motive force behind all physiological activities of the body, and is typically defined, locally, according to the unique nature of those activities.
For example, qi is the “energy” behind the process of digestion. Specifically, we would refer to that isolated energy as “Stomach Qi” or “Spleen Qi”. It follows, then, that poor or weak digestion (as evidenced, perhaps, by fatigue after a meal, as one example) could be clinically defined as “Spleen Qi Vacuity (or Deficiency)”, for which acupuncture points or a Chinese herbal formula that treats Spleen Qi Vacuity could be prescribed.
As a side note, the objective existence of “Spleen Qi” is, ultimately, meaningless, unverifiable, and irrelevant, clinically speaking. That is, whether there is something that can be isolated and labeled Spleen Qi, as argument that it “actually exists”, is outside the realm of both practical use, as well as scientific investigation. What’s important is whether the theory of Spleen qi, when actually used, results in predicatble effects, as discussed below.
Science deals solely with rational theory. Its aim is to develop ways of conceptualizing – developing logical stories – to explain observed phenomena. As both modern quantum mechanics and, below, Albert Einstein reminds us, actual, direct “knowledge” is beyond the realm of the thinking mind.
“Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality, we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears it ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious, he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison.” (1)
The whole purpose of science is to develop theories that work, with reasonable predictability and reliability, not discover absolute truths. This is why there can never be 100% guarantee of treatment outcome for any system of medicine. We strive to employ clinical theory that has a high chance of producing a specific effect in the patient.
Qi is a concept at the center of Chinese medicine. It has a rational foundation of evidence derived from extensive clinical use – an amount unparalleled by any medical system in the world. As discussed above, it is understood as the energy behind all processes of the body and can be defined according to the unique nature of that activity.
Qi, however, is not limited to an abstract, theoretical concept that provides a rational construct through which we perceive and deal with physiological processes. As was mentioned above, qi is also what we label actual physical sensations.
For example, there is a distinct response to needle manipulation the acupuncturist experiences, and there are unique sensations often experienced by the patient. These sensations are unique in that they are not simple pain responses. That is, they are different from the feeling of having a needle inserted into the skin. (Interestingly, the patient is often left temporarily speechless, unable to describe the sensation, as it is new and different from anything else they had previously experienced.)
These qi sensations are also experienced by advanced martial artists, practitioners of qi gong, and meditators, as well. The sensation is actual physical experience (not visualization or imagination), is experienced in response to certain qi ‘moving’ exercises or activities, and, to the practitioner with training, can be freely manipulated with mental focus and direction.
All these qi experiences occur along, more or less, consistently mapped out pathways through the body, known as acupuncture channels or meridians (the jingluo). As with much of Chinese medical thought and theory, there is no concrete, biological correlation to the meridians; they are more functional entities than concrete. They are a system based on recorded experiences of billions of patients and practitioners, and used with reliably predictable results in the Chinese medical clinic.
Qi is, thus, both a concept allowing the acupuncturist to deliver safe and effective medicine, as well as a description of various, actual experiences. The above is a very simple, brief overview. Please feel free to contact me should you have specific questions.
1. Albert Einstein, quoted here from Lonny Jarrett’s ‘Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine’, p.13, originally from Einstein and Infeld ‘The Evolution of Physics’, p. 31.
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Seventeen Years Into a Forest, Seventeen Years Out
It’s a common saying, and is pretty straightforward. Applied to healing, it means a problem that has been developing over time, will take time to come out of (if a return to the pre-issue state of health is desired – there are often shortcuts available that are quicker but only get you back to partial health and prohibit a return to full health.)
Most issues and health complaints people face by the time they hit their thirties are clearly rooted in disorders that have been developing for many years. Often time, the development of these issues effectively ‘fly under the radar’ of the person. That is, they go unrecognized as an illness in a young, developing form, perhaps written off as ‘just the way I am’, or maybe they are dealt with superficially with over-the-counter medications, whenever symptoms arise.
At any rate, by the time the issue becomes serious enough to cause a large enough disturbance in the person’s life for that person to seek professional care, the problem already has a history. In order for that issue to be dealt with properly, the path that led to the problem must be revisited, step-by step.
You could use almost any common medical complaint as an example. In obesity, for instance, to truly ‘treat’ the problem, you would have to investigate the path that led to the excessive weight gain. If that path involved, say, emotional eating, that habit would have to be revisited.
There is much common sense in this, yet too often we don’t employ it. We look for something to simply ‘fix’ the issue by reducing the severity of the main symptom. In obesity, perhaps extreme dieting, or supplements are attempted to ‘lose weight’. This, of course, is fine, but if one truly wanted to be healthy and happy, then specific behaviors, thoughts, or actions that led to the obesity must be addressed.
In a former post (The Wonderfully Miraculous Self-Healing Body!), the body’s innate healing tendencies were discussed. It talked about the fact that the body is always trying to ‘right’ itself, to be happier and healthier, and that when we consciously do healthy things or remove obstacles to health, our efforts are enhanced and rewarded by the body’s inborn healing abilities.
Though that is true, it often doesn’t play out quite that cleanly. And that’s because of the above. If an issue has been developing for decades, you likely will not see drastic, overt changes even after months of improved behaviors and healthy choices. There is much momentum behind the problem, and it may take awhile to turn it fully around.
However, there will be signs you’re on the right track. You may very well have obvious reduction in symptoms, but in a more deeply embedded problem all you may feel, initially, is subtle sense of moving in the right direction.
What is that, exactly? Well, we all know what it’s like to be going down hill in health. Not only do we have obvious signs, but we can just feel how we’re not going in a good direction. It’s a certain darkness of the future, lack of hope or excitement, or something… but we can tell.
It’s the same (except exactly the opposite) when you begin the journey back to good health. You may only lose three of the fifty pounds you want to lose, but there is an undeniable, deeper sense that you are truly healthier and getting better, actually moving back to a beautiful original state of health and peace.
I hope who ever seeks that feeling finds it. It can be very difficult, as there is much distraction to such inner voice, both from the outside world, as well as from the internal. But if you take some time out, carve out some space and time, to just sit and listen, it is there. Anytime, you sit and tap in, try to get a real sense for how you genuinely feel, the voice is there, the answer is there.
As long as you are still breathing, there is hope. As long as you are consciously ‘behind the wheel’ enough to reduce the momentum of poor health, and fuel the inner fire and drive towards health, you can regain every bit of happiness and health that is your birthright.
But it may take some time. Check-in with yourself, to ensure you’re on track and persevere.
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The Wonderfully Miraculous Self-Healing Body!
One of the things I’ve always loved about Chinese medicine is its recognition of the body’s innate healing tendencies. The body (and mind – I’d say ‘being’ to include all of it, but that always comes across weird) is constantly trying to heal and fix itself. It never stops.
Right now, with every breath, with every heart beat, your body is taking in things it needs for health and healing, and cleansing itself of toxins. The body constantly, spontaneously (without your thought or actions) strives for better health. It’s like when a smoker quits smoking; their lungs immediately start clearing out the tar and repairing the damage. It’s automatic.
I bring this up because a lot of us are burdened with some type of physical or emotional weight or issue that we, through daily habit or pattern, only make worse. We have a problem; we know it, and we see our selves only making it worse.
Smoking is an excellent example, but it could be more emotional, like a bad relationship we just can’t seem to get out of.
The point is we get in this situation and part of the reason we don’t act to break out of it, to be free of it, is because we feel we may be too deep to have any hope of escape. “It’s too far gone.” “Too much damage has been done”, and so on.
I just want to put a reminder out there that the body has a self-healing mechanism. Cut your arm, and your body automatically begins to repair it. Damage the liver with too much alcohol and the organ automatically moves to repair itself.
You don’t have to worry about digging yourself out, all by yourself. You don’t have to worry about fixing all the damage that’s been done. That happens on its own. Just like with the smoker who, even if after decades of smoking, quits. His lungs will automatically begin to repair themselves.
There is a spontaneous movement to make you happier and healthier. As long as you are conscious and alive that movement, the spark, that latent fire, is present and active. It could not be otherwise.
Any time you actively do something for better health, like begin exercising, you are supporting and fueling that inner spark. Your conscious actions are doubled and tripled by the body’s own inner drive.
Anytime you quit or cut out a damaging habit or behavior, you remove some burden or weight from that inner drive, freeing it to do what it wants to do. You just get out of the way. You just stop putting up obstacles, and tear down those that are already there, and your body already has the wisdom and drive to do exactly what needs to be done.
I offer this as encouragement. In an odd way, it’s like saying ‘you’re not alone’; you always have that… inner you? inner drive? inner spark?… I don’t know the word, but to be human is to have it.
Coming next, for those who simply don’t believe it’s that easy (and it kind of isn’t), or tried but are still burdened, “Seventeen Years Into a Forest, Seventeen Years Out”…
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Two Varying Systems of Medicine, Two Varying Approaches to Medicine
It’s easy to explain the difference between western biomedicine and Chinese medicine as being “they use drugs;we use acupuncture needles”. It’s easy to grossly over-simplify the differences, which is probably why it happens so often.
The truth is there is substantial difference. That’s scary to say because there’s a fear not many will want to follow the author of that statement through the process of comparison to see its truth.
I’ll keep it pretty simple. The trade off is you have to be willing to take a leap; the leap is completely logical, no ‘blind faith’ required, but you will have to leave the solid ground of the well known…
Chinese medicine is based on different theories, or models, of physiology, health, and illness. It is not based on chemistry, biology, etc. It is founded on a different way of perceiving, conceptualizing the human being, in health and illness.
That’s it. That’s the secret, very simple, and simultaneously very difficult to accept. There’s nothing logically challenging about it; it’s just a different starting point for a system of medicine. The difficulty lays in the fact that it is different. It is not what ‘everyone else is doing’.
Once you understand it, though, you relax from trying to understand it via the common biomedical models of disease, and, importantly, you don’t question its validity solely because it can’t be explained by those models (yet).
Once you realize ‘Qi’ isn’t some way of interpreting electrical impulses sent along the nervous system, but that those are two ways of explaining certain phenomena of the human being, you no longer compare Chinese medicine against biomedicine. You don’t see them as competing, but, instead, as simply two different approaches to the same end goal.
Not to complicate things, but the difference in basic theories (eg. chemistry or yin-yang) incorporates fundamentally different views of medicine, which leads to differences in diagnosis and treatment.
For instance, the human being is simply assumed to be one whole entity, in Chinese medicine. It is not a collecti0n of parts, but one part with many different aspects.
This may sound subtle, perhaps not, but its effect on diagnosis and treatment is huge. For example, a complete Chinese medical diagnosis tends to be a statement on the state of the person, with a focus on the aspect that is in disharmony, while a biomedical diagnosis likely isolates a specific disease entity, perhaps even down to a very specific organism or small, mechanical piece of some subsystem of the body.
Treatment in Chinese medicine tends to focus on returning a patient to a state of subjective well-being, i.e. they feel better. Where they don’t, treatment isn’t effective (and continues).
In biomedicine, treatment tends to be much more focused on the above-mentioned disease entity – kill the bug, remove or replace the broken part (this is a gross simplification of a wide range of treatments, but I believe the idea conveyed is accurate). Interestingly, the patient’s subjective sense of well-being is only one piece of information used to assess treatment outcome, at best.
The basic theories of Chinese medicine also free it from the need for a concrete, tangible cause of disease; nothing has to be ‘found’ to be causing the pain. The nature of the pain, itself, is the information needed to come to a diagnosis.
Biomedicine tends to be limited to the hunt for a physical cause. X-rays, CT scans, MRIs are used to look for the part of the body causing the issue. (This difference in the two systems is often referred to as the difference in ability to treat ‘functional disorders’. Where Chines medicine is inherently focused on processes, it has the upper hand in sinking its diagnostic teeth into such disorders.)
The simple fact is the two systems have different core theories. This can be difficult to see – How can a system of medicine not be based on cells and hormones? But once you can accept this fundamental difference, things get much less complicated.
The fact that Chinese medicine is not based on the staple theories of biology, chemistry, etc. frees one’s mind to be open to a whole different way of seeing, understanding, and validating the two.
These fundamental differences also clearly explain the differing approaches to diagnosis and treatment, revealing two varying, not necessarily competing, ways of looking, seeing, and dealing with the human being an healing.
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It Takes a Warrior
It isn’t easy. Being healthy, living a healthy lifestyle, eating a healthy diet, making those changes we know we would feel better for doing… It just isn’t easy. It can be a battle. You have to fight for what you know to be the right thing to do. It takes a warrior to find true health.
I was having a talk with a good friend several weeks ago. Both of us have spent many years studying and training in kung fu and our conversations often end up on that very topic. During this talk, however, somehow the conversation went from the struggle and effort required for good kung fu to how that same struggle shows up in trying to live a healthy life. It really is quite similar.
Too often, we find ourselves questioning what is the right thing to do. We have conflicting influences – many (way too many) coming from the outside, and all the internal voices aren’t that much more clear. If we’re honest with ourselves, though, if we simply breathe, relax, and feel… we know what to do. There is that inner voice (often the most quiet) that has that certain “ring of truth” to it. Maybe not all the time or every time, but quite often, we know what to do. The hard part is living true to it.
We have to stand up for, and to (interestingly) ourselves. We have to not give in to the common story we have lived in the past, or the played-out script it seems so many are following. At some point, we have to say “no more”, not this time. Maybe yesterday we didn’t listen, and maybe tomorrow we’ll ignore it again, but today, right now, I am doing this for me.
It’s just too easy to go along, with what the external world seems to insist on – eat this, watch this, believe this – and what the inner voice demands – “come on, it’s easier to just do this…” But every time we do, every time we fold over, we die a little inside. And we know this. If we’re honest with ourselves, the result of caving in is always a temporary, superficial moment of feeling good (kind of, anyway), and a deep, inner, distant sigh uttered under a now increased burden.
It takes a warrior to stand up, to resist that weight, that momentum. We may not have all the answers, but we have enough that, if acted on, would genuinely improve things, make our lives more whole, bring about a true sense of peace, and lead to further answers. But it is difficult.
I urge you to fight. Find that little voice inside – truly your best friend – and say “Yes, this time we do it. This time we fight. This time we do not simply mutter a sheepish ‘ok’ and just accept a little more darkness in our hearts, in our souls.” Fight for what’s right. Fight for the beauty and peace that is your birthright. Fight for better heath, real health. The only thing you have to lose is all that stands in your way.
I am here to help, to reduce or remove inner obstacles, to help find that inner voice, to stand up alongside you in this, the greatest battle of your life, the only battle worth waging, the battle for life – a true life – itself.
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'new' vs 'New' - On the Potential Need For More Fundamental Change
There's a basic rule that applies across the board in taking 'correct' action for any given problem: If you fail to address the underlying cause, the essence, of a problem, any solution will only be temporary; the same problem will reappear and will, most likely, be worse the next time around (having now had the opportunity to grow and develop).
This comes up almost daily in my private practice. When it comes to health, too often I see people resistant to wanting to look very deep at why an issue has arisen. We tend to have our set of beliefs (often held subconsciously -we don't really even know what they are) and, should they lead to actions that don't serve us well or maybe even cause us harm, we can be really stubborn about not wanting to address them (or even check to see what they are); most likely, we will simply attempt to reapply those basic beliefs in a slightly different way. That is, we continue doing what we've always done, expecting, this time, things to work out differently. (For better or worse, I'm going for brutal honesty, here, as opposed to popularity. Hope you're stickin' with me.)
In today's New York Times, there was a great article about us, as a modern society, caught up in this game. "Looking for a Superbug Killer" (1) talks about the the urgent need to address an "impending public health crisis". That crisis being related to the fact that disease-causing bacteria is steadily becoming "resistant to virtually all existing drugs".
Most of us have heard something of this problem. Our beloved antibiotics - those powerful drugs that are so deliciously close to being a magical bullet that can hone in on the exact cause of a problem, ugly little bugs, and kill them - have a serious downside. The little bacteria that they are so great at destroying adapt and become better at not being destroyed. This is where the term "superbug" comes from - bacteria that survive the once effective power of antibiotics require more powerful, next generation, drugs to kill them.
Without going too deep into germ theory or the creation of bug-killing drugs, let's just say that that dynamic is a cornerstone of modern medicine (biomedicine, or "Western" medicine) and, really, is a shining example of the most fundamental beliefs, or ideas, underlying biomedicine. I am speaking, primarily, of reductionism.
Applied clinically, a reductionistic medicine strives to "reduce" a medical issue down to its most base, constituent parts. (Importantly, its understanding of the human body, in health and disease, is also an attempt to break down that which is being investigated into smaller and smaller parts or pieces, which is why your typical anatomy and physiology course is so heavy with learning the names, or labels, of different parts of the body, and the little parts that make up the parts of the body...)
This makes sense, right? You want to find the cause of the problem, so you break it down into smaller pieces, looking for the one that is at fault, and fix it. (This is also where mechanism, as a fundamental paradigm, or belief, works its way in - the idea that the thing being investigated functions like a machine, with clearly delineated parts, but I'm trying to keep this discussion relatively short, so I'm not going to mention any of that.)
Of course, it makes sense. In our modern world, the very ideas of "sense" and logic are based, in large part, on the idea of reductionism; it is, literally, built into the how and why something "makes sense".
The problem arises when you've reduced things down so far those "things" lose their connection to the original whole they were (are) part of. The opposite of reductionism is holism, the idea that things are defined by their relation to their given context - remove something from its natural, original place, and it ceases to have meaning; it loses its essential nature, what it is, when removed from its natural context. You can end up dealing with a specific "piece" that's so removed from the whole that manipulating it has very limited effect on that original whole.
Think of the time you or a friend or family member went to a doctor and were simply shuttled around from specialist to specialist (focusing on one isolated aspect of medicine), or, even better, when you've had something "treated", yet you still feel sick. That which was determined to be the cause of the problem was eliminated, yet you're still sick.
Or how about the time when the doctors couldn't even "find a cause" for your illness, when there was no "reason" for you to be sick. Clearly, there is both a cause and a reason! It is simply that their methods for seeking it, based on their fundamental beliefs, wasn't the most appropriate approach, in that instance.
Perhaps there is a reason for having a handful of different approaches to health, healing, and medicine. Perhaps certain approaches are more appropriate, and will be more successful, in certain situations. How do we know when one is better suited for a problem than the other? Well, at the very least, when one is failing, you could consider another, as opposed to continually reattempting the same thing over and over. (I would love to suggest that in every situation, you consider multiple approaches, seeking to find the best fit right from the beginning, but that's just crazy talk coming from your local quack acupuncturist.)
This NY Times article quotes Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, as saying:
The world’s weakening arsenal against “superbugs” has prompted scientists to warn that everyday infections could again become a major cause of death just as they were before the advent of penicillin around 1940.
Now, keeping in mind that I am a practitioner of a medicine that is defined by its being an expression of experience gathered over thousands of years - billions of patient interactions - I would like to say that as great as penicillin is, and it is awesome at doing what is does, if the belief system, or medical approach, underlying the use of it, or drugs like it, only buys you sixty years before you are right back to where you were before you started using them... I mean, maybe that solution isn't digging very deep into the cause of the problem.
Again, nothing against antibiotics. They are great at what they do, and they are often very important in addressing medical complaints. However, what's staring us straight in the face is the fact that they and, so importantly, the underlying beliefs of health and medicine that they represent are limited, very, very limited. Even if they work wonderfully, do exactly as they were intended, fulfill their mission perfectly, there is still so much more to being healthy and, forgive me, but practicing good medicine, then giving any drug to fix any isolated problem.
And, yes - absolutely, positively Yes - this applies to any system of medicine, and any form of "drug", be it pharmaceutical, herbal, or a supplement from Whole Foods. Why? Because it's not about the specific medium by which the underlying paradigm, the basic philosophy, finds expression; it is about your very method of approach in the first place.
If you just keep trying different drugs/herbs, if you just keep building stronger and stronger pharmaceuticals, but don't make any genuine progress... I gotta suggest stopping and taking a closer look at what you're doing. (Yes, I do this. Literally, every single day I investigate those basic ideas and thoughts behind my actions and efforts.)
This is very difficult to do. For a second, imagine the world of science questioning the very basis of what it considers logical. Press the "pause" button on reality, just for a second; step out of existence, as you know it, and consider maybe what actually makes senses isn't necessarily what we've come to so rigidly define as "logical". Maybe we dare to genuinely reevaluate our base assumptions (we, science, claim to do this all the time; we claim, in fact, to make such reevaluation a pillar of what we do).
Maybe we question this whole idea that we have to tear something apart to reveal its inner workings, in order to know the essence of it. Maybe cutting something up into smaller and smaller pieces, as a way of getting to know it, only destroys that which we wanted to understand. Maybe, yes, you could create a strong, logical argument that I am "composed of" countless little pieces, little molecules, hormones, and proteins, but is that who I am, really? I'd argue that those who know and love me have oh so little knowledge of my endocrine system, much less love me for the wondrous functioning of my glands!
We tend to get locked into our ways, into one way, of not only doing, but of seeing things. Surely, that way is appropriate for some situations, but if it fails, if we do not make real progress, maybe we need a new way, a truly New way of doing things. Maybe our most basic philosophy should be to make progress, not just use a certain method in attempt to make progress.
In keeping with the running theme of brutal honesty, reading this NY Times article leaves one with the feeling that there is no attempt to reevaluate the basic paradigm, but instead to leave it in place and try to find a way to force it to work. Maybe I'm cynical. Maybe I began writing this three hours ago, before doing anything else with my morning, including eating breakfast, and maybe my blood sugar is running low and I'm a little more irritable and pessimistic than I would be after a good meal.
However, whatever the "world" does is, ultimately, irrelevant (actually, unknowable, and, therefore, irrelevant). What you do is what's important. I've said it before, I'll say it now, and I will continue saying it again and again, Pay Attention. Are your beliefs, your understandings of the world leading to a truly improved experience of life? i.e. are they working?
More importantly, what are they? What do you expect to happen? and why? Without the insight gained from such investigation, you're, ultimately, just stumbling around in the darkness. Shine the light of consciousness on what you do, and most importantly, the motivations for those actions. Please. Pretty please. With powdered sugar and some blueberries on top... I need breakfast...
I know you're busy. We're all too busy to pay close attention. That's why we don't do it. It's not that we don't care, or don't want to be happier and healthier; we're just so busy.
And there it is. What are we so busy doing? What is the underlying motivation driving us to do so much that we can't even focus on, what I consider to be absolutely fundamental, our very health? Seriously, ask yourself why you don't exercise everyday? Why are so many meals consisting of so much that falls so far shy of being actual food? Ask. Not to beat yourself up, but to understand, to know, to bring up into consciousness.
There are (were) good, healthy motivations originally, somewhere in the distant past. We're not inherently self-destructive. We just end up acting that way (poor diet, no exercise, poor choices in medical issues) because we're not paying close enough attention to what we do and why we do it. We're not stupid. Our innate intelligence simply isn't allowed to kick in because consciousness isn't there to guide it.
For those of you counting tangents, that's about a half dozen.
I'm done. Have a great weekend!
1. Pollack, A. (2010, November 5). Looking for a Superbug Killer. The New York Times (online) www.nytimes.com/2010/11/06/health/policy/06germ.html
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The Hidden Spigot
(That word looks really weird. It’s one of those I only ever hear, never see written. In case it’s the same with you, it means ‘faucet’…)
You turn it on and things start happening. Nothing specifically, just things, in general, happen. It is the source of ‘doing’, or, more accurately, the Source.
So often I see people really wanting to turn it on. They really want that ‘doing’ to happen; they want to make it happen – ‘Turn on the spigot!’ ‘Things need to change, crank that bad-boy up!’
With my trained eye, though, I notice that most of time, the spigot is already on. It is full-on wide open. But it’s hidden. We don’t see it, and we don’t see the stream flowing out of it.
We do actually notice its effects, but we don’t realize the source – the hidden spigot – and we attempt to correct the course, the flow coming from the spigot. And, too often, we succeed. We redirect and obstruct that flow.
This causes problems – a lot of problems. In response to the those problems and issues that have arisen from redirecting the flow from the hidden spigot, we feel a need to do something; we feel the calling of doing – ‘Turn on the spigot!’ ‘Make it happen!’…
The spigot is on. In most cases it is on and flowing; all the doing that needs to happen is happening. Chances are, all our willful doing should, ideally, be towards clearing out all the mess from in front of the hidden spigot. It’s on. The Source is wide open. We’re just not realizing – seeing – it for what it is. Instead of trying to recreate the original – literally, of the origin – spigot of action, clear the path of the hidden spigot.
Just a thought.
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Chinese Medical Terminology for the Everyday Person
Howdy! I would like to extend an invitation to take part in a small project. I am building a glossary of Chinese medical terminology for my website. I want to share some of the lingo we acupuncturists use to help everyone else understand what we’re talking about when we say your Liver Qi is stagnant.
The invitation is simple: What terms have you heard for which you’d like a more formal definition? Are there any Chinese medical concepts or ideas you’ve heard, for which you’d like some clarification or explanation?
I’ll likely start with ‘qi’ (aka ‘chi’) and move on to the Chinese medical conceptualization of the internal organs, and then perhaps disease processes, like qi stagnation, and Damp-Heat, but let me know if you have any suggestions.
Below is the introduction to the glossary I thought I’d share with you.
As always, your feedback, ideas, and suggestions are greatly appreciated!
(From the ‘Introduction’)
Probably the greatest single hindrance in the practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine is the fact that it really is based on a whole different way of seeing and interacting with the human being.
In the West, we take the western medical sciences for granted. We forget that hormones, the nervous system, etc. are theoretical constructs. They are specific ways of ordering and categorizing observations of the human being.
These medical theories are based on ‘deeper’ theories such as biology, chemistry, and physics, for example, and those underlying systems of thought, again, reflect a certain fundamental approach to investigating phenomena and organizing, or ‘making sense’ of, those observations.
Technically speaking, there is no inherent truth to those systems. They are not, strictly speaking, the way the body ‘actually is’. (This understanding is key to science and is why these theories are undergoing constant alteration and revision; they are continuously refined through ongoing investigation, what they say about the body being ‘updated’.)
Chinese medicine is the result of a similar process of making observations of the world, developing theories or ideas to explain what is observed, then testing those ideas and changing them to adapt to what is observed. That much, the two systems of medicine share in common. Their respective conclusions, their individual theories of health, illness, and healing, are quite different.
To the Western ear, the phrase ‘Damp-Heat in the Lower Jiao’ is meaningless, but the term “urinary tract infection” makes perfect sense. This is not because Damp-Heat is ‘made-up’ and UTIs ‘actually’ exist, but, instead, because there are two distinct systems each observing a patient’s condition.
Importantly, Damp-Heat in the Lower Jiao is not the same thing as a UTI; they are not equivalent, interchangeable terms or ideas. This is because contained within them are certain base assumptions about reality, health, and illness. To simply equate the two and say all patients with Damp-Heat have a UTI, is to ignore the difference in basic approaches to medicine, and, since the therapies, the treatments, are based on the same basic approach, mixing and matching diagnostics and therapeutics makes for pretty sloppy clinical medicine.
This is important because Chinese medicine truly is different, and that difference means it can and does fill deficiencies and inadequacies of Western biomedicine. It is because they have such a different view on the human being in health and illness that they complement each other. If we simply treat acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as if it were nothing more than alternate ways of effecting hormones or neurochemicals, then we lose the distinct advantage of seeing something in a completely different way.
It is for this reason I resist replacing traditional Chinese medical terms with the supposed western medical equivalent, in my private practice. For example, I neither diagnose nor treat ‘arthritis’. It is likely I can offer effective treatment for the symptoms to which that term refers, but the truth is I am seeing, and thus treating, that patient through a different lens, a different worldview.
If Chinese medicine has anything to offer, it is important that it remain Chinese medicine and not compromise its integrity to simply fit in or be easily recognized. It is for this reason I offer this glossary. This medicine does not simply offer a different way of treating whatever illness a patient has been diagnosed; it offers a whole different way of approaching the patient’s suffering. What follows is a glimpse into that complementary world view.
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A Different Approach to Physical Beauty
Every day I'm reminded just how different (some may even call it odd) Chinese medicine is. I mean, seriously, I stick little needles in people for a living. Crazy!
Importantly, though, the real differences run much, much deeper. It's not just the physical modalities that are different (stickin' needles in people, making 'em drink herbal concoctions that look like oil and taste like they were made from yard clippings). It truly is our whole approach to healing. It constitutes a fundamental shift in how we perceive illness, and think about working with it.
I was pondering this and realized that the Chinese medical approach to physical beauty is an excellent example. I have a good friend, Tamara Hutchins, L.Ac., M.S.TCM, CMT, who specializes in Facial Rejuvenation Acupuncture at the Zen Redhead Acupuncture and Meditation Clinic. We've chatted about this many times, and I'm always re-amazed at the truly profound nature of this medicine.
What Tamara is able to do is alter the physical appearances of aging, like wrinkles, not by altering them directly, so much as, altering the internal state, which is, then, reflected in the external appearance (for the record, she does, also, treat the wrinkles, themselves).
A person looks "older" because that's a manifestation of the inner state reflecting damage that has accumulated over years. You can alter the manifestation, the outward appearance, but look where it's coming from. Put all the goop (my term) you want on your face (Tamara could, actually, probably recommend quality topical products, where I just clump 'em all together as 'goop'). If your inner, actual state, is damaged, i.e. "aged", well, that's going to present on the surface.
Again, it's as simple as treating the roots to see the branches flourish. As with so many things Chinese, it's so simple - obvious, even - and, yet, it's really uncommon.
For some reason, we tend to mistake the external appearance for the thing, itself, and this is just perfectly reflected in the work Tamara does. The external reflects the internal, but it's downstream from the internal. Events happen and effects follow. You can keep chasing down the effects trying to change something, but if you're smart (or, at least, have spent several years studying Chinese medicine ) you'll go to the source; change things at the source, and the downstream effects take care of themselves!
In this medicine, we recognize that the appearance of the skin is a direct reflection of the health of the internal organs, both physiologically (think, for example, quality of blood nourishing the skin), as well as emotionally (get angry and watch that face get hard, edgy, and, well, ugly). Eat a better diet, and keep the mind more relaxed, and it will show in the beauty of the skin.
Of course, it may not be quite that easy. The negative effects of aging are, by definition, the effects of decades of wear and tear on the body. It's probably not as easy (or as quick) as just changing your diet and relaxing. You probably need a little something more. You may need a professional.
With the power of Chinese medicine behind her, Tamara can actually go in and fix up that wear and tear on the internal organs, while directly treating the facial skin, itself. She can alter the surface appearance by altering (healing) the actual state of the system. She doesn't just run around trying to cover up the outward effects of the inner state, she directly treats the source. That is so Chinese medicine!
I love it, and what a great focus for the medicine! We are, as a society, very caught up in external appearances, how we look. I think it's outstanding that there's a way you can play that game, but do it in a truly healthy way.
This medicine continually amazes and excites me. There really is a good, healthy way of doing things. There are always the 'quick & easy' alternatives, but, man, if you want something done right, here we are, practitioners of this ancient medicine, at your service.
Visit Zen Redhead Acupuncture and Meditation Clinic
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Oriental Medicine and Your Lil' Poochiekins
When you stop and think about it, modern biomedicine ('Western' medicine) is a relatively recent creation. With its reliance on technology and emphasis on "latest advances" it's, in fact, almost defined by being young (most advanced = latest = newest = really, quite young).
So what were people doing before? Sure, we all know modern medicine has, essentially, eradicated some of pretty major diseases, but people have been getting sick for a long, long time.
The fact is Chinese medicine has been in constant practice for thousands of years. It was the 'primary care' for all the Chinese people up until last century (now, it shares that role with biomedicine). It only follows, then, that Chinese medicine also took care of all the animals.
It makes sense, but we don't really think about it. Similar to humans and biomedicine, most people just automatically think about white lab coats and cold clinic rooms when they think about helping their poor pooch when he gets sick.
The thing is, just as Chinese medicine has been in continuous development treating and caring for humans, making it an outstanding choice for medical care, this same system of medicine is perfect for treating your pets! It makes sense, once you think about it.
Now, if you think about it some more. It almost makes more sense for animals than humans... Animals are so much more in tune with themselves and their surroundings. When they get sick, it seems like their natural instincts are much more quick to kick in. They seem like perfect candidates for a simple, but powerful form of healing, like Chinese medicine.
And they are! As it turns out, you really could consider Chinese medicine for your pet's health (along with professional veterinary care, when needed, of course). And, just like with humans, we, ideally, wouldn't wait until they get sick. Get them in while they appear healthy, so they can get treatments to help them stay that way.
Consider Chinese medicine for all the reasons you would with humans. Seek truly better health for them, beyond just a 'fix' for the problem. They deserve that genuine feeling of good health, just as much as anyone else.
And, hey, I know someone! (What are the odds?!)
Mally Shaw, M.S TCM, L.Ac., Dipl. OM. has all the great training in Chinese medicine (note the plethora of initials after her name), plus she's been working in the veterinary field since 1993 (she's been a senior veterinary technician for years, now), with a double major in zoology and animal science for her undergraduate work, making her knowledgeable in both, Eastern and Western, approaches to caring for your pet.
You love your pet (I know you do). Share the beauty of this great medicine with them. They'll love you (even more) for it!
Mally Shaw, M.S TCM, L.Ac., Dipl. OM. can be contacted at 303-810-7440 or visit www.XiaoAcupuncture.com.
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Medicine and Treating the Individual
A hallmark of Chinese medicine is an emphasis on tailoring treatments to an individual. Over the last couple thousands years, the medicine has seen different schools of thought arise on methods and approaches to treatment, yet text after text, master after master emphasize modifying the general therapeutic intervention to the individual's unique presentation.
The best example of this may be where a patient presents with a set of symptoms placing them, diagnostically, under a broad disease category and its representative herbal formula.
From there, however, the totality of the patient's complex disease "pattern" is discerned, describing how this disease is presenting in this specific individual. This may incorporate constitutional tendencies, history of health, mood, lifestyle, etc. Based on the overall picture, the basic herbal formula may have constituent herbs added or removed and the dose of each herb adjusted to match the patient's state exactly.
It is for this reason, this individualizing of treatments, that Chinese medicine can make the relatively uncommon claim of high effectiveness alongside great safety and low incidence of adverse reactions.
I have recently posted some articles on modern biomedicine's investigation into more individualized treatments on my Facebook page, including Individualized Guidelines: The Potential for Increasing Quality and Reducing Costs and Improving Practice Guidelines With Patient-Specific Recommendations, both from the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Another great article, from a medical anthropological perspective, has been brought to my attention. In Anthropology in the Clinic: The Problem of Cultural Competency and How to Fix It, the importance of the physician's investigation into the patient's individual, unique experience is stressed:
If we were to reduce the six steps of culturally informed care to one activity that even the busiest clinician should be able to find time to do, it would be to routinely ask patients (and where appropriate family members) what matters most to them in the experience of illness and treatment. The clinicians can then use that crucial information in thinking through treatment decisions and negotiating with patients. (1)
The adapting of clinical intervention, be it in the formulation and dosing of herbal therapies or the assessing how, exactly and personally, an illness impacts a patient's life, to that person receiving treatment, I hope, is the wave of the future in medicine of all types.
1. Kleinman, A. & Benson, P. (2006). Anthropology in the Clinic: The Problem of Cultural Competency and How to Fix It. PLoS Med 3(10), e294. Retrieved from www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0030294.
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Yin-yang and the NY Times
In the article, "Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Down Time" (www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/technology/25brain.html), a great piece of Chinese medical wisdom sees the light of day.
Yin-yang theory is one of the most basic philosophies underlying Chinese medical thought. In a nutshell, the idea is that yin and yang are the two dynamic, opposing aspects of everything and any, isolatable thing. They are relative descriptors of the nature of things.
What I mean is the labeling of something as 'yang' is to say it is yang in relation to something else. There is no such thing as a purely yang anything.
Secondly, they are not things in and of themselves; they describe the nature of things.
For example, you could say 'the sun is yang'. What you would mean is the temperature is relatively more yang (hotter) than most other things. You are referring to some aspect of the sun - its temperature, and you are comparing it to something else. In this case, you would be making a generalization that the sun is hotter than pretty much anything else.
It's important to realize, though, the sun, when compared to a supernova (when a star explodes) is extremely yin. Yin and yang are always relative.
Yang is, generally speaking, activity, motion, action. Yin is potential, fuel, stillness. As they are inextricably intertwined, its helpful to see them in a single entity. In speaking about the sun, you could say the heat and light generated is a yang aspect of the sun, while the fuel for that heat is a yin aspect.
They are dependent on each other. Every action is born from some latent potential. And every movement will lead to stillness.
This NY Times article speaks to the the power of down time. In our society, we over emphasize doing (yang) without much concern for rest, down time, recuperation. The more time you fill being active, producing, 'doing something' the better.
In this article, some research indicates that down time may actually improve the quality of the subsequent activity. From a Chinese medical perspective, this makes sense (this is, in fact, relied upon in treatment.)
As yang is dependent on yin, the higher quality the yin, the better the yang will be. If you want to make your day be super-productive, don't 'do' more, get better sleep the night before, and find those rich moments of peace and emptiness through out the day.
You want your life to be truly profound and meaningful? Take time out every day to sit and meditate (active, direct experiencing of peace and stillness).
It's always exciting to see this kind of stuff in popular media.
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Army to Use Acupuncture for Pain Relief
One of my favorite things about Chinese medicine is also one of my favorite things about the Chinese martial arts. They both incorporate practices that have survived the test of time. Shaolin kung fu, originating in ancient China, has grown and developed according to actual use in combat. What didn't work was not passed on. What exists today is what has proved to be effective over generations of use.
It is the same with Chinese medicine. If a technique didn't work, it simply fell out of practice. If an herbal combination failed to reduce a fever, practitioners would quit trying to use it to reduce a fever. And when a "new" illness presented itself, as seemed to happen every couple hundred years, the physicians of the time would adapt the fundamental theories to the disease and learn what worked and what didn't. Today, we have a vast accumulation of practices that have worked in actual use.
I love this because there's something very real about it. You can theorize all you want, but it actually has to work in practice. You can come up with some fancy new technique for blocking a punch and countering with a nifty spinning kick, but if, in actual combat against thieves or assassins, you just get your butt kicked, well, back to the drawing board (if you're still alive). In medicine, you can create elaborate explanations for the effect of some new drug, but if the patient doesn't get better, then it's of little use.
I bring this up, here, because it makes sense that the Army would incorporate acupuncture (and yoga and meditation) in the treatment of pain in soldiers returning from combat duty. I think the Army feels the same need, almost an urgency, for things that actually work. They, like any person facing real need, are concerned primarily with effect, and are willing to try something new and different, something outside of the accepted norm, for the sake of taking care of the problem at hand. It's rather brave; right up the Army's alley.
Acupuncture and yoga seem to offend some in the established medical community. It makes no sense, from their perspective, and many aren't willing to accept the possibility of a different system or framework upon which to act and base decisions. Well, according to the September 2010 issue of Acupuncture Today, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General, says "Programs such as biofeedback and yoga have been subjected to scientific randomized trials and have been proven to be effective." (1) And, so, the Army is gonna us 'em. Love it!
In a MedicalNewsToday.com article, Michael Clark, Ph.D., clinical director of the Veteran Administration's largest, most comprehensive pain management and rehabilitation program in Florida, is quoted as saying "We are talking about a complicated set of problems involving cognitive issues, deep emotional impacts, and acute and chronic pain that have serious, long-term implications for our veterans and make effective pain treatment outcomes far more difficult to achieve". (2) In other words, they are facing a very difficult, very real situation, here. It's time to do whatever needs to be done.
They are seeing a unique combination of issues covering different aspects of the human being that are typically treated as if separate by modern ways of scientific thinking, such as PTSD, insomnia, depression, substance abuse, brain injuries, and physical pain. This complexity posses a challenge to the system and "calls for a revolutionary new approach to simultaneously address the spectrum of shared, common symptoms across these severe disorders." (3)
It is, exactly, in situations like these, where the current, dominant paradigm is incapable of addressing situations facing it, that people are forced to go outside of the current ways of doing things. It's very difficult and takes time, but profound gains can be made, whole new worlds discovered.
Brig. Gen. Richard Thomas, Assistant Army Surgeon General, is quoted as saying "This is an opportunity to change medical care and the way we take care of patients." This is exciting to hear, and I'm glad our troops are benefiting from such courageous and wise thinking!
1. Acupuncture Today Staff. (2010). Army to Include AOM for Pain Treatment. Acupuncture Today, 11(9), 12.
2. Multi-Symptom Pain Disorders Plague Returning Service Men And Women. Retrieved from www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/188107.php
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The Perfect Timing of the Day
As promised, some practical advice from the vast treasure house of health wisdom that is classical Chinese medicine!
Based on empirical observations over many, many, many generations of Chinese medical physicians and verified through countless clinical interactions, it has been discovered that the body has a 24-hour cycle (modern medicine is slowly discovering an organically-based cycle).
This cycle is broken down into twelve, two hour periods. During each period, one system is relatively stronger, while another system is relatively weaker. Knowing this, you can plan activities, like eating, sleeping, etc. for the most optimum times.
A complete review of the cycle and related systems would be a bit much for this post, but we'll hit some highlights that are likely to be of most benefit:
7-9am and 9-11am are the high times for digestion. This is the body's optimum time to take in food, break it down fully, and distribute it all through out the body.
It's interesting that in a lot of cultures, across oceans and time, breakfast has been considered the most important meal of the day. From a Chinese medical perspective, this is because the systems responsible for digestion are at 'high tide' in the morning; they are most able to do their job most effectively at that time.
Correspondingly, 7-11pm is when the digestive system is at its weakest; the body is the least able to digest food at this time. This means two things. One, food consumed during this time won't be digested as completely; that is, you won't get all the nutrients and energy from the food that you would at other times, and the part that doesn't get digested becomes a burden to the body.
Two, other systems of the body that are at their high tide, at that time of day, are essentially robbed of their energy, so that it may go to the digestive organs to try and digest a meal. That other system doesn't get another 'best energy' time of day; it simply loses out.
1-3am is the Liver system's best time. (Note, I capitalize 'Liver' to indicate I am referring to the Chinese medical conceptualization of a whole system of bodily organs, physiological functions, cognitive abilities, moods, emotions, etc. and not just the piece of meat that is the liver.)
One of the implications is that this is an excellent time to be in bed, asleep. The Liver recharges and refreshes the blood when you lay down. Being deep asleep at this time, means the blood gets cleansed and refreshed, which means you feel much more revitalized, with good energy the next day.
Also, a lot of people experience waking up once in the night, every night, between one and three in the morning. This is very likely due to obstructions within the Liver system, i.e. stress, frustration, anger, etc. If this is happening to you, make it a point to do light exercise, stretch, do deep breathing, focus on really relaxing the couple hours prior to bed. Really investigate any deep, long standing frustrations you may have.
5-7 am is the best energy for the Large Intestine system. Practically speaking, this is simply the best time to have a full, complete bowel movement. That is an important function of this system, and this is its best time.
If you are suffering from constipation, this may be the best time of day to try and get back on track. The system that is suffering naturally has more energy, and thus more ability to fix itself, at this time of day. A little nudge at just the right time, may be enough to regulate an out of balance system...
On a more metaphorical level, you can think of the function of this system as 'letting go' of whatever you no longer need. The Large Intestine system corresponds with autumn, the dissent from the climax of summer, nestling down into winter. It is the dropping off of thoughts, feelings, experiences that have been of service to you, but you no longer need.
If holding on tightly, never letting go, and being clogged up because of it, is a problem of yours, perhaps this is the best time of day for some seated, introspective meditation.
This discussion could go on and on. If you are curious, let me know, and we can move through some other systems.
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