The Chinese and Indian View: Life is a Passage Through Cycles
In Chinese Medicine (as also Ayurveda) a fundamental concept is to prepare for what is ahead. This is not just generalized prevention as in eating a healthy diet or sleeping well, but is specific to how we relate to the passage of time.
Chinese Medicine sees life as cyclical: a series of transitions, changes, phases, and cycles; as a continuous movement between the forces of yang and yin, rather than as a linear progression of fixed events. The hard thing about living is dealing with change.
Cycles Involve Change: Chinese Medicine’s Goal– Make Change Smooth
Chinese Medicine’s goal is to make change easier, to keep the Qi moving, when its tendency is to stagnate in response to uncomfortable events and things. That is why there are specialized acupuncture treatments and herb formulas that target practically every single life cycle, from pregnancy, to birth, to immediately after birth, to childhood, to early adolescence and menarche, to the transition into adulthood and the one into middle age, to the various phases of the menstrual cycle, for times of stress and times of travel, for times of grief and loss, for menopause and andropause, for the different seasons, even for different times of day.
Change Smoothes Through Preparation: Awareness of the Biorhythms
Starting immediately during the pre-natal stage of life, Classical Chinese Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine are used to prepare for childhood. Between birth and adolescence we prepare for the riot of hormonal explosions that characterize the teen years, in the teen years we prepare for the demands of adulthood, in adulthood after age 36 we begin to prepare for the fluctuating hormones of middle age, and by so doing ensure a healthy old age, during which time we can prepare for a calm and peaceful death. That is one cycle.
Then there are the seasons. In the case of the seasons Classical Chinese Acupuncture and Moxabustion are as important as herbal medicine. In winter we prepare for spring and summer with special acupuncture and moxabustion treatments. In spring we use therapeutic bloodletting to prepare for summer. In summer we take advantage of the maximum Yang energy of nature to prepare for winter especially with moxabustion therapy and for certain disorders like asthma, what is called “plum blossom therapy,” which is tapping certain areas of the body repeatedly with a device that opens up the skin so that pathological heat may escape from the lungs.
Of course in autumn we prepare for winter, again with acupuncture and moxa. It is said in the classics that if you follow these procedures you will dramatically strengthen your immune system so that you rarely fall ill with infectious disease. I have found this to be absolutely true, especially when combined with the correct use of Chinese herbal medicine during cold and flu season.
Biorhythms in Disease and Health
Even during a single day there are transitions. Do you wake up happy and full of energy? Do you get too run down mid-day? (although I for one believe midday naps are the ultimate in healthy living). Do you have trouble winding down in the evening? This is the daily biorhythm and Chinese medicine associates different times of day with different organ systems and channels. So that, for example, if someone with insomnia wakes up every night between 11 and 1 A.M. that suggests pathology in the Gall Bladder Qi, from 1-3 A.M. we must look at the Liver and the emotional states governed by it, and for people that consistently wake up early in the morning, especially between 3 and 5 am, we look at Lung Qi and how it is damaged, especially by grief issues.
Summer is Maximum Yang Energy from the Outer Sun to the Inner Furnace
.Now we are in early summer. We are in the week of the solstice. Summer is the most Yang time of the year, when all of nature’s Qi is in full flourish. Apricots are sweet, the butterflies are hatching on the passion fruit vines, the grapes are green and red and black, everyone’s garden’s are in flower.
Chinese Medicine asks, how can we take advantage of the fact that in Summer our bodies’ own Yang energies are beginning to peak? Yang energy in the body provides first and foremost heat to the core and the periphery.
Many people, especially females, have cold hands and feet. This is an example of the Yang, manifesting as circulation of warm blood, failing to circulate to the periphery. We call this “yang reversal” in Chinese Medicine, and it can be due to various causes, the most common being stagnation–failure of circulation–due to the Qi collapsing in the center of the body. Kind of like a collapsed nuclear power plant. The heat builds up in the center, pathologically, it does not circulate, leaving the limbs cold. But there is huge heat trapped inside, which can steam out pathologically or smolder, leading to autoimmune diseases.
In Summer, the Yang energy spreads, due to the natural seasonal influences, to the periphery. Due to the heat we tend to sweat much much more.
The motive force for sweat is yang, its because we have yang energy that we can mount a sweat as a cooling strategy in response to heat; it is the yang motive force that opens and closes the pores and sends the sweat out.
In the winter, when you are sick with a cold or flu, one of the ways you know you are all better is when you can return to normal exercise without any abnormal sweating. If the sweating is abnormal it means you are still too weak to return to exercise; specifically it is your yang that is too weak to control your sweating.
Sweating in particular is governed by the Heart Yang. What is important is that we can deplete the Heart Yang by too much sweating, and that in turn will weaken the overall yang of the body, leaving us depleted for winter, key point.
Chinese medicine is always interested in moderating natural processes, prevent excesses and ensuring smooth flow. It is natural to sweat more in summer. But what we want is to ensure that we
a) replenish what was lost
b) see if we can moderate a natural process by anchoring the yang so it is not lost by inappropriate sweating.
So, for example, while it is normal to bleed during menstruation, it is undesirable to bleed to the point of weakness or anemia. It is normal to sweat in summer, but not desirable to sweat to the point of weakness.
Korean Use of Chicken with White Ginseng, Dates, and Sweet Rice
We can replenish what was lost from sweating (fluids and the Heart Yang that produces these specific fluids) with adequate supply of bright colored fruits and fluids. We can also do what the Koreans do, which is cook Chicken with White Ginseng and Red Dates (Hong Zao) with ginger, sweet rice, and mochi.
This dish restores fluids and generate and lifts Qi and Blood, nourishes the fluids to restore the yin, and protects the digestion in a way that suits well the hot weather of summer.
Anchor the Yang with Chinese Herbal Medicine
But there are certain herbal formulas, containing the herb Aconite/Fu Zi, such as Zhen Wu Tang/True Warrior Decoction, from the late Han dynasty text the Shang Han Lun/Treatise on Cold Disorders, that are taken by healthy people around the summer solstice for about a week, to anchor the yang and stoke the deep inner fire.
When the outer fire of the sun is at its maximum during the solstic, this is the best time to strengthen our inner sun, called the Ministerial Fire, which correlates quite nicely with the concept of Agni in Ayurveda. When these fires are strong, health ensues and we have the power to process the changes of living. Of course the mental Agni is equally important in this regard, so cultivation of what Buddhism calls mental culture through mindfulness, meditation, and ethical living play an equal role. While Summer is time of fire, joy, and play, the end of summer will return us back to the deeper meaning of living as the natural world withers and the sun’s warm recedes.
Why is it valuable to keep the Yang/fire of the body well anchored? First let’s say that well rooted means the opposite of floating. When we are strong and grounded our Yang is anchored.. This is what we cultivate in martial arts, the stored energy in the Dan Tien below the navel is the tiger, the paragon of stored energy ready to spring when needed. But when this Yang leaves its source it is like a dragon, and this is what we see with many pathologies involving heat floating to the head and skin as in eczema, acne, insomnia, and menopausal flushing. If the Yang smolders, and is neither stored well/anchored, nor leaves its source like a dragon, you get the damp kind of heat and toxic heat collect at contribute to the development of auto-immune disorders such as are seen in rheumatology.
Pathologies involving the dragon of Yang inappropriately leaving its source are variable. When people are angry or emotionally upset and their cheeks flush, that is Yang leaving its source. Sweating is normal yang leaving its source,but abnormal sweating after the flu is unanchored yang pathologically leaving its source.
When we take Zhen Wu Tang/True Warrior Decoction around the summer solstice, (again, for 3-7 days, if you are healthy and this formula is not contraindicated for you…please ask your licensed herbalist before taking this formula) this serves to “anchor the yang in its source.” so that we dont lose our yang needlessly. This is very important for health and longevity because loss of Yang over time leads to coldness, weakness, and death. Yang provides movement and life. When there is no Yang left, we die. It is as simple as that.
According to my teacher , when you take a FuZi formula at the summer solstice, it will keep you cool in summer, because it anchors the yang and keeps it away from the periphery when the periphery is already heated by the external climate, and warm in winter because as you conserved your Yang in summer by restraining it, you now have it available in winter to circulate to the periphery.
Moxabustion: Store Yang for the Winter
The most Yang parts of our body are our Hearts, Heads, and Spines. The front of the body is Yin and the back Yang. The spine is concentrated stored Yang in the bones and Yin in the cord and discs. As we age we lose our Yang. Also in the winter we need extra Yang. So we prepare for winter in summer by doing Moxabustion along the spine from the base of the neck to the base of the sacrum.
The most classical method is one I really enjoy. You would need some training in acupuncture or moxabustion to do this safely and properly.
Moxabustion on the Spine with Ginger Paste
First we make a paste of fresh ginger. Place a few pieces of ginger root in the food processor or grate on a grater. Now have your patient lie on her stomach. You will need access to the spine from C-7 to S-1. Spread the ginger thinly over the spine, and now place a “snake” of high quality loose moxa dried artemesia vulgaris (the Japanese moxa is the best) over the ginger. Light it at inch intervals and allow it to burn until the patient feels a deep warm sensation, but does not burn.
We start with a small enough amount of moxa so that we can guage the heat and warm without burning. This is critical. Be careful. Ask your acupuncturist if they can perform this classical technique on you, or show you how to safely do it at home with an assistant. Repeat this procedure up to 3 times or until the patient feels a pleasant deep warmth.
This is an excellent technique for the physically weak, for folk with chronic weak/cold type back pain, for people that succumb to colds and flu too easily, or even for a healthy person who wants to build and store Yang for the winter.
The Mind Leads the Qi: Anchor and Store Mental Yang.
One of the ways we dissipate our Shen/Consciousness, or Mental Yang, is with an un-peaceful, restless, scattered mind. The kind of mind that cannot stop, that works when it doesn’t need to. The best method I have yet found for remedying this problem is Mindfulness Practice of Vipassana. Qi Gung and Tai Qi are also very valuable for learning how to guide the qi with your mind. Other kinds of practices like Feldenkrais train you in body movement awareness.
Dietary and Lifestyle Pracitices for Summer in a Nutshell
Aside from the Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine, let me remind you, during summer do not get a chill by exposing yourself to air-conditioning that is too cold. Don’t place your air conditioner lower than you would keep the heat in winter. If you are hot all the time and crave the air conditioner, that is not normal, it means you have an imbalance that should be treated, otherwise you will lose all your yang much too quickly. Be careful about going from ocean swimming or surfing into air conditioning.
Don’t drink iced beverages. Cold drinks and too much raw food or salad or ice cream or even too much fruit, also excess sugar and heavy foods causes stagnation in the gut, which is the root of much illness. Often people crave cold beverages because they have heat trapped in the stomach from food stagnation and bad digestion. This is very important to unblock, as this will be a causative factor in skin and of course digestive disorders.
Alternative to Iced Drinks: Juiced Watermelon with Lime, Ginger, and Salt
Yesterday was quite hot, I swam at the beach after walking down from the top of Torrey Pines, and got home overheated and thirsty. I could still feel the sun hot on my head, even though I wore a hat. I needed a lot of fluid.
An excellent alternative to iced beverages in hot conditions is juiced melon, especially watermelon. I juiced mine with fresh ginger root so as to protect my digestive fire/yang/agni from the naturally damaging cold of the juiced watermelon, , especially because I used organic watermelon so I was able to juice the peel, which is full of minerals and phyto-nutrients, but is also energetically very cold, like cucumber but more so, almost like gypsum or aloe.
This is actually a great treatment for bladder infection. Once can also cook the peel and drink its broth like a cool soup.
In my case though, I added a little salt and lime, Mexican style. Essentially I made my own gatorade, Potassium from the melon, and sodium from the NaCl. And the salt and lime stimulate your digestive fire, too, balancing the extreme sweet of the melon.
Best wishes for a happy summer.
Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac.
copyright eyton j shalom, june 2012, all rights reserved, use with permission.