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Chinese Medicine and Your Health

What Is Chinese Medicine?

Classical Chinese Medicine is a complete system of medicine that includes Chinese Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, Moxabustion, Cupping, Bloodletting, Diet Therapies, Tai Qi, and Taoist Meditation.

Classical Chinese Medicine is a 2200 year old written tradition, created by the educated intelligentsia of ancient China. The people that invented paper, silk, gunpowder, and the compass, also developed a system of medicine that reached a high level by the Han dynasty. The earliest comprehensive texts of Chinese Medicine include treatises on Healthy Lifestyle, Living with the Seasons, Acupuncture, and Chinese Herbal Medicine.

 

Classical Chinese Medicine treats both the Causes of Diseases and their Symptoms

We use Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine to treat both the causes and symptoms of disorder.  Chinese Herbal medicine is a premodern drug therapy. Actually we use more than just herbs, which is why we also just call it Chinese Medicine.  While mostly plant based herbs, we also use minerals and animal products, from dried earthworm and centipede, to cuttlefish bone, oyster shell, and even iron.

 

Can I Come in for a Chinese Herbal Diagnosis without getting Acupuncture?

Yes! Chinese Herbs can be used by themselves, without acupucture, and often are in China.

But there are many disorders, like IBS, Menstrual Irregularity, PMS, Insomnia, Anxiety, Weak Immune System, that improve more quickly if you combine your Herbs with Acupuncture, Moxabustion, Cupping, and self help practices

 

How does Chinese Medicine Differ from BioMedicine?

Chinese Medicine is a premodern system of Medicine that, like BioMedicine, is rational, logical, and systematic. It has its own language for describing diseases and the underlying imbalances that cause disease. We have a rational system of describing these imbalances which we call the “pattern of disharmony.”

 

Patterns of Disharmony Are the Cause of Symptoms

Your Pattern of Disharmony is the Specific type of Imbalance that is the Root of your symptoms. In Chinese, its called Bian Zheng.

Chinese Medicine Places Disease into one of three categories. In each category, we determine the unique pattern, or  Bian Zheng, and that tells us which herbal medicines and which acupuncture patterns to use.

 

External Causes

This includes infection from outside your body, whether air or water borne. Disease like Covid, Influenza, Bronchitis, Colds, Food Poisoning, Cholera, Malaria are a few examples. Key point is that each disease has more than one pattern.

For example, Naomi has the flu with extreme fatigue, and a hacking unproductive cough. Her husband, Ali, has the flu with less fatigue, but headaches, and a productive wet cough.

 

Different Pattern, Different Herbs

Each of these persons gets a different herbal formula, according to their pattern. The starting point here are the differences in the cough, and fatigue, and in addition the tongue and pulse presentations, i will talk about in a minute.

Naomi’s formula will moisten the phlegm and stop the hacking, while Ali’s herbal prescription will dry the wet cough and address the headaches.

At a time when people lived much more simply, and without electricity, diseases of External Cause also including ailments like chillblains and heat stroke that were a function of the weather, or external climate.

 

Internal Causes

Internal causes include inherited constitutional disease, what would now be seen as autoimmune disorders of various types due to DNA. But autoimmune disorders can also express themselves during times of high stress. We see this with psoriais and the arthritic disorders. Many skin issues are worsened by stress, and this is an “internal cause” . Here are eczema, chronic and acute hives, and acne.

The Role of the Nervous System and Mind

Diseases of lifestyle, from overwork, to poor mental attitude are seen here. In the end, any disease with the name syndrome attached to it, which means there is no known cause, are almost always nervous system generated. We see this with PTSD disorders, tension and migraine headaches, anxiety and insomnia, anxiety, frustration, and Irritiable Bowel Syndrome….everything involving the Gut-Brain connection and the Vagus nerve.

Actually 120 years ago, the founder of Psychiatry, the Neurologist Freud, discovered the role of the nervous system, via the mind. Most of his patients had some version of PTSD, and many had what we would not call IBS.

 

Mind and Body are Two Sides of One Coin in Chinese Medicine.

Diseases borne from the nervous system, or “internal causes” is a big topic. The bottom line is that what Freud and psychologists call the mind, is a construct. In reality, there is no such thing as the mind, that you can touch. In in fact, every emotion, thought, memory, dream, reflection, desire, state of arousal from anger to worry, can only express itself via the body.

When a dog is excited we know it, because he jumps up and down, as do children. At some point we learn to internalize, though never completely. Now The Body Keeps the Score, which is the name of a good book, too. And what that means, literally, is that the way Emotions, or Feelings express themselves as by having an immediate effect on the physical body, every single time from now to the day you pass away, via the Endocrine and Nervous systems.

 

Fight, Flight, Freeze

That’s why fright can cause an urgent bowel movement or urination. “I was so scared i was ‘pissing’ my pants, or shitting in my pants” as we say in vulgar English. How does that work? The nervous system’s flight response from danger.

Anger has the opposite effect, it creates tension and heat, in order to fight the danger. Chronic tension headaches. People with strong drive and organizational skills can be in constant fight rather than flight.

 

Mind in Chinese Medicine

Point is, this is what Chinese Medicine calls Mind, and it includes all emotions, cognitions, mental function. And Mind is the cause of “Affect Damage” a term translated from the Chinese that describes “how our emotions and nervous system, when unregulated, make us ill. Internal Causes.

And every one of these cases has a unique pattern that leads to the correct Chinse Herbal medicine formula, and also acupuncture point grouping or prescription.

 

Miscellaneous Causes

Miscellaneous here, does not mean unimportant. Its actually a broad category that includes Sports Injuries, Traumatic Injuries, and also snake and insect bites.

So everything with a purely physical injury, and no infectious agent, from herniated disc or tennis elbow to an infected spider bite fits in here. And each of these, especially with Sports and Trauma has a pattern based on the amount of swelling, inflammation, bruising, and at what stage of the recovery we see the patient. The herbs for an acute herniated disc are different from the ones we use with chronic back pain.

 

Discerning The Pattern is The First Step in Treating Disease

Each Pattern of Disharmony or Bian Zheng points me to  a specific chinese herbal medicine prescription, a particular acupuncture protocol, and  diet and or lifestyle modifications that are in turn, specially tailored  to improve your unique condition in a specific point in time.

 

Two Women with Menstrual Pain.

 

Pain due to Blood Vacuity And Cold with Yang Xu

 

Sonia has cramps that are much improved with hot compresses or heating pad. She is also very fatigued during her period.

The cause of Sonia’s pain could be the pattern called  “blood vacuity and cold associated with yang vacuity”.  Sonia will get a very specific formula with lots of warming and nourishing herbs, some herbs to relieve pain that are also warming, and a very light acupuncture treatment with lots and lots of moxabustion.

 

Menstrual Pain due to Blood and Qi stasis with Heat due to Liver Depression

Yael has horrific cramps, with lots of Premenstrual irritability, headaches, and swollen painful breasts, constipation that improves with bleeding, and large purple veins under her tongue. She might have cramps that are due to “blood stasis due to longstanding Qi stasis”. Her cramps might also be caused by  “pathological heat due to Liver depression Qi stagnation”.

Yael will benefit from an herbal prescription that moves Qi and Blood rather than nourish it. At the same time she needs herbs that clear heat and “crac” the stagnant blood. She will also need more frequent acupuncture both before and during the bleeding.

Making a diagnosis of the cause of the symptoms for the Chinese Medicine or Chinese Herbal Medicine physician does not come from guessing, dowsing, or looking at the stars. We follow a  a very careful diagnostic methodology, as follows:

 

 

How We Make a Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

 

Over the millenia Chinese physicians developed a very effective and scientific (empirical) model for assessing health and disease.

Our diagnostic method combines looking, touching, listening, and smelling (The Four Pillars of Diagnosis)  with an elaborate series of questions (asking, or The Ten Questions).

The skill of a Chinese Medicine physician is one’s ability to synthesize this info about a specific human  at a specific moment in time. This is what gives us the pattern of disharmony causing your disease.

 

Looking/Observation

Face and Body

Most of us observe other humans all the time. We already have that skill. But softening that judgement to look receptively at another human is what the physician must do. In our case, we observe subtleties of coloring on the face, and in different areas of the face. But we also notice if the person looks tense, worried, frightened, frozen, aggresive, etc.

We will also observe body language. Is the person slumped over in the chair? Do they pace the waiting room rather than sit down. Are there shoulders scrunched up to the ears. Does their overall body shape markedly fit a pattern of one of the five elements? the Fire, Earth, Water, Metal, or Wood type?

Tongue Diagnosis

Color

The color of the tongue give us a lot of info on the internal state, a red tongue shows us heat, a pale tongue blood vacuity or cold, a purple tongue blood stasis. Each of these patterns underly specific symptoms. A red tongue might appear with infectious disease, but also with anxiety or anger. A pale tongue might appear with or without anemia, but often will occur with a long watery menstrual period.

Shape

The tongue’s shape is also important.

A swollen tongue may show yang vacuity that fails to support Qi circulation, or it could show Qi stasis. It may also be associated with a damp condition.

Tooth marks on the edge show something else. Whether the tongue is shrunken or enlarged is another factor

Coating

A thick greasy tongue coat tells us you may have food stagnation, a pathological accumulation of dampness.

The shiny tongue devoid of coat might show vacuity of the Yin which is the source of physiological moisture.

 

Touching/Palpation

Palpation involves reading the pulses, mostly at the wrists. It also involves palpating and percussing the abdomen. Finally touching in Chinese medicine can involve palpating the acupuncture channels. Feeling for irregularities on the acupuncture channels is more common when doing acupuncture. Chinese Herbal Medicine is much more interested in your pulse presentation

 

Pulse Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

The first aspect of palpation is feeling the pulse qualities, stregnth, and speed. We look for the specific quality of the pulse at 9 different positions. This gives us great info on the underlying pattern that is the cause of your symptoms.

We assess the pulse by noticing how well it fits into a set algorithm.

 

Quality of the Pulse

Each of the various pulse qualities tells us specific info.

The Liver Qi Pulse

For example, if your pulse feels like a bow or guitar string; that tells us there is Qi stasis.

If its especially forceful at the Liver position, that tells us this organ’s Qi is involved.

 

Insomnia: The Heart Qi Pulse when Empty or Full

When someone with insomnia come in, and their heart position is very weak, that tells us there is a defiency, or emptiness,  rather than excess, or fullness, of the heart Qi.

On the other hand, if this same insomnia had a forceful and rapid heart pulse, this would tell us there is a full condition of hot stagnation in the heart Qi.

Each condition gets a different herb formula, one nourishing, the other attacking.

 

What Does the Slippery Pulse Say?

The slippery pulse tells us there is a damp condtion. A Damp condition means too much moisture or thickened water somewhere in the body.

Obesity, or example, or even just having eaten a meal, will create slippery pulse, because both food and drink, and the fat that accrues from chronic overeating, are a damp condition. The slippery pulse after a meal is not pathological. Nor is the pulse of a pregnant woman pathological….But it will be slippery. The thickened endometrium and fast growing embryo are a whole additional fluid system that registers as a slippery pulse.

What’s a Choppy Pulse Tell Us?

..A choppy pulse showing blood stasis, such as we see with migraine, menstrual pain, or heart disease.

 
Depth of the Pulse

Pulses can be stronger at the deep, medium, or superficial level. Each depth gives us different information and the depth of the illness, especially with infectious or chronic autoimmune disorder. For example

 

Floating Pulse versus a Deep Pulse

A floating pulse shows us an external infectious attack. Simple. A common cold. Not to worry. But if you dont take care, and then it turns to bronchitis, the pulse will change. If you keep working and wake up one day with pneumonia, the pulse witll change. The disease is starting to penetrate to a deeper level of your body’s Qi, as it becomes chronic.

But even this case is not in as deep a layer of the body as a disease that might kill you. A deep pulse can show us that the location of the disease is profound, such as with HIV/Aids or Leukemia. I had a patient come to see me with terrible abdominal pain. He also had blood in the stool. He was very anti-western medicine. As soon as I felt his pulse I knew it was probably too late. His pulse was week, very deep, and very choppy. To be honest he died within a month.

 

Pulse Rate and Force

We want our pulse rate to be neither fast nor too slow, when at rest. We also want it to be regular and relaxed. Its rare these days, sorry to say, to find a relaxed pulse before the treatment. But after a treatment we look for it to feel more relaxed.

One of the most important negative pusles is the irregular pulse….Actually its the irregularly irregular pulse. Some folks pulse miss a beat. IF your pulse misses the same beat each time, no worries. But if I feel your pulse and its keeps missiing different beats, then I will suggest you report it to your MD. It could be a sign of some kind of coronary disease.

 

Hara Diagnosis: Palpating the Abdomen

Geography of the Abdomen

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we divide the abdoment into 4 quadrants, above the naval, below the naval, right and left. We have different ways of pressing on the abdomen, and different target areas.

What We Look For

Areas of tenderness, pain, and tightness are our primary concern. For example, in a relaxed abdomen we can press under the rib cage from the front of your abdomen with no problem. In someone with Liver or Gallbladder Qi affecting the gut, will be very difficult and painful for the patient.

 

Temperature of the Skin

We also feel the skin with the back of our hand to feel any excessive cold or heat, especiall in the Kidney and Heart Qi areas. Cold in the Kidney area tells us Yang Vacuity. We want to stregnthen. that with diet, Chinese herbal medicine, and moxabustion with acupuncture.

We have specific acupuncture points called “Alarm” or “Mu” points that alert us to the involvment of specific organ systems. The heart and liver mu points are the two I look at most frequently.

 

Listening

The first part of listensing is just noticing your patient’s voice….It just give us an idea of what your energy is like that day, or in general. This part is not rocket science; it just needs careful listening and analysis without bias. . People have shrill voices, melodic voices, sweet voices, unpleasant voices, anxious voices, intense ones.

Chinese Medicine practitioners who practice the 5 element method put great stock on whether the voice sounds like a bell or a goat….This part never interested me, because there are so many more objective methods for coming up with the pattern.

But, if someones voice is like someone shouting outsdide, even though you are in a small room, its going to tell me about your Liver Qi…You do here this voice alot amongst folk from USA…But in the clinic it always points to the Liver Qi….which is something i would have noted anyway from your pulse and symptoms. Sad folk sound sad. Whiney folk sound whiney. This guides me to the Lung Qi first case, and Kidney Qi second case…

Asking: The Ten Questions

Really, my favorite aspect of our diagnostic method are the Questions. This is probably because I love language, and asking questions.

The Chinese Herbal Medicine physician will ask about your

  • sleep,
  • appetite,
  • digestion,
  • elimination,
  • reproductive energy,
  • menstrual cycle,
  • gynecological, urinary, and prostate histories,
  • mood,
  • body temperature and climate preferance,
  • pain sensations,
  • social history,
  • work and living habits,
  • prior health history

 

Have a look at my Intake Form on the home page for an idea of the questions I will ask. You can see I have added to the original 10.

Each question can open up new doors. As Sherlock Holmes used to say, “the plot thickens!” When you ask a question you never know where the answers will lead..

 

Smelling

Finally, the last of the four pillars of diagnosis. Again, we are looking at constructing an overall pattern…Smelling must have been much more important in the ancient world, or even in rural China today compared to USA where everyone bathes so often, and often use perfume and perfumed body care products, and deodorant daily. As perfume contains toxic phthalates, chloroform, and other toxic chemicals like fixatives, I ask people not to use it the day of your visit.

Nevertheless you can still notice folks odor, especially when stressed out, and some folk will have a sour or bitter odor, both significant. More easy is to notice folk’s breath….People with stomach heat and/or heart fire will have sour breath. But the heart fire associated with severe anxiety will be proundly unpleasant. The stomach heat odor just makes you back away slightly !

We also ask you to report on any unpleasant odor. For example some folk get a lot of gas that is mostly air, which others get really foul gas. Again, the stronger the odor, typically the greater the internal heat. Ditto, with yeast infections, if its a fishy odor, versus no odor. Same with urination and menstrual blood.

 

Why Choose Chinese Herbal Medicine?

 

BioMedicine is excellent at surgery, saving your life from severe trauma. It also has great miraculous drugs, that can treat symptoms really well, but with pernicious side affects. In a way, Western medicine is hamstrung by its very strengths.

Chinese MedicineTreats the Whole Person.

I love Chinese Medicine because it is  interested in treating the roots of disease and not only the symptoms.

Treatment of Tension Headache with Chinese Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture

My treatment of tension headache might include

  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling to release accumulated tension in the Muscles and Fascia of the jaw, head, and neck. Massage to give you the experience of deep relaxation
  • I will use Acupuncture to release Liver Qi stasis and move Liver Wind out of the upper body, another words to calm and cool the nervous system
  • Chinese Herb formulas for migraine or tension headache that stops the muscular tension in the head
  • help you organize improved stress management skills, or refer you to someone that can, depending on your case of course.

 

Biomedicine, on the other hand, will usually have a treatment that is solely drug based. And the worse the headache pain the stronger the drugs.

If you are lucky, and that is a big if; at a place like Kaiser, they might refer you to the pain management clinic, eventually, after months of drugs, where they will try and teach you to notice how you carry tension in your muscles with biofeedback.

How Was Chinese Herbal Medicine Developed?

 

Classics of Chinese Medicine

 

Nei Jing-Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor–Chinese Medical Theory

The “Bible” of Chines Medical theory dates to somewhere between 200 B.C.E. and 200 C.E.. This is called the Huangdi Neijing  黃帝內經  or, Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor dates. It describes everything from how the Acupuncture channels work and where to puncture them  to Living with the Seasons and the use of foods to prevent disease. This is the theory we have inherited and still use.

 

Shang Han Lun–The Beginning of Classical Herbal Formulas

Our Bible of Chinese Herbal Medicine is called the Shang Han Lun, 傷寒論 or Treatise on “Cold Damage” Disease from the same period. The Shang Han Lun and its companion,The Jin Gui Yao Lue, 金櫃要略,  Essentials of the Golden Cabinet, together form a clinical textbook that describes over 200 herbal formulas, more than 100 of which are still regularly in use today.

Over the millennia, and into modern times, literate medical professionals employed by the Emperors amassed thousands of case studies. Part of our education as Chinese Medicine physicians, is learning from real life case studies with their successes and failures. This is how you begin to learn how to prescribe Chinese herbs. Its how you learn which prescriptions to use for which diseases and how to switch herbal formulas at the right time.

 

What Do Chinese Herb Formulas Look Like?

You may notice I keep using the words “formula” and “prescription” when discussing Chinese herbs. That’s because we rarely use herbs by themselves, as is done in Western Herbology, where you might take Echinacea for this, or Ginger for that.

Used As Groups of Herbs

In Chinese Medicine we used herbs in groups of from 5 to 15 herbs together at the same time. This enables us to do a few things at once:

  1. Do No Harm–Minimize Side Effects of Strong Medicines
  2. Address the Symptoms–Use the combination of medicines that will eliminate symptoms fastest
  3. Treat the Causes–Match the Prescription to the underlying Pattern causing the disease
  4. See the Individual–Match the prescription to the individual person in which the underlying pattern is causing disease symptoms

 

Treating the Individual: Chinese Herbal Medicine Xiao Chai Hu Tang in a case of Premenstrual Acne with Irritability

A favorite formula of mind that I use to treat hormonal Acne that increases premenstrually along the mouth and chin, is Minor Bupleurum, or Xiao Chai Hu Tang. if this patient also has PMS with irritability and constipation, then bingo.

Xiao Chai Hu Tang Base Formua

Minor Bupleurum contains herbs to relieve the Liver depression and Qi stagnation that is creating the pathological heat that’s rising up to her face and causing acne. It also has an herb to dry the dampness associated with the acne. And it contains herbs to to strengthen the digestive process, often overheated or weakened in cases of acne. Great.

How to Modify a Formula for a Specific Person

But what’s missing from Xiao Chai Hu Tang is something to address the constipation in this patient. So I might add an herb that acts as a lubricant if the bowels are dry, or that increases the urge to go, if they are not dry. Sometimes I wont need to do this because relieving the Qi stagnation will be enough. I will probably add Magnesium Citrate in this case, because it works so well for the tension the causes the headache, and its a natural stool softener

If this patient is very irritable premenstrually, and loses her temper badly, then I will add another herb to calm her nervous system.

Which herb I choose will be a function of what I find by looking at her tongue, by feeling her pulse, by noticing any unpleasant odors like bad breath, and by asking a series of questions about her sleep, appetite, digestion, elimination, mood, and the pattern of her menstrual cycle through the whole month.

 

Relationship between Chinese Herbal Medicine and Ancient Chinese Philosophy

Chinese Medicine is rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy. Its shares concepts with both Taoism, such as the idea of Yin and Yang, and Confucionism, like the idea of natural order.

Conquering an Enemy Versus Restoring Harmony

While modern bio-medicine views disease as an enemy to be conquered and defeated, rooted out with surgery, or poisoned with drugs (which, to be fair, works really well for diseases like cancer), Chinese medicine is based on therapies that strengthen the body’s ability to fight disease on its own.

If, God forbid, someone I knew had cancer, I would definitely recommend they follow BioMedicine for treatment, but as BioMedicine offers nothing for recovery from the effects of Chemo and Radiation therapy, I would offer them Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture for the recovery phase of healing. Our tonic herbs are absolutely amazing for the recovery from serious illnesses from cancer to chronic fatigue.

 

Chinese Medicine Views Human Beings the Way Organic Gardeners View Plants and the Soil They Grow In

Every human being is seen as a unique terrain with its own particular eco-system. The doctor is a gardener working hand-in-hand with the patient on the soil, using acupuncture and herbs like irrigation and compost, building a plant that is healthy and able to fight disease.

This is the opposite of the Western medical view in which the body is a sum of mechanical parts, to be replaced or treated at most exact micro level. There are times when surgical and drug intervention is necessary.

Natural Methods

But in America today there is a renaissance of interest in the natural methods that were jettisoned along with many other good things as the country turned Science into its modern religion with doctors dressed in white coats speaking Latin as the new priests. As our nation of immigrants turned their backs on “grandmother wisdom” and ethnic and family traditions, suddenly the media and people with Ph.d.’s became the new authorities telling us how to think, live, and die.

As a result, there are tens of thousands of unnecessary surgical procedures each year in this country, while millions of people are being administered drugs, without being informed of their toxic side effects. According to one recent scientific study, our country spent over two million dollars last year in doctor-caused illness, one of the leading causes of death is from the side effects of drugs. Large number of people could be helped, gently, safely, and elegantly with Chinese Medicine, if they only knew. The USA performs something like 10 Ceasarians for every 1 in Europe, while having infant mortality rates of a developing country

 

Chinese Herbal Medicine Is Natural, Safe, Effective, and Free of Side Effects

It excels at the treatment of the degenerative and functional diseases that characterize life in wealthy countries.

And, unlike Western medicine, Chinese Medical methods can be an antidote to stress. Acupuncture with herbs can have the same beneficial effects as meditation and yoga on the nervous system.. Chinese medicine successfully treats internal medicine disease, gynecology or Women’s Health, respiratory disease, digestive disorders, infectious disease, dermatalogical complaints, and both acute and chronic pain conditions. . It is effective in pediatrics as well as gerontology.

 

 

 

Diagnosis and Treatment in Chinese Medicine
Over the millenia Chinese physicians developed a very effective and scientific (empirical) model for assessing health and disease. Practitioners assess a person’s health by feeling the quality of the pulses at each wrist, and by observing the color and form of the face, tongue, body, voice, and manner of expression. This information gleaned from looking, touching, listening, and smelling (The Four Pillars of Diagnosis) is integrated with an elaborate series of questions (asking, or The Ten Questions) about digestion, elimination, sleep, mood, body temp, pain sensations, menstrual cycle, relationships, work habits, living habits, and prior health history that, considered together, portray the specific expression of health and disease that manifest in a given individual at a specific moment in time.

chinese herbs-bodymindwellnesscenter.comThis specific expression of illness in an individual is called the Pattern of Disharmony, Bian Zheng in Chinese Medicine. Each specific Bian Zheng corresponds to a specific base therapeutic protocol of acupuncture, herbal formula, diet and or lifestyle modification that is, in turn, specially tailored to accommodate and improve the individual’s unique ecology and terrain.

Consider, for example, two people with the bio-med defined disease of Asthma. One, is a happy-go-lucky, overweight, red-faced, 45 year old man (think: Friar Tuck from Robin Hood)  with an excessive appetite, a frequent craving for iced beverages, but with reasonable elimination, sleep and rather oily skin. His tongue is swollen and red with a greasy yellow coating. His pulse is bounding and slippery. His blood pressure is slightly high and his voice is louder than it needs to be for the room he is in. He laughs a lot during the interview and his body odor is quite strong. His asthma involves a great deal of phlegm that he is constantly spitting up, as well as wheezing and difficulty grasping breath.  He asthma is also worse after eating when the natural dampness of food and drink pushes the phlegm damp in his lungs upwards. .

The other asthmatic is an anxious, nervous, underweight 31year old woman with dark rings under her sad-looking eyes, dry skin and hair, fatigue, poor appetite and a tendency towards constipation. Her tongue is shrunken and red with many cracks and is dry and without coating. Her pulse is fine, rapid, and weak, and her voice soft and uncertain.

She is always cold, even though her tongue is red, which demonstrates some kind of heat somewhere…She has difficulty answering questions about herself and exhibits a somewhat flattened affect. Her menstrual periods are brief, painful, and lighter than normal. Her asthma, which began in childhood, is worse at nighttime, during times of emotional stress, when she is restless or when she suffers heart palpitations. She does not have much phlegm in the lungs that can be observed. But she has a chronic dry cough with wheezing, and gasping for breath.She has a history of bedwetting until age 8.

While these two patients both have the same “disease” named Asthma in Bio-Medicine, their diagnoses in Chinese Herbal Medicine (TCM) are quite different. Chinese Medicine describes each of these patients as having signs and symptoms  of “heat.” But patient number One has a full heat–he is a strong type, not weak, nor sensitive. He is overly hot, his face is red, he craves iced drinks. He has accumulated too much fluid, he is overweight, he as oily skin, his tongue and pulse show internal accumulation of dampness and heat.  His symptoms are a function of “too much of the wrong thing in the wrong place”. Too much heat and too much moisture is being produced by his natural body type and by his lifestyle.

Case Number two on the other hand is a weak, sensitive type, with low energy, who is cold and dry. She actually lacks fire–weak appetite and depression along with feeling always cold. What she has is “not enough of the right thing in the right place.” Her Lung Qi is weak and not grasping the air well, that is the immediate cause of her problem , her Yin and Yang are both damaged. She is weak and cold and dry. She does not have enough Qi-energy, her fluids are not making it to the skin or lungs, and she does not have sufficient fire to give emotional drive or even a strong appetite. She is not going to become a General or a dictator.

Case Number Two  is a function of what Chinese Herbal Medicine diagnosis calls Vacuity or Empty heat with Yin vacuity and lack of fluids.In her case the heat and dryness is a function of the weakness of the mechanism that keeps the surfaces of the body moist and cool, the Yin…At the same time the Qi that circulates in the Lungs is weak, so the Lung Qi is “rebellious.” Its not grasping well. Both have additional complicating factors that will be addressed by their individual acupuncture treatment and herb formulas.

So while both have what Chinese Herbal Medicine calls wheezing and panting, each has a different pattern of disharmony (Bien Zheng)  that is at the root of their disease called  Asthma by modern bio-medicine, and “wheezing and panting” in the  nomenclature of traditional Chinese medicine.

Each of these two patterns of disharmony is seen in Chinese medicine as emblematic of the soil in which the disease has taken root. Whether the important factors have been genetics, diet, or lifestyle, the pattern of disharmony is the rubric upon which the treatment is based. Different pattern different treatment: different acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary therapy.

Treatment in Chinese Herbal Medicine

Each of these patients, then, will require a  treatment that addresses not only their symptom of Asthma, but as their unique underlying pattern of imbalance that makes them susceptible to asthma. As a result, if each of these patients is treated successfully, not only will their asthma improve, but so will their general health. The first patient will become less overheated and phlegmatic and the second patient will become find herself less nervous and constipated. Her sleep will improve and her skin become moister. Her periods will also become fuller and less painful.

Patient number one’s tongue should become less greasy and red, while number two’s will become moister and develop of healthy coat.

As mentioned above, there are in Chinese medicine an existing repertoire of acupuncture and herb formulas and for each of these Bian Zheng or Patterns of Disharmony. The skill of the individual physician involves,

A) diagnosing the correct pattern in the first place

B) knowing which formulas suit that pattern

C) modifying that formula to suit the specific needs of the individual patient at a given moment in time.

Even the acupuncture treatment, herbal formula, and dietary advice given to a patient on day one of treatment will need to be adjusted as the patient makes progress or suffers setbacks. Moreover, disease has many layers. One moment the doctor must attack the “disease evil,” the next moment she must support the patient’s “righteous qi”, yin, or yang. The careful physician adjusts the treatment as the patient’s signs and symptoms change.

The ultimate and underlying goal of treatment in Chinese medicine is to unblock the stagnation of the life force, and to adjust and harmonize the Yin and Yang as it manifests in the physical body–moisture and dryness, cold and heat, tension and slackness, hardness and softness, strength and weakness. This is achieved by regulating the “Qi, Blood, and Fluids” in the energy networks connected to each of the internal organs. Weakness is strengthened, congestion and accumulation are unblocked and dispersed, agitation is calmed, heat cooled, coldness warmed, dryness moistened, and dampness drained.

In the case of the above two patients, for example, in both cases acupuncture and herbs would be used  to stop wheezing and panting and clear heat from the body. However,  in case A, we would also seek to drain dampness and dry phlegm, while in case B, we would work on  strengthening the function of those organs most important for producing blood and nourishing  the yin. At the same time we would attempt to immediately  moisten dryness and calm the mind.

Chinese Medical Dietary and Lifestyle Therapy

Person A would be prescribed a diet (see Dietary Counseling)  of very limited animal fat, high in grains that promote diuresis like barley and rice, and increased bitter green vegetables that help eliminate dampness and cool heat. Green tea would be substituted for cappucinos to eliminate dampness, while refined sugars would be limited to an occasional treat. Aerobic exercise would certainly be prescribed for this person as well, and Yogic breathing practices introduced to stimulate the qi and move the dampness.

Person B on the other hand, would be prescribed a diet of more moistening foods, like rice and lentils cooked with dried apricots, and vegetables and tofu cooked gently with olive oil. An essential fatty acid supplement like Flax seed oil  would be suggested, and fruit consumption increased to clear heat and moisten dryness. Breathing and meditation or Tai Qi would be prescribed for this patient to nourish the yin and calm the mind.

BodyMind Medicine includes the Heart, Feelings, or Mind.

The Chinese herbal medicine doctor would note patient B’s shyness and flattened affect and take this, as well as her restlessness at night, into account when formulating her acupuncture and herbal prescriptions. Gentle discussion  might be relied upon to draw the patient out and see if there are any deeper emotional problems that will necessitate referral for counseling or psychotherapy.

Duration of treatment in Chinese Medicine depends on the severity and duration of the illness.

Simple injuries and illnesses can often resolve after 2 to 6 acupuncture treatments and a week or two of herbal therapy. Many illnesses and injuries are resolved in  6 to 14 treatments over the course of one to three months. More serious illnesses may require two or three courses of treatment, that is 12 or even 18 treatments over 3 to 9 months. It is sometimes said that in the case of chronic complaints, one month of treatment is needed for each year of disorder. One thing is clear, however. One should begin to see some improvement in symptoms, or at the least, increased sense of well-being after the first or second visit.

Herbal therapy can last from three days to a year or two, depending on the nature of the illness.

One can head off a cold or migraine headache by taking one or two doses of herbs. On the other hand, for example, in the case of uterine fibroids, one might take herbs for 6 months to a year or year and 1/2.

Frequency of treatment.

Acupuncture treatments are generally once or twice per week in the beginning, tapering off  after 4-6 weeks. A typical course of treatment, whereby we finish one aspect of therapy and move to another, is 8 to 14 visits of acupuncture over a two to three month period.

Qi cultivating exercises, like Tai Qi, Yoga, Breathing and Meditation

are an integral part of Chinese medical treatment, especially for stress, tension, and emotionally or psychologically induced or affected disorders. Of course Qi cultivation is an integral part of achieving radiant health and longevity.

Healing is a process and not a pill. The greatest healing comes when the patient is actively involved in the cure. While the physician can act as a gardener to  the body and soul, it is the patient herself that has the greatest power for gardening in the mind. It is said in Chinese Medicine that “the mind leads the qi.”  This means that, just as polluted air and toxic foods can damage the qi, so too can toxic thoughts or a toxic mind.

One could eat all the great healthy food one wants, but if at the same time one were consumed by jealously, hatred, and greed, there is a good chance indigestion would result. Chronic indigestion will lead to an chronic inability to gain nutrition from food. The result will be weakness, dampness, and heat.

Chronic worry and a restless mind are great sources for disease.  When the mind is not calm, the qi is overactive and overheats; when there is constant frustration, the qi stops moving and stagnates. In fact any emotion, in excess, will have specific affects on the qi, causing disease if left unabated over time.

Mental health in Chinese medicine means the experience and expression of emotions in a degree that is appropriate to the situation. If your loved one were, God forbid, to die, it would be natural to be sad and angry and even fearful. If ten years later, you were experiencing those feelings at the same level as when the beloved passed away, that would be the energetic groundwork for disease

Just as stretching, strengthening and aerobics are essential for a fit body, meditation is exercise for the mind. A consistent meditation practice of some kind can give us the strength and awareness to process our emotions healthfully, to be aware of our feelings when we feel them. Meditation practice gives us the inner calm that enables us to dance skillfully with life’s circumstances, from a long line at the bank when you are in a hurry, to the ultimate challenge, facing death.

Our society is very “Yang.” That means it is characterized by constant movement, activity, bright lights, 24 hour communications networks, a beeper or cell phone in every pocket. Everything is about speed, individualism, and  instant gratification. This has its value, but it is also consonant with the types of stress-induced diseases that are prevelant. Years ago, I gave a lecture at Quallcomm. The H.R. person asked me to speak on treatment for headaches, as her computer anaylsis showed that was the most frequent reason why her employees were going to the doctor.

That is not a mystery.

According to Chinese medicine, we should balance this Yang nature of our culture with Yin activity. That is activity that is by nature quiescent, cool, and still. That which draws us inwards, like meditating on a wooden pier in the center of a small pond in the middle of a redwood grove on a full moon evening. While you may not have the chance to journey north, that pond in the grove is inside you, all you need is to set aside the time and space.

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