From today’s newspaper comes this cool article about a fruitcake that has survived, in nearly edible condition (probably actually edible, as all that is reported is a slightly rancid butter smell), for 100 years at the South Pole in Antarctica. Which brings to mind one of the cardinal teachings in Chinese Medicine. In Chinese Medicine Cold Causes Stagnation Heat Causes Movement. Cold preserves, and heat metabolizes. This essence of Yin and Yang is actually the application of Yin Yang theory from Chinese Philosophy in Classical Chinese Medicine
Physiological Cold and Heat versus Pathological Cold and Heat in Chinese Medicine Theory
When appropriate to an individual body mind in a specific point in time and space, physiological cold in the body preserves certain types of Qi that are easily depleted by heat. The Lung and Liver Qi overheat easily and prefer to be nice and cool. Our minds are better when we are level or cool headed. Passion is excellent, but excessive passion moves so much Qi as to be depleting. Mentally excessive passion leads to unwise action as we know from Othello, King Lear, and much of Greek Mythology and Literature, like Oedipus Rex.
But, for example, the Gut, which we describe as the “Spleen and Stomach Qi” and also the “San Jiao/Triple Burner”, likes to be warm and loathes dampness. When the Gut Fire, called Agni in Ayurveda, Pi Hun Hua in Chinese Medicine, is healthy–unencumbered by too much cold and heavy food, or disturbed by worry and anger, or even constitutionally weak (due to genetic inheritance), your body gets plenty of energy from food, and your body’s fluids move properly all over. You will have healthy skin and lustrous hair, radiant eyes, easy regular bowel movements and good sleep. But when the Gut fire is disturbed, you can easily develop pathological heat with red, inflammed acne and IBS-D, or pathological cold, such as a damp condition of chronic yeast infections and excessively oily skin. Over time, as you will see below, pathological heat and cold can both be involved in chronic, knotty, difficult to treat auto-immune dysfunction and disease.
The Concept of Dampness in Chinese Medicine–Pathological Yin Cold
Dampness is what happens when healthy fire weakens. Dampness is water in the wrong place. Water is cold. So you overeat heavy cold food like pizza and beer, and the next day there is a thick greasy coating on your tongue, and a heavy feeling in the gut and body. Water is heavy, and, following gravity, it weighs you down. Now, overwhelm your Triple Burner, or “Agni” in Ayurveda, over a long time with the Standard American diet of Wheat, Meat, Dairy, frozen microwaved junk food and lack of spices, and over time you are spraying cold water on your healthy fire.
Now, instead of extracting Qi from your food and getting energy, steam, and waste that flows freely out of the body, you get gunk in the channels and in the gut. We call this pathological cold manifesting as pathological dampness, which, being water, is cold, and therefore yin, but in this case, not the good yin of a calm mind, but the lousy pathological yin of too much substance where you would rather have energy, ergo Dampness and Moist Gunk clogging your body. What Americans vaguely call “toxins.” Its not specific chemical toxins so much as a body malfunctioning due to being clogged by toxic foods and also toxic feelings ( even normal negative feelings like sadness and aversion that are stuck and not moving, or frozen, constipated).
Chronic pathological cold damp underpins some serious diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Because dampness is heavy, and Qi is light, dampness easily obstructs the flow of Qi in the body. But, because Qi is warm, when this happens Damp Heat is produced, a rather serious and harder to treat condition that combines elements of boy Yin (water) and Yang (fire). We treat damp heat in Chinese Herbal Medicine with complex herbal prescriptions that by move the qi, dry the damp, clear the heat, but still protect the underlying yang metabolic fire that has been damaged by the accumulated cold damp. As my Chinese Herbal Medicine teacher J. Min Fan used to say, first purge the filth (the gunky dampness that traps the heat) then the Qi can move again and restore equilibrium. Its salient that the medicine of a culture that itself values equilibrium and distrusts excessive passion, also prioritizes the notion of balance when it comes to the bodymind’s to motive forces, Yin and Yang.
The heart and kidney yang, on the other hand, also known as the “emperor and ministerial fire,” are the physiological fire that underpins all metabolic processes. When appropriate they operat like a well tuned motor or produces plants like garden of eden level soil would. . But when disturbed by passions, especially by negative ones such as anger and greed, the heart emperor instructs the minister to flare up causing pathological heat to rise to the head, to the joints, to the skin, producing tension headaches, migraine, acne, eczema, psorisis, hives, and all sorts of autoimmune disorders.
So, when excessive, physiological cold and heat become pathological, and we can see much human disease through the valuable lens of pathological cold and heat.
And pathological cold and heat affects us both physically and emotionally.
For example, someone who is cold hearted has emotions that do not move. A cold person’s emotions can be blocked off, hidden behind a wall that other folk can not move through. Often they themselves are blocked off from feeling, sometimes as if frozen in fear, like a deer in the headlights.
In fact, its true that while fear mobilized the Qi downwards so we can flee, excessive fear can also leave us frozen, just as prey animals will sometimes freeze. Stories and movies are full of folk that are frozen in fear and cannot move. In fact, we know that the heart, the epitome of healthy hot yang as it pumps like a powerhouse 98.6 degree blood through a hug human body can stop due to emotional shock. Essentially it freezes, stops beating.
Indeed, heart disease involving ischemia, is conceptualized as Cold Stagnation in Chinese medicine for several reasons. One, people’s faces can turn ashen or purplish, just as anyone who has swam in cold lakes in Summer will recall their lips turning, when, as kids they stayed in too long out of pure joy.
But also, as its the blood that brings nourishment to tissues, during ischemia there is a starvation of nutrients to the heart muscle and it weakens or dies. Death, as we know from poetry, the opposite of life, is silent and cold. Like dark outer space. Like the depths of the black see. This is why we fear death. Another form of the unknown. The great unknown is a cold place where we don’t even know what, if anything, happens. No wonder we are scared. The hand of death is freezing in literature and music. See that great song O Death, as sung by the great American singer Ralph Stanley
On the other hand, someone who is healthfully emotional can cry appropriately at something sad, and rise up in anger to defend their children, or the children of strangers.
But another form of pathological emotion involves too much movement, emotional dysregulation and stress intolerance, such as we find in disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder, or garden variety hot temper in passionate firey people, especially in warmer cultures where the flip side of warm family relations can be hyper-intensity and quick temper.
Hot temper, losing of temper, irritibilty, flaring into violence verbal and/or physical, there are all mirror images of fire in nature, which is in humans a pathological fire, just as a house fire or forest fire, though natural, can be so damaging to the inhabitants of the fire.
We see here why Chinese medicine describes heat as causing movement. Its what fire does in nature and in the body. In nature fire melts things by speeding up molecules. It transforms solid trees into ash and gas by rapid oxidation, a kind of metabolism. It melts ice into water, and if hot enough gas.
In Humans healthy physiological fire is the basis of metabolism, its why young folk are warm and old folk, whose fire is diminished, become cold, and lose the ability for reproduction, another kind of fire. Indeed its safe to say that life is a process of warm transformation of food, water, oxygen, and experience, into energy, structure, and, hopefully, wisdom.
Its this fire-based healthy movement, that keeps us alive: the circulation of air by the lung Qi; blood by the Heart Qi fluids by both the Lung and Kidney Qi, the essence of food and water and the associated wastes, by the Spleen and Stomach Qi. Life is a warm process of biological movement and enzymatic transformation.
Even the essence of being human–the ability to think, or more properly, thinking (its a continuous process) involves movement–thoughts rise and fall, rise and fall, ideas come in bursts of creativity, associated with, if you are a passionate artist, physical sensations in the chest. Indeed, the biological corollary to thoughts and feeling, neurotransmitters, involve highly concentrated lightning fast movement of molecules from axon to dendrite to axon to dendrite. All our visual and linguistic metaphors for the thought process in English involve light and often speed. “A sudden burst of inspiration, the light bulb went off, etc.”
But when there is too much heat, movement in the human body/mind becomes pathological. Excessive or unowned ignorant anger leads to fire and explosive violent temper, irritability and aggression. Try sleeping when you are angry, you can’t, you toss and turn, like an egg on a hot pan.
Heat in the body is associated with both excessive movement, such as insomnia and the itching produced by hot type skin disorders, but also with excessive thinking, such as occurs with anxiety.
What is anxiety. Anxiety is the non-stop worry, ergo, thinking, produced by fear. Produced by not sitting with and owning fear. For example, a student is up all night before a major exam, unable to sleep. Mind is racing. What is that if not pathological movement where there should be calm. And due to what? To fear. They are not up all night worrying they will succeed, but that they will fail.
And so it goes. All herbal prescriptions that treat insomnia in Chinese medicine clear heat from the heart Qi, which is associated with thinking, consciousness and sleep. Some, like An Shen Wan, clear the heat aggresively. Others, like Tien Wan Bu Xin Dan, both nourish the heart Qi with sweet and sour medicinals and clear heat with bitter ones.
Heat creates movement, and also sensitivity. Lie in the sun too long and your skin hurts. Let your Liver Qi stagnate too much due to repressed anger and fear and you may develop IBS or IC, both involving high levels of sensitivity to sensations in the Gut and Bladder and a high level of reactivity to foodstuffs and external experiences that effect the emotional body. This is how the Gut-Brain connection works, and its also true with IC and chronic frequent urination and non-infectious prostate inflammation–chronic low grade fear/anxiety makes the Qi rush downward in a bursts of low grade heat, that causes inflammation and pain.
And most skin disorders are of a hot type, from Acne to Eczema to Hives or Chronic Urticaria. They involve rubor (redness), sensitive skin, and itching, even pain. nsomnia, itching, restlessness due to excessive heat.
And of course bacterial, viral, yeast, and fungal infections involve heat–from the actual fever to the color of the mucus, to reality of infectious overgrowth by foreign agents. As in Nature, so too in Humans.
In the case of this fruit cake preserved in Antarctica due to cold nothing moved. Nothing broke down. The absence of bacterial movement due to cold. The same reason we freeze food in our home freezers.
In the tropics that fruit cake would have lasted a week at most. Just as the tropics of your body’s surface are your armpits, groin area, scalp to a degree, and body openings. They have strong odor because they are, like the tropics, moist and warm. Places bacteria, yeast, and fungii like to grow.
copyright Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. San Diego, CA August 2017, All Rights Reserved, Use With Permission Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego https://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com