Supporting a Safe and Healthy Pregnancy Using Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Sally Perkins

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) diagnoses are now included in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) beginning 2022. The inclusion is good news for practitioners and patients, as TCM is increasingly becoming a part of global health care. One of the areas where TCM can help is during pregnancy where a woman can manifest symptoms that need intervention or treatment.  Chinese medicine, when used properly, could offer a safe option to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Herbal Medicine for Expectant Mothers 

TCM has several components such as acupuncture and herbal medicine. Much in the same way that traditional medicine can assist in improving fertility rates and eventually in conceiving, it can also help during the gestation period. Pregnant women can take herbs such as ginger, chamomile, or peppermint that reduce the symptoms of early pregnancy specifically nausea or morning sickness.

However, it should be noted that there are other complications that may arise if you are pregnant. As the body undergoes hormonal changes, you will also experience side effects. For example, the placenta produces hormones that can contribute to an accumulation of glucose in the blood. If your pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, sugar levels will increase and a pregnant woman might develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Fortunately, it resolves once a woman has completed pregnancy or has given birth.

In the meantime, there are several things that you can do to control GDM. If properly used, herbal medicine can help bring down glucose levels. Other ways to manage the symptoms of GDM include wearing of stockings for good circulation, paying attention to diets, and exercising.

Acupuncture to Consolidate Energy

Acupuncture is another key component of TCM that can benefit pregnant women. It should be noted that the usual precautions apply -  avoidance of infection and dangerous pressure points.

For expectant moms, you don’t want to touch pressure points that can induce any pain, touch vital organs, or puncture the fetus. In addition, there is a list of acupuncture points that must be avoided because of their oxytocic effect which may induce the mother to go into labor or at worst, a miscarriage.  Overall, acupuncture may be practiced using gentle needling that will aim to enhance a woman’s energy without over stimulating or disturbing the pregnancy.

TCM can benefit a pregnant woman in several ways. It can consolidate her energy, improve mood and enhance overall health contributing to a safe and healthy pregnancy.

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Beautiful featured image photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič - @specialdaddy on Unsplash


Are You Yin or Yang?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The forces of yin and yang describe everything in the universe. Everything has its opposite, and yet, each is an intrinsic part of the other. Everything that exists has a yin as well as a yang aspect and health and the human being are no exception. In Chinese medicine, a person is seen to be made up of yin and yang forces. Each of the organ systems have yin and yang energies, and although this is a dynamic relationship and constantly changing, when these forces become unbalanced, illness can result. Below is a list of some of the basic things that are considered yin and yang, but remember, each of these individually also has a yin and yang aspect.

Yin

  • Darkness
  • Moon
  • Female
  • Night
  • Inwards
  • Contractive
  • Passive
  • Rest
  • Earth
  • Flat
  • Space
  • West
  • North
  • Right
  • Back
  • Below
  • Slow
  • Damp
  • Cold
  • Inside

Yang

  • Light
  • Sun
  • Male
  • Day
  • Outwards
  • Expansive
  • Active
  • Brightness
  • Activity
  • Heaven
  • Round
  • Time
  • East
  • South
  • Left
  • Front
  • Above
  • Fast
  • Dry
  • Hot
  • Outside

A human being also exhibits yin and yang energies. Each organ system is striving for a relative balance of its yin and yang forces, but the body as a whole often has a tendency to be more yin or yang. Are you the kind of person who can go out in the winter without a coat? Or do you need to wear socks and jammies to bed even on a hot sumer night? Are you drawn to frozen foods like ice cream, or do you crave hot drinks like tea and hot chocolate no matter what the season? Knowing the tendency of your body to be more yin or yang can help you determine how to bring it back into balance by using all the tools that Chinese medicine has in its impressive tool box.

The Yin and Yang of Foods

The Yin

Food therapy has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The Chinese understood not only the medicinal properties of foods, but ascribed to each a thermal nature, contributing either a yang, or heating quality, a neutral energy or a yin or cooling energy to the body. This understanding, that all foods are either heating, cooling or neutral in nature helps to rebalance the body when the internal yin or yang energies are out of balance.

As part of my initial patient intake, I ask "are you a hot or cold person?" Most people know right away what the answer is. "Oh, I am always cold!" Or, "I am like a furnace running day and night." This is a clue to someone's relative level of yin or yang. Once you can determine if a person has an overabundance of yin or yang (cold or hot), I usually introduce a list of foods and their heating (yang), cooling (yin) or neutral nature. It is interesting how often a person with an overabundance of yang is actually eating mostly yang or heating foods, and a person with a constitution that is more yin may tend to eat more cooling foods. But this is the wonderful thing about Chinese medicine. Part of the job of the practitioner is to educate the patient and to empower them to participate in their healing. Once they become aware that they have a predominance of yin or yang, they can then take a list of foods and their yin or yang qualities and remove certain foods (that may be exacerbating the condition) and add in others to help the body to rebalance.

Here is a handy chart that lists some yin (cooling) and yang (warming) foods in Chinese medicine - but remember, there are neutral ones too.

Yin & Yang Foods in TCM : Chinese Medicine LivingThis lovely image thanks to rawayurveda.com

Yin & Yang Constitution

There are many clues that you can use to determine if you are constitutionally more yin or more yang. These are generalizations of course, an all of us have both yin as well as yang aspects, but below are some guidelines to help you recognize yin and yang traits in yourself and others.

Yang people tend to speak loudly, be excitable and move quickly (like fire). They tend to be robust, have thinner, stronger bodies, and can be red faced and passionate. Yang personalities are active, expansive and always on the move. They flare up and are changeable, like fire. They can also tend to frustration and anger.

Yin people tend to be quiet, move more slowly and are more grounded. They tend towards weight gain, or in Chinese medicine what is called dampness. They are generally soft spoken and introverted, enjoying to spend time by themselves. Yin personalities often have a rich inner life and live in their fertile imaginations. Yin people may also tend towards sadness and melancholy.

Yin & Yang Conditions

Diagnosis also depends on a deep understanding of yin and yang, and while there are many theories that are used in Chinese medicine to formulate a diagnosis, yin and yang are always a consideration. While each condition has a yin and a yang nature, there are some characteristics that point to weather a condition is more yin or yang.

Yang conditions tend to excess, exhibit heat and symptoms tend to change quickly. They are characterized by redness, swelling, red eyes, bitter taste, fevers, excess type headaches and pain with a sharp or intense nature.

Yin conditions tend to be deficient, exhibit cold or dampness and change slowly. They are characterized by discharges, lumps and bumps (dampness), a feeling of heaviness, slow movements and thinking, and a dull, achey type of pain.

The good news is, that once there has been a proper diagnosis, there are many ways to restore the relative balance of yin and yang in the body, from the foods you eat every day to acupuncture to Chinese herbs. Meditation and martial arts like Tai Chi and Qi Gong are also excellent to restoring health. Once you have an idea of your constitution, you can be aware of when you are swinging out of balance and will be armed with the tools to help yourself restore balance once again. Because the interplay between yin and yang is dynamic and constantly changing, it is helpful to be able to make small adjustments - which is why Chinese medicine works best as a medicine of prevention - rather than waiting until disease develops as the changes needed then are more drastic and generally things take longer to correct.

So... are you more yin, or more yang?? Once you begin to observe your behaviour and the ailments you tend towards, it might become obvious which you are predisposed to. But, hopefully, with the knowledge that there are foods, as well as other simple things that you can do to regain balance, it will help to keep you healthy in the present and long into the future. Yay Chinese medicine!!

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Spirituality and Traditional Chinese Medicine

By John Voigt

The key character in the Chinese word “spiritual” is shen ().

Shen Spirit in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from West Learns East

From the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine: If you have shen, you will progress towards health. If you lose your shen, you will lose your life. [1]

The modern standard reference book for Chinese characters, the Hanyu Da Zidian (2006) defines shen this way: Celestial gods/spirits of stories/legends, namely, the creator of the myriad things in heaven and earth and the supreme being. Spirit-mind-consciousness. Magical, supernatural, miraculous; mysterious, ability to divine the unknown, amazing foresight. And—(especially telling for our purposes)—a highly skilled doctor.

Shen can show itself as something good or something evil.  The word shen may be easily applied to such entities as ghosts, goblins, devils, monsters, and demons, all of whom (historically at least) have been said to bring about illnesses. [2]

The goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that by effecting a healthy flow of qi-life energy in the meridians, and gaining a correct balance of yin and yang energies in the organs, the body and mind gain health and wellbeing.  A goal of the spiritual path is turning away from the myriad attractions and distractions around us and returning to a union with the Infinite, the Absolute, the Divine.

Both these health and spiritual goals are alluded to in the opening of chapter 42 of the Dao De Jing.

Dao De Jing/Tao Te Ching

Chapter 42 (excerpt) - Genesis

(Before the beginning was)

Dao from which is born One (unmanifested Qi).

One which gives birth to Two (the static polarities of yin and yang).
Three - a dynamic Qi appears opening Yin and Yang into a harmony of interaction.

And from Three, creation [in time and space] unfolds and all things are born.

All things carry yin on their backs and embrace yang in their arms.

When female-yin and male-yang mix and blend their Qi (breath/life energy), harmony is obtained. And from Three, creation [in time and space] unfolds and all things are born.

The author, Laozi (Lao Tzu) purposefully has used the seemingly vague open-ended words: Dao-One-Two-Three-All Things. But their lack of specificity enables the thoughtful reader to creatively interpret each word.

The Dao (the “Way”) as an archetypal Mother giving birth to the One, its alter-image, the Hidden Qi: the potential for time, space and consciousness to exist.  From the Hidden Qi there appears Two, the separate as yet non-interacting Yin and Yang [3] - therefore there is no movement and so there is nothing to be seen.

From the Two comes Three, a manifesting  Qi generating interaction and movement between the previously static yin and yang.  And so is born all the myriad things and thoughts possible throughout the entire universe. [4]

The key to spirituality in TCM, as well as in certain mystical religious practices, is to walk the walk of this cosmological emanation in reverse. That is to say from the All (“ten thousand things” of the original text) to Three (Heaven, Earth and Humans), then Two (yin-yang), then One (unmanifested Qi) as the traveler maintains her connections to the commonplace ordinary world of others,  thus safely returning into the harmony, purity, power and compassion of the Way.

The Five Elemental Energies in Nature and in Man

5 Elements : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

There is another Daoist concept of creation that places Five after Three - (perhaps four is missing because, like our thirteen, it is a bad luck number in Asia).

From a primordial infinite nothingness (wuji) comes the One Supreme Ultimate (taiji), a source of creation but without any human personality of a Judaic-Christian God. Then appears Two as the always connected interacting polarities of yin-yang. Then Three as the Heavens above, Man in between, Earth below. [5]

Yin Yang : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

From Three comes Five: the “Five Phases of Universal Energy” - or more commonly but not more accurately called, “The Five Elements.” [6] These are the energies of Wood [actually the energies of growing trees, even all the green leafed flora that grows up from the earth],  burning Fire, fertile Earth, cutting Metal, and washing Water. They represent the changing conditions of all phenomena. Each of the Five has a specific correspondence with a season, direction, color, taste, and internal organ; which helps to explain how the body functions and how qi-energy changes during disease and during healing. Each of the Five has been deified into a god, or could be thought of as a god.

Animal gods have also been assigned to each of the Five. [7]

5 Elements : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

Five Animal Frolics

The Chinese physician, Hua Tuo (circa 140-208 CE) was famous for his abilities in acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine, and medical qigong exercises.

Hua Tuo : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

Similar to the earlier Shamans and WuYi, Hua Tuo developed his “Five Animal Gymnastics” (Wu qin xi) from studying the movements of animals and birds. What exactly were the creatures and movements is now unclear,  but what is obvious is that the Five Elemental Energies, and their ability to heal, are in play here.

The Body heals with play. The Mind heals with laughter. The Spirit heals with joy, [Chinese Proverb].

Often in my qigong classes we do a free form interpretation of some the five creatures. It may be done alone, but it is especially fun with others or in groups. Not surprisingly little kids get it right away; we should be more like them.

Tiger. Walk in a slinky way like a tiger. Growl, and make clawing gestures.

The Tiger represents the elementary energy of growing trees. It relates to the Liver, anger and its opposite,  peacefulness. The grasping motions may help open the acupuncture points at the tips of the fingers and in the palms.

Phoenix. The Phoenix is a mythological creature that reincarnates itself by rising up from the ashes of the fires of its past.  With this qigong there is an implied rebirthing of the self. The Elemental Energy is Fire, the organ is the Heart.

The Gymnastic: In a wide stance, turn to the right, inhale and lift the arms up by your sides.  The heel of the left foot should rise up as you do this. When the hands are level with the ears, open and unfold the hands and arms as if you were a beautiful Phoenix unfolding your wings.  Pause then slowly exhale and float your arms (as wings) back down and return to facing forward with arms hanging down by your sides. Then turn to the left and repeat the gesture, now with the right heel lifting off the ground. Do six times or for as long it feels good to do. It may be viewed on YouTube done by its originator, Lin Housheng. Go to 32:47 of  “…18 Motions of TaiJi Qigong, Disk 2.”

Cat and Cow. The Yoga Cat and Cow pose is normally done on the floor by first arching the back up like an angry cat, then letting the belly loosen and drop down like an old cow. As with most hatha yoga these are static  positions. It becomes more of a qigong gymnastic if you make smooth, gentle and continuous cat and cow movements. The Elemental Energy here is Earth, the organs are Spleen and Stomach.  But this gymnastic also massages the spine, shoulders and all the organs of the lower torso.

An advanced way is to stand and with the chin and hips gently make vertical circles; first forwards then backwards,  the shoulders are kept loose. Go easy with this one: even a hint of pain and you should immediately stop. [8]

Gorilla. Be like Tarzan and tap around your collarbone area. You might make his “King Gorilla of the Jungle” call. (His girlfriend Jane did it as well). It’s great for the important thymus gland. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thymus .This qigong gymnastic relates to Metal, and the Lung area.

Peacock. Peacock Spreads Tail To Show Beautiful Feathers.  Pretend you are a peacock and raise your hands straight up. As they go above your head spread your arms open.  From the sides of your eyes using peripheral vision imagine your beautiful feathers.  With your arms uplifted and palms facing out, slightly bend the elbows and slowly sway to the left and right like audiences at a rock concert. The Energy is Water, relating to the Kidney area.

Healing Prayers

The Ultimate Absolute within Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism is devoid of any human qualities. But in the way that the Abrahamic God gained anthropomorphic qualities, the Asians added many buddhas, bodhisattvas, avatars,  gods, and immortals as a gateway into experiencing the divine Absolute. In both the East and West prayer to the Divine or to divine human-like forms, personifications, icons, etc. has had many instances of miraculous healing take place. Even if no cures happen, prayer can lighten the pain and travail of the passage from life to death.

For Buddhists, the traditional god of healing is Bhaisajyaguru who is also called Yao Shih Fwo. He sometimes functions rather like an Asian “patron saint of healers.” The Medicine Buddha Mantra

Bhaisajyaguru The Medicine Buddha : Chinese Medicine Living

This lovely image from wikipedia

NAMO (I take refuge in) BHAGAVATE (the World-Honored One) BHAISAJYA-GURU (the Master of Medicine) VAIDURYA (the lapis-lazuli colored ) PRABHA (light) RAJA YA (the king) TATHAGATA YA ARHATE (the Thus-Come-One, the One-Worthy-of-Offering) SAMYAK-SAMBUDDHAYA (the equal and correctly enlightened), TADYATHA (and I speak thus): OM (Hail!) BHAISAJYE (Healer) BHAISAJYE (Healer) MAHA-BHAISAJYA (Great Healer) RAJA (king), SAMUDGATE (the path to enlightenment) SVAHA! (So be it!).

Guan Yin / Kwan Yin

Guanyin/Kwan Yin is the goddess of Compassion. Her name literally means “Hearing the Cries of the World.” Although originally a Buddhist god, she is now honored by Daoists, Confucians, Hindus—She has gained the love of the masses in the East, and many in the west. As with Mary or Jesus, angels or saints she is often prayed to for healing.

Quan Yin : Chinese Medicine Living

This beautiful image from wikipedia

Her mantra/prayer is Namo Guan shi yin Pusa, meaning

“Salutations to the most compassionate and merciful Bodhisattva Guanyin who hears the cries of those who suffer.”  Here is a link: Kuan Yin Mantra - Namo Guan Shi Yin Pusa.

The mantra "Namo Guan Shi Yin Pusa" with a variety of artwork depicting the Chinese goddess of mercy who relieves suffering.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6JhSegPjOM

There are many more mantra prayers in the religions of the world that may be used for healing. Perhaps search on YouTube for one that captures your heart.  I typed “healing prayers OR mantra” on my browser and came up with this URL.

Of course with a clean and pure heart, you could compose your own prayer or mantra.

A Few Simplified Spiritual Techniques

Disclaimer:

This article is for educational purposes only. It is not offered for the healing of any illnesses.  If  a person is sick they should see a proper professional in either (or both) western or traditional Chinese medicine. If doing anything in this article is physically or mentally uncomfortable, painful, or feels strange or weird immediately stop doing it.

1. Since the harmony of the Dao is reflected in nature - take a pleasant walk by the ocean or in the country. Or have fresh cut flowers in your home.

2. Daoist and Buddhist rituals include lighting incense and candles, singing prayers, and ceremonial dances.  If at home alone feeling glum, why not light incense and/or candles, sing and/or dance?

Qi Breathing Exercise

Qigong (chi kung) is a basic modality of TCM. It often is defined as “breath work.”

A person can sit comfortably with a straight back, and focus their mental attention on their breathing. Then calmly breathe more slowly and deeply. If the mind wanders simply count the breaths up to five (or any other number) and repeat the counting, or use a mantra like “peace,” or “relax,”  or “I am calm,” etc.  More Advanced: next be aware of the coolness on the nostrils. Then move that awareness to the qi-breath entering the lungs, from there be aware (or just imagine) the oxygen–qi in the blood entering all parts of your body, helping healing and refreshing you.  Having a simple smile seems to help this qi breathing exercise along. A really easy version of this exercise is to slowly, calmly and fully breathe into your lower lungs, only paying attention to how it feels.

Get a massage; I recommend Chinese Therapeutic Massage (Tuina). But massage can be done at home with a partner or by one’s self: rub and squeeze the body - especially the arms, legs, belly and kidney areas and feel energy blockages open up inside. Again keep your attention on how if feels, what the qi flow is doing. That may aid in making this a spiritual healing experience

Amulets are often used for healing.  An interesting way to do this is keeping on your person a mini-sized Daode Jing. Shambhala Publications has a 3 x 1/4  x 4.5 inch size copy.  

At night when the sky is clear and the moon is full, with open eyes look up to the moon and see it smiling down on you then smile back at it. The advanced Daoist qigong version of this is in the Endnotes, see [9].

One Last Thought

The belief systems of a non-spiritual TCM practitioner and a practicing Daoist healer may differ; nevertheless a raison d'être of each is similar: the goal is the gaining of wellbeing. One might say the absence of illness while the other says being in harmony with the Dao. However putting the best of both together offers the possibilities of a long, healthy, and happy life.

Endnotes

[1] Zhang Yu Huan & Ken Rose. Who Can Ride the Dragon? pg. 211. Paradigm, 1999.

[2] Illness are said to be produced by xie qi: bad, evil, pathogenic, demonic, devilish, evil life energy. See “Turbid Qi” http://qi-encyclopedia.com/index.asp?article=TurbidQi by Jerry Alan Johnson

[3] Yin originally meant dark and shaded. Yang originally meant sunny, full of light.

As mentioned above, these are not hard and fast static concepts.  As time (night and day) moves forward each continually folds into and becomes the other. So by extension we have light-positive-masculine qi and dark-negative-female qi (no sexual value judgment is implied). Everything in the universe has both aspects of interchanging yin and yang.

[4] When this emanating process is balanced and in harmony all is as it should be. When disharmony happens (as in much of our modern civilization) there can be a harmful damaging chaos; things are no longer with the Dao. Examples are global climate change, widespread mental and physical illness, and continual killing warfare.

[5] The Chinese have different terms to expound on the meaning of this Three. With San Cai (Three Powers) yang becomes the Heavens, yin becomes the Earth, and in between are we, Humanity. Or San Bao, (The Three Treasures) of Jing (Essence) Qi (Vital Energy), and Shen (Spirit). Those knowledgeable with TCM working principles will recognize fundamental terms here.

[6]  The Chinese name for Five Energetic Phases is Wuxing (wǔ xíng -五行) which is an abbreviation of wu zhong liu xing zhi qi — “five types of universal energy [qi or chi] dominating at different times.”

[7] The White Tiger rules Metal and the Lung. Black Tortoise rules Water and the Kidney. The Green Dragon rules Wood and the Liver. The Red Phoenix rules Fire and the Heart. The Gold Dragon rules Earth and the Spleen/Stomach.  http://realm-of-midgard.wikia.com/wiki/Five_Gods_of_Wu_Xing .

[8] Sorry, I have no video for this, but Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s “Simple Qigong for Back Pain Relief (YMAA)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BObNy_LBFRU from 0:04 to 0:41 offers some clues; it’s all about those concave – convex movements of the spine.

[9] Taking in Moon Cream Tonifies yin-essence. Gathering Sun Essence replenishes yang-qi. As the sun begins to rise at daybreak, with mostly drooped closed eyelids, breathe in one mouthful of soft gentle reddish sunlight (imagine it); hold the breath, then swallow it; then exhale and send it down to the dantian. Do ten times. At night when the skies are clear and the moon is full do the same swallowing with moonlight, six times.  Adapted from Chinese Qigong, Zhang Enqin, (1990) p.108.

A Daoist source of this exercise may be found on pg. 54 of Early Daoist Dietary Practices, by Shawn Arthur. https://books.google.com/books?id=idBrd_dKCkYC&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=Early+Daoist+Dietary+Practices+%22solar+lord%22&source=bl&ots=9-fKlt71__&sig=UVFqKokBlpyKOz-1qk4wsF5L0Nc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwip4qzt24nMAhUFPj4KHYjTAakQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=Early%20Daoist%20Dietary%20Practices%20%22solar%20lord%22&f=false

Bibliography/Sources

“Chapter 1, What is Shen (Spirit)?” http://www.itmonline.org/shen/chap1.htm

http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/daodejing42.php

“The Chinese Cosmos: Basic Concepts.” http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos/bgov/cosmos.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_mythology

“Daoist Magic - a conversation with Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson, Ph.D, D.T.C.M.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckpN8TWPbhE&nohtml5=False

Guan Yin Goddess of Healing. http://www.quanyinhealing.net/quan_yin.html

Timothy Leary. Psychedelic Prayers after the Tao Te Ching. http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Timothy-Leary-Psychedelic-Prayers.pdf

Lin Shi and Chenguang Zhang. “Spirituality in Traditional Chinese Medicine,” [in] Pastoral Psychology, October/December, 2012.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257635748_Spirituality_in_Traditional_Chinese_Medicine

Elizabeth Reninger. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Five Element Styles of Practice. http://taoism.about.com/od/qigongchinesemedicine/a/TCM.htm

Taoism and martial arts-Opening Dao. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SP0vS4hTJs

Terebess Asia Online (Tao). The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, [125 translations]. http://terebess.hu/english/tao/_index.html

John Voigt. “Happy Fun Qigong.” Qi Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3: Autumn 2015

Ibid. “Qi in the Daodejing—The Way and its Power.” Qi-Encyclopedia. com http://qi-encyclopedia.com/index.asp?article=Qi-in-the-Daodejing

Ibid. “Six Healing Sounds: Chinese Mantras for Purifying Body. Mind, and Soul. Qi Journal, http://www.qi-journal.com/Qigong.asp?Name=Six%20Healing%20Sounds&-token.D=Article

Wu Xing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_Xing

Featured image from wikipedia.
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Spirituality and Traditional Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living


Traditional Chinese Medicine - The Medicine of Prevention

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I like to use the metaphor borrowed from the wonderful book Between Heaven and Earth that compares the body to a garden. Chinese medicine sees the body as a garden; something that needs to be tended and nurtured. You must water a garden, pull weeds and be mindful of pests for your garden to thrive. You must look at your garden every day so that you can detect subtle changes and make adjustments so that your garden will flourish.

In the West, the body is seen more as a machine. Parts break and must be fixed or replaced. It is a reductionist model, reducing the body to parts, that instead of working together are seen in isolation. We tend to wait until something "breaks" before we seek out a mechanic to do the needed repairs. This is one of the fundamental differences between the Eastern and Western models. In the West, we tend to wait until we are diagnosed with a disease before we seek out treatment, and in the Eastern model, we are learning to take care of ourselves on every level so that we can stay healthy so sickness never develops. Chinese medicine is a medicine of prevention.

Chinese Medicine - The Medicine of Prevention

The thing that many people don't know about Chinese medicine is that it is not just going to have acupuncture for a headache, or when your allergies flare up - it teaches a way of life, or better yet - a way of LIVING. In acupuncture school, we are all taught the acupuncture points and their functions, but this is only a fraction of the overall picture. We are mostly looking at the entire body and its relationship to the environment. We are also looking at the body and its various parts in relation to each other. In the garden, if you tend it every day you see which plants are happy and which ones are struggling. You can see which ones need fertilizer and which ones are getting too much sun. It is the same with the body. If we are paying attention, we can feel the subtleties happening inside, if we have an excess liver, a deficient spleen or a disturbance in our shen. This kind of attunement is possible, and vital to being as healthy and balanced as we would all like to be. The thing is, that we have to learn how. And this is what Chinese medicine teaches.

This learning, or teaching - the sharing of information - is the job of the acupuncturist. That is the entire intention of Chinese Medicine Living and why I started it in the first place. It is not to hand over your health to someone else, it is to participate and empower everyone to achieve the healing, health, and happiness they want because they can have it.

How To Stay Healthy and Prevent Illness

The wonderful thing about the Chinese medicine approach to health is that it is all-encompassing. You are not just your body, you are so much more! You are spirit, emotions, energy, light - they are all part of you. You are also flesh, bones, muscles, and tendons, and all must be maintained so that you remain healthy. Every aspect is important, they all matter. The intake process of the acupuncturist or practitioner of Chinese medicine is comprehensive and extremely thorough. The theory is that we are trying to paint a picture of the entire organism because every part is connected to every other part, nothing exists in isolation. If you have a headache, we do not just look at the head, we must look at the entire body in all its aspects. The headache is only the symptom, we must determine the main cause. The other reason is that we are treating the root problem and not the symptoms. This is at the core of Chinese medical theory. Any illness that manifests is seen as a symptom of a deeper problem, and that is what we are trying to correct. People sometimes wonder, what if they have many symptoms? Do you treat them all at the same time or can you treat them all at once? This situation depends on the severity of the symptom. If it is acute and causing distress to the patient, then we treat the symptom immediately and then treat the root afterwards. If the symptoms are causing discomfort, then both symptom and root would be treated at the same time, and if the symptoms are not causing distress, then the root would be treated, and once the root is discovered and corrected, the symptoms simply disappear. This is one of the reasons why Chinese medicine treatments are so effective. They are individualized treatments, seeking out the root of the problem and correcting it. It is not treating a headache, it is treating YOUR headache by figuring out why you are having them.

Why Emotions Matter


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A thorough exploration of the emotions is of vital importance for every patient. Sometimes someone will come in with problems they see as reasonably superficial and when I get to the part about the emotions they ask "what difference does that make? What could that possibly have to do with having stomachaches?" And this is my answer. It could have everything to do with your stomachaches and everything else that is going on with you. Emotions are a huge factor in our health and Chinese medicine takes them very seriously. They are as important to the practitioner of Chinese medicine as the virus you caught in a third world country or the chronic asthma you have been suffering with since you were a child. In my opinion, the emotions are responsible for a huge percentage of all the imbalances I see in clinic, and that is why they really matter.

Living in Harmony with Nature


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People used to live in complete harmony with the world around them. After the development of agriculture, we began to break this connection, and instead of living in harmony with nature, we began to dominate and control it. People were aware of subtle changes in weather and were deeply connected to animals, the seasons and the planet. The natural world governed behaviour; what people ate and when as well as eating what was in season. This is the way our bodies were designed and evolved over thousands of years, and how we could best stay healthy and ward off disease. Things like the weather, the ebb and flow of the seasons and the migration of animals were all a vital part of life, health, and survival.

In the present day, this connection has largely been severed. We suffer and die from diseases at an unprecedented rate. Many of us sit in front of computers for many hours a day and eat foods that are highly processed and full of unnatural chemicals. Going outside is something to "do" and not our natural state as it once was. Our relationship with nature and the planet is no longer harmonious and mutually beneficial, human beings live unnatural lives and get sick and die from many diseases that did not affect our ancestors.

Chinese medicine teaches a way of living, and that is to live as close to nature as possible. Eating with the seasons, rising early in the summer months and spending time outside being active, eating more cooling foods, and sleeping more and turning energies more inwards in the colder months, eating warming foods and conserving energies. It is simple, and it works well to keep us healthy so that disease doesn't have a chance to develop.

Food as Medicine 

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Food is perhaps the most important aspect of good health. There is a lot of information and therefore confusion about how and what to eat. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there about foods, diets, what is harmful and what is beneficial, so it is understandable that nutrition is a huge and confusing subject for many. Chinese medicine uses food as medicine. Food is something you put into your body every day, so eating well is the best way to stay healthy and avoid disease.

There is a huge amount of evidence that diet alone can reverse many of the most devastating diseases in Western society - heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The trick is not to wait until you get a diagnosis of one of these diseases to take action. Eating well is something that you can do every day, at every meal. Chinese medicine sees foods as having a thermal nature, or temperature. Along with your constitution (you may be a hot or cold person), you can add or take away foods that will help keep you balanced. The key is to be constantly paying attention so that you can adjust accordingly. You must listen to your body.

Listen to Your Body

listen to your body : Chinese Medicine Living

This is perhaps the thing that, in my experience, we are missing the most. I fully believe that the body has an intelligence that far exceeds the one we attribute to our brains. Your body is a miracle. It is a miracle of healing. There are stories about this healing from all over the world. Your body wants to be healthy and heal from illness, you must only give it what it needs to do so. But you must listen. It is always trying to communicate with you. Take the example of pain. This is a communication tool used by the body to tell you that something is wrong. Instead of listening, doctors prescribe painkillers so that we don't feel it. We don't want to feel pain, but it is the body's way of trying to get your attention. There are many, many ways that the body communicates, but we have largely lost the ability to listen. So many times I have patients who have been diagnosed with illnesses like MS, cancer, heart disease and are completely shocked when their doctors tell them they are sick. Once we speak and I learn of their history, be it medical, emotional or psychological it is usually obvious that there were signs, many, many signs before there was a diagnosis of one of these serious diseases.

We live in a world where we are overworked, underslept, in debt and stressed out. Many of us feel we do not have the luxury of listening to our bodies because we have to go to work so that the mortgage can be paid, or the children can go to school. We push ourselves harder and harder and our health - both physical and spiritual, suffers. It's not easy. But it is WORTH it. Deep down we all have that sense, that gut feeling that we know when something is wrong. Something is out of balance. We need more sleep, we need to eat better. This is your body speaking to you. It wants you to be healthy and to live a long, happy life. It only wants you to listen.

 


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Causes of Disease in Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

According to traditional Chinese medicine, we are healthy, happy beings because our bodies are in a state of harmony. This harmony is between yin and yang, the different organs in our bodies and our relationship with the external environment. And yet, this harmony is constantly in a state of flux because of the activities of our daily lives; the way we treat our physical bodies, how we deal with our emotions, the changing weather, the stresses of work and family and the constant uncertainty of life itself.

When a person is healthy and an imbalance is created, it is quickly restored. If a person is unhealthy and there is an imbalance, because the strength of the body is compromised, it takes longer for the body to return to that harmonious state. When the body is in a prolonged state of imbalance, disease will occur. In Chinese medicine, it is the factors that cause the body to lose its harmonious balance that are the causes of disease.

Human beings have always struggled with external and internal threats to their health. External factors such as the weather do not normally cause disease. It is only when the body is in a weakened state, or the external factors occur too quickly for the body to adjust that the delicate balance is disrupted and illness can occur. Some diseases are also seen to be caused by internal factors, such as problems with the organs, emotional stress, and excess sexual activity.

External Causes

Wind

Symptoms of external wind manifest with fever, chills, and sweating. Wind particularly affects the lungs which lead to coughing, stuffy, runny nose and an itchy or dry throat. Wind is said to be the master of 100 illnesses.

Heat Fire

The difference between heat and fire is temperature. Fire is not only hotter than heat, but it always flares upwards which manifest in symptoms of the upper body. Symptoms of fire include a strong aversion to heat, restlessness, irritability and thirst. Someone with fire symptoms has little sweat, a flushed face and red eyes.

Summer Heat

Symptoms of summer heat occur mostly in the summer season. Of all the external pathogenic factors, summer heat is the only one that is seasonal. It is also the only factor that is caused solely by heat from the external environment. There is no internal summer heat. Symptoms of summer heat include fever, excessive sweating, thirst, irritability, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Heatstroke is a common ailment in the summer season and its symptoms include dizziness, nausea, lack of energy. The best way to combat summer heat is to keep hydrated by drinking lots of water.

Dampness

External dampness includes the humidity in the air and the water, rain and fog in the environment. Living in a damp environment, such as a basement in a damp climate, can cause dampness to invade the body and lead to disease. Symptoms of external dampness include chills, fever that does not improve with sweating, a heavy sensation in the body - especially the limbs and a cloudy, heavy feeling in the head. One of the main symptoms of dampness is a lack of thirst because the body is already inundated with moisture.

Dryness

Dryness is associated with autumn, so it occurs most often in that season. Dryness enters the body through the nose and mouth so most affects the lungs. These symptoms manifest as dry mouth, nose, throat, skin and cough. Dryness with the addition of heat also causes fever, headaches, sweating, thirst and irritability.

Cold

Cold is the main climatic element of winter, but of course, exists all year round and can combine with other elements such as dampness and wind. When the body is exposed to cold, either from cold weather or staying in a cold place for too long, the body will exhibit symptoms of fever, aversion to cold, headaches, body aches, stuffy nose, coughing and lack of sweat. Overeating raw foods, which are considered very cold in Chinese medicine is another way that cold can affect our health. Symptoms of overconsumption of cold foods are pain in the abdomen or stomach, indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Staying warm when we go outside and while we sleep is a good way to keep cold making us sick.

Internal Causes

Internal Wind

The main symptoms of internal wind are spasms, convulsions, rigid neck, an upward turning of the eyes and opisthotonus (a severe muscle spasm where the back is arched and the head and toes are almost touching). Some less serious symptoms of internal wind are numbness or tremors of the limbs, blurry eyes, and vertigo. In Chinese medicine, the liver is the organ that generates wind, so someone presenting with these symptoms would be suffering from liver wind.

Internal Heat Fire

Signs of internal fire are more severe than external fire and include bleeding from the nose, blood in the urine or stools, bleeding associated with haemorrhoids and eruptions, boils or rashes on the skin and cold sores on the tongue or mouth.

Internal Dampness

Internal dampness usually has to do with a dysfunction of the spleen. The spleen, when out of balance, is prone to dampness. A common symptom is difficult urination. If the dampness is in the upper part of the body like the lungs, the patient will feel tightness in the chest, dizziness and vertigo. If the dampness is in the stomach they will feel fullness and distension in the abdomen, nausea, soft or loose stools, heaviness of the limbs and have a sticky sweet taste in the mouth.

Internal Dryness

Internal dryness results in the lack of blood and body fluids and can occur after a feverish illness, not allowing the patient to recover completely and causing their illness to linger. Internal dryness is common after someone has suffered a chronic disease as the body and body fluids are often exhausted and the body is not able to nourish tissues. Many medications are also considered very heating in Chinese medicine and can contribute to dryness inside the body. Symptoms of internal dryness include thirst, dry skin that can be coarse and flaky, dry hair, constipation, emaciated muscles and a dry tongue.

Internal Cold

Internal cold is caused by a deficiency of fire or yang energy inside the body. Yang deficiency can occur in any of our organs. The symptoms a person experiences will correspond to the organ affected. For example, if the yang of the heart is deficient the function of the heart will be compromised as we see with heart failure. These patients feel cold, have palpitations, shortness of breath and stagnation of their qi and blood which can lead to severe chest pains. Lips and face are often bluish or purple in these patients.

Emotional Factors

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It may seem strange that something like emotions could be considered a cause of disease. Of course, emotions are a normal part of being human. But feeling them intensely for prolonged periods, being unable to express your emotions, or experiencing a sudden shock or trauma is the way in which they can become a cause of disease.

Each organ is associated with an emotion in Chinese medicine. When the organ is out of balance, there will be a disturbance in its associated emotion, and conversely, if you are feeling overwhelmed by a specific emotion, it may damage its corresponding organ. Here are the organs and their corresponding emotions...

The Heart - Joy

The Liver - Anger or Frustration

The Lungs - Sadness or Grief

The Spleen - Worry or Overthinking

The Kidneys - Fear

An example would be someone suffering from the sudden loss of a loved one. The shock might cause an overwhelming sense of loss and grief which, if intense could cause lung symptoms like asthma, shortness of breath and cough. This also works in reverse, if someone was suffering from a prolonged cough, they might find that they were feeling more melancholy than usual. It is a constant cycle of interaction.

Then we have what is called the “miscellaneous factors” in Chinese medicine. These are the causes of disease that do not fit into the previous categories of internal, external or emotional.

Diet & Eating Habits

Nutrition and eating habits are necessary for the body to perform its vital functions. One of the major causes of disease is poor diet and bad eating habits. If we are not able to attain enough nutrition to keep our bodies healthy and functioning at optimal levels, then illness will occur. The amount of food and the frequency at which we eat it is also important. Many smaller meals are always better (and easier on the digestive system) than one or two large ones. Everyone is different, but we tend to live in a culture with larger than necessary portions and not enough time to eat regularly, the body loves consistency.

Eating a varied diet, full of fruits and vegetables, being careful to wash foods carefully will help keep the body strong and the immune system able to fight off pathogens from inside and out. Food therapy is a huge component of Chinese medicine, each food having its medicinal properties, temperatures and seasons when they are best consumed for health. The Chinese have used food as medicine for thousands of years and there is a wealth of knowledge on how to use food to keep yourself in the best health possible all year round.

Another thing important in TCM is being mindful when you eat. We are so often doing more than one thing at a time, and people often use their lunch breaks or dinner to catch up on work, watch tv or help the kids with their homework. One way we can relieve some of the burdens on our already taxed digestive systems is to really focus and when we are eating, and just eat. The spleen, which is the organ of digestion in Chinese medicine is responsible for digesting not only the food that we eat but information and stimulus as well which is why allowing it to digest those things one at a time will lift some of the burdens. And we all want to have happy spleens right? Of course, we do.

Stress

Stress is also a normal part of life. We all experience heightened levels of stress that are often beyond our control. The key to health is being able to maintain that balance and find healthy ways to deal with stress so it does not become overwhelming. Thankfully, Chinese medicine offers us many tools with which to effectively deal with stress.

Qi Gong

Qi Gong is an internal martial art which has been practised for thousands of years in China is an ideal way to calm the mind and body with its fluid movements and emphasis on breathing.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is another excellent exercise and way to calm the mind, body, and spirit with forms of graceful movements also with an emphasis on the breath. Both are best practised outside, as nature has a calming, grounding effect on body mind and spirit.

Meditation

Meditation is another tool employed to help combat the effects of stress. It is amazing how dramatic the act of sitting quietly for 20 minutes can affect how you feel. It is a wonderfully simple way to pull yourself out of what is worrying you and become more centred. And, because nature is such a fundamental part of Chinese medicine, the simple act of going outside, taking a walk and taking deep breaths is an incredibly healing, calming thing for mind and body. Make sure to take the time you need to step outside of what is stressing you and give yourself the gift of healing with one of the many modalities that have been used for thousands of years by the Chinese.

Fatigue


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In this chaotic time, this is perhaps one of the most common causes of disease. We are a chronically under-slept culture. The incredibly healing restorative power of sleep cannot be overstated. Sleep is the time that our bodies have to heal and repair any damage. It is also a time for the mind to rest, which is an incredibly important aspect of health. Everyone knows that feeling of being run down, and how susceptible we are to illness when our bodies and psyches are exhausted. Give yourself the time to sleep. It is important for the immune system, stress and is your body’s time to rebalance itself which it really needs.

Excess Sexual Activity

This is one that surprises people. Is it really possible that excess sexual activity can be bad for you? Yes. It is true, that in Chinese Medicine excess sexual activity is a cause of disease, and let me tell you why. First of all, this problem is more relevant for men than it is for women and that is because sex for men usually ends in ejaculation. That ejaculation contains the man’s fundamental essence, called Jing. A substantial and ongoing loss of this Jing can have long term health consequences which become more severe as the man ages. A loss of Jing causes the body to age prematurely. For women, this loss of Jing, the body’s fundamental essence can occur by having too many children too close together. Pregnancy is traumatic to the body and supplementing and allowing the body to heal sufficiently afterwards is important so that you are not unnecessarily draining your Jing. Also, marrying too young and engaging in excess sexual activity before your body is fully developed is another way you can injure Jing. Don’t get me wrong, having a healthy sex life is a very important factor in good health, but, like everything in Chinese medicine, it is all about balance. So, my advice to you would be moderation. :)

Injuries & Trauma


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Injuries and traumas are unavoidable and often out of our control. Broken bones, sprains, cuts, pulled muscles and animal bites and accidents happen to all of us. The damage is usually localized, and if treatment is sought right away and given correctly then there are usually no long term effects. But, if treatment is not received quickly enough or things like infections develop, they can lead to more serious problems and eventually be causes of disease.

Parasites

Parasites are still a problem in many parts of the world where there is poor sanitation and health regulations. Parasites have a profound effect on the body often causing pain in the abdomen, poor appetite, and emaciation. Parasites drain the body of essential nutrition leading to deficiencies and weight loss. Children especially are susceptible to parasites and worms and should be checked if any of the above symptoms are observed.

Chinese medicine was developed over thousands of years and as a result has a robust understanding of the human body and the causes of disease which is why, there is, and always has been, a huge emphasis on prevention. The idea is that if the body is strong, healthy and in balance, disease will never have a chance to develop. There is a quote that illustrates this and basically sums up the idea that is at the core of Chinese medicine. It was written in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty by the famous emperor Huang Di.

Maintaining order rather than correcting disorder is the ultimate principle of wisdom. To cure disease after it has appeared is like digging a well when one already feels thirsty or forging weapons after the war has already begun.

~ Huang Di / The Yellow Emperor   476 - 221BC


The Importance of the Pulse: Chinese Pulse Diagnosis

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Anyone who has ever been to see a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), will be familiar with having their pulse taken in the unique TCM way. We all know that the pulse tell us about heart rate, and that listening to the heartbeats speed and regularity are used to help diagnose heart problems in the Western medical model. The pulse in Chinese Medicine however, is used to give us a lot more information about the patient.

There is no stethoscope. The pulse is generally taken with the patient seated, the practitioner placing 3 fingers on the patients wrist, feeling for the radial artery. Each wrist's pulse is taken, and the position of each finger represents a specific organ. There are 6 organs represented, 3 on the right, and 3 on the left. There are 3 different depths at which the pulse is taken as well, each representing a different aspect of the overall health of the patient. The three wrist sections of the pulse are the front, middle and rear, respectively. The three levels are superficial (pressing lightly), middle (pressing a little deeper) and deep (pressing even deeper). The three levels at each of the three sections on the wrist are referred to as the “Nine Regions.”

LEFT WRIST

FRONT: HEART / SMALL INTESTINE

MIDDLE: LIVER / GALL BLADDER

REAR: KIDNEY / BLADDER

RIGHT WRIST

FRONT: LUNGS / LARGE INTESTINE

MIDDLE: SPLEEN / STOMACH

REAR: GATE OF VITALITY FIRE

These three levels of the pulse give an immediate idea of the level of Qi in the body and, therefore, the kind of pathological condition that might be present. In particular, the superficial level reflects the state of Qi (energy), the middle level reflects the state of Blood and the deep level reflects the state of Yin (the water aspect of the body). Thus, by examining the strength and quality of the pulse at these three levels, we get a better idea of the pathology of Qi, Blood and Yin, and of the relative state of balance in the body as a whole.

Any imbalance in Chinese medicine is seen to be the cause of disease, therefore the goal of the TCM practitioner is to discover the root of the imbalance by listening to the pulse, looking at the tongue, observing the body, and doing a thorough investigation of the patients medical history and presenting symptoms. Once all of the information has been collected, a diagnosis is reached and a treatment plan can be created for the patient according to their specific needs. The pulse is an important part of the diagnostic process in TCM, and although it may seem mysterious, there is a lot it can reveal about your health, your organs, energy level, and the overall condition of your internal environment.