Get Ready For Cold and Flu Season with Chinese Herbs

I have some great herbal formulas to keep you and your children healthy during the upcoming cold and flu season. For example:

1) Yin Chiao Chieh Tu Pien: This formula treats a cold that starts with a sore throat. Also for the kind of cold that feels like allergies with itching and sneezing, and a scratchy throat.

2) Sang Zhu Yin Wan: This formula is for a cold that starts with a dry hacking cough and a dry blocked nose. A “dry” cold.

3) Gan Mao Ling: This formula contains herbs with powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties. It’s especially good for the kind of cold that starts with feeling chilled or very tired and run-down.

Stock these, and other traditional Chinese herbal formulas in your medicine cabinet and you will be well-armed with natural and time tested remedies to keep you and your children healthy this season. Better, schedule a wellness appointment with me when you are not sick. Based on your constitution and health history, I will determine which preventative herbs and other measures will be the most effective for you.

Remember: Regular acupuncture and moxabustion treatments boost immunity and prevent illness.

More on moxabustion in my next blog!

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for the Common Cold

In Chinese medicine, the common cold is considered to be an “invasion of wind”.  “Wind” means catching a chill or draft.  But, wind also means any pathogen that invades the body from the outside.

Typically, when you first get a head cold, your symptoms will fit predominately into one of these two patterns:

Wind Cold

  • Headache, stiff neck, “all over” muscle aches
  • Stuffy nose, runny nose with thin clear watery mucus
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Chills (predominating) and fever
  • Absence of sweating

Wind Heat

  • Sore, dry, or scratchy throat
  • Thirsty
  • Stuffy nose or nasal discharge which is thick and yellow or green
  • Cough with thick or sticky yellow mucus
  • Feeling warm, maybe fever.  Mild chills or no chills
  • Sweating

There are things you can do when you first experience signs of a cold to help prevent it from going deeper into your chest.

If you are experiencing predominantly Wind Cold symptoms, you need to warm yourself from the inside, induce a sweat, and sleep as much as possible.  The best home remedy is to finely slice a big piece of ginger root (perhaps 6” long by 2” wide).  Bring it to a boil in 6 cups of water, then reduce it to a simmer for an additional 15 minutes.  Then, turn off the heat, and add 4 teabags of green tea.  Remove the green tea bags in 2-3 minutes.  Drink a cup or two of this, then take a steamy hot shower.  Get out of the shower, go right to bed under warm covers and sleep as much as you can.  Repeat this process until you experience a nice sweat that breaks your fever and alleviates most of your symptoms.  If you have a “wind-cold” type cold, the caffeine in the green tea typically will not act as a stimulant, even if you are otherwise sensitive to caffeine.  If you have a genuine Wind Cold condition, you will feel much better after you sweat it out. 

If you are experiencing predominantly Wind Heat symptoms, there is a Chinese herbal remedy called Yin Chiao that works really well for this.  Whole Foods sells a version of it.  The brand name is Planetary Formulas.

Whenever you have signs of a cold, you should forgo eating all dairy products and refined sugars until you are well.  Dairy products aggravate phlegm conditions and refined sugars suppress your immune system—which is the last thing you want to do when you are sick.

When Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat aren’t resolved properly, they can transform into each other (typically Wind-Cold transforms into Wind-Heat).  Or, they can lodge deeper in the chest and linger there as Lung-Heat or Lung-Phlegm-Heat.

There are two other very common patterns.  The first pattern is called Qi Deficiency with External Wind.  The sufferer is typically an adult with a weak respiratory or immune system who keeps getting sick, or they never really get over their last cold, before they get another cold.  Sometimes they can’t tell if it’s allergies or a cold.  They just always feel lousy.  Typically, they have mild chills, maybe a mild fever, headache, nasal congestion, a cough with clear mucus, a recurrent mild sore throat, swollen glands, fatigue, lethargy and weakness.

Another very common pattern is called Wind Cold with Interior Heat.  This pattern is common in children and in young robust adults.  They get severe cold symptoms: high fever, severe chills, a loud cough with sticky yellow mucus, no sweat, severe sore throat, stuffed nose, headache and body aches, very thirsty and irritable. 

There are excellent, targeted Chinese herbal formulas for all of these patterns.  Some of my patients with children purchase these formulas from me to have on hand when their kids get sick.  Pleasant tasting versions of classic Chinese cold and flu formulas are now available in “kid versions”.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are effective both for expelling early stage colds and for getting rid of recalcitrant phlegm due to colds that have lodged deeper in the chest and overstayed their welcome.  Acupuncture and moxabustion are also very effective in preventing colds, and for strengthening the body’s vital energy after a bout of pneumonia or flu in order to prevent recurrences.

Blood Stagnation: When Yin and Yang separate, you die!

In Chinese Medicine, we say that Qi is inside blood, and blood gives Qi a home.  What does this mean and how can it help me diagnose and treat your health issues?

Blood is relatively Yin (dense, substantive and fluid) compared to Qi, which is more Yang.  Qi is the energy or life force inside the blood that warms and circulates it, and gives it its red color.  When Blood doesn’t have enough Qi in it, it becomes pale or purple (it loses its fresh red color).  Circulation (hence warmth) slows down.  If Qi completely separates from blood, blood congeals, the heart stops pumping it, and the person (or other animal) dies. 

Another way of saying this:  Death is the total separation of Yin and Yang.  Yin and Yang are all encompassing concepts in Eastern philosophy.  All of life and manifestation is the result of the harmonious interplay of Yin and Yang.  Inside our bodies, all disease processes involve some separation of Yin and Yang, Qi and blood.

Here’s an example:

When you sprain or break your ankle, the Qi and blood stagnate locally.  The ankle swells with water, which is really the Yin (fluid, blood aspect)of the blood leaking out of the blood vessels.  The Qi is stuck (like fallen logs across a stream) preventing the blood from moving along its proper pathway. 

In Western medical terms, this process is called extravasation.  Extravasation is the leakage of a fluid outside of its proper container.  Inflammation is a type of extravasation where, due to injury, the white blood cells move out of the capillaries and into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling (or diapedesis).

Picture a river that is dammed up.  If the sluice doesn’t open properly, there may be local flooding—a backup and overflow of water upstream of the sluice.  Yet, the water level might be dangerously low and stagnant downstream.

Blood stagnation is much the same.  You may have dark, purple, sticky and clotted blood due to localized dryness, plus edema and fluid retention elsewhere.  Both dryness and dampness in the very same person.

In Chinese medicine, dampness is any fluid in the body that builds up and lodges somewhere it is not normally present.  Normal physiological fluids, such as blood, sweat, tears, saliva, gastric juices, and urine are the “Yin” of the body.  The Qi (Yang life force) of the body circulates all the Yin fluids so that they function like rivers and streams, irrigating and nourishing our body.  If the Qi gets blocked or damaged, these healthy Yin fluids wind up pooling, stagnating or leaking out.  The pooling and stagnating is called “dampness”.  The leaking out is called “dryness”. 

Some people are more damp.  Others are more dry.  Many people are both damp and dry in different places in their body.  The root of dampness and dryness is poor circulation, and a breakdown in the proper harmonious relationship between blood and Qi (Yin and Yang).

A common example of this is a woman with PMS and menstrual difficulties.  Normal menstrual blood should be fresh looking, red and without clots.  It should flow out smoothly and painlessly in moderate quantities.  If the blood is dark, purple, brown, watery-pale, clotted, gushing, or if the flow seems to stop and start—then the Qi and blood are stagnant or deficient. 

Deficient Qi can’t adequately warm, nourish and circulate the blood.  Stagnant Qi blocks the flow of blood.  Either way, you wind up with the same result:  the blood doesn’t flow smoothly, doesn’t get nourished properly, and becomes “dry” and stagnant instead of fresh and flowing.  In a menstruating woman, this can result in symptoms such as swelling, bloat, bowel changes, weight gain, and edema (signs of dampness).  It’s the “Yin” aspect of the blood leaking out of the blood vessels and lodging in places where it shouldn’t be.  Hence, dampness and dryness in the same person. 

Acupuncturists gain invaluable information about a woman’s overall health–the condition of her Qi and blood– simply by obtaining detailed information about her menstrual history.  Harmonizing the Qi with the blood can alleviate many female problems, such as infertility and menopausal symptoms.

One final example:

Most cases of hypertension are due to blood stasis.  The sluggish thick quality of the blood is difficult for the heart to pump through the vessels.  It’s like pushing a milk shake through a straw.  This puts too much pressure on the vessels, which causes the pressure inside the vessels to rise.  

Untreated hypertension may cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, restlessness and blurred vision.  In Chinese medicine terms, this is due to blood stagnating in the vessels, impeding the movement of Qi through its proper pathways.  Qi that is not properly rooted within the blood will escape the vessels and “rise”, causing symptoms of hyperactivity in the head and upper body.

Untreated hypertension also may cause edema, due to the fluid aspect of the blood being pushed out of the vessels due to stagnant Qi and blood.  Diuretics mechanically remove this fluid (dampness) from the body, but they may cause side effects, even death. 

Acupuncture, along with Chinese herbal medicine can nourish the blood (improve uptake of nutrients), and improve the quality of the blood (reduce its viscosity) so that the stagnant water (dampness, edema) can transform back into normal physiological fluid, or “Yin”.

How to Stay Healthy This Autumn

In autumn, the yang/warmth of the sun decreases, giving way to the yin/cooler season of winter.  In the Fall, one must begin to store vital energy in order to make it through the winter in a healthy state.  People who feel poorly during the winter benefit greatly from receiving acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in the Fall.  Acupuncture and herbal therapy can help stoke the metabolism, increase immunity, circulate warmth and vitality throughout the body, balance circadian rhythms and improve one’s mood.

Conditions such as frequent winter colds, bronchitis and asthma, seasonal affective disorder, winter holiday depression, binge eating, and arthritic conditions which worsen in cold and damp weather can all be resolved if they are effectively treated in the Fall, by helping the body to store the vital energy it accumulated during the warmer months.

Here are my suggestions for a healthy Fall and Winter season:

  • Increase your intake of root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, burdock root, and winter squash.  A good guideline about what to eat during the autumn is to locate what is available at your local farmer’s market and use that as a template for building a meal that is appropriate to the Fall season. This goes for every other season as well.
  • Eat more soups.  They are warming and nourishing.  Soup helps keep you hydrated during this cool, dry season.
  • Also, drink warm tea and plenty of warm or room temperature water throughout the day.  Avoid cold drinks, large raw salads, and icy desserts. 
  • Adjust your schedule to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier.  Take walks outside to soak in the warming rays of the sun.  Sleep more during the dark, chilly nights.
  • Carry an extra layer (thermal undershirt or sweater) even if it feels warm outside.  Autumn is cold in the shade and warm in the sun.  Autumn temperatures can change drastically during the course of the day.  Try not to get chilled, and change your clothing immediately if you get sweaty.
  • See your acupuncturist.  Even if you are not sick now, receiving preventative acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine now can shore up your protective qi and help you have a healthy and happy winter

Acupuncture and IVF Part I: Keep the Blood Moving

If you are female, there are thousands of primordial or dormant follicles inside your ovaries, which have been there since you were a fetus.  Some of these are recruited during each menstrual cycle, and start to grow.  These are called antral follicles.  One antral follicle becomes the primary follicle, and matures to a size of about 21 mm, while the others waste away.  The primary follicle gets ejected into the fallopian tubes at ovulation, where it may be fertilized by sperm.

The optimal time to begin acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments is at least 3 months before you begin any Western interventions.  This is because it takes at least 3 months for an egg to come to full maturity.  Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can have a positive effect on the quality and function of these follicles while they are developing and maturing. 

The outer casing of the primary follicle goes through changes, which form the corpus luteum.  The corpus luteum produces progesterone.  This progesterone helps the fertilized follicle (now an ovum) to stay implanted in the uterine wall, and start to grow.  If there is no fertilization, then the drop in progesterone (and other hormones) that occurs during menstruation makes the corpus luteum break down and get eliminated.

This blood flow in and out of the ovary is very important, and it’s something we work on with Chinese medicine and acupuncture.  The follicles, corpus luteum and ovum must all receive proper blood flow and exchange of nutrients, and there must be complete removal of wastes from the ovary during each cycle.  If your Yin is depleted (and blood is a component of Yin), then the fluids in your body have become dry and stagnant, and this entire process gets gunked up.  Basically, you need an oil and filter change!

Common side effects of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) medications such as Clomid and FSH stimulating medications include headaches, ovarian cysts, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, bleeding, and heat sensations.  In Chinese medicine terms, these artificial hormones cause heat and qi stagnation (and they deplete Yin).  Ironically, the majority of women with fertility problems—especially older women—are already deficient in Yin (and, therefore blood).  Western fertility treatments do not address this underlying Yin deficiency.  Even when the treatment results in a successful pregnancy, the patient is often left drained and depleted—and, prone to future health problems.

With acupuncture, we can move Qi to reduce stagnation and prevent the build-up of heat in the body.  We can nourish the Yin to balance the build-up of Yang caused by the hormone injections.  Combining acupuncture with Western hormone treatments is a proven way to get fewer side effects and smoother, faster results in your fertility journey.

We used to think only women had a “biological time clock” ticking.  Men, it was thought, continued to be reproductive power houses until about age 70, when there would be a 15-20% increased rate of miscarriage in their younger female partners.  It turns out that as men age, their semen quality (if not quantity) changes, such that they lose between 15-50% potency in their sperm as they age between 20 and 40.

By receiving acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine for a few months (as well as dietary and lifestyle consultation), men can improve the quality and motility of their sperm, before trying to get their partner pregnant.  In short, a healthy mom and dad will lead to a smoother fertility journey, and healthier offspring.

How To Resolve Your Immune System Imbalance: Start With The Gut

The immune system is called “Wei Qi” (pronounced “Way Chee”) in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  Wei Qi protects the body from “Evil Qi”.  Evil Qi can be any invader, external (such as “germs”) or internal (chemicals or signals produced inside your body), which place a stress on the proper functioning of your body.  External forms of Evil Qi include: viruses, bacteria, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sugar, pasteurized dairy products, processed foods,pollution, and overexposure to cold, dampness or wind.  Internally generated Evil Qi can result from trauma, overwork, sleep deprivation, depression, stress and anxiety.  The stronger your Wei Qi, the better you are able to cope with Evil Qi.  If you have a Wei Qi imbalance, it is best to reduce your exposure to Evil Qi as much as possible.

Wei Qi is manufactured by the Spleen.  In TCM, the Spleen has to do with your stomach, pancreas and other digestive organs: how well they are able to absorb and utilize nutrients and beneficial bacteria from the foods you eat.  “Spleen Qi” is “Digestive Qi”.  The Lungs assist the Spleen by circulating the Wei Qi produced by the Spleen.  In TCM, the Lung complex includes the skin, mucus membranes and nasal passages.  This is very similar to our Western understanding of the immune system.  In order to have a healthy immune system, there must be a predominance of healthy bacteria in the gut (intestines).  A healthy gut is a tropical rainforest of bacterial diversity.  There are over 5,600 different strains.  This healthy bacteria forms a natural flora, or protective coating in your large and small intestines, which further disseminates via the mucus membranes in your lungs, mucus membranes (eyes, nose, throat) and skin.  Intestinal flora protects your immune system in several ways.  First, just by taking up space, and being more proficient at obtaining nutrients, it provides a physical barrier to colonization by foreign, deleterious microbes.  Second, healthy flora sends signals to the lymph nodes to help the body differentiate between pathogenic and benign substances, preventing autoimmune attacks. Third, intestinal flora implanted in the gut during breast feeding influences the growth and formation of organs crucial to proper immune function, such as the thymus gland

Now for the interesting part: 90% of cells in the human body are microbial (bacteria), and a mere 10% are “human”.  Think about that!  Western science is only beginning to grasp the implications of this fact.  So many aspects of our modern lifestyle put our internal ecology at risk.  For example:

  1. Overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock.
  2. Overuse of antibacterial soaps and industrial cleansers. 
  3. Lack of contact with soil.  A little dirt left in your garden vegetables might be a good thing!
  4. Formula feeding of infants instead of breast feeding.
  5. Refined sugar: The average person consumes 150 pounds of sugar per year–compared to just 7 ½ pounds consumed on average in the year 1700. That’s 20 times as much!  Sugar feeds pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi in your gut.  
  6. 98% of public drinking water facilities use chlorine or chloramine to disinfect the water.  These are powerful antimicrobial agents.  They combine with organic matter to form compounds called trihalomethanes (THMs), also known as disinfectant byproducts.  One of the most common of these THMs is chloroform, a known carcinogen.  These compounds are toxic when consumed, inhaled or applied to the skin.  Furthermore, they kill beneficial bacteria in the gut, contributing to dysbiosis.
  7. Too much processed food and refined starches.  Not enough fresh food, and not enough variety in our diets.
  8. The birth control pill, steroids, other hormone pills, and immunosuppressant drugs promote dysbiosis of the gut.  If you must take these medications, consider getting regular acupuncture treatments to balance their harmful effects.

How to undo the damage?

  1. Filter your water and clean up your diet.  Avoid toxins, and try to eat organic as much as possible.
  2. Eat a wide variety of whole foods. 
  3. Avoid the overuse of antibiotics!  Many conditions, such as urinary tract infections, sinus infections and acne can be cleared up easily with Chinese herbs.  Herbal remedies strengthen your Wei Qi, and destroy the pathogens while leaving your immune system intact.  Antibiotics are also present in factory farmed meats and dairy products.
  4. Eliminate, or cut way back on refined sugar and alcohol.
  5. Probiotics may help, but only if you follow the other guidelines.
  6. Acupuncture heals inflammation, regulates Qi, and helps the body expel toxins.  There are several wonderful classic Chinese Herbal formulas that strengthen the Spleen Qi, clear pathogens, and fortify immunity. 

Here’s a mind-blowing video about “fecal transplants”.  This icky but effective treatment is gaining in popularity for people with severe intestinal dysbiosis and devasted immune systems. 

So now you know:  If you keep your gut and immune system healthy, you won’t have to “take “sh#t” from anyone!

How To Tell If Your Immune System Is Imbalanced

Do you have any of the following symptoms?

  1. Susceptibility to catching colds.
  2. Difficulty recovering from colds or infections.  For example, if you catch a cold does it frequently develop into a sinus infection, ear infection, bronchitis, gastritis, or some other lingering problem?
  3. Chronically swollen lymph glands in the neck, armpit or groin.
  4. Fatigue
  5. Poor digestion, gas, bloating, bowel problems.
  6. Allergies or asthma.
  7. Autoimmune diseases: There are hundreds of known autoimmune disorders. Some of the more common ones I encounter include: celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, endometriosis, thyroid disorders such as Graves disease, interstitial cystitis, lupus, Lyme disease, Meniere’s disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Raynaud’s syndrome, restless legs syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
  8. Connective tissue disorders.  Many connective tissue diseases feature abnormal immune system activity with inflammation in tissues as a result of an immune system that is directed against one’s own body tissues (autoimmunity).  Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), scleroderma and ankylosing spondylitis are examples of connective tissue disorders.  Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is also an autoimmune disorder.  In osteoarthritis, chronic inflammation causes breakdown, and the eventual loss of cartilage in the joints.  Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia are still not well understood by Western medicine.  Many people who suffer from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia have associated autoimmune disorders*.  In my clinical experience, balancing the immune system is an essential component of treatment for these patients.
  9. Injuries that don’t heal.  This is a big problem, which is often overlooked.  Even if you don’t have an established disorder such as arthritis, do you suffer from injuries that heal slowly and cause repeated problems?  For example: do you keep spraining your ankle?  Or do you have a shoulder injury that keeps acting up?  Chronic tendonitis, weak knee ligaments and similar problems are strongly indicative of an imbalanced immune system.  Scars and adhesions that don’t heal also point to an immune imbalance.  Weakened connective tissue caused by an imbalanced immune system can make organs more prone to prolapse, and herniations more likely to occur (herniated intervertebral disks as well as inguinal hernias).
  10. Lastly, if you’ve tried everything for your disease or complaint, and you are still not getting better, an immune system imbalance is often the culprit.

Occasionally, a new patient suffering from an autoimmune disorder asks me if acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine may have an adverse affect by strengthening their immune system, when their immune system is already overactive.  Cancer patients, RA patients, and others who take immune suppressing medications may have the same concern.  Acupuncture and properly administered Chinese Herbal Medicine do not crank up an immune system that is already in overdrive.  Instead, the treatments are regulatory.  It calms what is hyper or overactive (Yang) and nourishes essential substances (Yin) of the body which may have become depleted due to the effects of the disease or medications.  Restored to a state of balance, your immune system will start acting more appropriately.

Here is a list of autoimmune diseases.

And, here is a list of immunodeficiency diseases.

Chinese Herbal Medicine: It’s Not Just the Herb Du Jour

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), every herb is classified in various ways:

  1. According to its taste (sweet, sour, salty, bitter or spicy-pungent or bland). 
  2. According to which organs it has an affinity for (spleen, stomach, lung, large intestine, kidney, bladder, small intestine, heart, liver, gallbladder, etc.)
  3. According to its temperature (cold, cool, neutral, warm, hot)
  4. According to the part of the plant: root, rhizome, twig, leaf, fruit. 
  5. According to how it is prepared: raw, dried, roasted, calcined, honey-fried, etc.

In addition, TCM herbs are hardly ever prescribed individually.  Instead, they are combined in traditional ways to enhance their beneficial effects.  Each TCM herbal formula contains:

  • A Chief herb (the primary ingredient which treats the main complaint),
  • A Deputy herb (reinforces the chief herb, and treats any related or secondary symptoms),
  • Assistant herbs modify any harsh effects of the principal herbs and help the body assimilate the formula, and
  • Envoy herbs harmonize the formula and direct it to the appropriate organs.

In TCM terms, echinacea strongly clears heat from the lungs, stomach, and blood.  Therefore, this herb will help someone with a cold, who has a relatively strong constitution, and who also has heat in the lungs, stomach or blood.  However, if the sick person also has signs of Qi/Blood/Yin deficiency or Cold, then echinacea will make him or her feel worse.

When the right combination of herbs are prescribed for a person’s unique constitution, the effects are powerful!  When the wrong herbs are taken in a hit-or-miss fashion, the results will be less than spectacular.

It is important to note that food is also herbal medicine.  Foods are categorized according to taste, organ affinity, temperature, etc.  Once you understand the principles of Chinese Medicine, you can apply these principles to your diet.  Diet is your first line of defense!

Western drugs can also be classified according to TCM principles.  For example, antibiotics are extremely bitter and cold.  They enter and weaken the Spleen.  They impede digestion and weaken the body’s immune system.  If you must take an antibiotic, the use of TCM herbs, as well as dietary therapy can prevent the bad side effects of the antibiotic, while still allowing it to do its job.  Warming, sweet* and pungent herbs and foods would balance the cold and bitter nature of the antibiotic.  TCM herbs can ameliorate the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and many other Western pharmaceutical agents, while still allowing the patient to receive the full benefit of the drug.

*Note that “sweet” means the mildly sweet taste of many herbs like licorice root, astragalus and ginseng.  Many whole foods are mildly sweet and Spleen tonifying, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, certain meats and whole grains.  Versus, the excessive sweetness in sugary junk food and soft drinks damages the Spleen.


Empty Your Cup

This is a passage I really like from the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones:

Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.  Nan-in served tea.  He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.  The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself.  “It is overfull.  No more will go in!”  “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

In Chinese Medicine, each emotion affects a different organ.  It is the normal state of being human to experience a steady flow of thoughts and emotions.  However, if a thought or emotion becomes excessive, such as after a traumatic event, it’s like an overflowing cup.  You become mired and stuck in an unhealthy pattern.  Not just your mind, but also your body.

For example, if your anger-impatience-frustration cup is overflowing, it stagnates the Qi in your Liver.  You might develop Liver meridian symptoms, affecting (for example) your eyes, neck (thyroid) breasts or ovaries/testicles.  If you are constantly worried and can’t shut off your thinking (or, if your boundaries are weak, and you get overly affected by the moods and emotions of those around you) then, your Spleen and Pancreas are weak.  You might develop Spleen problems such as digestive problems or weight problems.  If your cup of fear runneth over—if you are being controlled by conscious or unconscious fears, your Kidneys and Bladder may become impaired.  Repressed grief often blocks the Qi of the Lung and Large Intestine.  It’s as if you can’t take in the new (breathe in) or let go of the past (stools).  All chronic stuck emotions eventually affect the Heart. 

The organ-emotion connection works both ways.  Stuck emotions can lead to physical problems and physical problems can just as often lead to emotional problems.  For example, an erratic or improper diet can lead to imbalances in the Spleen, Liver and Intestines.  People with poor dietary habits often wind up feeling depressed, lethargic or irritable.

Sometimes I encounter patients in my practice with both physical and emotional symptoms who ask me, “is this all in my head”?  As you can see from the previous paragraphs, my sincere answer is “No, this is not all in your head”.  It’s in you Liver, Spleen, Lungs, Heart, and Kidneys.  It’s in your meridians.  It’s in your muscles, bone marrow and nerves.  It’s in your Qi.  Acupuncture and shiatsu open up the meridians that flow through the blocked organs, allowing their associated emotions to be released (i.e. “emptying the cup”).  Both the physical and emotional symptoms improve simultaneously.  It is truly mind-body medicine.  When you feel better in both your body and mind, you have more Qi (life force) and willpower available to you.  It then becomes easier for you to eat better, exercise more, make clearer decisions, and take more positive steps to further improve your life.

Here are links to a fascinating 4-part documentary on organ transplant cellular memory.  In the documentary, we meet several heart transplant recipients who have acquired the personality traits, food preferences, talents, interests and even memories of their deceased organ donors.  Several research scientists who share an interest in cellular memory are interviewed.  The hypothesis of cellular memory is that memory is distributed throughout the entire nervous system—not just in the brain.  Any set of cells with feedback networks (for example, organs such as the heart) work similarly to the neurons in the brain in storing memories.  Hence, the brain does not have an exclusive role in information processing.  Once again, Chinese medicine has “known” something about human beings that Western medicine is just beginning to investigate.

What kind of pain do you have?

Hopefully, none! However, if you do suffer from pain, acupuncture, Asian bodywork (shiatsu, acupressure, tuina) and Chinese herbal medicine have been successfully eliminating pain by addressing the root causes for thousands of years.

In simplistic terms, acupuncture moves “Stuck Qi” or energy to remove pain. In actuality, it is more complicated than that.

Chinese medicine distinguishes between different types of pain, and the treatment will be different depending on what type of pain you have. For example, your pain may be due to:

  1. Stuck Qi
  2. Stuck Blood
  3. Cold or Wind-Cold
  4. Dampness or Phlegm
  5. Heat

Often, pain is due to a combination of two or more of these factors, such as:

  1. Stuck Qi and Stuck Blood
  2. Stuck Blood and Cold
  3. Cold and Damp

Let’s take a look at the first type of pain, Stagnant Qi:

Stuck (or “Stagnant”) Qi pain comes and goes. The pain might tend to affect one area primarily, such as your neck, head, back, stomach or intestines. But, the pain isn’t fixed in one exact location, such as a joint. One day, you might have pain and tightness on the left side of your neck, upper shoulder and jaw. A few days later, the other side hurts worse. Another day, you might have a transient pain in your chest. Or, your lower back goes into spasm. The pain feels worse:

  1. After a stressful day at work
  2. After a verbal confrontation with an adversary
  3. When you’ve been stoically taking care of everyone else and neglecting yourself
  4. While you study at your desk for hours on end without taking time to stretch and exercise

Stuck Qi causes “knots”. If someone were to rub your shoulders while you were having a Stuck Qi tension headache, they would say, “your shoulders feel like one big knot”. Stuck Qi can also feel like pressure building up. Your body might feel bigger and bloated. The bloated feeling is like a tire being overfilled with air (not water, or edema). Intestinal gas, which can be painful, is often due to Stuck Qi. When a woman’s breasts feel big, swollen and sore before her period, this is due to Stuck Qi. Or tension headaches that feel like your head is in a vise. Another characteristic of Stuck Qi pain is that it often feels better with movement and worse with inactivity.

When you don’t breathe fully, it is because you are holding in, or holding on to your negative emotions. When you are in this tense, angry, or depressed state, you sigh frequently. These are signs of Qi stagnation.

Emotional causes of Stuck Qi include: chronic anger, resentment, frustration, impatience, perfectionism, brooding, obsessing, worrying, setting overly high standards and feeling “driven”, being overly self-sacrificing or stoic (which builds resentment and bitterness over time, whether or not this is expressed).

Physical causes of Stuck Qi include: sedentary lifestyle, overeating, excessive studying (such as for school), overwork (especially mental work), poor ergonomics in the work environment, wearing overly constricting clothing such as high heel shoes, repetitive strain, environmental toxins, structural imbalances (such as scoliosis or short leg syndrome).

Shiatsu and acupuncture are excellent treatments for Stuck Qi. The acupuncturist determines the exact locations (meridians of energy channels) where the Qi is stuck and then stimulates points along those channels, which act as pressure valves to release the Qi. Relief often comes quickly, even instantly. Follow up visits address the cause of the Stuck Qi so that the tendency for the Qi to get stuck in certain areas is gradually eliminated.

I will address the other types of pain in future articles. Stay tuned…