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.

Ayurvedic Medicine Part IV: How to Get Healthy if You’re a “Kapha”

In Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, I described the different constitutional types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  In Parts II and III, I gave lifestyle recommendations for Vatas and Pittas.  So now, what should you do if you are a Kapha?

Here are my recommendations for balancing your Kapha constitution, thereby making you less prone to illness:

The Kapha dosha is heavy, slimy (or phlegmmy), slow and dense.  Kapha people need to avoid excessively sweet, sour and salty foods (the standard American diet) and eat more bitter, pungent (spicy) and astringent foods.

In general, eat less and exercise more.  Avoid greasy and fried food and shun dairy products (because it produces phlegm).  Kaphas need grain less than Vatas and Pittas.  The best grains for Kapha are roasted buckwheat and millet.  Wheat should be avoided.

All vegetables are good for Kapha except potatoes and tomatoes.  Aim for at least 50% of your diet to be comprised of vegetables.  Suggestions:  Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots and onions.  Chicken soup with lots of celery, parsley and other vegetables.  Baked winter squash with nutmeg.  Beans or fish in light curry sauce. 

Fresh and dried fruit should be eaten in small amounts only. 

Foods should be dry roasted or baked with minimal added fats.

Limit red meat, nuts and soy.

Spicy food is good for Kapha.  Learn to use spices in your cooking as a salt replacement.  Sweets in general should be avoided.  A small amount of raw honey, taken alone or in tea, is okay.

Eat your heaviest meal midday and avoid excessive eating at night.  Kapha can handle occasionally 1-3 day fasts and “cleanses” better than Vata and Pitta.

Kapha tolerates coffee and black tea better than Vata and Pitta.

Kaphas require vigorous daily exercise.

When I treat Kapha patients, I tend to perform invigorating treatments that promote circulation and resolve phlegm and systemic dampness.  I utilize Chinese herbs that are spicy (pungent) and bitter in order to stoke the metabolism and promote the discharge and elimination of waste.

Note: As I mentioned in Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, many people are more than one constitutional type or “dosha”.  For example, you might be a Vata-Pitta, Vata-Kapha or Pitta-Kapha.  If this is the case, you need to tailor your diet/lifestyle so that it balances the dosha that is dominant within you at a given point in time.  So, be aware of the symptoms you are having.  In general, Vata is dominant in fall and early winter when it is cold, dry and windy.  Pitta is dominant when it is hot outside.  And, Kapha is dominant in late winter through early spring when it is cold and wet. 

Ayurvedic Medicine – Part III: How to Get Healthy if You’re a “Pitta”

In Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, I described the different constitutional types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  In Part II, I gave lifestyle recommendations for Vatas.  So, what should you do if you are a Pitta?

Here are my recommendations for balancing your Pitta constitution, thereby making you less prone to illness:

The Pitta dosha is hot, penetrating, sour and oily.  To achieve balance eat foods that are slightly cooling and bland.  Don’t eat when you are angry, stressed, or rushed.

Avoid fried, greasy, and fatty foods.  Limit all nuts except coconut.  Seeds are okay in small quantities.  A lower fat, mostly vegetarian diet is best. If you tolerate dairy, stick to cottage cheese, butter, ghee and sweet milk.

Moderate amounts of raw foods are beneficial, as long as they aren’t coated with sour, astringent and oily dressings.  Note that a completely raw diet is not considered beneficial for any of the constitutional types (more on this topic in a future blog).  However, Pitta people benefit more from raw foods than the other constitutional types.

Avoid sour and fermented foods such as citrus fruits, cranberries, tomatoes, unripe fruits, yogurt, cheese, pickles and yeasted breads.  Lentils are considered a sour food and should be avoided.  All other legumes are fine, including soy.

Avoid hot and spicy food including garlic, peppers, mustard, ketchup, etc.  The only spices that are okay in small amounts are coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel and turmeric.

Naturally sweet foods like sweet fruits and sweet potatoes are beneficial.

Well cooked barley is a healing food for Pitta.  It is cooling and drying.  Brown rice is also good.

Competitive exercise is a good way to release pent up aggression.  Swimming is cooling and thus, beneficial.  Avoid getting overheated in the summertime.

The worst vices for Pitta are alcohol, salt and excess meat.

When I treat Pitta patients, I tend to focus on releasing stuck Liver qi, subduing excess Yang qi, and clearing heat and inflammation.  Cupping is often useful.  I emphasize Chinese herbs that are sweet, bland, and bitter.

What Kind of Pain Do You Have? – Part II

In my last article about pain, I discussed how Chinese medicine distinguishes between different types of pain, and adjusts the treatment strategy to the type of pain being treated.  In this blog post, I will talk about pain caused by Stagnant or Stuck Blood.

Pain that is sharp like a drill or knife is usually due to Blood Stasis Stuck Blood doesn’t budge. It’s fixed in a particular location, such as the stomach, uterus, knee or other joints This is not a vague sort of pain. You know exactly where it is: you can point to it. This type of pain feels worse with pressure, so you guard it. You might experience a shock of severe pain every time you take a step or move in a certain way. You feel like you’re getting stabbed, and it’s always in the same place. Pain from Stuck Blood can make life miserable. Not only do you hurt all day long, but it’s also hard to sleep at night. The pain keeps waking you up. Then, you feel exhausted, and irritable from lack of sleep, so you develop Stuck Qi as well as Stuck Blood.

So, how do you develop Stuck Blood?  When the body experiences trauma, such as from sports injury, whiplash, or surgery, the blood vessels break and blood escapes into the intercellular fluid.  It may have seemed as if you healed from the initial trauma.  But, all that blood that has leaked out—and, it has a very hard time being reabsorbed by the body.  The leaked blood congeals.  Then, tiny scabs or scars get trapped inside your body, impeding the flow of healthy blood.  The healthy blood gets stuck behind the congealed blood.  This adds to the build-up and congestion.  Eventually, you experience a major “traffic jam”. 

Chronic unresolved Stuck Qi or Cold can also transform into Stuck Blood by impeding the circulation over a long period of time.  For example, a woman with Raynaud’s syndrome may suffer from poor circulation and painfully cold extremites.  Over time, her hands and feet turn purple due to Cold congealing the blood, causing Blood Stasis.  A worker may spend many hours repeating tasks using poor ergonomics and taking inadequate breaks.  Over time, he develops minor aches and pains (Stuck Qi) which if ignored long enough, may transform into severe and disabling repetitive strain injuries (Stuck Blood).

Other causes of Stuck Blood include genetic tendency, liver disorders, vascular compression from wearing tight shoes or clothing, chronic respiratory problems, and infections.

Another sign of Blood Stagnation is the color purple, such as a purple tongue, purple veins or spider veins or a dark blue or purplish color under the eyes.  Dry scaly skin, especially in the lower legs is due to poor circulation and systemic Blood Stasis. 

Many diseases have a Stuck Blood component.  For example: fibroid tumors, endometriosis, painful digestive problems, stroke, psoriasis, cystitis, and arthritis.  As an acupuncture practitioner, I do not base my Chinese medicine diagnosis of “Stuck Blood” on your Western diagnosis.  Instead, I look for signs of Stuck Blood, such as sharp pain at fixed locations, the color purple, a choppy pulse, hard masses beneath the skin, thick or painful scars, or pain at an important reflex zone on your lower left abdomen. 

Acupuncture and moxabustion are wonderful therapies for Stuck Blood, because they penetrate to a deep level and really get things moving.  Massage and acupressure are often not well tolerated when the pain is severe, but acupuncture feels very soothing.  Distal points are often treated first when local points are tender to touch.  Gradually, as the tissues heal, more vigorous local treatments, including acupressure are used to further improve the Blood circulation and eliminate toxins.

Ayurvedic Medicine – Part II: How to Get Healthy if You’re a “Vata”

In Part I of this series on Ayurvedic Medicine, How Knowing Your Constitutional Type Can Help You Heal, I described the different constitutional types, known as doshas, according to Ayurvedic medicineSo, what should you do if you’ve determined you are a Vata? 

Here are my recommendations for balancing your Vata constitution, thereby making you less prone to illness:

The Vata body type is dry, cold, and irregular/erratic like wind.  To achieve balance, be consistent and regular in your routines.  Try to eat and sleep on schedule.  Stop eating before you are full.  Stop exercising and working before you are exhausted.  Exercise restraint and moderation in all things.

Emphasize warm, moist grounding foods like soups, stews and cooked cereals and whole grains. 

Avoid extremes (i.e. raw foodism, overeating/undereating).  Eat smaller, more frequent meals.  Avoid dry food (dried fruit, leathery meat, crackers, toasty bread, popcorn, etc.)  Avoid carbonated beverages and yeasty foods.  Be moderate with cruciferous (cabbage family) veggies–make sure to cook them well.  The idea is to avoid foods that produce coldness (i.e. too much raw), air (gassy foods) and dryness. 

Heavy food like meat and nuts is good in small amounts, because it’s grounding.  Overdoing will lead to digestive distress, so be careful.  Dairy is okay if you’re not allergic or lactose intolerant.

Because Vata is dry, make sure to include good fats in your diet, such as sesame butter, flax oil, olive oil, fish oil, and ghee.  All spices are fine.

Smooth flowing exercises like yoga, swimming and weight lifting at a moderate pace with good form are good for Vata.  Erratic jumpy exercises like sprinting and high impact aerobics aggravate Vata.

The worst vices for Vata are caffeine and sugar.

When I am treating a patient with a Vata constitution, I tend to focus on treatments that are strengthening, warming (moxa and heat lamps), and calming for the nervous system.  And, I emphasize sweet and spicy (pungent) herbs when prescribing herbal medicine.

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…

Ayurvedic Medicine Part I: How Knowing Your Constitutional Type Can Help You Heal

Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India, which originated around 2,000 years ago.  Like Traditional Chinese Medicine, which originated around the same time, Ayurveda emphasizes re-establishing balance in the body through diet, exercise, herbal medicine, and physical medicine.

The central premise of Ayurvedic medicine is that good health exists when there is a balance between the three “doshas” called Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  The doshas are bodily substance or humours.

Vata (wind) relates to the nervous system.  Its chief quality is dryness.

Pitta (bile) relates to digestion, metabolism and circulation.  Its chief quality is heat.

Kapha (phlegm) relates to the body fluids, mucous, and lubrication.  It is damp and heavy.

Your constitutional type, or dosha is determined by which of these humours or substances predominate.  Do you recognize yourself in one of these descriptions?

Vata: Thin and narrow in the shoulders and hips.  Dry skin and hair.  Sensitive to cold.  Poor circulation.  Loves warmth and sunshine.  Irregular and erratic diet and lifestyle.  Overeats then undereats.  Engages in a whirlwind of frenzied activity, then collapses from exhaustion.  Anxious with an overactive nervous system.  Creative, but has difficulty sticking to a routine and completing projects.  Light sleeper.  Tends towards constipation, bloating or irritable bowel.

Pitta:-Medium weight, build and endurance.  Irritable, impatient, competitive, and domineering.  Mentally sharp.  Able to focus intensely, set goals and complete whatever projects they start.  Sweats and/or flushes easily.  Bothered by heat.  Prone to inflammation, excessive bleeding/menstruation, hyperacidity and burning diarrhea.  Strong appetite, thirst and sex drive.  “Type A” personality.

Kapha: Broad, heavyset individuals.  Natural athletes, they have good endurance when exercising properly, but gain weight easily, especially when neglecting exercise.  Physical hunger isn’t as keenly felt as it is for Vatas and Pittas.  But, emotionally attached to food as comfort. Sleep soundly.  Tend toward complacency.  Averse to change.  Slow to react with an even temperament, but stubborn. Generally healthy as long as long as weight is kept in check.

Vata-Pitta: Slender to medium build. Limited tolerance of both heat and cold. Pitta makes them ravenous, but Vata ensures they’ll have trouble digesting large meals.  Ambitious and intense, but also anxious.  They can take on too much and become overwrought and short-fused.  They lack the stability of Kapha to ground them.

Vata-Kapha: Average to slightly overweight build.  They tend to have poor digestion, poor immunity, and suffer from “hypo” conditions due the lack of metabolic fire.  They often produce excessive mucus.  They can be emotionally oversensitive: jumping to conclusions and holding on to past hurts.

Pitta-Kapha: Kapha’s stability and cautiousness combined with Pitta’s adaptability and anger.  Physically sturdy, they are comfortable in a wide range of climates. Often successful, because they can constitutionally handle the confusion and constant change that characterize today’s world.  They can be arrogant:  combining Pitta’s overconfidence with Kapha’s smug self-satisfaction.