Over the years we hear reports of contamination or mislabeling of imported Chinese herbal products. Some of these stories turn out to be exaggerated, but others need to be taken seriously.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Gifts of Heaven and Earth
Chinese herbal medicine is easily the most highly evolved medical system in the world. Its immense scale of experience spans countless trillions of administrations over thousands of years.
Over 10,000 natural substances are catalogued in Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia. These substances, referred to as "herbs", consists of thousands of plant species from all over the world as well as both mineral and animal materials. Chinese herbs are most often taken in formulae (combinations of herbs) rather than singly. By combining herbs, synergies have been discovered that vastly increase the medicinal effects. Blending herbs in this way also allows the herbologist to neutralize unwanted side-effects. These blends (formulas) consist of principal herbs, assisting herbs, directional herbs, and herbs that reduce the side effects, or aid the digestion of a particular herb. Herbs can be ingested as boiled teas called decoctions (TANG), milled powders (SAN), pills (PIAN), tablets (WAN), granulated or tinctured extracts, or draughts (steeped like tea). Topically, herbs are used in poultices, plasters, soaks, ointments, washes, and fumigants (burning herbs).
The potent odors and flavors of Chinese herbs are legendary. Boiling the herbs and drinking the tea will provide the fullest experience of these medicines. Commonly, Chinese herbs are boiled in ceramic pots for 20 - 40 minutes, the dregs are strained out and the "tea" is taken warm or at room temperature. Boiling times are averaged according to the composition of the formula. Flower and leaf will yield medicine in 10-20 minutes. Roots take 20 to 40 minutes; Shells and minerals must cook for at least one hour. A few herbs, like mint or tangerine peel, must be quick-boiled 3-5 minutes lest they loose their valuable volatile oils. These are added separately to the boiling mixture just before completion.
The Chinese invented the pill. Chinese doctors were prescribing pills in the twelfth century, much as we do today. Ancient formulas were often prepared as pills made from milled herbs bound with water, honey, ginger juice, or other substances.
Therapeutic dosages of powders or pills range between 3 - 10 grams daily. That's usually three to thirty pills, two or three times a day. That may seem like a lot of pills to take. But it's really only a few grams of herb powder. Our body perceives, and responds to herbal medicine as it does to food, not as it does to a hyper-concentrated chemical. Herbs are like vegetables, very powerful vegetables.
The constituents of herbs can be extracted by water, alcohol, vinegar, glycerin, or chemical solvents. Most herbologists prefer to use low temperature water extractions rather than the standardized extractions used by Herbacuetical pill makers.
Simply soaking and herb in Alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin yield tinctures. They're easy to make and to take.
Massage and Body Work
Touching the Body, Moving the Qi
Massage was a precursor of acupuncture as the ancients learned to make the qi respond to touch and to the qi of the practitioner. Through millennia of massage and observation, the pathways were discovered, and so were many of the acupuncture points.
Asian massage promotes the movement of Qi, Blood, and fluids. TUI NA, SHIATSU and other massage techniques are used for healing and to prevent illness as well as for pleasure.
Like yin and yang, Asian massage should be hard and soft, fast and slow, pleasurable yet slightly painful. Points and channels are stimulated to promote flow. Limbs are stretched and pulled. Sometimes the torso is gently twisted. You won't fall asleep getting shiatsu or TUI NA. You will feel thoroughly massaged.
Movement & Martial Arts
Movement and Health
The Door Hinge Never Rusts
Stagnation is the enemy of health. Activity, the great remedy.
Movement Quickens the Blood and Scours the Vessels; permitting the free flow of blood and qi. Exercise extends the blood to the smallest vessels, deeply nourishing the body. This same circulation clears waste. When you are lethargic, your cells wallow in their own excrement
Qi Gong (Chi Kung):
Ruling The Qi
Qi Gong (Chi Kung) is a method of energy cultivation to enable internal power. It is used for health, vitality, increasing longevity, athletic performance, and expanding the mind."
Qi Gong is not exactly meditation. In meditation, the mind is stilled to reach a state of awareness or union with the Absolute. In Qi Gong, the mind is focused on directing energy, rather than thinking or not thinking. This is called Hsing Qi meaning where the mind goes, the energy follows.
Qi Gong isn't exactly visualization either. Image-matter created by visualization arises in the imagination, existing yet not existing. Qi, however, exists. Qi exists outside the imagination. Qi Gong, therefore, is a much more physical and arguably more powerful discipline than creative visualization.
Tai Qi is a discipline of exercises developed by Taoist monks in the 13th century. It's a martial art that can be practiced at any age. Its movements are gentle and fluid, not forceful. It's practice is for self defense, but also for self improvement.
Tai Qi improves coordination and helps harmonize mind and body. Studies show that tai qi benefits the body in profound ways. Improved mental outlook, better coronary circulation, higher immunity, lower incidence of pain have been shown. Studies on senior citizens show that T'ai Qi improves balance and prevents falls.
If you want to study T'ai Qi, check your yellow pages under "Martial Arts".
Acupuncture & Moxabustion:
Where There's Pain There's No Flow.
Where There's Flow, There's No Pain
Acupuncture is a complete medical system originating in China thousands of years ago. Today it is used throughout the world to treat hundreds of different ailments. Acupuncture involves the insertion of hair-thin sterile needles at specific points on the body. Acupuncturists adjust the flow of Qi (vital energy), thereby influencing other nourishing and/or cleansing flows such as blood, waste, food, hormones, and lubricating fluids. Performed properly, the technique is nearly painless.
How Does It Work?
Numerous controlled studies have shown that acupuncture works for a variety of ailments. Billions of people testify that it is effective, but how?
Some scientists believe that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system. They theorize that needling effects peripheral nerves, which reaches the central nervous system.
Others studies reveal that acupuncture makes endorphins. These are morphine-like substances made naturally in your body. This, some believe, is the mechanism behind the effectiveness of acupuncture.
According to Chinese medicine, acupuncture works by promoting or directing the flows of energy and fluids (Qi and Blood) in our body. Our bodies are nourished by these flows; much as a garden is irrigated by canals or trenches.
In a garden, irrigating flows are regulated by gates or valves. In our bodies, these gates are the acupuncture points, and by manipulating them an acupuncturist helps to control this flow of energy.
When heat's a treat.
Heat can be beneficial. When the body lacks heat, adding it is therapy. It's like adding energy to the body.
Moxibustion is a heat treatment where acupuncture points are heated by burning an herb called moxa (made from artemisia leaf) on or near the point. Burning on the skin is called direct moxibustion. Burning it near the skin called indirect moxibustion. Sometimes we burn moxa attached to the needles. This is called warming needle technique.
Moxa sticks are like cigars which are burned close to the affected area (about an inch). When the spot becomes too hot, the moxa stick is withdrawn, then after a moment, it is returned. This results in a kind of pecking at the spot with the moxa stick. Do it 5-20 minutes per session, 1-3 sessions per day. Just be careful to ventilate the smoke, careful of falling ashes, and careful to extinguish the stick (roll) by suffocating it in sand or salt or rice.
Theory of the Organs
The Zhang / Fu
In Traditional Chinese Medicine the internal organs have the same names as those we know. However in TCM, the organs are more than flesh and blood. They also perform tasks with QI (energy) which are not understood by modern science.
As Chinese medicine is largely about energy (qi), the organs also produce, circulate, and store this energy. To the Chinese doctor, the biological function of an organs is often secondary. When the qi is normal, the organ will behave normally.
Chinese medical theory groups the organs into YIN Organs (most important), and YANG Organs (less important)
The YIN organs
The heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, liver, and pericardium (surface of the heart) are called the ZANG are considered the most important. They are structurally solid, and responsible for the creation and storage of qi and Blood.
The YANG organs
are the large intestine, small intestine, stomach, gall bladder, urinary bladder, and triple-warmer (which is a functional conglomerate of all the yang organs). They are known as the FU and are considered less important. They are hollow organs, responsible mainly for the transportation of food and for elimination. The odd sixth pair of organs, known as the Pericardium and Triple-Heater, also have energetic functions that are not attributed to the other organs.
Functions of the Organs
|YIN Organs||Yang Function||Yin Function||YANG Organs||Function|
|Heart||Circulates Blood||Home to the Shen*||Small Intestine||Transports food and fluids|
|Spleen / Pancreas||
|Transforms QI||Stomach||Digests Food|
Controls the Pores
|Directs QI Downward||Large Intestine||Transports Stool|
Rules Reproductive QI
Stores Essence (JING)
|Urinary Bladder||Regulates Urination|
|Liver||Detoxifies Blood||Smooths QI
Home to the Hun (spirit)
*(God, mind, supreme being)
Ba Gang Bian Zheng: The Eight Principles:
Differentiating Disease And Understanding Its Nature
The Eight Principles are four YIN / YANG pairs of conditions which assess the location and nature of the illness. Once this is known, the treatment plan is simple - Balance the body. Strengthen the weak, cool the hot, moisten the dry, etc. These pairs are:
Too much or too little. These terms describe both the disease and the patient. Sudden illness is excess. Chronic illness suggests deficiency. Symptoms of excess are stronger or more pronounced than those caused by deficiency. A severe sore throat suggests wind-heat excess (viral), while a persistent scratchy throat implies heat cause by a deficiency of coolness (yin deficiency). Other excess conditions include pestilential diseases, acute injuries, and blockage of flow anywhere in the body. Fatigue due to unknown cause is usually an indication of deficiency. Diseases or problems that persist over time are likely rooted in deficiency.
Where does the disharmony originate? Is it invading from the exterior, or is it caused by deficiency, emotion, or stagnation in the interior. Airborne viruses, bacterial infections, or other pestilential diseases are Exterior. Exterior diseases are colds and similar respiratory diseases, traumatic injury, contact dermatitis like poison ivy or insect bites. Note that many skin conditions (acne, eczema, psoriasis) are considered interior becoming exterior, and likewise, exterior conditions, for example, insect bites, are often capable of penetrating deeper into the body becoming interior.
Heat suggests an oversupply of qi or an inadequacy in the body's cooling system. Cold suggests the opposite, qi deficiency or weak metabolic function. Just as it can be hot in Miami and cold in Siberia, bodies can be hot and cold at the same time. the Liver can be hot while the Kidney is cold. Diseases can also have hot or cold natures, depending on the way they affect us. Signs of heat in the body include fever, inflammation, redness of the skin or tongue, or the sensation of heat. Some symptoms of interior cold are: feeling cold, pallor, build-up of fluids or interior dampness.
Life loves water, and excessive dampness inside the body helps breed microscopic life such as bacteria, virus, fungus. Swollen tissue, excess phlegm or other fluids are signs of dampness. Dryness indicates a scarcity of fluids. Causes of dryness are Blood or YIN deficiency. Excessive heat can also scorch the fluids and leads to dryness. Prolonged exposure to dry weather will cause dryness inside the body as well. Dampness (excessive water in the body tissues) can have a number of different causes including digestive disorders, diet, or exposure to a damp environment. Symptoms of internal damp include watery or loose stool, swellings, sinus congestion, or a cough with copious phlegm.
Next: The Five Emotions
WU XING: The Five Elements,
and the Correspondences
A Storm in the Mountains, and the Valley is Flooded
A Unique Way to Understand How Things Interact
WU XING, has been translated in many different ways. It's been called the Five Elements, Five Phases, Five Agents, and other names. Viewing nature through the gaze of the 5 Elements enables a practitioner to understand how the internal organs interact with one another. This helps to determine the root of the disharmony and may also help to determine a method and course of treatment.
Relationships Between the Organs:
It is obvious that our body’s organs are dependent on one another. The Five Elements is a theory that helps us to understand these relationships. According to this schema, there exist five elemental types. These elements are known as Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each element relates to the other according to two cycles of influence. Disharmony in one element will thus create disharmony in others according to these cycles. The two cycles are:
1- The generating cycle (clockwise effecting the next element)) For example, the Liver, overheated by anger, can attack the heart,
2- The checking cycle (counter clockwise, skipping over the preceding element). For example, Insomnia from Heart Fire can be caused by Kidneys, weakened by overwork.
Correspondance: Another Idea About How Things Relate To One Another Within the WU XUNG
Some consider the theory of WU XING as separate from the theory of Correspondence, but it's easy to see how they work together as a system for diagnosis and treatment.
Each element corresponds to a major organ system. Each type also has corresponding tastes, colors, odors, and emotions. Some of these correspondences are:
Some WU XING Corresponences
|Fu Organ||G.Bladder||S. Intestine||Stomach||Colon||U. Bladder|
Next, The Eight Principles
Channels and Acupuncture Points
Where There's Flow, There's No Pain
Many people receiving acupuncture for the first time are surprised by the placement of the needles. Needles are often placed in the extremities for reasons that seem less than obvious. Patients who suffer headaches often find themselves with needles in their hands and feet rather than their head. If this happens to you, don’t worry. The reason has to do with the way our energy flows.
Much of our energy (qi) flows along fourteen major channels and numerous minor channels. These flows influence the flow of all our fluids and energies.
Each one of these flows passes through and influences an internal organ. Typically, these rivers of energy are named according to the internal organs which they nourish. Thus we have the Liver Channel, Stomach Channel, Heart channel, etc.. To the acupuncturist, these channels provide access to the internal organs. Most of the 500 or so acupuncture points lie on major channels.
Acupuncture points are used to regulate flow along these channels. The most powerful points on these channels lie on the extremities - below the elbows and knees. Five powerful points on the extremity of each channel are known as the five SHU points. They are likened to the flow of water and named the source points, well points, stream points, river points, and sea points.
Next, Theory of the Five Elements
YIN and YANG, Balance and Harmony
"In confidence", Dr. Shen whispered to me,
"At times even I cannot tell YIN from YANG."
YIN and yang is simple, and not simple.
YIN and YANG describe change.
Originally YIN and YANG referred to the sides of a mountain.
In the morning, one side is in shade, the other in sunlight.
Later in the day, the sides have reversed.
Dark becomes light and light becomes dark.
Nature is like this, forever changing, undulating In time, Under the influence of time, YANG turns to YIN, and YIN predictably becomes YANG. Change is certain, a basic law of nature you can count on, like gravity.
Some of us think of yin and yang as opposites. But their relationship is much more complex than that. YANG and YIN also support one another as much as they oppose each other. You simply can' t have one without the other. In fact, yin and yang also include one another. There is always yin within yang and yang within yin.
As practitioners of Oriental medicine, we see the body and its disharmonies in changing shades of YIN and YANG. When yin or yang overly dominate one another in a human being, disharmony will result. Ultimately this will effect the course of qi, and lead to physical and/ or mental disharmony. Paying attention to yin and yang helps us to asses balance and harmony and also helps us to understand the disease and the patient .
Examples of YIN and YANG
Hot is yang, cold is yin
Warm colors are yang, cool colors are yin
Daytime is YANG, Nighttime is yin
Activity is yang, rest is yin
Function is yang, structure is yin
Upper body is yang, Lower body is yin
Surface of the body is yang, interior is yin
Acute diseases are yang
Chronic diseases are yin
Excess conditions are yang
Deficient conditions are yin
Next: Acupuncture Channels and Acupoints
History of Chinese Medicine, Book by Book
It began in China over four thousand years ago. But its methods have no geographic bounds. Today, it's practiced the world over. Chinese herbs don't only come from China, they come from everywhere,. Cinnamon from Vietnam, cardamom from India, and even American ginseng from Wisconsin are now Chinese herbs.
In a sense, Chinese medicine is much more like modern Western medicine, than it is a folk medicine. This, because folk medicines have a largely oral tradition of communication. Chinese medicine, like Western medicine, has a dynamic written history, with libraries filled with documentation of experience, experimentation, commentary and controversy. You can tell a lot about the history of Chinese medicine by its principal texts.
The earliest medical text, The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, was also known as Plain Questions and the Canon of Acupuncture is over 2,500 year old. The book, summarizes and systematizes the previous millennia of medical experience and deals with the anatomy and physiology of the human body. This work lays the foundation for TCM.
Today, Chinese Medicine has expanded far beyond the Inner Classic. Countless variations and innovations have appeared. But some principles are unchanging. These root principles, such as yin and yang, describe natural laws, the laws your body must ultimately obey. These root principles endow Chinese Medicine with a unique knowledge making it, in some ways, far more evolved than modern technological medicine.
Later important books also represent milestones in the history of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). They include:
The Herbal is the earliest classic on herbs. This materia medica was handed down from the QIN and HAN dynasties (221 B.C--220 A.D.). It is the summary of pharmaceutical knowledge known before the HAN. It discuss 365 kinds of drugs and offers the pharmacological theory of "JUN, CHEN, ZUO, SHI " (monarch, minister, assistant and guide) indicating the actions of drugs in a prescription,"
Treatise on Febrile Diseases and Miscellaneous Diseases Zhang ZhongJING, (300 A.D) Differentiates febrile diseases according to the theory of six channels, miscellaneous diseases according to pathological changes of viscera and. Establishes diagnosis based on overall analysis of signs and symptoms. Its 269 prescriptions make up the basis for modern clinical practice.
Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Huang Fumi (215--282 A.D.), 12 volumes, 128 chapters. The earliest classic specific to acupuncture and moxibustion in China. It summarizes information on the channels and collaterals, acupuncture points, needle manipulation, and contraindication. It lists the total number of the acupuncture points as 349, and discusses the therapeutic properties of each point.
General Treatise on the Causes and Symptoms of Disease 610 A.D., CHAO YUANFANG, together with others. The earliest classic on etiology and syndrome. 50 volumes, divided into 67 categories, and list 1,700 syndromes. It expounds on the pathology, signs and symptoms of various diseases, surgery, gynecology, and pediatrics .
Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold for Emergencies, SUN SIMIAO 581--682 A.D 30 volumes and 5,300 prescriptions. Also deals with acupuncture, moxibustion, diet therapy, prevention, and health preservation. Outstanding treatment of deficiency diseases.
The Medical Secrets of An Official, WANG TAO 752 A.D. 40 volumes, introduces 6,000 prescriptions. A master's compendium of prescriptions available before the Tang dynasty.