I like to eat popcorn
before bed at night...every night. I'm defended my position for
years, so I'm ready for your attacks. No, I don't think it's bad
for me. I air pop organic, non-GMO corn and drizzle on melted
grass-fed organic butter. Most deliciously, I sprinkle sea salt all
over the top.
Let me stop lying. It's more like I pour on the butter and the
salt every one-inch tall increment of popcorn as it falls into the
bowl. That's impressive, and it's a skill I've honed over several
years. You have to stand at the ready, slowly spinning the bowl
under the air popper with your left hand while gently drizzling on
the butter from your right hand. Even coverage. Every time.
Now I'll begin to unfold
the secrets of my popcorn affair. Is it enough that my bedtime
snack is free from pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and
genetic modification? We all know I'm not making toxic microwave
popcorn. Sure, it clears the "no bad things" screening fairly
easily, but, as I always ask when someone proudly shows me a "100
calorie" pack of cookies, "What is actually in there
that's good for you?"
Over the past couple of years here at NUHS in the AOM program,
I've horrified more than a couple of peers by describing my
nighttime ritual. Although we naturally-minded medical people are
generally all in agreement that whole-fat butter is better for your
body than any margarine-like alternative, I've still heard the "too
much fat for your liver to clean" argument against my nightly
Several months ago, I
decided to give it a try. Who wants a Liver or Gall Bladder channel
obstructed by phlegm? Not me. So I cut down my popcorn to once
every week or two. It was rough. It was sad. I felt incomplete in
some way when laying down for bed at night. My kidneys cried me to
sleep, begging for the tonification that salt provides my deficient
little nephron bodies. They went hungry, as did I.
After a few weeks of my new deprivation lifestyle, I realized
something shocking -- I wasn't sleeping well! I've always been a
good sleeper, falling right to sleep each night and sleeping
straight through until the morning. Nine hours or so was the
glorious norm for me. Not anymore. Suddenly it was a struggle to
fall asleep and to stay asleep. Transient insomnia? Definitely.
Chronic insomnia? I didn't want to head down that road.
Luckily, I happened to be taking Eric Baker's "Nutrition and
Food Therapy of Oriental Medicine" course at this very time. I
glanced down at my handout during class, and what did I see? Salty
(a flavor in TCM, but most specifically manifested in actual SALT)
collects the Shen. The Shen in TCM is basically the spirit or mind
of the person.
I had been
neatly collecting my overscheduled, chaotic Shen before bed each
night by some sort of inexplicable subconscious desire to put my
mental pieces back together in order to sleep well. Now what was I
doing? I was trying to fall asleep and stay asleep while my Shen
gallivanted around my body and my life, scattered in tiny pieces
into all of my hats -- mother, wife, student, professor, friend,
sister, etc. No wonder I was failing every night.
Upon making the core connection between my salt, my shen, and my
sleep, I promptly began my nightly (or nearly nightly) ritual of
devouring a bowl of salty, buttery popcorn. What do you think
happened? Let's just say I sleep nicely once again. My body was
speaking to me, and I needed to listen. Pop on, popcorn!
Over the past four weeks in my "Nutrition and Food Therapy of
Oriental Medicine" course, I've been frustrated and slightly
puzzled over the subject matter. I'm usually more a
go-with-the-flow student in class; I'm sure the instructor knows
what we need to cover and how to cover it. This time around, I
still think he knows what we need to cover and how to lay it out,
but I'm not as easy going about the whole thing for some
Maybe it's because it's springtime, so my Liver wind is swirling
and I'm irritable. Perhaps I'm overly critical because dietetics is
my personal favorite element of oriental medicine. Maybe I'm just a
jerk. I don't know. I want to study therapeutic properties of
foods, and I want to right now!
Let me start by saying how much I like this professor and every
class I've had with him to date. The theory behind where we stick
these needles and which herbal formulas we recommend is absolutely
mind blowing. He taught me two years ago that winter has a color
and a flavor -- black and salty, for the record. Yet each week, we
seem to review the basics -- flavors and temperatures of
substances. The course title indicates that the focus of the
classwork will be nutrition and food therapy within the framework
of oriental medicine, so I keep wanting more -- more detail, more
examples, more ideas of how to alter a person's diet in order to
As we approach the famed Week Five Quiz that now makes an
appearance in most classes, I'm starting to second-guess myself.
Have we been just reviewing the basics of five-phase
theory, or did the professor slip pages of new detail into the
lectures when I wasn't looking? I'm sure he worked new information
into the framework so smoothly that my associate learning didn't
even know what was happening.
My frustration with this class is that I love the topic so much
that I can't reach a satiation point. I will never have enough
detail about food therapy to be content. I want more, I want it
now, and I want to share it with everyone I know...and some people
I don't even know yet.
Once again, springtime has
duped me. I'm irritable, I'm impatient, and my Liver is out of
control. Feel my pulse, second position on the left wrist. Can you
As I do from time to time, I realize now it's time to reread the
Dao de Jing, or the Tao Te Ching. Same book. Oh,
pinyin, you are a beast that cannot be pinned down. The point is
that this book, this short, easy to read, little book, can save
your sanity. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, overstressed, over Livery
in any way, I know it's time to pick it up.
Look at this thing. Lao Tzu, you genius!
"Those who know do not
Those who speak do not know."
I, and just about everyone else, could learn a little something
from that eloquent one-liner (two-liner?).
"Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost
I don't even like poetry, but this stuff is literally
So, why I am frustrated in
Nutrition class? Why do I want to rush it? Why am I desperately
grasping at the next piece of information? It's that "forcing a
project to completion" part, that part I love for personal reasons.
My procrastination has been vindicated!
As a professor, I often wait until the deadline to return
students' papers; as a student, I expect my professors to grade my
paper today! Actually, I don't think Lao Tzu would like that
"I hope the points aren't just nerves being shocked by needles,"
I said to AOM classmate Irene. As one of the few AOM students who
originally came into the program to focus on herbal preparations
and dietetics, I felt particularly uninformed about this whole
acupuncture thing. So, there in one of the first courses on the
theory of point energetics -- what the acupoints do and how they do
it -- I finally vocalized, albeit in a whisper-like fashion, my
growing fear: Maybe there's no meridian or point energetics beyond
just sticking a needle into a nerve and hoping it stimulates
something productive in the patient's body. Sure, that might still
help, but it certainly doesn't have the mystique that interested me
in the first place.
"Moving blood and qi," "balancing
energy," and "harmonizing yin and yang"...these concepts are
intriguing, promising, and yes, darn near magical in my opinion. If
we're just jabbing people with needles and shocking them wildly,
then I'm not sure I have the buy-in that a 3-year master of science
in oriental medicine degree requires. So there I sat, giving power
to my secret fear by speaking it aloud, not knowing what Dr. Yihyun
Kwon was going to say to pull me back over to his side of the
fence, and hoping that there was something more -- more ancient,
more Daoist, more qi-related in any way. (Spoiler Alert. Dr. Kwon
Irene surprised me with her response, which I recall as being
something along the lines of, "So what if acupuncture is
just stimulating nerves with needles?" How could she be so callous
to this deep fear that I'd been subconsciously fostering for the
first three months of our program? Didn't she understand that I was
sitting there, suffering in silence, desperate for some oriental
What Dr. Kwon went on to explain in that first Energetics class,
and even more so the following year in Neurophysiology of
Acupuncture class, was a concept that bridged the gap between the
mysticism and the mundane. He simultaneously satisfied my cravings
for evidence-based medicine as well as ancient tradition. Dr. Kwon
= 2. Juli's irrational fears = 0.
Yes, he explained, some points are located right
beside or above a nerve -- grazing it ever so slightly and
eliciting that loved or hated sensation we call "de qi," when
energy arrives along that meridian. Further research and
dissections have confirmed that many of those points not located at
a nerve are actually located exceptionally close to an artery or
vein. Here's where he blows my mind in 3...2...1....
Next, he tells us that these vessels and other structures
harboring acupoints are essentially wrapped up in nerve fibers
themselves. Yes, readers, we've come full circle in Juli's
understanding of neurophysiology (which doesn't take long). Many
acupoints are on a nerve; those that aren't, still kind of are.
And now to process this information.... Do I hate this answer?
Does it ruin the grandeur of ancient energy meridian theory? Nah. I
took the news fairly well, all ignorance and expectations
considered. In today's health care climate, I like that modern
science keeps proving acupuncture theory to be true. Time and time
again, I see modern western research pointing to the validity of
traditional medicine. At the end of the day, or the century, who
doesn't like being told, "You're right"?
What's the appropriate relationship for doctors to have with
patients? How do you know when it's OK to accept a gift, meet for a
coffee, or call a patient at home? What's the difference between
being empathetic towards a patient's horrific home life and being
taken advantage of by a patient who thinks you are her new best
In a recent "Doctor and Patient Relationship" class with the
talented Dr. Dennis Delfosse, we explored the all-too-common gap
between what patients might be experiencing in life compared to
what we assume their lives are like. The point of the discussion
was that everyone is dealing with something. Maybe you've heard the
saying "Everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about,"
and its usual ending, "...so be kind." But are you?
Do you, interns of acupuncture and oriental medicine, treat your
patients as important individuals, worthy of your time and energy?
Have you ever groaned when you discovered that you suddenly have an
"add-on" patient halfway through your shift? Do you dread treating
that "difficult" patient who keeps scheduling with you, stealing
your qi? Are you counting the minutes until your shift in
clinic is over for the day?
Much like the general population of American doctors (of whom
only 54% would choose medicine as their career if they could do it
all over), practitioners of acupuncture and oriental medicine might
find themselves unfulfilled, unchallenged, or unhappy at work from
time to time. How can we refocus, reframe, and recharge ourselves
and our passion for helping patients find balance and wellness? We
must revisit our goals from time to time, remembering why we chose
our respective field in the first place, realizing that our next
step might be in a slightly different direction than we originally
planned. It's OK to change treatment strategies, to move towards a
different specialization, or to study under a different clinician
One way to change your personal energy
dial-back to "Positive" is to remember that the patients, their
oftentimes unfortunate circumstances and their health needs, are
the reasons that we're here. They aren't in the way, they aren't
the reason we can't finish our paperwork, and they aren't the
problem. Helping them is the whole picture. The key is figuring out
how to strike the perfect--or at least, a workable--balance with
each individual patient to optimize their satisfaction and
Do you want to make your patients happy? Start by being happy
Physician Frustration Grows, Income Falls - But a Ray of Hope.
Medscape. Apr 24, 2012. Retrieved 1/18/14 at
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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