Archive for tag: qi

So What Is Chinese Medicine

With the start of a new trimester here at NUHS, and -- for many -- the start of a new school year, it's the perfect time to break it down. Just what is Traditional Chinese Medicine? How does acupuncture fit into the picture? Do you have to use herbs, too? What about tui na, qi gong, and tai chi? Let's not forget about my personal favorite -- dietary therapy!

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has arguably five branches, and I'm going to give it to you as I understand it. After two full years in the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Program, a first professional master of science degree program, I think I'm finally scratching the surface of what the ancient Chinese had to offer.

Acupuncture

photo of woman receiving acupunctureThis is the big guy, right? Acupuncture is the most well-known branch of TCM today in the U.S., involving the insertion of needles into specific points on the body. While some other fields offer an abbreviated, "stick it where it hurts" method, we TCM acupuncturists take the entire body, its functional organ systems, and each person's general constitution into consideration when deciding where to stick the needles. I know it's confusing when you say your back hurts and I put needles in your legs, ears, and hands, but just trust me. It's all connected through energy meridians. This is also why we ask you about your poop when you come in for knee pain.

Moxibustion

photo of Chinese herbYes, it smells just like marijuana, but it's actually a different herb called ai ye in Chinese pinyin, artemesia argyi in Latin, or Mugwort in plain old English. It does come in a tightly rolled stick form, we do light the end, but instead of smoking it we hold it near an acupoint on the body. After a few minutes of pecking the moxa stick close enough to provide penetrating heat but never burning you -- I promise -- you will reap the benefits of not only pain relief but tonification of certain organ systems and the freecoursing of energy through particular meridians. It feels great, but you will have to explain to people for the rest of the day why you smell like marijuana.

Herbs

photo of Chinese herbsLike many medical systems, from western naturopathy to Indian Ayurveda, TCM has a unique Materia Medica, or giant book of herbs, their properties, and their medicinal uses. While you don't have to "do herbs," most students at NUHS work towards the full MS of Oriental Medicine (which includes the herbal coursework in addition to the acupuncture work). Interesting fact: not all "Chinese herbs" are plant-derived. Many are actually minerals, such as salt or arsenic, or animal-derived, such as deer penis or flying squirrel feces. Just seeing if you're paying attention (but yes, those are really all in the Materia Medica).

TCM­

photo of garlic and onionsLumps dietary therapy, or food therapy, into the same branch as herbal therapy above. Because I love the application of common foods and nutritional principles so much, I'm awarding it half status as its own category. Some items that we'd call "food," such as garlic or onions, are also included in the Materia Medica as medicinal herbs. They're working together -- that's the point. Who doesn't love the ancient Greek saying, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food?" Thanks, Hippocrates, thy father of western medicine. The Chinese happen to agree!

Tui Na

photo of woman receive a massageCan you pronounce it? Try this: twee nah. Good job. This is most easily compared to the practice of massage. Often called "Asian Body Work," these pushing and pulling movements applied by the TCM provider to the patient's body accomplishes many of the goals of general massage, such as relaxation and improved circulation of blood and energy.

Cupping

photo of cupping treatmentThis is also where we are going to mention the practice ofcupping. Stick a fire into a glass cup to create a vacuum that pulls toxins out of the blood and releases the exterior in a "wind-cold invasion" and you have a happy patient. In my admittedly limited clinical experience, everyone loves cupping, but mind your manners. The clinic is not an a la carte menu for your pleasure. Let the intern and the clinician decide which modalities are best for your condition each day.

Qi Gong

photo of qi gong practitionerAnother new phrase for the day. Practice: chee gong. Not so bad, is it? Qi gong offers the practitioner a chance to step back, relax, and renew his or her own energy and well being. Maybe you've seen images of elderly Chinese individuals at the park, wondering why they are punching the air in slow motion. That was a group of people cultivating their qi. As Dr. Yurasek tells us interns, "You can't give it if you don't have it!" Thus, practice your qi gong postures and movements before you head in for your clinic shift.

So, there it is--most of Traditional Chinese Medicine. We could also tie in tai chi or talk about gua sha, but I have to save something for next time! If you haven't tried TCM, now is a great time. Interns are fresh off a nice two-week break, white lab coats are pristine, and everybody's anxious to try out their skills. See you in clinic!

How Salads and Evil Qi Can Make You Gain Weight

How could salads cause weight gain? If you have Damp-Cold and you're trying to lose weight by eating cold, raw, veggie salads, you might not shed the pounds. "How can this be?" everyone is now screaming -- probably silently, that's fine. I thought eating lots of spinach, topped with radish, cucumbers, celery, etc. was supposed to help melose weight.

For some people, this might be an effective strategy, particularly if you are swapping out fast-food double cheeseburgers in favor of homemade veggie salads. Certainly, there is the undeniable benefit of increasing the nutrition you're taking in by adding more produce to your diet. I'm sure we all know someone who started eating more salads and less junk food and fairly promptly dropped a few pounds. Great.

So, why doesn't it work for everyone? In fact, why does eating all raw, cold veggie salads even have the possibility of causing weight gain in some people?

No, the answer is not about the dressing that you put on the salad! That would be too easy, not eastern-medicine-related, and frankly, it would probably cast a dark shadow on my consistently whole-fat dietary lifestyle approach.

Instead, my point here is related to one of TCM's six evil qis -- technically, two of them. I used the terms "cold" and "damp" earlier, and this is one of those special moments when normal, everyday words take on more specific meanings in the context of Chinese medicine. I think we call that "connotations." In TCM, Cold and Damp have pathogenic connotations.

A person can be constitutionally Cold or Damp from the get-go, or a person can be invaded by a Cold or Damp external pathogenic factor (actually called an "evil (xieh) qi"). Foods are like people; each food has specific properties, such as Cold, Hot, and whether the food leads to damp retention or drying out in the person who ate it.

In the case of a Cold, Damp person trying to lose weight, we need more hot, drying, acrid foods, and fewer raw, cold, damp foods on the plate. If this seems counter-intuitive, keep in mind that there are plenty of healthy, nutritious foods that have hot and acrid properties. Ginger and peppers, anyone? Yes, please.

What is your favorite food doing for you--or to you? My favorite book on nutrition, Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, goes into detail on the connections between your diet and your health. Or, quickly check out the properties of some common fruits, veggies, meats, etc. here: http://www.tcmecc.org/foodtherapy.htm

Choose wisely, my friends.

Jabbing Nerves with Needles

"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.

2014-03-14_ancient"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 wins!) 

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 medicine justification?

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.

Photo of Dr. Kwon with studentsYes, 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"?

I See Tongues

Tongue DiagramIt's already second nature. When I see people, I see tongues. I notice when the actor in the movie on the big screen has a thick white coat. I try to sneak a peek at my friends' tongues when we're having a casual conversation. If there's a thick yellow coat, I subconsciously take a step back and continue our conversation from a safer distance. I've actually had dreams about analyzing someone's tongue shape, size, color, and coat.

Why am I haunted by tongues? As a student of acupuncture and oriental medicine, I've taken classes on how to evaluate various tongue appearances and use that valuable, albeit gross, information when formulating a diagnosis about the patient's overall condition. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the tongue and pulse are integral pieces in the puzzle of health and wellness.

The 2,000 year-old classic "Huang Di Nei Jing", translated as "The Yellow Emperor's Inner Cannon," offers around 60 quotes about the tongue. We are instructed to examine the exterior, including the orifices, in order to gain a clear picture of the interior. Specifically, the tongue can reveal problematic areas or functional systems within the body, such as stagnated Liver Qi or an accumulation of dampness. Not everyone in oriental medicine relies on the "stick out your tongue" method when diagnosing patients, though. Different practitioners place a varying amount of importance on the tongue's appearance. One professor even told us to treat the tongue appearance as a "tie breaker" if you are wavering between two diagnoses.

As a result, we students study the tongue diligently, searching for heat prickles, digging for signs of sublingual dilation. If we see a thick tongue with a white coat and scalloped edges, we feel fairly confident suggesting that the patient suffers from Spleen Qi deficiency. If you see a purple tongue with ventral dilation that gives you nightmares of giant black caterpillars crawling towards you, then you check into the patient's Liver Qi stagnation issues. Unfortunately, what you see in the average person's mouth is a combination of every diagnosable characteristic you've ever learned. In other words, it's not as easy as it sounds!

2014-01-30_tonguediagnosis

I'll leave you with this tongue conversation that I had today with my 3-year-old son. Yes, even toddlers are getting in on the trend of diagnosing tongues these days! Enjoy...

Me: Let me see your tongue, buddy. (I look at the normal beautiful tongue that only children seem to have.) Thanks, it looks pretty good!

Him: Thanks, Mom. Show me your tongue now. (I stick out the mess that we adults always seem to have.) Whoa! Yours looks bad. It looks like a pirate ship... with windows... and people... and a volcano... and some beds! 

Go ahead...check out some tongue info here: http://www.sacredlotus.com/diagnosis/tongue/