Or, at least you should be, because that's basically
your job. According to Deadman--our go-to acupuncture
manual--"Gushing Spring," as it's called in English, has the
primary function of "returning the unrooted back to its source."
Actions include "descends excess from the head," "calms the
spirit," and "rescues yang to revive consciousness." Pull escaping
things down; root them back to the earth. Sounds pretty
important...and it is.
The only point on the sole of the foot, KD1, as we short-handers
call it, is also the Jing-well and wood point of the Kidney
meridian. It has a strong descending power, and it can clear excess
from the upper parts of the body particularly well. It's just too
bad that it also happens to be perhaps the most painful acupoint to
needle in the clinic. I say "in the clinic," because although this
is perhaps the most painful point that we use in practice, there
are at least two very intimate points--Du1 and Ren1--that would
certainly be more sensitive. We. Never. Use. Those. Two. Points.
But please do take a moment and look them up for your reading
See, KD1 hardly even sounds painful now! So, why would we select
KD1 to needle? In practice, it's used mostly to treat severe cases
of Liver Yang Rising, Liver Wind, or Liver Fire.
Imagine a stressed out, irritable, hypertensive
patient with a red face, red "whites" of the eyes, ringing ears,
and an explosive headache. You're watching him, waiting for him to
stroke out at any minute. Oh yeh, he's getting KD1, and make it
bilateral! The process of bilaterally needling KD1 on any one
patient always seems tricky. Why would they ever let you approach
the second foot when the memory of how the first one went down is
still so painfully fresh?
Why? Because it works. Let's revisit an account from an
old--very old--2nd century Chinese doctor named Hua Tuo. He sees a
General. One minute, the General has "head wind, confused mind, and
visual dizziness." One minute and two KD1 needles later, the
General "was immediately cured." How, you might be asking, can
aKidney point so effectively resolveLiver signs and symptoms? As
you might suspect, there's a short answer, reminiscent of Daoist
simplicity, and then there's the longer, more complex answer that
is more representative of most of Chinese medical theory.
"The Kidneys and Liver share the same origin." Well,
OK then. There's our short answer. Or, for the longer version, we
can go into detail about how Kidney is the mother of Liver, and
water must nourish the wood to grow properly, and without the
proper Kidney yin, the Liver yang cannot be held down. The way that
Chinese medical theory has evolved, grown, changed, and revamped
itself over the past couple of millennia is really impressive,
because, as Dr. Kwon revealed to us in class, one right answer does
not make the other answer wrong.
Our Western brains are trained to be logical at every turn. If
energy comes from the external universe, then that's the right
answer. If energy comes from within the human body, then that's the
right answer. How can they both be the right answer at the same
time? In Eastern philosophy, it just is. I sometimes have to remind
myself that Chinese medicine isn't just a freak show of
"everybody's right" or "anything goes." That would be completely
ignorant of the intricacies of the system and the power of the
medicine. But still, it's great that there's more than one way to
the needle the patient.
To put this into action, consider some of the new
ways that KD1 is treated in practice. Let's just be honest--nobody
wants a needle in the bottom of the foot if they can help it.
Recently, researchers have tested out the practice of making herbal
plasters and applying them to the bottom of the foot over KD1, to
treat such excess conditions as mouth ulcers and hypertension. Now
that sounds good to me! You've turned a tortuous experience into a
day at the spa.
And finally, let us not forget the power of acupressure on KD1,
or as the laypeople call it--a foot massage!
If you don't pray, put them together anyway. In the
age of anything goes, I've taken to the lazy practice of praying
silently in my head while lying in bed at night. I don't know where
my hands are exactly, but they sure aren't folded nicely in front
of my chest like the iconic prayer image of the olden days.
Who cares? Why bother pressing your hands together and holding
them in that fairly awkward position that drove me nuts as a
Catholic school kid? I'll be the first to admit that I let my
fingers fall and intertwine into the sloppy prayer paws pose as
soon as the priest looked the other direction.
Now I realize I was screwing myself out of some real benefits.
Sure, God was probably disappointed in my faulty direction
following, but I'm not focusing on the spiritual deficit here. I'm
focusing on the physical and even the psychological benefits I --
and many other lazy prayers -- had been missing out on all my young
This whole conversation hinges on one
important point -- an acupuncture point -- called Pericardium 6, or
"PC6" as we call it, because again we're all too lazy to stick to
the formalities in life. What does PC6 have to do with prayer paws
(as my kids call them)? This now famous spot, two inches proximal
to the inner wrist crease, has been dubbed the most researched
acupoints of the modern day. You know those "anti-nausea"
motion-sickness type bracelet bands, with the ball that presses
into the inner wrist? That thing's stimulating good ole PC6.
Why is PC6 such a beneficial acupoint? Our trusty
guide to acupuncture points and meridians and their energetic
functions is a beefy, rust-colored book usually referred to by its
author's last name, "Deadman." What does Deadman say about PC6? Oh,
nothing too exciting. Just that it treats all diseases of the
chest, particularly the heart, but also benefits the lungs, too. It
can be used for heart surgery analgesia. What? Yes! No anesthesia
necessary...just squeeze PC6 for me while I go under the knife!
In TCM terms, PC6 "unbinds the chest and regulates
qi," "regulates the heart and calms the spirit," "harmonizes the
stomach to relieve nausea," and "clears heat." It's indicated in
conditions such as heart pain, palpitations, cough, asthma,
insomnia, anxiety, abdominal masses, fevers, malaria, irregular
menstruation, and swellings in the armpits. Nothing important
there, right? Not! PC6 does just about everything you could want an
acupoint to do.
During a recent advanced seminar class with Dr. Robin Fan, we
discussed the benefit of stretching the Kidney meridian in cases of
heel pain. Suddenly, all I could picture was the traditional prayer
pose--hands out front, pressed gently together, stretching and
stimulating the bulk of the Pericardium meridian!
It makes sense. What is the function of prayer if
not to calm the mind and spirit? It's not just Catholics and other
Christians who have always used this prayer pose, either. As my
mind wandered -- sorry, Dr. Fan -- around the globe, I saw the
Chinese practicing qi gong poses, the Indians practicing
yoga poses, etc. Every tradition I could think of involved some use
of this position.
In anthropology, when we see similar customs or values amongst a
variety of cultural groups around the world, we call those core
elements "cultural universals." In other words, everybody's doing
it. Why? The answer is one that, despite my need to create an
evidence-based practice, I've always secretly promulgated;
sometimes, you don't need to sit around waiting for a formal
research study to prove a truth. It's lovely that western medicine
has put together some studies that do show the efficacy of PC6 in
some conditions, but I'm not waiting for them to prove the rest.
I'm going with Deadman and the ancient world traditions on this
Pray on, prayers!
With at least two distinct "appreciation" events in the next two
weeks, Acupuncture and oriental medicine seems to be powering its
way into the integrative healthcare arena. Currently at NUHS, an
acupuncture awareness campaign is giving AOM students, faculty,
clinicians, and interns of all kinds of an excuse to sport an
unmistakably fashionable bow tie. That's right, in addition to the
pristine business professional wear and white coats, always part of
our clinic attire, you can also catch us pinning on a snazzy white
and black yin-yang bow tie from now through November 1st. It goes
If gawking at odd bow ties isn't enough to grab your attention
and get you thinking more about acupuncture and oriental medicine,
then how about some free treatment? That's right. From October 27th
to November 1st, all new patients to the NUHS AOM Clinic can
receive a free treatment. This is a great opportunity for anyone
who's been considering giving acupuncture a try, but hasn't been
willing to shell out the usual $25. Just make sure to schedule
ahead of time -- free generally means "busy" around the clinic!
Why do we need to raise awareness about acupuncture (and all of
oriental medicine)? In a 2014 National Health Interview Survey
report, researchers revealed that 14 million Americans have tried
acupuncture. That sounds like a lot, but it's really not. That's
only 6% of Americans! What's holding back the other 94% of the
American population? My guess is needle phobia. Who wants to be
poked and pricked? Not even I like needles, and I use them every
Neporent, Liz "A Close-Up Look at Acupuncture for
ABCNews.go.com. ABC News. April 22 2014. Web. April 25
Thankfully, needlephobes like myself are not holding back the
growth of acupuncture in the United States today. Lately we've been
finding needles everywhere. The military is hiring acupuncturists,
veterans' clinics are treating PTSD, and pain management and cancer
treatment centers are flooded with requests for acupuncture
services. Even research studies, in English, showing the efficacy
and safety of acupuncture are appearing at a rapid clip. It seems
like the west is doing a good job proving the east already knew
what it was doing. Acupuncture can treat just about everything.
Ladies and gentlemen, the people have spoken. They want to be
To find out more about these awareness events at NUHS, and to
keep up with the happenings of our program on campus, check out the
NUHS AOM Club Facebook page.
If you've never heard that one before, then you've
probably never tried to figure out a skin issue. Every time I've
ever consulted with any kind of doctor about anything skin-related
on anyone, the first comment is always "Derm is hard." Why are skin
problems such a mystery? Sure, dermatologists have figured out how
to treat most of them, but even they, in my experience, are not
much concerned with how the skin eruption got there in the first
place or why a rash keeps recurring.
If you have a child, then odds are high that you've run into
some skin issues. Kids are just hotbeds for tons and tons of
rashes, eruptions, vesicles, warts -- you name it. As a parent,
rather than as a student, I've become familiar with eczema and
molluscum. Is it flat or raised? Broken edges or a perfect circle?
Red or flesh colored? These are all things that we parents become
practical experts in, but only by default. It only takes about 10
trips to the pediatrician to have someone take a look at a pink or
red spot on a toddler's leg to start concluding "eczema" at every
Finally I came to realize that "eczema" was kind of
a catchall, non-specific diagnosis. It was an easy name to drop,
and an easy thing to slather with a steroid cream. Do you think I
like to put steroid creams on my babies? No, no, I do not. Don't
theylowerthe immune system's function? Plus, kids' kidneys and
livers have enough toxins to filter these days from their
pesticide-rich foods in plastic containers. Pass!
I don't want to use steroid creams, and of course I don't want
my kids (and your kids) to walk around full of rashes and vesicles
all of the time, either. But, there's a third thing that I'm just
much more concerned with. WHY is the skin issue happening? What
does a superficial reaction tell us about the inner workings (or
dysfunctions) of the body? Chinese medicine has a lot to add in
this realm, thank goodness.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the
internal-external relation between the TCM conception of the Lung
and the skin. In this model, the Lung controls the skin, giving us
a hint that what shows up on our skin could be due to an imbalance
in the Lung. For example, some Chinese references to "eczema" are
translated as "skin asthma."
Generally, TCM traces most skin issues back to one of two issues
-- heat or dampness. If that sounds too simple, that's because it
is. It could be heat in the Lung, heat combined with wind, or heat
combined with wind and dampness. The possibilities could be nearly
endless. Luckily, both acupuncture and herbal medicines have a
great track record for expelling these external pathogens and
balancing the body. We help your body help itself.
What causes the internally generated heat or
dampness? Or, what allows the body to be susceptible to the
external invasion of heat or dampness? Again, possibilities are
seemingly endless. Dietary and other lifestyle factors top the
list, but constitutional predispositions (genetics) are also
important in TCM's understanding of the whole person. It could be
too much dairy (dampness), too much stress (constrained Liver
heat), or a deficient Lung (protective qi).
An article in Acupuncture Today gives an in-depth look at
one fairly common condition, psoriasis, and how acupuncture and
herbal formulas have shown significant improvement. It also
outlines some of those pesky, and sometimes life-threatening, side
effects of western medicine's treatment plans for this and other
skin conditions. Think you have your skin condition managed? Great!
Still struggling to get it resolved? See what the AOM clinic has to
If it was good enough for the Christ Child, then
it's good enough for me. That's my motto. I've been using a (gasp)
commercially prepared skin care product for the past month or so,
and these are two of the main ingredients -- frankincense and myrrh
Once again I've found myself playing the "overlapping medical
paradigm" game. You know the one -- you realize you're eating a
vegetable that also happens to appear in a Materia Medica
(giant book of medicinal herbs). Suddenly you second-guess yourself
at every meal. "Should I add sautéed onions to my steak," "Does a
cooked onion still hold the same medicinal properties as a raw
one?" Who eats raw onions anyway? "Is the live peppermint growing
in my backyard the same as the dried peppermint in my tea bags, the
essential oil of peppermint in my cabinet, or the bo he (Mentha
piperita) listed in my TCM Materia Medica?"
Now I'm having this same sense of wonderment about
my facial products. As I'm rolling on and rubbing in this blend of
ancient oils that smells distinctly like a special day in a
Catholic church, I'm pondering the reach of these powerful
substances. It's no secret that frankincense can run $100 per
bottle of essential oil, and myrrh comes in around $70.This is good
stuff, people. But why? What properties do they carry that have
made them, along with the missing "gold" in my formulation, so
heavily sought after for millennia? Myrrh was not only presented to
the baby Jesus but also used to anoint his body after death.
Egyptian pharaohs were also doused in the stuff.
Myrrh on the left, frankincense on the right
Myrhh (mo yao) has been a documented herb in TCM since
the Kaibao Era circa 975 AD. Frankincense (ru xiang) has been on
the books since 500 AD. How are they used in Chinese medicine? Both
come from small shrub-like trees in the Arabian Peninsula and
Northeast Africa, and both are used in resin form to invigorate
blood, treating a variety of "stasis" issues, from traumas to
tumors. Specific entries might look like this:
Myrrh: neutral, bitter, downward draining; enters
the Liver meridian; moves blood, dispels stasis, disperses phlegm
Frankincense: warm, acrid, aromatic; enters the Heart and Lung
meridians; moves blood, relaxes sinews, freecourses qi, and removes
obstruction from the channels.
Together, they have complementary properties of healing weeping
sores and engendering new flesh. Well, there we have it. Now I see
why this blend (which also includes lavender, Hawaiian sandalwood,
helichrysum, and rose oils) would be used as a facial formula of
the anti-aging variety. Hey, I'm 31. I might as well be
Qi Li Sanis the name of the formula utilizing the highly
effective complementary herbsmo yao(myrrh) and ru xiang
(frankincense). Technically they are resins, but we call every
substance in our Materia Medica an "herb." This
traditional formula combines our frankincense and myrrh with
dragon's blood (spoiler alert: not really the blood of a dragon),
catechu (another resin), carthamus (flower), cinnabar (ooh, an
illegal one!), musk (illegal plus you'd smell like a deer), and
borneol (one more resin for good measure).
Ayurvedic medicine, native to India, also uses
frankincense and myrrh, now sometimes in nutraceutical forms like
guggulsterones and bowsellic acids, respectively, for high
cholesterol and joint pain.
So, what am I putting on my face? Sure, an essential oil is not
exactly the same as a resin or a neutraceutical, or a Chinese
decoction for that matter, but that's not what matters. What's
important here is another step in the direction towards integrated
medicine. Maybe western and eastern are both right this time. As
one of my favorite patients helped me realize recently, you'll kill
yourself trying to figure out which is the one right
answer. There isn't one. Open your eyes, open your ears,
and open your heart to acknowledge the truth in each tradition.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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