Archive for tag: qi

Messy Poo?

2015-07-03_pic2Too bad. Did you know it's actually supposed to be clean when you wipe? Yes, a healthy poo is so nicely formed that even your first swipe should be a leave-no-trace expedition. Maybe that's how indigenous societies have all seemed to get along fine without rolls of toilet paper in their lives....

Unfortunately, many people upon wiping discover a messy poo situation. Perhaps you have to wipe a second time, or a third, or -- gasp -- a fourth time. Maybe you never even feel clean, despite seemingly endless wiping. Commercial products have actually adapted in response to the commonality of the messy poo -- flushable wet wipes for adults have hit the marketplace. Don't flush them, though. Free tip.

So why, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, might an individual produce a messy poo? Naturally, there are several different potential trails of pathogenesis leading to a sticky, unformed deposit. Let's just cover one of the most common diagnoses - Spleen Qi Deficiency with Dampness. It's so common, yet so unpleasant.


What is Spleen Qi Deficiency?

Well, let's start with what Spleen Qi is and what it's supposed to be doing when not deficient. The functional system called "Spleen" in TCM is responsible for these things and more:

  • Holding things up - We don't want your bladder or rectum or uterus prolapsing now, do we?
  • Containing blood - This is the guy who's keeping your blood neatly inside your vessels.
  • Thought - Spleen qi keeps your memory and concentration tip-top in the upstairs shop.
  • Muscles - Spleen nourishes your muscles. Serious, who wants to be described as "atrophied?"
  • Transformation & Transportation - The more liquid junk you throw down the pie hole, the harder the Spleen has to work to separate the clear from the turbid. In other words, "digestion."

If your Spleen qi is strong, you are good to go. I likely will not find you passed out in an alley, hemorrhaging and passing uncomfortable gas. Luckily, life is not always so extreme, and neither are pathologies. More often, modern American people are simply suffering from a mild case of Spleen Qi Deficiency. What's that look like?

  • 2015-07-03_pic4Abdominal Complaints - Gassy, bloaty, nauseous? Check, check, check. Maybe even dull pain.
  • Poo Malfunction - Loose stool, undigested food in the stool,messy poo? Well hello there, fourth wipe!
  • General Wimpiness - Fatigued, weak? Sweating on the third step? Worrying obsessively? Overweight?
  • The Bleeding - Chronic bleeding, hemorrhoids, bruise easily? Yah, I know it sounds serious. Eek.
  • Inclinations - You have no empathy and you constantly crave sweets.

Why is this happening to you? What did you ever do to deserve messy poo and this horrid array of sad signs and symptoms? How did your Spleen Qi become deficient? Like many things in TCM, there could be many right answers, depending on the person. Likewise, there are multiple ways to try to rectify the situation. There's more than one way to skin a messy-poo cat.

Causes of Spleen Qi Deficiency

First, the causes. Think back. Which ones apply to you?

  • 2015-07-03_pic5Dietary Choices - Too much cold, raw produce. Do you juice or, more deliciously, make smoothies? Salad every day for lunch? Woops. You just overwhelmed your Spleen with cold and allowed its pathological partner in crime,dampness, to creep in. Now you're feeling heavy, groggy, fatigued, and possibly gaining weight.
  • Excessive Thinking - Do you worry all the time? Is your job constantly causing you to overanalyze everything? What about your personal life? Are you obsessive? All of this strain injures the Spleen Qi.
  • Chronic Disease -  If you've been battling a long illness, you can bet your Spleen Qi has taken a hit. Taken multiple courses of oral antibiotics? Your Spleen is paying the price.

Treatment Strategies

What can you do about it? Is there any hope for a one-wipe life? Happily, the answer is yes. You can change your poo. Here are your treatment strategies, of course individualized to each person's exact manifestations of Spleen Qi Deficiency (and its partner, the Damp).

  • Tonify the Spleen - Your friendly neighborhood acupuncturist can use a combination of needles, moxa, and herbs to bring that bad boy back up to speed.
  • Resolve the Dampness - Spleen qi deficiency doesn't necessarily lead to damp accumulation, but it basically does. So, you also need to get rid of the dampness.

While the treatment strategies and principles seem few in numbers, they are not necessarily simple to accomplish -- particularly once the dampness has accumulated. While acupuncture, herbs, and anything else your acupuncturist does to you at the visit will almost certainly help your condition improve, you also need to make some changes at home for lasting results.

Additional Strategies

  • 2015-07-03_pic6Dietary Changes - Nobody wants to hear that one, but it's unavoidable. Stop eating all raw, cold produce. Cook your vegetables. It's the ancient Chinese way. Add some warming foods into the plan, sprinkle some cinnamon on your breakfast, and limit the salads to a couple per week. If the dampness has set in, then also limit alcohol and fried foods.
  • Qi Gong - It's like yoga; relax. There are simple movements you can do at home each day to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach systems in TCM. Check out this video of spleen excercises.
  • Relax - Try not to worry so much. Don't overthink everything. Lessen the obsessions.

If all of this sounds too difficult, then just incorporate one suggestion at a time. As always, please consult your favorite acupuncture intern for more information on your individualized pattern diagnosis and treatment plan. You don't want messy poo for the rest of your life, do you?


Or maybe I should say, "qi-qi-qi-chia!" Lately, my life has been full of chia seeds. I'm reading about them, I'm seeing recipes posted like hot cakes on Facebook, Pinterest, etc. I'm taken back to little ceramic sheep with scantily placed green sprouts growing on my dresser. I never could get a full coat on one of those things.


Recently though, I've looked at the chia seed in a new light. I've upgraded from the packet at the toy store to the organic bag from my friendly neighborhood grocer. Why? I have ulterior, Traditional Chinese Medicine, motives. 


What are the properties of these delicious, plump little seeds? What can they do for me? Why do I bother messing with these slippery little things that will 100% certainly get stuck in my teeth for hours? We know from the western world that chia seeds are anti-inflammatory and are recommended for adrenal fatigue. They contain zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, and omega 3s. Its name even means "strength," so it's no wonder the people "are loving it" these days.

Chia? Qi? Strength? Energy? Am I seeing a connection to Traditional Chinese Medicine here? I think yes. I'd love to give you the name of Salvia hispanica  in Chinese, but I can't. It's not in the TCM materia medica, because this seed is native to the Americas, not to Asia. What I can do is piece together the bits of insight on the TCM properties, actions, and indications of chia seeds based on the years of usage in patients and the similarities to related plants.


Chia seeds come from a sage plant in the mint family. Thus, we infer that they are cooling in temperature. They are seeds, so we see them with lubricating properties, particularly in the Large Intestine. As a qi (energy) tonic, we know they enter the Kidney and tonify Kidney qi. The cooling nature also lends itself to a nourishing of Kidney yin as well.

In other words, it's all coming together. The western world's adrenal fatigue is akin to TCM's Kidney deficiency. When TCM lubricates the intestine, it's like an American doctor recommending more fiber. The chia seed is doing it all, no matter how we phrase it.

Here's how I'm taking my chia seeds:

Chia Pudding

  • 2015-06-24_pudding3 bananas
  • 2 large scoops peanut butter
  • ½ cup chia seed
  • ½ cup hemp seed
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • Dash of turmeric
  • Dash of cinnamon

Substitute anything you have a personal problem with. Add all ingredients into blender and mix well. Pour into small glasses and refrigerate overnight.

Enjoy the gelatinous texture in your mouth. Pick gooey chia seeds out of teeth for several hours. Top with fruit if you're so inclined. You're welcome.

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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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:

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"?