What could the two possibly have in common? No, you guess first.
Something to do with swords? Nope. OK, I'll tell you.
I was cooking dinner last night, and
the recipe did not call for celery. I had a flash memory
of a friend on Facebook posting that she added a bunch of random
things to the granola she was making that day, because she wanted
to clean out her pantry. I've been there. Two handfuls of raisins
kicking around in the bottom of the snack pantry (in a container -
I'm not that gross)...about a tablespoon of crushed pecans that
I'll save for years rather than throw out -- come on, those things
are expensive! Into the granola they go....
There I am, cooking dinner, the dinner that did not
call for celery. This is about to relate to acupuncture, just wait
for it. I look into the fridge and notice I have two giant packs of
celery from the previous two weeks. My son had been on a celery
kick for months, inhaling several stalks per day, and of course he
suddenly hated it as soon as I stocked up. "I'll just chop some up
and toss it into the pan with the onions and garlic I'm sautéing
for the stuffed peppers recipe." Boom. In it goes.
No harm done, right? Maybe.... In the
Traditional Chinese Medicine branch called Dietary Therapy, we
learn the nature and properties of foods from kelp to congee and
oats to oranges. Here's the medicinal profile for celery according
to TCM: cooling, sweet, slightly bitter, benefitting the stomach
and spleen, calming an irritated liver, improving digestion, drying
dampness, purifying the blood, reducing nervousness and vertigo,
clearing heat from the eyes, urine and mouth, and relieving
headaches caused by stomach heat and stagnated liver qi (Pitchford,
2002, p. 539).
That would have been fine. Even if you didn't understand most of
that, trust me, it would have been fine. Who doesn't have some
stomach heat and stagnated liver qi these days! Then, as quickly as
I tossed the chopped celery into the recipe that didn't call
for it, I heard Dr. Zhu's voice in my head, reminding us that
we cannot just throw in some extra needles just because we
opened a 10-pack!
What's the big deal about haphazardly
adding things in after the recipe (yes, we could call an
acupuncture point prescription a "recipe")?
As Dr. Zhu explained, the point prescription is just that -- a
prescription. You should take it seriously and respect the balance
and harmony of the points that are working together. There are
master-couple points in there; I saw a guest-host thing going on. I
know she's tonifying the mother and sedating the child on the Lung
channel. Someone said "extraordinary." Seems like it's getting
crazy, but really it's not. It's very calculated...complete and
time you find yourself in the kitchen with some extra celery to use
up, are you going to throw it into the pan when the recipe doesn't
call for it? Maybe... But, the next time you acupuncture interns
find yourselves in rooms full of open packs of needles, I hope you
do the right thing and leave them on the clean field instead of
just adding in the 3 extra opened needles. Just don't tell Dr. Kim--he
does not like wasted needles!'
Pitchford, P. (1996). Healing with whole foods: Oriental
traditions and modern nutrition. Berkeley, Calif: North
Curious ladies are dying
to know. Could the articles be true? Is drinking a glass of wine
the health equivalent of working out at the gym? This. Is.
Here's the article: Resveratrol may be natural exercise performance
enchancer - Science Daily. If you have a Facebook account, I'm
sure you've at least seen the headline "Glass of Wine Equal to Hour
at the Gym!" and the equally delighted personalized status updates
by every woman and half the men you are "friends" with.
So, does the study actually prove this?
Kind of. A team of researchers on the University of Alberta Faculty
of Medicine and Dentistry found that resveratrol, a natural
compound found in some fruits, nuts, and wine, mimics the effects
of hard physical exercise on the human body. Although their
conclusions leaned more towards creating a resveratrol supplement
that could be given to patients that were unable to exercise --
such as a car accident victim with four broken limbs, I guess.
Naturally, the people did not stop there. Our lushy society has
taken it upon ourselves to extrapolate the potential ways this
could impact the average person. Can't make it to the gym tonight
after all? No problem -- have a glass of wine! Don't feel like
going for that run in the rain? Don't worry about it -- go back
inside and drink wine!
What's the catch? There
are a couple of details here. Again, their research was geared
towards creating a performance-enhancing supplement, not a
substitute for performance entirely. They said resveratrolmimicsthe
results of endurance training...it's not quite as perfect in every
way. Also, we are only talking about red wine here. "Why?" wonders
the lady who only likes sweet dessert wines. The answer is that
resveratrol -- the important part of the wine for this discussion
-- is found primarily in the skin ofredgrapes. White wine just
doesn't have the resveratrol levels that would make an impact in
your big sea of body.
Western medicine always
thinks it's discovering something new. Well...not this time,
fellas! Chinese medicine has listed red wine as a therapeutic
dietary choice for thousands of years. In TCM, red wine is dry and
hot, so it expels dampness and warms the interior, expelling cold.
Is that why I always crave a glass of Pinot Noir on a cold winter
The Chinese also use wine as a guiding element, directing other
herbs or foods where the body needs those influences. They see wine
as capable of moving blood and qi, which can help dispel not only
cold but also stasis and stagnation of many types and
manifestations. Both East and West recognize that red wine can
I'm not going to say that TCM wins again, but yes I basically am
saying that TCM wins again. Let's compromise over a glass of red
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 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.
No, not your lunchmeat. Today I want to
talk about your "lung meat." This is how my children and I refer to
their lungs. Got a cough? Well let's massage some eucalyptus oil on
your lung meats. They understand that I don't have to reach my arm
down the throat to physically touch the lungs themselves. My 7- and
4-year-old children are already hip to the Traditional Chinese
Medicine (TCM) concept of the internal and external functional
system known simply as the "Lung."
My children are wise. Maybe they -- like most children -- are
simply intuitive creatures. They haven't yet been shoved inside the
box, led to believe that there is only one right answer, or that
they must operate fully and submissively within the parameters
drawn by the institution. Wow, I really sound like an old-school
hippie on that one.
I had to take graduate-level TCM courses
to grasp the concept of the Lung as an entire system of
physiological interplay involving both internal organs and external
pathogens. Sometimes in TCM, "organs" line up perfectly with their
western paradigm counterparts. The Large Intestine is largely the
same thing in TCM and in the western understanding. A medical
doctor and an acupuncturist would agree that the Large Intestine
functions to absorb some nutrients from food, reabsorb some fluid,
and pass along the remaining waste in the form of stool. See?
Everyone's getting along.
Unfortunately, some western organs do not line up exactly with
their corresponding TCM "zang fu." Some translations are more
abstract, although still meaningful. Take the Heart for example.
While westerners know that your consciousness (mind/thoughts)
originates in the brain, we can stretch ourselves to accept the TCM
function of the Heart as the storage place for the Shen
The Lung falls
somewhere in between. TCM describes the Lung as a delicate white
umbrella in the upper jiao (we'll call that the "chest" for today),
misting the entire body with the perfect amount of moisture. Not
too much fluid, mind you, or you'll have a phlegmy cough. Not too
little either, or you'll have a dry cough.
In TCM, the Lung is responsible for so many processes and
conditions in the body. Again, some will be more easily accessible
to the logic of a western brain, such as how the Lung rules
respiration, opens to the nose, and governs the voice. We can
probably stretch again to accept the function of the Lung in TCM as
working with the Heart to control the blood vessels -- if you have
any idea about how the heart circulates the blood through the lungs
to oxygenate it before distributing it through the body. As you
feared, though, some of the Lung functions in TCM are unclear to
the western mind. Did you know that the Lung regulates qi (energy)
of the body? It regulates the water passages, controls the skin,
sweat glands, and body hair, and controls "descending and
dispersing" throughout the body.
What? That final function describes the
way that the Lung should work to descend qi in your body. You
shouldn't cough; if you are coughing, then that is explained as
"rebellious Lung qi" that needs to be more adequately descended.
When you catch a cold, TCM explains that this happened because your
Lung qi may have been wimpy. The Lung is the first line of defense
from our body to its surrounding exterior environment, and we need
strong Lung function to beat down any bad guys who try to sneak
As Dr. Zhu illustrated in a recent Advanced Seminar class, it's
easier to push an intruder back outside when he's just stepped
through your door. Sure, you can fight him down in your dining
room, but by then he's already broken your furniture and dumped out
your drawers in his path. What a great example. Dr. Zhu is
brilliant, but we already knew that.
Guess what? It's time to protect your
Lung meat. Right now -- today. In TCM, the Lung is the organ
connected to the season of fall/autumn. While some interpret this
to mean that the Lung is the strongest at this time of year, many
of us experience the opposite -- excessive or frequent Lung
pathologies -- wind-cold invasions and wind-heat invasions (the
common cold and flu). These pathogens are attacking through our
(often deficient) wei qi (protective energy layer), which again is
regulated by the Lung. If the Lung is weak, then the wei qi is
weak; thus, more colds for you.
What can you do to tonify your Lung? You can visit your favorite
clinician or intern to assess your wei qi and see how much
tonification you might need. Acupuncture is often appropriate, as
may be cupping, gua sha, tui na, or moxa. Even food therapy (a
branch of TCM) could be applied here. Pears are very moisturizing
and specifically target the Lung and Stomach meridian (think: colds
For some people, a Lung
excess pattern could exist. Instead of basic tonification, a
sedation technique might be the appropriate method. Who wants more
hot yellow phlegm in the lung meat? Not me. This is why
self-diagnosis and treatment can be dangerous. Not every head cold
is a wind-cold invasion. Many are wind-heat
invasions. While ginger or garlic might be great to release the
exterior wind-coldinvasion, it will probably exacerbate a
wind-heat condition, where peppermint would likely be the
What's the lesson here today? Care for your lung meat. Don't
smoke. Do drink water. These are the basics according to western
medicine, and TCM agrees. However, if you'd like to do more -- the
TCM way -- then see what an AOM intern has to say.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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