Guarding Qi (Wei Qi in Chinese), circulates on the outside of our bodies while we’re awake. It instinctively closes the pores of our skin if we are cold and opens them if we’re overheated. It raises the hair on the back of our necks if we’re afraid. It also resides all along the GI tract, from our throats down through our intestines, creating peristalsis, the automatic undulations that move food through our bodies.
Wei Qi is the front line of our immune system. Western Medicine, like Chinese Medicine, draws a connection between the skin, lungs and large intestine. Beyond the main repositories of lymph tissue in our spleen and lymph nodes, lymphoid tissue resides in the mucosa of our respiratory tract, the lining of our gut, and near the surface of our skin.
This is precisely the terrain of Wei Qi, and it follow that this is also the terrain of allergies – sinus/breathing allergies, skin allergies and gut allergies. Nothing “gives” us allergies other than our own immune system’s reaction. And sometimes this reaction is confused.
Non-stop stress turns the Wei Qi dial up to high, and if it stays there, then like a country under threat of attack, it tends to perceive any outside influence as being a threat. The same thing happens when the virus settings on a computer are set to the highest limit; even safe webpages are often blocked.
Acupuncture treatments can effectively train the immune system to become less reactive.
Anxiety can occur on three different levels according to Chinese Medicine. If it’s on the surface, as a mood, then it’s very closely connected to Wei Qi, as described in the “Allergies” definition. One is anxious about everything, but nothing in particular.
If it’s in what is referred to as the middle level, meaning it circulates around our blood as a memory, then the anxiety is attached to a specific person, place or thing. And if it’s even deeper, in what is called the constitutional level, then it manifests as panic attacks that can actually feel like Heart attacks. This is the realm of PTSD.
Acupuncture and herbs can treat all three levels.
Arthritis has a variety of causes. The most common kind in the U.S., osteoarthritis, is usually the result of what Chinese Medicine calls Bi-Syndrome.
Over a lifetime of absorbing the stressors of living, the body accumulates pathogens. Emotional holdings as well as toxic relationship are considered pathogenic, in addition to environment pollution and food allergies.
Even a virus that causes a common cold can linger at a very deep level. Very briefly, if one’s immune system is weak and the virus can’t be completely ejected, the body has a way of holding on to it until the immune system is restored.
A virus may never even cause symptoms, because it simply bypasses the outer defenses. Remember, we need an adequate immune system to “get sick.” If our defenses are down (i.e. our Wei Qi is weak), then there won’t be a fight at the body’s surface. What we call “getting sick” is actually “getting well.”
In this case, the body will respond by storing the virus in a joint, beginning with the knees and hips. Other kinds of arthritis can be described by the same theory.
Chinese Medicine can help someone restore their immune system, subdue the arthritis and, when appropriate, provoke a healing crisis (Herxheimer Reaction), clearing the pathogen out of the body.
Asthma can be caused by a one of more of the following factors: environmental, congenital, and emotional.
The Lungs are associated with Grief, and it’s breathing partner, the Kidneys, are associated with Fear. The Kidneys, which represent our Will Power, draw the Qi of the breath down into the Lungs. The Kidneys grasp Lung Qi. If we’re feeling depressed, the Will to live, including the will to breath, is compromised.
Fear, the emotion of the Kidneys, can also create a short breath. If someone has a difficult time breathing in, this can also be caused by incomplete exhalations. We can only breathe in deeply if there is room for the air. The common, mostly unconscious, fear of letting go (which I believe is ultimately based on our mortality), creates shallow exhalations, another cause of asthma.
Chinese Medicine has many treatments that focus on emotions and constitutional energetics in addition to immediate physical deficiencies.
Autoimmune diseases demonstrate how unique we all are. The symptoms often overlap for patients with the same Western diagnosis, but every case is different because no one has the same immune system.
According to Chinese Medicine, when Wei Qi (akin to White Blood Cells) confuses a part of the body for a pathogen, then auto-immunity occurs. The underlying cause is often a prior infection that was never fully eradicated.
For example, in the case of a Lyme bacteria infection, the pathogen is so stealthy, and it’s movement so unpredictable, that the immune system ends up swinging wildly (bar room analogy) and hitting itself.
The underlying causes can be a combination of chemical, environmental, emotional and congenital factors. A special set of acupuncture channels, called the Divergent Channels, are very effective at treating auto-immune conditions. They are also referred to as the Tolerance Channels, because they reflect what we’ve decided to tolerate in our lives in terms of relationships, diet and environmental exposure. In my experience, persistent emotional stress is often a significant factor in auto-immunity.
Women suffer in far greater numbers than men. For example, according to the SLE Lupus Foundation, nine times more women than men suffer from Lupus. Multiply this ratio three fold for women of color.
Back pain can be caused by physical injury (excess condition) or by a lack of vitality (deficient condition). As we get older, our Yang naturally begins to diminish.
Think of Yang as the internal warmth and animating force of the body. It’s our own vital sun that emanates from the second lumbar vertebrae, the area where so many of us experience back pain. If we exercise our will of life, even out of joy, to exhaustion, this will induce a dull, deficiency backache. Acupuncture and herbs can help to restore an overly taxed back.
The lower back, where most people experience their pain, is the seat of one’s will power. We have several expressions we use in English that carry this meaning. “Put your back into it.” “Back against the wall.” “I’m backing out.” These are all expressions of will power.
All Chinese Medicine is both physical and metaphorical. For example, CT can metaphorically be understood as trying to hold on too tightly. Whether it be a repetitive physical action such as typing or carrying the same thing all day long, or even just the attempt to grasp at something emotionally. The Pericardium Channel runs through the inner aspect of the wrist where CT typically occurs. So emotional pain is often indicated by CT, whether it be about the state of one’s life or a specific relationship.
Treating CT effectively addresses the pain and also reminds the individual to take breaks and pauses during his or her everyday lives.
Colds & Flu
Colds and flus are caused by the same viruses. The resulting disease is based on the strength of a given individual’s immune system. It’s common to blame someone else for one’s cold (so-and-so had it a week ago), but the truth is that most of us wouldn’t get colds very often if our immune systems were robust. Staying healthy against colds and flus is mostly an exercise of self-responsibility regarding lifestyle habits (sleep, stress, diet, disposition).
Remember, when you feeling you are “getting sick”, you’re body is actually fighting in order to “get well.” If you can, allow yourself the time to rest and reflect.
Chinese Medicine offers multiple perspectives and treatments that help restore the vitality and accompanying immune system so that one can heal faster and not get sick in the first place.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality. What we choose to do with our vitality determines how happy, or at peace, we are.
As mentioned in previous entries, our bodies are warmed and animated by an internal sun referred to as Yang. The character for Yang depicts the sunny side of a mountain.
Yang naturally wanes as we age. And if we overly tax ourselves with busyness or the emotional stress of an unhealthy relationship, it wanes more rapidly.
If we suffer a traumatic event, this can also strike a blow at our internal sun.
Feeling chronically chilled as a child, physically or emotionally can do likewise.
Whatever the reason for the waning of vitality that underlies depression, Chinese Medicine, in terms of acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle recommendations can help revitalize your internal sun.
Chinese Medicine approaches fertility from several angles, depending on age, vitality and the state of one’s resources.
“Resources” are a loose term that generally refer, in descending order of density, to Essence, Blood, Fluids, and Qi. Essence is the most substantive material in the body. It is the building block of our physical form and the sustaining battery that fuels our vitality. Our internal sun is illuminated by the sublimation of this dense material into Qi. Qi is the invisible substance that warms our bodies, head to toe, and motivates all the inner processes that animate us.
If Jing is the battery, and Qi is the moving force, then Blood is the currency with which we can produce Qi. It’s like money in the bank. In fact, the term we use when talking about storing up this currency is “banking the Blood.” The state of one’s Blood is affected by diet, sleep, and emotional well-being. It can also be strongly influenced by one’s heredity.
All of these resources need to be sufficient in order for conception to occur.
A recent study at Weill Cornell Medical Center concluded that acupuncture:
- Increases blood flow to the uterus, improving the chances of implantation.
- Reduces anxiety and stress. Hormones released during stressful situations can decrease fertility.
- Harmonizes hormone and endocrine systems, especially in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Influences the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, which plays a pivotal role in fertility.
- Regulates the menstrual cycle.
Chinese Medicine considers the symptoms that are classified in Western Medicine as fibromyalgia (literally “muscle pain”) to be sequela of a long term pathogenic invasion by a dormant virus, bacteria, fungus or protozoa.
When the immune system is compromised, long term infections often go undetected because the body has a very sophisticated ability to hold something dormant if it can’t quite push it completely out of the exterior defenses.
We only exhibit the obvious signs of disease (fevers, malaise, purging) when our bodies are actively trying to expel a pathogen.
Over time, this deficiency affects the nourishment received by the muscles, and the resulting stagnation caused by this deficiency is painful.
Treatment approaches include rebuilding the immune system and underlying constitutional vitality so that the body can restore the flow of Blood and Qi to the muscles. yalgia also improves sleep and eases anxiety.
All pain in the body is caused by an imbalance. There is too much of something in one place and not enough of something somewhere else.
Headaches can be caused by an excess or deficiency. Hypertension sends to much blood up to the head, and resulting pressure can cause a headache.
Hypotension does just the opposite, and the resulting deficiency can also cause a headache because the strategy of the body is to stagnate a resource it doesn’t have much of, in order to preserve it. This can also cause a headache. Headaches are differentiated according to location, timing, nature of the pain, and any other perceived triggers.
Hypertension, which indicates high blood pressure, is usually caused by too much stress. Diet, lifestyle and even medications are very important factors, as is a regular regimen that provides relief from the abundant stressors of modern life.
Regular acupuncture can provide this relief, reminding the patient of what relaxation feels like.
IBS is a usually an aspect of auto-immunity according to Chinese Medicine. The body is typically responding defensively against a toxin most often in the form of food. Emotional holdings often play a role in IBS since the emotions that we hold on to become toxic to the body, provoking a “rebellion” from the inside out.
It is said that what we think about or say while we’re eating is consumed along with our actual food.
The Small Intestine, partner to the Heart in Chinese Medicine, is in charge of separating what is useful and what isn’t. This distinction is also applied metaphorically in terms of one’s capacity to choose who or what to bring, or not to bring, nearer and incorporate into one’s life.
Leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which undigested food particles are able to pass directly through a “leak” in the lining of the intestine and into the blood, comprises this ability to push toxins out of the body.
IBS is similar to respiratory allergies (see “Allergies” section) in that there is an excess amount of Wei Qi present. Peristalsis is facilitated by Wei Qi, so when there is too much Wei Qi roaming the lining of the intestinal wall, it can create unwanted peristaltic contractions. Its excess presence is due to the fact that the immune system is on hyper-alert. It wants to evacuate whatever the perceived threat, real or not, may be.
There are three kinds of food poisoning:
- Foods that are unfamiliar to one’s genetic inheritance.
- Food combinations that promote fermentation (dysbiosis).
- Foods that are simply unhealthy (processed, artificial).
Lastly, there is often an emotional component intertwined with other factors, and acupuncture can address this as well.
Allergies, anxiety and even auto-immune diseases are all associated with insomnia. This is due to the fact that Guarding Qi (Wei Qi in Chinese) circulates on the outside of our bodies while we’re awake, acting as an instinctive, often automatic defense layer. It instinctively closes the pores of our skin if we are cold and opens them if we’re overheated. It raises the hair on the back of our necks if we’re afraid.
We can only fall asleep if the Wei Qi home’s back into our chest. If we feel vigilant for any reason, even unconsciously, it won’t retreat and the result is insomnia.
This overly active Wei Qi will guard us zealously during the day as well, causing allergies as it perceives toxins in the air.
The “air” in Chinese Medicine is called Da Qi, or Great Qi. It includes our social environment as well as any physical elements. Thus, it’s possible, in Chinese Medicine, to actually become allergic to particular social situations or people.
If this hyper defensive state becomes the new norm, the eventual result is auto-immunity.
Acupuncture treatments can effectively train the immune system to become less reactive, and to recalibrate the body’s unconscious ability to discern between a perceived threat and an actual one.
Menopause is a natural, physiological cycle that occurs in all women.
The variety of symptoms can often magnify a long standing imbalance. In this way, menopause can be an opportunity for major positive changes that will affect one’s vitality into old age.
We are all born with a unique lifetime battery. As we age, it is naturally used up. If one wishes to live a long life, the goal is to burn the flame of this battery as slowly as possible, while still striving to reach for and attains the Heart’s desires.
This battery, referred to as Jing, or Essence, is the most dense, Yin substance in the body. It is lodged in the lower back and as we age, lower back aches is the result of this diminishing ability to animate our lives.
The essence is like an anchor that keep the rising, Yang Qi from floating away. The Yang forces, associated with the sun, are what warm our extremities, from head to toe.
It follows that as the anchoring ability of this dense Jing diminishes, so too does it’s ability to work as an anchor. The result are hot flashes, a momentary un-anchoring of the solar, Yang force of the body, rising unchecked.
Other symptoms that result from this un-anchoring are night sweats, restlessness, hot flashes, mood swings, heart palpitations and insomnia.
As always in Chinese Medicine, the answer for relief is found in figuring out where the imbalance resides in the individual.
My approach for treating menopause and many hyper Yang states (allergies, insomnia, anxiety) consists of “re-coiling” the spring of vitality. As we age, our Jing not only diminishes, but it also loses its firmness. Imagine a mechanical spring, like one used in a shock absorber. As it loses its ability to recoil and absorb shock, it can no longer as readily smooth out the natural bumps of our lives.
I use acupuncture treatments and herbal formulas that help firm up and consolidate this precious substance so that one can continue living vitally.
There is an acupuncture point at the base of the neck called “Great Hammer”. It takes it’s name from the fact that it is immediately below the largest cervical vertebra, C7.
Functionally, I think of it as the Great Embosser. Not necessarily in an egotistical, or readily apparent way, but in the way each of us, through our actions, leaves our mark on the world over the course of our lives.
Given its position as the central meeting point between the head and shoulders, this "boss" marries what we see with what we do. Head turns, eyes focus, arms reach out. It is also the one point on the body where all the Yang, action, channels of the body intersect. In a sentence, the Great Embosser represents the central quest of life from a Daoist perspective; to completely experience the questions of one’s Heart.
So, neck pain is often seen from a perspective of either over reaching, as in sticking one’s neck out, being hindered by a “pain in the neck” of a situation, being “brass necked” with confidence, or under reaching and becoming frozen and “stiff necked” in a particular place or time.
Pain is the clearest indicator of disease. It’s seen through the lens of Chinese Medicine as a message from the body to the spirit. The message is “pay attention to everyday choices.” Can I rest instead of going to work? Maybe I can eat differently? Maybe I can exercise differently? Which might mean more or less, or maybe just 70% of what I usually exert, whether it be stretching or lifting a weight.
In 1971, President Nixon’s personal physician witnessed a successful emergency appendectomy surgery performed on a New York Times reporter during his China trip. Acupuncture was the only anesthesia used. In the most unlikely of circumstances, during my birth year, acupuncture became famous. The message was clear. Regardless of whatever else it could do, acupuncture could treat pain.
The President’s personal physician exclaimed, shortly thereafter, “I am convinced that acupuncture is going to be one of the greatest contributions that any group of people has made to the future of all medicine.”
While we were living in Singapore, during this same time, my own Mother witnessed a cesarean birth performed with only the use of acupuncture for anesthesia.
Pain can be caused by multiple factors. Climatic conditions are often a factor. For example, certain pain will only manifest when the weather is rainy and cold. This type of “excess” condition (pain itself is always an excess condition) is always caused by an underlying “deficiency”.
It follows that feeling run down inevitably causes pain. Think of Blood as a resource; it’s always capitalized in Chinese Medicine because it’s that important. Think of it as money in the bank that we use for everyday living. If we push ourselves too hard, then we draw on our resource of Blood to the point where it is temporarily, or in some cases, chronically deficient.
If someone is Blood deficient then the body tends to hold on more tightly to the Blood it does have. This causes Blood stagnation. The bodies strategy is to slow a person down so that they might replenish their supply of Blood. In such cases, a common treatment is one that encourages a person’s body to “bank” the Blood so that, in turn, the body doesn’t hold on to it in a pathological, painful way.
The use of the word “bank”, again, is intentional. The body stores the currency of Blood like money in a bank.
Even a seasoned Olympic multiple Gold Medal winning athlete like Michael Phelps has Blood issues. In his case, Blood deficiency probably isn’t the primary culprit. I say “probably” because a clear diagnosis of anyone’s health can only be made in Chinese Medicine by feeling the pulses and looking at the tongue.
Excess use of Phelps’ muscles is most likely the cause for his Blood stagnation; this is because Heat too can cause the Blood to metaphorically thicken, or coagulate, causing stagnation. The exertion required to maintain his competitive edge transforms into the Blood stagnation that was seen in the dark cupping marks all over shoulders during the last Summer Olympics.
Acupuncture, gua sha and cupping can “move” Blood, which relieves the pain, and in turn “bank” it in order to address the underlying deficiency. Dietary recommendations are also very important when it comes to addressing an underlying Blood deficiency.