Global Resilience Solutions > Category:chinese medicine

Best of the Web: Traditional Medicine

While most of the focus on traditional medical practices on this site has been on Traditional Chinese Medicine, and, to a lesser extent, Ayurvedic and Sioux medicine, this only scratches the surface of what’s out there. This post is intended to provide a jumping off point for some of the best resources on the web encompassing a number of ancient medical traditions from around the world.

Benefits of Traditional Approaches

Although the Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions are by far the most comprehensive, representing as they do thousands of years of continuous recorded experimentation, equivalent traditions have existed in almost every culture, and these are slowly being explored and documented. The common denominators among these traditions include not only their concurrence with Hippocrates that food is medicine, but an understanding of the human organism as an integrated physical, energetic, mental, emotional and spiritual being.

From this ancient knowledge comes not only a vast and elaborate pharmacopeia capable of addressing almost any problem the human body can come up with (see the video above for a taste of that), not only a library of other techniques, but an approach which seeks to prevent illness by supporting the immune system and strengthening the body, mind and energy system in a systematic way.

 

Exploring Traditional/Alternative Medicine

Because of the seeming difference in theoretical assumptions and terminology between Western and traditional medicine, exploring alternative medicine can seem like a chore. Determining whether any practitioner is competent or not is often more than a question of a degree hanging on a wall, though there are many recognised degree programs in the field. There is also the question of distinguishing between real knowledge with centuries of practical validation behind it, and worthless folklore of the type that funds poaching of rare animals for supposed aphrodisiacs. For all of these reasons, it is important to read, compare, get second opinions and at least begin to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the medicine you use. You and only you can ultimately be responsible for your health.

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine

http://www.acupuncture.com/
Articles and information on acupuncture and all aspects of TCM.

http://www.tcmcentral.com/
Information and articles on the theory, practice and application of TCM. The information ranges from accessible primers for the novice to practitioner-oriented material on diagnosis and treatment.

http://www.danreid.org/
Site of Daniel Reid, the author of some of the best practical books on health and lifestyle from a TCM perspective.

http://www.jcm.co.uk/
The Journal of Chinese Medicine, one of the foremost professional publications.

http://www.shouyuliang.com/newsletters/index.php
Site of Shou-Yu Liang, prominent and learned exponent of health qigong traditions.

Ayurveda/TCM

http://www.bodyfueling.net/
Site of Robyn Landis, coauthor of the excellent traditional health primer Herbal Defense.

http://www.kpkhalsa.com/
Site of Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Landis’ teacher.

Other Traditions

http://www.africanethnomedicines.net/
African Networks on Ethnomedicines, a South Africa-based organisation dedicated to research into local medical knowledge on the continent of Africa. The organisation also runs a peer-reviewed journal (http://journals.sfu.ca/africanem/index.php/ajtcam/index).

http://dharma-haven.org/tibetan/medicine.htm
Tibetan Medicine resources.

http://www.swsbm.com/HOMEPAGE/HomePage.html
Site hosting the texts of a number of classics of the Western herbal tradition.

http://www.centerfortraditionalmedicine.org/
The Center for Traditional Medicine supports research into indigenous medical traditions of the Americas.

General Sites

http://www.itmonline.org/articles.htm
In addition to an extensive range of articles on Chinese medicine, the Institute for Traditional Medicine provides information on a range of other Asian traditions, including Ayurveda, Japanese, Mongolian and Southeast Asian traditions.

http://www.itmworld.org/resources/traditional-medicine
The Institute of Traditional Medicine (different from above) teaches a range of traditional and integrative approaches, and provides a vast selection of links and resources.

http://www.cieer.org/
The Centre for International Ethnomedicinal Education and Research is an umbrella organisation for research into local medicinal knowledge worldwide.


The (Crass) Westernisation of Eastern Wisdom

There is a notion among some Western students of Eastern disciplines that they need to seek the approval of the Western scientific community. Because of this, some Western Buddhists deny the reality of bodhisattvas and the continuity of consciousness, Western acupuncturists deny the existence of the energy their discipline was developed to deal with, and everything is about finding and verifying the physical, scientific truths obscured by these ‘metaphors.’

This approach, which surrenders three thousand years of scientific and spiritual development to a naïve, Newtonian Western materialism without the slightest regard for the integrity or aims of the traditions being deconstructed, can best be described as ‘craven.’ More importantly, it is the surrender of one worldview to another entirely incompatible with it, discarding the core of the traditions in question and leaving the shell so ephemeral as to be a waste of your time.

Why Does Modern Acupuncture Hurt?

If you’ve ever experienced acupuncture from an experienced practitioner qualified in China, chances are it didn’t hurt all that much after insertion, perhaps with the exception of one or two tender points. With many Western-trained practitioners, however, it feels like a nerve is being pinched at each and every point.

There’s a reason. The Western ‘scientific’ version of acupuncture, which doesn’t believe that the body’s energy pathways exist, has decided that acupuncture works by stimulating the nervous system and increasing blood flow to various parts of the body. They therefore seek out the nearest nerve ending to every acupuncture point and stab it, sometimes twisting the needle after insertion, just to make sure those nerves are well and truly stimulated. The original tradition, of course, sees the nervous system as a secondary actor in acupuncture, and sees no need to assault it.

One acupuncturist of my recent acquaintance had the gall to stand up and tell a room full of his patients that the word ‘qi’ should be translated as ‘vital air,’ meaning, in his opinion, oxygen, and that acupuncture is not a form of energy healing. For someone educated in the far larger tradition of which acupuncture is only one part, a tradition that includes qigong and its vast array of energy cultivation methods, the energetic understanding of disease and of the formulation of medicines, the extensive Taoist tradition of inner alchemy, the insight of Chinese medicine into the energy-psychology relationship and much more, this notion was painfully laughable. If nothing else, anyone with the slightest acquaintance with this terminology should know that oxygen, like food, water and sunlight is jing, not qi. Jing fuels the energy system, giving rise to qi, and it’s obviously comical to say that “oxygen gives rise to oxygen”.

This is the net result of a trend that seeks to scour Taoism’s three thousand year old scientific tradition for tidbits that are deemed acceptable by current scientific dogma (which automatically rules out anything that sounds in any way spiritual or has to do with a non-materialist understanding of the universe) and reframes the rest in the most unapologetically silly ways.

What is the Sound of One Brain Farting?

Something similar has happened to Buddhism in the West, where alleged Western ‘Buddhists’ have gone to extraordinary lengths to reframe Buddhist teachings as a psychological system that does not require belief in, well, Buddhist teachings.

A classic example is the Western treatment of the bodhisattvas and dhyani-buddhas of Mahayana and Tibetan teaching. Identification with these enlightened beings is a key element of Buddhist practice, an aspect that many Western ‘experts’ would like to discard as primitive and out of step with the modern world. Others, however, think they have found a workaround, arguing that since these enlightened beings are emptiness (sunyata), and part of the undifferentiated consciousness, which is why the practitioner is able to identify with them in the first place, that they are therefore ‘not real,’ merely imaginary visualisation tools for psychological purposes.

Well, the bad news is that you and I are sunyata just as much as the enlightened beings are in Buddhist teaching, so either both we and they are real, or neither. This absurd argument highlights the futility of pursuing Buddhist teachings for psychological purposes in this life, divorced from the larger purpose. If living more happily in this life is all you’re interested in, there are a thousand easier ways than trying to live according to Buddhist teachings. But I forgot, all that fasting and vegetarianism and long nights spent in meditation and meritorious deeds is just so “last millennium”. Why do all that when we can just read the Lotus Sutra every now and then and bliss out for a few minutes a week with some nice calming meditation music?

The real question here is what it is in Buddhist teaching that the Western mindset is so afraid of. Why all these intellectual gymnastics? If it’s simply the idea of the continuity of consciousness after death, then the next logical question is why on earth would you waste time on Buddhism? Buddhism, after all, is the direct result of Siddhartha seeing a sick man, an old man and a dying man, and realising that this too was his destiny if he did not change it. This experience gave rise to the Four Noble Truths, the central doctrine of Buddhism. Sure, there are elements of Buddhism that could be attractive to secular psychology, but in the end, if you don’t acknowledge the possibility of Enlightenment through direct contact with the undifferentiated consciousness, all that effort is ultimately meaningless.

But what if the problem is more basic? What if the Western mind simply cannot countenance the very foundation of Buddhist cosmology, the idea that all physical worlds are simply mental aggregates of consciousness? But then, the Western mind, including much of its own scientific establishment, has yet to catch up with the last century of sub-atomic physics, so this is hardly surprising.

The Eastern Worldview

Let’s look at what is really happening here. At a fundamental level, the worldview common to Buddhism and Taoism and all Authentic Ancient Traditions, that the world in all its aspects is the creation of consciousness and energy, is being uncritically replaced with a Newtonian Worldview in which matter gives rise to energy and consciousness. This is the central, unacknowledged cause-and-effect dilemma of the present age. The mindset behind the very scientific materialism that these people are attempting to appease is itself scientifically obsolete. Quantum physics, examining matter at the most minute level, has found what? Energy and probability- probability actualised by consciousness. That which we experience as matter is not matter at all..

This is exactly what the East has known for millennia. Let’s take the example of a Chinese herbal remedy. The doctor examines the patient’s energy state in detail, and formulates a compound of herbs to support whatever elements of the energy system are deficient and calm whatever parts are acting up. The scientist takes it and breaks it down into its constituent chemicals and looks for reactions that might be pharmacologically interesting. No doubt, there are some. But then the scientist makes a concentrated formula of whatever discrete elements he’s been able to show have a chemical impact he believes is useful.

But this new, concentrated formula is a non sequitor in the context of Chinese medical theory. It was never interested in the operation of discrete parts of the medicine, but the synergy of the whole. While it is certainly interested in chemical reactions, these reactions are simply one manifestation of the energetic action of the medicine, since matter is energy. The concentrated formula is not only flawed theoretically, it is potentially dangerous, as its energetic and chemical effect will be untempered by the ingredients it was supposed to work with.

Conclusion

The most dangerous thoughts in any age are the unquestioned assumptions, the ‘truths’ and ways of thinking we take in from childhood which we never stop to seriously question. Therefore, one of the most difficult requirements of objective investigation of the science of another culture is the ability to put yourself in the worldview from which it comes. If you can’t do that, it will prove impossible to understand the purpose, the guiding principles, the integrity and inner coherence of the whole system. More to the point, if we in the West cannot get over the engrained materialist worldview, there is very little that any of these traditions can do to help us.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Resilience Tool par excellence?

Bagua Zhang is perhaps the least-known and most intriguing of the Chinese “Internal” martial arts.  It is visually distinguished by a soft, flowing appearance and the fact that many of its forms and exercises involve walking in a circle.  This circle is often represented as the Circle of Changes (ba gua or “eight trigrams”), with eight trigrams from the I Ching around the circumference, as in the diagram below:

 

Historically, Bagua appears to have been confined to practice by reclusive Taoists living in mountains and distant monasteries until the 19th Century, when it suddenly appeared in mainstream Chinese society thanks to a teacher named Tung Hai Chuan, where it quickly established a tremendous reputation as a fighting art in that unstable and martial arts-saturated environment.  Since that time, Bagua has also gained a reputation as a tremendous tool for health and healing.

“Walking the Circle” as a practice for physical and spiritual health has a long history in Taoist monasticism with or without the martial applications.  It is a form of exercise and of walking meditation.  The spiritual benefits of the practice include cultivating stillness of mind, calm nerves and a sense of inner balance that can withstand even the most rapid and unsettling changes in your outer world- in other words, it can help you cultivate inner resilience.  Outer, physical resilience benefits include:

–       Developing consciousness of good postural alignment throughout the body in a state of movement,

–       Developing a good sense of balance,

–       Developing agility and the ability to change directions quickly,

–       Stretching, compressing, opening and strengthening the body’s soft tissues- muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia,

–       Gently massaging the internal organs,

–       Opening and strengthening the joints.

 

The initial focus of Bagua is to make the body supple, healthy and strong.

So what does this process look like?  First, Bagua teaches specialized stepping methods with particular energetic implications, which in the first level of teaching are used to walk the circle in alternating clockwise and counter clockwise directions with the arms in particular static positions.  This form of movement is used for the cultivation of inner power under the guidance of an expert.  In the next two stages, the practitioner is introduced to the single and double palm changes, which represent the yang and yin energies of Bagua, the projecting and fluid energies if you will.  In the fourth stage, the student learns the Eight Palms, representing the eight energetic possibilities depicted by the trigrams of the ba gua circle.  Bagua practice is distinguished from other martial arts by the fact that it is done moving at full speed (after a slower introductory period) with rapid changes of direction and circular and spiralling movements.  Here you can watch a basic Bagua routine demonstrated by a master from the Taoist monastery at Wudang:

Bagua operates on the principle of practicing a small number of movements, each of which has a great many layers of content.  An example of this are the single and double palm changes (see video).  Classically, students of Bagua were first taught to walk the circle while performing Nei Gung energy work, the two initial palm changes and very little else, until their internal power had developed to such a degree that any further techniques they learned became extremely powerful.  Even so, it is said that to be able to fully utilize and understand any of the individual palm change movements might take years of practice- and that the abilities in combat of those who focus on a few small movements are far greater than the abilities of those who learn complex combat applications.  The many specialized movements are merely a container for the energies being used.  Here, martial arts master B.K. Frantzis gives you a quick demo to give you the idea of how this all works:

The Bagua approach to developing inner power is the Taoist sixteen-part process of Nei Gung, which you can read about from a number of sources, notably B.K. Frantzis’ books.  Through this process, the student’s energy is made strong and healthy, and can be consciously used for particular purposes.  Blockages in the energy system from traumatic events are removed, and the student can begin to consciously cultivate, use and preserve energy for their own health, and also to heal others.  Finally, the Bagua student can begin to see and experience in real, energetic terms where he or she stands in the energy system of the world and the cosmos.

Bagua makes no bones about the fact that despite the many health, healing and martial applications of its many movements, those movements are useless unless you’ve first cultivated the inner power to make them work for their intended purpose.  Bagua is unique in its reliance on footwork as a form of energy work.  Where other martial arts rely on stances, Bagua relies on stepping methods that are both numerous and subtle.  In martial applications, this means that if you’re sparring with a Bagua person, they’ll end up behind you within a couple of seconds.  These stepping methods also have specific functions in naturally opening the body’s energy channels, and in opening, relaxing and strengthening the joints- in one instance recounted by Frantzis, a man with severe hereditary rheumatism used Bagua practice to keep his condition in check.

That last is an important point, because Bagua confers additional physical benefits from long practice- the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia are relaxed and subjected to constant gentle twisting motions, which are essential to the health and strength of these tissues and of the energy system which travels through them, an aspect of fitness that is only beginning to be recognized in the West.  The joints, another key component of the energy system, also need to be opened and strengthened through gentle movement to stay healthy as the body ages.

Bagua offers a lifelong path to personal resilience in personal health, healing, martial applications, spiritual development and energy work, unique in its comprehensive vision, depth and the concentric layers of simplicity and nuance that one seems to encounter at every turn.

Dr. Symeon Rodger

For a more extensive intro to Bagua, you can check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4seCogI5SE


Vanquish Colds and Flus- by making your body stronger

If you’re one of the millions of people who enter the colder half of the year with the depressing certainty that you’ll have to live through the tedious misery of colds or flus, then this is the post for you.  Cold and flu season is a bonanza for anyone peddling remedies, and as you’ve probably noticed, very few of them do more than take the edge off of the worst symptoms for a few minutes to a few hours.

There is no magic pill, but the combination of ancient herbal and nutritional knowledge from traditions around the world can put a potent arsenal at your fingertips to defend the integrity of your immune system- and your first stop will be the grocery store, not the pharmacist.  We’ll walk you through immune-boosting first responses that will kill a cold or flu before it gets a grip on you, and what to do about the symptoms.

 

First Response

We cold sufferers all know the feeling, that first inkling that something is off inside.  Maybe it’s the beginnings of a sore throat, or a dripping nose, or chills, or just a general feeling of untimely fatigue.  Pay attention, because this is your body telling you that it needs help, and the sooner you shore up your immune system, the better off you’ll be.

General Immune Boosting- Herbs and Foods

The first line of attack when your immune system starts complaining is to boost it directly.

Garlic contains allicin, a natural antibiotic, and has immunostimulant properties.  This is the herb of first resort for many people when a cold comes on, usually paired with ginger, an immune system and respiratory system tonic.  Cinnamon  is a powerful immune booster, especially paired with honey.  Whenever I feel a hint of a cold, cinnamon tea is usually enough to knock it out  (you can buy cinnamon tea in bags, or make your own from cinnamon sticks- powdered cinnamon makes an unpalatable sludge).  Cloves are another helpful ingredient used with cinnamon in Ayurvedic medicine.

Echinecea, though well-known, is not a particularly powerful immune stimulant.  Astragalus is the best herb you can add to this array.  It is a powerful antiviral and immune booster used in Chinese medicine, usually paired with woad (isatidis), the plant used to make blue dyes in Europe for centuries.  Astragalus also helps the liver, which has work to do in any viral infection.  Astragalus is fine in tea, but woad is rather bitter and is better ingested in capsule form.  Reishi and Shiitake mushrooms are also key parts of the Asian antiviral and immune-boosting repertoire.

Next, you have to give your immune system all the support it needs by taking in micronutrients.  A number of herbs used in traditional medicine worldwide to treat colds and flus act by boosting Vitamin C and other micronutrients and thereby fortifying the immune system.  Citrus fruits, rosehip tea, quince tea, sea buckthorn juice and even white pine needle tea have been used this way.  Rosehips are also helpful for sinus conditions.  Closer to spring, birch sap is a traditional option.

Whenever immune-boosting foods are discussed, grapefruit gets mentioned.  It is a powerful support to the immune system and natural blood cleanser, but do not mix it with any pharmaceutical medication, and even be careful with some of the herbs listed here, as it magnifies the effect of many medications, often to the point of causing damage to the liver and kidneys.

One straightforward way of dealing with a cold is to make a soup that is as spicy as you can possibly stand.  Spices are your friend in cold season (notably cayenne pepper and the rest of the chilies, which all have immune-boosting properties).   Robyn Landis suggests a soup containing astragalus, a bulb of garlic, a large onion, a quarter cup of ginger, cayenne pepper, antioxidant vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, beets and shiitake mushrooms.  Believe me, no hostile living organism will survive the onslaught of this broth, and the moment you drink some, you’ll know why 🙂

Nutritional Habits

The moment you feel something coming on, stop eating junk.  As we’ve discussed in previous posts, when your immune system complains, get it off everything that’s harming it, especially refined sugar, unhelpful fats, processed foods and anything with the harmful chemical additives we’ve discussed before.  For colds, cutting dairy intake to zero early on is a very good idea, as it stimulates mucus production.  Reduce heavy foods like meat and cereals, and try to eat more fruits and vegetables.  The old saying “feed a cold, starve a fever” shouldn’t be taken literally- starve the cold too.  If you can fast totally, even just for a day, go ahead (this advice doesn’t apply if you’re the kind of person who undereats).  If not, reduce your food intake and focus on fruits and vegetables.

Above all, no alcohol, no sugar drinks, and especially none of that energy drink crap.  Yes, caffeine can relieve some cold symptoms temporarily, but in those doses, caffeine and other stimulants will devastate your immune system.  We have created a society that wants to extract every ounce of productivity from us 48 hours a day, but in this season above all, tell it to get stuffed and drink some nice green tea.  Drink plenty of tea and water to flush out your system.

Lifestyle

Stress is a big contributing factor in immune system breakdown.  A cold may be your body’s way of telling you to get some rest and relax.  Make time for it.  More to the point, if you’re under great mental stress, you’re practically inviting colds and flus.

Here’s a great video primer on how herbs can help you, by Dr. Robyn Benson:

Nuking the Symptoms by Supporting the Body

So, your cold or flu is already setting in.  If you’ve applied the first response techniques and they haven’t worked, it’s likely that you’ve either been taking poor care of your body for an extended period before that, or that your stress level is just too high.  In any case, now is the time to approach your symptoms systematically, which is largely done by supporting the parts of the body involved.  If you are a frequent sufferer of bad colds, get to know your typical symptoms and jump on them before they can take hold-  if you know that you’re going to start with a sore throat and that symptoms seem to migrate from there, start supporting your throat when the first symptoms appear.

 
Sinus, Cough, Nasal and Respiratory Symptoms

Ginger, specifically in dried and powdered form, is a useful expectorant for coughs.  Fenugreek, a popular ingredient in Indian cuisine, is another expectorant and an effective soothing agent for mucilaginous tissues.

Nettle leaf tea is a good lung tonic and antihistamine (freeze-dried products only), and no, there are no prickles involved.  Ephedra, used in the treatment of asthma, is a nasal decongenstant and bronchial dilator useful for acute respiratory symptoms, but should be used very conservatively.

Rose hips, as previously mentioned, support irritated sinus tissue, as do watercress and lemon grass.

For acute sinus pain, make a paste of powdered ginger and water or eucalyptus oil, and apply over the location of the pain.

Note that many of these remedies are available at your local grocery store, and others, such as nettles, are food sources that have fallen into disuse.

 Throat

Herbs for a sore throat can be broken down by their purpose.

Licorice and marshmallow were herbal remedies before they were candy, and both help to coat and soothe dry, itchy throats (no, eating the candy won’t help).  Turmeric is used in Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial for sore throats.

Bee balm, garlic and ginger function as antimicrobials, attacking the germs- start them early.

Astringent sage and horehound close the mucus membranes against further infection (do not use at the dry stage of a sore throat), while calendula, burdock root and mullein stimulate the lymphatic system to help flush out the area.

For more information on the preparation and use of these herbs, see http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/2011/10/herbal-remedies-for-sore-throat-part-3.html.

Licorice, marshmallow, burdock root and mullein would have been familiar ingredients to any chemist in the Western world less than a hundred years ago, before the onset of pharmaceutical medicine, while bee balm has been used to fight colds by Native North Americans for centuries.

Stomach

When nausea gets you down, there are a few herbs that can help.

Ginger is the classic for all forms of stomach upset, and Ayurvedic medicine would add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, garlic and onion (and hey, did you really expect Indians to leave out those two?).

Peppermint is also soothing for the stomach and can help with nausea.  Chamomile tea isn’t a bad idea either.

Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and peppermint are all good digestive aids, and once upon a time, these herbs and spices showed up a great deal in Western European cuisine, at a time when European cuisine was actually rather spicy.  For a variety of reasons, they have become disused, and we’ve been missing this digestive tonic ever since.

Fever

Fever is a symptom that traditional medicine will tend to leave alone, on the grounds that your body is trying to heal itself.  Treatment is usually to induce sweating, to allow the body to flush out toxins.  If the fever lasts particularly long or is particularly high, you should consult a healthcare professional.

Headache

A frequent symptom of the flu, you can treat headaches with turmeric, white willow bark (natural precursor of aspirin) and peppermint oil, but most especially with water, rest and darkness.  There is no substitute for rest, and any attempt to keep working through a flu with the aid of pills simply leaves your immune system weaker when the next thing comes.

 Note on Lozenges and Cough Medicines:

Avoid if at all possible most commercial lozenges and liquids, particularly those with high sugar content.  If you find lozenges a necessity, try to find some with a useful herbal base.  A few local shops in North America will still supply the traditional horehound or licorice lozenges, and there are now a few mass-market herbal lozenges, though of varying usefulness and occasionally with pernicious immunodepressent ingredients such as sugar substitutes.

Cure Yourself at the Grocery Store

 You may have noticed by now that a large proportion of these recommendations have more to do with the grocery store than the pharmacist or even the herbalist.  No doubt there are many brilliant herbalists out there, and consulting one about any course of herbal treatment is a good idea.  But the fact is that colds are relatively easy to deal with, and your best defence is a judiciously-stocked larder and a healthy lifestyle.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Guarding ESSENCE: Taking control of the root of your health

Chinese medicine, in contrast to Western medicine, is designed to keep your body healthy rather than just reacting to illness.  The first step to realising this proactive approach is a constellation of strategies collectively called “guarding essence.”  Jing, Qi (pronounced “chee”) and Shen, or Essence, Energy and Spirit, are cornerstones of the Taoist understanding of the human organism.

Essence or Jing is the building block, the fuel if you will, for Qi and Shen.  The degree to which you cultivate and protect your essence determines the energy and vitality that you will have.  Essence is divided into prenatal and postnatal, prenatal essence being the store that you have from before birth that is stored in the kidney organ system, while postnatal essence is produced in your body from in the form of vital fluids, such as blood, hormones, cerebrospinal fluid and lymph.

Food and water are necessary to produce postnatal essence, therefore the first step to balancing essence is to ensure quality fuel for your body.  Chinese medicine classifies food according to its energetic properties; yin foods having a calming or cooling effect and yang vice versa.  These can be consumed in balance based on an awareness of the needs of the your system, for instance by consuming yang food in cold weather.  Before the twentieth century, there was a natural balance between climate and diet, with fruits and vegetables being consumed in summer and heavier, fattier foods in winter.  Even the US Army ran into this principle when it started fighting in jungle climates.  It was quickly discovered that the heavy, high-energy rations used in northern climates led to illnesses.  The result was the creation of specialised “jungle rations.”

Chemically, the distinction is often between foods that have an alkalising effect on your body and those with an acidifying effect.  Your body has mechanisms that regulate its pH balance, but because your body, and particularly the blood, has such a narrow tolerance for pH variation, acidification particularly becomes a health issue, associated with nervous disorders, chronic fatigue, gout, osteoporosis and pretty much every form of degenerative disease.

Essence transforms into energy, and enzymes are a catalyst your body uses for that process.  Enzymes themselves are endowed with measurable energy.  Although your body can produce enzymes, it also gains necessary enzymes from fresh foods.  Unfortunately, large parts of the modern Western diet are nearly devoid of enzymes because of the methods used to cultivate and process them.  Chemical, radiological and thermal interference leave foods enzyme-dead, with your body expending essence to make up the difference.

There are many nutritional principles that we can go through, from food combining to the place of fermented foods in the diet.  Perhaps the most important general rule for guarding your essence through proper nutrition is to avoid putting large quantities of unnatural chemicals into your system.  This could be refined sugar (which is a foreign substance to your body and causes insulin spikes which in turn cause hormonal imbalances that wreak havoc with your immune system), transfats (a carcinogenic mutation of familiar fats and oils through the introduction of chemicals or prolonged heat), fruits and vegetables treated with pesticides, or, especially, genetically modified, hormone and antibiotic-ridden meat.  The idea that the body can cope with this bombardment of totally unnatural molecules and biological inputs without ill effects is ludicrous.

Apart from nutrition, there are a few other ways you can protect essence.  Modern diets lead to toxic bowels, owing to problems like enzyme and fibre-poor foods and improper food combinations further exacerbated by stress.  This slows digestion and compresses stool, allowing toxins to build up and impacting the bowel.  These toxins are then translated into your bloodstream.  Taking the time to cleanse your bowel actually helps to clean the blood, and all of the tissues to which the blood is carrying those toxins.

A Chinese saying goes that a moving hinge gathers no rust, and your body, which is designed to be active, cannot be healthy without exercise.  If your various essential fluids are not exercised, they will stagnate, and the same applies to the joints, which are also a key concern of Chinese medicine.  We have previously written about some of the exercise methods you could use, but at the basic level, anything that gets you moving out in the fresh air and sunlight is the first choice.  Massage and Chiropractic, which get the fluids, tissues and joints moving, are also helpful.

What if the balance of your essence has broken down and your system has gotten to the point of acute illness?  The answer of traditional Chinese medicine is simple.  First, stop eating all heavy, acidifying and mucus-forming foods, especially meat, dairy, most starch and all sugar, and if possible, fast on filtered water.  This is the most basic method of eliminating toxins and allowing the system to reset.  If you can’t fast completely, restrict yourself to fresh fruits and vegetables.  Also important are bowel cleansing and appropriate herbal supplements.  The latter can substantially boost your immune system and promote detoxification.

One thing that sometimes does not come across in popular works on Chinese medicine and yet is essential to guarding your essence is this: your mind effects your body and vice versa.  If you feel bad mentally and stress is making you either sluggish or frantic, this feeling can be symptomatic of a physical imbalance that can be addressed by the methods of cultivating essence.  In general these methods should improve your ability to cope with stress.  But it also works the other way:  if your mental state is imbalanced, that affects the functions of your body, and no one can recover a balanced essence if they are not on a path toward feeling good mentally.

You can watch a good introduction to Chinese medicine right here.  Pay special attention whenever the speakers talk about your immune system – as long as your Jing is strong and flourishing, your immune system will fight off just about anything:

The principle of guarding essence is important above all because it requires you not just to try to follow a list of requirements and hope it makes you healthy, but to experiment and be active in safeguarding the very source of your health.  There is a Taoist principle which can be rendered as, “inflexible goal, flexible methods.”  In other words, in applying these principles, you begin to become aware of your own state and proactively do what will help to restore the balance of your Jing.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Other Recent Posts

Healing Power of Light – What You Didn’t Know About Your Anatomy…

Following up on last week’s post highlighting the 12th Annual Energy Psychology Conference in Toronto, I’m planning to present some interesting facts about your body and how you can heal yourself more effectively. As you’ll remember from that post, many of the world’s top scientists agree on one thing – when it comes to the […]




Categories