An infinite number of expansion and contraction cycles

I’m going to quote here the first paragraph of a fascinating article in the Journal of Chinese Medicine by Edward Neal. The article is titled “Introduction to Neijing Classical Acupuncture Part III: Classical Therapeutics” and is intended for Chinese medicine professionals, but the first paragraph is a wonderful explanation of the concepts of yin and yang and how they relate to the traditional Chinese picture of the universe, which in turn affects the traditional Chinese view of the body and medicine. Enjoy.

The Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic) and related classical medical texts are perhaps best understood as being comprehensive treatises on the theories and clinical practice of classical space-time medicine. According to Chinese natural science, the world and the greater cosmos from which is arises derive from an infinite number of expansion and contraction cycles, fractally inscribed within one another in a complex array of relationships; it is the composite sum of these patterns that generates all material and non-material manifestations of the universe (including those of the human body). In classical terminology, the expanding force of these cycles is called “yang” () and the contracting force is called “yin” (). Arising from an undifferentiated chaos lacking the dimensions of time and space, these motions circulate through different states of manifestation and complexity, existing first as a primary unity, then differentiating into a binary dimension and finally giving rise to a third quality (that is, the relationship generated between these two poles as they mature into a state of oppositional tension). As this basic configuration stabilises, a spiral/circular motion begins to form itself around an organising centre. This represents a basic pattern of the organised universe (see picture above).

There it is! If you’re intrigued, the full series of three articles is available as a free download on Edward Neal’s website.

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Spring Tis’ The Season of the Liver and Gallbladder

Take a look at this explanation of how the Liver channel relates to the spring season, good stuff. Also has some excellent greens recipes at the end.

Stick Out Your Tongue

In Traditional East Asian Medicine our bodies are a microcosm of the natural world. Each organ system is related to a season, an aspect of nature, a cognitive function, a body tissue, and an emotion. March marks the beginning of spring and the season of the Liver and Gallbladder in East Asian Medicine.

The Liver and Gallbladder in East Asian medicine represent a larger idea than the organs with those names. They represent a meridian, or a channel that traverses the outside of the body and goes internally to connect with different organs and body structures. For instance, the Liver meridian goes from the inside edge of your big toe, up your inner leg, onto your abdomen, and then shifts internally below your sixth rib. The internal channel curves around the stomach, travels through the liver, lung, throat, and ends at the very top of your head. Movement of energy…

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Movement and stillness

I have a patient who needs constant encouragement to stay active. While thinking about this patient’s case, I had the urge to write something peppy and motivational on the facebook page, something like “Movement is life! Keep moving and it’ll be much harder for sickness to stick to you.”

As I started to tap out the message, I reconsidered. It would have been only a partial truth. Movement is life, of course – one obvious clue that something is dead is if it doesn’t move. But as humans we spend roughly a third of our lives in a state of quiescence – sleep! So it’s more accurate to say that movement and stillness together are life.

These alternating cycles are everywhere in the natural world. Movement and stillness. Day and night. Heat and cold. Dryness and dampness. Male and female. Without one, there is no other.

Observation of alternating cycles (repeating, spiraling, wobbling, curving, and all manner of other movements) present in nature forms the basis of yin-yang theory. When applied to the particular condition of being a human, we classify it as medicine.

This is what it means when your acupuncturist speaks vaguely about “balance.” We’re thinking about yin and yang, stillness and movement, top and bottom, interior and exterior, and how these concepts apply to your life and your health condition.

It’s not a static balance, either. The yin yang symbol you’ve seen (appropriately named the taiji tu) should always be spinning or rotating. One of the laws of yin and yang is that they are in a constant state of transformation into each other. Just as the sky turns light in the morning and then later turns dark at night, your health and vigor will manifest itself in different ways and at different times on the same body throughout your life. The key is to learn to manage these cycles so that you can always ride the wave. Yin and yang make a pattern, a rhythm, that reveals itself in your life, on an infinitely divisible scale. This is medicine – resetting the balance of yin and yang. Getting you back in time with natural rhythm.

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A slightly more realistic depiction of acupuncture channels

All of the different levels of the Lung channel.

All of the different levels of the Lung channel. Click the picture to see a much larger version.

In my office I have a set of three posters that depict the acupuncture channels. They hang side by side and show all fourteen of the main acupuncture channels – as a set of thin black lines broken up by a series of dots (like this). This is nice for quick reference if I need to refresh my memory on the approximate location of an acupuncture point/acumoxa foramen (more on terminology in a later post), but it is an incredibly unrealistic depiction of authentic Chinese acupuncture and how acupuncturists view and understand the body. I can only imagine the questions an inquisitive mind might have after looking at these pictures – where are the muscles and tendons? How do bones and connective tissue play into it? If acupuncture can affect the whole body, why do these thin black lines only seem to run over the surface?

I recently had the good fortune to stumble across a set of high resolution images with very satisfactory illustrations of all fourteen main acupuncture channels. The human body is incredibly complex, and no one set of images can accurately convey everything that is happening in the body at any one time, but these charts are at the very least much closer to how acupuncturists understand and use the body.

I won’t try to teach a whole course in acupuncture via this blog, but I will be posting the images, one by one, with short explanations of what they mean. Keep in mind that everything shown on these charts is symmetrical.

For all the channels, there are different levels:

  1. The exterior pathway of the main channel is where all the acupuncture “points” (a better term is acumoxa foramen – again, more on that later) can be found. This is all that is depicted on most acupuncture charts, usually just to save space.
  2. The interior pathway of the main channel is exactly what it sounds like – the portion of the main channel that runs on the interior of the body and connects to various internal organs.
  3. The collateral channel connects with that channel’s yin-yang pair. In the case of the Lung channel, if you look near the wrist you can note where the collateral branches off to connect with the Large Intestine channel. The Lung and Large Intestine are a yin-yang pair.
  4. The divergent channel is a branch of the channel that goes elsewhere in the body, connecting the main organ and channel with various associated body systems.
  5. The tendinomuscular channel, seen in blue above,  is at the level of the muscles and connective tissue, and covers a large area. We affect this level of the channel with needles but also with tui na massage, cupping, scraping, and more.
  6. The cutaneous region (or skin channel), seen in white above, travels along roughly the same path as the exterior pathway of the main channel, but spreads out wider to cover the skin. In some cases these correspond to the modern notion of dermatomes, but not always.

There’s much more to explain, but I’ll leave it there for now. I hope this helps you understand a little more how acupuncturists view the body and choose what regions or points to treat.

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Are your medications safe? Slate investigation reveals consistent cover-ups by FDA

I’m used to hearing about incompetence and corruption in the federal government (aren’t we all?). So it takes a lot to raise my eyebrows. But reading this story, my eyebrows nearly went into orbit. Just read the first two paragraphs:

Reading the FDA’s inspection files feels almost like watching a highlights reel from a Scientists Gone Wild video. It’s a seemingly endless stream of lurid vignettes—each of which catches a medical researcher in an unguarded moment, succumbing to the temptation to do things he knows he really shouldn’t be doing. Faked X-ray reports. Forged retinal scans. Phony lab tests. Secretly amputated limbs. All done in the name of science when researchers thought that nobody was watching.

That misconduct happens isn’t shocking. What is: When the FDA finds scientific fraud or misconduct, the agency doesn’t notify the public, the medical establishment, or even the scientific community that the results of a medical experiment are not to be trusted. On the contrary. For more than a decade, the FDA has shown a pattern of burying the details of misconduct. As a result, nobody ever finds out which data is bogus, which experiments are tainted, and which drugs might be on the market under false pretenses. The FDA has repeatedly hidden evidence of scientific fraud not just from the public, but also from its most trusted scientific advisers, even as they were deciding whether or not a new drug should be allowed on the market.

This is a truly shocking story. The Food and Drug Administration is charged with protecting the public from unsafe drugs, not protecting drug companies from embarrassment. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

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Recommendations: Acupuncture for allergies


My colleague Yaron Cohen L.Ac recently posted this link on Facebook. You can read the full text at this link, but here is the relevant portion:

Clinicians may offer acupuncture, or refer to a clinician who can offer acupuncture, for patients with AR who are interested in nonpharmacologic therapy.

AR is short for allergic rhinitis.

While acupuncture is certainly effective at lessening symptoms of an active allergy attack, it’s even better at preventing them in the first place. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, NOW IS THE TIME to prepare. Boost your immune system with acupuncture and herbs so that you can reduce and even eliminate allergies.

Up your intake of cooked green vegetables, reduce sugar and alcohol, and get plenty of sleep – these are all well known (and cheap or free!) ways to boost your immune system. Also, give your living space a thorough cleaning.

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Patience in the Healing Process

I love this tweet from my colleague Dr. Kristie Jones. Have patience with yourself and remember that health is a habit, not a one time event.

I’ve heard people compare their bodies to cars, which reflects the mechanistic thinking of industrial medicine. It leads to the mindset of “well if my hip stops working, I’ll just get a new one,” much like your car might need a new water pump at 150,000 miles. Hip replacements have restored mobility to many people, and if you need a hip replacement, you should get one. But wouldn’t it be better to not need a hip replacement in the first place?

Try thinking of your body as a garden. The wonderful thing about a garden is that it mostly takes care of itself – all it needs is sunlight and water. But it does take frequent small adjustments and caretaking. If you try to do all your gardening once a year, it will be a terrible, onerous task that takes several days. And towards the end of the year, your garden will be in terrible shape. But if you spend just a few minutes in the garden each day, weeding, watering, occasionally spreading mulch and turning the soil, it’ll always look nice and be healthy.

Your body is the same way. Build healthy habits into your life and you’ll feel good and be healthy year round.

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Vitor Belfort gets acupuncture


Vitor Belfort, a well known mixed martial arts fighter, recently posted this photo to his facebook page. I had no idea! As a fan of MMA, it’s very cool to see acupuncture being used by someone I’ve been following for years.

Vitor is in good company. Many professional athletes use acupuncture to stay on top of the game, including NFL players and pro baseball players.

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‘Darwinian’ test uncovers an antidepressant’s hidden toxicity

Because of undetected toxicity problems, about a third of prescription drugs approved in the U.S. are withdrawn from the market or require added warning labels limiting their use. An exceptionally sensitive toxicity test invented at the University of Utah could make it possible to uncover more of these dangerous side effects early in pharmaceutical development so that fewer patients are given unsafe drugs. (Science Daily)

The link between antidepressants and birth defects has been known for a few years now. The real story here is the methodology of the test, which more effectively simulates a real-world environment for the mice and used doses of Paxil very close to what humans might take.

Hopefully this test will be used widely from now on. I would greatly appreciate seeing this test applied to a number of controversial items: GMO food, industrial weed-killers and pesticides such as Roundup and atrazine, and more.

As study author Wayne Potts says:

“We don’t really have a sensitive, broad toxicity assessment system,” Potts says. “That’s why these things slip through the cracks and we often don’t discover harmful effects until after 10 or 20 years of epidemiology studies using the public as the experimental guinea pigs.”

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The Importance of Play – Liver Qi Stagnation

“A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition – it’s a health risk to your body and mind.”

Dr. Stuart Brown

PlaykidsA good definition of play is an activity that A) brings you joy and B) is more important than the result. If you’re going to the gym and running on a treadmill and hating every minute of it, but enduring it because you have a specific goal in mind such as weight loss or a stronger heart and lungs, that’s not play. It’s a valuable activity for sure, and I encourage everyone to set fitness goals, but it’s not playful.

Why is playfulness so important? Watch the TED talk linked above by Dr. Stuart Brown. The quick summary: it’s essential for survival.

From a health perspective, Chinese medicine teaches us that tension is caused by a lack of free flow, particularly in the Liver and Gallbladder channels. When there is long term stagnation over a period of months and years, this stagnation can create heat and Blood Stasis, and even form physical lumps and nodules. If you find yourself chronically irritable and uncoordinated, you may have Liver Qi Stagnation. Some other signs of Liver Qi Stagnation might include cold or numb hands and feet, belching, bloating and distension, headaches, tight neck and shoulder, painful menstruation, and more.

In this case, the old saying “laughter is the best medicine” is very true. Genuine, powerful laughter can instantly dissolve Liver Qi Stagnation. So try a comedy show first. If that doesn’t work, come get acupuncture. Acupuncture can similarly loosen the tight band of physical and emotional tension.

I’ve seen it many times: the person who comes in complaining of all the typical Liver Qi Stagnation symptoms will find themselves nearly instantly relaxed after a few needles. They relax so completely they fall asleep and are surprised when I wake them up at the end of the treatment. “Did I fall asleep? Oh wow…” People who don’t have severe Liver Qi Stagnation won’t have the same reaction.

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